And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of the prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered 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 before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1:67-79 ESV
Before singing this song, we read that Elizabeth gave birth to her son, and they called him John, as Gabriel had told them. It was after naming John that Zechariah’s mouth was opened, having been made mute by Gabriel for his unbelief, and he began to bless the Lord and to prophesy.
This song, often called the Benedictus, is what Zechariah spoke through the Holy Spirit. Notice that it divides into two major sections. Though it all rejoices in Christ’s coming, the first part (verses 68-75) recount how the Christ’s coming fulfills the promises God long ago made to David and to Abraham, while the second part (verses 76-79) specifically prophesies how what role John will play in setting the stage for the Christ.
In the first section, Zechariah rejoices that through the Christ God is fulfilling the covenants that He made with Israel. To Abraham, God promised an offspring, the land of Canaan, and to bless all the families of the earth through him. To David, God promised that a son from his lineage would be an eternal king with an everlasting throne over a kingdom without end. The Christ is both. He is the Offspring of Abraham and the Son of David, the eternal King whose reign will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Indeed, just as the Israelites rejoiced at Moses’ message that God had visited them and would redeem them from the hand of Pharaoh, so too was this Christ the ultimate visitation of God to His people. And He would deliver them from an enemy far greater than Pharaoh or even Rome. He would rescue them from the evil lurking within their own hearts, enabling them to “serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him” all their days (vv. 74-75).
As for John, he would “be called the prophet of the Most High” (v. 76). Indeed, Jesus was right to say later of John: “I tell you, among those born of women none is great than John” (Luke 7:28). In many ways, John was the physical embodiment of the Old Testament. He represented all the prophets before him who likewise prepared the way of the Lord, who were also very often voices crying out in the wilderness for God’s people to repent. John had the awesome and mighty task of being the last in that heavenly lineage, heralds of the coming kingdom. We ought to read with gravity the rest of Jesus’ words in Luke 7:28: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” How can that be?
It is as the author of Hebrews notes regarding the Old Testament saints:
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.Hebrews 11:39-40
John and Zechariah, like Abraham and David, rejoiced seeing the Christ’s coming from a distance, though they did not live to see His work of redemption with their own eyes. Thus, we have a great privilege that even they did not have. We have the complete revelation of God in His Word of the redemption that He has worked through Jesus the Christ. Therefore, like Zechariah, we ought to bless the Lord with gladness, praising Him who is guiding “our feet into the way of peace” through the Prince of Peace Himself (v. 79).