Luke 3:15
And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) All men mused in their hearts . . .—The surmise which St. Luke thus records is not given by St. Matthew or St. Mark, but it agrees with what we find in St. John (John 1:19), and explains the reference to the “mightier” one which in the other Gospels comes in somewhat abruptly. On the answer itself, see Notes on Matthew 3:11-12. St. Luke’s report includes the chief features of those of St. Matthew and St. Mark, but it omits the characteristically vivid “stooping down” to unloose which we find in the latter.

Luke

JOHN’S WITNESS TO JESUS, AND GOD’S

Luke 3:15 - Luke 3:22
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This passage falls into three parts: John’s witness to the coming Messiah {Luke 3:15 - Luke 3:17}; John’s undaunted rebuke of sin in high places, and its penalty {Luke 3:18 - Luke 3:20}; and God’s witness to Jesus {Luke 3:21 - Luke 3:22}.

I. Luke sharply parts off the Baptist’s work as a preacher of repentance and plain morality from his work as the herald who preceded the king.

The former is delineated in Luke 3:7 - Luke 3:14, and its effect was to set light to the always smouldering expectation of the Messiah. The people were ready to rally round him if he would say that he was the coming deliverer. It was a real temptation, but his unmoved humility, which lay side by side with his boldness, brushed it aside, and poured an effectual stream of cold water on the excitement. ‘John answered’ the popular questionings, of which he was fully aware, and his answer crushed them.

In less acute fashion, the same temptation comes to all who move the general conscience. Disciples always seek to hoist their teacher higher than is fitting. Adherence to him takes the place of obedience to his message, and, if he is a true man, he has to damp down misdirected enthusiasm.

Mark John’s clear apprehension of the limitations of his work. He baptized with water, the symbol and means of outward cleansing. He does not depreciate his position or the importance of his baptism, but his whole soul bows in reverence before the coming Messiah, whose great office was to transcend his, as the wide Mediterranean surpassed the little lake of Galilee. His outline of that work is grand, though incomplete. It is largely based upon Malachi’s closing prophecy, and the connection witnesses to John’s consciousness that he was the Elijah foretold there. He saw that the Messiah would surpass him in his special endowment. Strong as he was, that other was to be stronger. Probably he did not dream that that other was to wield the divine might, nor that His perfect strength was to be manifested in weakness, and to work its wonders by the might of gentle, self-sacrificing love. But, though he dimly saw, he perfectly adored. He felt himself unworthy {literally, insufficient} to be the slave who untied {or, according to Matthew, ‘bore’} his lord’s sandals. How beautiful is the lowliness of that strong nature! He stood erect in the face of priests and tetrarchs, and furious women, and the headsman with his sword, but he lay prostrate before his King.

Strength and royal authority were not all that he had to proclaim of Messiah. ‘He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire.’ We observe that the construction here is different from that in Luke 3:16 {‘with water’}, inasmuch as the preposition ‘in’ is inserted, which, though it is often used ‘instrumentaly,’ is here, therefore, more probably to be taken as meaning simply ‘in.’ The two nouns are coupled under one preposition, which suggests that they are fused together in the speaker’s mind as reality and symbol.

Fire is a frequently recurrent emblem of the Holy Spirit, both in the Old and New Testament. It is not the destructive, but the vitalising, glowing, transforming, energy of fire, which is expressed. The fervour of holy enthusiasm, the warmth of ardent love, the melting of hard hearts, the change of cold, damp material into its own ruddy likeness, are all set forth in this great symbol. John’s water baptism was poor beside Messiah’s immersion into that cleansing fire. Fire turns what it touches into kindred flame. The refiner’s fire melts metal, and the scum carries away impurities. Water washes the surface, fire pierces to the centre.

But while that cleansing by the Spirit’s fire was to be Messiah’s primary office, man’s freedom to accept or reject such blessing necessarily made His work selective, even while its destination was universal. So John saw that His coming would part men into two classes, according as they submitted to His baptism of fire or not. The homely image of the threshing-floor, on some exposed, windy height, carries a solemn truth. The Lord of the harvest has an instrument in His hand, which sets up a current of air, and the wheat falls in one heap, while the husks are blown farther, and lie at the edge of the floor. Mark the majestic emphasis on the Christ’s ownership in the two phrases, ‘His floor’ and ‘His garner.’

Notice, too, the fact which determines whether a man is chaff or wheat-namely, his yielding to or rejecting the fiery baptism which Christ offers. Ponder that awful emblem of an empty, rootless, fruitless, worthless life, which John caught up from Psalm 1:1 - Psalm 1:6 Thankfully think of the care and safe keeping and calm repose shadowed in that picture of the wheat stored in the garner after the separating act. And let us lay on awed hearts the terrible doom of the chaff. There are two fires, to one or other of which we must be delivered. Either we shall gladly accept the purging fire of the Spirit which burns sin out of us, or we shall have to meet the punitive fire which burns up us and our sins together. To be cleansed by the one or to be consumed by the other is the choice before each of us.

II. Luke 3:18 - Luke 3:20 show John as the preacher and martyr of righteousness.

Luke tells his fate out of its proper place, in order to finish with him, and, as it were, clear the stage for Jesus. Similarly the Baptist’s desert life is told by anticipation in Luke 1:80. That treatment of his story marks his subordination. His martyrdom is not narrated by Luke, though he knew of it {Luke 9:7 - Luke 9:9}, and this brief summary is all that is said of his heroic vehemence of rebuke to sin in high places, and of his suffering for righteousness’ sake. John’s message had two sides to it, as every gospel of God’s has. To the people he spoke good tidings and exhortations; to lordly sinners he pealed out stern rebukes.

It needs some courage to tell a prince to his face that he is foul with corruption, and, still more, to put a finger on his actual sins. But he is no prophet who does not lift up his voice like a trumpet, and speak to hardened consciences. King Demos is quite as impatient of close dealing with his immorality as Herod was. London and New York get as angry with the Christian men who fight against their lust and drunkenness as ever he did, and would not be sorry if they could silence these persistent ‘fanatics’ as conveniently as he could. The need for courage like John’s, and plain speech like his, is not past yet. The ‘good tidings’ has rebuke as part of its substance. The sword is two-edged.

III. The narrative now turns to Jesus, and does not even name John as having baptized Him.

The peculiarities of Luke’s account of the baptism are instructive. He omits the conversation between Jesus and John, and the fact of John’s seeing the dove and hearing the voice. Like Mark, he makes the divine voice speak directly to Jesus, whereas Matthew represents it as spoken concerning Him. The baptism itself is disposed of in an incidental clause {having been baptized}. The general result of these characteristics is that this account lays emphasis on the bearing of the divine witness as borne to Jesus Himself. It does not deny, but simply ignores, its aspect as a witness borne to John.

Another striking point is Luke’s mention of Christ’s prayer, which is thus represented as answered by the opened heavens, the descending dove, and the attesting voice. We owe most of our knowledge of Christ’s prayers to this Evangelist, whose mission was to tell of the Son of man. Mysteries beyond our plummets are contained in this story; but however unique it is, it has this which may be reproduced, that prayer unveiled heaven, and brought down the dove to abide on the bowed head, and the divine attestation of sonship to fill the waiting heart.

We need not dwell on the beautiful significance of the emblem of the dove. It symbolised both the nature of that gracious, gentle Spirit, and the perpetuity and completeness of its abode on Jesus. Others receive portions of that celestial fullness, but itself, as if embodied in visible form, settled down on Him, and, with meekly folded wings, tarried there unscared. ‘God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.’

Our Evangelist does not venture into the deep waters, nor attempt to tell what was the relation between the Incarnate Word, as it dwelt in Jesus before that descent, and the Spirit which came upon Him. We shall be wise if we refrain from speculating on such points, and content ourselves with knowing that there has been one manhood capable of receiving and retaining uninterruptedly the whole Spirit of God; and that He will fill us with the Spirit which dwelt in Him, in measure and manner corresponding to our need and our faith.

The heavenly voice spoke to the heart of the man Jesus. What was His need of it, and what were its effects on Him, we do not presume to affirm. But probably it originated an increased certitude of the consciousness which dawned, in His answer to Mary, of His unique divine sonship. To us it declares that He stands in an altogether unexampled relation of kindred to the Father, and that His whole nature and acts are the objects of God’s complacency. But He has nothing for Himself alone, and in Him we may become God’s beloved sons, well pleasing to the Father.Luke 3:15-17. And as all the people were in expectation, &c. — The austerity of John’s life, the important subjects of his sermons, the fervency of his exhortations, and the freedom, impartiality, and courage with which he rebuked all classes of sinners, raised him very high in the esteem of the generality of people; insomuch that many began to be of opinion he might be the Messiah. And possibly the extraordinary events which had occurred thirty years before, namely, the vision which his father Zacharias had seen in the temple, the coming of the eastern sages to Jerusalem, the prophecies of Simeon, and the testimony of Anna, which doubtless would be fresh in the memories of many of them, and would all be applied to John, might strengthen that opinion. And, if John had aspired after grandeur, he might for a while have possessed honours greater than any of mankind could justly claim. But he was too upright and pious to assume a character which he had no right to, and therefore he declared plainly that he was not the Messiah, but one of the lowest of his servants; one sent to prepare his way before him. At the same time, to give his hearers a just idea of his Master’s dignity, he described the authority and efficacy of his ministry. John answered, saying, I indeed baptize you with water, &c. I am sent from God, and the message I bring is, that all ranks and orders of persons must repent. Withal, to impress this doctrine more deeply on their minds, I address their senses by baptizing all my disciples with water. But one mightier than I cometh — There is an infinitely greater prophet than I am, ready to appear, namely, the Messiah; the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose — For whom I am not worthy to perform the meanest servile office. He shall baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire — His baptism shall be unspeakably more efficacious than mine, for he will bestow on you the gifts and graces of his Holy Spirit. Whose fan is in his hand — See this and the preceding verse explained at large, in the notes on Matthew 3:11-12.3:15-20 John the Baptist disowned being himself the Christ, but confirmed the people in their expectations of the long-promised Messiah. He could only exhort them to repent, and assure them of forgiveness upon repentance; but he could not work repentance in them, nor confer remission on them. Thus highly does it become us to speak of Christ, and thus humbly of ourselves. John can do no more than baptize with water, in token that they ought to purify and cleanse themselves; but Christ can, and will baptize with the Holy Ghost; he can give the Spirit, to cleanse and purify the heart, not only as water washes off the dirt on the outside, but as fire clears out the dross that is within, and melts down the metal, that it may be cast into a new mould. John was an affectionate preacher; he was beseeching; he pressed things home upon his hearers. He was a practical preacher; quickening them to their duty, and directing them in it. He was a popular preacher; he addressed the people, according to their capacity. He was an evangelical preacher. In all his exhortations, he directed people to Christ. When we press duty upon people, we must direct them to Christ, both for righteousness and strength. He was a copious preacher; he shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God. But a full stop was put to John's preaching when he was in the midst of his usefulness. Herod being reproved by him for many evils, shut up John in prison. Those who injure the faithful servants of God, add still greater guilt to their other sins.In expectation - Expecting the Messiah. Margin, "suspense." That is, they were not certain whether John was not himself the Messiah. They confidently "expected" his appearing, and there minds were in "suspense," or they were in a state of doubt whether he had not already come, and whether John was not the Messiah.

Mused in their hearts of John - Thought of his character, his preaching, and his success, and anxiously inquired whether he did not do the things which were expected of the Messiah.

15-17. whether he were the Christ—showing both how successful he had been in awakening the expectation of Messiah's immediate appearing, and the high estimation, and even reverence, which his own character commanded. (Also see on [1555]Mt 3:10.) It being known to many what the angel had told Zacharias concerning John thirty years since, and what had miraculously happened at his circumcision, as also what Zacharias his father had prophesied concerning him; and there having been many who had observed the holiness and severity of his life all along, until he came to man’s estate; and knowing that the time was fulfilled for the coming of the Messias, the sceptre being now departed from Judah, and Daniel’s weeks being accomplished; and hearing him preach with that life and power which attended his ministry, as also considering his doctrine (not new in itself, being consonant to the Divine law, and the doctrine of the prophets, but) new to them, who had used to hear of rites and ceremonies and the traditions of the elders, but little or nothing of repentance, or bringing forth fruits worthy of it; they began to reason and debate with, themselves, whether John the Baptist were not the Messiah promised, and in great suspense they were about it. But John quickly satisfied them as to that, not desirous to arrogate to himself his honour, whose, messenger only he was. And as the people were in expectation, of the coming of the Messiah; Daniel's seventy weeks being now accomplished, the sceptre being departed from Judah, and the Romans having the government in their hands, from whom they hoped for a deliverance by Christ;

and all men mused in their hearts of John; whether he were the Christ, or no; about which they had many reasonings and debates: some doubting of it, others ready to believe it, from his extraordinary birth, the singular holiness of his life, the power and efficacy of his doctrine, the new ordinance he administered, the restoration of religion by him, the freedom he took in reproving the vices of men, and the apt answers he gave to the questions now put to him. And that the Messiah was born, though he was not, as yet, made manifest, they might conclude, not only from the fulfilment of several prophecies, but from the song of Zacharias, the declaration of Simeon and Anna in the temple, and of the wise men that came from the east; and John appearing in such an unusual manner, they were ready to hope that he was the person; though they did not consider that he was of the tribe of Levi, and not of Judah; from which latter the Messiah was to spring; but this might be unattended to by them, and Satan might have an hand in it to hide the true Messiah from them.

{2} And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;

(2) If we would rightly and fruitfully receive the sacraments, we must neither rest in the signs, neither in him that ministers the signs, but lift up our eyes to Christ, who is the author of the sacraments, and the giver of that which is represented by the sacraments.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Luke 3:15. Statement of the circumstances which elicited the following confession; although not found in Matthew and Mark, it has not been arbitrarily constructed by Luke (Weisse) in order to return again to the connection, Luke 3:9 (Hilgenfeld, Holtzmann), but was probably derived from the same source as Luke 3:10 ff., and at all events it is in keeping with the impression made by the appearance of John, and his preaching of baptism and repentance. Comp. John 1:25, where the more immediate occasion is narrated.

προσδοκῶντος] while the people were in expectation. The people were eagerly listening—for what? This is shown in what follows, namely, for an explanation by John about himself. Comp. Acts 27:33.

μήποτε] whether not perchance. Comp. on Galatians 2:2.

αὐτός] ipse, not a third, whose forerunner then he would only be.Luke 3:15-17. Art thou the Christ? (Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8).15–20. The Messianic Announcement. Imprisonment of John

15. were in expectation] The Messianic expectations of the day had even reached the Gentiles, many of whom even at Rome and in high society were proselytes, or half proselytes, to Judaism.

mused] Rather, reasoned.

whether he were the Christ] Rather, whether haply he were himself the Christ.Luke 3:15. Προσδοκῶντος, being in expectation) They were waiting in expectation that proofs [of Messiahship] should come from John or from some other quarter. But John, being son of the priest Zacharias, was not of the tribe of Judah, of which it was certain that the Messiah was to spring.—ὁ Χριστὸς, the Christ) As yet they had not so gross a conception concerning the Christ [as subsequently]: for John had no external splendour to recommend him, and yet they were musing such thoughts concerning him.Verse 15. - All men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not. There was general expectation at that time among the Jews that Messiah's coming was at hand. This strange feeling that something momentous was about to happen to mankind was not confined to the Jews of Palestine, it strongly influenced the Jews who were dispersed in foreign countries - Egypt, Greece, Italy, etc., and through them it had even reached many of the Gentiles who were brought into contact with the chosen people. This idea among the Jews, that John was probably the looked-for deliverer, is only mentioned by St. Luke-another proof that the source of his information was quite distinct from that used by Matthew and Mark. Mused (διαλογιζομένων)

Better as Rev., reasoned. Compare Luke 1:29; and see on James 2:4.

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