76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
1901 ASV Translation:
76 Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
There are several textual variations in 1:76. The Nestle/Aland 26 has the connective "de" after the word "you", which the Textus Receptus does not have. The Textus Receptus has "before presence of Lord" where the Nestle/Aland 26 has only "before Lord" (no definite articles in the phrases in either text and a different word for "before"). These variations, in the larger picture, are insignificant, but they do not communicate the same precise meaning. The additional "de" in the Nestle/Aland 26 makes the opening phrase read, "Now you also...", and the Textus Receptus's translation would read, "And you...". The question is whether Zacharias wanted to tie his son's identity more tightly to the divine program (which the Nestle/Aland 26's "Now you also..." does), or not (which the Textus Receptus's "And you..." does). Also, the Textus Receptus's "before the presence" is far more specific than the Nestle/Aland 26's "before". There is little evidence for the Textus Receptus's reading to recommend it to those who study textual transmission matters.
I. With 1:76 Zacharias switched his focus of attention. In 1:68-75 we see a total focus upon Yahweh, Elohim of Israel, as the Covenant-Maker Who is totally committed to the outworking of the details of "salvation from the enemies". From 1:76 we see a deliberate presentation of John's role in that process of bringing the details into place.
II. The overall focus of 1:76-79 is upon John as an instrument of enlightenment regarding the most critical of the "details" -- how "His people" might come into possession of the forgiveness of their sins.
I. The text says, "Now you also, child, ...", or perhaps "And, you, indeed, child, ...".
A. Clearly, Zacharias has been caught up in the fantastic promises [Peter calls them "precious and magnificent" -- 2 Peter 1:4] that have, in his mind, the glorious spectre of complete freedom to live in holiness and righteousness.
1. This attitude of excitement about being able to live the Servant's life is only possible for those who have actually come to grips with the true origins of the "death" that accompanies us -- indeed, sits upon our shoulders day after day -- in all of our current experiences.
2. This focus upon God's sworn plan was introduced by the outburst of praise to Yahweh, Elohim of Israel (1:68).
B. Thus, it is natural for him to see his newborn son in respect to those promises.
1. That Zacharias is excited about the promises is obvious.
2. That he sees his son as a critical player in the outworking of the details is also beyond question.
3. Thus, it is not hard to see the truth of his words, "Now indeed you, child...".
a. The "you" is emphatic.
b. The "indeed" is emphatic.
4. Thus, our attention is turned by Zacharias to the particular place John will take in the vast unfolding of the divine plan.
C. There are three things that stand out about Zacharias' use of the term "child".
1. The word is used with little to no regard for "age" issues: it is used of a newborn as well as a child who is allowed to play in the market place.
2. It tends to have overtones of deep emotional attraction.
3. It is used in contexts where the level of ignorance is very high (as in "be not children in understanding") and the need for helpful supervision is great.
II. "Prophet of the Most High".
A. Luke is the predominant user of the title "Most High" in the New Testament. As a title, it is only used once by Mark and once by the author of Hebrews; all other uses are Luke's in Luke/Acts.
B. In Luke 1, the Son of Mary is to be called "Son of the Most High" (1:32) because the "power of the Most High" was to create her pregnancy (1:35). In that same text, the Most High is called "God" and the Son is to be called "the Son of God". Thus, Jesus was to be called both "Son of the Most High" and "Son of God". This, with the added focus on His "power", means that a fundamental characteristic of the Most High is Power (because "God" is a term that has its focus upon power).
C. Now, in the final reference to the Most High in chapter one, we are told that John was to be known as the "prophet" of the "Most High". This pushes his identity past the confines of Israel. Yahweh Elohim is far more than a "tribal deity" Whose interests are only upon Israel and his seed. He is the Most High God Who transcends the concepts of all "gods" held in esteem by men. As such, He is the God with Whom all men will have to deal and, because of that, John is being presented as the one whom the Most High has chosen to be His mouth. There is indication in the Gospel of John that this son of Zacharias was supposed to be seen in this identity since we are there told that "he" was the "witness of the Light" through whom all men might come to faith (John 1:7).
D. This identity is linked directly to the fact that John was destined to precede the Most High to prepare His "highway".
1. The "preceeding" is emphatic because the word "go before" is a verb that means "to go before" (preceed) and it is attended by a second word that also means "before". This double statement is intended to be emphatic.
2. But, the second "before" is focused upon the "Lord" Who has already been identified as the "Most High". This indicates that John was to preceed the Most High as That One was about to actually come into the historical reality of men.
a. Historically, John was born before this One called "the Most High", Who was Himself to be called "Son of the Most High". If not for Trinitarianism, we would see a confusion in the text for clearly the One said to be called the "Son of the Most High" is here called "the Most High".
b. Historically, John appeared before Jesus did.
c. Jesus' title "Son of the Most High" did not mean that He was less than the Most High; rather, it meant that He was the exact replication of the Most High in His identity. Hebrews says "the exact representation of His nature" (1:3 NASB).
3. The preparation of the "Highway" is rooted in the Isaiah prophecies regarding the building of the Highway of Our God in the wilderness. The imagery is very powerful because that Highway is the Highway of Holiness upon which none can walk who offend or cause to stumble in any way (Isaiah 35:8).
a. John's identity is tied to Isaiah 40:3-5 by his own words (John 1:23).
b. The "cry" of the voice in Isaiah 40:8b is "the Word of our God stands forever".
c. The context of Luke 1:76-79 is all about this "highway".
1) Zacharias says in 1:76 that the "child" will "go before the Lord to prepare His roads".
2) And he concludes his prophecy in 1:79 by saying that the "dayspring" will "guide our feet onto the highway of peace".