Gospel Bookends: The Faithful Priest

Let’s continue in Luke with our study of Gospel bookends. As far as we know, the author was a Gentile, so we might be surprised to find that he’s especially interested in the temple. He begins and ends his Gospel there (1:9; 24:53). He brings his account of the Lord’s temptations to its climax there. Nearly a dozen different passages are set in the temple, several of which are unique to Luke, including the Lord’s visits there as a baby and a boy of twelve.

As we survey both ends of Luke, we notice that it starts and ends with a crowd of worshippers gathering around a man whom they expect to bless them. In chapter 1, the worshippers stand perplexed before a silent priest. He motions to them with his hands but cannot speak because of his own lack of faith. But, praise God, by the end of Luke we find a better Priest. His faith has never wavered and He has never failed, so He lifts His hands and blesses His people, then ascends to heaven and continues ministering on their behalf.

A Faithless Priest Who Beckoned (1:22)

Zacharias and Elisabeth were a godly couple in the golden years of life. As descendants of Aaron, they belonged to the privileged priestly class; but that blessing couldn’t erase the pain of childlessness. It brought with it not only private disappointment but also public shame. Many in those days interpreted barrenness as a sign of God’s displeasure. Despite their righteous lives, their prayers had gone unanswered. Now they were old and all hope seemed to be gone.

In those days Israel’s priesthood was divided into 24 courses, each of which served at the temple twice per year. One day Zacharias received a wonderful honor. When his time came to serve, he was selected by lot to offer incense inside the temple. With so many priests, this was the opportunity of a lifetime! But it was more than good fortune. Proverbs 16:33 teaches us that the Lord determines the drawing of lots. Little did Zacharias know that God was making a divine appointment with him.

When the day came, he slowly entered the temple and reverently approached the altar of incense. Suddenly, he was startled to see an angel standing there! The angel said, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son” (1:13).[1]

What a wonderful promise – but had it come too late? “I am an old man …,” Zacharias began. “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God …,” the angel replied. Yes, Zacharias was old and frail, but that didn’t matter in light of who the messenger was. This promise had come straight from God and neither Zacharias’ frailty nor lack of faith could hinder its fulfillment.

But his unbelief brought consequences. Because of it, he would be mute until his son was born. This was a real problem for Zacharias, especially in that moment. Worshippers were waiting outside for him to come and bless them after offering the incense (Lev 9:22; Num 6:23-26). When he finally emerged, they were amazed at his silence. All he could do was beckon to them. He couldn’t bless them because of his own unbelief.

A Faithful Priest Who Blesses (24:50)

Well, if the angel’s sudden appearance startled Zacharias in chapter 1, then the disciples were equally terrified when the Lord appeared in their midst in chapter 24 (1:12; 24:37). Like Gabriel, He spoke words of comfort, “Peace be unto you.” He ate with them and then opened up the Scriptures to them. He showed them how His suffering and death “fulfilled” prophecy, echoing the language Luke used in his opening verse (24:44; 1:1 NKJV). Then He commissioned them to go out into the world as witnesses for Him.

But before they could do that, they must wait for “power from on high.” Just as Mary needed the Holy Spirit to come upon her in chapter 1 so that she could bring the Savior into the world, so the disciples needed the Holy Spirit to come upon them in chapter 24 so that they could bring His message of salvation to the world (1:35; 24:49; Act 1:8). They couldn’t do it on their own.

For forty days He taught them and prepared them for what lay ahead. Then it was time to depart. He led them out of the city one last time. How sad it was for Jerusalem and her temple that it had come to this! If anyone was worthy to dwell there, it was Him (Psa 24:3-4). He had called it “My house,” but they rejected His ownership. And so, in the end, He said, “Your house is left to you desolate … you shall see Me no more” (Mat 23:38-39 NKJV).

Even though He didn’t come from Aaron’s line, there was never a more worthy Priest. He cared for them selflessly and impartially. He served them tirelessly. And in the end, He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice on their behalf. But they didn’t want Him.

So this faithful, rejected Priest made one last journey to the place that He loved – Bethany. Somewhere on the mountain, He stopped and gathered His disciples around Him. Then He did what Zacharias couldn’t do: He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Isn’t it amazing that the last thing the Lord did here on earth was bless His people? And it’s as though His blessing never stopped. For “while he blessed them,” He was taken up into heaven and a cloud received Him out of their sight. His work of redemption was finished, but His work of blessing had only just begun. He still continues that work today – “a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Heb 4:14).

Although this great High Priest had gone back to heaven, He left behind a new and holy priesthood. His disciples pictured that by going back to the temple that rejected Him and filling it with blessing and praise. Their hearts were full of “great joy,” just like the angel promised at His birth (2:10; 24:52).

When He was taken from them the first time, they sorrowed, because He was buried in the grave; but when He was taken from them the second time, they rejoiced, because they knew that He was in heaven on their behalf.

We too can find the secret of lasting joy by remembering where Christ is today and what He is doing. He sits at God’s right hand as our great High Priest. He remains faithful, so that we can be faithful (Heb 10:23). He blesses us, so that we can bless His Father (Luk 24:51,53). With such a faithful Priest at God’s right hand, how could we not rejoice!

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.