Luke 3

Luke 3:1

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,

(a) Pontius Pilate is known to us as the governor of Judea, but in Roman terms he was a prefect. Although he was in charge of the military, his primary job was financial. He was the man responsible for collecting taxes and rents, a glorified landlord who ran Judea for the benefit of Rome.

Prefects later became known as procurators. Pilate seems to have been a capable administrator for he served for a period of ten years. Normally resident in the coastal town of Caesarea, Pilate came to Jerusalem for the festivals to keep the peace and administer justice (Matt. 27:2).

(b) Herod Antipas. When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his sons, Archelaus, Philip, and Antipas. Herod Antipas (4BC–39AD) was given control of Galilee. Antipas is the Herod who is mentioned most frequently in the Gospels. He was responsible for the murder of John the Baptist (Matt 14:10), and he also tried to kill Jesus (Luke 13:31).

(c) Philip was the half-brother of Antipas and the son of Herod the Great.

(d) Tetrarch. A tetrarch was a ruler of a quarter of a province. Both Antipas and Philip were tetrarchs, while their half-brother Archelaus was an ethnarch (see entry for Matt. 2:22).

Luke 3:2

in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

(a) Annas and Caiaphas were co-high priests in a dubious and most unlawful arrangement. See also the entry for John 18:13.

(b) The word of God is the means by which God reveals himself and his will.

The word of God or the word of the Lord can be conveyed via prophecies (2 Sam. 24:11, 1 Kgs. 14:18), dreams (Num. 12:6), visions (Gen. 15:1), the Law (Num. 36:5, Deu. 5:5, Is. 2:3), and angels (Luke 1:35). Evidently John had received a commission to preach the word of God with a special emphasis on repentance and forgiveness. However, the chief purpose of John’s ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus, who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14).

See entry for The Word of God.

Luke 3:3

And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;

(a) Baptism. The original word implies total immersion. See entry for Baptism.

(b) Preaching. The original word (kerusso) means to herald as a public crier. This is one of three words that are commonly translated as “preaching” in the New Testament. See entry for Acts 5:42.

(c) Forgiveness. The original word (aphesis) for forgiveness is a noun that is sometimes translated as remission and means a letting go or dismissal (see entry for Luke 24:47).

Luke 3:6


(a) All flesh means all people. Jesus was not merely the Jewish Messiah but the Gentiles’ Savior as well. See entry for John 4:42.

(b) Will see the salvation of God. When Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms he understood that he was looking at God’s salvation (Luke 2:30). Jesus is God’s Plan for rescuing humanity.

See entry for Salvation.

Luke 3:7

So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

(a) Crowds. In Matthew’s account we learn that the crowds consisted of many Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 3:7).

(b) Baptized; see entry for Baptism.

(c) You brood of vipers. The image is of snakes escaping the fire.

The Pharisees and Sadducees comprised the two dominant political parties in Israel’s ruling council. Evidently John considered the Sanhedrin to be little more than a nest of snakes.

(d) The wrath to come. Within a generation Jerusalem would be torched by the Romans.

Although the Bible does speak of Judgment Day and the wrath to come (1 Th. 1:10), it also describes the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in terms of wrath (1 Th. 2:16). This is the second kind of wrath. The prophet John saw members of the two most powerful political parties in the Sanhedrin coming out of the doomed city and he made a joke. “Who warned you crooks to flee?”

Luke 3:9

“Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

(a) The axe is already laid at the root. The law-keeping covenant that Israel had with the Lord was coming to an end.

(b) The root. The self-righteous root of unbelief cannot sustain you. We are meant to be rooted in Christ (Rom. 11:18).

(c) Every tree that does not bear good fruit. The fruitless tree is the unbelieving nation of Israel.

This warning is not directed to Christians, but self-righteous religious people such as the Pharisees and Sadducees of verse 7. See also Matt. 23:33.

Further reading: “The axe at the root

(d) Fire. The ungodly and all those things that are opposed to God’s reign will be destroyed by fire (Matt. 13:41, 2 Pet. 2:6, 3:7). Both John the Baptist and Jesus spoke of the fire of divine judgment; see entry for Luke 12:49.

Luke 3:16

John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

(a) Baptize. See entry for Baptism.

(b) His sandals. John is the first prophet mentioned in the New Testament. For a brief spell, he was the guy. But when Jesus came along John stepped aside. “I’m not the guy. That’s the guy. I’m not worthy to untie his sandals.” The transition from John to Jesus mirrors the transition from the old to new. Jesus was born under the old law-keeping covenant, but his death marked the start of the new covenant of grace. See entry for John 3:30.

(c) Water… Holy Spirit; John’s baptism of water prophetically foreshadowed the baptism of the Holy Spirit. See entry for Mark 1:8.

(d) Fire. The new covenant age began with the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It will conclude the Lord’s return and the destructive and cleansing fire of God’s judgment (see entry for Luke 12:49).

Luke 3:17

“His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

(a) Winnowing fork. A winnowing fork was used to separate the chaff from the grain after threshing. Like many other Jews, John the Baptist expected the Messiah to purge Israel of Gentiles (e.g., Romans) and sinners. When that didn’t happen, John the Baptist began to wonder “Are you the Messiah?” (Matt. 11:2–3)?

Jesus said the kingdom had come, but how could that be so if evil was still present? “The wheat and tares are growing side by side,” said Jesus. The new has come, but the old remains. But one day Jesus will come with a winnowing fork and then the tares will be removed forever (see Matt. 13:40–41).

(b) Unquenchable fire is one of the many phrases and images Jesus uses to describe the ultimate destruction of those things which are opposed to God. See entry for Matt. 5:22.

Luke 3:18

So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.

The gospel refers to the gospel of Christ or the gospel of God or the gospel of the kingdom. These are all different labels for the gospel of grace. See entry for The Gospel.

Luke 3:19

But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done,

(a) Herod the tetrarch was Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great; see entry for Luke 3:1.

(b) Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus and the granddaughter of Herod the Great. She was married to her half-uncle Philip (i.e., Herod 2 or Herod Philip, and not Philip the tetrarch; see entry for Matt. 14:3) before she divorced him and married her other half-brother Antipas (Mark 6:17). Because John opposed their union, Herodias held a grudge against him and looked for reasons to have him killed (Mark 6:19).

(c) Reprimanded by him. John preached the gospel to the people (Luke 3:18), but unrepentant sinners like Herod got the condemnation of the law.

As an old covenant herald, John presents an interesting contrast with Jesus, the herald of the new covenant. John preached repentance for forgiveness or “turn from your sins you vipers,” while Jesus preached repentance and forgiveness or “change your unbelieving mind in light of what God has done”. John preached to those under law who were in the habit of confessing their sins (Matt 3:6), while Jesus forgave those who hadn’t said a word. John went around rebuking adulterers and lost his life as a result (Luke 3:19-20), while Jesus gave adulterers the gift of no condemnation and also lost his life.

Luke 3:20

Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison.

Herod Antipas the tetrarch; see entry for Luke 3:1.

Luke 3:21

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened,

Baptized. The original word implies total immersion. See entry for Baptism.

Luke 3:22

and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Beloved. The original word (agapetos) means dearly loved, esteemed, favorite and worthy of love. It is closely related to a verb (agapao) that means to be well pleased or fond of or contented. God the Father not only loves God the Son, but he is deeply fond of him and well-pleased with him (Matt. 12:18, 17:5, Mark 1:11, 9:7, 12:6, Luke 3:22, 9:35, 20:13, 2 Pet. 1:17).

This word also describes God’s heart for the one who is in Christ. Your heavenly Father is fond of you. You are his esteemed favorite and he is well pleased with you. He looks at you with a feeling of deep contentment knowing that you are his dearly loved child.

All the epistle writers referred to believers as the beloved or dearly-loved children of God (see entry for Rom. 1:7).

Luke 3:23

When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,

The son of Eli. In Matthew’s account, Joseph is recorded as the son of Jacob (Matt. 1:16). To reconcile this discrepancy, some scholars consider Eli to be Joseph’s father-in-law. He was Mary’s father. While Matthew gives the account of Jesus’ lineage through Joseph, Luke’s lineage apparently traces Mary’s side of the family tree.

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