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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 21–38
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Verses 21–38

The evangelist mentioned John’s imprisonment before Christ’s being baptized, though it was nearly a year after it, because he would finish the story of John’s ministry, and then introduce that of Christ. Now here we have,

I. A short account of Christ’s baptism, which had been more fully related by St. Matthew. Jesus came, to be baptized of John, and he was so, Luke 3:21, 22.

1. It is here said that, when all the people were baptized, then Jesus was baptized: all that were then present. Christ would be baptized last, among the common people, and in the rear of them; thus he humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation, as one of the least, nay, as less than the least. He saw what multitudes were hereby prepared to receive him, and then he appeared.

2. Notice is here taken of Christ’s praying when he was baptized, which was not in Matthew: being baptized, and praying. He did not confess sin, as others did, for he had none to confess; but he prayed, as others did, for he would thus keep up communion with his Father. Note, The inward and spiritual grace of which sacraments are the outward and visible signs must be fetched in by prayer; and therefore prayer must always accompany them. We have reason to think that Christ now prayed for this manifestation of God’s favour to him which immediately followed; he prayed for the discovery of his Father’s favour to him, and the descent of the Spirit. What was promised to Christ, he must obtain by prayer: Ask of me and I will give thee, etc. Thus he would put an honour upon prayer, would tie us to it, and encourage us in it.

3. When he prayed, the heaven was opened. He that by his power parted the waters, to make a way through them to Canaan, now by his power parted the air, another fluid element, to open a correspondence with the heavenly Canaan. Thus was there opened to Christ, and by him to us, a new and living way into the holiest; sin had shut up heaven, but Christ’s prayer opened it again. Prayer is an ordinance that opens heaven: Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

4. The Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him; our Lord Jesus was now to receive greater measures of the Spirit than before, to qualify him for his prophetical office, Isa. 61:1. When he begins to preach, the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. Now this is here expressed by a sensible evidence for his encouragement in his work, and for the satisfaction of John the Baptist; for he was told before that by this sign it should be notified to him which was the Christ. Dr. Lightfoot suggests that the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, that he might be revealed to be a personal substance, and not merely an operation of the Godhead: and thus (saith he) was made a full, clear, and sensible demonstration of the Trinity, at the beginning of the gospel; and very fitly is this done at Christ’s baptism, who was to make the ordinance of baptism a badge of the profession of that faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

5. There came a voice from heaven, from God the Father, from the excellent glory (so it is expressed, 2 Pet. 1:17), Thou art my beloved Son. Here, and in Mark, it is expressed as spoken to Christ; in Matthew as spoken of him: This is my beloved Son. It comes all to one; it was intended to be a notification to John, and as such was properly expressed by, This is my beloved Son; and likewise an answer to his prayer, and so it is most fitly expressed by. Thou art. It was foretold concerning the Messiah, I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son, 2 Sam. 7:14. I will make him my First-born, Ps. 89:27. It was also foretold that he should be God’s elect, in whom his soul delighted (Isa. 42:1); and, accordingly, it is here declared, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

II. A long account of Christ’s pedigree, which had been more briefly related by St. Matthew. Here is,

1. His age: He now began to be about thirty years of age. So old Joseph was when he stood before Pharaoh (Gen. 41:46), David when he began to reign (2 Sam. 5:4), and at this age the priests were to enter upon the full execution of their office, Num. 4:3. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that it is plain, by the manner of expression here, that he was just twenty-nine years old complete, and entering upon his thirtieth year, in the month Tisri; that, after this, he lived three years and a half, and died when he was thirty-two years and a half old. Three years and a half, the time of Christ’s ministry, is a period of time very remarkable in scripture. Three years and six months the heavens were shut up in Elijah’s time, Luke 4:25; Jas. 5:17. This was the half week in which the Messiah was to confirm the covenant, Dan. 9:27. This period is expressed in the prophetical writings by a time, times, and half a time (Dan. 12:7; Rev. 12:14); and by forty-two months, and a thousand two hundred and threescore days, Rev. 11:2, 3. It is the time fixed for the witnesses’ prophesying in sackcloth, in conformity to Christ’s preaching in his humiliation just so long.

2. His pedigree, Luke 3:23 Matthew had given us somewhat of this. He goes no higher than Abraham, but Luke brings it as high as Adam. Matthew designed to show that Christ was the son of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed, and that he was heir to the throne of David; and therefore he begins with Abraham, and brings the genealogy down to Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, and heir-male of the house of David: but Luke, designing to show that Christ was the seed of the woman, that should break the serpent’s head, traces his pedigree upward as high as Adam, and begins it with Ei, or Heli, who was the father, not of Joseph, but of the virgin Mary. And some suggest that the supply which our translators all along insert here is not right, and that it should not be read which, that is, which Joseph was the son of Heli, but which Jesus; he was the son of Joseph, of Eli, of Matthat, etc., and he, that is, Jesus, was the son of Seth, of Adam, of God, Luke 3:38. The difference between the two evangelists in the genealogy of Christ has been a stumbling-block to infidels that cavil at the word, but such a one as has been removed by the labours of learned men, both in the early ages of the church and in latter times, to which we refer ourselves. Matthew draws the pedigree from Solomon, whose natural line ending in Jechonias, the legal right was transferred to Salathiel, who was of the house of Nathan, another son of David, which line Luke here pursues, and so leaves out all the kings of Judah. It is well for us that our salvation doth not depend upon our being able to solve all these difficulties, nor is the divine authority of the gospels at all weakened by them; for the evangelists are not supposed to write these genealogies either of their own knowledge or by divine inspiration, but to have copied them out of the authentic records of the genealogies among the Jews, the heralds’ books, which therefore they were obliged to follow; and in them they found the pedigree of Jacob, the father of Joseph, to be as it is set down in Matthew; and the pedigree of Heli, the father of Mary, to be as it is set down here in Luke. And this is the meaning of hos enomizeto (Luke 3:23), not, as it was supposed, referring only to Joseph, but uti sancitum est lege—as it is entered into the books, as we find it upon record; by which is appeared that Jesus was both by father and mother’s side the Son of David, witness this extract out of their own records, which any one might at that time have liberty to compare with the original, and further the evangelists needed not to go; nay, had they varied from that, they had not gained their point. Its not being contradicted at that time is satisfaction enough to us now that it is a true copy, as it is further worthy of observation, that, when those records of the Jewish genealogies had continued thirty or forty years after these extracts out of them, long enough to justify the evangelists therein, they were all lost and destroyed with the Jewish state and nation; for now there was no more occasion for them.

One difficulty occurs between Abraham and Noah, which gives us some perplexity, Luke 3:35, 36. Sala is said to be the son of Cainan, and he the son of Arphaxad, whereas Sala was the son of Arphaxad (Gen. 10:24; 11:12), and there is no such man as Cainan found there. But, as to that, it is sufficient to say that the Seventy Interpreters, who, before our Saviour’s time, translated the Old Testament into Greek, for reasons best known to themselves inserted that Cainan; and St. Luke, writing among the Hellenist Jews, was obliged to make use of that translation, and therefore to take it as he found it.

The genealogy concludes with this, who was the son of Adam, the son of God. (1.) Some refer it to Adam; he was in a peculiar manner the son of God, being, more immediately than any of his offspring, the offspring of God by creation. (2.) Others refer it to Christ, and so make the last words of this genealogy to denote his divine and human nature. He was both the Son of Adam and the Son of God that he might be a proper Mediator between God and the sons of Adam, and might bring the sons of Adam to be, through him, the sons of God.