"How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
For centuries Israel understood through searching the Scriptures that a Redeemer would someday come, rule supreme on the earth and govern the world by God’s Word. This coming Savior was the only hope of final lasting independence for the tiny Jewish nation. How many have come whom people thought to be the One; so many that it procured cynicism on the part of the people of Israel.
As he was serving his course at the Temple (Luke 1:5), Zechariah had an encounter with an angel. Angels did not necessarily appear as flying beings or as an ethereal light. In both the cases of Abraham and Lot they appeared as people, as guests you host for a meal. No one but the serving priest was supposed to be in the Holy, the first chamber of the Tabernacle, so it was quite a surprise to Zechariah not only to have company there, but also to hear an oracle telling him that both he and his wife would conceive in their old age. He was also given instructions on how to raise the miracle child. Luke also tells us that Zechariah doubted the angel who therefore punished him with muteness.
Throughout the whole Biblical narratives, God has always made a point to draw attention to certain individuals by making their birth the result of barrenness. Such was the case for many patriarchs, judges, and prophets. First Temple Judaism even considered that the Messiah would come from a young maiden who had not yet been with a man. As per the Torah's instruction, Jews were trained to try the spirits demanding a sign to confirm prophecy even from angels. To ask for a sign was not a bad thing, it was the norm in testing prophecy (Deuteronomy 13), and I think we may do well to do a bit more of that today! God Himself provides the signs that prove His points to people. Zechariah was not punished for asking for a sign, but for his incredulity concerning the message, and Gabriel being the angel of judgment didn’t seem to appreciate that. This attitude of incredulity was even pointed out by Yeshua later (Matthew 12:29). Notice the Yeshua did nevertheless give the people a sign, a sign, according to the story of Jonah, which was a foreshadow of Yeshua’s death and resurrection.
Even today, as His return seems to be lingering, it is easy for us to become incredulous. Yeshua gave us signs wherewith to identify His return (Matthew 24), the biggest one of course being the restoration of the State of Israel. As we see them fulfilled today, let us not be incredulous, but remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." … But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (1 Peter 3:2-9); and we are thankful for His patience in waiting for us!