BY RICHARD JORDAN
Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6-7 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
Luke is a great storyteller. He begins the narrative with a picture of the nation Israel at its best. Zacharias and Elizabeth represent the believing remnant of Israel and the “Little Flock” of faithful believers. Zacharias’ name means Jehovah Remembers and Elizabeth means the oath of God. Put those two together and that is what Israel hoped for - for the Lord to remember His oath to them. They were both righteous before God, “walking in all the Old Testament commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” That doesn’t mean they were faultless. It doesn’t mean they are sinless. Rather, they recognized and dealt with their sin the way God required them to do it - walking in the ordinances and commandments of the Lord.
You start out with this couple. He is a priest. She is the daughter of a descendant of Aaron. If you go to Exodus 6 you see that Aaron’s wife’s name was Elizabeth. Both John the Baptist’s parents are going to be in the priestly line. And what Luke does is to start out with this couple in Israel that represents Israel at its best - the believing remnant, the priestly nation, and yet, under the Law.
Under the Law, Zacharias and Elizabeth had no children because Elizabeth was barren (Vs. 7). When Luke picks up their story they both were well stricken in years. Their physical condition represents the spiritual condition of the nation, living under the Law, unable to inherit the promise that God had given to them through the Law. Yet God could remember His oath to them. But this could only be done through a kinsman redeemer. And it is the kinsman redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, that Luke, Chapter One is going to introduce to us.
The law of the kinsman redeemer in Israel was that first a redeemer would have to be of the kin. That is why Hebrews 2 says he took on himself not only the nature of angels but took upon himself the seed of Abraham.
Hebrews 2:16 - For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
That is what we are studying in Luke, chapters one and two - how that God reached into the nation Israel from among the believing remnant of Israel and drew out some people to represent him and his purpose and then, among those people, John the Baptist. John the Baptist - who is the voice of one crying in the “wilderness” to “prepare ye the way of the Lord,” is then introduced to us.
Luke starts out at the very beginning with the couple and the things that we read down through this chapter. In Chapter 1 we see the tremendous prophetic understanding that these folks have of just what God was doing in Israel.
Luke 1:5 - There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
Notice how Luke gives detail after detail. Who is Herod, the King of Judea? There are a lot of “Herod’s” in the Bible, so you have to be careful. Look at Luke 3:1:
Luke 3:1 - Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
A tetrarch is one fourth of a territory. When something is divided into four parts and one leader put over each part that person was known as the Tetrarch. He was a ruler of 1/4th of the land. Here is the son of the Herod in Chapter 1:5 who is also the Herod in Matthew, chapter 2 - when the wisemen came to Jerusalem seeking him who was King of the Jews. The same Herod, the King, was there.
Luke 3 is thirty years later. There is a 30 year period of time between the beginning of Luke, Chapter 1 and Luke, Chapter 3, where John the Baptist is grown and Christ comes to begin His ministry. This Herod in Chapter 3 is the son of the Herod in Chapter One. Now move to Acts 12.
Acts 12:1-2 - Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Now this Herod is actually Agrippa the 1st. This is the grandson of the Herod in Luke, Chapter One. You can see this line of Herods as you move down the line. These Herods, according to the secular historian, Josephus, were half breed relatives of Israel. They are called Idumeans. That is, they were the sons of Esau. Esau and Jacob were descendants of Abraham. Remember that Abraham begat Ishameal and Isaac. (The Arabs) Isaac begat Esau and Jacob (more of the Palestian people). So these are cousins - not direct descendants, but trace their heritage back to Abraham.
Acts 25:13 - And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.
This Agrippa is really Herod Agrippa, II, the great grandson of Herod in Matthew, Chapter 2 and Luke 1:5. They didn’t get rid of “Herods” in Israel very fast. The reason for that is in Luke, Chapter 1:5 where it says he is the King of Judea. The Roman Senate had given him a commission as the King of Judea at the recommendation of Anthony, according to Roman history. He has the commission from Rome to be a usurper king over Israel. So when you are reading about the Herods, just remember there is time involved between them - 30 years between Luke Chapter 1 and Luke Chapter 3. Again:
Luke 1:5 - There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, [Jehovah remembers] of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. [the oath of God]
Elisabeth was Aaron’s wife’s name, so this Elisabeth is bearing the lineage of her family. Notice that it says Zacharias is of the “course of Abia.” That is important because in verse 8 it says:
Luke 1:8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
Now we can notice some dates fixed in our understanding. Verse 5 is going to help you understand two things. We are going to deal with the nativity, the birth and the conception of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ. The first verse in the story gives you information that will allow you to date the birth of Christ both year and calendar-wise; that is, the month and the day. Notice in verse 5 he identifies Herod the King of Judea. Secular history is a great source for these things, i.e. Josephus. This Herod died in 4 B.C. according to our calendar. When Rome brought our calendar into existence, they stretched our calendar back to the birth of Christ and began to say “BCE”, meaning “Before the Christian Era” and “A.D.” - (Anno Domino) “the Year of Our Lord.” But when they did so they arbitrarily identified some markers and what happens when you take our calendar and overlay it with the Roman calendar, you find that sometimes it does not match out exactly right.
King Herod died in 4 B.C. on our calendar, 470 on his calendar. But who can count his calendar. In fact, if you have a Scofield Reference Bible, you see at the top of your page it says “7 B.C.” Now why would it say 7 B.C.? Turn to Matthew 2. Usher has the date of 4 B.C. Why would he do that? Herod died in 4 B.C. Why then would Luke have the date as far back as 7 B.C. for the conception of John the Baptist? The reason for that is down in Matthew 2:13 - speaking of the wise men:
Matthew 2:13 - And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
At the “house” where Christ was (verse 11) is where the wise men came to worship Christ.
Matthew 2:11 - And when they were 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 unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Notice they did not go to “the stable.” They didn’t go to the field where the shepherds were. They went to a house and he is not a baby in a manger. He is a young child. That means he has had some time to grow a bit. Here he is not the baby of Nazareth lying in a manger in swaddling clothes the night of his birth. This is later than that. So then, Joseph takes Christ down into Egypt:
Matthew 2:19 - But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
So in this chapter, Herod is dead, and they have his death properly identified for you at 4 B.C.
Matthew 2:16 - Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
Now the implication there is that when Herod had inquired of the wise men, when did you see the star appear? It was two years prior to this. The star appears at the birth of Christ. You learn that in Luke, Chapter two, where it is implied. But it is not directly stated and you can not make a hard and fast rule about it. Christ could have been as much as two years old at this point. That being why Herod wanted all the babies under two killed. Why not 6 months and under? Why not 5 years old and under? He picked two years because that matched the time when the wise men first saw the star in the East. Which means Christ could have been born perhaps as much as two years prior to the death of Herod. If he died by our calendar in 4 B.C., it means he (Christ) could have been as far back as 6 B.C. Now I don’t know that is when he was born. I just know that it is possible, based on the account here. I have never been able to be satisfied in my own thinking by dates. Usher has his dating system and he is a Chronologist of great renown and widely accepted. I have never been comfortable with modern dating systems because you begin to find people that don’t have the same kind of regard for the Bible itself as a man like Usher did. But I can tell you that Herod died in Matthew 2:29 and up to two years before that Christ was born. You identify that Herod and then you know this is some time within two years before the death of Herod in Matthew, Chapter 2 and you can identify within 2 years when Christ was born.
However, in Luke, Chapter 1:5 you can also identify on the calendar the month and the dating of the birth of John the Baptist and Christ. By this info, Luke is where it says Zacharias was of the “course of Abia.”
The course of Abia is talking about the way David had divided up the priesthood. Any Old Testament Jew would have understood immediately what that referred to, but you will not find it in your Concordance because it is not spelled Abia in the Old Testament. Old Testament names are spelled differently between the Old and the New Testaments because the New Testament was written in Greek and the Old in Hebrew. I came upon the book, The Treasures of Christian Knowledge and it put me on to the cross-references in the Old Testament that helped me out. Here is the passage that helps:
1 Chronicles 24:1-6 - Now these are the divisions of the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died before their father, and had no children: therefore Eleazar and Ithamar executed the priest's office. And David distributed them, both Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, according to their offices in their service. And there were more chief men found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar; and thus were they divided. Among the sons of Eleazar there were sixteen chief men of the house of their fathers, and eight among the sons of Ithamar according to the house of their fathers. Thus were they divided by lot, one sort with another; for the governors of the sanctuary, and governors of the house of God, were of the sons of Eleazar, and of the sons of Ithamar. And Shemaiah the son of Nethaneel the scribe, one of the Levites, wrote them before the king, and the princes, and Zadok the priest, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and before the chief of the fathers of the priests and Levites: one principal household being taken for Eleazar, and one taken for Ithamar.
Now because Eleazar has 16 households and Ithamar has only 8, if they just let the 16 go, eventually they would root out the eight. So David, in his wisdom, said, “Here is what we will do. One week we will take one from this side; the next week it will become the job of the other side and they rotated between the families. Now each family had the responsibility to go up and be the governors of the sanctuary and the governors of the house of God. That is, they had to go up and do the priestly service. Now the people are scattered all over Israel. The 12 tribes have different locations all over Israel. Sons of Levi lived all over Israel. The sons of Aaron were all over Israel. They lived in many places and had ministry in those places. The Temple was in Jerusalem. They could not minister in Jerusalem all the time, so each household has a one week course of service, twice a year in Jerusalem. They would go up on a Sabbath and minister all the week through to the next Sabbath, and then go home. It is important to understand how the courses work.
Notice in 2 Kings 11:9 that the courses were changed each week:
2 Kings 11:9 - And the captains over the hundreds did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest commanded: and they took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath, with them that should go out on the sabbath, and came to Jehoiada the priest.
You can see that we are talking about the courses and about the priests ministering in the Temple and that there are priests that come in on the Sabbath and those that go out on the Sabbath. So they work from one Sabbath to the next and the course lasts for that week. They change priests each Sabbath. Now when would they start?
On the religious calendar of Israel everything started with the Passover.
Exodus 12:1-2 - And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
What month is that?
Exodus 13:4 - This day came ye out in the month Abib.
The month Abib corresponds to our month, April. When was the Passover?
Exodus 12:3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:
Exodus 12:6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.
That is the Passover lamb.
Other things you need to remember about the courses:
1. They run for one week.
2. The cycle begins at the Passover every year.
3. Three times a year every Levite, every son of Aaron, every one of the priests of Israel went to Jerusalem along with all the other men in Israel to worship.
So not only do they go up on their regular course, but there are three times per year that every male in Israel goes to Jerusalem. When everybody is in Jerusalem you have all the priests working. In Samuel on one occasion alone there were 20,000 sheep brought to be slaughtered. That’s a big job!
Deuteronomy 16:16-17 - Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee.
So we have a developing story here.
A. There are the courses that David set up for the priest to work, one week at a time.
B. There are twenty-four of them.
C. They are going to last for a week.
D. They are to begin at Passover.
E. Three times per year all of the people are to go up to Jerusalem.
F. Three times per year they will all be there to minister.
Now back to 1 Chronicles 1 and notice where Abia shows up:
1 Chronicles 24:7-10 - Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, The third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, The fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah,
That “Abijah” is the “Abia” in Luke 1:5. Therefore, “the course of Abia” is the eighth course. The number 8 in the Bible is the number of “a new beginning.” On a piano, on the eighth note you start over again. That is true of the number eight (8) in Creation and also when God is going to begin something new in Israel.
The Law and the Prophets are until John; but then the Kingdom of God is preached (Luke 16:16). God was beginning the sequence of events that was going to bring in the New Covenant with Israel. When he did that it is fascinating to note that God was thinking about it all along. This man, Zachariah, is of the course of Abia. (the 8th course.) He is the course that is going to bring the new beginning (the meaning of the number eight in Scripture). Go back to Luke 1 and think about how that helps you with the dating of the birth of Christ and John. Luke 1:5 - the course of Abia.
Luke 1:8-9 - And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
Zachariah has left home now and is gone to Jerusalem to minister during the course of Abia. This is going to be 8 weeks after the Passover. As he ministers in his course, the angel appears to him:
Luke 1:13 - But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
Verse 7 said they were both “well stricken in years.” They were like Abraham and Sarah. They were not able to have children because his wife was barren.
Luke 1:23 - And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
Luke 1:39-40 - And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
Mary went to where Zacharias lived and that was not in Jerusalem. He lived up in the hill country in a city of Juda. When in verse 23 his ministry is over on the Sabbath he goes home from Jerusalem to Juda. Imagine the scene when Elisabeth tells him on his arrival home, “Honey, we are going to have a baby!” The problem being that he can’t talk because when he did not believe the angel, the angel made him “dumb” (mute).
Luke 1:24-25 - And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
So she does conceive John.
Luke 1:26 - And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 - To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
Six months after the conception of John, the Baptist, the angel goes to Mary and tells her she will give birth to the Messiah.
Luke 1:35 - And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
So then, Christ is conceived six months after John is conceived. Therefore, if you figure out when John is conceived, you can figure out when Christ is conceived. Add 280 days to that (nine months) and you can figure out when he was born. So the information is in the text and it is not hard to get. Luke provided the details for you to do that.
If you start with the Passover at April 14th, you count 8 weeks and that brings you to June 9 - 15. This is the time period when Zachariah would be in the Temple ministering. John the Baptist would be conceived. Give Zachariah a few days to get home and talk to Elisabeth about it. John is going to be conceived in late June. Six months later would put you in the middle of December. If John is conceived as shown, then the conception of Christ occurs between December 22 to 25th. That will put the birth of John in March and the birth of Christ somewhere between September 22 and about the 3rd of October. So you have Christ born in late September or early October. You have him conceived in late December.
Now why is that interesting? What happens in late December? The shortest day of the year which is when the sun is the farthest distance from the earth. It begins its trajectory back at that point. And on the 25th of December all over the planet, people worship the birth of God. Pagans do it and they talk about the birth of the son of the Sun god. The S-O-N of the S-U-N of the Sun god. And that is where the yule log comes from and the Christmas tree. That is all involved in bring forth that S-U-N god.
You know all that pagan stuff is just nonsense. But if Satan were going to counterfeit something, you know you don’t counterfeit something that is not true. You don’t take a phony three dollar bill and try to counterfeit it. You try to counterfeit something that is real. Therefore the real miracle in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is not about when the shepherds are hiding in the fields and the angels come ahead and talk about the little baby born in a manger. The birth of Christ was completely normal and natural. Just like any child you’ve had or your mother had. The miracle was at the conception! We say that he is a “virgin born Son of God.” But we really mean by that, he was the virgin conceived Son of God.
There is a heresy in paganism called the immaculate conception. That speaks of the conception of the Queen of Heaven. In Erie- in the 21st Century, you call her Mary. She is called “the Virgin Mary.” But in pagan mythology and in the Bible as far back as the book of Judges, Chapter 2, you will find her identified in scripture. And in Jeremiah 44 (19) she is called the Queen of heaven. They say Mary has this “immaculate” conception and that again is a counterfeit of the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ. I point that out so you understand that the “Immaculate Conception” taught by “religion” does not refer to the conception of Christ. It refers to the pagan idea of the conception of the Queen of Heaven.
The real miracle in all of this is that John the Baptist was miraculously conceived by his Mother and Dad (i.e. Abram and Sarah) when physically they were unable to have children. God rejuvenated their bodies and gave them the capacity to conceive a child. But the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived of the Virgin Mary without a human father involved. That is why Mary asks this question in verse 34:
Luke 1:34 - Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
Again, the real miracle is in Chapter one of Luke at the conception of Christ. The fascinating part is that the conception matches the December date. So when you are with your family and participating in the traditions which you enjoy, remember to celebrate the real miracle. Don’t get caught up in something that is not real. Remember the real thing. That is the miracle and it is not a baby in a manger. It is God - it is the WORD being made flesh in order to dwell among us and be one with us. And to be the man, Christ Jesus. Because the man Christ Jesus was born not simply to be a sweet cuddly little baby in a manger, but to go to a cross and to die for your sins and my sins, and the sin of the world; and then to be raised again on the third day to be the author of eternal life to those who trust him.
And all of that - where God steps out of heaven, on to man’s earth, into our mess, took place there at that cross - if you wondered, “Does God intervene in my life and will God intervene, will He work in my life?" - remember that God did! God already has intervened in the one way that is beyond anything that you could ask or hope for. He literally stepped out of eternity into time - out of heaven into earth and took upon himself your life and your flesh. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh and became one of us. He did intervene into human history. He went to a cross and died to pay for everything that is wrong with you and He was raised again and lives today as a living Saviour. By his Spirit he lives in us and through us. His Word works through us for his glory. So if you wondered if God loves you or if God would work in your behalf, passages like this document in minute detail not only that he would but that he did. Not only that he can but he has. And you can trust him for that.
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