|John the Baptizer Preaching (Mattia Preti, 1667)|
In Luke’s opening birth narrative (Luke 1:4-2:52), he puts forward belief over unbelief and the Messiah who fulfills the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. Now Luke turns to the Forerunner, John. Although some mistake John for the Messiah, John is very clear that Someone greater is coming (Luke 3:15-18).
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 3:1-20 to call believers to repentance of sin and the application of Scripture in our lives.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about repentance and Biblical living.
Pray and Read: Luke 3:1-20
1. The ministry of John calls us to the repentance of sin in our lives (Luke 3:1-6).
2. The preaching of John calls us to the application of Scripture to our lives (Luke 3:7-20).
a. John’s introduction is reminiscent of the OT prophets in connecting his career with the king’s reign, identifying him by his father’s name, and the phrase, “the word of the Lord came to John.”
b. Luke takes care to place into the stream of world history the cosmic-tranforming events he sets out. Tiberius was Emperor of Rome (AD 14 – 37) following Augustus. Herod the Great’s kingdom was divided after his death in 4 B.C. To the north, the Galilee was ruled by his son Herod Antipas (the Tetrarch) (4 BC – AD 39). Farther north to the northwest of Damascus, the region around the city of Abilene was controlled by Lysanias whose name is found in inscriptions, but his identity is not clear. To the east, his son Herod Philip ruled Iturea and Trachonitis (4 BC – AD 34). The area of Judah was ruled by Archelaus until AD 6 when he was deposed. Judah was then placed within the Roman province of Syria with a procurator to run it. Pontius Pilate held that position AD 26-36.
c. The bottom line is that Luke shows that John began preaching between September AD 27 and October AD 28.
d. Two high priests? Kind of. Annas was high priest until deposed by the Romans in AD 15, who began to manipulate the use the office for their brand of politics. Annas’ son-in-law Caiaphas attained high priest in AD 25-26 and was deposed in AD 36. He was the high priest who presided over Jesus’ two trials. Archaeologists have unearthed his ossurary (bone box) and recently certified it as genuine. Annas continued to hold great power (John 18:12-24), and many continued to consider him high priest (Acts 4:6) because it was a lifetime position.
e. APPLICATION: The Bible is trustworthy, and Luke’s careful observations and placement call to attention the clear and present integrity in the text.
f. John the Baptist, or the Baptizer, or the Immerser. John is a common name in many languages. In Hebrew it is Yochanan (YHWH is gracious, has shown favor). John startles his countrymen from all classes (Luke 3:7-11, 13-14, 19-20) with his preaching (Luke 3:3-6), full of fire and faithfulness to the Hebrew Prophets. John calls on them to repent and make an open acknowledgement by being baptized, and shockingly, he actually applies the Scripture to the lives of those to whom he preaches. He gives concrete examples of how their lives should change.
g. The Greek word baptizein means to dip, soak, or immerse in a liquid, so that what is dipped takes on the qualities of what it has been dipped in, for example, dyed cloth or leather in tanning solution.
h. To understand baptism, one needs the Jewish background. The Torah commanded one to be ritually pure before entering the Tabernacle or Temple. One could lose ritual purity in many ways, but the most important way to restore it was through washing (see Leviticus). John took this idea of washing of impurity (mikveh), and placed it in a new context, that of cleansing from a life of sin. Complete self-immersion in a mikveh is still required at the point when a non-Jew converts to Judaism.
i. Repentance: John was calling the people of Israel to a change of mind and a complete change of heart (metanoiete), to repent. The underlying idea here is the Hebrew concept of t’shuvah, rooted in the verb shuv, which means turning from sin and returning to God. There is both a from and a to. Turning from one’s sins is impossible unless at the same time one turns to God. Otherwise you are only turning to another set of sins. The Jewish understanding was that each individual must do it, yet it requires God’s grace to be able to do it. “Turn us to you, O Lord, and we will be turned (Lam 5:21). John’s message here is identical to Jesus’ message (Matt. 4:17).
j. APPLICATION: Each person is called to repentance, to turn from darkness to light. Have you done that? In what part of your life are you still trafficking in darkness and sin? Is it theft of time at work? Is it assaulting someone’s character on the telephone? Is it cheating a customer and calling it business? God calls us to walk in repentance, and that is a lifestyle of asking forgiveness and walking in that kind of humility. Are you walking in that way?
k. Luke 3:3 – All the country of the Jordan. John’s ministry most likely happened in the Judean desert around the Jordan River west and north of the Dead Sea. John baptized up and down the Jordan at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28) and in Samaria (John 3:23).
l. Luke 3:4-6 – Luke makes it clear in no uncertain terms that John is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5. Isaiah promises a new exodus in which God would again save his people Israel. Luke extends the quotation to include more of Isaiah 40, possibly to conclude with seeing God’s salvation (Luke 2:30). The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, read “All humanity will see God’s deliverance (salvation, yashuah), a play on words, the feminine form of Jesus’ name, Yeshua.
m. APPLICATION: What are you doing to prepare the way of the Good News with your family, with your co-workers, with your students, with your friends? You have the words of life, and if you do not share them, then how will they hear? We are commanded to share Christ with our neighbors and our grandchildren and our acquaintances. Love them into the Kingdom.
2. THE PREACHING OF JOHN CALLS US TO TO THE APPLICATION OF SCRIPTURE TO OUR LIVES (LUKE 3:7-20)
a. Luke 3:7 – Vipers were commonly believed to eat their way out of their mother’s womb, so a viper’s offspring was nastier than just calling them snakes. He is also making a connection to Isaiah 59:4-5; 14:29
b. Luke 3:8 – sons from these stones: Just as God raised Isaac from the stone altar in a figurative resurrection (Heb 11:19). The alliteration in Hebrew is banim (sons) avanim (stones). The Jewish people believed that they were saved by virtue of their descent from Abraham, but John tells them that if they wish to escape the coming judgment, repentance evidenced by a changed life will avail more than the mere fact of being descended from Abraham.
c. Luke 3:9 – John adds a note of urgency. The time is short. Luke is making a connection to Jer. 46:22-23 and Isaiah 10:33-34. The image of Israel as a rebellious vine (Jer. 2:21-22; Hos. 10:1-2) is taken by Jesus (Luke 13:7-9) and relates to Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). Jesus will adapt it in Luke 20:9-19.
d. APPLICATION: We are in a state of urgency to get the Gospel out to the nations. We have not been faithful to the call. We are taking care of ourselves and squall when someone suggests we sacrifice for the message of Christ to be taken. It is time that we give our whole hearts and energies to doing whatever it takes to finish the Great Commission in this generation. For the first time we can do it. We should do it.
e. Luke 3:12 – The tax collectors were Jews who took up taxes for the Roman rulers. They were among the most hated in the Jewish community. They not only were serving the oppressors but were lining their own pockets by exploiting the Jews. The Romans sold leases to individuals for the right to collect taxes, who then added a surcharge for their own expenses. With no controls, the system had great abuse and corruption.
f. Luke 3:14 – These soldiers may have been Herod Antipas’ tax police troops (Luke 23:11; Josephus refers to them, too), or they may have been Syrian-born non-Jewish troops in the Roman army. They occasionally protested their wages and created trouble for the government by extorting from local citizens what they were not paid.
g. Luke 3:16 – Fire. The wicked are immersed in fire, the righteous in the Holy Spirit. This purifying fire is along the lines of Malachi 4:1-3; Psalm 1:4, 6; Rev. 20:15). Or perhaps it is the fire of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8).
h. Luke 3:19-20 – Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great ruled over Galilee (4 BC – AD 39). He was a regional governor, ruler of a quarter of the country, thus tetrarch. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, one of Herod the Great’s 15 sons. She married her uncle Herod Philip (not the one of Luke 3:1) and fathered daughter Salome. Herodias then left Philip to be mistress to his half-brother Herod Antipas (also see Matt 14:1-12). John did not shrink back from telling even the most highly placed what they least wanted to hear (Lev 18:16, 20:21).
i. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Herod Antipas was defeated in a war with Aretas, king of Arabia Petrea, and adds: “Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; . . . Now when [many] others came to crowd about him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him.”
F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. The International Bible Commentary, 1191-2.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 196-7.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 111-2.
Harold Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 525.
 This is the Herod who wonders about Jesus’ identity (Luke 9:7-9), calls Jesus a fox (Luke 13:31-32), and puts Jesus on trial (Luke 23:7-12; Acts 4:27).
 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:5:2