by John MacArthur Friday, December 11, 2020
This post was first published December 18, 2015. -ed.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 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; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)
God’s people had not seen or heard from an angel in more than four hundred years. During that time there had been no revelation from the Lord, no miracle, and certainly no sequence of miracles. But then for the second time in the span of a few months the same angel appeared, both times with an extraordinary birth announcement to an ordinary person. Gabriel is one of only two angels who are actually named in the Bible. The other one, Michael, is associated with assignments requiring power and strength (Revelation 12:7). Gabriel is God’s supreme messenger who brought great, glorious, and crucial announcements from heaven. For example, he also delivered the pronouncement to Daniel regarding the future of redemptive history and the seventy-weeks prophecy (Daniel 9).
Gabriel delivered the most astounding and significant birth announcement ever. His words about the divine child, Jesus, constitute a summary of the entire Person and work of our Lord and Savior. The summation appears rather simple on the surface, but the complexity of each facet challenges our ability to grasp and appreciate all that the angel said to Mary. It is truly awesome to contemplate Jesus’ saving work, His perfectly righteous life, His title of deity, and His kingly position—all in the same concise overview.
His Saving Work
First, the angel gives a preliminary indication of the Child’s saving mission. Jesus’ name itself comes from the Hebrew Yeshua, which means “Jehovah saves” (Matthew 1:21). The God of the Old Testament was a saving God, and His people knew it (2 Samuel 7:23; Job 19:25; Isaiah 44:21-23, 45:21; Hosea 14:2; Joel 2:12-13; Jonah 2:9).
In Luke’s description of the incarnation, he reiterates and underscores the point that the Child, Jesus, was the long-awaited Savior: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 NKJV); “For my [Simeon’s] eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30); “And coming in that instant she [Anna] gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 NKJV). And later in his gospel, while chronicling Christ’s ministry in Perea, Luke conveyed in Jesus’ own words the reason He came: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
His Perfectly Righteous Life
Gabriel makes the simple statement that Jesus would be “Great.” Some commentators would say it’s better to translate the Greek word for “great” as extraordinary. Or it might be better still to substitute the adjective splendid, magnificent, noble, distinguished, powerful, or eminent. But those words still don’t allow us to speak as excitedly as we ought about the life of Jesus. Christ’s greatness is best understood in relation to what the apostle John wrote about Him:
But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. (John 12:37-41 NKJV)
John’s second quote from the prophet is from Isaiah 6:9-10, when Isaiah saw the glory (or greatness) of God. The prophet Isaiah knew that one day God would send the Messiah, His Son, to live a perfect life among His people and to save them from their sins (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, 53:4-6). He had a preview of the same glory of Christ that the apostles later witnessed and described (Matthew 17:1-8; John 1:14). When Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be great, he meant that Jesus would manifest the very glory of God.
His Title of Deity
Gabriel’s announcement also affirms the deity of Christ. “He will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Most High was simply a title for God, clearly indicating that nobody is higher than He is. Mary and other righteous Jews were familiar with that title because it is used throughout the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 14:18; Psalm 47:2, 91:1; Daniel 7:18). The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek term used by Luke is El Elyon, “God Most High.” This title refers to God’s sovereignty and the fact that no one is higher, more exalted, or more powerful than He is.
To identify Jesus as the Son of the Most High is to declare that He has the same essence as the Most High God. “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And He boldly asserted to His opponents, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Gabriel announced, and the New Testament confirms, that Jesus unquestionably was and is worthy of His divine title, because He truly is the Son of God.
His Kingly Position
The story of Jesus will wonderfully conclude with His sovereign rule over the earth and heaven. The story of redemption will culminate with great precision in the glorious reign of Jesus Christ on David’s throne over the nation of Israel, by which He will establish an earthly kingdom for a thousand years, followed by an eternal kingdom.
When Jesus came to earth as an infant, He came with the proper credentials to rule. He offered His kingdom to His people, but they spurned it and rejected and executed Him. However, Christ will return in glory and with omnipotence to establish His kingdom (Revelation 19:1-21:8).
The Old Testament writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, foresaw the coming of Christ’s kingdom. For example, David writes,
Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.” (Psalm 2:6-8 NKJV)
In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God told David he would have a Son who would reign forever. And that Son was not Solomon, but the Messiah, Jesus.
The Bible promises that all believers will be part of God’s kingdom. Even though God will take us to heaven through death or the rapture, He will include us in the millennial kingdom. Others will be saved during the tribulation and become members of the kingdom. Christ will return, judge the unbelieving, and then establish His earthly kingdom of righteousness, peace, and truth. And once the final rebellion of Satan and his followers is crushed and they’re sent to the lake of fire, the Lord will establish His eternal kingdom. The magnificent words of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” perfectly describe the conclusion: “He shall reign forever and ever!”
(Adapted from God’s Gift of Christmas.)