LUKE - CHAPTER 3
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius
Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his
brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and
Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,”
“Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto
John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”
careful pinpointing of the time is only what might be expected of one as
meticulous as Luke who had undertaken to prepare this account, being as he
declared, one who had “perfect understanding of all things from the very
to the two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, history informs us that Annas had
been high priest from AD 6 till AD 15 when he was deposed by Gratus the Roman
governor. The office was then
held briefly by five of his sons, who were also deposed by Rome, and replaced
in AD 18 by Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas.
Many of the Jews, believing that ordination to the office of high
priest was by God, and was for life, continued to recognize Annas, so that he
overshadowed Caiaphas, and continued to wield great power, one evidence of
that power being found in the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was first
arraigned before Annas, see Jn 18:13, who then sent Him to Caiaphas.
means the grace of Jah; and Caiaphas, as comely, but since both
were wicked men, the good connotation can relate only to the office they held,
and not to the men themselves. God’s
estimate of the worth of Israel’s religious leaders at the time may be
gauged from the fact that He bypassed them, and used John the Baptist to be
His spokesman to the people. Further
evidence of God’s evaluation of them is found in the words of the Baptist,
“O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to
come?” 3:7 and Mt 3:7, the Lord Himself using exactly the same description
in Mt 12:34, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good
things?” and again in Mt 23:33, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how
can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
being in the wilderness speaks of separation from the things of the world, and
reminds us that we too have been separated from that same world by the cross
of Christ, and ought to live accordingly, giving to it nothing more than is
absolutely necessary to present men with the gospel,
and to supply our daily needs, as it is written, “But God forbid that
I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world
is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,” Ga 6:14. Spiritual growth is invariably in proportion to the measure
that we maintain separation from the world.
It is in “the desert,” the place of separation, that God prepares
OT foreshadowing of our God-ordained separated place is found in the
experience of Israel, who, following their redemption from Egyptian bondage,
were led out into the desert, where God fed them with miraculously given
bread, the manna, type of Christ given to us in the written Word to sustain
the new life received by every believer at the moment of conversion.
And as the manna was a type of the written Word to sustain and
strengthen us, so was the water from the smitten rock a type of that same Word
given to refresh and cleanse us.
“And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism
of repentance for the remission of sins;”
Jordan is the river of death, John’s ministry there would remind us that our
ministry is also in the vicinity of “Jordan,” for no man on earth is far
from the great river of death which carries multitudes into eternity every
hour; and the Lord’s commission to us is to bring those men the good news of
deliverance from the power of death through faith in the death and
resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, He having conquered death by submitting
to its power, and then demonstrating His power over it by rising again in
resurrection, declaring His victory in Re 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and
was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of
hell and of death.”
is to be noted that he preached “the baptism of repentance for the
remission of sins,” and that is significant, for baptism is the symbolic
declaration of the fact that the one being baptized has been crucified with
Christ, and is dead to the world by the cross of Christ.
As a dead man is incapable of yielding any response to anything, so are
believers to live as those who are dead indeed to the things of the world.
Nothing in that world should hold any attraction for us.
We are to make good in practice what is imputed to us by grace.
The need of this spiritual crucifixion is carefully avoided by the
majority of today’s so-called evangelists, hence the number of professions
which lack the confirmation of an obedient life.
repentance also has a part in salvation.
Repentance implies the turning away from sin, hence the command given
believers, “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” 1 Pe 1:16. He who professes to be a believer, but continues to live
sinfully, is contradicting his own profession, and casting doubt on the
reality of his professed conversion.
however, isn’t mere moral reformation.
At the heart of genuine conversion lies the remission of sins, that
remission being made possible only through faith in the shed blood of the Lord
truths emphasized here are conspicuously absent from the watered down
“gospel” so popular today - the moral reformation implied by repentance
isn’t called for, nor is there much mention of the need of remission of
sins. This emasculated
“gospel” in fact, has become a polite social prescription for the
improvement of society, which leaves its deluded votaries to perish in their
“As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet,
saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the
Lord, make his paths straight.”
“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be
brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall
be made smooth;”
quotation is from Isa 40:3-4. The
Israel to whom John preached was a spiritual wilderness, as is the world to
which we too, are commanded to proclaim the glad tidings.
is said to have been the custom in ancient times to prepare for the visit of a
king by improving the roads over which he would pass; but the King whose
arrival John announced, was the King of kings, and the preparation for His
coming was to be spiritual, in the heart and in the mind.
filling of every valley is understood by many to refer to the satisfaction
experienced by those who are humble in heart, willing to confess themselves
sinners, and trust in the Savior. The
lowering of every mountain and hill has likewise been seen as the humbling of
the proud, while the straightening of the crooked has been taken to refer to
the reformation of those, who prior to conversion, were crooked in their
dealings with others; and the smoothing of the rough ways has been construed
as the refinement of character which should follow conversion.
These suggestions certainly have merit, for all of them are related to
the transformation wrought in a man’s life by the gospel.
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Christ crucified and risen again, is the “salvation of God.” This declares what will be in the Millennium, for in that
halcyon age there will be seen in everything the transformation resulting from
Christ’s redemptive work, the transformation being not just of man, but of
all creation, including the animal kingdom, Isa 11:6-8, and the earth itself,
practical lesson of this is that the world should see in our lives the moral
transformation resulting from the new birth which has made us a new creation
in Christ, 2 Cor 5:17.
“Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him,
O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
is an essential part of the biblical gospel for it calls upon men to save
themselves from hell and the ensuing eternal torment of the lake of fire.
It is to be remembered that the Gospel preached by John, and by the
Lord and His disciples, was a call for preparation to enter the millennial
kingdom, that preparation of course also fitting the converts to enter heaven
when the Millennium ends.
the prophets who preceded him, John didn’t mince words.
His referring to them as a “generation of vipers” declares not only
the spiritual state of many in his audience, but that of all men, for apart
from the new birth, all men are the spiritual children of that old serpent,
the devil, and as is the father, so also is the child. It was the Lord Himself Who told the Jewish leaders, “Ye
are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.
He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth,
because there is no truth in him. When
he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of
it,” Jn 8:44. John’s
denunciation of the people wasn’t all inclusive: there were some in the
audience willing to confess themselves sinners, and seek God’s salvation
made available to all men of faith, through the death and resurrection of the
Lord Jesus Christ.
“... the wrath to come” may include the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70,
it clearly goes far beyond any earthly judgment, and refers to the torment to
be suffered by every unbeliever, first in hell and then eternally in the lake
“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to
say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That
God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
reiterates the truth that conversion is to be accompanied by good works, for
as James says, “Faith without works is dead,” Jas 2:20.
The life must confirm the profession of the lips.
he knew what was in their hearts is declared by his command to relinquish
their false belief that all they needed to fit them for heaven was to be
physically descended from Abraham. This
was their expectation, and it showed their ignorance of the fact that
God’s promise was that blessing was to come only through Isaac, and not
through Abraham’s other sons, the great truth connected with Isaac being
that his birth had been miraculous, and not according to what was natural, for
when he was born, both of his parents were dead as far has having children was
concerned. That fitness for the
kingdom was to be by means of a miraculous spiritual birth is further declared
in his statement that God was able of the stones to raise up children to
Abraham. Such could be only
through the miraculous power of God. Believers
are those who have experienced just such a miracle.
They have been raised up out of spiritual death, and are possessed of a
life and nature that are not natural, but Divine.
reference to God’s ability to transform stones into spiritual children of
Abraham, points obliquely to God’s ability to transform the Gentiles into
believers; and to the proud, legalistic Jews who despised and hated the
Gentiles, the one miracle was as impossible as the other, yet that is exactly
what God did, so that the Gentiles have become heirs of even better blessings
than those forfeited by Jewish unbelief.
“And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree
therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the
has reference to the fact that for Israel judgment was fast approaching.
A brief forty years would bring dissolution of Jewish autonomy,
destruction of the temple, and therefore the end of the Levitical system, and
the scattering of the Jews amongst the nations, where they have remained for
virtually two thousand years. The believing Jews who would die in that destruction would
enter heaven, but the unbelievers would plunge into hell to await the
resurrection of damnation which would result in their being banished into the
eternal torment of the lake of fire.
reference to the need of the tree to produce good fruit continues to emphasize
that more than a mere lip profession of faith is needed from those who would
enter heaven: the profession must be accompanied by righteousness in the life.
“And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?”
preaching produces response there is hope, for it indicates that the
conscience has been pricked, but when the message is met with indifference it
is tragic, for apart from an awakened conscience there can be no salvation.
John’s preaching touched many consciences, but it is significant that
it was “the people” and not their rulers who asked the question, What
shall we do then?
“He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him
impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.”
teaches, not that salvation is by works, but rather, that a genuine conversion
produces good works. That the
vast majority of the nation of Israel did not possess eternal life is declared
in the fact that the good enjoined by John and by the Lord, was conspicuously
absent from their lives, in spite of all their outward religious observances
and show. A proof of genuine
repentance would be that they would do good to others.
addition to the literal meeting of the temporal needs of others, there may be
also a higher spiritual meaning. Since
the coat speaks of covering, the reference may be to the fact that those who
have already received God’s gift of eternal life, and are therefore covered
by Christ’s righteousness, are responsible to be His witnesses so that
others may be led to accept that covering also.
The mention of meat may have reference to the fact that those who are
now able to understand the Scriptures are responsible to share that spiritual
food with others.
“Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master,
what shall we do?”
publicans were the hated tax-collectors, and there is no reason to believe
that their coming was anything but the evidence of genuine saving faith, their
question, “What shall we do?” implying that they were willing to do
whatever God commanded in order to demonstrate the reality of their
conversion. This, incidentally, is the mark of all genuine faith: there
is obedience to God’s will as revealed in His Word.
“And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed
weren’t called upon to abandon their profession of tax collecting, but in
their honest practice of that profession they were to demonstrate the reality
of their verbal profession of faith. A
job is to be abandoned only when its demands require the believer to disobey
“And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we
do? And he said unto them, Do
violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your
is to be remembered that it was still the age of law, so the soldier wasn’t
commanded to abandon his job, but to do it to God’s glory.
In this present age of grace, however, it is difficult to see how a
believer could reconcile his new state, with the choice of a military career,
which could involve him in the taking of human life.
need for the soldier to be content with his wages is an exhortation little
heeded today by the majority of professing Christians, for it is obvious that
very few are content with their wages, their discontent being simply rebellion
against God’s appointment of their position in life.
“And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their
hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not:”
“John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with
water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not
worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:”
seems clear that John’s preaching had had the effect of leading the people
to expect the appearance of the Messiah, and the inauguration of the
millennial kingdom, but he hastened to assure them that he himself was not the
Christ. Furthermore it is clear that John’s baptism was different from
Christian baptism. The faith of
the OT age which led men to be baptized as an outward symbol of their new
inward state, did not involve their receiving the Holy Spirit.
That is an experience unique to the NT age which began on the day of
Pentecost, when believers did receive the Holy Spirit to indwell them
permanently, the outward evidence of that reception of the Holy Spirit being
the descent of tongues as of fire resting upon each of them, Ac 2:1-4.
Pentecostal fire, however, is not the fire mentioned here.
This reference is to the judgment which Christ will execute when He
returns to end the Tribulation and set up the millennial kingdom, the result
of that judgment being the bodily consignment of all unbelievers into the
unquenchable fire of hell and ultimately of the lake of fire, for as the next
verse makes clear it is judgment that is being discussed.
is to be remembered that had Israel accepted Christ at His first advent they
could have entered the millennial kingdom then, for that was the recompense
offered to faith in the gospel preached by the Lord and His disciples.
He would still have been crucified, for apart from His atoning death
there could have been no remission of sin.
The seven years of the Tribulation would have followed, and been ended
by His return in power and glory to set up the millennial kingdom, which would
have been followed by the eternal state involving a new heavens and a new
was Israel’s refusal to accept Him as her Savior Messiah that resulted in
God’s withdrawal of the offer of the millennial kingdom, and the bringing in
of this present Church age which occurs as a parenthesis in the continuity of
His dealings with Israel. But
following the rapture of the Church He will resume His dealings with His
ancient people, the Tribulation judgments bringing a remnant of them to
repentant faith in Christ, which will bring the physically surviving believers
out of the Tribulation into the enjoyment of millennial blessing; and those
believers who die in the Tribulation, into eternal blessings in heaven.
“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly (thoroughly) purge
his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will
burn with fire unquenchable.”
scene is one of judgment, the fan being a shovel used to toss the grain into
the air so that it fell back on to the threshing floor, while the lighter
chaff was blown aside by the wind, and was later swept up and burned. John used this separation of the valuable wheat from the
worthless chaff to illustrate the truth that the Christ whose coming he
announced would also separate men, believers being likened to the wheat; and
unbelievers, to the chaff. We
should note that in each kernel of wheat is the germ of life.
That kernel, sown in the ground, will produce more wheat.
Not so with chaff. It lacks
life, and therein lies the difference between believer and unbeliever. The former has within him the eternal life of Christ: the
latter does not, and it is that which determines whether a man will be in
heaven or the lake of fire eternally. The
fact that the fire is unquenchable confirms what other Scriptures declare: the
punishment of the unbeliever is eternal.
“And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the
aren’t told what those other things were, but there can be little question
that he taught them from the OT Scriptures (the only ones then existing) what
would enable them to recognize the Messiah when He appeared in their midst.
Obviously, however, as far as the Jewish leaders at least were
concerned, much of that teaching fell on deaf ears.
“But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his
brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,”
“Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.”
is described in these two verses didn’t immediately follow John’s
preaching, and precede the Lord’s baptism, for the imprisonment and murder
of John occurred quite some time after the Lord had begun His public ministry. It’s being mentioned here is in harmony with what has been
the description of John’s ministry. With
the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, John’s ministry was virtually ended;
his work was done, and these two verses simply tell us how his earthly life
very obviously wasn’t intimidated by any man, even those in positions of
high authority, wielding the power of life and death. He hadn’t hesitated to denounce Herod’s evil ways, even
though he must have been well aware that in doing so he was risking his life.
Courage like his is conspicuously absent today.
Few indeed are those willing to denounce the evil that is destroying
our society and provoking the judgment of God.
It is largely ignored even by professing Christians, that a gospel
which fails to expose sin and announce its eternal consequences, is no gospel
might imprison John, and later kill him, but in doing so he compounded his own
sins, and failed to realize that his silencing of John’s censure couldn’t
alter the fact that in a coming day it will be his own mouth that will be
silenced as he stands before the Lord Jesus Christ at the great white throne,
and is banished into the eternal torment of the lake of fire.
“Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus
also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,”
“And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him,
and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I
am well pleased.”
outwardly the baptism of Jesus was no different from that of the others who
were baptized there that day, what was represented by His baptism was very
different. In their case it was
the symbolic confession of sin, and of repentance for that sin, and
acknowledgment that they were under sentence of death, but lived because of
faith in the coming Savior. He,
however, had no sin to confess or repent of, but in going under the water He
was declaring in symbol that He would die as man’s Substitute, while in
rising up out of the water He announced in symbol that He would then rise
again for the justification of all who would trust Him as Savior.
and praying....” What He prayed
is not recorded, but the fact that He prayed emphasizes that while He never
ceased to be God, He was no less perfect Man, and as such was as much
dependent upon God as are all men.
“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as
was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son
(lit., son-in-law) of Heli.”
is generally agreed that this is the genealogy of the Lord through Mary rather
than through Joseph, and in keeping with this gospel of the Son of man, it
goes all the way back to Adam, thus linking the Lord with the human race.
Mt 1:16 Joseph is declared to have been the son of Jacob
Jacob the son of Isaac), and it is generally agreed that here in Lk 3:23 his
being called the son of Heli was according to the custom which reckoned a
son-in-law to be also the son of the wife’s father.
(Note that in Matthew it is said that Jacob begat Joseph, but
here in Luke it is not said that Heli begat Joseph, but that Joseph was the
son, or literally, son-in-law of Heli).
Lucan account shows that Mary was also descended from David, but through his
son Nathan, whereas Joseph was descended from David through Solomon.
Having Joseph as His legal father, gave Christ title to the
throne of David, but in giving Him title also through Mary who was descended
from David through Nathan, Jesus was not under the curse pronounced on
Jechoniah (Jer 22:30) who was descended from David through Solomon.
Though it would be interesting and profitable to give a detailed
exposition of these verses, based on the meanings of the names, such a
discourse lies beyond the scope of this present work, so we’ll conclude our
study of this chapter by noting that when Adam is said to be the son of God it
means only that God had created him.