Priests of the Bible 15 Zacharias

Priests of the Bible 15 Zacharias

As we come to the New Testament, we can reflect on many changes in the priesthood since our last mentioned (Old Testament) priest, Ezra, over 400 hears previously (to be discussed – see watch this space). Given the rather negative press found in the NT to priests, because of their hostile response to Jesus, the promised Messiah that all Israel had been looking forward to, it might be easy to dismiss them all as being corrupt. But it is well to note that shortly after Jesus’ ascension to heaven and when His disciples began preaching the Gospel that “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” Acts 6:7. The first priest named in the NT was Zacharias (also referred to as Zechariah) and he was decidedly of the non-corrupt variety. He is mentioned in only one place in the Bible – Luke 1.

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. 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 1:5-7 is our first introduction to Zacharias. One significant, often overlooked, aspect concerning Zacharias, was that he was “of the course of Abia” or “to the priestly division of Abijah” (NIV). If we want to find out more about the course / division of Abia / Abijah, we need to refer to when David was preparing for the building of the Temple and to how he organised the priests: “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” 1 Chronicles 24:1-3. There were 24 divisions of priests each one assigned a time slot to do temple duty. Zechariah was in the eighth, the division of Abijah. It was while doing one of the priests’ duties, offering incense, symbolic of the prayers of the people, that the angel Gabriel appeared unto him. While on the subject of lineage, it is noteworthy that Zacharias’ wife, Elisabeth, was also descended from Aaron, the first High Priest of Israel. Moreover, this and other aspects of the story, importantly, God deemed significant.

Before we consider what it was that Gabriel revealed to Zacharias, it is worth noting a number of other significant points. The first one is the couple “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”. While our attention is often drawn to the son that the two were to have, that God chose Zacharias and Elisabeth to be the parents of John the Baptist, just as He chose Joseph and Mary to be the parents of Jesus, and that choice played a part in what John was to become. The second point was that Elisabeth was barren and past child bearing age, and we learn from the words of Gabriel that followed they had prayed for a child and God had heard their prayer. Sometimes the 400-year period between the end of the OT and the NT is referred to as a period of silence and the hopes following the return of some of the Jews from exile appeared dashed and those who ruled over Israel following the Persians, the Greeks and Romans, were less than sympathetic. Through all this time there were the faithful who among other things prayed to God and as we see in the case of Zacharias, God hears and answered prayer. The main hope for most Jews was the coming of the Messiah and set up his kingdom. As we see in Luke 1, all that was about to happen.

When Christians consider the Christmas story, often overlooked is the part played by Zacharias, although mention may be given to Elisabeth and the birth of John. It must have been an awesome experience encountering the Angel Gabriel and even more so the message that Zacharias received concerning the birth of John. It is hard not to feel sympathy with Zacharias for not believing Gabriel’s message but the consequence of his unbelief was being struck dumb. But it all happened as Gabriel said and this was followed by Mary, Elisabeth’s cousin, also becoming pregnant. Perhaps one of the most heart-warming stories in the whole Bible concerns John, who still in his mother’s tummy, leaped in her womb when the two pregnant ladies met and Elisabeth, recognising who was being carried in Mary’s womb, blessed God, Mary and her child to be. And so it was, John was born and Zacharias would once again be able to speak.

The first words on Zacharias’ lips once speech was restored were praise followed by a remarkable prophesy concerning John the Baptist, all of which came to pass during John’s life and these were consistent with both the words of the Angel and what the scriptures predicted. After that, we read no more about Zacharias, but the part he played in the Bible narrative and his positive legacy was huge.  


Have your say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s