Luke begins chapter 3 with a list of Roman and Jewish rulers. The
intent of this list most likely was to give us a close date to when John
began his ministry. When you analyze these names and the dates they rule,
you note that John most likely began his ministry in 26 AD.
Verse 2 says that "the Word of God came to John" while he
was in the desert. Somehow God spoke His Word to John. The Word that came
to John was a clear Word from God that told him his ministry would now
Luke says that John preached "in all the country around the
Jordan". We must note that the area in which John preached was not an
area where people lived. It was quite desolate. Only God Himself would
choose such a place for someone to preach such an important message as
John did. Why not go into Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism if you wanted to
preach to the Jews? For some reason, John was to preach where no people
were. The people ended up coming out to see John, instead of John going to
see them. It only goes to show once again, that Godís ways of doing
things are not based on manís thinking.
Beyond Godís ways being different than ours, there might possibly
be some symbolism here. John literally was a voice crying out in the
wilderness. Yet spiritually speaking, Israel was in a wilderness of her
own when it came to the things of God. Johnís message was to Israel. So
symbolically speaking, John was speaking to a people lost in the
wilderness. Therefore the location of Johnís ministry might well have
been a sign of Israelís depravity.
Luke says that "John preached a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sin". First of all we need to understand that other
groups and religions baptized people in those days. So to clarify Johnís
baptism, Luke states that it was for repentance and forgiveness of sins.
The next thing we need to understand is what repentance means. The
Greek word "metanoeo" is the word that is translated as repent
in the N. T.. It is made up of 2 other Greek words, "meta",
meaning after, and "noeo", meaning to perceive. Thus the
definition of "metanoeo" is to "perceive afterwards".
So to put this in clear English, repent means to after one perceives
something, he changes his mind. This Greek word was not a religious word,
but was a common word used in daily life. John brought a religious meaning
to this word. John preached that you have to see your sinful state of
being, then decide to change and turn from that sin. Thus Johnís message
of repentance was to turn from you sin.
For those who decided that they wanted to turn from their sins he
baptized. He would not baptize anyone that did not expect to turn from
their sinful ways.
There is more to Johnís message than repentance. Luke says that
John preached "repentance for the forgiveness of sins".
Repentance always precedes forgiveness of sins. If one does not truly
repent, he cannot have his sins forgiven. Forgiveness of sins is a result
of our faith, or our trust in Jesus. One cannot walk in faith, until he
has turned from his sinful lifestyle.
Look at it this way. If you are driving west on a highway, and then
you determine that you need to be driving east, you must exit off the
highway, turn around and drive east. You cannot drive west and east at the
same time. In a spiritual sense, you cannot live a sinful lifestyle and
follow Jesus at the same time. You must first repent from your sins, that
is change your mind, and understand that your way of life is wrong. Once
you make that turn in your thinking, you can then walk toward Jesus is
This does not mean that you will never sin again. It means that you
have turned from a lifestyle of sin. Sin will still bother you once you
start walking in faith.
This question arises. Did those who got baptized by John, after they
repented, get their sins forgiven immediately, or did that come after the
resurrection of Jesus? There are 2 thoughts on this. One is that when a
person got baptized by John, their sins were immediately forgiven. The
other thought is that they were on the path to forgiveness, and that final
forgiveness came at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.
I think that if I had been one of those people standing in line to
get water baptized, in my heart I would have repented, or changed my mind
on the way I had been living. John preached that there was one to come
that I would need to trust for salvation, for this forgiveness. The mere
fact that I did trust Johnís message about the one to come shows me that
I have genuine faith. So my faith, or trust was placed in 2 things. I
trusted Johnís message to be true. I also trusted in the One to come,
and I understood Him to be my Messiah. This would result in my immediate
Many have suggested the following over the centuries and I believe
it is right. They say that godly people in the O. T. put their faith first
in God, and then in a future event that God had promised them, namely the
crosss. N. T. people have put their trust in God as well, (specifically
Jesus) and look back to the cross, the fulfillment of Godís promise for
their salvation. The O. T. people directed their faith to the future,
while N. T. people direct their faith towards the past, but both have
faith in God, and their Messiah.
Luke quotes from Isa. 40:3-5 to support Johnís ministry from the
O. T.. The quotes says, "the voice of one crying in the desert, Ďprepare
the way for the Lordí". Johnís ministry was a ministry of
introducing repentance, faith, and Jesus to Israel. You might say that he
was like a town crier. Town criers walk the streets of a town and in a
loud voice make certain announcements for the towns people to hear. John
spoke in a loud voice, announcing the coming of the Messiah. All Jews were
now to repent and prepare themselves for His coming.
The quote goes on to say, "every valley shall be filled in and
every mountain and hill made low". Isaiah is speaking figuratively
when he speaks of valleys and mountains. What he is saying is that the
message of John should pave the road for Jesus, that is to make it easy
for Him to come. The way in which the road is paved is by the hearts of
men and women in Israel to receive John's message, that is repent, and believe in Jesus that would follow.
This would make Jesusí job very easy, but we know that many in Israel
did not repent, and the road was quite rough for Jesus.
The prophet continues, "the crooked road shall become straight,
the rough road smooth. And all mankind will see Godís salvation".
Once again we have the analogy of the road being made straight so the
Messiah can walk easily on it.
We have to ask ourselves. Did John in fact make the road straight
for Jesus. In one sense of the word he did. I am sure that many, if not
all in the surrounding area heard of John. The hearing of this message got
the point across to everyone, even though everyone did not believe what
John was saying. So when Jesus began His ministry, it was merely an
extension of what John had made known.
The prophecy closes by saying that "all mankind shall see Godís
salvation". Did all mankind see Jesus, see the cross, and see His
resurrection. I donít think so. Yet the final result of Jesusí life,
ministry, death and resurrection will be seen by all mankind when He
returns in victory and brings salvation to those who are His, both Jew and
Gentile, as the prophet says.
Luke tells us in verse 7 that crowds were coming out into the desert
to hear him and to be baptized by him. I am sure that many people heard
what John had to say and seriously confessed and repented of their sins.
But it is clear from this verse that many others came, asking to be
baptized, but not willing to confess their sins. These might well have
been Saducees and Pharisees. Perhaps John had gained quite a following and
the religious leaders wanted to join in, without really doing as John
says. These leaders were hypocrites to begin with, so adding one more
hypocritical act to make them look good in front of the masses meant
little to them.
John saw these unrepentant people come to him and he had very strong
words for them. He said, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee
from the coming wrath"? The phrase "brood of vipers"
literally means sons of vipers, or snakes". These people were born
from snakes, and they continue to live as snakes. The word
"viper" could possible refer to the devil himself, who was
pictured as a snake in the garden of Eden account. These people were
actually "sons of the devil". Jesus Himself referred to these
people as having the devil as their father. (see John 8:44)
Then John asks these people, "who warned you to flee from the
coming wrath". I have not counted, but it has been said that the
wrath of God is mentioned more than 300 time in the O. T., and it is a
subject that is still prevalent in the N. T.. John says that there is a
time coming when God will pour out His wrath. He wonders how these
hypocrites understood this. He wondered who told them. Well, maybe no body
told them. Maybe they just wanted to look good in front of the masses. It
could be possible that the devil himself had spoken to these people,
telling them that if they got baptized by John they would escape Godís
wrath, even if their act of baptism was hypocritical.
John continues his words to these people in verse 8. He says,
"produce fruit in keeping with repentance". John is saying,
"show me by your actions that you have repented and I will baptize
you". Their words rang hollow to the ears of John He knew that these
people were not serious about repenting. Repentance was a serious matter
to John, and it should be a serious matter to us today.
John continues, "and do not begin to say to yourselves, Ďwe
have Abraham as our fatherí". The Jews claim their security with
God based on the fact that they were Abrahamís biological descendents,
as we see in the John 8 passage mentioned above. Clearly Jesus told these
people in John 8 that they might have been biologically Abrahamís
descendent, but it meant nothing to Him, since they were not following
Abrahamís example. They were in fact following the devil. John warns
these people that claiming special privilege before God based on their
nationality is not acceptable. Paul goes into great length over this
matter in Romans. It does not matter who we are, we all come to God in the
same way, by repenting, and by giving our life to Jesus.
John says that God can raise up children from these stones if He
wanted to. The idea that God could raise children from stones is telling
these people that their claim to be children of Abraham, thus children of
God is futile.
If you remember, one of Paulís defenses in Romans 9 through 11 was
his analogy of Godís people being a tree. Jesus uses the same analogy in
John 15, and so does John in verse 9. He speaks of the ax being laid to
the root of the tree. He says that any tree "that does not produce
good fruit will be cut down". It doesnít matter anymore in Godís
eyes if you are a son of Abraham or not. The important thing is the fruit
you produce in your life. It is clear that many, if not most of Israel had
long since stopped producing good fruit in their lives. So John is warning
them that they will be cut down. The O. T. is full of such words. In many
places God tells His people that they will be "cut off" from
among His people if they continue in their rebellious ways. John is saying
When Jesus died on the cross, the ax struck the base of the tree.
Paulís way of saying it was that any of these branches that did not
produce good fruit were cut off and burned. These Jewish branches that
were cut off were replaced by Gentile branches that did produce fruit unto
So we can clearly see that Johnís preaching was a forerunner not
only to Jesus, but to the gospel message, that was for all people,
wherever they could be found, and not only for the Jews.
In verse 10 the crowd asks, "what shall we do then"? The
crowd is in reference to all the people who just heard these words of
John. The crowd is not the hypocrites that John had just been addressing.
Many of these people were probably quite concerned after John spoke about
the wrath of God that would come, and that they would be like trees cut
down and burned, thus the reason for the question.
This is Johnís answer. "The man with two tunics should share
with the man who has none, and the one who has food should do the
same". What John is saying, is that if you have truly repented and
have been baptized by me, then you will show fruit of repentance by the
things you do. Two such examples are the sharing of clothing and food.
John is not suggesting that salvation, or acceptance by God comes merely
by doing good works. He has already spoken of "repentance that
produce good fruit". John is saying what James would teach several
years later, that is, if you claim faith, let me see it in your actions.
If you have no good works, then James would question that you have true
faith, and John would question whether you have truly repented.
In verse 12 Luke specifies that tax collectors asked what they
should do. There was a certain hierarchy within the Romans system of
collecting taxes. The men who actually did that job in and around Judea
were actually Jewish men. These men were hated on 2 counts. One count was
that they misused their job and exhorted people and demanded more money
than what they needed to pay. The other reason why they were so hated was
because they were Jews, collecting from Jews, for a Roman dictator. Among
Jews these men were considered traitors, and the scum of the earth.
So these tax collectors found themselves among the people coming to
John. The rest of the crowd must have not even wanted them to be there.
They seemed truly interested in what they should now do. John answered
them by saying, "donít collect any more than you are required
to". John did not tell them to stop being tax collectors. He simply
told them to be fair, collect only what you are suppose to. By doing this,
they would prove that they were serious about their repentance and
Then after the tax collectors asked what they should do, soldiers
asked also the same question. Everyone was interested in how repentance
and baptism would apply to them.
John answered their question with 3 statements. He told the soldiers
not to extort people, not to accuse people falsely, and to be content with
their pay. He mentioned nothing about the possibility of killing someone
in the line of duty. This may be something for a pacifist to think about.
Soldiers had weapons that gave them a measure of power. Many soldiers
misused their power by extorting people, by demanding money from people.
Most likely they falsely accused a person of something in the process.
They would accuse someone falsely and then tell them that if they wanted
the charges dropped, they could pay the soldier a sum of money. John told
them to stop such a practice. Then John told them to be content with their
salary. If they were content, then they would not falsely accuse people
and extort them.
Luke tells Theophilus in verse 15 that the "people were waiting
expectantly and were all wondering in their heartís if John might
possibly be the Christ". Johnís appearance and way of doing things
was surely different than the norm, but his words were full of power from
the Holy Spirit. This had to have been the case if all these people
wondered if he was the Messiah. You wonder just how one man could create
such a stir among the people of Galilee.
This was Johnís answer to their questioning concerning just who he
was. He answered, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful
than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He
will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fireÖ"
We see Johnís humble but truthful answer. He is not the Christ. He
is not even worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of the One that
will come after Him, the Christ.
John says that he only baptizes with water. There is One to come
"that is more powerful than me", John says. This One will
"baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire". As one gets totally
drenched when being placed under the waters of baptism, so will one get
totally drenched with the Holy Spirit when placed under the baptism that
Jesus will baptize them with.
In very short summery, Johnís words are prophetic. The baptism
that John spoke of came true in Acts chapter 2 where the 120 received the
Holy Spirit for the first time in their lives. Prior to this point in
history the Holy Spirit was not freely given to men and women, but all
that changed on the day of Pentecost as seen in Acts 2.
When one is truly born again of the Holy Spirit, he or she at that
point receives the Holy Spirit. Jesus compares this reception of the
Spirit to a baptism. The emphasis is not on how one receives the Spirit,
as in the baptism, but is on the actual receiving of the Holy Spirit. Also
in short, this is not a so-called second work of grace. This is what I
call initial salvation. There is no clear evidence of a second work of
grace in the N. T..
By saying that Jesus baptizes in the Spirit and he baptizes in water
should not minimize Johnís baptism. Yes, John did baptize in water, but
it is very clear that the Holy Spirit was speaking through John, and also
speaking to the hearts of those listening. Johnís baptism was important,
yet the medium of baptism between the 2 men are very different.
It is interesting to see that Jesus says the same as John in Acts
1:5. Jesus says, "John baptized with water, but in a few days you
will be baptized with the Holy Spirit". A few days came in Acts 2 on
the day of Pentecost. Thus it is quite clear that the fulfillment to what
John says came true in Acts 2, not earlier, nor later.
John relates "fire" with the Holy Spirit. Some have
suggested that this fire is the eternal fire of hell. They say that Jesusí
baptism which was fulfilled in His people, beginning in Acts 2 is the
baptism in the Spirit. Yet these people say there is a baptism of fire,
which is the final judgement. One reason why they think this is because
they equate fire with judgement. But this is not always so. Fire can also
be equated with cleansing.
It is my understanding that fire as spoken by John means that once
one receives the Holy Spirit, His fire will then begin to cleanse that
heart and life of the person who has received the Holy Spirit. This is
clearly seen in the "tongues of fire" in Acts 2. Thus when John
speaks of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire, he is not
speaking of 2 separate baptisms. He is speaking about men and women
receiving the Holy Spirit in the form of a baptism like experience which
results in a fire within that begins the cleaning process of a saved
Verse 17 continues what John says about the One that would come
after Him. Once again, we should remember that John had no clue who this
person is going to be. He says, "His winnowing fork is in His hand to
clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the barn, but He
will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire". It is this reference
to unquenchable fire that some understand the above baptism of the Spirit
and fire to refer to.
Luke uses the well understood analogy of the threshing floor to make
a point. What people in those days did to harvest wheat was this. They had
a large flat floor. Theyíd put the freshly cut straws of wheat on the
floor. An ox would walk on the straws of wheat which would separate the
actual wheat from the straw stocks. The straw would then be raked away.
Then with a wooden shovel someone would shovel up some wheat and throw it
into the air. The wind would blow the lighter chaff that covered the wheat
away, and the heavier wheat would fall to the ground. This process
separates the wheat from the chaff.
John uses this analogy to tell us that the One that would come after
Him would bring judgment to mankind by a similar type of threshing.
What we see here is 2 divine aspects of the One who would follow
John. The forgiveness of sins along with the giving of the Spirit shows us
the love of God. Then the separating of the wheat from the chaff, with the
eventual burning of the chaff, as John points out is the divine Justice of
God. Both love and justice are seen in the One to follow, and that is
It is important to understand that Jesusí work was not finished at
the cross. Yes, His work that brings salvation was completely finished at
the cross. But Jesus had, and has more to do, and that is to return in
In verse 18 Luke says that "with many other words John exhorted
the people and preached the good news to them". What else John says,
we are not sure. It is interesting to note that John preached the good
news. If what we just read was the good news, then it is important for us
to understand that preaching of final judgment is part of the good news.
Many today tend to leave this out of their message of good news.
John was a very brave and very to the point type of person. One day
he pointed out to Herod, a Roman ruler, that by living with his brotherís
wife, he was committing adultery. Luke says that "when John rebuked
Herod", this rebuke was not a one time rebuke . The Greek verb tense
suggests a "continuing rebuke". This rebuking was most likely a
public rebuke. Even the Jews were disgusted with Herodís immoral
lifestyle. It was no secret.
John could have prevented what was to follow in his life if he had
just cooled it when it came to this rebuke. But Johnís ministry was a
ministry of repentance from sin. In order for him to preach repentance, he
had to address the issue of sin. Herod would have been a prime public
example of one living in such sin.
Even in Johnís day, he was not politically correct. He preached
repentance from sin, and he pointed out what sin was, and who needed to
repent. It seems in our day of "easy salvation" such preaching
has been laid by the wayside. This should not be. This law still applies,
what one sows, he will reap. If we sow a repentless gospel, we will get
false Christians as James says. You cannot come to true salvation without
Luke does not spend as much time on the baptism of Jesus as does the
other gospel writers. You might ask, "if Johnís baptism was a
baptism of repentance, why did Jesus get baptized, because He had nothing
to repent of"?
One possible answer to this is that this baptism was the official
beginning of Jesusí ministry. You might say that this was a dedication
service, a public acknowledgement that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the
Son of God.
Some people note the fact that Jesus was 30 years old, the required
age for men to enter the Levitical priesthood. (Num. 4:3) This indeed may
have some significance since Jesus was a Jew and obeyed the Law of Moses
in all of its points. The book of Hebrews calls Jesus "our Great High
Another thought concerning the reason why Jesus was baptized by John
is that He was identifying himself with the masses of people coming to
John. These people, no matter how Law abiding they were, were still
sinners. Jesus, the perfect One put Himself along side these sinners. Of
course He would go much father than that by hanging on the cross as a
Luke says that "when all the people were baptized, Jesus was
baptized too". This paints the picture of Jesus standing in the midst
of the crowd waiting for His turn to be baptized along with everyone else.
I wonder what was going through His mind as He was standing in line
waiting His turn. I also wonder how and when He knew to come and be
baptized. Was it a direct word from His Father? Or was it just something
that was instinctive? He just knew His time was at hand and He had to take
the first step into His earthly ministry.
While Jesus was standing in line waiting to be baptized, Luke says
that He was praying. During this time of prayer "heaven was opened
and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in a bodily form like a dove".
(ch. 3:22) The apostle John in his gospel tells us that John the Baptist
understood that when he saw the Holy Spirit come down on a particular man,
this would be the one who baptized in the Holy Spirit. This would be the
I might wonder if John was anticipating this moment. If he was
foretold of this event there is a good chance that he expected something
like this to happen at some point. Whatever the case, I am sure that this
was a real thrill for John, and maybe even more than a thrill Ė a
The Holy Spirit appeared in such a way that He could be seen by all
those around. Everyone could see the Holy Spirit fall on Jesus. Many have
equated this experience of Jesus to the Acts 2 experience of the 120. They
say that this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit for Jesus, and since
Jesus received this experience, we need to receive this experience called
the baptism in the Spirit as well.
Was this experience of Jesus the same as that which was seen in Acts
2? It was similar, but not the same. There is one main difference. The 120
had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Acts 2, Pentecost, was the day in
which they received the Holy Spirit. The way in which they received Him
was described as a baptism. The important point of Acts 2 is not that the
120 received an experience called the baptism in the Spirit. The important
thing is that they actually received the Spirit for the first time in
their lives. The way in which they received Him was like a baptism.
Now this experience that Jesus had was not a time where He received
the Holy Spirit. He already had the Holy Spirit. He was God in human form.
The Holy Spirit and Him are one in the same. You cannot separate Jesus
from the Holy Spirit. Thus, this is the difference between these 2 events.
This experience for Jesus was in fact a public inauguration. I have
always said, that there is more to the Holy Spirit than one person can
contain. This applies to Jesus in His earthly bodily form as well. Even
for Jesus, there is more to the Spirit of God than what His earthly body
could contain. This is why the Spirit can be in Jesus, and come upon Him
at the same time.
I need to point out at this time that not all people believe that
Jesus had the Holy Spirit within Him prior to this point. Some believe
that it was at His baptism that He received the Spirit. Prior to this, He
was just a man. If this is so, then the above difference between Acts 2
and Jesusí baptism does not exist. This in no wise would suggest that
the way in which the Spirit was given, that is a baptism, is more
important than the actual giving of the Spirit. I say this specifically
because within some circles, the experience called the "baptism in
the Spirit" is more important than the actual receiving of the
Spirit. This is a misplaced emphasis.
Still, I have a hard time believing that Jesus did not already have
the Holy Spirit within. Luke tells us (ch. 1:32 and 35) that Jesus will be
called the Son of God. Was He only "called" the Son of God, or
was He in fact the Son of God. It is clear throughout the N. T. that Jesus
was indeed the Son of God. I donít think He could be the Son of God
without the Holy Spirit from birth. It is my understanding that the Holy
Spirit entered Mary at conception and remained within the developing baby
Jesus within Maryís womb. Jesus and the Spirit were inseparatable from
conception onward, or so I believe.
Another point is this. It is clear that John the Baptist had the
Holy Spirit within him at conception. (ch. 1:15 ) If this is the case with
John, logic tells us that it surely would be the case with Jesus.
Along with the descending Spirit came a voice from heaven which
said, "you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased".
This voice came from God the Father and was a public witness to who Jesus
was. All that saw and heard this would be presented with the idea that
this man who stood before them was the Son of God. What an experience this
would have been. You would wonder how anyone could have not acknowledged
the truth of Jesus after seeing this, but it is clear that not everyone
trusted what they saw or heard.
In verse 23 Luke tells us that "Jesus was about 30 years old
when He began His ministry". It is my understanding because Luke says
this at this point that he equates the baptism of Jesus with the beginning
of His earthly ministry.
The rest of chapter 3 gives the genealogy of Jesus, most likely
through Joseph, although there has been much debate over the centuries
about this. Mathew also gives a genealogy of Jesus. Scholars throughout
the centuries have tried to reconcile both of these genealogies. I am
leaving this debate to people who know more than I about this subject. It
would only appear to me from a brief reading of the text, without
comparing it to Mathew in detail that Lukeís genealogy was through
Joseph, Jesusí legal, but not biological father.