The Bible relates the story of God’s activities in human space and time, by which he intends to rescue very many people from judgment, death and all the consequences of human sin. The British refer to this divine agenda as “the scheme of redemption.” Americans call it “the plan of salvation.” The Germans label it “salvation history.” Scripture writers speak of God’s “purpose” or “good will.” This salvation history is both earthly and heavenly — it happens on earth, but with heavenly power and with a heavenly goal. God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary results.
The Old Testament closes on an unfinished note. Daniel sees visions of the End-time, in which evil seems about to have the final word. At the last moment, God appears on his throne, delivers his people and punishes those who once persecuted them. God then bestows ruling power on a messianic figure called the Son of Man, whose reign continues forever. (Daniel chapter 7.) The angel Gabriel instructs Daniel to seal up the prophecy for a future time when its meaning will be made plain (Dan. 8:16-19; 12:8-10).
Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament also ends in anticipation of God’s future deeds — with God’s promise that he will “suddenly come” to his Temple, and that he will send “Elijah the prophet” to prepare the way of the Lord (Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). Four hundred years then pass, with no new prophet and no fulfillment of the promises. Some in Israel kept the faith, waiting patiently for God to renew his saving deeds (Luke 2:25). For many, the promises grew old and hope gradually dimmed.
This is the setting for Luke’s Gospel, which begins with an old priest named Zacharias offering incense in the Temple (Luke 1:5-23). Suddenly an angel appears and identifies himself as Gabriel — the same angel who had spoken to Daniel many centuries before! Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth will have a son, Gabriel says, although she is old and barren. “How?” asks Zacharias, in temporary disbelief. This predicted child will be a forerunner for the Lord, “in the spirit and the power of Elijah.” Salvation history has resumed. God has picked up the thread which the Old Testament left dangling. Gabriel is back in business. Salvation waits just around the corner!