In the opening chapter of the Gospel of Luke is a beautiful canticle or hymn that is known as “the Benedictus,” from the Latin form of the opening word of the hymn, “blessed” in verse 68. The Hebrew priest, Zechariah (Greek form, Zecharias), under the Holy Spirit recited what may be called the first gospel hymn. The Biblical Illustrator says, “The place which is occupied by the Benedictus in the reformed Prayer Book is significant and interesting. It is placed immediately after the second lesson at morning service, which is always from one of the Gospels, Epistles, or the Apocalypse. Zacharias was the first New Testament prophet.” Ryle’s Expository Thoughts says, “We should notice in this hymn of praise how much emphasis Zacharias lays on God’s fulfillment of His promises. He declares…that all this is done, ‘as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, to perform the mercy promised, to remember His holy covenant, and the oath which He sware to our father Abraham.’”
The occasion was the birth of John the Baptist to his parents Zacharias and Elizabeth. The babe was of the priestly line of Levi and prepared the way for Christ. We read, “And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,” (Luke 1:67-68). Note that the inspired anthem says “hath redeemed.” It does not say, “will redeem unless the Jews fail to cooperate and reject their Messiah.” Nor does it say “will redeem at a later time in a future millennium.” The past tense is given as something either accomplished or soon about to be. Was that true? It is popular in modern theology to teach that Israel all rejected Christ and refused redemption, and that the current Church Age is “an interregnum” or postponement in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Instead, we can be assured that there is no interregnum in the Divine plan because the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional and incapable of denial or delay. The early Christian writer, Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople (from 398 A.D.), wrote, “Zacharias, knowing that it would soon be accomplished, relates in the prophetic manner as if it were already passed.” Similarly, “The People’s New Testament” says the Abrahamic Covenant “was now to be entirely fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah.”
Many other commentators, believing that the unbelieving Jewish people represent all of Israel, including both houses of Ephraim and Judah, assume the redemption spoken by Zacharias must be political only, not a spiritual rebirth. This would make the prophecy patently false, for the Jews did not achieve political freedom either at that time or for many centuries afterward. Reformation martyr, Matthew Poole, commented, “Visited and redeemed his people: The word may be extended to all God’s deliverances of Israel, but it seemeth to be here more specially restrained by what followeth to the redemption by Christ.” This could only be true if a significant section of Israel, outside of Judah, was redeemed through faith in Jesus, as we can prove from Scripture. In Luke 1:13, 16 we are told, “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John…And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.” This prophecy is not speaking of the end of this age or the millennium to come after that; John the Baptist would himself lead many to faith in Jesus. This is in total contrast with modern Dispensationalists who claim that Israel completely rejected Christ.
The Jewish nation unsuccessfully rebelled in 66 A.D. attempting to secure its political freedom, but the nation was destroyed and its people killed or exiled by the time of the fall of Masada in 73 A.D. It is therefore clear from history that this prophecy was not speaking of first century political redemption from Rome as some commentaries think. Yet a spiritual fulfillment has also failed if the still unconverted Jewish people constitute all of God’s people Israel in the world today. Therefore, the only possible fulfillment of this prophecy is our contention that the people known as “Christendom,” or “Christ’s Kingdom,” located primarily in Europe and North America today, are the descendants of “lost Israel” the ten tribes of the House of Israel. These people have indeed accepted Christ. They were “visited and redeemed” as the prophecy foretold.
The hymn continues in verse 69, “And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” In biblical phraseology, a horn is a symbol of political strength and power. (See, among other passages, Ezk. 29:21; Lam. 2:3; Psa. 132:17; 1 Sam. 2:10). The reference is not to the horns of the altar, on which criminals seeking sanctuary used to lay hold, nor to the horns with which Viking warriors used to adorn their helmets; but to the horns of a bull in which the chief power of this animal resides.
Salvation was offered, “raised up,” to the other section of Israel, the House of David-Judah, yet the prophecy notably does not indicate that this would be favorably received by the Jewish people. In the case of the House of Judah of the first century, the salvation offered was not accepted; yet the Benjamite apostles of the House of Israel did receive the good news of redemption and successfully carried the Gospel to the willing ears of dispersed Israel in Europe and other lands. Even the Jewish authorities seem to sense this. “A rabbinic writer says that there are ten horns: those of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the horn of the Law, of the priesthood, of the temple, and of Israel, and some add of the Messiah. They were all placed on the heads of the Israelites till they sinned, and then they were cut off and given to the Gentiles” (Schottgen, “Horae Hebraica,” quoted by Dr. F.W. Farrar). We have shown in other studies that these believing “Gentiles” who received the horns—political power, defiance, and rule promised to Israel in Scripture—were in fact Gentilized dispersed Israelites. That the House of Israel, the ten tribes of Joseph-Ephraim, were to be a strong ruling world power is verified in a number of Bible prophecies: Gen. 22:17; Isa. 41:12, 15; Deut. 28:7; Jer. 51:20; Micah 4:13, etc. Dr. Henry Venn remarks, “The horn of an animal is its weapon for defense and vengeance, its ornament and beauty too. It is used therefore in the prophetic style, to denote the power of the strongest empires. In the same sense we are to understand it here.”—Venn on the prophecy of Zacharias.
The prophecy continues in Luke 1:70, “As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began.” This is a Hebrew colloquial expression meaning, “from olden times.” Many of the prophets foretold of the coming Messiah, from the first book of Genesis. The most striking of these prophecies included Jacob in Gen. 49:10; Moses in Deut. 18:15; and Isaiah in Isa. 9:6-7 and 53:1-12.
In the closing verses of this prophetic hymn we are told, “That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us [i.e. through faith in Christ]; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham.” (Luke 1:71-73)
Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is our only sure protection!