Luke 3


‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ Luke 3:1-3

John The Baptist Prepares The Way

Constable, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from A.D. 26 to late 36 or early 37. Herod Antipas ended his reign as tetrarch of Galilee which began in 4 B.C. by deposition in A.D. 39. His brother Herod Philip, who ruled territories to the northeast of Palestine from 4 B.C., died in A.D. 34. Present historical evidence does not enable scholars to date Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene, an area northeast of Damascus. Annas was Israel’s high priest from A.D. 6 to 15 until the Roman authorities deposed him. However the Jews continued to regard him as the high priest, and he retained his title. His son-in-law Caiaphas served as the official high priest from A.D. 18 to the spring of 37. Thus the general time frame when John began his ministry was between A.D. 26 and the spring of 37. The specific date, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, is harder to pinpoint, but it was probably A.D. 29.’

It was during this time that the word of God came to John while he was in the wilderness, Luke 1:80. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, the son of the priest, Zacharias and his mother was Elizabeth, 1 Chronicles 24:10 / Mark 1:2-8 / Luke 1:5. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, Judges 1:16 / Joshua 15:61 / Luke 1:80 / Luke 3:2.

John went into places around Jordan and preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism, though it required repentance, looked forward to the coming of the One for whom John was a forerunner, that is, Jesus.

Jesus had not yet died when John baptized people and so, John’s baptism of preparation looking forward to Jesus’ death, Matthew 3:3. This shows that John’s baptism cannot be the baptism that Jesus commanded people to receive under the Gospel, Mark 16:15-16 / Matthew 28:18-20.

‘As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’” Luke 3:4-6

It’s interesting to note that out of all of the Gospels, that only quote Isaiah 40:3, Luke is the only one who quotes Isaiah 40:4-5. These verses contained the preparations made for a royal visitor that was common in the Greco-Roman world. They also included the fact that all people would experience the salvation that God would provide.

Referring to the coming of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah had also said, ‘the Lord, who you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple,’ Isaiah 40:3. 400 years had passed since Malachi made that prediction, 400 years during which the Jews had been waiting for and looked for, the coming of the Messiah.

But there had been 400 years of silence. It was even longer, 700 years since Isaiah had spoken about the coming of ‘The Messenger’, but the time had now come.

By the way, unless you look closely at Malachi’s prophecy you will miss something which is most important, Malachi 3:1. The prophecy speaks of someone called ‘my messenger’ that is, God’s Messenger. It also speaks of ‘the messenger of the covenant’. Two People.

One is the Messenger who prepares the way, that is, John. In Matthew 11:14 Jesus tells us ‘HE John is Elijah who was to come!’ The other is the messenger for whom the way is prepared, who is the bearer of the New Covenant is Jesus.

Luke sums up the mission of John in one word, the word ‘prepare!’ Luke 3:3 / Luke 13:3 / Acts 3:19 / 2 Corinthians 7:10. John has a message concerning the kingdom of God, Isaiah 2:2-3 / Daniel 2:44 / Daniel 7:13-14 / Matthew 11:11 / Matthew 19:23.

John came to prepare a people. But not for the purpose that the people imagined! For centuries, they had prayed for His Coming. They believed that when Messiah came, He would drive out the unclean Gentile Romans who were walking the holy streets of Jerusalem, and establish a Kingdom that would bring back the glorious days of Solomon. The result was that when Jesus came they failed to recognize Him, and they rejected Him.

‘John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9

One thing that always stands out to me when I read about John is his simple, clear, and truthful message. His words were powerful, he struck right to the heart of the matter.

He wasn’t afraid of offending people, he wasn’t worried about their reaction, and the religious leaders did hate him. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a ‘brood of vipers’.

What do you think about this? Were these words offensive? Should he have spoken more kindly? In fact, John realised that being politically correct wouldn’t help anybody. Vast multitudes were pursuing John as he preached in ‘the wilderness of Judaea,’ Matthew 3:1 / Matthew 3:5.

Among these were Sadducees, those who didn’t believe in angels or the resurrection of the dead, Matthew 22:23-34 / Acts 4:1-2 / Acts 23:6-8. The Pharisees, those who were obsessed with traditions, Matthew 15:1-9 / Matthew 23 / Mark 7:1-9 / Mark 8:11-15 / Luke 11:52 / Luke 18:9-15.

John characterised these Jews as ‘a brood of vipers,’ who would be advised to ‘flee from the wrath that is to come’, Matthew 3:7. This possibly has a more immediate reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, the reference to ‘even now the axe lies at the root of the trees,’ Matthew 3:10, but then, more remotely, to the final day of human reckoning, Matthew 3:12.

They didn’t produce any fruit worthy of repentance, Acts 26:20 / Luke 17:4, and because they claimed that Abraham was their father, they thought this gave them special privileges, as God’s children, Genesis 12:1-3 / John 8:33 / John 8:39.

They didn’t understand that a real Jew and son of Abraham was by faith, not genealogies, Matthew 8:11-12 / John 8:31-41 / Romans 2:28-29 / Romans 8:28-29 / Romans 4:1-5 / Romans 9:6-11 / Galatians 3:26-29.

‘What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:10-14

Some in the crowd were sincere, they confessed their sins and were immersed by John in the Jordan, Matthew 3:6. Others, quite obviously, were caught up in the emotionalism of the occasion.

John recognised that repentance would show up in everyday actions, he gave practical tips to each group specifically targeted to their areas of weakness.

Without the fruit of a changed life, Matthew 22:36-40 / Galatians 5:13-14 / Galatians 5:22-23, it would be evident that a person doesn’t have a close relationship with God, Isaiah 58:7 / 2 Corinthians 8:14. He wasn’t preaching that these things could save a person, but that they were necessary for true repentance to take place.

How would you respond to someone who bases their salvation on good deeds? Isaiah 64:6.

‘The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.’ Luke 3:15-18

Notice the people were waiting expectancy and wondering in their hearts if John was the Messiah. This is something that John clearly denied, John 1:18-28.

John’s message focused on two themes that will help us get ready to receive Christ.

1. He preached about repentance.

To repent means to decide to change. John was telling his hearers that they had to reverse their life’s direction to get ready for Christ; those unwilling to change could not come to Him.

2. John declared the greatness of Jesus.

He said Jesus was so great that he himself was not even worthy to stoop down and untie His shoes, Mark 1:1-8.

This was an amazing declaration because one does not have to have much worth to untie somebody’s shoes. In fact, in John’s day, untying shoes was considered to be a slave’s lowest duty, John wasn’t worthy to be Jesus’ humblest slave!

So, for us to be ready to receive Jesus, we must repent, change our lives, and recognise His awesome greatness.

Some interpret the baptism of fire as referring to the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:2-3. Some believe that the baptism with fire refers to the Holy Spirit’s office as the energizer of the believer’s service, and the purifier of evil within, 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

The promise, ‘he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit,’ has reference to the apostles. The Saviour’s testimony in Acts 1 establishes this, ‘for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,’ Acts 1:5.

It will hardly be denied that there is a connection between Acts 1:5 and Matthew 3:11. The promise was fulfilled on Pentecost when the apostles received an ‘overwhelming’ measure of the Spirit’s power, Acts 2:1ff.

But what is the significance of the ‘fire’ in John’s statement? The immediate context would suggest that it is an allusion to the final fate of the wicked. Luke and Matthew say that ‘every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ Luke 3:9 / Matthew 3:10.

Then, at the conclusion of verse seventeen, Jesus continues, ‘whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.’ Luke 3:17 / Matthew 3:11-12.

Why should the ‘fire’ of Luke 3:9 / Matthew 3:11, be viewed as something different from that referenced in Matthew 3:10 and Matthew 3:12 / Luke 3:17, without some sort of compelling justification?

‘But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.’ Luke 3:19-20

John the Baptist didn’t pull any punches, he called sin, sin. He criticised King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife and was thrown in jail, Matthew 14:3 / Mark 6:17.

What was wrong with their marriage?

The story of Herod and Herodias is quite scandalous. Philip and Herod were brothers who were also both uncles to Herodias. Apparently, Philip married Herodias and they had a child together, Salome. Herod also had a wife during this time.

At some point, Herod and Herodias decided to divorce their spouses in order to ‘marry’ each other. The way we speak to people differs from each person to the next and some people need to be told plainly that they are sinning and in need of a Saviour. Are we prepared to call sin, sin?

The Baptism Of Jesus

‘When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

The Lord’s baptism was an important event in His life. We need to understand that it wasn’t something that He accepted casually, on the contrary, it was an act about which He had clearly given deep thought. How do we know this? We know this because He made a special journey in order to be baptised.

The Lord travelled ‘from Galilee to Jordan’ to John, for a specific purpose, namely, ‘to be baptised by him,’ Matthew 3:13-17. This means that His baptism was an event that He obviously regarded as of deep significance. Indeed, it isn’t too much to say that His baptism was only equalled in its importance by His later Transfiguration.

Matthew reveals, that when Jesus took Peter, James and John ‘apart’ to the high mountain this, too, was a deliberate and purposeful act. He had chosen these three apostles to become the witnesses of a very special event, as He was ‘transfigured before them’, Matthew 17:2.

They were meant to hear the Voice which said, ‘this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, Hear Him’ and, as we know, this was the Voice which, at His baptism, had said, ‘this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,’ Matthew 13:17 / Matthew 17:5 / John 12:28-30.

The timing of the Lord’s baptism was deliberate. Luke tells us that it was after ‘all the people’ had been baptised that Jesus came to John to be baptised, Luke 3:21. John had come as the ‘forerunner’ of the Messiah, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, Luke 1:7.

His task was ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’, and the baptism of Jesus marked the culmination of John’s own ministry, and he was able to say, ‘this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, and I must decrease,’ John 3:30.

Its special message to John the baptiser. In a lesser sense, the baptism of Jesus also carried a more personal significance for John the Baptizer because it was the manner in which the identity of the Messiah was revealed to him, John 1:33.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to John, he already knew Jesus as a relative because of the relationship that existed between their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, Luke 1:36, and he was aware of the sinless character of Jesus.

How otherwise, when Jesus asked to be baptised, could John have said, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Matthew 3:14.

This surely indicates prior acquaintance. My own view is that this, from John, wasn’t so much a question as an exclamation of surprise, of amazement!

That one whom he knew to be so holy should request to be baptised by him. But, although John knew Jesus, he didn’t know Him as the Messiah, until the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism, Luke 3:22 / John 1:32-34.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

1. The dove was a ‘clean’ creature under the ceremonial laws of the Jews.

2. It was used in their religious sacrifices, two, in fact, being offered upon the presentation of our Lord in the temple, Luke 2:24.

3. It is a monogamous creature!

4. It is a symbol of peace.

5. It is a marvel of gentleness, love, and affection.

6. It is a messenger, the homing pigeon is a dove.

7. The dove has no gall, suggesting that there is no bitterness in the service of God.

What is meant by to fulfil all righteousness? Although He lived as a Jew, faithful to the Mosaic law and all its requirements, Jesus wasn’t baptised ‘to fulfil the Law’, because baptism wasn’t commanded by the Law of Moses.

When John issued the call to his fellow Jews to ‘repent and be baptised’ this message was unique in Jewish history, and it was this new message that brought about the confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests and elders, Matthew 21:24-27.

This passage tells us that Jesus challenged the religious leaders to say where John’s baptism originated. Was it from heaven, or from men?

But, of course, had there been prior provision in the Law of Moses for such a baptism as John’s, the discussion would not even have taken place. It was this very uniqueness of John’s baptism that was the cause of the debate.

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t accept John’s baptism because it wasn’t a requirement imposed by the Mosaic Law and, therefore, they refused to submit to it. They were probably contemptuous of those who were influenced by John and regarded them as ignorant and foolish.

As for it being ‘from God’, the religious leaders couldn’t accept the baptism commanded by John as a new revelation from God, because it hadn’t come through themselves. After all, they were the authorities who determined what was permissible in Judaism!

They were the arbiters of true and false revelations! And, again, these priests, scribes and Pharisees would have argued that they, as ‘children of Abraham’ and members of a nation that was in a covenant relationship with God, didn’t need baptism, Mathew 3:7-9.

They believed in the ritual washing of both their persons and their possession, as Mark explains, Mark 7:3-4. They saw baptism as a rite intended only for non-Jews who wished to become proselytes of their religion.

The strict rule was that any male Gentile who wished to embrace the Jewish faith must undergo the first circumcision, then be baptised and then offer sacrifice, whilst the law for a female declared that she must first be baptised and then offer sacrifice.

This is because the act of baptism was regarded as the means of cleansing from the old, ‘heathen’ life and its sins, and the beginning of a new life in the Jewish faith.

The converts were then said to be received, ‘under the wings of the Divine Presence’, the expression that was used to describe proselytism.

These rules meant that no devout Jew would have considered himself as a subject for repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, Luke 3:1. For this reason, John’s message fell on the ears of the people as both utterly new and startling.

In the light of the discussion between Jesus and the Jews on the subject of John’s baptism, we have to say that ‘to fulfil all righteousness’, means ‘to do everything commanded by God’, because the Lord made it clear that John’s baptism was commanded by God.

Why Was Jesus Baptised?

This is an interesting question because many people have come up with all kinds of theories and explanations over the years to try and explain why Jesus was baptised. Jesus wasn’t baptised to please his mother.

There is an ancient document known as ‘the Gospel of the Nazarene’, sometimes called ‘The Gospel of the Hebrews’, but never regarded by the early Christians as divinely inspired, which claims that Mary and His brothers said to Jesus, ‘Behold, John Baptist baptises to the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptised by him. Jesus replied, ‘How have I sinned that I should go and be baptised by him? Perchance this very thing, that I have said is ignorance.’

The story continues to claim that Jesus was compelled, unwillingly, by Mary to go to John to be baptised. Is it any wonder that the early Christians rejected a document, that heard such unlikely tales?

Jesus wasn’t baptised for the forgiveness of sins, 2 Corinthians 5:21. Unlike the multitudes who flocked to John from all quarters, confessing their sins, Jesus had no sins to confess, Hebrews 4:15.

Jesus was baptised to mark the commencement of his own ministry. As the ministry of John ended, the ministry of Jesus began. After recording the descent of the Spirit and the message of the heavenly voice, Luke 3:23 reveals that after His baptism, at about thirty years of age, Jesus commenced His own public ministry.

As a boy, in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus had revealed that He was aware of having a mission to fulfil, Luke 2:47, and through many years had waited for the moment to arrive when His work should commence.

The ‘forerunner’ had come as promised by the Scriptures, Matthew 11:10, with a message which had disturbed, convicted and prepared the people for the coming of the longed-for Messiah. They were ready, and Jesus knew that His time had arrived.

When He asked John to baptise Him, John had protested but Jesus had insisted, ‘let it be so now’, Matthew 3:15. The ‘now’, is emphatic and it means ‘at this time’.

Therefore, the baptism of Jesus was both an act of identification with the repentant people whom He had come to save, and an act of commitment to the task the Father had laid on Him, John 1:11-12.

Just as Christ received the Holy Spirit to mark the beginning of His ministry, as Christians we too, at our baptism we receive the Holy Spirit to mark the beginning of our ministry for Him, Acts 2:38.

The Genealogy Of Jesus

‘Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josek, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melki, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.’ Luke 3:23-38

Luke informs us that Jesus was thirty years old when He began in ministry. This is the age that a priest was to enter upon the full execution of their office, Numbers 4:3.

Matthew 1:1-17 is parallel with Luke 3:23-38

Matthew 1:3-6 is parallel with Ruth 4:18-22

Matthew 1:7-11 is parallel with 1 Chronicles 3:10-17

Both Matthew and Luke record the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew 1:1-17, however, Matthew gives the account of the ancestry of Joseph, the legal and earthly parent of Jesus. Luke records the ancestry of Jesus through the genealogy of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The term, ‘son of’ refers to a distant relative and so, when one is the ‘son of’ another, ancestors in the lineage can be left out by the chronicler.

Henry, in his commentary, says the following, concerning Luke’s genealogy.

‘Matthew designed to show that Christ was the son of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed, and that he was heir to the throne of David and therefore he begins with Abraham and brings the genealogy down to Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, and heir-male of the house of David, but Luke, designing to show that Christ was the seed of the woman, that should break the serpent’s head, traces his pedigree upward as high as Adam, and begins it with Ei, or Heli, who was the father, not of Joseph, but of the virgin Mary. And some suggest that the supply which our translators all along insert here is not right and that it should not be read which, that is, which Joseph was the son of Heli, but which Jesus, he was the son of Joseph, of Eli, of Matthat, and he, that is, Jesus, was the son of Seth, of Adam, of God, Luke 3:38 / Luke 3:38.’

‘The difference between the two evangelists in the genealogy of Christ has been a stumbling block to infidels that cavil at the word, but such a one as has been removed by the labours of learned men, both in the early ages of the church and in later times, to which we refer ourselves. Matthew draws the pedigree from Solomon, whose natural line ends in Jechonias, the legal right was transferred to Salathiel, who was of the house of Nathan, another son of David, which line Luke here pursues, and so leaves out all the kings of Judah.’

‘It is well for us that our salvation doth not depend upon our being able to solve all these difficulties, nor is the divine authority of the gospels at all weakened by them; for the evangelists are not supposed to write these genealogies either of their own knowledge or by divine inspiration, but to have copied them out of the authentic records of the genealogies among the Jews, the heralds’ books, which therefore they were obliged to follow; and in them they found the pedigree of Jacob, the father of Joseph, to be as it is set down in Matthew; and the pedigree of Heli, the father of Mary, to be as it is set down here in Luke.’

‘And this is the meaning of hos enomizeto, Luke 3:23 / Luke 3:23, not, as it was supposed, referring only to Joseph, but uti sancitum est lege, as it is entered into the books, as we find it upon record, by which it appeared that Jesus was both by father and mother’s side the Son of David, witness this extract out of their own records, which any one might at that time have liberty to compare with the original, and further the evangelists needed not to go; nay, had they varied from that, they had not gained their point. It’s not being contradicted at that time is satisfaction enough to us now that it is a true copy, as it is further worthy of observation, that, when those records of the Jewish genealogies had continued thirty or forty years after these extracts out of them, long enough to justify the evangelists therein, they were all lost and destroyed with the Jewish state and nation; for now there was no more occasion for them.’

Henry, in his commentary, continues and says the following.

One difficulty occurs between Abraham and Noah, which gives us some perplexity, Luke 3:35 / Luke 3:36. Sala is said to be the son of Cainan, and he the son of Arphaxad, whereas Sala was the son of Arphaxad, Genesis 10:24 / Genesis 11:12, and there is no such man as Cainan found there. But, as to that, it is sufficient to say that the Seventy Interpreters, who, before our Saviour’s time, translated the Old Testament into Greek, for reasons best known to themselves inserted that Cainan; and St. Luke, writing among the Hellenist Jews, was obliged to make use of that translation, and therefore to take it as he found it.’

‘The genealogy concludes with this, who was the son of Adam, the son of God.’

1. Some refer it to Adam, he was in a peculiar manner the son of God, being, more immediately than any of his offspring, the offspring of God by creation.

2. Others refer it to Christ, and so make the last words of this genealogy to denote his divine and human nature. He was both the Son of Adam and the Son of God that he might be a proper Mediator between God and the sons of Adam and might bring the sons of Adam to be, through him, the sons of God.

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