Elizabeth was the wife of Zechariah and relative of the Virgin Mary. She plays an important role in the birth story of John the Baptist. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist and a relative of the Virgin Mary who conceived miraculously despite her old age.
In this comprehensive article, we will explore Elizabeth’s story in depth – her background, the miraculous conception of her son, her encounter with Mary, the birth of John, and the significance of her story in the Bible.
Elizabeth’s Background and Marriage
Elizabeth was from the priestly line of Aaron
Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel and brother of Moses (Exodus 6:23). This means she came from a long line of Levite priests that God had set apart to serve Him in the tabernacle and later the temple.
Her priestly heritage reflects her righteousness and spiritual pedigree.
The Bible first introduces Elizabeth in Luke 1, describing her as righteous and blameless before God. She walked in all of the Lord’s commandments and requirements. Her spiritual discipline surely came from growing up among priests and learning to revere God.
Even in her older age, Elizabeth remained faithful to pray and serve the Lord.
She was married to Zechariah who served in the temple
Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, who was a priest himself serving in the temple in Jerusalem. Priests would be chosen by lot to enter the holy place and offer incense to the Lord (Luke 1:8-9). Imagine how proud Elizabeth must have been that her husband had been chosen for this sacred honor.
Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10), one of the 24 divisions established by King David to organize the priests in serving at the temple. Elizabeth likely understood Zechariah’s sacred duties very well and supported his service to the Lord.
The fact that Elizabeth descended from priests and married a priest highlights her spiritual upbringing and position among God’s faithful people. Even though she and Zechariah were childless, they cultivated a rich faith through lives dedicated to prayer and temple service.
No wonder God found them worthy parents of John the Baptist, the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah.
The Announcement of John’s Birth
The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple
The story begins when Zechariah, a priest married to Elizabeth, was chosen by lot to enter the temple sanctuary and burn incense. While in the sanctuary, the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared before Zechariah, causing him to be startled and gripped with fear.
Gabriel told Zechariah not to be afraid, because his prayer had been heard – Elizabeth would bear a son that they would name John. Gabriel explained that John would be great in the sight of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth, and would make ready a people prepared for the Lord as the prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:8-17).
This miraculous announcement left Zechariah stunned.
Zechariah is struck mute for doubting the message
Due to his old age, Zechariah doubted Gabriel’s incredible message, asking how he could know this would happen. Because of Zechariah’s unbelief, Gabriel declared that Zechariah would be silent, unable to speak until the day God’s promise was fulfilled.
The people waiting outside the temple wondered at Zechariah’s long delay. When he finally emerged, Zechariah was unable to speak to them. He remained mute as he returned home shortly after this encounter.
According to author GotQuestions.org, Zechariah’s muteness was “a sign to him, as well as to others, of the certainty of Gabriel’s message.” This miraculous sign would have reminded Zechariah, Elizabeth, their family, neighbors and friends that God was at work in fulfillment of His promise.
Mary’s Visit and Elizabeth’s Pregnancy
Mary visits Elizabeth after the Annunciation
After the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus, the Son of God, Mary traveled to the hill country of Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist at the time.
Mary likely sought wisdom and support from her older cousin as she faced her new calling to bear the Messiah.
When Mary arrived, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed a blessing over Mary and the baby in her womb (Luke 1:41-45). Recognizing Mary’s unique role, Elizabeth called her “blessed among women” and realized “the mother of my Lord” had come to her.
This encounter showed the special bond between these two faithful women and the preborn children they carried.
John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb recognizing Jesus
Astoundingly, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41). Even before his birth, John displayed his role as the prophesied forerunner who would prepare the way for Jesus.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the unborn John rejoiced at the presence of the unborn Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.
This remarkable, intra-uterine encounter between John and Jesus while hidden in their mothers’ wombs highlights how God views and values human life, even at its earliest stages. From divine inspiration, John testified to the divinity of Jesus while they were both still embryos.
This underscores the humanity and significance of preborn life.
Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit
When Mary arrived, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke truths she could not have known herself (Luke 1:41-45). The Spirit gave her insight into Mary’s unique favor with God, the divine blessing on the woman carrying the Son of God, and the exalted role of her own unborn child.
Elizabeth spoke prophetically through the enablement of the Spirit.
The Spirit’s filling of Elizabeth also highlights a key aspect of Elizabeth’s righteous character. Even in her advanced age, she maintained a vibrant spiritual life and connection to God’s Spirit that equipped her for this holy encounter.
Her time with Mary also deepened their bonds through the Spirit.
The Birth and Naming of John
Elizabeth gives birth after nine months
After Zechariah’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, Elizabeth became pregnant as foretold. She kept herself in seclusion for five months, feeling that the Lord had taken away her disgrace among the people.
When she was six months along, the angel Gabriel appeared to her relative Mary and told her that she would give birth to Jesus. Mary then visited Elizabeth and stayed with her for three months until John was born.
The Bible describes that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed a blessing over Mary and the child she would bear. Elizabeth gave birth to John nine months after she had conceived.
Her friends and neighbors heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they rejoiced with her.
She insists on naming the baby John as instructed
On the eighth day after John’s birth, their friends and relatives came to circumcise the child. They assumed he would be named Zechariah after his father. But Elizabeth insisted he must be called John, which surprised them.
When they asked Zechariah about it, he motioned for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately Zechariah could speak again, and he praised God.
Elizabeth showed great faith and obedience by insisting the baby be named John, just as the angel Gabriel had instructed Zechariah.
This went against convention, but she trusted the word given to them from God. Her steadfast faith was rewarded when Zechariah confirmed the name and his speech was restored.
Zechariah regains his voice and praises God
After months of being unable to speak, Zechariah finally affirmed that his son would be called John. The moment he did this, his mouth was opened, his tongue was freed, and he began to speak and praise God.
Those living nearby were amazed at these events and wondered aloud what the future held for this special child named John. The news spread quickly all over the Judean hills, and people wondered what God was doing in their midst.
Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about the destiny of his son John, who would be called a prophet of the Most High and would prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah praised God for remembering his people and raising up a horn of salvation from the house of David through Jesus.
He saw that his son John would go before the Lord to prepare his ways. Zechariah’s first words after being made mute for nine months were praise and prophecy to God for his faithfulness and mercy.
Significance of Elizabeth’s Story
Shows God’s miraculous power and grace
Elizabeth was barren and advanced in years when she miraculously conceived John the Baptist. This showed that nothing is impossible with God, and highlighted His power and grace in allowing Elizabeth to bear a child despite her old age and infertility (Luke 1:36-37).
Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a direct fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy and demonstrated God’s miraculous intervention, foreshadowing the even greater miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus.
Highlights John the Baptist’s special calling
John was set apart even before his birth to be the prophet who would herald the coming of the Messiah. The angel Gabriel declared that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15).
Elizabeth’s conception despite her barrenness reinforced John’s unique spiritual calling and God-ordained purpose. Her story establishes the significance of John’s birth and future ministry in God’s redemptive plan.
Connects Christ’s and John’s birth stories
The accounts of Elizabeth’s and Mary’s miraculous pregnancies are intertwined in Luke 1. When pregnant Mary visited Elizabeth, John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41). This marked John’s recognition of Jesus while both were still unborn, confirming their linkage.
Elizabeth pronounced a blessing on Mary and the baby in her womb (Luke 1:42-45). The tie between their stories emphasizes John’s role in preparing the way for Christ.
Example of faith and righteousness
Luke describes Elizabeth as righteous and blameless before God (Luke 1:6). Despite the stigma of being childless, Elizabeth did not waver in faith. When Gabriel told Zechariah about her pregnancy, she responded with belief rather than doubt (Luke 1:45).
Elizabeth’s story exemplifies trusting in God’s promises despite improbable circumstances. Her steadfast faith and upright character serve as models for believers.
Elizabeth’s miraculous conception and saintly character serve as a powerful precursor to the unfolding of God’s redemption through the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Despite her old age, Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist by a gracious act of God in fulfillment of prophecy.
Her righteous and faithful response resounds through the ages as an inspirational model for all believers.