We are going through the Gospels using Tatian’s Diatessaron. Today we are covering Luke 1:67-80, which is the prophecy from Zacharias, father of John the Immerser (or Baptist), after John was born. It is found at the bottom of the page I just linked. You don’t have to go there, though, because I will be writing it out below.
If you are just joining us, I did the introduction to the Diatessaron on April 22. I am also in the process of making a list, with links, of all the “Through the Bible” posts I have ever done.
I will be printing the text from the Diatessaron on the post today, updating it to modern English as I go. Again, you can also read it in your Bible at Luke 1:67-79.
The Horn of Salvation
Zacharias [John’s] father was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied and said, “Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, who has cared for his people and made salvation for them and has raised for us the horn of salvation in the house of David his servant, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from eternity.”
Thanks to the internet, we can access a whole bunch of commentaries all at once. In this case, there seems to be agreement that “horn of salvation” is a reference to the power of salvation and that it includes the idea of overthrowing enemies. This is because horns are used for battle by animals and are a symbol of strength. I also ran a search for horn throughout the Old Testament, and like the Expositor’s Greek Testament on the page I just linked (top right column), I think “horn of salvation” also refers to the horn of anointing oil used to anoint Israelite kings (e.g., 1 Kings 1:39).
That he might save us from our enemies and from the hand of all them that hate us.
Zacharias has the Messiah in mind when he says this. He is picturing deliverance from the Romans who ruled Palestine and from all others that had ruled them. Among the most horrific things you can read are the books of the Maccabees. They are found in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, and of course they can be found online. A read through them gives you an idea of the vicious attacks on the Jews that happened after Alexander the Great came through the Middle East. Reading the Maccabees is worse than reading Judges. After every victory, a new army comes through wreaking havoc in Judah again.
As he prophesies, Zacharias has in mind all the devastation that the Jews had been through since their return from Babylon in the fifth century BC. The Messiah, when he came, would end all that. He would subject all the nations, and he would destroy those nations that would not submit (Ps. 2).
The Jews were actually expecting two Messiahs, one a suffering servant and the other a conquering king. Naturally, in their subjugated state in the first century and the destruction they had faced over the previous centuries. it was the conquering king they were hoping for. Now, through his encounter with the messenger Gabriel and the stories from Mary about her encounter with Gabriel, Zacharias’ hopes were high.
The Scripture calls these words prophecy, so it is not just Zacharias’ hopes that are up, but the joy of heaven is being revealed in preparation for the entrance of the Word of God into the earth in bodily form.
Of course, we know that Jesus was both the Suffering Servant and the Conquering King. What Zacharias did not know, but which the Holy Spirit did know, is that there are much worse enemies to be conquered than the Roman army. Rome and many others have oppressed people. Kim Jong-un is oppressing North Korea today. Such oppression is awful, but in the midst of it, Jesus shows us how to overthrow the oppressions of the devil so that despite earthly oppression there can be a heavenly joy and deliverance.
The Messiah’s power turned out to be great enough that the Gospel, the announcement of the reign of Jesus the King and Son of God, prospers under the worst oppression. I read once that the world held its breath during Mao Zedung’s reign in China, but when he died it turned out that the number of Christians had multiplied under his reign. To this day illegal churches in China may soon help give it the largest Christian population in the world.
As Tertullian famously said, “The oftener you mow us down, the more of us there are. The blood of Christians is seed” (Apology 50). In fact that statement is preceded by a boast: “Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us.”
The one Messiah, Jesus, will return as Conquering King one day, and the governments of the earth will lose all their power to him. Because he came as Suffering Servant, however, the governments of this earth have already lost their power over us who neither love this world nor even cling to their own lives, instead gladly losing them for the sake of the Gospel.
Deliverance Without Fear
He has performed his mercy toward our fathers and remembered his holy covenants and the oath which he swore to Abraham our father, that he would give us deliverance from the hand of our enemies. Without fear we shall serve before him all our days with equity and righteousness.
Again, this has been fulfilled in glad style throughout Christian history. Listen to this boast from the second century:
It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful. (Minucius Felix, The Octavius, ch. 37)
You can find other quotes like this on my martyrdom quotes page, which has consistently been one of the favorite pages of my Christian history web site. Christians love the idea of triumphing over their persecutors by not loving their lives to the death.
But it is not just persecutors over whom we have been given power to triumph, but all the lusts that have typically enslaved those who previously longed to be righteous (Rom. 6:14, 2 Pet. 1:3-4, etc.). By the Holy Spirit, we have been given power to overthrow our slavery to sin and addictions and to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23, ESV).
The Knowledge of Salvation
As for you, O child, you will be called prophet of the Most High. You shall go forth before the face of the Lord to prepare his way, to give the knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins, through the mercy of the compassion of our God, with which he cares for us. [He will] appear from on high to give light to them that sit in darkness and under the shadow of death and to set straight our feet in the way of peace.
I find the phrase “to give the knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins” poignant. In fact, I find it so poignant that I will end this post, which is already 1200 words long, and go over this paragraph in the next post.