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Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 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.
You might think that since Zechariah was a priest and since he was burning incense in the temple, he would be glad to see an angel. If anything would be a sign that you were doing your job right, it would be for an angel to show up and light up the whole inside of the temple area right?
In the Old Testament, there were times when angels showed up. The first time was in Genesis 3 when there is an angel keeping people out of Eden with a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the tree of life. (technically, you could argue that Satan was the first angel mentioned, but at that point, he isn't referred to as an angel but a serpent. More on this another day, maybe.) This is not an action movie or a cartoon. There was an angel swinging a fire sword to kill anyone that got too close to Eden and the tree of life!
Then some angels show up to visit Abraham on their way to a city. They go visit the city and then leave, raining fire and sulfur down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, not a movie. Real life with people screaming and dying.
An angel shows up when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac and some artwork shows an angel holding back his hand. It was an angel that delivered God's covenant to Abraham at that time. This is a good time to think about angels saving and being messengers of God's blessing, right?
After Genesis, the scales tip a little bit and the angels are dispatched by God whenever there is a war going on. There is an angel that executes the final plague of the Passover. There is an angel when Joshua goes into battle. The prophets speak of angels as messengers of new kingdoms and revolutions.
At one point, an angel, as in one single angel, shows up and wipes out an army of 185,000 Assyrians.
So here is Zechariah, performing this once in a lifetime service in the temple of God, and probably not totally sure if he's doing it right. The tradition was that if you did it wrong, you'd be struck dead like Nadab and Abihu and they would reach in with a hook on a long pole and drag your dead carcass out.
Zechariah was a very blessed man to be there at that moment. He didn't expect it and he didn't deserve it, but it was time for God to show off and send in the herald of the King. 1/185,000th of that angel's power could have blown him away, but God was about to take away the sin of Men permanently with a new sacrifice.
The coming of the King is as dramatic and as astounding as it can be. As you see decorations of angels like fat babies dressed in towels, remember how Zechariah saw Gabriel the angel in the temple. God was starting to complete His plan and was scary and wonderful all at the same time.