After 400 years of waiting for their Messiah to arrive, the Jews may have wondered if God had forgotten about his chosen people. The last prophecy the Jews had received through the prophet Malachi was to look for the coming day of the LORD. In order for the Jews to make the connection when it happened, God told them, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6). A contingent fulfillment of this prophecy took place when the birth of John the Baptist was announced. His father, Zacharias received a visit from the angel Gabriel who said of his son, “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb…And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:15,17).
John the Baptist was not Elijah returning in the flesh, but he functioned like the Old Testament preacher of repentance (note on Luke 1:17). The connection made between these two men was meant to signal to the Jews that their Messiah was coming. In fact, it was only six months later that the birth of Jesus was announced. This time, the angel Gabriel made a connection between Jesus and the covenant God made with King David (2 Samuel 7:13,16). Gabriel said, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 32-33).
The back to back birth announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus were probably received with some measure of skepticism because it had been such a long time since there had been any communication from God to his chosen people. The connection Gabriel made to Old Testament prophecy was necessary to link Jesus with the Jews’ long awaited Messiah. Even though it was clearly evident that the time had finally come for God to fulfill his promise, things didn’t change immediately. John the Baptist and Jesus grew up under what you might say were normal conditions for children of that time period. There is no indication that people took any notice of Jesus during his childhood. It wasn’t until some thirty years later that Jesus’ ministry actually began. What is important to note about what was happening at that time was that the miraculous births of these two critical figures seemingly went unnoticed or were disregarded altogether by the Jews.