Many people have considered drawing up a record of the things that are discussed among us – things that we’ve been told by people who were eyewitnesses of the actual events.
I, too, have been investigating these matters from the beginning, dear Theophilus, and it seemed a good idea to write them down in the order that they occurred, so that you can better understand the things you’ve heard.
During the reign of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the division of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a direct descendant of Aaron. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were honourable in the eyes of God, carefully obeying all of the Lord’s commandments and instructions. However, they had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and both of them were elderly.
When Zechariah’s division was on duty in the temple, he was chosen by lot to go into the sanctuary and burn incense. Meanwhile, everyone else had to wait outside and pray.
It was while Zechariah was in the sanctuary that an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right-hand side of the altar of incense. Zechariah was shocked and overcome with fear when he saw him, but the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son, and you’re to call him John. He will bring you great joy and happiness, and many others will also rejoice at his birth. He’ll be great in the eyes of the Lord. He won’t drink any alcohol, but he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before he’s born. He’ll turn many Israelites back to the Lord their God, and he’ll go in the spirit and the power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, and directing those who are rebellious to the wisdom of the wise. His task in to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.”
“But I don’t see how it’s possible,” said Zechariah. “I’m an old man and so is my wife.”
“I’m Gabriel,” said the angel, “and I stand in the presence of God. He it was who sent me to bring you this news. But now, because you haven’t believed what I’ve told you, you’ll remain silent – unable to speak – until what I’ve just told you occurs. Because it will certainly happen.”
Meanwhile, the people waiting outside for Zechariah began to wonder why he was taking so long. And then, when he finally did come out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized though, from his signs and gestures, that he’d just seen a vision.
When Zechariah’s period of service at the temple was ended, he returned to his home. Soon afterwards his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months.
“What a wonderful thing the Lord has, done for me” she said. “He’s had mercy upon me and taken away my disgrace among the people.”