"And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple."
What does this return to the "people" by Luke mean?
It makes a certain sense in terms of story-telling, but it has to be more significant than simply filling out a story -- there are an untold number of other details that could have been mentioned. Interestingly, it forms a bracket around the entire account of the prophecy of the coming of John. It also suggests that the earlier reference to "praying" was a discontinued behavior because of the length of time he was inside -- because they had stopped "praying" and begun "waiting" and "marvelling".
- 1. He returns to the "people" whom he had mentioned earlier in 1:10 as "the whole multitude of the people" who were praying at the hour of incense.
- 2. He tells us that they were impacted by the unusual length of time Zacharias was spending in the temple.
- 3. He tells us that they perceived, from the fact that he could only communicate with them in non-verbal ways, that he had seen a vision while he was in the temple.
- 1. The word Luke uses for "waiting" is used by him in the remainder of this work to refer to the activity of expecting someone whose coming will influence the behavior of the one waiting and, because of that, is already influencing that behavior [3:15; 7:19; 7:20 (an exact duplication of 7:19!); 8:40; 12:46].
- a. It doesn't have to have a lot of weight (it could be as simple as waiting for the preacher to say the last "Amen" so we can all leave), but it does mean that behavior is being controlled to a certain degree by the one being awaited.
- b. That Luke uses it here in a somewhat innocuous setting, and then later uses it deliberately with significant weight attached implies that he has a significant "waiting" concept in his theology. This immediately turns our minds to Luke's interest in "waiting for Jesus to return as He promised". He did, after all, write all of this a good while after the events themselves took place and there were few, if any, issues in the disciples' minds that were of greater significance than the promised Return.
- 2. The word Luke uses for "marvelled" is another such word that can be used to refer to a rather slight "wondering" (a kind of mild curiosity) as well as a profound mental shock. It is in the same rather innocuous setting (people wondering why Zacharias is taking so long at his appointed task) and has the same later-developing sense of profundity of impact (disciples wondering what kind of person can command wind and waves).
- 3. The oddity of Luke's comments is increased when one realizes that the "marvelling" occurred before Zacharias came out of the temple -- one would expect that his speechlessness would have been a greater wonder (did he have a stroke? why can't he talk?).
- a. Luke has a developed sense of subtle suggestion (Judas' bowels spilling out!) that has already been noted in the use of the names as suggestions of deeper, theologically significant issues.
- b. The question here is this: what does he suggest by his return to "the people"?
- 1) Is it a reminder of their prayer?
- 2) Is it a reminder of John's predicted impact (he will turn many in Israel...)? It is notable that "he will go before Him" is going to definitely turn the level of expectation up several notches in respect to the anticipation of the Promise. Centuries and millennia are brought down to one man's lifetime (decades) by the prophecy. By the same token, the necessity of adulthood for John to accomplish his prophesied task puts the expectation off from "today" or "tomorrow". Herein is a significant danger (pointed out by 12:45-46!).
- 3) What? And how do we know?
- a) Luke 1:1-4 sets the stage for understanding that any theophile is going to need a significant level of clarity regarding the facts.
- b) Luke 1:5-25 has these parts:
- i. 1:5-7 Zacharias and Elizabeth are identified in tension: they are on-target, but childless [the overtones of the type of meaning established by Abraham and Sarah as old, on-target, and childless are difficult to miss -- this was the 'child of promise' type of meaning! and it comes out clearly in this story]
- ii. 1:8-9 Zacharias' task of offering incense is revealed as a divine appointment [by lot] in the midst of ordinary living [...it came to pass...].
- iii. 1:10-22 The Gabriel/Zacharias exchange is revealed:
- (a) 1:10 The reference is to the people and their praying
- (b) 1:11 The record is of the angel appearing on the right side of the altar
- (c) 1:12 Zacharias reveals his terror as the norm of a life of fear
- (d) 1:13-17 The angel delivers the message of:
- (i) 1:13a an exhortation to stop being afraid
- (ii) 1:13b,c a promise of petition being heard -- a son is to come -- name him "John"
- (iii) 1:14 a promise of great joy coming for Zacharias as well as many others
- (iv) 1:15 a description of the coming son [great in the sight of the Lord, a Nazarite, filled with the Spirit from the womb]
- (v) 1:16-17 a description of the impact of the coming son [he will turn many to the Lord in preparation for the Lord's coming]
- (e) 1:18 Zacharias reveals his disbelief based upon long experience and age and raises the question of how he is to know for certain
- (f) 1:19-20 Gabriel reveals his identity and disciplines Zacharias for his unbelief with speechlessness until fulfillment
- (g) 1:21-22 The reference is to the people and their waiting and wondering and the return of Zacharias from the temple (mentioned twice) speechless and the conclusion of the people that he had seen a vision
- iv. 1:23 Zacharias finishes his task and returns home
- v. 1:24-25 The conclusion of the record with the fact that Elizabeth conceived and that the Lord had removed the reproach she experienced from others because of her barrenness.
- c) We can make these observations:
- i. The issues of prayer and waiting and wondering are big ticket themes in Scripture.
- ii. The "apparent" needlessness of repeating "in the temple" brings a focus upon the significance of that structure into play.
- iii. The chaistic structure of the entire section, making the reference to the people a kind of bookends, means that the "people" are the larger focus of the segment.
- iv. The point of the chiasm is that "people" are going to be moved to the proper attitude for an on-going relationship with the "Lord their God" ("joy" out of a redirected heart and mind).
- d) We can draw these conclusions:
- i. Both prayer and expectancy are the characteristics of "prepared people".
- ii. Thus, the references to the "people" are revelations of the kinds of characteristics that mark "theophiles".
- 4. This text has its focus upon the "child of Promise" meaning-type.
- a. The overall "problem" is the lack of fulfillment of specific covenant commitments made by God -- the barrenness of Sarah/Elizabeth.
- b. This has led to the unveiling of a more profound "problem": the commitment of man to bring Promise to pass ("you shall have joy and gladness") by his own abilities and actions -- Abram's Hagar event/Zacharias' despair.
- 1) Abram illustrates the active effort of the proud -- I will make Promise come to pass.
- 2) Zacharias illustrates the passive rebellion of the despairing -- the Promise isn't going to come to pass.
- 3) John's message of repentance addresses both of these issues head-on -- bring down the mountains and lift up the valleys.
- c. The "people" bring the proper attitudes to light: "prayer" [the front bookend] is the antithesis to pride; "expectation" [the back bookend] is the antithesis to despair.
- 5. Thus, the reference to the "people" is a development of the antithesis of despair.
- a. They "awaited".
- b. They "sought answers" (the ultimate significance of "marvelling") in respect to "the temple".
- c. They "perceived" the answers were on the way by reason of Zacharias' "hopeful discipline" [the triumph of the joy of hope established by a "discipline" that irrefutably established the coming fulfillment of the hope].
- d. A conclusion: God's gracious child-training of individuals leads to reaffirmation of Truth by the entire group. We should wait with genuine curiosity regarding God and His plans and permit the developments to guide us to perception so that we, instead of sinking into despair, are built up in the most holy faith.