LUKE 3:1-22


All four of the gospel accounts tell us something of the early ministry of John. This in itself is significant, for there are very few events apart from the Passion Week that are found in all four Gospels. But this is one of them. It is instructive to note the emphasis given in each of those accounts.





Presents Jesus as the King

Presents Jesus as the Servant of the Lord

Presents Jesus as a Teacher

Presents Jesus as the Son of God

Mentions Johnís clothing and diet, reminiscent of Old Testament prophets

Tells the specifics of Johnís teachings to the people, to the tax collectors and to soldiers

Emphasis on Johnís disciples turning to follow Jesus

John confronts religious leaders

Begins with Old Testament prophecy

Luke's account is unique in that it has told of the details surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. 



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, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1-2).

Luke is unique in giving us the exact date of the beginning of Johnís ministry. There was not a uniform dating method as is used throughout the western world today. Dates were commonly established by the advent of the reigning monarch. Another method of dating was to use the founding of the city of Rome.

Tiberius became the Emperor of Rome on August 19, 14 A.D. Fifteen years from this date would bring you to 28-29 A.D. depending upon whether you reckoned the first four months as the first year.


And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ĎMake ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. 5 Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth; 6 and all flesh will see the salvation of God.í" (Luke 3:3-6).

The district around the Jordan was not a small area. The Jordan River flowed from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. From one end to the other is a distance of 70 miles. This entire area became Johnís parish. This was the major travel route for Jews who were traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. They would typically make a long detour around the area of Samaria - that was the bad part of town.

  1. Johnís Baptism: He came... preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (3:3).

The term "baptism" and its corresponding concept was not an invention by John the Baptist. It is an old word with a rich history.

The Spartan general Xenophon described soldiers BAPTIZING a sword and a spear in blood before entering into a military alliance (The Persian Expedition, Book 2, Chapter 2).


Significance of Baptism


Johnís Baptism

Identified people as repentant

Luke 3:3

Baptism of Jesus

Identified Jesus with preaching of John and Kingdom of God

Luke 3:21

Baptism of Believers

Identifies us with Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Acts 2:39-41

Spirit Baptism

Identifies us with Christ

1 Cor 12:12-13

Baptism of Moses

Identified Israelites as people of God apart from Egypt

1 Cor 10:1-2

Johnís baptism included this concept of identification. Those whom he baptized were identifying themselves with the coming King. But it was also a rite of purification. The water symbolized a cleansing washing of repentance. And this was not a new concept. It had been promised in the Old Testament.

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

"And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Although John had a ministry with water, it merely foreshadowed and prepared the way for Jesus who had the ability to bring a new heart and a new spirit.

  1. A Baptism of Repentance: He came... preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (3:3).
  2. Repentance was a common Old Testament theme. The word is translated from the Greek word metanoia. This is a compound word made up of meta ("with") and noeo ("to think"). But the resulting compound word refers more than a mere change of mind. Biblical repentance describes a change of attitude and is reflected by a changed life. This will be seen in verse 8 when John calls for people to bear fruits in keeping with repentance.

  3. A Promised Message: As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet (3:4).
  4. This ministry of John had been promised 700 years earlier in the days of Isaiah. This tells us something about John and his message. It was not something new and separate from the Older Testament. John was a part of something that went back a long time before the first century. It had its roots in the family of God. You have that kind of heritage, too. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are part of something that is older that this planet.

  5. A Symbolic Fulfillment: Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth (3:5).

Luke gives us a portion of this quote from Isaiah to show how the prophecy was fulfilled by John. The symbolism of these words is taken for the practice of preparing the way for a visiting dignitary. All efforts would be made to ascertain that the roads were in a state of repair.

However in Johnís case we are not talking about literal ravines and mountains and hills. He didnít come on the scene with a bulldozer or a bridge-building company. These things were merely symbolic for the way in which God would work in menís hearts as He prepared them to receive His messiah.

This tells me something of how I ought to interpret Old Testament prophecy. I am not always to look for literal fulfillments. I am to understand that the Old Testament writers often spoke in symbols to describe spiritual realities.



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?

"Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ĎWe have Abraham for our father,í for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

"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." (Luke 3:7-9).

These words were not spoken to those who showed no interest in John or his ministry. They are not spoken to the fellow who would rather play golf on Sunday morning than go to church. These words are addressed to the very ones who were coming to John and seeking to be baptized by him. They wished to be identified with John and with his ministry.

They wish to be accepted by John, but John is not so certain that he wants to accept them. He calls for them to do two things.

Repentance itself is not achieved through self-effort. Repentance takes place within the heart. But real repentance always brings about a changed life. Only God can see the heart. But we are able to see the fruits of repentance.

Your body does not follow where your heart does not first lead. If your heart and soul have turned to the Lord, then there will be a resulting change in your life. True repentance will produce a corresponding fruit.

The Jews were a proud people. They were proud of the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. They were the chosen people. God had chosen them for special blessings.

Their problem is that they had come to depend upon their own physical heritage rather than trusting in the Lord. God does not need them merely because they are physical descendants of Abraham. This is the same God who made Adam from the dust of the ground. What he did in the case of Adam, He is also able to do in their case.

Do you see what this would have meant to these Jews. All their lives they had thanked God that they were the chosen people; that they were not sinners like the Gentiles. They thought of themselves as being free of Godís condemnation simply because they were Jews.

John is telling them something different. They are in mortal danger of coming under the wrath of God. They need to repent and be saved.

John uses a metaphor in this warning. He tells them that the axe is already laid at the root of the trees (3:9). It is a vivid illustration. The point of this illustration is the proximity of this coming judgment. The picture is of a woodsman who is already on the scene. He has placed the head of his axe against the root of the tree. His is measuring the distance for his first swing. Judgment is about to fall. There is no time to wait.

And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?"

And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise."

And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"

And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to."

Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:10-14).

The teaching of John had some very specific applications. It was not mere dry theoretical theology. It could be taken out of the classroom and lived in the workplace.


The Crowds

Share your food and clothes with those who have none


Tax Collectors

Only collect what has been ordered



Be content with your wages and do not take from others or falsely accuse them

The two specific groups that Luke mentions are those who would have been the most hated by the Jews.

A Roman soldier had all of the rights of a conquering victor. He was permitted to take whatever he chose from the vanquished peoples. John does not tell these soldiers to resign their commission. Instead he tells them to live properly within that profession.



Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 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.

"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."

So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. (Luke 3:15-18).

As Johnís ministry continued to grow, so also grew the speculation as to what might be the true nature of John and his ministry. Specifically people began to wonder whether he might not be the Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. It was not long before John himself became aware of this thinking. He responds by pointing to another who is coming.

Johnís ministry was not centered around himself. He was a forerunner, announcing the coming of One to follow. John was not the main attraction of his ministry. He understood that his purpose was to point to another. When we become the main attraction to our ministry, then we have lost sight of what ministry is all about.

There was an old rabbinic exhortation that says, "Every duty that a slave performs for his master, a disciple shall do for his teacher, except for the removing of his sandals."

This was a duty that only a slave would perform. This was the most lowly duty of all. And John says that he is not worthy to perform this lowliest of duties for the One who is coming.

Here is the principle. You cannot comprehend the grace of God until you first come face to face with your own unworthiness.

I baptized you with WATER

® (But) ®

He shall baptize you with the HOLY SPIRIT and FIRE

It is one thing to be baptized in water. It is a much greater thing to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire. I would suggest that these are two different baptisms:

1. Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

To be baptized in the Spirit means that the Spirit of God has come upon us and has identified us with the person and with the ministry of Jesus. We have been united with Christ.

2. Baptism with Fire.

John has already made mention of fire in his preaching. He warned that every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (3:9). Now he goes on to clarify that the Lord will soon gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (3:17).

It is very clear in this context to what this fire represents. It is a fire of judgment. It is a fire of the wrath of God.

Baptism of the Spirit

Baptism of Fire

Pictured as a tree bearing fruit

Pictured as the burning of an unfruitful tree

Identification with Christ

Identification with judgment

Trusting in the One to come

Trusting in Abrahamic lineage

Wheat gathered into the barn

Chaff burned with unquenchable fire

Was fulfilled at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

Fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and ultimately fulfilled in Christís Second Coming

Here is the point. John is baptizing with water. His is a baptism of repentance. But there is coming One who will perform a real baptism. All will be baptized with His baptism. Either you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit or else you will be baptized with fire.

We have already seen the illustration of the woodsman who is about to start chopping down the tree. Now John uses a different illustration. It is of a farmer whose winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor (3:17). The winnowing fork was a rake-like instrument which was used by farmers to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The sheaves of wheat would be brought to a threshing floor - a wide open space where the wind could blow unabated. The bundles would be untied and the sheaves would be spread out across the floor. An ox or other beast of burden would be used to role a millstone over the sheaves. This had the effect of breaking the hard kernels of grain from the stalks.

The farmer would now use the winnowing fork to throw the wheat into the air. The heavier wheat would fall straight to the ground while the chaff, which was much lighter, would be blown away by the wind.



Gathered together into the barn

Thrown into the fire and burned up

Represents those who bring forth fruit of repentance

Represents those who reject Johnís message



Once again, we are struck by the fact of the proximity of the judgment. The farmer has already picked up his winnowing fork. He is ready to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

There will be no stopping of this judgment. There will be no suspension of sentence. Either you will be found to be wheat or else you will be found to be chaff, but you WILL be found. The judgment will be thorough. It will be unstoppable. It will be irreversible. He will burn with unquenchable fire (3:17).



But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brotherís wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, 20 Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison. (Luke 3:19-20).

Luke does not tell us any of the details surrounding the arrest of John. We learn of those in Markís account (Mark 6:17-29). Johnís preaching did not remain on "safe" subjects. He spoke out again sin even when it was dangerous to speak out against sin. His preaching ultimately led to his arrest and his death.



Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 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." (Luke 3:21-22).

The arrival of Jesus is described in very matter-of-fact terms. There were no trumpets or fanfare. One day, He simply arrived from his home in Nazareth and was baptized like anyone else who had come to be baptized.

Why? Why was Jesus baptized? I would suggest that He was baptized for the same reason that everyone else who came to John was baptized. Remember that the primary emphasis of baptism is IDENTIFICATION. By His baptism, Jesus was identifying Himself with the ministry and the message of John.

Jesus did not need to repent. He had committed no sin. His heart needed no changing. His was not a baptism of repentance. It is an identification.

What made this baptism significant was what accompanied that baptism. There were three aspects to this accompaniment.

Nature itself participates in recognizing the significance of the baptism of Jesus. Indeed, it is through His identification with us that heaven is made open to us.

This is an amazing thing. The Holy Spirit took on bodily form. He appeared like a dove. This presents an interesting problem. The dove was not an accepted symbol of the Holy Spirit among the Jews at this time. If anything, the dove was used to represent the nation of Israel.

O my DOVE, in the clefts of the rock,

In the secret place of the steep pathway,

Let me see your form (Song of Solomon 2:14).

I was asleep, but my heart was awake.

A voice! My beloved was knocking:

Open to my, my sister, my darling,

My DOVE, my perfect one! (Song of Solomon 5:2).

Furthermore, this symbolism of a dove representing the Holy Spirit is never again repeated in the rest of the Bible.

Because of this, I suggest that this was no mere symbolism. The Holy Spirit did not merely come LIKE a dove. He actually came in the form of a dove as He descended upon Jesus. This was the fulfillment of a prophecy that Isaiah had given nearly 800 years earlier.

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from the roots will bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-2).

Do you know where the first mention is of a dove in the Bible? It is found in Genesis. It takes place while Noah and his family are in the ark. The great flood has come and has destroyed all life. They alone remain alive. And they have been shut up in the ark for a very long time. Will the waters ever receed? They do not know. So they take a dove and it goes forth to search out dry land. Three times it goes forth.

The first time it comes back having found no resting place. The second time it returns bearing a freshly plucked olive leaf as if to signify the presence of new life. And the third time it does not return at all.

Now the dove is back. Its presence signifies the presence of the Spirit of God. And again there is the promise of new life and a salvation that God has provided.

We have seen the Son. We have seen the Spirit. Now we hear from the Father. His voice comes down out of heaven.

"You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

This is a fulfillment of the prophetic words of the angel Gabriel to Mary. Luke has already recorded those words for us. They were given when the angel first told Mary that she would have a son.

He shall be great, and will be called the SON of the Most High (Luke 1:32).

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the SON OF GOD (Luke 1:35).

Now the promise has been fulfilled, not only in the birth narrative, but also in the divine recognition from heaven.

* * * * *

Discussion Question: Why was it important for the Spirit to descend upon Jesus?

1. As an affirmation (Isaiah 42:1).

  1. Because Jesus was a true human being who required the ministry of the Spirit in order to be anointed with power (Acts 10:38).

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