(1.) A priest of the course of Abia, the eighth of the
twenty-four courses into which the priests had been originally
divided by David (1 Chr. 23:1-19). Only four of these courses or
"families" of the priests returned from the Exile (Ezra
2:36-39); but they were then re-distributed under the old
designations. The priests served at the temple twice each year,
and only for a week each time. Zacharias's time had come for
this service. During this period his home would be one of the
chambers set apart for the priests on the sides of the temple
ground. The offering of incense was one of the most solemn parts
of the daily worship of the temple, and lots were drawn each day
to determine who should have this great honour, an honour which
no priest could enjoy more than once during his lifetime.
While Zacharias ministered at the golden altar of incense in
the holy place, it was announced to him by the angel Gabriel
that his wife Elisabeth, who was also of a priestly family, now
stricken in years, would give birth to a son who was to be
called John, and that he would be the forerunner of the
long-expected Messiah (Luke 1:12-17). As a punishment for his
refusing to believe this message, he was struck dumb and "not
able to speak until the day that these things should be
performed" (20). Nine months passed away, and Elisabeth's child
was born, and when in answer to their inquiry Zacharias wrote on
a "writing tablet," "His name is John," his mouth was opened,
and he praised God (60-79). The child (John the Baptist), thus
"born out of due time," "waxed strong in spirit" (1:80).
(2.) The "son of Barachias," mentioned as having been slain
between the temple and the altar (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51).
"Barachias" here may be another name for Jehoiada, as some
think. (See ZECHARIAH T0003892.)
John the Baptist
the "forerunner of our Lord." We have but fragmentary and
imperfect accounts of him in the Gospels. He was of priestly
descent. His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of
Abia (1 Chr. 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the
daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). The mission of John was the
subject of prophecy (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1). His birth,
which took place six months before that of Jesus, was foretold
by an angel. Zacharias, deprived of the power of speech as a
token of God's truth and a reproof of his own incredulity with
reference to the birth of his son, had the power of speech
restored to him on the occasion of his circumcision (Luke 1:64).
After this no more is recorded of him for thirty years than what
is mentioned in Luke 1:80. John was a Nazarite from his birth
(Luke 1:15; Num. 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the
mountainous tract of Judah lying between Jerusalem and the Dead
Sea (Matt. 3:1-12).
At length he came forth into public life, and great multitudes
from "every quarter" were attracted to him. The sum of his
preaching was the necessity of repentance. He denounced the
Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned
them of the folly of trusting to external privileges (Luke 3:8).
"As a preacher, John was eminently practical and discriminating.
Self-love and covetousness were the prevalent sins of the people
at large. On them, therefore, he enjoined charity and
consideration for others. The publicans he cautioned against
extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder." His doctrine
and manner of life roused the entire south of Israel, and the
people from all parts flocked to the place where he was, on the
banks of the Jordan. There he baptized thousands unto
The fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Matt.
3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John,
on the special ground that it became him to "fulfil all
righteousness" (3:15). John's special office ceased with the
baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to
his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear
testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his
disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." His public ministry
was suddenly (after about six months probably) brought to a
close by his being cast into prison by Herod, whom he had
reproved for the sin of having taken to himself the wife of his
brother Philip (Luke 3:19). He was shut up in the castle of
Machaerus (q.v.), a fortress on the southern extremity of
Peraea, 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, and here he was beheaded.
His disciples, having consigned the headless body to the grave,
went and told Jesus all that had occurred (Matt. 14:3-12).
John's death occurred apparently just before the third Passover
of our Lord's ministry. Our Lord himself testified regarding him
that he was a "burning and a shining light" (John 5:35).