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The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in Luke 1:28 to tell her that she would give birth to the Messiah. We read there,
28 And coming in, he said to her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
The salutation, “Hail,” (chairo) is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew greeting, “Peace” (shalom). The term “favored one” is charitoo, from charis (grace). In Hebrew thought, grace is a legal term reserved for the one who has received a favorable ruling in the divine court. It is explained by the angel’s next statement, “The Lord is with you,” that is to say, He is on your side, or He has decided in your favor.
The extra phrase that appears in the KJV, “blessed art Thou among women,” is not in the original and so is omitted in the NASB. In checking with Panin’s Numeric New Testament, I found that he also omits it. To add this phrase would destroy the perfect numeric (gematria) pattern of this passage. Hence, we omit it as well. (This phrase appears later in Luke 1:42, where it is unquestioned.)
Gabriel no doubt appeared as a man to her, as we so often see in Scripture. It was highly unusual in that culture for a man to speak to a woman, especially alone. So Mary was no doubt startled by his greeting, at least until she discovered that he was an angel. The Hebrew scholar, John Lightfoot (1602-1675), who was an expert in Talmudic teaching, wrote:
It was very rare and unusual for men to salute any women; at least if that be true in Kiddushin. Rabh Judah, the president of the academy of Pombeditha, went to Rabh Nachman, rector of the academy of Neharde, and after some talk amongst themselves, “Saith Rabh Nachman, Let my daughter Doneg bring some drink, that we may drink together. Saith the other, Samuel, saith, We must not use the ministry of a woman. But this is a little girl, saith Nachman. The other answers, But Samuel saith, We ought not to use the ministry of any woman at all. Wilt thou please, saith Nachman, to salute Lelith my wife? But, saith he, Samuel saith, The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness. But, saith Nachman, thou mayest salute her by a messenger. To whom the other; Samuel saith, They do not salute any woman. Thou mayest salute her, saith Nachman, by a proxy her husband. But Samuel saith, saith he again, They do not salute a woman at all.” (Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 3, p. 25)
The angel’s words themselves were also unusual, for they were the same words that Gabriel had given to the prophet Daniel, as the NASB renders Dan. 10:19, “O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you.” The translations are only slightly different on account of the difference in language.
Mary was first startled by the appearance of an angel who looked like a man. But his salutation was also troubling, not only because the man was addressing her directly, but also because he treated her with the respect shown to the prophet Daniel. It is obvious that Luke’s intention was to address the cultural inequality of the day. The lesson to be learned was that if Gabriel showed respect to women equal to that shown to the great prophet Daniel, then Theophilus and others ought to do the same. Luke 1:29 reads,
29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
Gabriel’s appearance no doubt startled her. But the wording of his salutation made her “very perplexed” (diatarasso). That is, she was greatly agitated, troubled, or perhaps very uncomfortable and embarrassed by the respect shown by Gabriel.
The rabbis frowned upon men talking to women—even to their own wives in public. The prevailing attitude toward women is seen in the Talmudic quotation above, where Rabbi Samuel says, “The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness.” Even today in the Jewish state the Orthodox do not permit a woman to sing. It is not surprising, then, that many American Jewish women in the 1960’s revolted against these restrictions to form the Women’s Liberation Movement, or the Feminist Movement.
Luke’s account showed that God treats women equally and favorably. If the voice of a woman were “filthy nakedness,” then how could Mary even reply to the angel without being guilty of blasphemy?
Luke records that earlier in the chapter Gabriel first spoke to the man (and priest) Zacharias, and later to the woman, Mary. These two visitations run parallel to each other for comparative purposes. The record shows that the man doubted and was struck dumb until the birth of John, while the woman, though she had questions, did not doubt. This distinction was easily discerned by Theophilus.
After the initial salutation, the angel continued in Luke 1:30-33,
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor [charis, “grace”] with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus [Iesous]. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”
Gabriel told her to call her son by the name Jesus (Greek: Iesous). It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Yeshua. This name differs from the sign given by the prophet in Isaiah 7:14, where the name is Immanuel, “God with(in) us.” The reason for this distinction is apparent when we understand that the Messiah was to come twice. His first appearance was as a man named Jesus; His second appearance has the added feature of God being in us as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). For this reason, it is not until Rev. 21:3 that we read,
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among [meta, “in the midst of, among, amid”] men, and He shall dwell among [meta] them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among [meta] them.”
The promise of God was to dwell with us or among us, and His presence was pictured in this way when He dwelt in the tabernacle and later in the temple. But those were the days when God’s presence was external. The day of Pentecost in Acts 2 brought His presence closer to us, proving that the greater promise of the Father was to indwell His people. Thus, Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:16,
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
Therefore, no longer is God with us externally, but He is with us internally. Moses prophesied of this also in Deut. 30:11-14, telling Israel that they did not need to go to heaven or to the abyss to find the word of God. Verse 14 says,
14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
The Israelites could hardly have comprehended the full significance of Moses’ revelation, but this is more easily seen in light of the New Covenant. The promise of Immanuel is also reflected in 2 Thess. 1:10,
10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among [en, “in”] all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
This promise was not fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, for it began only on the day of Pentecost ten days after His ascension. Pentecost was the start of the promise, but its full development is seen in the fulfillment of Tabernacles, as implied in Rev. 21:3. Pentecost is a mixture of wheat and leaven, but the full promise of God has no mixture.
So Mary was to call His name Jesus, rather than Immanuel. The glory of the Father rested fully upon Him, but He was yet an external temple. Hence, it was necessary for Him to leave the disciples, so that the Holy Spirit might come upon them at Pentecost. Jesus told them in John 16:7,
7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
So we see that the two names of the Messiah prophesy of the two comings of Christ, each having a different purpose. The man Jesus walked among the disciples but yet remained an external being. He had to “go away” in order to send “the Helper,” that is, the Holy Spirit, to indwell His people and to endow them internally with His presence.
The angel calls Jesus “the Son of the Most High.” Lightfoot tells us that this was a term that was used commonly in that day, and that “Messiah and the Son of God are convertible terms” (Commentary, p. 25). So there is no doubt that Mary understood by Gabriel’s words that she was to bring forth the Messiah, even though the term messiah itself was not used.
The fact that God was to “give Him the throne of His father David” further identified Him with the Messiah, for it was commonly believed that the Messiah would succeed to the throne of David after throwing off the yoke of Rome. Hence, the angel said that the Messiah was the Son of the Most High, but was also the son (i.e., descendant) of David. He could be both, because He had two parents. His Father was the Most High, but He was also descended from David through His mother. Through His mother, Jesus was qualified to take the throne of David, but through His Father, He was qualified to rule the earth from the spiritual temple that He is building (Eph. 2:20-22).
In promising that Jesus would be given the throne of David, Gabriel makes no mention of the conflict over the throne that would lead Him to the cross. Neither does Gabriel tell her of the conflict yet to arise between Jesus and the priestly authorities, whereby the priests would usurp His throne, repeating the prophetic story of Absalom.
Nonetheless, the fact that David returned to reclaim his throne from Absalom shows that Jesus will indeed be victorious in the end. The drama was about to begin, but Gabriel hid this from Mary during this visitation. She had enough to ponder for one day.
In Luke 1:34, Mary questioned the angel in regard to his announcement about her having a child:
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The NASB substitutes “virgin” for “a man I do not know” (andra ou ginosko). It means the same thing, of course, but “virgin” is less literal. Either way, it shows that Mary was more than a young woman but was also a virgin by her own testimony.
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power [dunamis] of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring [gennao, “what is begotten”] shall be called the Son of God.”
Gabriel tells Mary that she will be impregnated by the Most High (El Elyon), and “for that reason” Jesus would be “the Son of God.” This establishes the pattern of how we are all to become the sons of God (John 1:12). In Acts 1:8 the author (Luke) recalled similar words of Jesus, as He prepared the disciples to be begotten by the Holy Spirit. “But you shall receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The wording is essentially the same, though written in a different order.
The Holy Spirit begets Christ in us, and that which is begotten in us is holy. It is the real you, as you identify with the Christ in you, for that holy seed is what you are becoming as you grow spiritually.
There were rabbis who expected the Messiah to be born in a supernatural manner. John Lightfoot quotes one of them, saying,
“Truth shall spring out of the earth.” R. Joden, saith he, notes upon this place, that it is not said, Truth shall be born, but shall spring out; because the generation and nativity of the Messiah is not to be as other creatures in the world, but shall be begot without carnal copulation; and therefore no one hath mentioned his father, as who must be hid from the knowledge of men till himself shall come and reveal him.” (Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. III, p. 26)
So we see that there were those who expected the Messiah to be born in a supernatural manner—if not from a virgin, then at least by springing out of the earth in some other way. The angel then informs Mary of another pregnancy in Luke 1:36, 37,
36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.
So two miracles were happening. First, Elizabeth was having a natural-born son “in her old age,” that is, after menopause. The precedent for this, of course, was when Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac when she was long past child-bearing age. Second, Mary was having a supernaturally-born son in her youth as a virgin. This was unprecedented, of course, but God can perform both types of miracles just as easily, “for nothing is impossible with God.”
Luke concludes his narrative of Mary’s visitation in Luke 1:38,
38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
When Mary’s questions were answered, she agreed to become the mother of the Messiah, considering herself to be a “handmaid” (KJV) or “bondslave” (NASB) of God. There are some spiritual implications in her statement, for we are all Marys in this matter of Sonship. Christ is conceived in us while we are yet bondwomen, even as with Mary, but the birth of this son of God in us takes place through the free woman.
Christ is conceived in us through the revelation of Passover, but that holy seed, after developing in Pentecost, is brought to birth through the feast of Tabernacles. Our Passover experience takes place when we are begotten by the seed of the gospel, being evidenced by faith in the blood of the Lamb. The outworking and growth of that seed of faith is evidenced by “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5), as we learn to be led by the Spirit through Pentecost. The birth of Christ in us comes only when we have developed to the place where we no longer need the womb of the bondwoman to sustain us, and then we are ready for full birth through the feast of Tabernacles.
This also shows that we are still part of the bondwoman until we are fully born. Hence, the Old Covenant, which is the bondwoman, yet serves a purpose in our lives, even though we are heirs of the promise. Paul lays down this principle in Gal. 4:1, 2,
1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.
This principle applies on two levels: corporate and personal. On the corporate level, the Old Covenant was given through Moses, and fleshly Israel was the son of the bondwoman. The next step in time was Pentecost in Acts 2, which is the time when the promise is received, and the developing sons of God grow in a mixture realm of wheat and leaven (Lev. 23:17). That is, the Church has a New Covenant promise, but is yet mixed with the Old Covenant and lives under the authority of men. Finally, Tabernacles fully implements the New Covenant, and the (corporate) New Creation Man is brought to birth as “Isaac,” the son of the “freewoman.”
On the personal level, a new believer comes to Christ by vowing to follow Him, much the same as Israel did in establishing the Old Covenant in Exodus 19:8. He then moves on into Pentecost, receiving the baptism of fire, so that the leaven in him might be destroyed. Those who allow this “fire” to do its work in their lives will grow in Christ and gradually learn to function under the New Covenant.
The corporate and the personal come together at the historic, corporate fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles, where the individual, mature sons of God are raised from the dead or “changed” into His likeness (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
When we understand this process, we then have sufficient background to see how Mary prophesied by referring to herself as a “bondwoman” when the Holy Spirit conceived Christ in her. Though no more is said of this in Luke 1:34, our understanding of the two covenants and of Hagar and Sarah can give us much insight into the spiritual process by which we all may bring forth “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”