3 Our story continues 15 years after Tiberius Caesar had begun his reign over the empire. Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod ruled Galilee, his brother Philip ruled Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruled Abilene.
More than any other Gospel writer, Luke wants to situate the story of Jesus in secular history. In particular, he gives details of the emperor, governor, and other client rulers. With a toxic mixture of cruelty and might, these authorities lord their power over the common people. Yet these high and mighty are—as Mary’s poem describes—destined to be brought down in the presence of a new kind of king and a new kind of kingdom. Jesus will exercise His authority in a radically different way—not through domination and violence, but through love, healing, compassion, and service.
John’s father Zacharias is a priest who serves in Jerusalem at the temple. Among their other duties, priests perform ritual cleansings necessary for Jewish worshipers who become ceremonially unclean—perhaps through contact with outsiders (non-Jewish people), perhaps through contact with blood or a dead body, perhaps through a physical illness. But when John appears on the scene, he hasn’t followed in his father’s footsteps. He’s not fulfilling the role of the priest, but rather of the prophet. He works far outside of Jerusalem, and he baptizes people in the Jordan River, not near the temple. It’s as if John is performing a symbolic drama: If you want to be in tune with God, the temple and its normal routines can’t help you anymore. Instead of being cleansed there, you should come out to this radical preacher and let him cleanse you in the river. And his message isn’t a polite, tame message. It’s fiery and intense! God isn’t interested in just routine religion. He wants changed lives!
2 In Jerusalem Annas and Caiaphas were high priests in the temple. And in those days, out in the wilderness, John (son of Zacharias) received a message from God.
3 John brought this divine message to all those who came to the Jordan River. He preached that people should be ritually cleansed through baptism as an expression of changed lives for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As Isaiah the prophet had said,
A solitary voice is calling:
“Go into the wilderness;
prepare the road for the Eternal One’s journey.
In the desert, repair and straighten
every mile of our True God’s highway.
5 Every low place will be lifted
and every high mountain,
every hill will be humbled;
The crooked road will be straightened out
and rough places ironed out smooth;
6 Then the radiant glory of the Eternal One will be revealed.
All flesh together will take it in.”[a]
7 In fulfillment of those words, crowds streamed out from the villages and towns to be baptized[b] by John at the Jordan.
John the Baptist: You bunch of venomous snakes! Who told you that you could escape God’s coming wrath? 8 Don’t just talk of turning to God; you’d better bear the authentic fruit of a changed life. Don’t take pride in your religious heritage, saying, “We have Abraham for our father!” Listen—God could turn these rocks into children of Abraham!
9 God wants you to bear fruit! If you don’t produce good fruit, then you’ll be chopped down like a fruitless tree and made into firewood. God’s ax is taking aim and ready to swing!
People: 10 What shall we do to perform works from changed lives?
John the Baptist: 11 The person who has two shirts must share with the person who has none. And the person with food must share with the one in need.
12 Some tax collectors were among those in the crowd seeking baptism.[c]
Tax Collectors: Teacher, what kind of fruit is God looking for from us?
John the Baptist: 13 Stop overcharging people. Only collect what you must turn over to the Romans.
Soldiers: 14 What about us? What should we do to show true change?
John the Baptist: Don’t extort money from people by throwing around your power or making false accusations, and be content with your pay.
15 John’s bold message seized public attention, and many began wondering if John might himself be the Anointed One promised by God.
John the Baptist: 16 I baptize[d] you with water, but One is coming—One far more powerful than I, One whose sandals I am not worthy to untie—who will baptize[e] you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is coming like a farmer at harvesttime, tools in hand to separate the wheat from the chaff. He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire, and He will gather the genuine wheat into His barn.
18 He preached with many other provocative figures of speech and so conveyed God’s message to the people—the time had come to rethink everything. 19 But John’s public preaching ended when he confronted Herod, the ruler of Galilee, for his many corrupt deeds, including taking Herodias, the ruler’s sister-in-law, as his own wife. 20 Herod responded by throwing John into prison.
21 But before John’s imprisonment, when he was still preaching and ritually cleansing through baptism[f] the people in the Jordan River, Jesus also came to him to be baptized. As Jesus prayed, the heavens opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit came upon Him in a physical manifestation that resembled a dove. A voice echoed out from heaven.
Voice from Heaven: You are My Son,[g] the Son I love, and in You I take great pleasure.
What does it mean for Jesus to be baptized by John? If John’s baptism symbolizes a rejection of the religious establishment centered in the temple in Jerusalem, then Jesus’ baptism by John symbolizes that He is aligned with this radical preacher. Jesus isn’t simply coming to strengthen or even renew the centers of power. Instead, He is joining John at the margins to be part of something wild and new that God is doing. And the vivid manifestation of God’s pleasure—the dovelike appearance and the voice from heaven—suggests that even though Jesus is in a sense aligning Himself with John, John is simply the opening act and Jesus is the main attraction. The choreography between John’s work and Jesus’ work continues, but from this point on, Jesus is in the center of the story.
23 At this, the launch of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was about 30 years old.
He was assumed to be the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Hesli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Heber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.