We find our first uses of the word salvation in Luke 1:67-80 in the middle of John the Baptist’s father Zechariah’s prophesy over the infant Jesus:
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant – the oath that he swore to our ancestor, Abraham.This oath grants that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel.
OK, first we need to start with some context. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Israel was under the control of the Roman Empire. Historically, those times when Israel was living under the control of other powers, it was understood to be a judgement on Israel for its sin and faithlessness. Therefor, the political condition of Israel and it’s spiritual need for redemption and forgiveness was seen as entertwined. In the past, God had worked through righteous Israeli leaders to bring about the release of Israel from foreign rule. These times were also a time for Israel to be redeemed from their sin and return to following God’s laws. Again, the political and the spiritual are woven together.
In this context, it makes a lot of sense that the Messiah was expected to bring about both spiritual and political redemption to the Hebrew people. While Zechariah’s prophesy does contain some elements which allude to the political, what is interesting to me is how much more clearly it the prophesy rests on the spiritual aspects of Jesus’ work.
For our purposes, I want to look at the two uses of the word salvation a little more closely:
Luke 1:69-70 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.
Here we see the political most clearly. Jesus is referred to as “the horn of salvation”. The horn called to mind a couple of things. First, the horn was used to make noise. It could raise the alarm or call people to temple or even be used to make music for hymns. It was also the tool given to animals to defend themselves against predators. The reference to the house of Israel’s greatest political leader, David, places the work of Jesus into the context of David’s legacy in Israel. Likewise, the idea of being saved from enemies and those who hate us points to the usual understanding of the Messiah as working within the political context of the Hebrew people. We should also probably note the the “us” at the end of these lines almost certainly refers to the Hebrew people and not a more inclusive view of humanity. In this instance, salvation seems to be tied most closely with the political, as it often was in Old Testament times.
Luke 1:79-80 “For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Here Zechariah is addressing his own son, John’s mission. In this instance, salvation is rather explicitly spiritual. Interestingly, we see that John is to bring knowledge of salvation. We saw in the first verse using salvation, that Jesus is the “horn of salvation”, ie the tool of salvation. John is to clear the way for Jesus’ work, by bringing the knowledge of salvation, which in this instance is linked to the spiritual rather than the political. So, perhaps implicite in this verse is the idea that John will proclaim salvation as being linked to the forgiveness of sins rather than to political freedom, as people generally expected. Reading further, if we allow that the dawn which Zechariah is speaking of is linked to this knowledge of salvation which is being revealed, then from these verses we see:
1. Salvation comes through the forgiveness of sins.
2. Salvation comes through God’s mercy.
3. Salvation brings light.
4. Salvation will lead us to peace.