We have completed our survey through the Taurat & Zabur, the books of the prophets from ancient Israel. We saw in our close of the Zabur that there was a pattern of anticipating a fulfilment of future-looking promises.
But over four hundred years have passed since the Zabur closed. We saw that many political and religious events occurred in the history of the Israelites while they waited for the fulfilment of the promises, but no new messages came from any prophets. The Israelites, however, through the rule of Herod the Great, had continued the development of the Temple until it had become a magnificent structure, attracting people from all over the Roman world to its worship, sacrifices, and prayers.
However, the hearts of the people, though very religious and now shunning the idolatry that had so ensnared them in the time of the earlier prophets, had become hard and externally focused. Just like many of us today, in the midst of religious activities and prayers, their hearts needed to change. So, towards the end of the rule of Herod the Great, around 5 BCE, a unique messenger was sent to make a great announcement.
Surah Maryam (Surah 19 – Mary) gives this summary of the message to Mary:
Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.
She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.
She said: “I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear God.”
He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.
She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?”
He said: “So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, ‘that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’:It is a matter (so) decreed.”(Surah Maryam 19:16-21)
Jibril announces the coming of John the Baptist (Yahya – PBUH)
This messenger was Jibril, also known in al kitab (Bible) as the archangel Gabriel. Up until this time he had only been sent to the prophet Daniel (PBUH) regarding the message (see here) as to when the Masih would come. Now Jibril (or Gabriel) came to a priest named Zechariah (or Zakary PBUH) while he was leading prayers in the Temple. He and his wife Elizabeth were both old and had no children. But Jibril appeared to him with the following message as recorded in the Injil (Gospel):
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:13-20)
The Zabur had closed with the promise that the Preparer would come who would be like Elijah (PBUH). Jibril recalls this specific promise by saying that the son of Zechariah (or Zakary – PBUH) would come ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’. He was coming to ‘make ready a people prepared for the LORD’. This announcement meant that the promise of the Preparer was not forgotten! It would be fulfilled in the birth and life of this coming son of Zechariah (or Zakary) and Elizabeth. However, since Zechariah did not believe the message he was stricken with muteness.
Jibril announces the coming birth – from a virgin.
The coming of The Preparer meant that the one people were being prepared for – the Masih or Christ or Messiah – would also come shortly. A few months later, Jibril (or Gabriel) was again sent to a young virgin woman named Mary with the following announcement:
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.(Luke 1:28-38)
In the announcement from Jibril himself, we see this puzzling title ‘Son of God’. I discuss it further in my article on it here. In this article, we continue with the account of the births.
The birth of the prophet Yahya (John the Baptist – PBUH)
Events were moving exactly as had been foretold by the prophets of the Zabur. The prophet Malachi had predicted a Preparer coming in the power of Elijah and now Jibril had announced his birth. The Injil continues with
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?”(Luke 1:57-66)
The birth of Isa al Masih (Jesus Christ – PBUH)
The prophet Isaiah (PBUH) had foretold the unique prophecy (explained fully here) that
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Now the archangel Jibril had announced his coming birth to Mary, even as she remained a virgin woman. This was in direct fulfilment of this prophecy given so long ago. This is how the Injil (Gospel) records the birth of Isa al Masih (Jesus – PBUH).
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them…. 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Luke 2:4-21)
The coming roles of these two great prophets
Two great prophets were born within months of each other, in fulfilment of specific prophecies given hundreds of years earlier! What would their lives and messages be? Zakary (or Zechariah – PBUH), the father of John the Baptist (Yahya) – PBUH) prophesied about both sons that:
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)
Zechariah (PBUH), receiving an inspired recitation, connected the birth of Isa (Jesus) to a promise given to Dawud (PBUH – see here) as well as Ibrahim (PBUH – see here). The plan of God that was foretold and growing for centuries, was now reaching its climax. But what would this plan involve? Was it salvation from the enemy Romans? Or, was it a new law to replace that of the prophet Musa (PBUH)? Was it a new religion or political system? None of these (which is what we humans would be looking to bring about) is mentioned. Instead, the plan specified is ‘enabling us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness’ with ‘salvation through the forgiveness of their sins’ motivated by the ‘tender mercy of our God’ for those of us ‘living … in the shadow of death’ to ‘guide our feet in the path of peace’.
Ever since Adam we have been condemned to enmity and death trying to attain righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins. And in front of Adam, Eve and Shaytan, Allah had pronounced a plan that centred on an ‘offspring’ from ‘the woman’. Surely this kind of plan is better than any plan for wars and systems of thought and conduct that we look for. This plan will meet our deepest needs, not our surface needs. But how will this plan for the Preparer and the Masih unfold? We look for answers as we continue to learn about the Good News of the Injil.