The Story of Zechariah - Father of John the Baptist

By Carmen Slabbert
Edited by Joel Taylor

Published December 30, 2021.

Marble Statue of John the Baptist surrounded by bunting

As Christians, knowing the story of Zechariah is imperative due to his relation to Jesus' birth and because he is the father of John the Baptist, the man that baptized Jesus Christ. This article will discuss the story of Zechariah and his relation to the Birth of Christ.

Who Was Zechariah?

Zechariah was a Jewish high priest and prophet who lived an exemplary life dedicated to God. He was responsible for the incense in the temple where God's people brought offerings to Him. He was also a descendant of King David, having been born into the house of Judah.

What Did Zechariah Do?

One year, during his priestly duties, Zechariah was approached by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel brought the welcome tiding that Zechariah's wife, Elizabeth, would fall pregnant and, at full term, give birth to a boy.(Luke 1:11–38) Zechariah was given instruction that they should name the child John and that he would bring many of Zechariah's countrymen back to God.

It comes as no surprise that Zechariah was completely taken aback by this prophecy. So much so that he questioned whether the angel had made a mistake. Zechariah proceeded to demand that the angel should give him a sign to validate whether the message he has received was in fact received correctly. The angel revealed himself next to Zechariah as Gabriel and rebuked Zechariah for his unbelief. It was here that the angel Gabriel struck Zechariah with dumbness. Gabriel told him that he will no longer be able to speak a word until the child is born, and the prophecy was fulfilled.

Gabriel also prophesied the coming of Christ, by saying that John will prepare the people for His coming.(Luke1:17) True to Gabriel's words, Zechariah could not utter a single word and was not able to perform his temple duties any longer.

Mary's Visit

It was around the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy when another Jewish woman had an encounter with the angel Gabriel. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph of the house of Judah, was visited by Gabriel and received the news that she too will fall pregnant through the Spirit. (Luke1:26) We call this event the Annunciation of Christ.

Soon after her encounter with the angel Gabriel, Luke tells us that Mary traveled to the house where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. Mary, in obvious distress, shared what had happened to her. Luke tells us that Elizabeth was immediately filled with the Holy Spirit and gave Mary the following message from God as written in Luke 1:42:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah until the ninth month of John's gestation, after which she left for home.

For more info, read our post: Were John the Baptist and Jesus Cousins?

The Birth of John the Baptist

Soon after, Elizabeth birthed a healthy baby boy. As was the custom at the time, the child would receive its name during the Bris Milah on the eighth day after its birth. Elizabeth and Zechariah's family wanted to name the boy after his father, but Elizabeth kept insisting that the baby should be named John as the angel had instructed them.

Not accepting Elizabeth's plea, the family turned to Zechariah to ask what the baby should be named since John was not a family name. Insistent and unable to speak, Zechariah wrote down the name "John" onto a stone tablet he had been using to communicate. It was at this exact moment God's prophecy came full circle. Zechariah was released from his impediment and instantaneously began to speak again. All those who were gathered around them were left in awe of God's greatness. (Luke1:66)

The Death of Zechariah

The eventual death of Zechariah ties in with what happened to Christ years after. During the time when Jesus was born, King Herod heard the prophecies being recalled that a recently-birthed baby would become the King of Israel.(Matthew 2:16–18)

King Herod, feeling threatened, signed an order for what was later called the Massacre of the Innocents. His order was to have all the male children 2 years and younger be put to death. According to the apocryphal book: Gospel of James, Zechariah was killed by those under Herod's order because he did not reveal the location of John to them. Zechariah selflessly gave his life to save John's, the same way Christ would selflessly give His life to save all of those who believe in Him, one of the most meaningful events in Jesus' life.

So much relied on Zechariah and Elizabeth's faithfulness. This biblical story of Zechariah, which we find in the Book of Luke in the New Testament, is truly a milestone for Christians, teaching us about faith, determination, and courage.