"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me" John 14:1
LUKE 3:1-6 Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   


Central idea of text: In preparation for the promised Messiah's earthly ministry, God sent his predicted messenger, John the Baptist, to herald the message of repentance and salvation.  (This passage's application is not about being faithful to proclaim the gospel.)


Proposition: The message today is still repent!


Intro: George Whitefield, a British man and Oxford student, was one of the key preachers God used in the mid-1700s in the U.S. and Britain in what is called the First Great Awakening.  He traveled across the Atlantic 13 times.  During that period, he was known to have preached about 50 hours a week.  Using just his booming voice, some 30, 000 people in the crowd could hear him.  It is estimated that at the height of his preaching career, 80 percent of the people in the 13 colonies had heard him preach in person. He was close friends of John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and Ben Franklin.  He was admired for his great passion and rhetorical ability.  David Hume, the British 18th-century philosopher who denied historic Christianity, was supposedly once seen hurrying down a London street.  Someone asked him where he was going, he replied, "To hear Whitefield preach."  That person inquired, "You don't believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?"  Hume replied, "No, I don't, but he does" (Between Two Worlds, Stott, 270 [cited from Black, 23]).  Whitefield was consumed with the task of preaching God's message; even during his last sickly hours, he preached.  He was faithful to the end.  Such was another man who preached with great passion-John the Baptist, henceforth referred to as JTB.


Luke also wrote Acts and wasn't one of the twelve disciples.  He probably wrote his gospel in the 60s.


Why does Luke write this Gospel? (1:1-4).  Earlier scholarship viewed Luke primarily as a historian, now he's seen as a theologian.  His overall theme seems to be salvation.


What have we learned about JTB up to this point?

Read Luke 3:1-20



Verses 1-2a-Here we see political Rome and Israel, and religious Israel.  Why does Luke mention all of this?  John and Jesus are here in history (1:5; 2:1).  In addition, Theophilus would have recognized these historical political names.


Why does Luke tell us about JTB here?  Notice Mt 3:1-12; Mk 1:1-8; Jn 1:19-34 (3:22-30; 5:33-36).


How does Luke portray JTB?  JTB is a bridge (chp 1; 7:18-35; 16:14-18; 20:1-8).  The literary context: Jesus and JTB childhoods and ministries are interconnected.  So are their messages.  We see them at their births and now we see them in their public ministries.


Verse 2-The Word of God came (Jer 1:2; Hos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Hag 1:1).  JTB was a prophet.  The phrase, "Son of Zacharias," recalls what Luke has already told us about JTB's birth and prophetic life.


Why mention "desert" (also see 1:80)?  (Not because it speaks of serenity.)  Maybe because a desert was a place of renewal for Israel (Ez 20:33-38; Hos 2:14-23).  But mostly because the imagery hearkened to Is 40, a prophet in the desert.  (Jesus was tempted in desert.)


Verse 3- What was JTB's message?  "Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (baptisma metanoiva" eij" a[fesin aJmartiw`n).


What is baptism and its significance?  (At the least, baptism was a way to identify with something.)  Baptism was to prepare for the arrival of the eschatological era of salvation (Bock).  By the crowd's questions, they knew that baptism wasn't the big issue.


What is repentance?


 See Luke 4:18; 5:17-32; 24:47 for JTB' message of repentance.  (Luke uses repentance 11 times as a noun and 14 times as a verb throughout Luke/Acts.  Matthew (7 times) and Mark (4 times) only use it a few times.)  What was the similarity between Jesus' message and JTB's?


What is the connection between forgiveness and repentance?  (See 5:31-32; 19:10; 24:43-47.)


Verses 4-6-See similarities of Is 40:3-5.  (Mt 11:10 and Mk 1:2-3 and Jn 1:23 use only Is 40:3.)  Luke alone adds Is 40:4 and 5b.


Why does Luke include the portion from Is 40:4-5?  He likely includes Isaiah 40:4 to emphasis the preparation for the coming king.  See Luke 1:76-77 regarding salvation and forgiveness.  (Zacharias' prophecy about his son JTB.)


Verses 4-6 from Is 40:3-5 may have wilderness wanderings in mind.  Maybe the Jordan, in which JTB does his baptizing, is supposed to be some kind of doorway out of the wilderness.  Or maybe the idea in Is 40 and beyond is that Israel will be brought out of the Babylonian exile (Ellis).  But the immediate context of Is 40 doesn't mention these things.  It could be as Oswalt suggests that the Lord is the one who will come from Sinai across the wilderness into Zion (Hab 3:3).  Redemption is coming for God's people, as through the Exodus (via the wilderness); he will deliver his people out of exile.  By faith they are to expect his coming and declare it to his people.  And as for Luke 3, JTB is like Israel in that he declares the coming Messiah.




God says "this is my Son" in Luke 3:22 and then verses 33-38 have Jesus' genealogy tracing back to Adam, and finally to God.  Also, note in Luke 3:8 that JTB mentions father Abraham, and then Jesus' genealogy includes Abraham.


Luke's reference to the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar probably refers to AD 28/29 (approximately 15 years after Augustus' death in AD 14).


Tiberius Caesar began to co-reign around AD 11/12, and reigned fully when Augustus died in AD 14.


Pontius Pilate governed Judea (AD 26-36).  He was a prefect-one who keeps the peace and collects taxes.


Herod [Antipas] was tetrarch of Galilee (4 BC to AD ?29 or 39).  A tetrarch was a petty prince.  Herod's task was to rule over the Jews.  He was the son of Herod the Great.


Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene but history is sketchy regarding him.  Abilene was near Syria, east of Damascus.  Annas was high priest from AD 6-15.  Caiaphas, Annas' son in law, was high priest from AD 18-36.  Annas had prominence (Jn 18:13) long after he left office.  Technically, there could only be one high priest at a time, but since he was held in high regard, he was referred to as a high priest after he left office.


Luke 3:6 quotes from Is 40-the word "salvation" comes from the LXX because the Hebrew has "glory."


What JTB says in Jn 1, "the lamb of God," shows at least that he knew something was special about Jesus.  Maybe he thought that this was the prophet spoken of in Dt 18:15, 18.  (Clearly from the questions in Jn 1:20-21 there was a mindset that the prophet [possibly the one of Dt 18] and the Messiah were different people.)  Thus, when the imprisoned JTB in Luke 7:18-23 asks Jesus if he was the Coming One, JTB was inquiring if the Prophet and the Messiah might be same person-Jesus.  This is why Jesus responds with a quote from Is 35:5 and 61:1 to say that he was the Messiah of Isaiah (Maybe JTB was inquiring because the context of the prophet in Dt 18 was witchcraft and sorcery and the raising of the dead, and in Luke 7, the context is that of Jesus working miracles.  Maybe JTB wondered if Jesus was from God or just working sorcery.  Jesus quotes Isaiah to put his ministry in context of the Messiah, whereas his present situation put him in the context of the prophet of Dt 18). 


My caution with the theories in the previous paragraph is that what JTB says in Jn 1 may actually reveal that he thinks Jesus is the Messiah.  After all, JTB recognizes that he, himself, is the voice in the wilderness of Is 40. 


Whatever JTB was inquiring about in Luke 7 is more likely John's attempt at putting things together rather than his second guessing what he had affirmed earlier about Jesus.

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