Luke’s Typology: Zechariah and Elizabeth

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The beginning of the infancy Gospel of Luke is different than many stories. Instead of focusing on main characters of the story that Luke is telling, he begins with two characters of small importance to the overall theme Christ’s great sacrifice. Edward Sri explains, in his book Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture, “Luke begins his Gospel like a good Shakespearean play: with a pair of minor characters who prepare the way for the lead roles to take the stage.”[1]

Of course, the two people are of some importance being the parents of John the Baptist—Zechariah and Elizabeth. Although the couple are not the main focus for Luke’s Gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth play a vital role in laying the foundation of the importance of Christ’s birth to both the Jewish community and also humanity. Sri explains, “Zechariah and Elizabeth are standout couple with high credentials in first-century Judaism.”[2] The couple both come from a priestly background, Zechariah being a priest and Elizabeth being a descendant of Aaron.[3]

Luke’s most impressive use of Old Testament typology within the narrative of Zechariah and Elizabeth is the annunciation of Zechariah. The imagery used by Luke is filled with references to Old Testament scripture that would express the importance of these events to their audience using as Sri explains “the last prophetic words of the Old Testament.”[4]

The typology in the beginning of Luke hinges on dialogue between the Angel of the Lord and Zechariah by the Holy of Holies. The Angels speaks to Zechariah and says:

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,

17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[5]

The typology used by Luke is to reference the audience back to the book of Malachi and frame John the Baptist as the new Elijah to “prepare the way before me” for Christ’s birth.[6] Luke according to tradition being a fairly educated man and skilled writer used his knowledge and skill to highlight the importance of John the Baptist’s birth with Christ’s birth to connect it to Old Testament scripture to prove of prophecy being fulfilled. By examining Mal. 4: 5-6, one can see that Luke uses nearly identical language:

“Behold, I will send you Eli′jah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lordcomes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”[7]

After the Angel of the Lord makes his announcement to Zechariah before the Holy of Holies, in which it fell to Zechariah to offer incense in the temple:

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.[8]

It’s important to note the honor of Zechariah for being selected for this opportunity, “Most priests were honored to burn incense only once in their lifetime, this was the crowning moment of Zechariah’s ministry.”[9]

He doesn’t believe the Angel of the Lord saying:
““How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechari′ah, and they wondered at his delay in the temple.22 And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.”[10]

Sri explains that “revealing his name was significant because the only time Gabriel is mentioned in the Old Testament (Dn 9:21)[11] is in the important visions given to the prophet Daniel.[12] Sri continues to explain that the typology between Zechariah’s visit with Gabriel and Daniel’s is abundant. For instance in Lk. 1:9, Zechariah mirrors the actions of Daniel in Dn. 9:20 by offering up incense. Gabriel also appears to both men in the evening, referenced in Dn. 9:21 and Lk. 1:10. Notwithstanding, the most significant typology of Luke during this part of his Gospel is Gabriel’s message of salvation for Israel:

Dn. 9: 23-24 RSV

23 At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

24 “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. [13]

 

Lk. 1: 13-17 RSV

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

14 And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
15 for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother’s womb.
16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[14]

[1] Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 7.

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Lk. 1: 16-17 RSV

[6] Mal. 3:1 RSV

[7] Mal. 4: 5-6 RSV

[8] Lk. 1:8-11 RSV

[9] Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Luke: Commentary, Notes & Study Questions (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 18.

[10] LK 1: 18-23 RSV

[11] 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. Dn. 9:21 RSV

[12] Sri, 14.

[13] Dn. 9: 23-24 RSV

 

[14] Lk. 1: 13-17 RSV

 

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