What did Gabriel say about Jesus’ relation to God? What was Mary’s question and how was it answered? What is the basis for belief in the virgin birth of Jesus? What was the relation between Jesus and John the Baptist?
1:32–35: 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: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost [Spirit] 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.
After naming Jesus, Gabriel explained more about Him. He shall be great are the same words used on John the Baptist in verse 15. However, the greatness of John is not as great as the greatness of Jesus. He would be called the Son of the Highest. John would be “the prophet of the Highest” (v. 76), but Jesus is the Son of the Highest. Jesus would also fulfill the promises to David. Jesus would be the Messiah-King through whom God would fulfill His promise for a descendant of David to establish an everlasting kingdom. He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
The Gospels link Jesus and John the Baptist close together, and Luke shows some of the similarities and differences between them. The announcements of their birth were made by Gabriel, and he said that each would fulfill a divine mission related to salvation. But each account of John the Baptist presents him as pointing people beyond himself to Jesus.
The responses of Zechariah and of Mary to the announcements of Gabriel had similarities and differences. Both received announcements of the birth of a miraculous child. Both responded initially by being troubled and frightened. Both were told the name of their child. The missions of the sons were intertwined, but Jesus was Savior, King, and Son of God, and John was His forerunner. Both asked questions, but there was an element of doubt in Zechariah’s and of honest seeking and trust in Mary’s. She asked, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (“How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” ).
Gabriel answered her question in verse 35. He said that the conception would be the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would come upon her. The power of the Highest would overshadow her. The word overshadow is the language of divine creation. It has none of the sexual overtones of gods having sexual intercourse with humans, which are found in the pagan myths of that day.
Gabriel further told Mary, that holy thing (“One,” ) which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. This is a key verse in the related Christian doctrines of the virgin birth and the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God. The virgin birth was a unique miracle. In a sense the birth of John to an elderly couple was miraculous, but it was not so much a miracle as the virgin birth. Strictly speaking, Mary’s was a miraculous conception. That is, the miracle took place in the conception to a virgin. Once conceived, the child developed normally within her womb and was born in the natural way.
Some people claim to have trouble believing this miracle. Some of these are unbelievers about everything. Others believe some of the Bible miracles, but not this one. They say that it is not mentioned often in the Bible, only in Luke 1–2 and Matthew 1. But how often must the Bible need to tell of a miracle? Some people say that the first-century people were lacking in the scientific knowledge we possess. But Luke was a physician (Col. 4:14). He knew that babies are conceived by the union of a man and a woman, yet he considered this as one of the certainties Christians believe. Hobbs wrote: “Everything in Luke’s training would lead him to doubt such a story. To record it would subject him to criticism by his colleagues. Yet having traced all things accurately, Luke was so convinced of its truth that he boldly and beautifully penned the most complete account of the virgin birth of Jesus on record. His record is the greatest proof of the virgin birth both historically and scientifically.”
If a person believes in such miracles as divine creation and the resurrection of Jesus, why would he or she have trouble with the virgin birth? The biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus combine earthly events with heavenly revelations. It was as if heaven reached down to touch earth. For example, shepherds were caring for their sheep when angels appeared and spoke with them; some foreigners came to worship Jesus because they saw and followed a star; a young Jewish girl who was a virgin conceived and bore the Son of God. God used more than one sign of the sending of His Son into the world. The virgin birth was one of the signs of this breakthrough from heaven.
What does it mean to call Jesus the Son of God? It means at least three things. For one thing it does not mean that the birth of Jesus was His beginning. In human terms, a son is the biological son of his parents. A human’s life begins with his conception. But Jesus is not a being created by the Father. He is eternal with the Father, but His earthly life had a beginning. When the Jews thought of a man’s son, they were thinking of the likeness of son to father. Sons often look like their fathers. In Jesus’ day, Jewish sons often followed the father’s example and vocation. Therefore, if you met a man’s son, you have also met the father. Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). A second implication of the title Son of God is the closeness of the Father and the Son. While Jesus was on earth, He spent much time in prayer. A third implication is that during His incarnation, Jesus the Son of God was fully human as well as fully divine.
What are the lasting truths in Luke 1:32–35?
Sometimes God asks us to do things we don’t understand.
2. Honest questions are an expression of faith.
3. The virgin birth was God’s way of sending His Son into the world.