And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.(Luke 1:11-17)
The aged priest Zechariah, had been selected by lot, along with his priestly group(Course), to perform the daily ministry in the temple. This would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, for there were tens of thousands of priests in Judea, and a priest could go a lifetime without experiencing this privilege.
Zechariah had also been selected among those fifty, to be the one who ministered before the altar of incense in the Holy Place of the temple. He would be accompanied by two priestly helpers, who clean off the ashes of the previous sacrifice, and lay out the burning coals from the golden altar, onto the altar of incense.
The two aids would then reverently bow, and worship as they backed out of the Holy Place, leaving Zechariah by himself with his censor, awaiting the signal to administer the prayers and intercessions before the golden altar before him, aglow with the burning coals.
To His right would have been the table of Shewbread, the twelve loaves signifying Israel’s continual fellowship with God.Other than the glowing coals on the golden altar of incense, the room was only illuminated by the seven branched Candlabra, to the left of the Priest.
All that remained was for the Prriest to hear the signal and to spread the incense on the altar, and to offer prayers such as ,
‘True it is that Thou art Jehovah our God, and the God of our fathers; our King and the King of our fathers; our Saviour and the Saviour of our fathers; our Maker and the Rock of our salvation; our Help and our Deliverer. Thy name is from everlasting, and there is no God beside Thee. A new song did they that were delivered sing to Thy name by the sea-shore; together did all praise and own Thee as King, and say, Jehovah shall reign who saveth Israel.
‘Be graciously pleased, Jehovah our God, with Thy people Israel, and with their prayer. Restore the service to the oracle of Thy house; and the burnt-offerings of Israel and their prayer accept graciously and in love; and let the service of Thy people Israel be ever well-pleasing unto Thee.
‘We praise Thee, who art Jehovah our God, and the God of our fathers, the God of all flesh, our Creator, and the Creator from the beginning! Blessing and praise be to Thy great and holy name, that Thou hast preserved us in life and kept us. So preserve us and keep us, and gather the scattered ones into Thy holy courts, to keep Thy statutes, and to do Thy good pleasure, and to serve Thee with our whole heart, as this day we confess unto Thee. Blessed be the Lord, unto whom belongeth praise.
‘Appoint peace, goodness, and blessing; grace, mercy, and compassion for us, and for all Israel Thy people. Bless us, O our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Thy countenance. For in the light of Thy countenance hast Thou, Jehovah, our God, given us the law of life, and loving mercy, and righteousness, and blessing, and compassion, and life, and peace. And may it please Thee to bless Thy people Israel at all times, and at every hour with Thy peace. [May we and all Thy people Israel be remembered and written before Thee in the book of life, with blessing and peace and support.] Blessed be Thou, Jehovah, who blessest Thy people Israel with peace.’
**(EiderSheim,Alfred,The Temple and its Services)
Outside of the Holy place at this time, the other Priests and the multitude of worshippers are prostrated before the LORD, in holy adoration.All that remained of the service was for the incensing priest to worshipfully back out of the Holy Place, and stand at the top of the steps, joined by other Priests, and to pray the Aaronic Benediction over the congregation. But the service was interrupted, by something known only to Zechariah…
In the midst of His holy ministrations, the aged priest realized he wasn’t alone in the Holy place for an Angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the Altar.
And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.(Luke 1:12-17)
“Thy Prayer is heard…”, that is the prayer, long since renounced by the aged couple, for a son. Like Abraham and Sarah, the priestly couple would indeed have a miracle son, and they were to name him “John”, Johannon, i.e. “God is gracious”.
The miracle Son would not just be a joy to his parents and family, for “Many shall rejoice at His birth”. He would always be consecrated to God entirely,having been born into a lifelong Nazarite vow, such as Samson and Samuel.
The power to fulfill his lifelong task would be evident, for “He would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb”. His task? To turn many of the backslidden children of Israel back “to the Lord their God”.
The Last Word from God, four hundred years earlier, spoke of the coming of the Messiah, who would be proceeded by the forerunner, “Elijah the Prophet” Who would turn the hearts of the children to the Fathers and the hearts of Fathers to the children, lest Israel be smitten with a curse.
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.(Malachi 3:1)
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.(Malachi 4:5-6)
The Angel Gabriel, standing in the Holy place of the temple, prophesied to the stunned priest, that this promised child, would be the very one Malachi and other prophets (Isaiah 40:1-6) predicted would come, in order to prepare the people and to make ready the way of the Messiah himself.