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The Promise to Zacharias
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The Annunciation by Gabriel to Zacharias of the promise of the birth of John the Baptist in high resolution images from our huge art library.

What Came Before
At the time when the story of the New Testament began, the land of Israel, called also the land of Judea, was ruled by a king named Herod. He was the first of several Herods, who at different times ruled either the whole of the land, or parts of it. But Herod was not the highest ruler.

Many years before this time, the Romans, who came from the city of Rome in Italy, had won all the lands around the Great Sea, the sea which we call the Mediterranean. And above King Herod of Judea was the great king at Rome, who was called "Emperor", ruling over all the lands, and over the land of Judea among them. So Herod, though king of Judea, obeyed his overlord, the emperor at Rome. At the time when this story began, the emperor at Rome was named Augustus Caesar.

At this time the land where the Jews lived was full of people. Jerusalem was its largest city, and in Jerusalem was standing the Temple of the Lord, which King Herod had begun to build anew, taking the place of the old Temple built in the time of Zerubbabel which had long needed repair. There were also many other large cities besides Jerusalem. In the south was Hebron, among the mountains, on the shore of the Great Sea were Gaza, and Joppa, Caesarea, and many more.

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Zacharias and the Angel

The Annunciation by Gabriel of the Birth of John the Baptist
Luke 1

One day an old Priest named Zacharias was leading the service of worship in the Temple. He was standing in front of the golden altar of incense, in the Holy Place, and was holding in his hand a censer or cup full of burning coals and incense, while all the people were worshipping in the court of the Temple, outside the court of the priests, where the great altar of burnt offering stood.

The Annunciation to Zechariah, Domenico Ghirlandaio
Annunciation To Zacharias
Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490
Zacharias And The Angel by William Blake
Zacharias And The Angel
William Blake

Suddenly Zacharias saw an angel from the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. He felt a great fear when he saw this strange being, with shining face, but the angel said to him,

"Do not be afraid, Zacharias. for I have come from the Lord to bring you good news. Your wife Elizabeth shall have a son, and you shall name him John. You shall be made glad, for your son John shall bring joy and gladness to many. He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall never taste wine nor strong drink as long as he lives, but he shall be filled with God's Holy Spirit. He shall lead many of the people of Israel to the Lord, for he shall go before the Lord in the power of Elijah the prophet, as was promised by Malachi, the last of the old prophets. He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and those who are disobeying the Lord to do his will."

As Zacharias heard these words, he was filled with wonder, and could hardly believe them true. He was now an old man, and his wife Elizabeth was also old, so that they could not expect to have a child. He said to the angel, "How shall I know that your words are true, for I am an old man, and my wife is old?"

"I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God", said the angel, "and I was sent from the Lord to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. But because you did not believe my words, you shall become dumb, and shall not be able to speak until this which I have said comes to pass."

All this time, the people outside, in the court, were wondering why the priest stayed so long in the Temple. When at last he came out, they found that he could not speak a word, but he made signs to them, to tell them that he had seen a vision in the Temple.

After the days of his service were over, Zacharias went to his own home, which was near Hebron, a city of the priests, among the mountains in the south of Judea. When his wife Elizabeth found that God was soon to give her a child, she was very happy, and praised the Lord.

As the angel had said, to the aged woman Elizabeth was given a son. They were going to name him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother said, "No, his name shall be John."
"Why", they said, "none of your family have ever been named John." They asked his father Zacharias, by signs, what name he wished to be given to the child. He asked for something to write upon, and when they brought it, he wrote, "His name is John."

Then all at once the power to hear and to speak came back to Zacharias. He spoke, praising and blessing God, and he sang a song of thanks to God, in which he said, "You, Oh child, shall be called a prophet of the Most High, to go before the Lord, and to make ready his ways."

When John was growing up, they sent him out into the desert on the south of the land, and there he stayed until the time come for him to preach to the people, for this child became the great prophet John the Baptist.

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