Luke 3 Bible Commentary

McGarvey and Pendleton

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(Read all of Luke 3)
3:1  Now in the fifteenth year of the reign1 of Tiberius Caesar2, Pontius Pilate3 being governor of Judaea4, and Herod5 being tetrarch6 of Galilee7, and his brother8 Philip9 tetrarch of the region of Ituraea10 and Trachonitis11, and Lysanias12 tetrarch of Abilene13, JOHN THE BAPTIST'S PERSON AND PREACHING. (In the wilderness of Judea, and on the banks of the Jordan, occupying several months, probably A.D. 25 or 26.) Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign. Tiberius Caesar, stepson of and successor to Augustus, began to reign as joint ruler with Augustus in August, A.U.C. 765 (A.D. 11). On August 19, 767, Augustus died and Tiberius became sole ruler. Luke counts from the beginning of the joint rule, and his fifteen years bring us to 779. In August, 779, Tiberius began his fifteenth year, and about December of that year Jesus would have completed his thirtieth year.
Of Tiberius Caesar. He was born B.C. 41, died March 16, A.D. 37. As a citizen he distinguished himself as orator, soldier, and public official. But as emperor he was slothful, self-indulgent, indescribably licentious, vindictive, and cruel. He was a master of dissimulation and cunning, and was a veritable scourge to his people. But he still found flatterers even in Palestine, Caesarea Philippi, and the town Tiberias being named for him.
Pontius Pilate. See mention of him in account of our Lord's trial.
Being governor of Judaea. The province of Judea was subdued by Pompey and brought under Roman control in B.C. 63. Its history from that date till the governorship of Pilate can be found in Josephus.
And Herod. Also called Antipas. The ruler who murdered John the Baptist and who assisted at the trial of Jesus.
Being tetrarch. This word means properly the ruler of a fourth part of a country, but was used loosely for any petty tributary prince.
Of Galilee. This province lay north of Samaria, and measured about twenty-five miles from north to south, and twenty-seven miles from east to west. It was a rich and fertile country.
His brother. His half-brother.
Philip. He was distinguished by justice and moderation, the one decent man in the Herodian family. He married Salome, who obtained John the Baptist's head for a dance. He built Caesarea Philippi, and transformed Bethsaida Julius from a village to a city, and died there A.D. 44. After his death his domains became part of the Roman province of Syria.
Tetrarch of the region of Ituraea. A district thirty miles long by twenty-five broad, lying north of Batanea, east of Mt. Hermon, west of Trachonitis. It received its name from Jetur, son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:15). Its Ishmaelite inhabitants were conquered by Aristobulus, king of Judea, B.C. 100, and forced by him to accept the Jewish faith. They were marauders, and famous for the use of the bow.
And Trachonitis. A district about twenty-two miles from north to south by fourteen from east to west. Its name means "rough" or "stony", and it amply deserves it. It lies between Iturea and the desert, and has been infested with robbers from the earliest ages. It is called the Argob in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 3:4,13,14; 1 Kings 4:13; 2 Kings 15:25),

"an ocean of basaltic rock and boulders, tossed about in the wildest confusion, and intermingled with fissures and crevices in every direction."
And Lysanias. Profane history gives us no account of this man. It tells of a Lysanias, king of Chalcis, under Mt. Lebanon, who was put to death by Mark Antony, B.C. 36, or sixty-odd years before this, and another who was tetrarch of Abilene in the reigns of Caligula and Claudius twenty years after this. He probably was son of the first and father of the second.
Tetrarch of Abilene. The city of Abila (which comes from the word "abel", meaning "meadow") is eighteen miles from Damascus and thirty- eight from Baalbec. The province laying about it is mentioned because it subsequently formed part of the Jewish territory, being given to Herod Agrippa I by Emperor Claudius about A.D. 41.

3:2  in the highpriesthood of Annas and Caiaphas1, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias2 in the wilderness3.
In the highpriesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Annas had been high priest 7-14 A.D., when he was deposed by the procurator, Gratus. Caiaphas was son-in-law of and successor to Annas. Luke gives both names, one as the rightful and the other as the acting high priest. Compare Acts 4:6. Gentile innovations had made sad havoc with the Jewish law as to this office. In the last 107 years of the temple's existence there were no less than twenty-eight high priests. Luke is the only one who fixes the time when Jesus began his ministry. He locates it by emperor and governor, tetrarch and high priest, as an even of world-wide importance, and of concern to all the kingdoms of men. He conceives of it as Paul did (Acts 26:26).
The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias. The divine commission which bade John enter his career as a prophet (Jeremiah 1:2 Ezekiel 6:1). Prophets gave temporary and limited manifestations of God's will (Hebrews 1:1,2). Jesus is the everlasting and unlimited manifestation of the divine purpose and of the very Godhead (John 14:9; John 12:45; Colossians 1:15 Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
In the wilderness. The wilderness of Judea is that almost uninhabitable mass of barren ridges extending the whole length of the Dead Sea, and a few miles further north. It is from five to ten miles wide.

3:3  And he came1 into all the region round about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins;
And he came. He made his public appearance, and, like that of Elijah, it was a sudden one (1 Kings 17:1).
Into all the country about Jordan. The Jordan valley is called in the Old Testament the Arabah, and by the modern Arabs the Ghor. It is the deepest valley in the world, its lowest part being about 1,300 feet below the level of the ocean.
Preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins. As a change leading to remission or forgiveness of sins.

3:4  as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet1, The voice2 of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight.
Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah flourished from about 759 to 699 B.C.
The voice, etc. See Mark 1:3.

3:5  Every valley shall be filled1, And every mountain and hill shall be brought low; And the crooked shall become straight, And the rough ways smooth;
Every valley shall be filled, etc. The literal meaning of this passage is expressed in Isaiah 2:12-17. See also Zechariah 4:7. Commentators give detailed application of this prophecy, and, following their example, we may regard the Pharisees and Sadducees as mountains of self-righteousness, needing to be thrown down, and thereby brought to meekness and humility; the outcasts and harlots as valleys of humiliation, needing to be exalted and filled with hope; and the publicans and soldiers as crooked and rough byways, needing to be straightened and smoothed with proper details of righteousness. But the application is general, and not to be limited to such details. However, civil tyranny, and ecclesiastical pride must be leveled, and the rights of the common people must be exalted before for kingdom of God can enter in.

3:6  And all flesh shall see the salvation of God1.
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. This last clause of the prophecy is added by Luke alone. He loves to dwell upon the universality of Christ's Gospel.

3:7  He said therefore to the multitudes1 that went out to be baptized of him, Ye offspring of vipers2, who warned you to flee3 from the wrath to come4?
He said therefore to the multitudes. See Matthew 3:7.
Ye offspring of vipers. A metaphor for their "likeness" to vipers-- as like them as if they had been begotten of them. The viper was a species of serpent from two to five feet in length, and about one inch thick. Its head is flat, and its body a yellowish color, speckled with long brown spots. It is extremely poisonous (Acts 28:6). John here uses the word figuratively, and probably borrows the figure from (Isaiah 59:5). It means that the Jewish rulers were full of guile and malice, cunning and venom. With these words John gave them a vigorous shaking, for only thus could he hope to waken their slumbering consciences. But only one who has had a vision of "the King in his beauty" should presume thus to address his fellow-men. The serpent is an emblem of the devil (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:9,14,15), and Jesus not only repeated John's words (Matthew 12:35; Matthew 23:23,33), but he interpreted the words, and told them plainly that they were "the children of the devil" (John 8:44). The Jewish rulers well deserved this name, for they poisoned the religious principles of the nation, and accomplished the crucifixion of the Son of God.
Who warned you to flee. John's baptism, like that of Moses at the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2), was a way of escape from destruction, of rightly used. Christian baptism is also such a way, and whosoever will may enter thereby into the safety of the kingdom of Christ, but baptism can not be used as an easy bit of ritual to charm away evil. It must be accompanied by all the spiritual changes which the ordinance implies.
From the wrath to come? Prophecy foretold that Messiah's time would be accompanied with wrath (Isaiah 58:3-6; Daniel 7:10-26); but the Jews were all of the opinion that this wrath would be meted out upon the Gentiles and were not prepared to hear John apply the prophecy to themselves. To all his hearers John preached the coming kingdom; to the impenitent, he preached the coming wrath. Thus he prepared the way for the first coming of the Messiah, and those who would prepare the people for his second coming would do well to follow his example. The Bible has a voice of warning and denunciation, as well as words of invitation and love. Whosoever omits the warning of the judgment, speaks but half the message which God would have him deliver. God's wrath is his resentment against sin (Matthew 18:34; Matthew 22:7; Mark 3:5).

3:8  Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance1, and begin not to say within yourselves2, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, etc. See Matthew 3:8.
And begin not to say within yourselves, etc. See Matthew 3:9.

3:9  And even now the axe also lieth at the root of the trees1: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And even now the axe also lieth at the root of the trees, etc. See Matthew 3:10.

3:10  And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do1?
What then must we do? This is the cry of the awakened conscience (Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30; Acts 22:10). John answered it by recommended them to do the very reverse of what they were doing, which, in their case, was true fruit of repentance.

3:11  And he answered and said unto them, He that hath two coats1, let him impart to him that hath none2; and he that hath food, let him do likewise.
He that hath two coats. By coats is meant the tunic, or inner garment, worn next to the skin. It reached to the knees, and sometimes to the ankles, and generally had sleeves. Two tunics were a luxury in a land where thousands were too poor to own even one. Wrath was coming, and he that would obtain mercy from it must show mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Let him impart to him that hath none. For a like precept given to Christians, see 2 Corinthians 8:13-15; James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17.

3:12  And there came also publicans to be baptized1, and they said unto him, Teacher, what must we do2?
And there came also publicans to be baptized. The Roman government did not collect its own taxes. Instead of doing so, it divided the empire into districts, and sold the privilege of collecting the taxes in these districts to certain capitalists and men of rank. The capitalists employed agents to do the actual collecting. These agents were usually native of the districts in which they lived, and those in Palestine were called publicans. Their masters urged and encouraged them to make the most fraudulent and vexatious exactions. They systematically overcharged the people and often brought false accusation to obtain money by blackmail. These publicans were justly regarded by the Jews as apostates and traitors, and were classed with the lowest and most abandoned characters. The system was bad, but its practitioners were worse. The Greeks regarded the word "publican" as synonymous with "plunderer". Suidas pictures the life of a publican as

"unrestrained plunder, unblushing greed, unreasonable pettifogging, shameless business."

The Turks today collect by this Roman method. Being publicly condemned, and therefore continually kept conscious of their sin, the publicans repented more readily than the self-righteous Pharisees. Conscience is one of God's greatest gifts, and he that destroys it must answer for it. On publicans, also see Matthew 5:46.
And they said unto him, Teacher, what must we do? The publicans, though lowest down, gave John the highest title. Self-abnegation is full of the virtue of reverence, but self-righteousness utterly lacks it.

3:13  And he said unto them, Extort no more than that which is appointed you1.
Extort no more than that which is appointed you. Such was their habitual, universal sin. No man should make his calling an excuse for evil-doing.

3:14  And soldiers also asked him, saying, And we, what must we do1? And he said unto them, Extort from no man by violence2, neither accuse [any one] wrongfully3; and be content with your wages4.
And soldiers also asked him, saying, And we, what must we do? These soldiers were probably Jewish troops in the employ of Herod. Had they been Romans, John would doubtless have told them to worship God.
And he said unto them, Extort from no man by violence. The soldiers, poorly paid, often found it convenient to extort money by intimidation. Strong in their organization, they terrified the weak and enforced gratuities by acts of violence.
Neither accuse [any one] wrongfully. John here condemns the custom of blackmailing the rich by acting as informers and false accusers against them.
And be content with your wages. The term "wages" included rations and money. The soldiers were not to add to their receipts by pillage or extortion. Soldiers' wages were about three cents a day, so they were exposed to strong temptation. Yet John did not bid them abandon their profession, and become ascetics like himself. His teachings was practical. He allowed war as an act of government. Whether Christianity sanctions it or not, is another question.

3:15  And as the people were in expectation1, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John2, whether haply he were the Christ3;
And as the people were in expectation. Expecting the Christ. See John 1:19-28.
And all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John. Prophecy induced a Messianic expectation. The scepter had departed from Judah, and Caesar's deputies ruled. Tetrarchs and procurators held the whole civil government. In their hands lay the power of life, and death from which only Roman citizens could appeal (Acts 25:11). The power of the Jewish courts was limited to excommunication or scourging. The seventy weeks of Daniel were now expiring, and other prophecies indicated the fullness of time. But distress, rather than prophecy, enhanced their expectation. Tiberius, the most infamous of men, governed the world. Pontius Pilate, insolent, cruel, was making life irksome and maddening the people. Herod Antipas, by a course of reckless apostasy and unbridled lust, grieved even the religious sense of the hypocrite. Annas and Caiaphas, impersonators of materialism, sat in the chief seat of spiritual power. Men might well look for a deliverer, and hasten with joy to hear of a coming King.
Whether haply he were the Christ. But, nevertheless, we could have no more forceful statement of the deep impression made by John's ministry than that the people were disposed to take him for the Christ.

3:16  John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I, the latchet1 of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and [in] fire3:
The latchet. The lace or strap. See John 1:27.
He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit. See Mark 1:8.
And [in] fire. See Matthew 3:11.

3:17  whose fan is in his hand1, thoroughly to cleanse his threshing-floor, and to gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.
Whose fan is in his hand, etc. See Matthew 3:12.

3:18  With many other exhortations1 therefore preached he good tidings unto the people2;
With many other exhortations. The sermon here given is in the nature of a summary. It embodies the substance of John's preaching. Afterwards John preached Christ more directly (John 1:29-36).
Therefore preached he good tidings unto the people. But, like the good tidings of the angel at Bethlehem, it was good only tot hose who, by repentance, made themselves well pleasing to God.

3:19  but Herod the tetrarch1, being reproved by him2 for Herodias his brother's wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done3, JESUS SETS OUT FROM JUDEA FOR GALILEE. A. REASONS FOR RETIRING TO GALILEE. Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19,20; John 4:1-4
But Herod the tetrarch. The son of Herod the Great, and tetrarch, or governor, of Galilee.
Being reproved by him. That is, by John the Baptist.
For Herodias his brother's wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done. A full account of the sin of Herod and persecution of John will be found at Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-29. John had spoken the truth to Herod as fearlessly as to the Pharisees, publicans, and soldiers.

3:20  added this also to them all1, that he shut up John in prison2.
Added this also to them all. The sins of Herod, as a ruler, already outweighed his virtues; compare Daniel 5:27. But, with reckless abandon, Herod went on, adding to the weighty reasons which justified his condemnation.
That he shut up John in prison. In the fortress at Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea, as we learn from Josephus. The duration of the ministry of John the Baptist is variously estimated at from fourteen to eighteen months.

3:21  Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized1, and praying2, the heaven was opened3, JESUS BAPTIZED BY JOHN IN THE JORDAN. (Jordan east of Jericho, Spring of A.D. 27.) Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21,22
Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized. This may mean that, on the day of his baptism, Jesus was the last candidate, and hence his baptism was the most conspicuous of all; but it more probably means that Jesus was baptized in the midst of John's work--at the period when his baptism was in greatest favor.
And praying. All divine ordinances should be accompanied by prayer. Luke frequently notes the times when Jesus prayed. Here, at the entrance of his ministry, he prayed, and at the last moment of it he also prayed (Luke 23:46). In his highest exultation at the transfiguration (Luke 9:29), and in the lowest depths of humiliation in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41), he prayed. He prayed for his apostles whom he chose (Luke 6:12), and for his murderers by whom he was rejected (Luke 23:34), He prayed before Peter confessed him (Luke 9:18), and also before Peter denied him (Luke 22:32).
The heaven was opened. See Mark 1:10.

3:22  and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form1, as a dove2, upon him, and a voice came out of heaven3, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form. Lightfoot suggests that the Spirit thus descended that he might be revealed to be a personal substance and not merely an operation of the Godhead, and might thus make a sensible demonstration as to his proper place in the Trinity.
As a dove. The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus was in accordance with prophecy (Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 41:1). The dove shape suggests purity, gentleness, peace, etc. Jesus makes the dove a symbol of harmlessness (Matthew 10:15). In fact, the nature of this bird makes it a fit emblem of the Spirit, for it comports well with the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). The nations of the earth emblazon eagles upon their banners and lions upon their shields, but He who shall gather all nations into his kingdom, appeared as a Lamb, and his Spirit appeared under the symbol of a dove. Verily his kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom of peace and love, not of bloodshed and ambition. Noah's dove bore the olive branch, the symbol of peace, and the Holy Spirit manifested Jesus, God's olive branch of peace sent into this world (Psalms 72:7; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Ephesians 2:11-18).
And a voice came out of heaven, etc. See Mark 1:11.

3:23  And Jesus himself, when he began [to teach]1, was about thirty years of age, 2being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the [son] of Heli3, GENEALOGY ACCORDING TO LUKE. Luke 3:23-28
And Jesus himself, when he began [to teach]. Luke has been speaking about John the Baptist, he now turns to speak of Jesus himself.
Was about thirty years of age, About thirty years of age
. The age when a Levite entered upon God's service (Numbers 4:46,47); at which Joseph stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46); at which David began to reign (2 Samuel 5:4). Canon Cook fixes the date of Christ's baptism in the spring A.U.C. 780. Wiseler in the summer of that year, and Ellicott in the winter of that year.
Being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the [son] of Heli. This may mean that Jesus was grandson of Heli, or that Joseph was counted as a son of Heli because he was his son-in-law.

3:27  the [son] of Joanan, the [son] of Rhesa, the [son] of Zerubbabel, the [son] of Shealtiel, the [son] of Neri1,
Shealtiel, the [son] of Neri. Matthew called Shealtiel the son of Jechoniah. Jechoniah may have been the natural, and Neri the father of Shealtiel (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Matthew 22:24).

3:32  the [son] of Jesse, the [son] of Obed, the [son] of Boaz, the [son] of Salmon1, the [son] of Nahshon2,
Salmon. He was probably one of the two spies who were sent to Jericho by Joshua (Judges 2:1-4).
Nahshon. He was prince of the tribe of Judah during the wanderings in the wilderness (Numbers 1:4-7; Numbers 10:14).

3:35  the [son] of Serug, the [son] of Reu, the [son] of Peleg, the [son] of Eber1, the [son] of Shelah
Eber. It is thought that the name "Hebrew" comes from this name (Genesis 10:21; Genesis 40:15; Exodus 2:6).

3:36  the [son] of Cainan, the [son] of Arphaxad, the [son] of Shem, the [son] of Noah1, the [son] of Lamech,
Noah. The hero of the flood (Genesis 7:6).

3:37  the [son] of Methuselah1, the [son] of Enoch, the [son] of Jared, the [son] of Mahalaleel, the [son] of Cainan,
Methuselah. Who lived to be the oldest man on record, dying when 969 years old (Genesis 5:27).

3:38  the [son] of Enos, the [son] of Seth1, the [son] of Adam, the [son] of God.
Seth. The third son of Adam (Genesis 4:25).
Adam, the son of God. Adam was the son of God, being not merely a creature, but a creature made in God's image and likeness (Genesis 1:26,27).

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