Luke 1:67-79 – John the Immerser Preparing the Way for the Lord

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POSTED 04 NOVEMBER, 2017

“And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, and FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US [Psalm 106:10]; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS [Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1]; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH [Isaiah 9:2; 58:8; 60:1-2], to guide our feet into the way of peace.’”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

At the circumcision of John the Immerser/Baptist (Luke 1:59-66), a significant prophecy is issued by his father, Zecharias, about the anticipated activities of his newly-born son. Those, who hold to either a high or low Christology, will still agree that John the Baptist preceded Yeshua the Messiah, as a herald who would announce His arrival. What is stated by Zecharias about the calling that was upon his son John, is important to recognize, as there are some Christological assertions made by the narrator.

The bulk of Zecharias’ prophecy about John lauds various Tanach expectations about salvation coming to Israel, and they principally concern the anticipated restoration of its Kingdom (Luke 1:69-75). Various Tanach prophecies about the covenants made between God and the Patriarchs, and in particular King David, are being invoked. Luke 1:68 includes a specific praise issued to the LORD proper or YHWH: “Praised be ADONAI, the God of Isra’el, because he has visited and made a ransom to liberate his people” (CJB/CJSB).

John the Immerser/Baptist has come on the scene of history, in the same tradition as figures such as the Prophets of Israel before him, as his father declared, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High” (Luke 1:76a). Following this, a significant quotation is recognized to be made from Isaiah 40:3 to be sure, and perhaps also Malachi 3:1[1]:

“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God’” (Isaiah 40:3).

“‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).

Luke 1:76 in its entirety says, “And you, child, will be called a prophet of Elyon. For you will go before ADONAI to prepare His ways” (TLV), with a quotation from Isaiah 40:3, for sure, incorporated into Zechariah’s prophecy. Earlier in Luke 1:15-16, all which is stated of John the Immerser/Baptist, is, “he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” As the events come into greater focus at John’s circumcision and will progress, questions regarding who “the Lord” of Luke 1:76 is intended to be are necessarily raised. When it is properly recognized that John the Immerser/Baptist is to announce the arrival of the Messiah—as readers of the Gospel of Luke are well aware (Luke 3:1-20)—then key questions about Christology are present when Isaiah 40:3 is applied to Yeshua.

In his commentary on Luke, John Nolland is uncertain about the identity of “the Lord” in Luke 1:76, thinking that there is some ambiguity: “The imagery is primarily that of a coming of God for which preparation is to be made; but for Luke this visitation by God takes the form of the coming of Jesus (cf. Luke 7:16), and there may, therefore, be a happy ambiguity about the reference of ‘Lord’ ([Kurios]) here.”[2] Robert H. Stein is more forthright in his commentary, in recognizing how John the Immerser/Baptist’s preceding arrival to that of “the Lord,” is indeed to be Yeshua or Jesus, to be slightly contrasted to that of the Lord God proper earlier in the word of Luke 1:15-16: “‘Lord’ (and ‘him’) is best understood in light of 3:4; 7:27 and John’s preparatory role, namely, as a reference to Jesus (cf. 1:43) rather than to God (Yahweh) as in 1:15-16.”[3]

What does it mean for Isaiah 40:3 to be applied to Yeshua? The Hebrew of Isaiah 40:3 reads with, b’midbar pannu derekh YHWH, “Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh” (New Jerusalem Bible). This is translated in the Septuagint as, hetoimasate tēn hodon Kuriou, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (NETS), with the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH rendered with the title Kurios. Is it at all significant that “the Lord” of Luke 1:76—a reference to Yeshua the Messiah—is the same LORD or YHWH of Isaiah 40:3? In the estimation of Joel B. Green, in his Luke commentary, while not fully understood to the characters participating—the narrator of the Gospel does associate the title of “Lord” first clearly applied to YHWH in Luke 1:17[4] preceding, with the Lord Yeshua:

“The relationship between John and Jesus is the focus of Zechariah’s description of John as one who goes ‘before the Lord to prepare his ways.’ Before, in 1:17, ‘Lord’ could only be understood as Yahweh. But the subsequent narrative has embodied a subtle shift in this identification, with the result that God’s visitation is now understood to take the form of the coming of Jesus—of whom the title ‘Lord’ is appropriate (1:43; cf. 2:11). We know, then, that John will go before the Lord Jesus to prepare his way. However, this is an identification that is unknown to the characters in Luke 2-23; although ‘Lord’ in its transcendent sense appears in the Gospel as a title for Jesus, it occurs this only in the words of the narrator, who thus give us his own assessment of Jesus’ identity and reveals his own status as a believer. Only in light of his exaltation is Jesus more widely acknowledged as ‘Lord’ (e.g., 24:34; Acts 2:36).”[5]

When Isaiah 40:3 is applied to the mission of John the Immerser/Baptist preparing the way for the Lord Yeshua, what does this say about the nature of the Messiah, from the perspective of the author? If Yeshua the Messiah is only a supernatural agent sent from God, but ultimately created, than to apply any Tanach passage where the subject is the LORD or YHWH to Yeshua, is not only irresponsible, but it would be tantamount to blasphemy. Far be it from Zechariah speaking via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in this scene, he would be either self-delusioned or demon-possessed. But, if John the Immerser/Baptist preparing the way for the Isaiah 40:3 “Lord” is to be regarded as him legitimately preparing the way for Yeshua, then this is only possible if Yeshua is integrated into the Divine Identity.


NOTES

[1] Erwin Nestle and Kurt Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition (New York: American Bible Society, 1993), 155; Kurt Aland, et. al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1998), 199; Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Revised Edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart, 2012), 183.

[2] John Nolland, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 1:9-20, Vol 35a (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 89.

[3] Robert H. Stein, New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 101.

[4] “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN [Malachi 4:5-6], and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).

[5] Joel B. Green, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 118.