The Book of Luke, Luke The Naming of John and his Beginnings, Part II – Lesson 13
Luke 1:57-66, Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
Overall, the passage of Scripture which we are studying falls into two major parts.
The first segment of our passage deals with the family argument over the naming of John and its aftermath (vv. 59-61).
59And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
The second segment records the praise of Zacharias, when the power of speech is once again given to him (vv. 67-79), with verse 80 summing up the early life of John as a concluding statement.
Our passage begins with the gathering of the family for the circumcision of John.
Elizabeth has borne the promised “miracle child,” and her neighbors and relatives rejoice with her in this blessing.
It is at the circumcision of the boy that his name will be given.
Under normal circumstances, his name would unquestionably be Zacharias, but Elizabeth insisted that it must be John after the group, gathered for the occasion, called him Zacharias.
The family argument is resolved when Zacharias is called in to overturn his wife’s insistence and instead verifies what she says as true.
We are given in this passage that this ceremony took place on the child’s eighth day in accordance with Leviticus 12 (Luke 1:59).
Normally, it would seem that the father took the leading role in the ceremony, but since Zacharias was incapable of speaking, he seems to have been much less involved in the ceremony.
Most likely the occasion may took place at the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
We are only told that “they” came to circumcise the child, and that “they” called him Zacharias (1:59).
A certain group of people came to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth to witness and to take part in the circumcision ceremony but we are not told the composition of this group.
Most likely it included a specialist in this procedure and included close friends and relatives who would have had a personal interest in John’s circumcision.
The same group seemed intent on naming the child Zacharias.
But this ceremony would be something like a christening service or dedication service that we have today for all male Jews were required to be circumcised.
Somewhere in the ceremony, when the name of Zacharias was being given, Elizabeth interrupted, insisting that the child’s name was to be John.
Since this was not the name of the father, nor was it the name of a relative, there was a strong reaction to Elizabeth’s demands.
Zacharias was made aware of the problem, and given the opportunity to decide upon the name of the child.
Most likely the group felt certain that Zacharias would set his wife straight.
Luke 1:62-63, And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
By the way these verses would indicate to us that not only was Zacharias dumb, incapable of speech, but he appeared to be deaf also for they had to make signs for him to understand what was going on!
Him being dumb and also deaf made his verification of the name John, independent of what his wife said for it does not appear he heard her objections.
Zacharias was not just agreeing with his wife for it appeared he heard nothing of the family disagreement.
It is apparent that she was committed to doing what the angel had told Zacharias in the temple and would have none of the group overrule her.
She was not afraid to be outspoken and insistent concerning this issue even though the strong position she took may have shocked them as totally “out of place” for a woman.
Most likely some in the family thought of her demands in the naming of her son outside of the family naming boundaries as totally out of place.
Nevertheless, Elisabeth did so, and Luke strongly implies that she was both godly and right in so doing.
Why was the naming of the child so important, and so emotional?
And why was naming the child John such a bone of contention?
In the culture of the Jew the naming of the son after his father implied that this child would “walk in the steps of his father,” that he would carry on the father’s name, and thus his work as well.
Had John been named after his father, he would have been expected to grow up as a priest, just like his father.
He would have gone about with his father as he carried out his priestly duties, learning how to do things, just like his father did them.
To be named by any other name would have implied just the opposite.
Instead of following in his father’s steps it was to be a separation from his father’s steps.
Luke makes a special point of the fact that John’s growth and development involved a separation, from his family, from his culture, and from the Jewish religious system, of which he could have been (indeed, should have been!) a priest, like his father.
A man named John would not follow in his father’s steps.
He would not learn to do what his father did.
He would not be a priest.
This, of course, was precisely the case, and thus the reason for the name John.
It isn’t the meaning of the name “John” which comes from a root word which means “favored of Jehovah” which is so important then, but the message implied by having any name other than Zacharias which is such an emotional issue.
For God to name the boy instead of the father or mother gives meaning to the fact that John was to serve God in God’s purpose alone.
It has all to do with separation. John was to be a person separated unto God.
For God to name John meant that God had a special purpose for the boy and the boy was to serve him alone.
And Zacharias had to yield to this and he did so by writing on the tablet that his name was to be John.
This was quite a yielding for Zacharias since this was his only son and only hope of a son.
There was to be no more children and in spite of this he yielded to God’s commandment concerning the naming of John.
Elizabeth’s insistence that the boy be named John was to renounce the family, its work, and its perpetuation through the next generation and this was apparently understood by those in attendence at this circumcision.
This was a very serious departure from the tradition of Israel and the scripture indicates that this was a emotional discussion and Elisabeth’s pronouncement of his name as John was properly questioned as suspect.
So properly so, Zacharias was consulted by signs and an answer was sought once and for all.
And when Zacharias wrote the words, “His name is John,” on that tablet, he once again was given the power of speech.
Certainly this was sign enough to the gathering that indeed this boy’s name was to be John.
And at the moment, as if God blessed Zachrias’s naming of John, his tongue was loosed and he began to praise God.
Zacharias was used to praising God with his mouth and had not been able to do so for over 9 months and the first thing he did was let all of that bottled up praise come forth.
But the recording of the praise of Zacharias is delayed by Luke a few verses, so that Luke can insert a report of the impact of these things on those who watched, and on those in the community who heard from these witnesses.
Verses 65 & 66 thus report the news about John which was spread abroad in the “hill country of Judea” (v. 65).
Luke 1:65,66, And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
No doubt Zacharias, now that his voice was restored told and retold the story of what had happened in the temple and now added to that story was the events surrounding the circumcision of John.
And this event contributed to the expectation of the people in the hill country that John was to be a special messenger of God and was connected to the coming of the Messiah.
It is little wonder that John was thought by many to be the Messiah, a thought which John persisted to deny (cf. 3:15-17).
Luke 3:15,16, And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 16John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
The statement, “And the hand of the Lord was with him” (v. 66), may indicate that there were a number of other unusual or miraculous incidents associated with John in his childhood which testified to his unusual origin and mission in life.
The outcome of all of these things was a sense of expectancy among the people of that area.
It is interesting to note that God chose to have this information voiced about in the hill country of Judea and not in the religious center of the country.
It is not to the mighty or to the religious elite, but to the humble that the announcements of the nearness of Messiah’s appearance are made.
There was no press conference concerning the coming of John nor was there any concerning the coming of Jesus Christ.
This is but a prototype of the ministry of John and of Jesus, who came not to the “healthy,” but to the “sick;” not to the “righteous,” but to sinners (cf. Luke 4:16-21; 6:20ff.; Mark 2:15-17).
Luke 1:67-79, 67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Zacharias’ psalm has two major sections.
The first section, contained in verses 67-75, is praise directed toward Messiah, in the light of His ministry.
In this section, Zacharias directs His praise toward God in the light of the benefits of Messiah’s ministry for the nation of Israel.
Mary’s “Magnificat” majored on the social implications of the Messiah’s appearance, but Zacharias’ praise majors on the political blessings which the nation Israel will experience.
Note the frequent emphasis on the nation Israel in these verses:
“the God of Israel”
“as He spake by the mouth of his holy prophets”—v. 70
“salvation from our enemies”—v. 71
“to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy
“to deliver us out of the hand of our enemies” “to enable us to serve Him without fear”—v. 74
The second section of Zacharias psalm of praise, contained in verses 76-79, focuses on the messenger, John, and on the impact of his ministry.
As Zacharias was informed by Gabriel, John will be the forerunner of Messiah, whose task will be to prepare men and women for His coming, by preaching of sin, repentance and of forgiveness for sins.
In both the praises of Mary and of Zacharias, there seems to be more emphasis on the results of the Christ’s second coming, than on His first.