John T. Willis

Saturday, December 24, 2011

John the Baptist Passes the Baton to Jesus--Luke 3

After relating the account of Joseph and Mary losing Jesus in the Jerusalem temple at the age of 12, Luke spends the rest of his gospel describing major events in the life of Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry to his death and resurrection. Luke 3 reports the ministry of John the Baptism, the baptism of Jesus, and the genealogy of Jesus. This chapter falls into three parts.

I. John the Baptist passes the baton to Jesus and is thrown into prison. Luke 3:1-20.
a. Luke dates the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist and Jesus were born in 4 BCE. The fifteenth year of Tiberias was August-September 29 CE [AD]. Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea 26-36 CE [AD]. Herod Tetrarch of Galilee was Herod Antipas, the younger son of Herod the Great and Mlathace who ruled from 4 BCE to 39 CE [AD]. Philip ruled from 4 BCE to 34 CE [AD]. Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, showing that Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BCE according to our modern calendars. God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness south of Jerusalem, where he proclaimed "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." This was in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5. John the Baptist proclaimed God's message in preparation of the coming and ministry of Jesus. This message was not for the Jews only but for "all flesh," as 3:6 emphasizes. Josephus, Life 2. 10-11 states that John the Baptist spent some time among the Essenes. This is where John learned about baptism as a development of the ritual washings of the Essenes. But his message was from God. 3:1-6.
b. Luke relates the kind of preaching John the Baptist proclaimed. This falls into three parts. Luke 3:7-20.
1. Eschatological Preaching. John confronted his "crowds" at "brood of vipers," a symbol of repulsive and destructive people. See Matthew 12:34; 23:33. Because of this, God's wrath will fall upon them. The term "God's wrath" comes from the Hebrew Bible--see Isaiah 13:9; Zephaniah 1:14-16; 2:2; Ezekiel 7:19. John declares that "the children of Abraham" are not physical descendants of Abraham, but rather spritual descendants of Abraham. The "ax" is a figure for discrimination between productive and unproductive trees, like the winnowing fan described in Luke 3:17. 3:7-9.
2. Ethical Preaching. When many in the crowds ask John what they should do to repent. John responds: (a) Share your clothing and food with others; (b) Be honest in collecting money in buying and selling; (c) Do not extort money from anyong by threats or false accusations; be satisfied with your wages. 3:10-14.
3. Messianic Preaching. When many in the crowds asked John is he was the Messiah, John strongly denied that he was the Messiah, and points forward to the coming Messiah [Jesus]. (a) John baptizes with water, but the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. (b) The coming Messiah is more powerful than John. See Luke 7:19, an allusion to Malachi 3:1; 4:5. Every true Christian knows that he or she is merely a servant of Jesus, while Jesus alone is the leader and master. (c) John is not worthy to untie the thong of the coming Messiah's sandals. Hence, John portrays himself as a SLAVE of the Messiah. The Messiah will divide the hearts of people on the basis of their hearts and lives. John proclaimed this message to the crowds. 3:15-18.
c. Herod puts John the Baptist in prison. Herod, the half-brother of Herod Antipas, put away his first wife, the dauther of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, to marry Herodias, whose affections he had alienated from his half-brother Herod Antipas. Philip the Tetrarch was married to Salome, the daughter of Herodias. John the Baptist criticized Herod for doing this based on Leviticus 18:16, and Herod cast him into prison. Josephus, Antiq. 18.5,2. 119, relates that John was taken to the fortress Machaerus in chains. Originally built by Alexander Janneus on a precipitious, solitary peak on the east side of the Dead Sea between the Wadi Zerqa Ma'in and the Wadi el-Mojib, it was magnificently restored by Herod the Great. Luke 3:19-20.

II. The Baptism of Jesus. Luke 3:21-22.
a. Luke's account of the baptism of Jesus is much shorter than the account of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew (3:13-17), Mark (1;9-11), and John (1:29-34). Luke makes five points. First, John baptized Jesus just as John baptized everyone else who submitted to baptism.
b. Jesus was praying when he was baptized. Luke emphasizes Jesus' prayer life.
c. When Jesus was baptized, the heaven was opened.
d. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. It is amazing that the Holy Spirit appeared in bodily form. All four gospels state that the Holy Spirit was like a dove--see Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; John 1:32.
e. God spoke to Jesus directly to Jesus: "YOU are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." This statement based on Psalm 2:7 portrays a special love relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. See Luke 1:32, 35; 9:35. The last expression, "with you I am well pleased," is an allusion to Isaiah 42:1.

III. The Genealogy of Jesus. Luke 3:23-38.
a. The genealogy of Jesus is very different from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17. There are no such genealogies in Mark or John. Luke lists 78 individuals including Jesus and God the Father.
b. Jesus was "ABOUT" 30 years of age when he began his public ministry. This would have been not earlier than 29 CE [AD], and Jesus was born in 4 BCE, so Jesus was at least 33 years of age at this time. 3:23.
c. Luke's genealogy works backward. It begins with Joseph [the text makes it clear he was not the real father of Jesus; rather God was], and goes all the way back to God the Father himself. This includes 77 generations.
d. 3:27 gives the first known names of Zerubbabel and his father Shealtiel--this appears in 1 Chronicles 3:17, 19.
e. 3:31-32 extend from David back to Boaz. See Ruth 4:18-22.
f. 3:33-38 extend from Hezron back to Adam, based on Genesis 5; 10; 11.
g. The whole purpose of this genealogy is to emphasize: (1) the real Father of Jesus is God the Father, and thus Jesus is divine; and (2) God sent Jesus to save the whole human race going all the way back to Adam, not just to the Jews going only back to Abraham.

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John Willis


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