Mary's Visitation, Part 1
Oct 02, 2013
After telling us of the circumstances of John’s conception, Luke then turns to the conception of Jesus. Luke 1:26, 27 says,
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
There are some who say that this encounter took place in the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar, which would have been about the month of August. If that were true, Jesus would have been born nine months later in the month of May. However, in Luke 1:36 the angel clarifies this by telling us that Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, “is now in her sixth month” of her pregnancy.
Elizabeth became pregnant shortly after her husband’s visitation by Gabriel while he was serving the temple in the eighth week. This was the “division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5). The timing of her pregnancy meant that John would be born around the feast of Passover the following year in order to fulfill men’s expectations that Elijah would come at Passover.
It was equally important that the Messiah would be born at the feast of Trumpets 5½ months later. For this reason, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary came in the sixth month after his announcement to Zacharias in the temple. In other words, Gabriel came to Mary in December around the time later known as Christmas.
Jesus was born September 29, 2 B.C. (as we reckon time today), for that was the feast of Trumpets that year, beginning the evening of the 28th. This is the 272nd day of the year on our modern calendar and the 280th day from the previous December 25. Thus, the day Christians celebrate Christmas was not the birth of Jesus, but rather the date of His conception—when Christ became “mass” in Mary’s womb.
The Existence of Angels
Theophilus, coming from a Sadducee background, was probably skeptical about the existence of angels (Acts 23:8). Since the Old Testament often refers to angels by the term “men,” it would seem that Sadducees interpreted this word literally as flesh-and-blood men, born on earth, who were sent as “messengers,” much like the prophets.
For example, in Genesis 18:2 Abraham saw three “men” (Heb. enosh, “frail, or mortal men”), who had been sent by God to tell him of the soon-coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They also prophesied that Sarah would have a son in the following year (Genesis 18:10). These angels were again called enosh in Genesis 18:22 as they proceeded toward Sodom. And yet when they arrived at their destination, they were called “angels” (Hebrew: malak) in Genesis 19:1.
Three enosh came to Abraham, but only two malak came to Sodom. It appears that the third was Jesus Christ Himself appearing as a man, who remained with Abraham, for we read in Genesis 18:22,
22 Then the enosh [i.e., the angels] turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before Yahweh.
Abraham recognized the third “man” as Yahweh Himself, appearing to him in the form of a man. Of course, Abraham did not know Him as Yahweh, for that name was not revealed until the time of Moses. Moses writes in Exodus 6:2, 3,
2 God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am Yahweh; 3 and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but by My name, Yahweh, I did not make Myself known to them.
Later, at the Red Sea, Moses wrote in Exodus 15:2,
2 Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my Yeshua; this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him.
Yeshua was the Hebrew name for Jesus. So this prophesies that Yahweh would come to earth as a man named Yeshua. Therefore, it appears that Yahweh came to Abraham as a man (enosh), though Abraham knew Him only as El Shaddai. The fact that El Shaddai and Yahweh are the same God is stated in Genesis 17:1,
1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai; walk before Me, and be blameless.”
Hence, the intercession that Abraham made for Sodom in Genesis 18:23-33 was done in the presence of Yahweh, who was to come to earth again many years later as Jesus Christ.
The point is that the angels were called enosh, and they even ate and drank (Genesis 18:7, 8; 19:3). Years later, when an angel appeared to the parents of Samson to announce his birth, he is called a “man of God” (Judges 13:6). This term is consistently an “ish of God” throughout Scripture. In Judges 13:3, 20-21 this “man of God” is called an angel. In that case, the angel first appeared to Samson’s mother and later to both she and her husband, Manoah.
Perhaps of greater interest is that Daniel 9:21 speaks of “the man Gabriel,” who appeared to the prophet to reveal the word of God to him. Again, the word “man” is ish.
The Hebrew word ish is a fire (esh) with a yood in the middle of the word. The word esh is spelled with two letters (אש), but ish (איש) adds a yood (י), which is a letter that means a closed hand, signifying work or deeds. Thus, ish is a man doing all of his works in the midst of the “fire” (glory) of God. It is pictured by Moses, who went up the Mount into the midst of the fire of God to receive the law. Moses was thus called a “man of God” (ish of God) in Deuteronomy 33:1. He pictured the true man, one who does all of his works in the midst of the fire of God.
I believe that angels are assigned to all of us. Each angel carries a specific word of God, which determines the unique calling of the man or woman assigned to that angel. As the man and his angel come into unity, the “man of God” manifests the character (word) of his angel and becomes the true man that he was created to be.
But Luke was writing to Theophilus, who came from a Sadducee family that denied the existence of angels. So it is interesting that Luke would emphasize two angelic missions at the beginning of his account. An angel appeared to Zacharias in the temple, a place that was secluded and even guarded so that ordinary men might not enter. Then the same angel appeared to Mary some six months later.
The Equality of Men and Women
It is also of interest that Gabriel appeared first to a man (Zacharias) and then to a woman. This is the first instance where Luke begins to set forth the importance of women in his gospel. Luke, being a doctor, was called to heal many breaches and wounds through his gospel. The most prominent of these breaches was that between Jew and “gentile.” But another was the breach between man and woman.
Recall that the dividing wall in the outer court of the temple forbade women and gentiles from drawing close to God. This wall was commanded neither to Moses in the tabernacle nor to David when planning the construction of the temple. It was a tradition of men that destroyed relationships and promoted disunity. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14, 15 that Christ came to destroy this tradition which was nullifying the spirit of the law. This is also why Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Because the Sadducees controlled the temple in the first century, Luke’s purpose was to provide a balanced account that set forth men and women as equally beloved of God, who had equal rights to approach God or to be approached by God. By presenting Zacharias and Mary as equals in revelation by the same angel that had appeared to Daniel, Luke was addressing Theophilus’ prejudices and misconceptions as a Sadducee.
It is also noteworthy that Luke was presenting the viewpoint of the apostle Paul himself. Many have mistakenly thought that Paul was prejudiced against women. Yet Paul’s doctrine of equality shines forth in 1 Corinthians 7:4,
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
This must have seemed outrageous to the average Jew in the first century, who would have denied that one’s wife had any authority over her husband’s body. After all, if she were just a slave woman, as was commonly thought, how could she hold any position of authority over her husband?
Again, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:11, 12,
11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
Paul writes this in the context of man’s earthly authority in verse 3, but he is quick to remind the church that earthly authority does not annul equality under God. Though there are obvious ethnic distinctions (“Jew or Greek”), authoritative distinctions (“slave or free man”), and gender distinctions (“male or female”), nonetheless, these are all temporary and do not affect one’s direct relationship to God.
This is part 1 of a mini-series titled "Mary's Visitation." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 3 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones