Zachariah was chosen by lot to be the one priest to enter the holy place to burn the annual incense as God had directed in the Bible. While he interceded for his people, they would be in prayer for him. It’s been said that when the high priest would enter the holy of holies, they would tie a rope to his ankle in case God would be displeased with his offering and kill him.  His robes also had bells on the bottom so that the people outside could hear him walking around. If the bells became silent, they would know something had happened to him. They would be able to pull him out without anyone else having to enter the vengeful presence of God. I’m unsure if this was true or if it applied to Zachariah on this occasion, but the deed seems very solemn. He would enter into the presence of God to bring an offering, and the people would be praying that it would be acceptable. You never know what might happen when you enter God’s presence. Luke 1:10-11 tells us what happened to Zachariah, “And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.”

 The phrase “angel of the lord” is often used in the Old Testament to refer to the pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. One blogger argues that this designation for Christ ended with the incarnation.  He says, “The appearances of the angel of the Lord cease after the incarnation of Christ.”[1] It makes sense to me. Once Jesus appears in the flesh, there is no need for the supernatural manifestation of Him as an angel. Besides, we know from a latter verse in the first chapter of Luke that this angel identifies himself as “Gabriel.” It seems Gabriel had a special role in the prophetic announcement of the coming of the Savior. The dark era of silence from God since the prophet Malachi ended the Old Testament with his prophecy of the coming of a forerunner in the power of Elijah was coming to an end. So, Gooding says, “And so in the last few months before sunrise, the angel Gabriel was sent to tell Zechariah that he and his wife were soon to have a child.”[2]

Gabriel is well known as the angel with the trumpet. When Jesus comes again, His arrival will be announced by the “sound of the trumpet” according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Since Gabriel is one of only three Archangels mentioned in the Bible, the trumpet has become known as “Gabriel’s Trumpet.” But many argue that the Bible does not identify Gabriel as the blower of the trumpet. It’s just the sound of the trumpet that ushers in the last days. According to another ancient text (not canonical), the Gospel of Laodice, the Lord instructed Gabriel to leave his trumpet on earth when returning to heaven. We don’t know why, but many speculators suggest that God wanted the second coming of the Lord to be heralded by mortals.[3] The search for Gabriel’s Trumpet would make another great Indiana Jones movie, don’t you think?

Intercessory prayer was of significant note here. We see the citizens praying for Zechariah, and we see his standing next to the altar of incense. This altar has often been recognized as symbolic of the prayers of the saints. In Revelation 8:3, John’s vision explains the smoke and incense as the sweet-smelling savor of intercessory prayer. Osborne summarizes this verse, “The right side signifies God’s favor, and it is fitting that God’s temple is the place where the events are set in motion that will end with the births of the messianic forerunner and the Messiah himself.”[4]

[1] Got Questions Ministries. 2002–2013. Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Gooding, David. 2013. According to Luke: The Third Gospel’s Ordered Historical Narrative. Myrtlefield Expositions. Coleraine, Northern Ireland: Myrtlefield House.


[4] Osborne, Grant R. 2018. Luke: Verse by Verse. Edited by Jeffrey Reimer, Elliot Ritzema, and Danielle Thevenaz, Awa Sarah. Osborne New Testament Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.