[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
In Luke 1:6-25, Gabriel announced to Zacharias that Elizabeth would bear a son named John who would come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah. Luke now writes about a very similar event when Gabriel announces to a young, unmarried girl that she would be the the mother of the Messiah. The parallels (both similarities and contrasts) between the two accounts are numerous and purposeful (cf. Green 1997:83-84; Bock 1994:102). Zacharias, the priestly, educated, elderly male, is shown to have less faith and obedience than a young, unmarried, unschooled girl. This reveals a great theme of reversal that is prominent in Luke (where God uses those that the world would not), as well as Luke’s emphasis on women as being vitally important for God’s purposes. Both would have been jarring and radical ideas in Luke’s day.
The overall picture that Luke reveals is that God is at work, not just for Zacharias and Elizabeth (the privileged and honored) or Mary (insignificant and despised, but honored), but for all Israel, and especially, for all who are oppressed. “God is intervening in human history to bring forth an everlasting kingdom” (Green 1997:84).
1:26. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (cf. 1:24, 36), the angel Gabriel–the same angel that appeared to Zacharias (1:19)–was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth. Galilee was the region around the Sea of Galilee where Jesus would carry out most of his public ministry. Nazareth was a small town in this region with a population of about 200 (Malina 2003:7). It was not honorable to be from Nazareth (cf. Isa 9:1; 1 Macc 5;15; Matt 4:13-16; Luke 22:59; John 1:46; 7:41; Acts 2:7). The first contrast between Zacharias and Mary is in their honor. Mary was a nobody from Nazareth, while Zacharias was an honorable priest.
1:27. Gabriel was sent to a virgin whose name was Mary. Luke uses the technical term for virgin,(parthenon) so there is no doubt about her state. She confirms her viginity in 1:34. Mary’s name means “excellence” (Bock 1994:107).
Luke also reveals that Mary was betrothed which was like a modern engagement, but more binding. A Jewish marriage consisted of two parts, the betrothal, and about a year later, the actual marriage ceremony. During the betrothal period, the woman legally belonged to her groom, and he referred to her as his wife (Bock 1994:107). A betrothal could only be broken through a writ of divorce. Any child that was born to a woman during the period of betrothal would be regarded as teh groom’s, if he accepted care for the child (Bock 1994:108).
Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph who was of the house of David. Though it was honorable to be of the house of David, there was also a sense of shame, since the house of David had been deposed and no longer sat on the throne in Jerusalem (cf. 1:5), despite divine promises to David (2 Sam 7:11-33). Mary’s betrothal to Joseph was probably arranged by her parents. Joseph was probably much older than Mary. He could have been in his late twenties or thirties, possibly into his forties. Mary, on the other hand, was probably in her early teens, and may have been as young as twelve (Bock 1996:57; Green 1997:86).
1:28. Gabriel greets her with the words, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Gabriel had used a similar greeting when he brought a message to Daniel about the interpretation of the vision of 70 weeks (Dan 9:23). Not even the priestly Zacharias was greeted with such a blessing. In this way, the angelic greeting raises Mary above Zacharias to the point of matching (even surpassing) the greatness of the prophet Daniel (cf. Green 1997:87)
1:29. When Mary saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. When Gabriel appeared to her, and spoke his greeting, it is unlikely that Mary immediately recognized him as an angel. Also, since Nazareth was so small, she undoubtedly knew every man in the village. Furthermore, it was quite rare for any man to greet a woman (such as a wife or daughter) in such a way, let alone a stranger (Lightfoot 1989:25). Therefore, Mary’s reaction is understandable. She was troubled that a strange man would appear to her while she is alone. She certainly wondered at his words of blessing to her (Bock 1994:110).
1:30-31. Gabriel tries to calm her fears by stating that she has found favor with God. This implies that she has been chosen by God to perform some special task (Bock 1994:111). The angel explains that she will conceive…and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. As with the promise to Zacharias, the angel tells Mary what to name her miraculous son: Jesus. The name is vitally important on many different levels. First of all, it means “Savior” or “The Lord Saves” (Bock 1994:129-130) which becomes a theme to the song she sings in verses 47-55. As a title, “Savior” refers not only to the work of Jesus to forgive sins, but was a political statement as well. Many of the Greek and Roman military leaders were referred to as Saviors (Ford 1983:16).
Second, Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua. When Hellenistic Jews read their Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the books would read “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jesus, Judges. Throughout the narrative concerning Joshua, the Greek reader would readJesus.” …Thus for the Greek the successor of Moses is Jesus. It is Jesus who conquers Canaan and establishes the twelves tribes in teh promised land. Jesus, the son of Nun, was teh military man par excellence in Israelite history because he gained the promised land of the Hebrews, gained it through military prowess” (Ford 1983:16). Of course, Hebrew readers would not read “Jesus” but “Joshua.” So also, when they spoke of Jesus of Nzareth, they would have called him “Joshua of Nazareth.” The naming of Jesus implies that He will be a militaristic leader. The following words of Gabriel the war angel, only seem to confirm this.
1:32 The message of Gabriel to Mary about Jesus is one of redemption and restoration. The words spoken by Gabriel clearly echo the promises of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7:9-16 (Ford 1984:17). The implication in all that Gabriel says is that Jesus (Joshua) has come to take back the throne of David from the usurpers. The term Son of the Highest is Messianic and does not necessarily imply divinity (Lightfoot 1989:25; Green 1997:90; Bock 1994:113-114). In this context, it refers specifically to the Messiah as an heir to the throne of David. Luke writes that God will give Him the throne of His father David. The reader is reminded of the statement in verse 27, where Joseph was of the house of David, but not on the throne. Instead, a Roman-appointed usurper was on the throne (1:5). Through Jesus, God would now restore the throne of David to the rightful heir.
1:33. The reign of Jesus would not be temporary, but He He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. This speaks of the restoration of Israel to her rightful place among the nations as Jesus rules from Jerusalem, and reminds the readers again of the prophecy spoken by Gabriel to Daniel hundreds of years earlier (Dan 7:27). There is little in Gabriel’s pronouncement that would lead the reader to think of anything beyond the national restoration of Israel and the reinaguration of the Davidic dynasty (Green 1997:88).
1:34. Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The phraseknow a man is a Hebrew idiom for sexual intercourse (cf. Gen 4:1). Mary wants to know how she will conceive since she is still a virgin. Also, in light of the statement by Gabriel that Jesus would sit on the throne of “His father David” (v. 33) Mary might have thought that she was being accused of sleeping with Joseph, who was of the house of David. Her question here is also a statement that she is still pure in her betrothal to Joseph.
Based on what happened to Zacharias when he asked a nearly identical question in verse 18, the reader expects Mary to get struck mute here as well. She, however, is not chided for her question. There are several possible explanations.
First, whereas Zacharias had been praying for a son (1:13), it is doubtful that Mary had been praying for a son, since she was a virgin. Therefore, her question is much more natural. Zacharias, since he had been praying for a son, should have responded with praise and rejoicing, not questions of doubt.
Second, Zacharias’ question indicated a lack of belief. He asked how he could know the truth of what the angel had said. Since Zacharias didn’t know the truth of what he was being told, he didn’t believe it, as the angel indicates (1:20). Also, the fact that he was seeking a sign shows that he doubted the validity of the angels words. He wanted verification. Mary’s question, on the other hand, does not indicate lack of belief. She was not seeking a sign, but was simply asking about the mechanics of what she had been told (Bock 1994:118). She didn’t question the truth of what she had been told; she simply wanted to know how God was going to make her pregnant since she was a virgin (1:34). Though the angel only explained that it would be a miracle, she believed and said “Let it be done to me” (1:38). So the primary differences between Zacharias and Mary are prayer for, and faith in, the promises of God.
The contrast between the two is stark, especially from a first century perspective. Zacharias was a man, a priest, and elderly. From a first century perspective, he should be the one who is wise and full of faith. Mary, however, was a young, unmarried woman. She would have been viewed as ignorant, unlearned, and as such, not capable of great faith. However, the tables are turned, the roles are reversed, and a young, untrained woman is shown to be wiser and more full of faith than an experienced, learned, religious leader. This is emphasized even further in Mary’s song (often referred to as the Magnificat) in Luke 1:46-55.
1:35. So rather than strike her mute, the angel provides her with an explanation, namely, that her conception will be a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit. The angel’s terminology that the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you does not suggest sexual activity (Green 1997:90; Bock 1994:122), but indicates that God’s glorious presence will take the place of a husband for Mary in empowering and protecting her (Malina 2003:228; Bock 1994:122). It also anticipates Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:8).
The angel also tells Mary that her son will be Holy and will be called the Son of God, which is Messianic terminology (cf. vv. 32; 3:38; Green 1997:89; Bock 1994:123-125). “She certainly is not portrayed as perceiving an announcement of a divine child here” (Bock 1994:125).
1:36-37. The angel goes on to tell Mary that Elizabeth her relative has also conceived a son in her old age and has been pregnant for six months. By revealing this to Mary, the angel has provided a sign of confirmation to her that what she has said will come true. As she will see evidence that god has worked a miracle in Elizabeth, Mary will know that God will work a miracle in her also, for with God nothing will be impossible.”
1:38. Mary accepts the word of the angel, giving herself as a maidservant to the Lord. She is willing to do whatever God asks of her. With this statement, Mary is essentially giving up her right to marry Joseph. By giving herself to God as a maidservant, she is placing herself in the household of God, and removing herself from the household of her father and that of Joseph (Green 1997:92). “Mary, who seemed to measure low in any ranking–age, family, heritage, gender, and so on–turns out to be the one favored by God, the one who finds her status and identity in her obedience to God and participation in his salvific will” (Green 1997:92).