8 “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:8-15)
As we continue our study of Zechariah and Elizabeth from Luke 1, we see that Zechariah was serving as a priest before God. Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (I Chronicles 24:4-19). He also belonged to the 8th Division of 24. During David’s reign, the priests were divided into 24 divisions. (I Chronicles 24:1-6). Solomon reaffirmed these divisions (2 Chronicles 8:14). Twice a year each division was on duty in the temple, and each time the period of service was one week.
Zechariah was selected at random to enter into the Holy Place within the Temple and offer incense on the Golden Altar of Incense. This was a tremendous privilege for Zechariah. Only once in a lifetime could a priest receive this honor. If he did not receive it by lot, then he would not have this privilege. Twice a day the incense was offered; in the morning and at mid-afternoon. The primary prayer was praying for peace of Israel and Jerusalem.
At the same time, people were standing outside of the temple. They were also praying because it was the hour of incense.
Dr. William Hendrickson writes, “Zechariah proceeds toward the golden altar. He is accompanied by two assistants. One of these men is carrying in a golden bowl burning coals from the altar of burnt-offering, and is spreading them out on the altar of incense. He then withdraws. The other assistant is carrying a golden censer filled with incense. He arranges the incense upon the altar. He too withdraws.”
“And now profound silence ensues, for the most solemn action of the ritual is about to occur. A signal is given. The sacred moment has arrived for Zechariah to place the incense upon the coals, causing a cloud to arise, its fragrance rising and spreading. Together with the ascending aroma a fervent prayer, consisting of thanksgiving for blessings received and of supplication for peace upon Israel, now issues from the heart and lips of the priest. The people, gathered “outside” the sanctuary but “inside” its courts are also praying, in a prostrate position and with outstretched hands. Then they wait for Zechariah to return from the altar of incense and to proceed eastward to the steps in the front of the sanctuary. On these steps Zechariah, accompanied by other priests, is expected to pronounce the Aaronic blessing on the people. This benediction will be followed by songs of praise, public offerings.”
It was at this moment that Zechariah was paid a surprising visit. An angel of the Lord appeared to him. The angel was standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Zechariah’s reaction was predictable for when he saw the angel he was troubled and fear fell upon him.
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “It is natural for a sinful human, even a righteous one, to tremble in the presence of the reflected holiness of God (Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22; Isaiah 6:1-5; Daniel 10:5-9; Luke 1:29; 2:9; Acts 10:4). Luke seems especially to take note of this; he often reports fear in the presence of God and his works (cf. Luke 1:30, 65; 2:9–10; 5:10, 26; 7:16; 8:25, 37, 50; 9:34, 45; 23:40).”
A surprise appearance will soon give way to an even more surprise announcement. Stay tuned.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!