Preparation and Commitment 3:1 to 4:13
We now read a prelude to the ministry of Jesus. There is a common thread here to Luke 1:5 to 2:52. In these sections both can be seen as an introduction to the main body of Luke’s Gospel in chapter 4 at verse 14. In the first section we read of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. This second section tells us what happened before the public ministry of Jesus.
In these first to introductory sections the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus are intertwined. This section begins with the ministry of John the Baptist and is followed with Jesus’ commitment to His ministry.
A Sermon that was the Man
Alfred Plummer says of John the Baptist: “The whole man was a sermon.” John the Baptist was a man who was consumed by his mission. Luke tells us of his calling. (Verses 1-6) He tells of his message. (Verses 7-14) What John the Baptist said about the Messiah. (Verses 15-17) And we learn of John’s arrest. (Verses 18-20)
John’s Time Had Come Verses 1-6
Luke took care to set his Gospel in the framework of world history. Luke begins with a list of the leaders of the time. He identifies Herod the king of Judea, Caesar Augustus and Quirinius, the governor of Syria. Luke also mentions Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, Philip, Lysanius, Annas, and Caiaphas. This allows the readers to date the events that follow. It is thought that the ministry of John the Baptist began around 26 to 29 AD. But Luke’s concern is to stress the worldwide significance of John’s call. Luke was writing a Gospel for all the people and he wanted Theophilus and Gentile readers to see that salvation for the world was from the beginning of his Gospel.
We left John the Baptist in the wilderness in chapter 1 verse 80 and now the years of preparation were over. John’s time had come and now he was called upon the world stage to prepare for the momentous events that were to follow.
John’s message was not only one of repentance before the coming of the Messiah but also the need for Baptism and its message. In the Old Testament the prophets had used various kinds of symbolism in their prophecy. The sign that John used was Baptism. This was a way to show a sign of repentance and forgiveness.
In the New Testament repentance, Baptism, and forgiveness are referred to. John did not view Baptism as a ritual that caused forgiveness in itself. Baptism was a sign of the forgiveness that results from genuine repentance.
In all four of the Gospels John’s ministry is referred to by quotations of Isaiah 40:3-5. (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; John 1:23) Only in the Gospel of Luke do we read the quote, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Here again we see the consistency of Luke’s emphasis on the worldwide mission of the Savior.
What Repentance Is Verses 7-14
John’s message was repentance and Baptism was the sign. It is clear from these verses that the people needed forgiveness but they came for Baptism. John called these people, “a brood of vipers.” John would not baptize them because he saw no sign of repentance. Unless there is no change of heart the act of baptism is a farce. Baptism is only meaningful as a sign of true repentance. It is repentance not baptism that brings forgiveness.
When a Gentile converted to the Jewish faith one of the requirements was a form of baptism. The Gentile was immersed in water as part of his entrance into Judaism as a proselyte. In two ways the baptism of John was different than that of a proselyte. First it was John who did the baptizing, as he was called John the Baptist, which means the baptizer. (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4) More importantly John’s baptism had a strong moral and universal basis. Proselyte baptism assumed that the Gentile was an outsider who needed to be baptized in order to become an insider. John’s baptism assumed that everyone needed repentance in order to be an insider.
John warned his fellow Jews not to presume upon the ancestry. Their relationship was not a guarantee of being right with God. Without repentance all people stand in the wrath of God as sinners. This truth applies to Jews as well as to Gentiles. The good side of this is that God can create sons of Abraham. If God can create sons of Abraham out of stones, then He surely can create sons out of people whatever their ancestry. Paul made much of this point in his letter to the Romans. (Romans 2:25-29)
There is a difference between the people of verses 7-9 and the people of verses 10-14. The first group presumed on their ancestry and did not repent. The second group of people heeded John’s call to repentance.
The groups of people in verses 10-14 represented the social outcast of the day. The tax collectors and soldiers who enforced taxes were despised. But it was they who repented and were baptized by John. They were not the supposedly righteous and religious people of the day.
John’s explanation of repentance was in simple and practical terms. For the average person repentance was turning from a life of looking out for oneself to caring about others. A life of sharing their food and clothing with those who had none.
John pointed in focusing on the sins of the tax collectors, who were guilty of graft. They were told to collect no more than what was due. The soldiers were probably Jewish soldier-police who helped enforce the will of the tax collectors. They would use their force to take what was not rightly theirs. Repentance for them was to live within their own means and not taking what we not theirs.
Spirit and the Fire Verse 15-17
The activity of John drew great interest and speculation. Some even wondered if he was the Messiah. John quickly denied that he was the Messiah. In the tradition of the day John said he was a slave in comparison to the Messiah. That it would be he that would remove the shoes of the Messiah.
There were two other ways that John pictured his inferiority to the Messiah. John said that he baptized with water but the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That he preached judgment but the Messiah would bring judgment.
John’s picture of the judgment of the Messiah was an ax poised to cut down the tree that does not bear good fruit. In verse 17 the picture is the thresher which separates the chaff from the good grain and then burns the chaff. John’s understanding of a judge later caused him to wonder of the approach Jesus was taking.
Truth Hurts Verses 18-30
Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great who was in his last days when John and Jesus were born. (Matthew 2:1) Herod Antipas was subject to the authority of Rome, his rule was as tetrarch in Galilee during the ministry of John and Jesus. Both Herod and Herodias had been married to other people. Herod to the daughter of the king of Arabia and Herodias to Herod’s half-brother Philip. Herod persuaded Herodias to leave Philip and marry him, while he divorced his wife.
John could not be quite about such evil by a royal couple. He followed in the noble train of earlier prophets like Nathan and Elijah. Herod was hurt by the truth and so was Herodias. Herod added to his earlier evils by putting John in prison. The truth also hurt John. While he was in prison Herod had John executed because of his commitment to the truth. Jesus later paid tribute to John for his prophetic boldness.
A Commitment to Service 3:21 to 4:13
The prelude to the ministry of Jesus shows His commitment to a mission of service and sacrifice. Jesus made that commitment at His baptism. The genealogy of Jesus not only ties Him to Israel but to all humanity. His resistance to temptation shows that He was fully committed to the mission and the will of His Heavenly Father.
A Word from Heaven Verses 21-22
In Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus we see that it was a public event. This shows that Jesus wanted to identify with the people that He had come to serve and to save.
In Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus we see that when the Spirit descended upon Him He was praying as the voice spoke. Luke places great stress on the fact that Jesus had a constant prayer life. (Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18, 28; Luke 10:21; Luke 11:1; 22:32; Luke 23:34, 46)
There are two occasions in which the voice of God spoke to and the message was basically the same. At the baptism of Jesus and on the mount of transfiguration with Peter, James, and John.
Two passages of Scripture are quoted from the Old Testament. Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. These passages show God’s approval of His Messiah. Later in the life of Jesus we see that He saw His mission as a continuation of His role as God’s Messiah and Servant. Jesus saw His baptism as a public commitment to His mission. His baptism was not like that of others to signify repentance. Jesus had no sins to repent of. Jesus was baptized as the Suffering Servant and took His stand with the sinners that He had come to save. The voice that came for heaven was a benediction and an assurance on His mission of service and sacrifice.
Mission for Humanity Verses 23-38
In the Gospel of Matthew we find a genealogy of Jesus going back to Abraham which stresses that He was a Jew and rightful eternal King in the line of David. (Matthew 1:1-17) Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam. Luke may be stressing the complete mission of Jesus that He is the Savior of the world. It is a universal ministry and not confined to the Jewish state.
An emphasis of Luke is the universal ministry of Jesus at the beginning of his Gospel. Other differences between Matthew and Luke are more difficult to explain. There are different names especially from David to Jesus. Matthew traced from David through Nathan while Luke went through Solomon. One solution for this is that Matthew traced the linage of Jesus through Joseph and Luke through Mary. Another is that Matthew traced the royal line through David while Luke gives the line to which Joseph belonged. Another proposed solution is that a levirate marriage had taken place by Joseph’s mother. According to this view Heli died childless, his widow married Jacob. Thus Matthew list through Jacob his actual father and Luke uses Heli his legal father.
Both Matthew and Luke believed in the virgin birth. However, the custom is to trace a genealogy through the father. Thus, Luke wrote that Jesus was “the son of Joseph.”