Category Archives: Commentary

[Life of Christ] The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 3)

(My apologies for not getting this posted earlier.)

The King has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 3)
(Luke 2:36-38; Matthew 2)

Anna the Old Prophetess (Luke 2:36-38)

There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, and had lived with her husband for seven years from her virginity. And she had been a widow about 84 years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

And she, coming in that instant, gave thanks as well to the Lord, and spoke about Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Anna’s background

We’re given a lot of interesting detail about this woman, more than we are about Simeon, even though she only appears for three verses—and never shows up again.

  • She is a prophetess. She is the only person in the New Testament who is specifically called a prophetess.1 This is the only time the word (which is the feminine of prophet) 2 It seems this is what she was known for.
  • She is the daughter of Phanuel. This is purely a historical detail, as this name doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture.
  • She is of the tribe of Asher. This is a fascinating detail, as this makes her the only person in the New Testament we know for certain came from one of the ten northern tribes of Israel (frequently called the “lost ten tribes”).3
  • She is very old. While some Bibles interpret or editorialize in regards to Anna’s age, the Greek is pretty straightforward: She got married, was married for seven years (after which her husband died), and then lived as a widow for 84 years.4 If she was 13 (an age some like to throw around for Israelite girls becoming brides), then she was 20 when she became a widow, and therefore was 104 years old when she saw baby Jesus.
  • She never leaves the temple. Not in the temple itself, but the temple complex, as only priests were permitted inside the temple itself.
  • She serves God through fasting and prayer continually. This shows dedication, piety, sincerity. She did these things “night and day.” Certainly she slept some, but this was a way of life to her. Her dedication to God was not Sabbath-only or just on Passover and Pentecost.

By the time Luke investigated all this and wrote it down, Anna had probably been dead 50 years or more. But even so, people remembered Anna, who she was, and what she did in service to God. What a profound impact she must have had on people’s lives!

Anna enters…and leaves

To put this in context (because I probably should have included it with the previous lesson), Joseph and Mary had brought baby Jesus, at 40 days old, to the temple for Mary to offer her purification sacrifices. While there, Simeon (probably an older man) takes Jesus and makes a prophecy about Him. It is at this time Anna shows up and apparently heard Simeon’s words.

The result is she praises God with thanks. Perhaps she too had been told she would not die until she saw the Lord’s Christ (because Luke says she “likewise” gave thanks). Like Simeon, she was waiting for the Messiah to come and start fulfilling all the promises God had made throughout the Old Testament.

After thanking God, Anna left. And you can imagine the scene as she finds all the people she knows who share her longing for God’s kingdom—and tells them “The King is here!.” It wasn’t just Simeon and Anna who “looked for redemption” or were “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” There were many. Simeon and Anna are just the ones we are told about.

A Chronological Conundrum

According to Luke 2:39, “when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.” This is fine and dandy. The difficulty comes when we look at Matthew’s account. According to his record, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt, and only return to Israel when they hear Herod is dead—but they avoid Judea because Herod’s son was reigning.

Some have surmised these incidents took place between Jesus’ birth and His presentation at the temple. I can’t see how such a thing is possible, given the amount of time necessary to contain the events of Matthew 2. Others have guessed the events in Matthew 2 take place sometime after the family returned to Nazareth—but that would require them to return to Bethlehem to be there when the wise men show up, with no real reason to do so.

My best guess is this: After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem until the time to present Jesus at the temple. During this time (or shortly thereafter), the wise men were in Jerusalem, asking where the King of the Jews had been born. They are directed to Bethlehem where they see the star over a house (perhaps even the same day Jesus was presented at the temple). It is then that Jesus is presented with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.5 Then they flee to Egypt, etc. This would mean Luke assumes the reader is familiar with them through Matthew’s writing, and therefore saw no reason to mention them in detail. Instead, he just records that they went back to Nazareth.6

The Wise Men and the Paranoid King (Matthew 2:1-11)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came Magi from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? Because we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king had heard this, he was troubled—and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, because it is written by the prophet, ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah: because out of you shall come a governor who shall rule my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the Magi, and diligently enquired of them when the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go search diligently for the young child. And when you have found him, bring me word again, so I might come and worship him too.”

After listening to the king, they left, and behold! The star, which they saw in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Turning Jerusalem upside-down

Magi came from the east. Most likely this is near where Babylon once was, and where Persia once held sway (modern-day Iraq and Iran). Daniel was one of the wise men of Babylon, and later of Persia as well. It is possible (maybe even likely) that the Magi who came to see Jesus could trace their lineage of teaching back to the time of Daniel, who prophesied of a Kingdom to be established by God during the days of the Roman Empire. If this is the case (and I think it highly probable), these wise men would have been waiting for the fulfillment of this prophecy just like Simeon and Anna were.7

They came to Jerusalem, the capitol city, where they would assume the King of the Jews would be born. But not knowing exactly where to look, they started asking around. I can imagine the looks on some faces. What? What king? I haven’t heard about a new king being born. And others might have responded with excitement, wanting details about the star they saw, and wondering if maybe, just maybe, God was inaugurating His Kingdom plan.

Tradition has three men traveling from a great distance to worship the newborn King. Yet the Bible gives us no definite number of Magi/wise men. Matthew indicates (at least to me) a lot more than three people came to town. Jerusalem was not a small town. There were easily tens of thousands of people living there (if not closer to 100,000). So three men asking questions wouldn’t have been enough to stir up the city and get Herod worried. But if it was a massive caravan of Magi? Along with their servants and bodyguards? On camels? That makes more sense to me.

Herod and all Jerusalem are troubled, but for very different reasons. Herod (as we will see) is a power-hungry monster who is paranoid that he might lose the power and prestige he has gained in Judea if this “King of the Jews” story proves to be true. The people who heard about the wise men are troubled because of uncertainty, and possibly because they have seen/heard what Rome does to those who challenge its authority—and perhaps they are troubled because they know what Herod is like…

The king asks about the birthplace of the King

Herod is concerned. So he convenes a very hasty impromptu council of all the Jewish leaders. I’m not sure how exactly this took place, but he probably sent out some messengers quickly, demanding that all the chief priests and scribes come to his palace immediately—or else (and they would have known what the “or else” meant).

Herod is not a Jew. This is important to recognize. Herod was an Idumean—that is, he was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Around 130 years before these events took place, a man named John Hyrcanus made himself king over Judah8 (though everyone apparently knew he was not the Messiah—not being in the line of David).9  One thing John did was to subjugate the Idumeans and force them to convert to Judaism or die. Herod was a descendant of people who were forced to convert against their wills. While Herod did a lot for the Jews (building projects), he was not a Jew, and had no real respect for Judaism or the Jewish people (when he ascended to power, he killed all but two members of the Sandhedrin, and had a high-priest drowned).10 All he cared about was power and prestige. So when he called the chief priests and scribes together, they came quick.

He demanded to know where Christ would be born. Thankfully (for the priests and scribes) the Scripture said exactly where it would take place. They quoted Micah 5:2, which named Bethlehem as the place. But they didn’t quote the whole verse. I kinda wonder why. Here’s what Micah 5:2 says in its entirety:

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old—from everlasting.

Did you catch the last part of that verse? The one who would be born in Bethlehem is the one “whose goings forth” (i.e., His actions/works) are “from of old—from everlasting.” It seems crazy that these religious leaders could see the Messiah’s birthplace identified in advance here, but completely miss that the Messiah was also eternal—“from everlasting.” That is, the very verse they quote says the Messiah would also be God.

The Magi migrate to Bethlehem

After getting the answer, he secretly called the Magi to him and sincerely asked them when they saw the star appear. Sincere in that he really wanted to know—just not for moral motives. Today if people said they saw a certain star that told them a king was born, we’d probably think they were crazy. But Herod lived in a time when things like this were taken seriously, and were even part of the official story of some royal leaders. And though he wasn’t a Jew, he was familiar with a lot of Jewish history—he knew there was a prophesied king.

They told him when they saw the star (and we’ll look at that when we cover verse 16), and so he told them to go to Bethlehem. But there was a catch: You’ve got to come back and tell me where he is so I can go worship him too. Of course, Herod was lying through his teeth, but certainly put on a pious act so the Magi would be none the wiser.

The Magi (caravan?) went to Bethlehem and saw the same star they had seen in the east. This greatly excited them, because it “came and stood over where the young child was.” I don’t know exactly what this looked like. It reads like the star was moving and they followed it until it stopped exactly over little child Jesus. How high in the sky that was, and how they knew it was directly over Jesus? I’m not sure.

What does matter is what they did when they got there. They went into the house (whenever this was, it certainly wasn’t the night Jesus was born), saw the young child (no longer called a baby) and Mary, and fell down and worshipped Him (they didn’t worship Mary). Falling down (on their hands and knees, with faces to the ground) to worship Him shows humility, honor, and submission. When you bow down like this, you leave yourself completely exposed to harm with no means of protection. Does our worship express these things?

As part of their worship, they presented Him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I find these gifts interesting.

  • Gold covered every item in the temple—the dwelling-place of God.
  • Frankincense was an ingredient in a sacred mixture to be used only in tabernacle/temple worship.11 It was also used in every meal offering, and on the showbread in the temple.12
  • Myrrh was used in the sacred oil to anoint high priests of Israel.13

These items were not cheap, and may have come in very handy when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt.

Though the Magi were Gentiles, they were the first Matthew records as worshipping Jesus.

The Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:12-18)

Being warned by God in a dream that they shouldn’t return to Herod, they went to their own country a different way. And after they left, behold, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph In a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word—because Herod will seek to destroy the young child.”

When he awoke, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”

Then when Herod saw that he was mocked by the wise men, he was extremely angry, and sent and killed all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding areas, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “In Rama there was a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and a great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not.”

Two dreams, two departures

The Magi were warned by God in a dream (did they all have the same dream? That would be convincing) to not go back to Herod, and to go back home a different way. They were not to be party at all to Herod’s plot, and they needed to get away without him noticing. It almost reads like this all happened the same evening they found Jesus.14

After they left, Joseph gets a dream as well, with an angel (it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the same angel as from his previous dream) telling him to get up and take the family on a vacation to Egypt—as in vacate the premises and go to Egypt! Unlike the Magi, Joseph is given a reason—Herod wants to kill Jesus!

So Joseph does what he did the last time he had an angel-dream—he gets up and obeys. He takes the little family by night and heads toward Egypt. This appears to be the same night the wise men left.

Then Matthew says the Egyptian part of the story was to fulfill Hosea 11:1. If Matthew hadn’t said this, I don’t think anyone would have connected the two incidents. Hosea 11:1 speaks of God calling Israel out of Egypt (speaking of the Exodus), and calls them “my son.” By referencing this, Matthew shows that sometimes prophecies aren’t always just words spoken or written, but can also include events which point to something greater.15

Heinous Herod

Enough time had passed that Herod knew the Magi weren’t coming back. Somehow, he thought, they figured it out. And he was livid. The KJV says he was “exceeding wroth.” So, since he didn’t know exactly which child was the one, he decided to kill them all. He sent men (Roman soldiers, most likely) to find and kill all the male children two years old and under.16

This act was pure evil, and was direct from Satan. Throughout history, Satan has tried to destroy the promised seed (Genesis 3:15), and though he comes close, he is never successful.17 God was ahead of him and protected the seed.

But Herod didn’t realize he failed in his goal. .

Matthew says this event was foretold by Jeremiah 31:15. This originally referred to the scattering of Judah, and is immediately followed by the words, “Thus saith the LORD, ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, because your work shall be rewarded,’ saith the LORD, ‘and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.’” If Jeremiah 31:15 was a verse of lamentation for destruction, and verse 16 a verse of hope and restoration, then what are we to make of Matthew’s use of it?

I think this is an admission that what happened with Herod murdering the small children is horrible and cause for lamentation and weeping—but (though Matthew doesn’t mention it specifically) that there will be a time where restoration will take place, where those children can be reunited with their parents if the parents are faithful to God. If this is the case, then it would also prove that babies are not born in sin—babies are innocent and safe. There is no such thing as original sin.

Going Home to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:39)

But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

And he arose and took the young child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.

And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

(Luke 2:39) And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

Herod dead

Joseph gets a lot of dream-messages from God—and they all seem to have an angel (the same one?). Last time it was bad news: Herod wants to kill Jesus; get out of Bethlehem! This time, it is good news: Herod is dead (and apparently his cronies are dead too);18 it is safe to go back.

So Joseph did what he always does: wakes up and obeys. They travel to Israel (not a short trip), but soon after they entered, he discovered Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning, and Joseph was scared to go through Judea.19 So God sent another dream, telling him to go to Galilee.

If one were to only read Matthew, it would seem that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are newcomers to Nazareth. But Luke informs us Joseph and Mary were both natives of that small town.

Even though Matthew continues to use the pronoun “he” to refer to Joseph (verses 21-22), when he uses it in verse 23, Jesus is the one under consideration. We know this because Matthew says it was fulfillment of another prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” And this is where we run into another difficulty. This prophecy doesn’t exist.

This isn’t a direct quote from any verse of the Old Testament, and believe it or not, we shouldn’t expect to find a direct quote. Matthew says, “which was spoken by the prophets” (plural). It seems, then that this is more of a theme from prophecy instead of an exact quote. The Hebew word neser (quite possibly where the word “Nazareth” and “Nazarene” originate) is the word translated “Branch” in Isaiah 11:1, referring to Christ. Ted Clarke says it this way:

Nazareth was not a city that commanded much respect. It was a small village in Galilee. The area was mostly a Gentile area, although there was a synagogue there, thus some Jews there. The Jews of the south did not view the Jews of the north very well. It’s not likely that “he shall be called a Nazarene” means anything other than that he would be from a lowly, humble place (Isaiah 53:1-3). Jesus was not like Saul. Jesus was not one who would be great-looking, nor would he come from great area. There is nothing outstanding about him, physically speaking. His father was a carpenter, which would not exactly attract people to him.

Neser refers to a root or sprout or branch (Nazarene). This means something that is less significant. Humility, humble beginnings, lowliness. Jesus did not have an easy life. When people saw him, it took miracles for them to see it was Christ. Jesus did not stand out in a crowd.20

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Do you look for reasons to not worship? The wise men didn’t just decide to make a day-trip to Jerusalem to see if they could find the newborn King. This trip took planning (organizing a caravan, gathering the gold, frankincense, and myrrh). And after the planning, it took days to get there. After all, this was somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 miles. If we figure an average of 30 miles a day, that’s 20 days of travel! And remind me again what was so difficult that you couldn’t make it to worship God Sunday?

Get up and obey! Joseph is a great example of someone who heard the word of the Lord and wasted no time in obeying it. How often do we look for loopholes in commands, or find reasons why it is okay for us to not do what it says? How many people reject or minimize the command to be baptized instead of just doing what Christ commanded? How are you doing that in your own life?

Do you share the good news? Anna, at minimum 104 years old, is last seen going around Jerusalem, telling people about Jesus. When are we going to quit making excuses and just serve God with all our heart like she did? If a 104-year old woman can share the good news, what excuse do we have not to?

God wins. Satan has plans—evil, vicious plans—to destroy the followers of God. But in the end, God always wins. Through 4,000 years of history, God kept the promised seed safe so He could grow up and die as the sacrifice for our sins. Satan tried so many times to stop it from happening, but God always wins. Things haven’t changed. Satan wants to tear us down, to get us to sin and leave God behind, “but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able to bear; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape so that you might be able to hear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

—–

1 There are other women who prophesied (Philip’s four virgin daughters in Acts 21:8-9), but Anna appears to be the only one who was known by the title of a prophetess.

2 There are instances of the English word prophetess to be found in the Old Testament, but here I am only referencing the New Testament.

3 There are theories regarding some of the apostles being from different tribes (some go so far as to say each of the apostles was from a different tribe—an impossibility, since there were at least two sets of brothers among them). But outside of the apostle Paul (who said clearly he was from the tribe of Benjamin), we do not know the tribal ancestry of any of them.

4 So reads the KJV, English Revised Version (1881), NET (also see their note on this passage), MLV, HCSB/CSB, Campbell’s Living Oracles, and the Message.

5 Had Jesus been presented with these gifts before He was presented at the temple, Joseph and Mary would have been able to afford the lamb for Mary’s purification offering. Since they were unable to, it means they hadn’t received the gold yet.

6 I contemplated the possibility that the wise men showed up prior to Jesus’ presentation in the temple, but the information in the previous footnote convinced me this could not be correct.

7 Daniel also foretold the fall of Babylon and rise of the Medo-Persian Empire. He foretold of their fall and the rise of Greece. Because those things had come true (with really interesting details corroborated through Daniel’s prophecies), the Magi would have had faith in the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of 2:44. Additionally, Zoroastrianism, which began in the Persian Empire during or shortly after Daniel’s lifetime, contains some similarities to Judaism and the looking forward to a King from God. It is possible (I think it probable) that Zoroastrianism is a corruption of principles and prophecies of Judaism given by Daniel, and carried forward by the Magi to the people.

8 McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, “Herod.”

9 His grandson was made high priest, implying this family was of the tribe of Levi.

10 Ibid. “Immediately on ascending the throne Herod put to death all the members of the Sanhedrim, excepting Pollio and Sameas (the famous Hillel and Shammai of the Rabbinical writers), who had predicted this result, and also all the adherents of Antigonus who could be found. Having confiscated their property, he … then gave the office of high-priest… to an obscure priest from Babylon named Ananel. At this insult Alexandra, the mother of Mariamne  and Aristobulus, to whom the office of high-priest belonged by hereditary succession, appealed to Cleopatra to use her powerful influence with Antony, and Herod was thus compelled to depose Ananel, and to elevate Aristobulus to the high-priesthood. The increasing popularity of Aristobulus, added to the further intrigues of Alexandra, so excited the jealousy of Herod that he caused him to be drowned while bathing, and expressed great sorrow at the accident.”

11 Exodus 30:34-38.

12 Leviticus 2:1-2, 15-16; 24:5-7.

13 Exodus 30:23-33.

14 The fact of a star above Jesus indicates it was night when they found Him.

15 Paul and Peter both follow the same event-prophecy principle when describing the Red Sea crossing (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) and the flood of Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:20-21) as pointing forward to baptism.

16 It is a point of contention with some who dispute the Bible that this slaughter of the innocents is not mentioned in any secular histories of the time. But it must be remembered that Bethlehem was an extremely small town, with maybe a few hundred residents. The amount of male children two years old and under may have been under twenty. Don’t get me wrong, this is a massive tragedy. But it probably wasn’t anything that would have shown up on Josephus’ radar (because it didn’t affect the history of Israel), and Roman historians wouldn’t have cared about the death of twenty Jewish kids.

17 Satan got Abel killed, only to find the seed promise would go through Seth. He got the entire population of earth killed in the flood except for eight people—from an odds perspective, he must have thought he won—but it was through two of those eight (Shem and his wife) that the promise was continued. Tracing the seed promise through Scriptures and the lengths to which Satan went to stop it from happening is a very fascinating and rewarding study.

18 Matthew says “they who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

19 This fact seems to be conclusive proof (especially with the gifts of the Magi being taken into consideration) that the events of Matthew 2 did not take place prior to the events of Luke 2:25-38.

20 Cobb, Bradley S. (ed.), Preaching School Notes: Bible Institute of Missouri, 2008-2010. E-Sword edition.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming… Soon (Part 1)

Before we get into this one, another apology for all those who signed up to receive the new posts via email. I just today discovered the emails weren’t including anything in square brackets–which means none of the footnote numbers showed up, and the link to download the worksheet for each issue didn’t show up in the emails either. I hopefully will remember to fix that for future emails.

To download the worksheet for this lesson, click here.

Luke spends nearly half of his first chapter detailing the lead-up, birth, and naming of John the Immerser.1 The rest presents the lead-up to the birth of Jesus (which continues into chapter 2). The similarities between the two parts are interesting, so keep an eye out for them:

  • Gabriel announces the miraculous conception of both John and Jesus.2
  • Both children were prophesied about by the power of the Holy Spirit.3
  • Both mothers stayed out of the public eye of their hometown for a while.4

Gabriel’s Second Revelation (Luke 1:26-33)

And in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, a city of Galilee, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel came to her, and said, “Rejoice, honored one, the Lord is with you—You are blessed among women.”

When she saw him, she was troubled by this saying, and pondered what this kind of greeting meant.

And the angel said to her, “Don’t fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever—there shall be no end of His kingdom.”

One Month Later…

Elizabeth, after becoming pregnant, “hid herself” for five months.5 Apparently after that, she was willing to go back in public again and let others see how God was blessing her. It was a month afterwards that Gabriel is sent on another mission, this time to the other end of the Promised Land—to a little, insignificant town in Galilee, called Nazareth. He had to find a specific girl and give her a great message.

The girl’s name: Mary.

Mary

Assuming our assessment of the genealogies is correct,6 Mary is of the tribe of Judah, descended from David through his son Nathan. And she is betrothed to another descendant of David, a man named Joseph.

Betrothals in that time were legally-binding agreements between the husband-to-be and the parents of the bride-to-be. In the eyes of the law and culture, they were legally married (to break it off required a divorce), but until the marriage ceremony, they did not live together nor did they engage in any “marital activities” that might result in children. In other words, since Joseph entered into an agreement to marry Mary—a virgin—Joseph rightly expected to marry a virgin.7

The Strange Greeting

Gabriel says, “Rejoice, honored one!” I know your translation doesn’t read this way. The word translated “Hail” (KJV, ASV) or “Greetings” (NIV, ESV) is translated “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” or “rejoicing” (or “joy,” “joyfully,” or “glad”) 49 of the 60 times it appears in the New Testament. The NKJV gets it right by showing Gabriel start by telling Mary to “Rejoice,” because he has great news to share.

The phrase “honored one” (or “highly favored,” or “favored one”) only shows up one other place—Ephesians 1:6, where it is translated “accepted” (KJV), “freely bestowed” (NASB), and “freely given” (NIV). It is a modified form of the word for “grace.” Gabriel calls her “honored one” because of the great news he has to share.

Gabriel says, “the Lord is with you.” This is the first part of why she is supposed to rejoice. People who are truly trying to follow God almost always have nagging doubts about whether they are right in God’s sight. To hear a heavenly messenger say, “the Lord is with you” would be a great comfort. But it wasn’t just her righteous status under consideration.

Gabriel then says, “You are blessed among women.” He will explain it momentarily, but Mary is blessed, because—of all the women in the world—God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

So why did God choose Mary?

  1. She was of the right lineage (so the Messiah would physically be a descendant of David).
  2. She was engaged to the right person (so the Messiah would legally be heir to the throne).
  3. She was faithful—she “found favor with God” (verse 30).

We aren’t told how old Mary was when this happened. Some have suggested she was potentially as young as 13, though I have serious doubts about that for the following reasons:

  • However old she was, she had to have shown an independent faithfulness to God (not just following orders from her parents), because she “found favor with God.” This phrase refers to how God views a person’s actions, and is never used of a child elsewhere in the Bible. The first time this idea is found is with Noah, who was around 500 years old.8
  • Mary traveled (apparently alone?) from Galilee to Judah, a trip that was often taken by caravanning together with many others for safety. It would either require going through the land of the Samaritans, or crossing the Jordan River twice to avoid Samaria. Mary made this journey in a hurry, which eliminates the idea of a large caravan. A 13-year old girl, traveling alone (she did not come from a wealthy family, so there would have been no servants) on this journey would have been a prime target for thieves and predators (both human and animal).

I don’t doubt that she was young (obviously younger than Elizabeth), but I can’t picture a 13-year old fitting these circumstances. If I were forced to make a guess, I would say Mary was between 16 and 18 when this event took place.

Mary’s Confusion

When Zacharias saw Gabriel, he was afraid and troubled because the angel was standing there in the temple. When Mary saw Gabriel, she was troubled (and apparently had some fear) because of the message. She wasn’t expecting this, and honestly didn’t know what this greeting even meant—she “pondered” on it.

The Good News

Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid (implying she was at least somewhat afraid), because she had “found favor with God.” As we said earlier, this means her faithful living was seen by God—so much so that God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

Then he gets to meat of the message: “You’re going to conceive and give birth to a son, and you’re going to name Him Jesus.” Other than Gabriel using the name Jesus, this can easily be seen as a reference to Isaiah 7:14—which Mary certainly didn’t understand completely. The name Jesus means “Jehovah Saves” or “Jehovah is Salvation,” and is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament.

“He shall be great.” Chalk it up to Gabriel to give a massive understatement. This is the same thing he said to Zacharias about John, “He shall be great”—except John would be great “in the sight of the Lord.” Jesus is the Lord, so Gabriel simply states, “He shall be great.”

He will be called the Son of the Highest, or the Son of God. Jesus later taught, “Love your enemies…and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called sons of the Highest, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Whereas we gain the name “son [or daughter] of the Highest” in a spiritual sense, Jesus was literally Son of the Highest. God is His only Father, and Jesus also lived up to all the spiritual ideals of the Father. In other words, Jesus is “Son of the Highest” at birth, and earned that title throughout His life (and beyond).

  • Jesus is declared God’s Son prior to His conception (Luke 1:32).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His baptism (Luke 3:22).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son in the midst of His ministry (Luke 9:35).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His resurrection (Acts 13:33)

Jesus will have the throne of his father David. This was prophesied back in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Unto us a son is born. Unto us a child is given. The government will be on his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from now even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

This means clearly that Mary’s Son must be of the royal lineage of David. She would have understood that much at least. It is not a coincidence that Luke mentioned her husband-to-be was “of the house of David.”

One thing we should address now (and probably more in-depth much later in this study) is the term “throne of David.” Some well-meaning but completely off-base folks teach this is speaking of Jesus ruling in literal Jerusalem on David’s literal throne. The prophecy isn’t about a literal chair (which, at 3,000 years old, is either destroyed, disintegrated, or so fragile no one could sit on it). It refers to Jesus ruling as the legitimate heir to David. Jesus is sitting on His throne, reigning from heaven (Acts 2:30; Hebrews 12:2).

This rule will be “forever,” and this kingdom will have no end. This is the same thing said in Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:7; and others.

His reign over the “house of Jacob” means, first off, that He was born King of the Jews—He is the Jewish Messiah. Secondly, it means they will have to answer to Him as their King and Judge. Thirdly, it also expands to His kingdom—the church—which is spiritual Israel (Romans 9:6).

Mary Accepts the Mission (Luke 1:34-38)

Then Mary said to the angel, “How is this going to happen, seeing I don’t [sexually] know a man?”

And the angel answered her, saying, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Because of this, that holy thing which will be born from you will be called the Son of God. And look, your cousin Elizabeth, she in her old age has also conceived a son. And this is now the sixth month with her, who had been called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

According to some sources, the Jews had a year-long betrothal period before the marriage. Mary and Joseph may well have been at the beginning of their betrothal period when this message was given by Gabriel. The marriage was at least 3 and a half months away (see verses 39-40 and 56), and probably longer. But Gabriel is apparently hinting this pregnancy is going to happen pretty quickly. That explains Mary’s response.

Mary’s Question

She asks him, in essence, “How is this going to happen, since I’m a virgin?” First, notice the difference between her response and Zacharias’ response. Zacharias asks, “How shall I know this?” In other words, he asked for proof, for a sign. Mary asks, “How is this going to happen?” It is a question of curiosity, not a question of doubt.

Second, note that she assumes there is going to be something miraculous about it, because her question is, How am I going to be pregnant when I’m a virgin? And she knows her wedding is not imminent yet, but seems to believe this pregnancy is going to happen before that time.

Gabriel’s Explanation

It isn’t often we are given the explanation for how God performs something supernatural, but Mary gets just such an explanation. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon her. When miracles happened in the Bible, the Holy Spirit was always involved. Thus, if a child was born via miraculous means, the Holy Spirit was involved. When Joseph was troubled about Mary’s pregnancy, an angel told him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

He also said “the power of the Highest [that is, God] will overshadow you.” In other words, God will make it happen by His power. If God can create man from dust (after creating the dust in the first place), then there is no reason to assume He can’t make Mary pregnant without the aid of a man.

As a result of this supernatural involvement, Mary’s Son would be called “the Son of God.” As we saw earlier, Jesus is Son of God literally, and He also earned the title through His obedience.

To make sure he eliminates any doubt Mary might have, he shares some news with her that she may have not yet heard—your old cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, and has been for six months—and people called her barren!” Then he prompts her to respond in faith: “Because with God, nothing is impossible.”

Some have questioned how Mary and Elizabeth could be cousins (literally the Greek word means “same family”) when Mary is clearly from Judah and Elizabeth is clearly from Levi. The answer is a simple one. All it would take for Mary and Elizabeth to be first cousins (hypothetically) is for Mary’s mother to be from the tribe of Levi (tribal descent was from the father’s line) or Elizabeth’s mother to be from the tribe of Judah. And the text doesn’t say what exact relation they were—they could have been second cousins or third (and don’t get me started on the “once removed” parts), which would just mean a grandma or great-grandma married into a different tribe—which was common. Whatever the relationship, when Gabriel mentions Elizabeth, Mary knows exactly who he is talking about, because they are family.

Mary’s Acceptance

Mary responds with humility, and acceptance. She just says, “Behold, [I am] the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen to me according to your declaration.” No arguing, no trying to explain why God should choose someone else (like Moses did). She accepts the mission God has given her.

Then the angel departs from her. I have to wonder how he did the departing. Did he just *pop* disappear? Did he quickly ascend to heaven? Was there some smoke to travel upward (see Judges 13)? We aren’t told, but I’m still curious.

The Three-Month Visit with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

And in those days, Mary arose and went to the hill country, into of Judah, hurriedly. And she went in the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.

And it happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spoke out loudly, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed, because those things which were told to her by the Lord will take place.”

And Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, from now onward, all generations shall call me blessed. Because He is mighty who has done great things to me, and His name is holy. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imaginings of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low estate. He has filled the hungry with good things. And he has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel in remembering His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary stayed with her about three months, then returned to her own house.

Rushing to Judah

Why Mary rushed so quickly to Judah is a subject of speculation, but rush she did. Some suggest she wanted to see if the angel had told her the truth.9 Others suggest it was to build up her faith by seeing pregnant Elizabeth in person and to celebrate with her.10 Others think she quickly traveled down to Judah to congratulate11 and assist her aged cousin in her final months of pregnancy. Others think she went to quickly get the highly-respected Zacharias and Elizabeth on her side to vouch for her story of a male-less pregnancy.12 And still others suggest she was so bursting at the seams to tell someone about it, but couldn’t tell anyone around Nazareth for fear of shame, that she went as quick as she could to tell Elizabeth.13

Several suggestions exist for when she left to go there. And this wouldn’t be an issue, except we are trying in this study to keep things in chronological order as much as possible. The Ethiopic translation says “in that day,” meaning she left the very day Gabriel spoke with her. Most English translations say “in those days,” which leaves a bit of ambiguity to how long she waited. I have read guesses of a few hours to two days to three or four weeks. The ones who argue for it being over a week say betrothed virgins were not permitted to travel alone, and that there had to be time for Joseph to find out she was pregnant, have his dream, and decide to go ahead and quickly marry her, then allow her to travel. While I guess that could be true, the idea of Mary hurrying to get there shows she was in a massive rush to get there—something that seems incongruous with a weeks-long or month-long delay.

It seems most likely to me that Mary, discovering the news about Elizabeth, packed as quick as she could and left at the earliest point possible (perhaps the same day, probably a day or so later) to be with Elizabeth. And then, after returning home three months later, she is obviously pregnant, and word gets around (through the grapevine, so to speak) to Joseph, and then the events recorded in Matthew 1 take place (and we will cover those in the next lesson).

Elizabeth’s Praise

Mary comes in and greets Elizabeth. King James says “saluted,” but the word means a loving greeting (and “saluted” doesn’t scream loving nowadays). When Elizabeth heard it (so apparently she wasn’t right there when Mary said it), the baby John leaped in her womb. Before our son was born, he liked to kick, and my wife could feel it very clearly. So what does it feel like for a baby to leap inside the womb?

After John leaped, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (meaning she was being given inspired words) and began to speak. But she spoke “with a loud voice” (Greek mega phone), perhaps because she wasn’t in the same room as Mary—at least not at first.

We know she was inspired to speak these words, because she spoke things she would not have previously known. She repeats Gabriel’s blessing: Blessed are you among women. Then she adds, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” that is, the as-yet-unborn baby Jesus. But Mary hadn’t told her she was pregnant.

Elizabeth then asks, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is proof as well that her proclamation was inspired—it is one thing to guess someone is pregnant, but to know Mary was pregnant with the Lord—the Messiah? There’s no way that could have been guessed. And knowing what we know about Elizabeth—that she kept all the laws of the Lord blamelessly—she would not have spoken a blessing on Mary if there was even a small doubt about her being pregnant by divine means.

The Catholic Church calls Mary “the mother of God.” This is blasphemous. They reason this way: Mary is the mother of Jesus (correct). Jesus is God (correct). Therefore Mary is the mother of God. No! God has no mother or father. God is eternal. “In the beginning, God…” Mary is the mother of Jesus. She is the mother of the human Jesus. His nature as God existed thousands of years before Mary was born, so in no way can Mary be said to be the mother of God.

Then I can only imagine Elizabeth was smiling, perhaps even chuckling a bit, when she says, “And look, as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” It sounds like she is sharing the joy the baby is expressing.

As a side note, the Bible attributes emotion to the baby inside the womb, and calls him a “baby.” The biblical writers use the same word for a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb. It is a baby. Not a fetus. Not a clump of cells. It is a baby.

It is also interesting to note that Luke, being a physician, would have been the perfect person to disprove the virgin pregnancy and virgin birth of Mary. He could have easily said, “This is clearly impossible.” Instead, he does the research, probably even interviews Mary,14 and concludes that it actually happened just as he describes it.

The final line of Elizabeth’s praise shows us Mary didn’t come there to check if the angel was telling the truth. Elizabeth (by inspiration) says “Blessed is she who believed” (speaking of Mary). Mary believed the angel, and God was going to bring about the things He told her through Gabriel.

Mary’s Magnificent Magnificat

Verses 46-55 are often called the Magnificat (especially by Catholics) and it is claimed to be one of the eight earliest Christian hymns, and the first hymn in praise to Mary—yet no documented proof for this claim is offered. These verses may have been done in poetic form (I doubt anyone reading this is an expert on first century poetic structure of Hebrew-speakers whose words were recorded in Greek), but it would be sacrilegious to say Luke wrote down a song designed to be sung in praise to Mary—when all praise is to go to Deity.

The first line of Mary’s praise is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” That means she praises Him, she makes a big deal out of Him. She makes Him bigger and herself smaller. It is a fancy way of saying the Lord is important to her. And we all ought to be able to say the same thing.

In the same vein, she says her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. How often do we rejoice in knowing God saves us? Mary here speaks of God as already being her Savior. Her ultimate salvation is through her not-yet-born Son, Jesus. But the salvation she is referencing is God raising her up from a lowly place (a poor girl in a nowhere town in the lower-class part of the country) to a position where everyone who knows about her will say she was blessed by God. Everyone who cares about God and His plan will know who she is.

She knows this elevation in status isn’t an accident—it took a mighty one to do this great thing. And even His name is holy. And the reason God, the Mighty, did this was because He has mercy to those who fear Him.

Mary then appears to reference (in general) God’s actions in the past, though it ultimately points forward to the spiritual reality in Christ.

  • He showed strength with His arm.
  • He dispersed the proud in their imaginations.
  • He ripped the mighty from their thrones.[15]
  • He exalted those of low estate.
  • He filled the hungry with good things, but sent away the rich empty-handed.
  • He helped His servant Israel (that is, when they acted as His servant, He helped them) by remembering His mercy.

The idea of God humbling the proud and exalting the humble appears several times in the New Testament, and each of these examples fits the same paradigm.

These things were done to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12.

Mary Goes Back Home

After this memorable exchange, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months—just about the time baby John was to be born. She went back to her own house (that is, back to her parents), and awaited her marriage (though as we will see next time, there were some issues leading up to it).

What This Means for Us Today

Trust God, even when it seems impossible. Many promises to us in the Bible seem difficult, if not downright impossible, to grab hold of and trust. Can I really cast my cares and anxieties on Him and let Him take care of them? Can I really trust God to make sure I have what I need? Mary was told she would have a child without the involvement of a man. Yet her stance was that since God promised it, it was going to happen.

Family is important—especially if they follow God too. Whatever the reason may be, Mary spent three months with Elizabeth, and they were both overjoyed at what God had done for them. Far too often Christians (especially if they are related) spend their time complaining about things: the economy, the government, the church, etc. Instead, we ought to be seeking to build each other up.

Jesus is Lord, the Savior. Several times in this passage, Jesus is called “Lord.” It is here Mary is told His name will be Jesus—Jehovah saves. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins through His death on the cross. Let us not ever forget this amazing gift God offers to us.

1 Luke 1:5-25, 57-80—All of which was covered in the last lesson. And while verses 39-56 include Elizabeth (John’s mother), and most of that section are Elizabeth’s words, the focus is not on John, but on Jesus, whom Mary was then carrying in her womb.

2 1:18-20, 26-31.

3 Elizabeth prophesied about Jesus (1:41-45, specifically verses 42-43); Zacharias prophesied about John (1:67-79).

4 1:24, 39-40, 56.

5 1:24.

6 Lessons 3 and 4.

7 The Law of Moses describes a potential situation where a husband claims his wife wasn’t a virgin on the day of the marriage. The parents of the wife were to bring out the bloody sheet that was on the bed during the wedding night, proving she had lost her virginity after the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

8 Genesis 6:9.

9 Benson, Joseph, Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (1857), e-sword edition.

10 Calvin, John, Calvin’s Complete Commentaries, e-sword edition.

11 Alford, Ibid.

12 Coke, Thomas, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803) e-Sword edition.

13 Butler, Paul T. The Gospel of Luke (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986) (College Press Commentary set) e-Sword edition.

14 This would be the most likely way he would know what she had been thinking and pondering, as is said multiple times in chapters 1 and 2. See John Krivak’s article, “The Voice of Mary” in The Quarterly (Volume 5, Number 1), January, 2021.

15 Some translations say, “seats,” but the Greek word is the same.

[Life of Christ] Birth of Elijah the Way-Preparer

[Note: if you find any typos or mistakes, please let me know.]

[Note 2: To download te worksheet for this lesson, click here.]

At the end of the Old Testament, God inspired Malachi to say these words:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of Jehovah. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

From that point forward, the Jewish people had been watching and waiting for this man cryptically called Elijah. There is even a place in the New Testament where some Jews ask a man if he is Elijah.[1] Some believed Jesus was Elijah.[2] Three of Jesus’ apostles asked Him why the scribes said Elijah must come before the Messiah.[3]

All this to say, there was an expectation that Elijah was coming—but almost everyone (including the apostles) missed it when he did come. This predicted Elijah is better known as John the Baptist, though it is more accurate to call him John the Immerser.[4]

Matthew, Mark, and John introduce John as a fully-grown preacher of repentance in the wilderness. They don’t tell us anything about his history, and that’s understandable, given why and to whom each gospel was written.[5] But Luke, as a historian, wanted his readers to know who this strangely-dressed man in the wilderness was, where he came from, and why he was important.

The Setting (Luke 1:5-10)

In the days of Herod [the Great], the king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah. His wife, whose name was Elizabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron. Both of them were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinance of the Lord—blamelessly. They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

It came to pass that while he performed the priestly office before the Lord in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priestly role, his duty was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

And the whole multitude of people were praying outside at the time of [the burning of] incense.

During the Reign of Herod

It has been popular for the last century or so to say Herod died in 4BC,[6] meaning that both Jesus and John would have had to be born at least two years earlier (Matthew 2:16), though the majority of early Christian writers who dealt with the issue dated Herod’s death around 1 BC, thus placing the birth of Jesus in either 3 or 2 BC,[7] and thus John’s birth six months earlier. Ultimately, the exact date doesn’t matter for our salvation, but since Luke saw fit to give us some context, I thought it worth at least mentioning in passing.

But even more important is the political context. Herod was a foreigner, an Idumean (Edomite), who was made king over Judea by Rome. Jews who read Daniel understood that the Kingdom of God was going to be established during the days of the Fourth Kingdom—the Roman Empire.[8]

Zacharias the Priest

Zechariah[9] or Zacharias[10] (We’re gonna go with Zacharias) was a Jewish priest, descended from Aaron through either Eleazar or Ithamar, Aaron’s two sons who didn’t get zapped with fire from the LORD back in Leviticus 10. Under King David, the priests were divided into 24 subgroups, based on which grandson of Aaron they were descended from. These 24 subgroups took turns serving in the temple.[11]

It has been suggested by some that Zacharias was the legitimate high priest, but not the high priest in practice. Rome liked having control over leaders, and they sold the office of high priest to the highest bidder—whether he was the legitimate high priest or not. Evidence for Zacharias possibly being the high priest are:

  1. God commanded Aaron (the high priest) to burn incense in the temple (Exodus 30:7-8); God inspired Luke to mention Zacharias was burning incense in the temple (Luke 1:9).
  2. God commanded Zacharias that his son would not drink wine nor strong drink (Luke 1:15); the high priest was not allowed to drink wine or strong drink while serving the Lord (Leviticus 10:8-9).[12]
  3. Zacharias’ wife was named Elizabeth (Luke 1:5); Aaron (the first high priest) was married to a woman with the same name (the Hebrew version of it): Elisheba (Exodus 6:23).[13] [14]
  4. Many ancient Christian writers stated Zacharias was high priest, among them Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Ambrose, Theodoret, Dionysius the Areopagite, Theophlact, and others.[15]
  5. The Protoevangelium of James, an early piece of religious fan-fiction (perhaps as early as AD 150), identifies Zacharias, father of John the Baptizer, as the high priest.[16]
  6. The fact that everyone was outside the temple, awaiting Zacharias to come back out, indicates he went in alone. This has led several to believe it was the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would go in the temple alone.[17]
  7. Josephus seems to indicate that though Rome installed the high priests each year, there were at least times when a special high priest was put in place exclusively on the Day of Atonement, apparently to make sure the sacrifice and offering was made by the right person. It is suggested Zacharias was this special high priest in Luke 1.[18]
  8. Zacharias is described as “well advanced in years,” but regular priests were required to retire at 50 years old. The high priest, however, served until his death.

You might think, Well that’s interesting and all, but does it really matter? It doesn’t matter, so far as salvation is concerned, but if it is true, it also means that John the Baptist was the legitimate high priest when he baptized Jesus, and when he said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” In other words, if Zacharias was God’s legitimate high priest, then John was too, and potentially the last legitimate high priest. I’m not saying it definitely is the case, but it a neat thought nonetheless.[19]

At the very least, John the Immerser was legitimately a priest, and he worked to cleanse people from their sins by teaching them repentance, baptism, and pointing them to Jesus.

Elizabeth the Daughter of Aaron

She is not just a Levite, but a descendant of Aaron, meaning any children she has with her husband would be of priestly bloodline from both sides. Unfortunately, poor Elizabeth wasn’t able to have children. She was barren, and besides that, any hope she’d had for having children (like Rachel) evaporated as she got older and older. And her husband Zacharias was no spring chicken either.

The Couple

Zacharias and Elizabeth must have been amazing people, even if they couldn’t have children. God declared them righteous, because they “walk[ed] in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord—blamelessly.” Wouldn’t you love to have that said about you?

This means they loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means they loved their neighbor as themselves. It means they obeyed the commands of God from the heart. And they didn’t pick and choose which ones they liked, which ones were easier—they followed all the commands of God, and no one could legitimately say otherwise.

Sounds like they would have made great parents…

In the Temple

Zacharias is inside the temple, offering incense inside the temple (on the altar of incense). Given that there were 24 classes of priests, with who knows how many priests in each class, and each class only serving a week at a time, twice a year—getting to go into the temple and offer the incense was something that a priest might only be able to do once in his entire life.

And all the people were outside praying during this time.

The Announcement (Luke 1:11-17)

An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to [Zacharias]. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell on him.

But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you will call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall not drink wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. And he shall turn  many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedience to the wisdom of the righteous; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The Angel Appears

This angel, later identified as Gabriel, shows up on the right side of the Altar of incense. That means he’s standing in front of the veil between the holy place and the most holy place (or holy of holies). Zacharias is supposed to be alone, so this is quite a shock—even if the angel took on an appearance as a normal human. Can you imagine if he appeared like the angels at the tomb of Jesus, with bright shining clothes? And remember too that Zacharias is an older man—hope he has a good heart!

Zacharias is troubled and quite frightened. After all, how did this guy get in here (assuming Gabriel looked like a human)? How did I not see him? Or, if he did look slightly more amazing than a human, Zacharias would be scared because he knows he is in the presence of a heavenly messenger of God.

But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” Zacharias had nothing to worry about. God was behind this, and had good news for him.

Elijah John is Coming!

I love the exchange between Zacharias and the angel. The angel starts by saying, “Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son.” You realize what that means, right? That means—even though both Zacharias and Elizabeth were well-advanced in years, he was still praying that they would have a child. How’s that for faith?

It is also pretty quick proof that Zacharias wasn’t dealing with a mere human here. This visitor knew what he was praying. (I don’t figure Zacharias was in the habit of letting people know he was praying for he and his wife—both beyond the age of having children—to have a child.) Zacharias would have immediately known this was someone sent from God.

And the angel continues, “You shall call his name John.” I don’t know what Zacharias’ mental reaction was to that. Perhaps he thought (as did others later in this chapter), Why John? But this name comes into play later.

The angel says, “You will have joy and gladness.” Zacharias is probably thinking, If what you’re saying is true, that is an understatement! But the angel continues, “and many shall rejoice at his birth.” I bet they will! This will be a miracle! And people will know that God still listens to and cares for His people!

But then the angel clarifies what he means. It isn’t joy and gladness just because an old couple has a baby. It is “because he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.” I can imagine Zacharias, righteous Zacharias who loves God, being overwhelmed and overjoyed. My son is going to be faithful to the Lord! When so many children fall away, can you imagine a better promise to a parent-to-be?

But also notice that the Lord will call John “great.” Later on, Jesus says, “Among those born of women, no one has risen greater than John the Immerser” (Matthew 11:11).

Then the angel starts giving more detail, which instantly would send Zacharias’ head reeling. “He… will not drink wine nor strong drink.” Is he to be a Nazarite then? But before he has a chance to think more…

“He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.” While being “filled with the Holy Spirit” or being “full of the Holy Spirit” happens several times in the New Testament, it is extremely rare in the Old Testament. And it is never said about someone in the womb—except for John. My son is going to be a prophet? My Lord, I know not how to thank you for this grand honor!

I can’t help but believe Zacharias was growing more and more joyous as the angel continued. (1) you will have a son, (2) he will be faithful, (3) he will be great in the eyes of the Lord, (4) he will be full-time dedicated to God from birth, (5) he will be a prophet.

But the angel continues with even more: “Many of the children of Israel will turn to the Lord their God because of him.” Not just a prophet, but a successful one? One who will get through to the people?

And it keeps building: “He will go before Him…” Zacharias didn’t have to ask who the Him was. Malachi 3:1 was something he would have known well:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me… saith Jehovah of hosts.

Zacharias’ mind must have been racing. My son will be the messenger? My son… foretold by the prophet Malachi?

But then comes the bomb—the most explosive part of the announcement. “…in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” My son… is the Elijah? My son… preparing the way for the Lord? Preparing the way for the Messiah???

The Doubt (Luke 1:18-25)

Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? Because I’m old, and my wife is well-advanced in years.”

And the angel answered, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, who was sent to speak to you, and to show you this good news. And behold, you will be mute, not able to speak, until the day these things happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will happen in their time.”

And the people waited for Zacharias and were amazed that he took so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived he had seena  vision in the temple, because he beckoned for them, but remained speechless.

And it happened that, as soon as the days of his service were finished, he went to his own house. And after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived and hid herself five months, saying, “Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the days in which He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Should’ve been Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

As amazing as this information is, perhaps Zacharias stands in shock for a moment, before his mind starts thinking this is all too amazing to be true. Who is he kidding? We’re too old to have children.

Then he opens his mouth and says it. “How can I be sure of this? Because I’m old, and my wife is well-advanced in years.” Ignoring that he should never have called his wife old, let alone well-advanced in years, he is speaking to an angel of God! He already knows (1) no human could have gotten into the temple without being noticed, and (2) no human would have known his prayers. So I have to assume he was speaking out of fear, confusion, and truly wanting what the angel said to be true, but having a hard time believing it is actually going to happen. Sometimes we wait for something, long for something for so long that it seems it will never happen, and when it does, or when hope arises that it might, our minds are scared to fully buy into it, to fully believe it because we’ve been disappointed so many times before. It is human nature to not want to be disappointed—especially when it is something so personal, so intense, so heart-rending.

I still have to chuckle when I think (1) Zacharias has been praying for he and Elizabeth to have a baby—even in their old age, (2) the angel told him about his prayer, (3) told him God was about to answer the prayer, and (4) then Zacharias tries to explain to the angel why it can’t happen. But we all have our times where we forget what God has done for people. Think Abraham and Sarah.

I’m Gabriel

Gabriel, whose name means Man of God or Warrior of God, only appears twice in the Old Testament. Both times he shows up to explain God’s message to Daniel. So when he identifies himself to Zacharias, the priest knows exactly who he is dealing with.

Gabriel says, “I… stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak to you, and to show you this good news.[20]” It is like he’s saying, “You want to know how you can be sure? Well, I stand in the presence of God. Who do you think sent me with this message?”

I can imagine Zacharias trying to take this all in. God sent an angel—not just any angel, but Gabriel himself—to talk to me?

Not a Word…

As proof, and a little bit of a punishment for doubting the message, Zacharias is told he won’t be able to speak until these things (specifically the birth of the son and Zacharias naming him John).

When Zacharias steps out of the temple, the people were concerned about what had taken him so long. One ancient Jewish writing says of a High Priest around 200 BC:

Once a certain high priest made a long prayer and [his fellow priests] decided to go in after him—they say this high priest was Shim’on the Righteous. They said to him: “Why did you pray so long?” He said to them: “I was praying that the temple of your God would not be destroyed.” They said to him: “Even so, you should not have prayed so long.”[21]

Perhaps the crowd was worried something had happened to Zacharias, perhaps that he had died in the temple—he was old, after all.

But he waved the crowd to him, and was able to get the point across that he had seen a vision in the temple, but was unable to speak.

So imagine yourself in that scenario. The priest comes out, can’t talk (but he could before), and he, through hand gestures and facial expressions, reveals he has seen a vision—a miraculous message from God! But he can’t tell you what was said, because he can’t speak. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Zacharias was the kind of husband who wanted to share news with his wife before sharing it with others.

It Begins

So Zacharias finished his work at the temple (how many mute days did he spend working at the temple?) and goes home to his wife. Certainly he conveys to Elizabeth what the angel said (though we aren’t given her reaction). But when she becomes pregnant, her emotions must have been overwhelming. Joy, thankfulness, peace, love.

Elizabeth hid herself for five months. It is assumed by several scholars that she did this to have uninterrupted time to praise and thank God.[22] It is also suggested that she wanted to make sure the pregnancy was going well before she appeared to her friends and shared the good news, perhaps because they would not have taken her seriously if they couldn’t see evidence of it.[23]

She expressed her great thankfulness, because “the Lord…has taken away my reproach among people.” She desperately wanted children, but was unable to have any—and now she was old and childless. She and Zacharias’ family lines would both end with them. Except God had other plans.

The Birth (Luke 1:57-66)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to deliver, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and cousins heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and rejoiced with her. And it happened on the eighth day, when they came for the child’s circumcision, that they called him Zacharias, after his father.

But his mother replied, “No, he will be called John.”

And they said, “There’s no one in your family called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, asking what he wanted him named.

And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.”

And they were all astonished.

Then immediately [Zacharias’] mouth was opened, and his tongue freed, and he spoke and praised God.

Fear came on all those who lived around them. And all these things were reported all throughout the hill country of Judea. Those who heard these things wondered about them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?”

And the hand of the Lord was with him.

A Son is Born

In keeping with the promise made by God through Gabriel, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. I am fairly certain this wasn’t a surprise to either her or Zacharias, but it certainly would have been a comforting reassurance of the power and promise of God.

The friends and family, however, apparently weren’t told the whole story ahead of time. In fact, it appears they may not have been told the whole story at all. But regardless, they recognized this as an act of God’s mercy, and  were overjoyed for Elizabeth—and who can resist smiling when they see a newborn baby?

The Meddling Baby-Namers

Apparently it wasn’t uncommon for friends and relatives to name babies that weren’t theirs. When Boaz and Ruth had a son, the neighbors of Naomi (the mother of Ruth’s first husband) took the liberty of naming him Obed.[24] So when it was time for this young child to be circumcised, the neighbors and relatives (I tend to think they were mostly women, probably because of the incident in Ruth) decided his name was Zacharias, after his father.

Certainly this was a sign of respect to Zacharias, that he was looked up to and honored. But whatever he may have thought of the idea, neither he nor Elizabeth was having any of it. Why? Because “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinance of the Lord—blamelessly.”[25] Naming him John was a command of the Lord, and they weren’t about to disobey—especially after they finally were granted the answer to their prayers for a child.

So Elizabeth flatly stated, “No, he shall be called John.” This brought a chorus of confusion. I can picture them all looking at each other, asking, “Did she say John?” Then (can you imagine doing this?) they started to argue with the brand-new mother about what to name him. “There’s no one in your family with that name,” they said. And they weren’t about to let Elizabeth get away with naming her own child! Then they look to Zacharias for backup.

They “made signs” to Zacharias. This has led some to believe Zacharias was not just mute, but deaf as well.[26] I am not convinced. People tend to treat those with physical disabilities as less able than they really are, and this may just be an example of that. Either way, they wanted to get Zacharias to weigh in on their side.

Can we stop for a moment and just say it is never a good idea to try to force a husband and wife to disagree with each other—especially over something as personal as naming their own child?

So Zacharias asks for a writing tablet. The neighbors and relatives are certain he is going to side with them. He writes. They wait. He turns the tablet around for them all to see. Their eyes widen, perhaps a jaw or two drops. Because on that tablet they read: “His name is John.”

And that ends the discussion, because another surprise is coming: Zacharias can talk again—and he does, ignoring the crowd’s attitude about the name. His first words are praises to God.

Fear Came on Them

You know something this amazing (old Zacharias and Elizabeth having a baby), this crazy (naming the baby John?), and this surprising (Zacharias talking after a nine-month silence) was not going to be kept silent. They spread the word all over the place. But the reaction isn’t what you might initially think.

“Fear came on all who dwelt around them.” Why fear? Because they didn’t know what to make of all this. Because they knew God was behind it—but they didn’t know what He was planning with John. Because God had been silent for around 400 years, last interacting with the Jews through Malachi. They knew something important was happening, but they weren’t sure what it was.

But they told everyone they knew about it nonetheless. And everyone that heard it wondered what was going to happen with this child, what he would become, what God would do with him.

Then Luke adds an interesting detail: “the hand of the Lord was with him.” God cared for him, strengthened him, and protected him as he grew.

The Prophecy (Luke 1:67-80)

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Zacharias Praises God and Prophesies about Jesus

Zacharias was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” which is a phrase Luke uses to describe someone who speaks miraculously with words or messages given by God.[27] In other words, Zacharias wasn’t making these words up out of thin air. He absolutely meant them, but they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

He praises God because “He has visited and redeemed His people” (KJV). While God had in times past visited and redeemed His people, it seems like Zacharias is using what is sometimes called “the prophetic perfect” or the “prophetic past tense.” In other words, he is stating something in past tense, even though it is still in the future, because of the certainty of it happening. It is so certain that he can speak of it as an already-accomplished event.

This phrase points to the life, work, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Zacharias can praise God in this way because he knows the plan has finally been set into motion with the birth of John, the one chosen by God to be the forerunner for the Messiah.

“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” Again, prophetic past tense. He’s looking past John to the One of real importance—one who was not from the house of Levi (as John was), but who was from the lineage of David.

And Zacharias sees this as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (v. 70) about salvation (v. 71), about God’s promise of mercy (v. 72), about God’s covenant (v. 72), and about the oath sworn to Abraham (v. 73).[28] He saw this as a promise of deliverance from fear (v. 74).[29] He saw this as instituting God’s plan to make men holy and righteous (v. 75).

In other words, Zacharias saw in this the work of Christ and of reality in His church.

Son, You’ve Got a Job to Do

Zacharias then looks at his son, John, and foretells the work he will accomplish. Most of these things match up well with what Gabriel foretold about John.

  • You will be called the prophet of the Highest (Gabriel said John would be “filled with the Spirit,” which means he would speak by inspiration—would be a prophet).
  • You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways (Gabriel said, “he [John] would go before Him [the Lord]” as the forerunner, Elijah).
    • This also is a reference to Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
  • You will give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins (Gabriel said John would turn “many of the children of Israel…to the Lord their God”).
    • And of course, we see this carried out when John preaches a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.[30]
  • You will preach salvation through the tender mercy of our God, through which the Sunrise from on high has visited us (Gabriel said John would “turn… the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous [and] make ready a people prepared for the Lord”).
  • The One you preach will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
    • John pointed people to righteous living,[31] and even more, pointed people to Jesus.[32]
  • The One you preach will guide our feet in the way of peace.

John’s Preparation

Three things are said of John in verse 80.

He grew.

The promise of a baby was amazing, but the promises about the baby wouldn’t take place until he grew up.

He grew strong in spirit.

It doesn’t say he grew strong in the Spirit, as of the Holy Spirit, but that he grew strong in spirit. That means he grew in confidence, in resilience, which made him the perfect candidate to call out the sins of the Pharisees in front of the people.[33] He had no fear when he preached. Some might even call him somewhat hard-headed or stubborn.

He was in the deserted places until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

These deserted places, or wilderness places, are most likely the areas near Jericho and the Dead Sea where the Essenes lived. It is surmised by many that after the death of Zacharias and Elizabeth (or perhaps even prior to it), John went to live with this eccentric sect (responsible for writing and collecting the Dead Sea Scrolls) who had separated themselves from the rest of the Jews. I find the evidence to be inconclusive, but interesting.[34]

What Does this Mean for Us Today?

“God is not slack concerning His promises as some men count slackness.”[35] It had been 400 years since God had said anything to the Jews. It had been 400 years since He had promises a messenger would come to prepare the way of the Lord. It had been 400 years since He had promised Elijah was coming—and He hadn’t forgotten. We want God to answer our prayers on our time, when we want it, how we want it. But God answers when He decides it is right. And God has promised a final judgment[36]—and He hasn’t forgotten. Let’s not ever start thinking that God has forgotten anything, or that He doesn’t care—because He does.

Pray with Confidence! Zacharias had been praying for who knows how long, praying that he and Elizabeth might have a child. But it seems that his prayers had, at some point, stopped being confident, because when Gabriel said the prayers were heard and going to be answered, Zacharias didn’t believe him. Through Jesus Christ, we have the right to come with boldness, with confidence,[37] knowing God will hear our prayers, and knowing that if we ask according to His will, He will answer them.[38]

God delivers us from fear so we can serve Him in holiness and righteousness. When we act on fear, we aren’t living holy, righteous lives. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of confidence, of love, and of a sound mind.[39]

[1] John 1:21.

[2] Matthew 16:13-14.

[3] Matthew 17:10.

[4] The word “Baptist” is not a translation of the Greek word, but a transliteration—meaning the translators decided to just take the Greek letters and turn them into English letters, without actually translating the word. The word literally means “dipper” or “immerser.”

[5] Matthew wrote to prove Jesus was the King, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. Mark’s fast-paced gospel account didn’t have space or time for background stories of what was (ultimately) a side character in the story. John gave some aspects of the Immerser which don’t appear in the other three gospels, but mainly to show (1) Jesus was the important one and (2) how the Immerser pointed the way to Jesus.

[6] This view was popularized by a German scholar named Emil Schurer. https://jimmyakin.com/2013/04/jesus-birth-and-when-herod-the-great-really-died.html (accessed 3/28/2023)

[7] Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Bible Chronology, p. 291.

[8] Daniel 2:44. The crazy interpretations of the fourth kingdom to somehow be a reconstituted Roman Empire, or the European Union are without logic, without common sense, and without biblical warrant. If it points to something after the original Roman Empire, then God doesn’t know how to count.

[9] NIV, NET, ESV, RSV

[10] KJV, NKJV, NASB

[11] 1 Chronicles 24 doesn’t make it clear which of the two sons of Aaron the specific subgroup were descended from. There were sixteen from Eleazar, and eight from Ithamar. Abijah was the eighth one listed.

[12] The passage given here seems to apply to all priests, not just the high priest.

[13] This may be complete coincidence, or perhaps Luke is hinting at a connection between Aaron as high priest and Zacharias as high priest.

[14] https://tovrose.substack.com/p/was-john-the-baptist-the-rightful-aaronic-high-priest-of-israel (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[15] This information comes from John Sanidopoulos, https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/09/was-zechariah-father-of-john-baptist.html (Accessed 3/28/2023)

[16] See specifically sections 5 and 23. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/infancyjames-roberts.html (Accessed 3/28/2023). Note: This writing is full of made-up events and doctrines, and is the original source for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary—but the document was condemned as heretical in AD 405 by Pope Innocent I, and specifically decreed to be “avoided by all Catholics” by another pope less than 100 years later. See https://www.tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm; http://bible-researcher.com/innocent.html (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[17] https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/09/was-zechariah-father-of-john-baptist.html (Accessed 3/28/2023).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Each piece of evidence presented could be dismissed as (1) coincidence, (2) appealing to uninspired men, and/or (3) assumptions. However, I personally find #8 to be compelling, especially when paired with #1 and #6.

[20] The Greek word is euangelizo—where we get the word evangelize.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Alford, Clarke, etc.

[23] Barnes, Coffman. As a side note, Coffman suggests this information probably came from Luke’s interview with Mary prior to his writing this Gospel account.

[24] Ruth 4:16-17.

[25] Luke 1:6

[26] Matthew Henry gives it as a suggestion, Alford and Coffman are both adamant about it.

[27] See this author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts (Charleston, AR: Cobb Publishing, 2015) for a more in-depth look at this fact.

[28] Genesis 12:1-5.

[29] Compare this with Hebrews 2:14-15.

[30] Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3.

[31] Luke 3:10-14.

[32] John 1:25-27; 3:27-30.

[33] Matthew 3, Luke 3.

[34] Encyclopedia Britannica even addresses the issue. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-the-Baptist/Possible-relationship-with-the-Essenes (Accessed 3/29/2023). As a side note, one recent Catholic writer, in his book, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggests Luke may have written his Gospel in part to present Jesus to the Essene community. https://www.catholic.com/audio/caf/jesus-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls-2 (Accessed 3/29/2023).

[35] 2 Peter 3:9.

[36] Acts 17:31; Matthew 25; etc.

[37] Hebrews 4:16.

[38] 1 John 5:14.

[39] 2 Timothy 1:7.

[Life of Christ] Why Don’t the Genealogies Match up? (Part 2)

Sorry for not getting this out this morning. Download the worksheet here.

(Part Two—Luke 3:23-38)

The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is easy to understand: he showed Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of David, and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[1] The purpose of Luke’s, however, is not as cut-and-dried.

Oh, and it is way different from Matthew’s.

To put Luke’s genealogy in perspective, let’s consider the opening to his gospel account.

Luke’s Introduction (Luke 1:1-4)

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Whatever we decide about Luke’s genealogy, it must fit into this opening statement. Luke didn’t just make up names. His list was the result of careful investigation. Luke did his research, and expected everything he wrote to stand up to the test of careful historical examination.

An atheist named William Ramsay hated the Bible so much he determined to prove it untrustworthy. He used Luke’s writings (the books of Luke and Acts) and went around to the areas mentioned. He involved himself in archaeological studies and historical records. And by the time he was finished, he declared Luke to be a first-rate historian, and proceeded to write several books defending the accuracy of the Bible.

All that to say, Luke would not have put these specific names in this specific order unless he was absolutely certain of their accuracy. So why doesn’t his list jive with Matthew’s? We’re going to first consider the difficulties, as well as proposed solutions to these two inspired lists.

Difficulties

We can’t call ourselves dedicated Bible students if we aren’t willing to take a look at difficult parts of God’s word. And of all the passages that people use as supposed “contradictions,” these two genealogies pose one of the most challenging to explain.

Difficulty #1: Sure Looks Like Joseph’s Genealogy

If we didn’t have Matthew’s gospel, then any reader of Luke would naturally assume (and with good reason) that this genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage through his foster-father, Joseph. Mary isn’t even named in this list. Look at Luke 3:23-24:

Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years old, being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was the son of Heli, who was the son of Matthat…

And if this is the case, then either Matthew or Luke (or both) were just dead wrong on their lists.

Difficulty #2: Jesus Isn’t Heir to the Throne

If this is the legitimate genealogy through Joseph (see #1), then Jesus isn’t in line for the kingdom, as that right is passed from father to son. This genealogy goes back to David, but through his son Nathan (Luke 3:31), who did not inherit the throne, nor did his descendants. This poses a rather significant theological issue.

Difficulty #3: What Was Your Dad’s Name?

If we take Luke’s genealogy straightforward as written, then Joseph was the son of Heli (Luke 3:23). But Matthew says his father’s name was Jacob (Matthew 1:16). I know that sometimes people have multiple names in the Bible (Moses’ father-in-law had three different names),[2] but there is not a single name that matches in the two genealogies between Joseph and Zerubbabel. I personally find it difficult to believe that Matthew and Luke listed the same people (or even just some of the same people), but never once used the same name for them.

Difficulty #4: Luke’s Big Fail on Showing Jesus Representing All Mankind

One of the main purposes behind Luke’s genealogy seems to be to show that Jesus is the Savior for all mankind, because He—like everyone else—is part of humanity through Adam. But since Luke appears to trace Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (who was not His father), then all Luke can prove is that Jesus was raised by a man who descended from Adam. That raising doesn’t give Jesus His humanity.

Difficulty #5: Shealtiel’s Two Dads

Matthew says Shealtiel’s dad was Jechoniah (1:12). Luke says his dad was Neri (3:27). And no, these aren’t two names for the same person. None of Luke’s line from Shealtiel to David Matches with Matthew’s record of the same gap.

Difficulty #6: The Missing People

Between David and Zerubbabel, Matthew skipped a couple names here and there. But after Zerubbabel, things seem to get crazy. Where Matthew has nine names between Zerubbabel and Joseph, Luke has seventeen—nearly double! Was Matthew just lazy?

I’m sure there are probably more difficulties I am missing, but those are the ones that came to mind as I put this together.

Proposed Solutions to the Genealogical Conundrum

Throughout the centuries, Bible students, commentators, scholars, experts (and whoever else you want to throw in there) have attempted to find ways of harmonizing these two lists. And none of them are without their own difficulties. But we will present some of the more prominent ones here:

Possible Solution #1: The Royal and Priestly Line of Joseph

Ambrose, among others, posited that Jesus was descended from the Kingly line of Solomon (Matthew’s list) and from the priestly line of Nathan (Luke’s list). It is argued that this was necessary because Jesus is both king and priest.[3]

While this sounds interesting from a “let’s make a theological point here” standpoint, this solution fails due to the fact that Nathan—the son of David—wasn’t a priest. He couldn’t be a priest, since his father was David, of the tribe of Judah. That would make Nathan from Judah as well. And the only priests came from the tribe of Levi.

Possible Solution #2: Joseph and Shealtiel were Adopted

It has been suggested that an adoption or two could explain all the variances between the two lists. If Joseph was the natural son of Eli (Heli in some translations), but the adopted son of Jacob, then we have an explanation for the two different lists. The same thing would have to be true for Shealtiel: born to Neri, but adopted by Jeconiah.

There are biblical instances of being called “the son of” when it wasn’t talking about a natural parent. In the Jewish way of thinking (and to a large part it is true of us today), “[He] that brings up, not he that begets, is called the father” or parent.[4] Moses was called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.[5] Jesus was called the son of Joseph.[6] Joseph was called Pharaoh’s father.[7]

Matthew literally uses the word “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” (SENT),[8] which implies natural fatherhood, Luke says, “was of” for each layer of his genealogy (most translators expand it to “was the son of,” but the Greek just reads “was of”). While this may not seem like a big difference, Luke’s wording opens the possibility of an adopted son, or another option which we will note momentarily.

But there are problems with this one too.

  • One of the goals of Luke’s gospel, and thus the genealogy, is to show Jesus’ humanity, that He is not just Son of God, but also Son of man. Showing He was raised by a human who was descended from Adam doesn’t show Jesus’ relationship to the human race.
  • Jeconiah was 8 years old when he became king, reigned barely over three months, and was taken captive to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:9-10). He remained a captive until he was 45 years old, when the king of Babylon elevated him to eat with him (2 Kings 25:27-30). In other words, adoption doesn’t really seem like something he would have had the opportunity to engage in.

Possible Solution #3: This is the Genealogy through Mary

While this has its difficulties (specifically Difficulty #1 above), it is the one which answers most of the difficulties, when certain reasonable explanations are given. We will explain how this could be Mary’s family line after showing how this concept deals with the previously mentioned difficulties.

  1. If this is Mary’s, then it isn’t Joseph’s, and thus all differences between the two lists are rendered moot (at least from Zerubbabel to Joseph).
  2. If this is Mary’s, then it has no bearing on the legal, royal line, because that goes through the legal father (Joseph). Thus, this difficulty is overcome.
  3. See #1 in this list.
  4. If this is Mary’s, then it shows the physical line from which Jesus came, showing His relationship to the entire human race by tracing Him back to Adam. Thus, difficulty overcome
  5. We will deal with this difficulty momentarily.
  6. If this is Mary’s, then the difference in number of people between Joseph and Zerubbabel can rationally be explained (and it may be that Matthew skipped some generations in that section as well, which would also explain part of the difference).

So now, all we really have to do is figure out how this list could possibly refer to Mary’s lineage instead of Joseph’s. There are two main ways I’ve seen this tried. But both of them assume (and there is ancient evidence for it)[9] that Heli/Eli (depending on your translation) is Mary’s father.

The first attempt is a rearranging of the parentheses in Luke 3:23. Before we get into this, know that the parentheses are added by translators, as there was no such thing in Greek. So their placement is a matter of context and opinion. Luke 3:23, in most translations, reads: “Jesus… being (as was supposed) the Son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” Instead, it is suggested that it should read: “Jesus… (being as was supposed the Son of Joseph), which was of Heli.” You might say this increases the confusion, calling Jesus “of Heli” or “the Son of Heli.” But since Luke doesn’t mention any women in his genealogy, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for him to connect Jesus and His maternal grandfather this way.[10]

The problem with this is that Luke is extremely detailed and accurate, and doesn’t appear to skip even a single generation. So while it isn’t outside the realm of possibility, it doesn’t seem likely he would skip a generation (Mary) at the beginning, while mentioning the adoptive father. Additionally, pretty much every professional translator agrees (check all the translations you like) that the parentheses are already in the right place, and don’t need to be changed to make it easier to prove a point.

The second attempt takes part of the Old Testament law and applies it to the genealogy. When the Israelites were traveling toward the Promised Land, a group of sisters came to Moses with a problem—their father had no sons, only daughters. What would happen to his inheritance? Moses went to God, who said in these cases, the inheritance would pass to the daughters.[11] These same sisters came back with another question—what happens if they get married to someone outside their tribe? God’s answer was for them to only marry whoever they wanted, but only within their tribe, because the inheritance that had come to the daughter would become also the inheritance of her husband.[12]

How does this apply to the genealogy? This law, when figuring the inheritance, counts the son-in-law as a son. That is why it is called a son in law. Thus, when a man had only daughters, the genealogy would give his son-in-law as his son, which wouldn’t mess up the later lines, because any children born to that union would still be physical descendants.

So, take all that information, then assume Heli was the father of Mary, but he had no sons, only daughters (a legitimate possibility). After his marriage to Mary, Joseph, now Heli’s son-in-law, would be counted as his son.[13]

So when Luke says, “Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” he’s saying Joseph was the son in law of Heli.

It is suggested that this is also the situation Shealtiel was in, being the son-in-law of Neri, who (according to this understanding) had no sons. Thus, Shealtiel would have been counted as his son in this genealogy.

I get that this isn’t the easiest, most cut-and-dried explanation we could want, but it is reasonable, fits with Jewish practice and custom of the time, and does away with all the difficulties between Matthew and Luke’s accounts. Because of this, even though it takes some thinking to get there, I am satisfied that this is the best explanation for the differences between the two genealogies.

Luke’s Purposes for His Genealogy

We already mentioned above that one of Luke’s purposes seems to be to show the humanity of Jesus—that is, Jesus was a human, born from a human, descended from Adam like every other human. In other words, Jesus is one of us. This makes Jesus relatable. He had to grow, to learn, to suffer, to eat, to sleep just like the rest of us.

Another purpose may have been to explain to the Greeks (who had myriads of theories and traditions about where man came from) the origin of mankind. He traces Jesus back to the beginning of humanity (Adam), and then says Adam was “of God,” meaning God was his source.

Both these two reasons help explain why Luke ran his genealogy backwards from Jesus to Adam instead of forward like Matthew did.

Luke may have also intended by this to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Zerubbabel. Whether he intended it or not, it does have that effect.

The Genealogy of Luke

Outside of Joseph, all the names between him and Zerubbabel are people only mentioned here. We know nothing about anyone on this portion of the list except that they are descended from Zerubbabel, and are in the ancestry of Jesus.

Since we discussed Zerubbabel (whose name literally means “Born in Babel [Babylon]”) and Shealtiel in the previous lesson, we won’t go into them here.

From Shealtiel, we encounter another list of people whose names only appear here. In other words, we know nothing about any of these men from Neri (verse 27) to Mattatha (verse 31), except that they are in this genealogy.

Nathan

Nathan (father of Mattatha) was a son of David and Bathsheba, and was born in Jerusalem.[14] He almost certainly was named after Nathan the prophet, a friend of David who called out David’s horrid sinfulness to his face.

David through Abraham

We covered these men in the previous lesson.

Terah

Abraham’s father Terah traveled with him when they left Ur of the Chaldees, and died in Haran, a city Terah may have named after his own dead son.[15]

Nahor, Sereg, Reu

Outside of their appearance in genealogical records, nothing is known about these men.

Peleg

I would have included Peleg’s name in the previous list, except that in Genesis 10:25, we are told he was called Peleg, “for in his days the earth was divided.” What exactly that means isn’t clear. It could mean his father was involved in some dividing up of land (the word “land” and the word “earth” are the same word in Hebrew). It could mean the family divided into different parts of the earth at the time Peleg was born. Or it could mean the earth was a giant land mass (frequently referred to in later literature as Pangea) that God divided into continents around this time.[16]

Heber

Heber was the well-known head of the family, which gave rise to his descendants being called Hebrews. The first person called a Hebrew is Abram (who God later renamed Abraham).[17] When Moses went to Egypt to free the Israelites, he went proclaiming “the LORD God of the Hebrews” had sent him.[18] In fact, the Israelites aren’t called Israelites until Exodus 9:7—before that they are called Hebrews.

Outside of his appearance in genealogies, we know nothing about him, but he must have been of some importance to have people generations down the line still being called by his name.

Shelah, Cainan, Arphaxad

Like so many others in Luke’s list, nothing is known about these men outside of genealogical facts. But God used them.

Shem

Possibly the oldest of Noah’s three sons, Shem was given the blessing by his father. It is from Shem that we get the word Semitic, which can be used to describe a wide variety of languages, but when applied to people (at least in modern times) it only refers to Jews.

Noah

In a time of rampant sinfulness, where “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only on evil continually,”[19] Noah stood out like a bright light. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”[20] By faith, Noah built an ark at the command of God, to keep them safe from the rain and floods that would come. This is even more impressive when you consider it had never rained before. So Noah was building an ark, preparing for something that no one had seen or heard of before. Imagine the heckling he would have gotten from those he warned: Water from the sky? Noah have you lost your mind? You’re nuts! But Noah kept working and working for over 100 years, staying faithful to God throughout it all.

Lamech

Outside of his appearance in genealogies, nothing is known of Lamech.

Methuselah

His name literally means, “When he goes, it comes.” Methuselah lived longer than anyone in recorded history at 969 years. And his name seems to be prophetic—because he died the same year the flood came.

Enoch

This man “walked with God.” God thought it was so important that He had Moses record that fact twice in three verses.[21] Genesis 5:22 seems to indicate he began walking with God after Methuselah was born. And since Methuselah’s name appears to foretell the flood, it may be that Enoch started taking God seriously at that point.

Enoch is called a prophet of God. He prophesied the flood (through Methuselah’s name), and another of his prophesies was quoted by Jude to apply to false teachers in the first century.[22]

Enoch is in rare company, being one of only four righteous people in the entire Bible whose earthly end was orchestrated and carried out by God. The other three are Moses,[23] Elijah,[24] and Jesus.[25]

Jared, Mahalaleel, Cainan, Enosh

Jared is the second-oldest person in recorded history. But other than their ages at death and their places in the genealogy, nothing is known of these men. It may be assumed that these men were righteous. It is from this family that men were born who are called “sons of God.” Unfortunately, most of these offspring married unfaithful spouses, “daughters of men,” and went badly astray.[26]

Seth

Seth is the third son that we know about from Adam and Eve. He certainly wasn’t their third child. Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” Seth wasn’t born until at least nine months after Cain killed Abel. How old was Cain when that happened? Most seem to guess at least twenty years old. So were Adam and Eve “fruitful” and “multiplying” if they only had two children, waited twenty years, and then had a third?[27]

It was after Seth fathered Enos that “men began to call upon the name of the LORD.” Seth and his descendants appear to have dedicated themselves to following God.

Adam

Adam was the first sinless man, who then became the first sinner. Eve was deceived by the serpent, but Adam was there with her and said nothing. Instead, he joined in. When God came to Adam (who was the head of the family), asking what was going on, Adam threw Eve under the proverbial bus. But Paul makes it quite clear that Adam is the one to blame.[28]

There is actually surprisingly little good said about Adam in the Bible. He was the first human, created in the image of God. He worked the ground. He named Eve and he named the animals. And he had children with his wife. That pretty much summarizes the non-bad things (which are: knowingly disobeying a direct command of God, hiding from God, lying to God, blaming Eve, blaming God).

God

We can’t miss the fact that Luke traces all of humanity back to God. It was God’s plan to create man. It was God who formed Adam and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. It was God who created a garden paradise for Adam and Eve to live in. It was God’s plan to save mankind from their sin by sending His Son to be a perfect example, a perfect teacher, and a perfect sacrifice for them and us. He put that plan into motion by creating Adam.

When we look at the genealogies, we often get lost in the names and human-ness of the list, and sometimes we forget that God is the one behind it all. Luke reminds us not to forget where we came from. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Behind it all, there is God. The bookends of Luke’s genealogy are Jesus and the Father, God. How are you doing at remembering God in your life? Do you pray enough? Do you thank Him enough? Do you read His word enough?

Jesus knows what it is like to suffer, to face temptation, to be tired, to be hungry, to be betrayed. And because of these things, He is able to identify with us, to help us.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Difficulties in the Bible can be figured out, or at least given a reasonable explanation if we are willing to dig a little and think a little. The world is quick to label anything a bit different in the Bible as a contradiction, but all of them have rational, reasonable explanations if we are willing to look for them.

We can’t back away from difficulties. We should be willing, as Christians who trust in God and His word, to admit difficulties and try to find reasonable answers.

[1] See previous lesson for far more detail.

[2] He was called Reuel (Exodus 2:18), Jerthro (Exodus 18:12), and Hobab (Judges 4:11).

[3] Just, Arthur Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke (Thomas C. Oden, editor). E-Sword edition.

[4] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on Luke 3:23. E-Sword edition.

[5] Exodus 2:10; Acts 7:21

[6] Luke 2:48; John 6:42.

[7] Genesis 45:8.

[8] The Spoken English New Testament.

[9] See John Gill’s Exposition on this verse for more information.

[10] McGarvey, J.W., and Pendleton, Philip Y., The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, FIND YEAR) page 7.

[11] Numbers 27:1-11.

[12] Numbers 36.

[13] McGarvey and Pendleton, Fourfold Gospel, page 7.

[14] 1 Chronicles 3:5.

[15] Genesis 11:31-32.

[16] While I like this option best for the coolness factor, I tend to think if the Pangea hypothesis is real, it would have happened during the flood.

[17] Genesis 14:13.

[18] Exodus 3:18; 9:1.

[19] Genesis 6:5

[20] Genesis 6:8.

[21] Genesis 5:22-24.

[22] Jude 14-16.

[23] Deuteronomy 34:5-7.

[24] 2 Kings 2:1-11.

[25] John 3:16; Acts 2:22-24.

[26] Genesis 6:1-3. The idea that “sons of God” in this passage refers to angels who fell is highly imaginative fiction which, unfortunately, has been allowed to be believed as truth. Jesus said angels neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mark 12:15). They are sexless beings. After describing the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men,” we are given God’s thoughts: “My spirit shall not always strive with man…” (Genesis 6:3). The sinners of verse 2 are humans, otherwise God is confused about who He is talking about.

[27] This doesn’t even get into the fact that Cain had to get a wife from somewhere—it was either his sister or a niece.

[28] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; Romans 5:12-14.

Notes on 2 John 12-13 (Comments and Critiques Welcome)

Conclusion (12-13)

(12) Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.

Having many things to write to you…

This letter is extremely short. Here, at the end of the letter, John is saying there are several things he could have added to the letter.

I’m not willing to write them with paper and ink

Another way of saying this is that there were many things he could have added, but he didn’t want to write them. The reason for this is made quite clear when he says he wants to come speak to them face-to-face. There are some things much better said face-to-face instead of in a letter.

But I trust that I will come to you and speak face to face

When you speak face-to-face with someone, as opposed to through a letter (or text message, or email, or some other written form of communication), it shows you care. Also, in person your tone, body language, and emphasis comes through. John may have had something very unpleasant things to say to them (see 3 John 9-10). John may have needed to talk to them about some things difficult to understand (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). He may have needed to have a discussion with them, to ask them questions and understand some things going on there. All of these things are much easier to do in person than by letter.

John had confidence, trust, he would be able to come see them. It is certain John prayed about it (James 4:15). We should follow the same example.

So that our joy may be full

The purpose of John’s planned face-to-face visit was to bring joy to them and to himself. We are given a clue in verse 4 about this. John rejoiced that the Christians were walking in truth. However, he didn’t say “all” of the Christians were walking in truth. Some of them were, but others were not. His plan was to go visit them, and possibly bring the wayward back to Christ. This would cause him great joy, but also bring great joy to the congregation as well. John’s joy always seems to center on the truth being followed (see also 1 John 1:1-4, especially verse 4).

(13) The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.

The children of your elect sister greet you.

Since the “elect lady” of verse 1 is the church (perhaps specifically the congregation in Jerusalem), the “elect sister” would be the congregation where John was. Her children would be the members of that congregation.

They all send their greetings. This is the same word translated “salute” in Romans 16:16 (the churches of Christ salute you). It is more than just saying “hi.” It’s a greeting of friendship and fellowship.

Amen

This means “so be it,” or “I agree.” However, it is also used at the end of some of the Biblical letters to bring the letter to a close. It is a final re-emphasis of what’s been said, and showing John meant all of it.

Notes on 2 John 10-11 (Comments and Critiques Welcome)

How to Treat False Teachers (10-11)

(10-11) If there comes any unto you, and brings not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that bids him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

If anyone comes to you, and doesn’t bring this doctrine…

The Jews of the first century were extremely hostile towards Christians. As the end of the Jewish system got closer and closer, there were some who declared that the apostles made up the story of Jesus Christ. They said that Jesus was nothing more than a cunningly devised fable (2 Peter 1:16-18). That he wasn’t real! The Jews were doing everything they could to undermine Christianity.

This helps us understand why First John starts off with a defense of the reality of Jesus Christ’s coming to earth. John declares himself an ear-witness (“that which we have heard”), an eye-witness (“which we have seen”), and a hand-witness (“our hands have handled”).

So here in Second John, he is alerting the Christians to the Jews who were going around denying that the Christ had even come. This had the potential to destroy people’s faith, and therefore this threat must be taken seriously.

Don’t take him into house

Most translations have the word your inserted into this sentence, making it read, “Don’t receive him into your house.” However, the word your is not in the original. This is actually significant to understanding this verse.

The typical understanding of this verse is that if a false teacher comers around, don’t even let him into your house! This verse is used by some as justification for not allowing a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness to cross the threshold of their doorway. But that’s not what John is saying.

The early church met in houses, in the home of one of the members. John is telling the Christians not to allow the false teachers to have access to the congregation. Don’t let them into the congregational gatherings. Don’t let them into the house where Christians are meeting.

The application for us today is that we should be aware of what others believe and teach before we welcome them into the congregation. We cannot give false teachers access to the congregation, because they have the potential of destroying the faith of some of the weaker or newer members.

It’s because of things like this that the early church sent letters of recommendation with members who were traveling or moving (I Corinthians 16:3, II Corinthians 3:1). This isn’t such a bad idea.

Don’t say God-speed to them, either

The word translated as God speed in the King James Version is translated as greeting in James 1:1, and as farewell in II Corinthians 13:11. But the vast majority of times, it is translated rejoice (as in Matthew 5:12). John even uses it that way in verse 4 of this letter.

This means don’t wish them well on their journey. Don’t say “good luck” to them as they go out spreading false doctrine. Don’t pray for their efforts. Don’t say anything to them that would make it seem like you approve of what they are doing. Why not?

Because the one who says God-speed to him is a partaker of his evil deeds.

Even if you don’t allow the false teacher access to the congregation, the instant you wish him good luck as he goes along destroying souls, you’ve shown your approval for his actions. And approval of sin is the same as if you had committed the sin (Romans 1:32).

But there is another way that you would become a partaker in their evil deeds. If you wish them well, they will go to other places and bring up your name as well. “Brother So-and-so wished me good luck.” And all of a sudden, your name has become attached to them and their teaching.

Be very careful about who you recommend and who you approve. When you show approval for someone, you are also showing approval for what they teach and what they do. This is most important in showing approval of Christians and recommending them to others.

But this principle also applies in other areas of life. When you vote for someone—especially if you encourage others to vote for him—you are showing approval for that person and the things he stands for. Obviously, you can’t know everything that person thinks, believes, and will do while in office. But if you know ahead of time that candidate supports homosexuality and abortion, and then you vote for him (bidding them God-speed), that makes you just as guilty.

Be very careful who you bid God-speed to.

 

Greatly Expanded (and mostly organized) list of books for sale

If this list is helpful in any way, thank my daughter, who spent a couple hours typing it all…

Items marked *NEW* are brand-new from Cobb Publishing (or donated by another publisher), but discounted to make more space.

The books in bold font are by members of the church of Christ.

Items in RED FONT are new to the list as of May 28.

Prices do not include shipping. We can take check, Paypal, or credit/debit card. Just email with the books you want, or call/text 479.747.8372 (Yes, this is the correct number this time). I will try to keep this list up-to-date as requests come in.

Thank you!

Abortion

Abortion: What is the Bible Truth? (David Alsobrook) PB $1.00

Anxiety/Worry/Suffering

Winning Over Worry (Jack Exum) PB $1.25

An Answer to Worry and Anxiety (Norman Wright) PB $0.75

How to Win Over Depression (Tim LaHaye) PB $2.50

Consolation for Christians (Leon Barnes) PB $1.50

How to Cope (Dr. E. Harold Henderson) PB $1.25

Apologetics/Hermeneutics

In the Beginning: A Study of Creation Vs. Evolution (Rita Rose Ward) PB $1.00

Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Joseph Fletcher) PB $2.00

The Bible

Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True (W.A. Criswell) HB/DJ $2.75

Biblical Truth and Modern Man: A Layman’s Guide to Understanding the Bible (Bruce D. Rahtjen) PB $2.00

Bible Background

The Land and the Book: An Introduction to the World of the Bible (Charles R. Page II & Carl A. Volz) PB $3.50

Bible Dictionaries

Nelson’s Student Bible Dictionary – PB $2.00

The New Compact Bible Dictionary (T. Alton Bryant) HB $2.00

Bibles

The New Testament: New European Version $1.00

Knowing Jesus Personally: New Living Translation NT PB $1.00

Self-Interpreting New Testament (Compiled and Arranged by Ashley S. Johnson) HB $2.50

Christian Living

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus (Kyle Idleman) PB $1.75

On Being a Christian (Hans Kung) 700 pages HB $2.75

A New Kind of Christian (Brian McLaren) HB $2.00

Boundless Living: Meditations on the Christian Life (Oliver G. Wilson) HB/DJ $2.00

Answers to Questions About Spiritual Warfare (David Jeremiah) HB $1.75

The Church

Simple Studies About Christ’s Church (Rubel Shelly) PB $2.00

Why I Am A Member of the Church of Christ (Leroy Brownlow) HB $3.25

The Churches of Christ Salute You (John B. White) PB $0.75

The TRUTH About the “Church of Christ” (Hugh Pyle, Baptist) PB $2.25

Church History

Civil War

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South (Christopher Dickey) HB/DJ $4.50  $3.75

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer (James L. Swanson) HB $2.00

Commentaries

New Testament Postcards (Philemon, Jude, 2 John, 3 John) (Charles Swindoll) PB $1.75

Philippians: A Study Guide (Matt Chandler) PB $1.50

Moments on the Mount (R.B. Sweet) PB $2.50

Titus, Philemon, and James (J.W. Roberts) PB $2.50

The Parables of Jesus, part 2 (Neil R. Lightfoot) PB $2.50

The Gospel of Christ TV Transcripts [1 Thessalonians – Philemon] (Ben Bailey & Timothy Sparks) CB $1.50

The Gospel of Christ TV Transcripts [Hebrews – James] (Ben Bailey & Timothy Sparks) CB $1.50

The Gospel of Christ TV Transcripts [1 Peter – Revelation] Ben Bailey & Timothy Sparks) CB $1.50

The Gospel of Christ TV Transcripts [Matthew – John] (Ben Bailey & Timothy Sparks) CB $1.50

Culture

World Aflame (Billy Graham) PB $0.75

Debates/Controversy

A Review of “Shall We Splinter” (Robert R. Taylor, Jr.) PB $1.75

Putting the Church in Reverse: A Review of “The Church in Transition” (Ben Vick Jr) PB $0.50

Denominational Doctrines

The Common Catechism (an ecumenical collaboration between Catholics, Lutherans, and Presbyterians on common beliefs) 690 pages, HB $2.00

How to Get More Out Of Being Jewish Even If: A. You are not sure that you believe in God, B. You think going to the synagogue is a waste of time, C. You think keeping kosher is stupid, D. You hated Hebrew school, or E. All of the above! – Updated 6th Edition (Gil Mann) PB $1.75

Out of the Labyrinth (the autobiographical story of a priest who left Catholicism and became a protestant) HB/DJ $3.75

The Book of Confessions (Presbyterian Church USA) PB $1.50

The Westminster Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, Together with the Longer Catechism and the Shorter Catechism (1947 Printing) HB $2.25

Eucharistic Miracles and Eucharistic Phenomena in the Lives of Saints (Joan Carroll Cruz) PB $1.25

The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life (Jehovah’s Witness Guidebook for their one-on-one Studies) HB $1.50

Detective Novels

*NEW* Rick Wade Investigations Book 1: Murder in the City (Bill Howard) PB $4.00

*NEW* Rick Wade Investigations Book 2: The Case for Sarah (Bill Howard) PB $4.00

*NEW* Rick Wade Investigations Book 3: A Time to Heal (Bill Howard) PB $4.00

*NEW* Rick Wade Investigations Book 4: A Time to Reap (Bill Howard) PB $4.00

Devotional reading

Good Night, God: Nighttime Devotions to End Your Day God’s Way (David C. Cook?) PB $1.00

Abundant Living (E. Stanley Jones) HB $1.25

Chicken Soup For the Christian Soul: 101 Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit (Jack Canfield; Mark Victor Hansen; D. Van Dyke, etc.) PB $0.75

The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren) HB/DJ $0.25

50 Days of Heaven: Reflections that Bring Eternity to Light (Randy Alcorn) HB/DJ $1.25

Eschatology

What Really Happens When Jesus Returns? (Gary Frazier) PB $1.50

Evangelism

You Can Have Successful Gospel Meetings (Alan M. Bryan) PB $0.50

We Want You Here (Thom S. Rainer) HB $3.50

The Church in the Rural Community (William C. Martin) PB $2.00

I Could, I MightI CanI Should, I Will!: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian (Thom S. Rainer) HB $3.50

*New* Casting Down of Strongholds: To Satan and Back – The True Story of My Experiences in the Occult , and How and Why I Left it. (Kyle D. Frank) PB $4.00

Home/Family

The Christian Home (P.D. Wilmeth) PB $2.50

Christ and Your Home (Batsell Barrett Baxter) PB $1.75

Building Stronger Families: Leader’s Guide (Royce Money) PB $1.25

Religious Education in the Family (Henry F. Cope, University of Chicago Press) HB $2.25

Humanism/Modernism

Hymnals/Song Books

Sunlight Glees: A Complete Treatise on the Fundamentals of Vocal Music (Hartford Music and Printing Co., 1947) PB $2.00

Leadership

Good to Great (Jim Collins) HB/DJ $3.00

Lectureship Books

Men’s Struggles

Novels

Through God’s Eyes (Harold E. Dye) HBDJ $1.00

Prayer

Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit: 52 Prayers for Today (Paul Chilcote) PB $0.75

All things are Possible Through Prayer (Charles L. Allen) PB $1.25

Prayer: Conversing with God (Rosalind Rinker) PB $1.00

Too Busy NOT to Pray (Bill Hybels) PB $1.75

Preaching

Psychology

Chocolate to Morphine: Understanding Mind-Active Drugs (Andrew Weil, MD & Winifred Rosen) PB $2.25

Restoration Reprint Library

Self Help/Self-Improvement

Reggie: You Can’t Change Your Past, But You Can Change Your Future (Reggie Dabbs with John Driver) PB $1.50 $1.00

Fighting the Good Fight (Reggie White) HBDJ $2.00

Believe!: Discover Success Through God and His Church, Free Enterprise, Human Dignity, and the American Way (Richard M. DeVos) HB/DJ $2.25

Walking With Saints: Through the Best and Worst Times of our Lives (Calvin Miller) HBDJ $2.00

A Funny Thing That Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned (Michael J. Fox) HBDJ $1.50

Sermons

*New* Sermons on First Corinthians (George W. DeHoff) PB $4.00

*New* The Lost Sermons of H. Leo Boles (Compiled by Kyle Frank) HB $4.00

Preach the Word… (Arthur Calvin Fulbright, Th.D.) PB $2.00

Studies for New Christians

*NEW* Father, I Have Sinned (Bill Howard) PB $2.50

*NEW* Whom Seek Ye? (Bill Howard) PB $2.50

*NEW* Believest Thou This? (Bill Howard) PB $2.50

Basic Bible Studies (Howard Winters) PB $1.25

Worship/Lord’s Supper/Music

The Art of Group Worship (Robert Seneca Smith) PB $1.75

Workbooks

Group Discussion Study of 1 Corinthians (Robert K. Oglesby) PB $0.75

Group Discussion of Philippians/Colossians (Roberk K. Oglesby) PB $0.75

God’s Way for Man: The Church (Carroll C. Trent) PB $1.00

The Life and Teachings of Jesus, Part 3 (Carroll C. Trent) PB $0.50

Romans and Galatians: Bible in Life Workbook (George Snure) PB $0.50

Into Our Hands: A Study of Christian Stewardship (Edwin Broadus) PB $0.75

Gospel Advocate Adult Gospel Quarterly – Fall 1981 PB $0.50

Truth For Today – The “Today” Series Book One (???) PB $0.50

Ordinary Days with Jesus Participant’s Guide (John Ortberg) PB $0.75

The “I haven’t categorized them yet” section:

What present-day theologians are thinking. (Daniel Day Williams) HB, $1.75

Heavenly highway hymns (Stamps-Baxter shape notes songbook 1956) PB $2.00

Unexplainable: pursuing a life only God can make possible (Don Cousins) PB $1.50

What you didn’t know about the Bible: a Comprehensive Guide to Biblical Knowledge (J. Carter Swaim) HB/DJ $3.50

It Depends on How You Look at It! A Key to Practical Christian Living (Rusty Bolton) PB $1.50

Sinai Summit: Meeting God with Our Character Crisis (Rick Atchley) PB $0.50

A Layman Looks at the Lamb of God (W. Phillip Keller) PB $1.25

The Lost Books of the Bible (Shepherd of Hermas, Polycarp, Barnabas, I and II Clement, etc.) – HB/DJ $3.50

Final Dawn Over Jerusalem (John Hagee) HB/DJ $1.25

Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence) PB $0.50

Liberal Learning and Religion (Edited by Amos N. Wilder) HB $1.25

God’s Psychiatry: Wisdom for Today from the Ancient Teachings of the Bible (Charles L. Allen) PB $1.50

Your Greatest Power (J. Martin Kohe) HB/DJ $2.50

The Sunday School Worker: His Life and Work (L.F. Sensabaugh) HB $1.00

The Small Sunday School: Its Plans and Work (L.F. Sensabaugh) HB $1.00

Is There Life After Death? (Paul Kroll) PB $1.00

Things Surely Believed Among Us (Paul Rogers) PB $1.25

Email From God for Men (Andy Cloninger) PB $1.50

Leaving Self Behind (Jack Exum) PB $1.75

Lessons For Living (Mrs. Carroll Trent) PB $0.75

Sketches from the History of Collectivism (James D. Bales) PB $1.25

I Believe (Harold Hazelip) PB $1.50

My Daily Walk with God (Charles B. Hodge, Jr) PB $2.50

Great Biblical Doctrines (John Allen Chalk) PB $2.00

You Can See Forever (Compiled by Caesar Johnson) HB $1.25

The Coming King (James Edson White) HB $1.50

Twixt Twelve and Twenty (Pat Boone) HB $0.75

Heredity Evolution and Society (I. Michael Lerner) HB $1.00

Notes on 2 John 4-7 (Comments and Critiques are Welcome!)

Walking in the Truth (4-6)

(4) I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.

I rejoiced greatly

John frequently speaks of rejoicing. This fact alone should make us examine our lives. Are we the joyful people we should be? Do we rejoice in suffering (Acts 5:41)? Do we rejoice when we learn the truth (Acts 8:39)? Do we rejoice when we read the eyewitness accounts in the Scriptures, knowing we can have confidence in their accuracy and truthfulness (I John 1:1-4)? Do we rejoice when we hear about other Christians remaining faithful (III John 4)? Christians should be the most joyful people on the planet!

I rejoiced…that I found your children walking in truth

John’s specific reason for rejoicing is Christians were continuing to live faithfully. People frequently drift away from God’s word and place their opinions as the standard. Whether those opinions are binding where God never bound or loosing where God never loosed, or completely changing the message—either one means that person is no longer “walking in truth.”

Walking in truth is the same as “walking in the light” (I John 1:7). The inspired Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). It means you, dear reader, must base your life upon God’s precepts.

One man described it this way: God’s word lights the one and only path leading to heaven. You are wandering about in a world of darkness. Then you see this one lighted path. In that path is safety. In that path, you can see where you are going. It is a difficult path, to be sure, but it is well-lit. The light is God’s word. Walking in the truth or the light is the equivalent of following God’s commands from the heart. Only by that path can anyone reach the Promised Land of heaven. Why is it so many people choose to stay in darkness?

Why did this cause John to rejoice? When someone is “walking in the light” (I John 1:7) or “walking in truth,” he can have full assurance of heaven because all of his sins are forgiven him. John is rejoicing because he knows they will be in heaven! Wasn’t the entire point of the apostles’ mission to “go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15)?

The word found is the Greek word euraka (we get our word eureka from this). With all the people who had been falling away (see 2 Timothy 1:15), John rejoiced to hear of Christians remaining faithful.

Walking in truth…as a commandment of the Father

Walking in truth is not just something we should do; it is something we are commanded to do. John says walking in truth is a “commandment from the Father.” This should come as no surprise. It has been this way since the beginning. Adam and Eve were commanded to obey (Genesis 2:17). David said God’s grace is upon those who “walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). There must be a renewed emphasis on teaching others about the necessity of obedience. That does not mean we will ever obey perfectly; but if we do not obey at all, we are not walking in the light. If we are not walking in the light, our sins are not forgiven (I John 1:7). If our sins are not forgiven, we have no hope of going to heaven.

(5) And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.

I beseech thee

To beseech is to beg, to plead, or to urge someone to do something. It is not a commandment, as can be seen from Philemon 8-9, but instead an earnest request. It is interesting to see John begging them to keep the commandment of Jesus Christ: to love one another. He’s not commanding them to obey Jesus, but begging them to.

Not…a new commandment

John is not revealing something new to them. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, there were not new commandments for the Israelites to obey, but instead they were reminded to “remember the Law of Moses” (Malachi 4:4). In this letter from John to Christians, he is not giving them some new commandments, but telling them to “remember the law of Christ.”

From the beginning

This language is very similar to 1 John 2:7, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning…”

Here in this passage, john says this commandment is something we (John, as well as the Christians he’s writing to) have had from the beginning. The Old Testament gave the command to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). This command also became part of the New Testament. This one statement summarizes many of the Ten Commandments (Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14). James called this the “royal law” (James 2:8).

This commandment was heavily emphasized in Jesus’ ministry. However, when Jesus gave this commandment, He called it a “new commandment” (John 13:34). The reason is, it is an even deeper, more powerful love commanded. Jesus said to “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Instead of just treating others the way you want to be treated, this new commandment was “be willing to die for each other.” Most people would not willingly die for a friend, let alone a total stranger. But this is the kind of love Jesus commands His disciples to show for each other.

John said which you had from the beginning, and he’s referring to either (1) the beginning of their Christian walk, (2) the beginning of Christianity itself, or (3) the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. The gist of his saying this, though, is to tell them this isn’t something new to them. It’s something they should already be doing, because they already knew it.

Love one another

As stated above, this commandment isn’t new, but is found clearly stated in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18) and intensified in the New Testament. Jesus made this the badge of a true disciple (John 13:34-35). If one does not love his brother, he cannot honestly claim to love God (I John 4:20). Love for other Christians was also emphasized by John in verse 1 (see notes there).

(6) And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

This is love

The word “love” here is agape, a Greek word which describes sacrificial love, a mindful love. Agape doesn’t describe warm, fuzzy feelings towards someone else. Instead, it describes the conscious decision to put someone else first no matter what may come. John frequently writes about love, and every time, it has reference to putting someone else ahead of you.

That we walk after His commandments

Jesus clearly stated, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Many in the world of so-called “Christendom” claim all you have to do is accept Jesus into your heart and then you are saved forever. Will Jesus save someone who refuses to keep His commandments? If you love Jesus, you will keep His commandments. If you don’t keep His commandments, then you hate Him. There is no third option.

Many people want to show the world how “loving” they are by accepting everyone and everything, and never speaking out against sinfulness or against those who are not in obedience to Christ’s commands. However, the Bible defines love as keeping the commandments. In Mark 10:21, Jesus looked at the rich young ruler; and the Scriptures plainly state Jesus “loved him.”  As a result of loving this man, Jesus pointed out where he needed to change. Love will not accept people in their sins, but will point out their sins so they can change. If we love others, we will point them to the truth and the need to obey His commandments.

That, as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

This walk is not a one-time event. It is a continuous lifestyle of obedience to Jesus Christ. All those who become Christians do so after hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17). But every New Testament writer emphasizes the necessity of continuing to obey. 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus Christ…cleanses us from all sin.” Literally, it says “if we are walking [presently, continually] in the light…the blood of Jesus Christ…is cleansing us [presently, continually] from all sin.”

These Christians (and all Christians) heard these things from the beginning of their conversion. All Christians must continue to walk in these commandments if they expect to have their sins forgiven.

Notes on 2 John 1-3 (your comments and critiques welcome!)

Salutation (verses 1-3)

(1) The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;

The Elder

The apostle John here does not identify himself by name. This follows the pattern laid out in the other writings which we call by his name (the Gospel of John, I-III John). Instead, he refers to himself as “the elder.” Some have taken this to mean John was old when he wrote this letter. In the first century, people were considered “aged” when they were in their 60s (see Philemon, verse 9). It is also possible John means he holds the office of an elder. He was, after all, a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1, 9). Peter, who was also mentioned as a pillar in the church in Jerusalem, later called himself “an elder” (I Peter 5:1). While it may indeed reference the age of the apostle, we should not ignore that John may have been an elder in the church in Jerusalem and identified himself as such.

The Elect Lady and her children

“The elect lady” has been the subject of some debate over the years. Who exactly is this elect lady? Is she a literal woman? Or is it a figurative way of describing the church? The most prominent possibilities, along with the pros and cons, are listed below.

Possibility #1: The elect lady is Mary, the mother of Jesus. This option obviously assumes the “elect [literally “chosen”] lady” is a literal woman. Mary was indeed chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-28). First, given the timeframe of writing (67-69 AD), Mary would be over 80 years old if she is still alive at all. Secondly, John had taken Mary in as his own mother according to Jesus’ wishes from the cross (John 19:26-27), so it seems strange that he would write a letter to someone he was caring for. Also, John mentions everyone who has known the truth loves both her and her children. One would be hard pressed to prove everyone who became a Christian even knew about all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, let alone loved them. It is unlikely Mary is the one under consideration.

Possibility #2: The elect lady is some prominent Christian woman who John knew in the first century. Some say her name was Kuria or Kyria (the Greek word translated “lady”). Some have pointed out Kuria is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Martha” and suggest that as her name. It is difficult to believe some woman, unknown to us today, could be so prominent that every single Christian not only knew of, but loved her and her children. If such a woman existed, she and her children surely would have been mentioned in Scriptures.

Possibility #3: The elect lady is the bride of Christ, the church (Ephesians 5:25). In this understanding, the children would be the members of the church. In the Old Testament, Jerusalem was often pictured as a woman (Jeremiah 3:1 Ezekiel 16:30-32), and the inhabitants were described as her children (Joel 3:19, Jeremiah 3:14). The church is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-10), so it makes sense if the church is referred to as a lady and her inhabitants as her children. Every single person who knows the truth should love the church (collectively) and the members (individually). Opponents of this view point to the “children of thy elect sister” (verse 13). This leads us to the next option.

Possibility #4: The elect lady is an individual congregation of the Lord’s church. Her children, then, would be the members of that congregation. The question, then, would have to be, “What congregation was so well-known John could say every single Christian loved it and the members thereof?” Some have suggested the church in Jerusalem, with the apostles as members, would fit the bill. Others suggest the mission-minded congregation at Antioch. Still others suggest Ephesus. This would also help to explain John’s closing statement, “the children of thy elect sister greet thee” as being the congregation with whom John was worshiping. If one specific congregation is under consideration (and it seems to be the case, because John wishes to speak to them face to face), it is impossible to know exactly which one it is without knowing where John was writing from.

This writer holds that the letter was addressed to a specific congregation (like most of Paul’s letters), but was intended to have a widespread distribution, and thus was also applicable to all congregations. Thus, it was both written to a specific congregation and the church in general at the same time. So, the best option seems to be a combination of numbers 3 and 4 above.

The Truth

Something often overlooked in this verse is this: John clearly states it is possible to know the truth. It seems everywhere you look, people say you cannot know anything for sure about God or the Bible (or anything else, for that matter). But the Bible tells us, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). If it is not possible to know the truth, then it must follow that it is impossible to be free.

We should take great comfort in knowing God has made His truth available through His word, the Bible. God wants us to know the truth. God made it possible for us to know the truth. That should give us great cause to rejoice! On the opposite side of the coin, however, it also places a responsibility upon us to seek the truth, read the truth, and obey the truth. Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). The truth is not going to just magically get zapped into your head. You have to actively look for it in God’s word.

But as you seek for God’s truth in His word (John 17:17), you can rest in confident assurance—knowing the truth is possible!

(2) For the truth’s sake, which dwells in us, and shall be with us forever.

For the truth’s sake

It is for the sake of the truth (or because of the truth) that all Christians should love the church (as a whole) and the members thereof (individually). Because Christ died for all of us, purchasing the church with his own blood, we should place great value on each Christian as well as the church itself as an entity.

What is “the truth” spoken of in these verses? Is it the truth that the earth is round? Is it the truth that the world was created in six literal days? What truth is being spoken of when John says “the truth”?

The truth is God’s word. Specifically, John has reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is to be obeyed (Galatians 3:1). It includes those things placing one into Christ (faith – Hebrews 11:6, repentance – Acts 2:38, and baptism – Romans 6:3). But also, it includes those things which one must continually do after becoming a Christian. Stated concisely, the truth is the commands of Jesus Christ which must be followed from the heart and which will result in a home in heaven. The commands are all summed up in the phrase, “walk in the light” (I John 1:7).

Truth…which dwells in us

The truth dwells in us. At least it should. Since we have accepted the Bible as God’s word, we should constantly read it and apply it to our lives. The apostle Paul said, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).  When people cease reading and applying the Scriptures to themselves, they slowly slip away from being the follower of Christ they should be. Eventually they may find themselves one day completely away from Christ with no idea how they got there. Most people don’t get up one morning and decide, “I’m going to quit being a Christian.” Usually it is a gradual decline. That is the reason Paul reminded the Corinthians to “examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). Later on in this very book, John stresses the need to “look to yourselves” (II John 8).

Truth…shall be with us for ever

Truth is eternal. John says the truth shall be with us forever. There will never be a time when God’s word does not exist and apply. Jesus said heaven and earth would pass away, but his words would not pass away (Matthew 24:35).

(3) Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

Grace

This was the common Greek form of greeting during the first century. It was a wish of favor upon people. It is similar to saying, “good morning.” We may not think of it much, but we are wishing favor upon people when we say that. Grace is getting something good we don’t deserve or haven’t earned. Generally grace is described as “unmerited favor.”

Peace

This was the common Hebrew greeting. It is the word Shalom (or Salom, or Salem). It was common for Hebrews to include a wish of peace to those they met or corresponded with. This word was integrated into various names in the Old Testament.  Melchizedek was called the “King of Salem, which is, the King of Peace” (Hebrews 7:2). Jerusalem was originally called Jebu-Shalom, or “the peace of the Jebusites” who originally lived there. Absalom and Solomon both have this word as part of their names.

Mercy

Like Paul, John wishes the blessing of mercy upon those he writes to. Mercy is not receiving the bad things one deserves. In court cases, someone who is guilty may beg for the mercy of the court. That means, “Don’t give me what I deserve, please!” If we all got what we deserved, we’d all be struck dead like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

From God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father

While Grace and peace were common greetings, John doesn’t give them their common meaning. Instead, John is clear to say he was wishing them the grace, mercy, and peace that only comes from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, John wishes God’s favor upon them. John wishes the mercy of God upon them. John wishes the peace of God upon them (see Philippians 4:7). The only source of true grace, mercy, and peace comes from the Father through the sacrifice of His Son.

John also makes a point to show the deity of Christ as “the Son of the Father.” Some religious groups (most notably the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses”) claim since Christ is the “Son of God,” He can’t be God, or be deity. However, He’s also the “Son of man.” Does that mean Jesus wasn’t a man? Of course not! The son of a human is a human. He will share completely in the nature of being human. The Son of God is also God, deity. The Son of God will share completely in the nature of being God.

In truth and love

As can be seen throughout this short letter, John emphasizes the importance of truth. This verse makes it very clear that the grace, mercy, and peace of God are found inside truth and love. Outside of the truth, these blessings of God cannot be found. Since the truth is to be obeyed (Galatians 3:1), these blessings cannot be found outside of obeying the truth. Ephesians 1:3 tells us all spiritual blessings are “in Christ.” That means there are no spiritual blessings outside of Christ. Jesus Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey him (Hebrews 5:9).

John goes on to say in this letter that love means keeping the commandments (II John 6). Some people wish to claim Jesus without following His words. They claim to love God, yet they live their life as though God doesn’t matter. Jesus said, “This people…honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). John, in this verse, makes it clear: love and truth are interconnected. And without both (the love of God and following the truth), there is no grace, mercy, or peace to be found.