Bible Commentary

Luke 1

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Luke 1)

Verses 1-2

[1] Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, [2] Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

This short, weighty, artless, candid dedication, belongs to the Acts, as well as the Gospel of St. Luke.

Many have undertaken — He does not mean St. Matthew or Mark; and St. John did not write so early. For these were eye witnesses themselves and ministers of the word.

Verse 3

[3] It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

To write in order — St. Luke describes in order of time; first, The Acts of Christ; his conception, birth, childhood, baptism, miracles, preaching, passion, resurrection, ascension: then, The Acts of the Apostles. But in many smaller circumstances he does not observe the order of time.

Most excellent Theophilus — This was the appellation usually given to Roman governors. Theophilus (as the ancients inform us) was a person of eminent quality at Alexandria. In Acts 1:1, St. Luke does not give him that title. He was then probably a private man. After the preface St. Luke gives us the history of Christ, from his coming into the world to his ascension into heaven.

Verse 5

[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.

The course of Abia — The priests were divided into twenty - four courses, of which that of Abia was the eighth, 1 Chronicles 24:10. Each course ministered in its turn, for seven days, from Sabbath to Sabbath. And each priest of the course or set in waiting, had his part in the temple service assigned him by lot.

Verse 6

[6] And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

Walking in all the moral commandments, and ceremonial ordinances, blameless — How admirable a character! May our behaviour be thus unblamable, and our obedience thus sincere and universal!

Verse 10

[10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

The people were praying without, at the time of the incense — So the pious Jews constantly did. And this was the foundation of that elegant figure, by which prayer is in Scripture so often compared to incense. Perhaps one reason of ordaining incense might be, to intimate the acceptableness of the prayer that accompanied it; as well as to remind the worshippers of that sacrifice of a sweet - smelling savour, which was once to be offered to God for them, and of that incense, which is continually offered with the prayers of the saints, upon the golden altar that is before the throne, Revelation 8:3,4.

Verse 12

[12] And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

Zacharias was troubled — Although he was accustomed to converse with God, yet we see he was thrown into a great consternation, at the appearance of his angelical messenger, nature not being able to sustain the sight. Is it not then an instance of the goodness is well as of the wisdom of God, that the services, which these heavenly spirits render us, are generally invisible?

Verse 13

[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.

Thy prayer is heard — Let us observe with pleasure, that the prayers of pious worshippers come up with acceptance before God; to whom no costly perfume is so sweet, as the fragrancy of an upright heart. An answer of peace was here returned, when the case seemed to be most helpless. Let us wait patiently for the Lord, and leave to his own wisdom the time and manner wherein he will appear for us.

Thou shalt call his name John — John signifies the grace or favour of Jehovah. A name well suiting the person, who was afterward so highly in favour with God, and endued with abundance of grace; and who opened a way to the most glorious dispensation of grace in the Messiah's kingdom. And so Zacharias's former prayers for a child, and the prayer which he, as the representative of the people, was probably offering at this very time, for the appearing of the Messiah, were remarkably answered in the birth of his forerunner.

Verse 15

[15] For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

He shall be great before the Lord — God the Father: of the Holy Ghost and the Son of God mention is made immediately after.

And shall drink neither wine nor strong drink — Shall be exemplary for abstemiousness and self-denial; and so much the more filled with the Holy Ghost.

Verse 16

[16] And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

And many of the children of Israel shall he turn — None therefore need be ashamed of "preaching like John the Baptist".

To the Lord their God — To Christ.

Verse 17

[17] And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

He shall go before him, Christ, in the power and spirit of Elijah — With the same integrity, courage, austerity, and fervour, and the same power attending his word: to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children - To reconcile those that are at variance, to put an end to the most bitter quarrels, such as are very frequently those between the nearest relations: and the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just - And the most obstinate sinners to true wisdom, which is only found among them that are righteous before God.

Verse 18

[18] And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

Zacharias said, Whereby shall I know this? — In how different a spirit did he blessed virgin say, How shall this be? Zacharias disbelieved the fact: Mary had no doubt of the thing; but only inquired concerning the manner of it.

Verse 19

[19] And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God — Seven angels thus stand before God, Revelation 7:2; who seem the highest of all. There seems to be a remarkable gradation in the words, enhancing the guilt of Zacharias's unbelief. As if he had said, I am Gabriel, a holy angel of God: yea, one of the highest order. Not only so, but am now peculiarly sent from God; and that with a message to thee in particular. Nay, and to show thee glad tidings, such as ought to be received with the greatest joy and readiness.

Verse 20

[20] And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Thou shalt be dumb — The Greek word signifies deaf, as well as dumb: and it seems plain, that he was as unable to hear, as he was to speak; for his friends were obliged to make signs to him, that he might understand them, Luke 1:62.

Verse 21

[21] And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

The people were waiting — For him to come and dismiss them (as usual) with the blessing.

Verse 24

[24] And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

Hid herself — She retired from company, that she might have the more leisure to rejoice and bless God for his wonderful mercy.

Verse 25

[25] Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

He looked upon me to take away my reproach — Barrenness was a great reproach among the Jews. Because fruitfulness was promised to the righteous.

Verse 26

[26] And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

In the sixth month — After Elisabeth had conceived.

Verse 27

[27] To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

Espoused — It was customary among the Jews, for persons that married to contract before witnesses some time before. And as Christ was to be born of a pure virgin, so the wisdom of God ordered it to be of one espoused, that to prevent reproach he might have a reputed father, according to the flesh.

Verse 28

[28] And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Hail, thou highly favoured; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women — Hail is the salutation used by our Lord to the women after his resurrection: thou art highly favoured, or hast found favour with God, Luke 1:30, is no more than was said of Noah, Moses, and David. The Lord is with thee, was said to Gideon, Judges 6:12; and blessed shall she be above women, of Jael, Judges 5:24. This salutation gives no room for any pretence of paying adoration to the virgin; as having no appearance of a prayer, or of worship offered to her.

Verse 32

[32] He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

He shall be called the Son of the Highest — In this respect also: and that in a more eminent sense than any, either man or angel, can be called so.

The Lord shall give him the throne of his father David — That is, the spiritual kingdom, of which David's was a type.

Verse 33

[33] And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

He shall reign over the house of Jacob — In which all true believers are included.

Verse 35

[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.

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee — The power of God was put forth by the Holy Ghost, as the immediate Divine agent in this work: and so he exerted the power of the Highest as his own power, who together with the Father and the Son is the most high God.

Therefore also — Not only as he is God from eternity, but on this account likewise he shall be called the Son of God.

Verse 36

[36] And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth — Though Elisabeth was of the house of Aaron, and Mary of the house of David, by the fathers side, they might be related by their mothers. For the law only forbad heiresses marrying into another tribe. And so other persons continually intermarried; particularly the families of David and of Levi.

Verse 38

[38] And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord — It is not improbable, that this time of the virgin's humble faith, consent, and expectation, might be the very time of her conceiving.

Verse 39

[39] And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

A city of Judah — Probably Hebron, which was situated in the hill country of Judea, and belonged to the house of Aaron.

Verse 41

[41] And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

When Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary — The discourse with which she saluted her, giving an account of what the angel had said, the joy of her soul so affected her body, that the very child in her womb was moved in an uncommon manner, as if it leaped for joy.

Verse 45

[45] And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

Happy is she that believed — Probably she had in her mind the unbelief of Zacharias.

Verse 46

[46] And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And Mary said — Under a prophetic impulse, several things, which perhaps she herself did not then fully understand.

Verse 47

[47] And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour — She seems to turn her thoughts here to Christ himself, who was to be born of her, as the angel had told her, he should be the Son of the Highest, whose name should be Jesus, the Saviour. And she rejoiced in hope of salvation through faith in him, which is a blessing common to all true believers, more than in being his mother after the flesh, which was an honour peculiar to her. And certainly she had the same reason to rejoice in God her Saviour hat we have: because he had regarded the low estate of his handmaid, in like manner as he regarded our low estate; and vouchsafed to come and save her and us, when we were reduced to the lowest estate of sin and misery.

Verse 51

[51] He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath wrought strength with his arm — That is, he hath shown the exceeding greatness of his power. She speaks prophetically of those things as already done, which God was about to do by the Messiah.

He hath scattered the proud — Visible and invisible.

Verse 52

[52] He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

He hath put down the mighty — Both angels and men.

Verse 54

[54] He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

He hath helped his servant Israel — By sending the Messiah.

Verse 55

[55] As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

To his seed — His spiritual seed: all true believers.

Verse 56

[56] And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

Mary returned to her own house — And thence soon after to Bethlehem.

Verse 60

[60] And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.

His mother said — Doubtless by revelation, or a particular impulse from God.

Verse 66

[66] And 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.

The hand of the Lord — The peculiar power and blessing of God.

Verse 67

[67] And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,

And Zacharias prophesied — Of things immediately to follow. But it is observable, he speaks of Christ chiefly; of John only, as it were, incidentally.

Verse 69

[69] And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;

A horn — Signifies honour, plenty, and strength.

A horn of salvation — That is, a glorious and mighty Saviour.

Verse 70

[70] As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

His prophets, who have been since the world began — For there were prophets from the very beginning.

Verse 74

[74] That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,

To serve him without fear — Without any slavish fear. Here is the substance of the great promise. That we shall be always holy, always happy: that being delivered from Satan and sin, from every uneasy and unholy temper, we shall joyfully love and serve God, in every thought, word, and work.

Verse 76

[76] And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

And thou, child — He now speaks to John; yet not as a parent, but as a prophet.

Verse 77

[77] To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,

To give knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins — The knowledge of the remission of our sins being the grand instrument of present and eternal salvation, Hebrews 8:11,12. But the immediate sense of the words seems to be, to preach to them the Gospel doctrine of salvation by the remission of their sins.

Verse 78

[78] Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,

The day spring — Or the rising sun; that is, Christ.

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