Luke 1:15 [H]e will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
John the Baptist would never know a time he was not filled with the Holy Spirit. But this should not be confused with the virginal conception of Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), in the womb of the virgin Mary, without a biological father. John the Baptist had two biological parents, but was filled with the Spirit before he was born.
The Bible does not tell us when this happened, but a reasonable guess is that it happened when Mary (who was pregnant with Jesus) visited Elizabeth (who was pregnant with John).
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (Luke 1:41-44).
We cannot be sure, but this may be the moment John was filled with the Holy Spirit. For an infant to be filled with the Spirit is unusual, but we have similar testimony from King David. [Y]ou made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God (Psalm 22:9-10). From this we learn that God is able to work in the hearts of infants.
This is important because many who believe in Jesus Christ cannot remember a time when they did not believe. They are truly converted, and filled with the Spirit, but they cannot recall the time or place they received Jesus Christ (John 1:12). God is free to give the Spirit to whomever he chooses, at any age he chooses. The critical thing is not knowing when you first believed, but that you presently believe.
Luke 1:17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.
The last two verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6) promise that God will send the prophet Elijah. The Old Testament is a book without an ending, similar to a television show that concludes with the words, to be continued. Then, at the beginning of the New Testament, we have the birth of John the Baptist, whom the angel compared to Elijah.
Both were confrontational. Both lived in the Judean wilderness. Both wore similar clothing (2 Kings 1:8, Matthew 3:4). Both denounced a king. Both were opposed by queens. Both became discouraged. And both were followed by someone even greater. Truly, John came in the spirit and power of Elijah.
The New Testament picks up where the Old Testament leaves off, and brings the Bible to a perfect conclusion. Paradise lost through sin (Genesis 3), and restored through Jesus Christ (Revelation 22), is the overarching storyline of Scripture. The Bible was written by many people, over many centuries, but tells one continuous story. This is a remarkable sign of divine authorship.
Luke 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, How can I be sure of this?
The visitation of an angel was not enough to convince Zechariah that his prayer would be answered. The angel seemed offended by this and replied, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time (Luke 1:19-20).
Immediately, Zechariah was unable to speak. He may also have lost his hearing, since others communicated with him using sign language (Luke 1:62). It is ironic that a person of faith also struggled with doubt, but it is not unusual. We also believe wholeheartedly, even if we doubt sometimes.
Reflection and Review
Why doesn’t everyone know when they came to faith?
How does John the Baptist connect the Old and New Testaments?
Why did Zechariah doubt the angel Gabriel?