Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
Verses 1-22. - THE BAPTISM OF JOHN. Verse 1. - Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. St. Luke's Gospel is framed after the model of approved histories. He commenced with an elaborate rhetorical preface, most carefully worded, stating, in a few well-chosen sentences, the reasons which had induced him to undertake the work. He then (Luke 1:5-2:52) skillfully wove into the text of his narrative one or more original documents; these he translated, preserving, with great art, as closely as possible, the spirit, and oftentimes the very words, of his original authority. Now, in this chapter he comes to a period more generally known. Here he has a vast number of sources for his story, written and oral; these he shapes into a regular history, beginning, as was the ordinary custom with works of this description, with the names of the chief rulers of the countries in which the events, which he proposed to relate, took place. He first speaks generally of the great Roman Empire under whose shadow the Holy Land at that time cowered. Then he proceeds to describe more fully the political divisions of Palestine; and, lastly, he writes of the great Jewish ecclesiastical governors of the day. Tiberius was the stepson of the Emperor Augustus, whom he succeeded. It was about this time that this monarch retired to the island of Capreae, where his life was disfigured with the grossest crimes. The government of his ministers, who ruled absolutely in his name, has become a byword for evil and tyrannical government. The influence of the Roman emperors at this time in Palestine appears from the attempts at adulation on the part of the local rulers, who, among many other localities, renamed the Lake of Galilee, where so many of the scenes narrated in our story took place, "the Sea of Tiberius." The city of Tiberius, on the shores of this inland sea, was named after the emperor. Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea. His proper title was ἐπίτροπος, procurator. In Judaea this civil functionary was also military commander. This double office gave the procurator of Judaea a higher rank and title; his official superior was the Roman Governor of Syria. Pilate became procurator in A.D. , and held the appointment for ten years. Herod being tetrarch of Galilee. This Herod is usually known as "Antipas" (properly, Antipater). He was a son of Herod the Great, and reigned for more than forty years; he was eventually deposed by the Roman authorities and' banished to Gaul. Galilee at this period was the most flourishing and densely populated portion of the land of promise. Roughly speaking, it occupied all the center of Palestine, the rich plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel) and the surrounding districts. His brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis. Herod Philip, another of the great Herod's sons, is well spoken of as a fair and judicious ruler. Caesarea Philippi was built by him. His tetrarchate included the ancient Bashan and the Hauran, and the country lying round the base of Hermon. Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene. This district lay to the east of the mountain range of Anti-Libanus, the river Barada flowing through it.
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
Verse 2. - Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests. The older authorities read, "in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas." The mention of two high priests arises from the fact of the legitimate high priest, Annas, having been deposed some fifteen years previously by the action of the then Roman procurator, Valerius Gratus In spite of this official deposition, he still apparently continued to be regarded as the legitimate high priest by the great majority of his countrymen. His great position and claim to the pontifical office, as we shall see, was markedly recognized at the time of the state trial of our Lord. Since his deposition by the Roman government, four high priests had been promoted in succession to the office of chief pontiff. It appears that at this time and for a long series of years, this great and powerful man, although not daring publicly to defy the Roman authority by assuming the insignia of the high priest, filled the office of Nasi, or president of the Sanhedrin. The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. In the days of the above-mentioned rulers - pagan and Jewish, civil and ecclesiastical-came the summons to the son of Zacharias in his solitude in the wilderness. From childhood he had been designated for some great work, and he knew it; his whole early life had been a training for it; and at last the summons came. We are not told of its special form; it was doubtless a theophany, or a vision somewhat similar to the which revealed to Moses and Isaiah, to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, their special work, and the way in which that special work was to be done.
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
Verse 3. - And he came into all the country about Jordan. The reputation of John probably preceded the Divine summons. His family - the son of a well-known priestly family - the marvellous circumstances attendant on his birth, his ascetic manner of life from the beginning, - all this had contributed to make him a marked personage; so, when he left his solitude, we read in the other evangelists how multitudes came forth to hear the strange burning words, the Divine eloquence of one long looked upon by the people as set apart for a great work. He seems to have principally preached and taught in the Jordan valley - no doubt for the convenience of his candidates for baptism. But he evidently did not confine his preaching to one spot or even to one neighborhood. The district here alluded to was about a hundred and fifty miles in length. The expectation of Messiah for centuries had been the root of all true life in Israel; gradually, as the clouds of evil fortune gathered thick over the people, the figure of the coming Messiah assumed a different aspect. At first a holier Monarch than their loved David, a grander Sovereign and a mightier than the Solomon of whom they were so proud, a King whose dominions should be broader far than even the wide realm ruled over by the son of Jesse and his greater son, was the ideal dreamed of by the Hebrew. In the long period of misfortune which succeeded the golden days of the monarchy, the people at first longed for a deliverer, and then - as never a ray of sunlight pierced the clouds which surrounded them - an avenger took the place of a deliverer. The Messiah of the future must be One who should restore his people certainly, but in the restoration must exact a sharp and severe reckoning from those who had so long oppressed his Israel. They had no conception of their true state, - their hypocrisy, their formalism, their total ignorance of all true spiritual religion. Their higher and cultured classes were selfish, grasping, impure, untrue. The mass of the people were ignorant and degraded, cruel fanatics, excited and untutored, zealots. From this mistaken notion of Messiah and his work it was necessary that a prophet, eminent and gifted like those mighty men who had wrought great things in times past among the people, should arise among them, and with strong, powerful, inspired words convince them of their fatal error - one who, in the language of the greatest of the order, should prepare the way of the Lord. How imperatively necessary, for the work of the Redeemer, this work of the pioneer was, is seen from the extreme difficulty which Jesus Christ himself found in persuading even his own little faithful band to realize anything of the nature of his work; in good truth they never, not even the noblest spirits among them, really grasped the secret of their Master's mission till the cross and the Passion belonged to history, and the Crucified had become the Risen, and the Risen the ascended God. The baptism of repentance. What, first, did John mean by repentance? The word translates the Greek μετάοεῖτε, which signifies "change of mind." In the Gospel of St. Matthew, where John's work is told in slightly different language, he is represented as saying, "Repent ye" (μετανοεῖτε). There his words might be paraphrased, "Turn ye from your old thoughts, from your state of self-content, self-satisfaction; mend your ways; reform." Here, then, the baptism (what that signified we shall discuss presently) which he preached and summoned men to, must be accompanied with a change of mind; the baptized must be no longer content with their present state or conduct; they must change their ways and reform their lives. Let them, those who were convinced that he was indeed a man of God, that his words were right and true - let them come to him, determined to change their conduct in life, and receive from his hands a baptism, a washing - the symbol of the means of purification; for John's baptism was nothing more. Now, baptism, it is clear, was not at this time practiced among the Jews. It was not, as far as we can trace, even used in the case of pagan proselytes to Judaism. This apparently only became a national custom after the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, forty years later. His very title, "the Baptist," in some way shows us that he practiced an unusual, if not a novel, rite in the course of his preaching and teaching. John's baptism (to use Dr. Morrison's vivid expressions, Commentary on Matthew 3:6) was just the embodiment, in significant optical symbolism, of the significant audible symbolism of the Old Testament prophets, when they cried aloud and said, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes" (Isaiah 1:16); "In float day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:l); "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you. and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezekiel 36:25, 26). This view of John's baptism, viz. that it was a symbol, and nothing more, was suggested by Josephus writing for the Jews. "John," he says, "enjoined upon the Jews first to cultivate virtue and to put in practice righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and then to come to his baptism, for thus only would the baptism be acceptable to God" ('Ant.,' 18:05, 2).
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Verse 4. - As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, voice of one crying in the wilderness. The prophet quoted (Isaiah 40:3) had been writing in his solitude, or more probably in some great popular assembly preaching to the people. There was doubtless at that time much national trouble threatening Israel; the future of the chosen race looked very dark and gloomy, within and without. We can hear the man of God speaking with intense earnestness, and looking on to brighter times. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned," etc.; and then a sudden burst when the prophet, bending forward and straining his ears to hear some sound none other caught but he, goes on in his rapt utterance - I hear a voice, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. The image is a simple one, and in the East one well knows, where the roads are comparatively few, and where they do exist are often in a bad state, when a sovereign is about to visit any part of his dominions, or still more if the march of an army has to be arranged for, the roads require considerable preparation. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 3:06) describes the advance of the Emperor Vespasian's army, and specially mentions how the pioneers and the vanguard had to make the road even and straight, and, if it were anywhere rough hard to be passed over, to plane it. There was a Jewish legend that this special pioneering work in the desert was done by the pillar of cloud and fire, which brought low the mountains and filled the valleys before the Israelitic march. John's special work was to prepare the way for the advent of a Messiah very different to the one the people looked for - to prepare his way by a spiritual reformation in the heart, the mind, and the character.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
Verse 5. - Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth. Godet and other commentators suggest, though they do not press, a particular application to each of the details of the picture. "For instance, the mountains that must be levelled may be referred to the pride of the Pharisees; the valleys to filled up, to the moral and religious indifference of such as the Sadducees; the crooked places to be made straight, to the frauds and lying excuses of the publicans; and lastly, the rough places, to the sinful habits found in all, even the best.'
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Verse 6. - And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. And when this preparation is complete, then shall Messiah publicly appear. And the Baptist faithfully performed his work as pioneer of the Christ. He awoke men's slumbering consciences; his note of alarm aroused through Palestine multitudes of men and women who afterwards, no doubt, formed the nucleus at least of the crowds who thronged round Jesus as he preached in the cities washed by the Lake of Galilee, or in the streets and temple courts of Jerusalem.
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Verse 7. - Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him. The following grave cutting rebukes, the burning reminders, must not be read as an extract from any one particular sermon of the Baptist, or even as a report of any of his discourses, but rather as a general sketch of the line of argument the great prophet adopted in his teaching. O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? In St. Matthew's account of John's work such scathing words as these were addressed to members of the Pharisee and Sadducee sects, who evidently flocked in great numbers to his baptism. They were alarmed and disturbed at his preaching; they feared that that drear time of awful suffering, generally known as the "woes of Messiah," a period which their great rabbis had told them would precede Messiah's advent, was at hand; they would provide themselves with some talisman against this time of sore calamity. The inspired predictor of these "woes" - men evidently looked on John as such - bade them come to his baptism; this baptism would be surely a safeguard, an easy bit of ritual, thought they, and one that readily approved itself to men trained in the rabbis' schools of that age, so they came to him in numbers. But John read their hearts; hence his stern fiery rebukes. "Let it be horse in mind that only teachers of transcendent holiness, and immediately inspired by God with fervency and insight, may dare to use such language" (Farrar).
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Verse 8. - Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance. In other words, "Since you profess to have taken flight from the wrath to come, show at once, by your change of life, that your repentance is worth something, has some meaning in it." Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father. These words show that John had the splendid courage to strike boldly at the very root of Jewish pride. Gradually Jewish belief in the especial favor of God, which they were to enjoy through all eternity, had grown up till it resulted in such extravagant expressions as these: "Abraham would sit at the gates of hell, and would not permit any circumcised Israelite of decent moral character to enter it;" "A single Israelite is worth more in God's sight than all the nations of the world;" "The world was made for their (Israel's) sake." This incredible arrogancy grew as their earthly fortunes became darker and darker. Only an eternity of bliss, of which they alone were to be partakers, could make up for the woes they were made to suffer here, while an eternity of anguish for the Gentile world outside Israel was a necessary vengeance for the indignities this Gentile world had inflicted upon the chosen people. Long ago the great Hebrew prophets had warned the deluded race that their election would profit them nothing if they failed in their duties to their God and their neighbor. For I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham; pointing, no doubt, to the rough shingle lying on the river Jordan's banks. John's thought was the same which Paul afterwards expressed to the Galatians in his own nervous language, "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham;" "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:7, 29).
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Verse 9. - And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. This intensifies the statement respecting the power of God to raise up, out of the very river shingle at their feet, children who should inherit the glorious promises made to Abraham. Nay, more, the Divine Woodman had already laid the axe at the root of the tree of Israel; its hours, as the peculiar people, were indeed numbered. Let these, who said they were willing to wash and be clean, be ready and bring forth fruit worthy of their high calling and the lofty prerogative of which they boasted. The last of the prophets, from his lonely watch-tower of unerring insight into the future, saw the awful coming doom of the loved city, the scattering and captivity of the remnant of the chosen people. Within forty years of that time would the fatal axe, now lying at the root of the tree, be lifted. In uttering this stern prophetic saying, we believe John was gazing at the storm gathering round Jerusalem, which in A.D. swept away city and temple, and destroyed the existence of Israel as a nation. When he preached it was about A.D. -32
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
Verse 10. - And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? Dean Plumptre's note here is interesting and suggestive: "The questions that follow are peculiar to St. Luke. They are interesting as showing that the work of the Baptist was not that of a mere preacher of repentance. Confession of sins followed naturally on the part of the penitents; that was followed, as naturally, by guidance for the conscience. St. Luke, as a physician of the soul, may well have delighted to place on record this example of true spiritual therapeutics." The same train of thought is followed out by Godet in his remark on the question contained in this verse: "It is the confessional after preaching." This little section (vers. 10-14), containing an epitome of questions placed before John by different classes of hearers touched by his soul-stirring preaching, is peculiar to our evangelist. It is clear that here, in the story of the ministry of the Baptist, Luke derived his knowledge of the details from an independent authority not used either by Matthew or Mark.
He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Verse 11. - He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. This advice is simple and practical. No difficult counsels of perfection are recommended, no useless penance. The great confessor simply presses home to his penitents the duty of unselfishness, the beauty of quiet generosity in the sight of God. The whole teaching of this eminent man of God was thoroughly practical. His predecessor, Micah, centuries before had given the luxurious and selfish Israel of his time the same Divine lesson: "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8).
Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
Verse 12. - Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? This is the first time this class of men, who on several occasions come before us in the gospel story, is mentioned. The English rendering is most unhappy, for to many of our people it either suggests nothing, or else supplies a wrong chain of reasoning. The τελῶναι, the Latin publicani (whence our rendering), were men who collected the Roman taxes or imposts. These imperial taxes, the most painful and everpresent reminder to the Jew of his subject and dependent position, were in the first instance leased out to jobbers and speculators of the equestrian order; these were properly the publicani. Beneath them and in their employ were a numerous staff who performed for these farmers of the imperial revenue the various disagreeable duties connected with the collection of the taxes. Then, as now in the East, bribery, corruption, oppression, and unfair dealing, were too common among all ranks of officials First, then, the duty itself, the being concerned in the collection of a tribute - for that is what these taxes really were - for Gentile Rome, and, secondly, the various iniquities connected with the gathering of this tribute, made the tax or tribute collectors of all ranks odious among the Jews dwelling in Palestine. Many of the posts, especially the subordinate ones, in this department of tribute and taxes, were held by Jews, in all ages singularly gifted in matters which have to do with finance. The Jew, however in the days of John the Baptist, who could stoop to such an employment, lucrative though it might be, was looked upon by his stricter fellow-countrymen with feelings of intense scorn. Yet even these men are not bidden by this inspired prophet of the Highest to change their way of life, but only its manner. "Would you," he says to these men who belonged to the hated calling, "indeed wash and be clean in the eyes of the All-Seeing? then in that profession of yours, remember, be scrupulous, be honest."
And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
Verse 14. - And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? Commentators generally discuss here who these soldiers were. The question is of little moment whether they were legionaries of Rome, or mercenaries in the pay of one of the tetrarchs or neighboring princes. The lesson is clear. As above to the publicans, so here to the soldiers, John says, "Remain in that profession of arms; you may. if you will, serve God in it, for it is never the work which ennobles, but the way in which the work is done."
And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
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.
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
Verse 16. - I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I cometh. To refute this growing conviction that he was the Messiah, John tells the people plainly tidal Another far greater than he was coming. He, John, certainly washed (baptized) those who came to him, but his washing was merely symbolical - it could not purify them; his work had been to stir them up to repentance, to arouse them to change their lives. But the One who was coming, before whom he (John) was unworthy to stand and perform the humblest menial office, that great One should baptize too, but his baptism would be a very different thing. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. There was, indeed, a difference between John's baptism and the baptism of the Messiah who was to come after him. John could do no more with his words and symbol baptism than rouse the people to struggle after repentance and a change of heart and life, while Messiah would furnish to men the influence from above, that was really needed in order to purity of heart and life. He would procure and pour out the influence of the Divine Spirit (see Dr. Morrison, Mark 1:8). And with fire. Not with punitive fire, which interpretation would be quite alien from the context here. Those expositors who have adopted this meaning of the fire here have been most likely influenced by the mention of the unquenchable fire in the next sentence. The fire which was to enter into Messiah's baptism was rather the flame of purification. So we read of the coal of fire taken from off the altar and laid on the mouth of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 6:6, 7). "With fire," writes Bishop Wordsworth, "to purify, illumine, transform, inflame with holy fervor and zeal, and carry upward, as Elijah was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire."
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
Verse 17. - Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner. But not only, taught John, was Messiah's work to consist in baptizing those who sought his face with the mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, there was another terrible aspect of his mission. The useless, the selfish, the oppressor, and the false-hearted, - these were to be separated and then destroyed. When will this separation and subsequent destruction take place? The separation will begin in this life. The effect of the revelation of a Savior would be to intensify at once the antagonism between good and evil. Between the followers of Christ and the enemies of Christ would a sharp line of demarcation be speedily drawn even here; but the real separation would only take place on the great day when Messiah should judge the world; then would the two classes, the righteous and the unrighteous, be gathered into two bands; condemnation, sweeping, irresistible, would hurry the hapless evil-doers into destruction, while the righteous would be welcomed in his own blessed city. The imagery used is rough, but striking. It was taken, as is so much of Oriental teaching, from scenes from the everyday life of the working world around them. The theater is one of those rough Eastern threshingfloors on the top or side of a hill, so chosen for the purpose of having the benefit of the wind. The actor, a peasant employed in winnowing. "Not far from the site of ancient Corinth," writes a modern traveler in Greece, "where the peasants in many of their customs approach near to Oriental nations, I passed a heap of grain which some laborers were employed in winnowing: they used for throwing up the mingled wheat and chaff, a three-pronged wooden fork, having a handle three or four feet long. Like this, no doubt, was the fan, or winnowing-shovel, which John the Baptist represents Christ as bearing" (Dr. Hackett, quoted by Dr. Morrison, on Matthew 3:12). The fan thus described would throw up against the breeze the mingled wheat and chaff; the light particles would be wafted to the side, while the grain would fall and remain on the threshing floor. With fire unquenchable. This image in itself is a terrible one; still, it must not be used in the question of eternity of punishment. The tire is here termed "unquenchable" because, when once the dry chaff was set on fire, nothing the peasants could do would arrest the swift work of the devouring flame. All that is here said of the condemned is that they will be destroyed from before the presence of the great Husbandman with a swift, certain destruction. If it points to anything, the imagery here would hint at the total annihilation of the wicked; for the flames, unquenchable while any chaff remained to be consumed, would, when the rubbish was burnt up, die quickly down, and a little heap of charred ashes would alone mark the place of its burning. But it is highly improbable that any deduction of this kind was intended to be drawn. The Baptist's lesson is severely simple.
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
Verse 18. - And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people. These words tell us that the above was merely a "specimen" of John the Baptist's preaching, trenchant, fearless, practical, piercing the hearts of all classes and orders of the people who thronged to hear the earnest, fiery appeals of the great desert preacher. In this and in the next two verses St. Luke once more gives us a little picture of the events which were spread over a considerable area or' time. It is here introduced out of its proper place to explain the abrupt termination of the popular career of John the Baptist.
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
Verse 20. - He shut up John in prison. It did not enter into St. Luke's plan to write any detailed account of the circumstances which led to the death of the Baptist. The story (related at length by St. Matthew) was, no doubt, well known in all the Gentile Churches. He simply mentions the act which consigned the dauntless preacher to the dungeons of Herod's palace-fortress, close to the Dead Sea; it was termed Macha, or Machaerus. In closing his little sketch of the work of his Master's great pioneer, St. Luke wishes to show that the fearless Baptist was no respecter of persons. The despised collector of Roman tribute, the rough free lance or mercenary, the nameless legionary of Rome, was attacked for his evil life and his wanton excesses, with no greater hardihood than the prince who sat on the throne of the mighty Herods. True servant of his brave and patient Master, he paid the penalty of his splendid courage and, "like so many of earth's great ones, he passed through pain and agony to his rest."
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
Verses 21, 22. - The baptism of Jesus. Verses 21, 22. - Now when all the people were baptized. This is the shortest account of the first three Gospels of this event. Two circumstances related are, however, peculiar to St. Luke - the fact that he ascended "praying" from the water, and the opening words of this verse, which probably signify that on this day Jesus waited till the crowds who were in the habit of coming to John had been baptized. Jesus also being baptized. There is a curious addition to the Gospel narratives of the baptism of the Lord preserved by Jerome. He tells us he extracted it from the Hebrew Gospel used by the Nazarenes, a copy of which in his day was preserved at Caesarea. "Lo, the mother of the Lord and his brethren said to him, John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him. But he answered and said unto them, In what have I sinned, that I should go and be baptized by him? unless, indeed, it be in ignorance that I have said what I have just said." It is, no doubt, a very ancient traditional saying, and is perhaps founded on some well-authenticated oral tradition. If St. Luke knew of it, he did not consider it of sufficient importance to incorporate it in his narrative. In St. Matthew's account of the "baptism," John at first resists when asked to perform the rite on his kinsman Jesus. His knowledge of Jesus at this time was evidently considerable. He was acquainted, of course, with all that had already happened in his "cousin's" life, and probably it had been revealed to him, or told him by his mother (Luke 1:43), that in the Nazareth Carpenter, the Son of Mary, he was to look for the promised Messiah, with whose life-story his was so closely bound up. The answers to the question, What was the reason of Jesus' baptism? have been many. In this, as in many things connected with the earthly life of our Lord, there is much that is mysterious, and we can never hope here to solve these difficulties with any completeness. The mystic comments of the Fathers, though not perfectly satisfactory, are, however, after all the best of the many notes that have been made on this difficult question. Bishop Wordsworth sums them up well in his words: "He came to baptize water, by being baptized in it." Ignatius ('Ad. Eph.,' 18, beginning of the second century) writes, "He was baptized that, by his submission to the rite, he might purify the water." Jerome, in the same strain, says, "He did not so much get cleansing from baptism, as impart cleansing to it." It would seem that Jesus, in submitting to the rite himself, did it with the intention of sanctifying the blessed sacrament in the future. And praying. Peculiar to St. Luke. This evangelist on eight other occasions mentions the praying of Jesus. The heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended... upon him. While he was praying and gazing up into heaven, the deep blue vault was rent asunder, and the Sinless One gazed far into the realms of eternal light; and as he gazed he saw descend a ray of glory, which, dove-like, brooded above his head, and then lighted upon him. This strange bright vision was seen, not only by him, but by the Baptist (John 1:32, 33). That the form of a dove absolutely descended and lighted upon Jesus seems unlikely; a radiant glorious Something both Jesus and the Baptist saw descending. John compares it to a dove - this cloud of glory sailing through the clear heaven, then, bird-like, sinking, hovering, or brooding, over the head of the Sinless One, then lighting, as it were, upon him. In likening the radiant vision to a dove, probably John had heard of the rabbinical comment (it is in the Talmud) on Genesis 1:2, that the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters like a dove. Milton has reproduced the thought -
"And with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss."
(Paradise Lost,' 1:20.) John, for want of a better simile, reproduced the image which he had doubtless heard from his teacher in the Law, when he desired to represent in earthly language the Divine Thing which in some bodily form he had seen. In the early Church there was a legend very commonly current - we find it in Justin Martyr ('Dialogue with Trypho,' 88), and also in the Apocryphal Gospels - that at the baptism of Jesus a fire was kindled in Jordan. This was doubtless another, though a more confused memory of the glory-appearance which John saw falling on the Messiah. And a voice came from heaven; better rendered, out of heaven. We read in the Talmud that "on the death of the last prophets - Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi - the Holy Spirit departed from Israel; but they (i.e. Israeli were availing themselves of the daughter (echo) of a voice, Bath-Kol, for the reception of Divine communications" ('Treatise Yoma,' fol. 9, col. 2). In the Gospels there is a mention of the heavenly voice being again heard at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), and during the last week of the earthly ministry (John 12:28-30). In the story of Israel the Persons of the everblessed Trinity were pleased to manifest themselves on various occasions to mortal eye and mortal ear. Very frequently to the eye, in the visible glory of the pillar of cloud and fire in the desert journeys; in the glorious light which shone in the holy of holies, first in the tabernacle of the wanderings, then in the temple; in the flame as in the burning bush, and in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel; in appearances as in the meeting with Abraham and with Joshua. To the ear the word of the Lord spoke, amongst others, to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and the later prophets. So in this, the transition period of Messiah, the visible glory of God and the audible voice of God were again seen and heard by mortal man. Jerome calls attention here to the distinctness of each of the Persons of the blessed Trinity, as shown in this baptism of the Messiah. "The mystery of the Trinity is shown in the baptism of Christ The Lord is baptized, the Spirit descends in the likeness of a dove, the voice of the Father is heard bearing witness to his Son, and the dove settles on the head of Jesus, lest any one should imagine that the voice was for John and not for Christ." We may with all reverence conclude that, after the hearing of the voice from heaven, "the Messianic self- consciousness would undoubtedly expand with rapidity, both intensively and extensively, into complete maturity. That self- consciousness, it must be borne in mind, would necessarily, so far as this human side of his Being was concerned, be subject, in its development, to the condition of time" (Dr. Morrison, on Matthew 3:17).
And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
Verse 23a. - And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age. This was the age at which the Levites entered upon their work; the age, too, at which it was lawful for scribes to teach. Generally speaking, thirty among the Jews was looked upon as the time of life when manhood had reached its full development.
Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
Verses 23b-38. - THE EARTHLY GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST. Although in every Hebrew family the hope seems to have been cherished that the promised Messiah would be born among them, yet generally the prophetic utterances were understood to point to the Deliverer springing from the royal house of David. To demonstrate that this was actually true in the case of the reputed Son of Mary and Joseph, both the genealogies contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were compiled from private and public records. It is well known that these family trees were preserved with care in well-nigh every Jewish family. The sacred books compiled after the return from Babylon - 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah - with their long tables of descent, show us that these family records existed then. Josephus (second century) thus writes: "I relate my genealogy as I find it recorded in the public tables" ('Life,' ch. 1.). In his work against Apion (1:7) he says, "From all the countries in which our priests are scattered abroad, they send to Jerusalem [in order that their children may be placed on the official roll] papers with the names of their parents and their ancestors; these papers are formally witnessed." It follows that, if such care were taken in the case of the numerous priestly houses, equal attention would be paid to their family records by the comparatively few families who boasted their descent from King David and the ancient royal house. R. Hillel, the renowned teacher, who lived in the days of Jesus Christ, belonged to the poor among the people, and yet he was able to prove, from existent records, that he was one of David's descendants. Some seventy years later, the grandchildren of Jude, the reputed brother of the Lord, a son of Joseph, were summoned to Rome, and appeared before the Emperor Domitian as descendants of the old royal house of David. Now, no further comment would be necessary upon this elaborate "table" of St. Luke did there not exist in St. Matthew's Gospel another family tree, purporting to be the line of Messiah's ancestors. Between these two tables there are many important differences. How are these to be explained? On this subject in different times many works have been written. In the present Commentary the writer does not propose to examine the details of the two tables of SS. Matthew and Luke; the question of the existence of the two records will alone be dealt with. The various smaller points of discrepancy in the registers of SS. Matthew and Luke, although curious and striking, are utterly barren of interest to the great majority of students of the Divine Word. The reader who may wish to examine these is referred - among modern scholars' works on this subject - to Bishop Harvey's exhaustive work on the genealogy of the Lord; to Archdeacon Farrar's Excursus in his 'Commentary on St, Luke' in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools;' and to Professor Godet's Commentary on this Gospel. We will confine ourselves here to three points.
(1) Why does St. Luke insert his table of Messiah's earthly descent in this place?
(2) For what reason does he trace up the long ancestral line to Adam?
(3) What is the broad outline of the explanation of St. Luke's divergency from the genealogical table of St. Matthew? (1) and (2) can be shortly answered.
(1) St. Luke felt that this was the most suitable place in his narrative for such a table. His work was evidently most carefully and skillfully arranged upon the lines of formal history. Up to this point the story was mainly concerned with other personages - with the parents of the great forerunner John, with Mary the Virgin and Joseph, with the angels, with the shepherds, with Simeon and with Anna, and especially with the work of John the Baptist. But from henceforth all the minor persons of the Divine story pass into the background. There is now one central figure upon whom the whole interest of the Divine drama centers - Jesus. This, the moment of his real introduction on the world's stage, was, as St. Luke rightly judged it, the time to give the formal table of his earthly ancestry.
(2) Different from the Hebrew evangelist St. Matthew, whose thoughts were centred on the chosen race, and whose horizon was bounded by Palestine, or at least by those cities where his countrymen of the dispersion lived and worked, and who only cared to show that his Messiah had sprung from the great patriarch, the father of the tribes of Israel, St. Luke, feeling that the scene of the work of his Messiah was bounded by no Jewish horizon, traces up his Lord's reputed line of earthly ancestors to the first father of the human race. The Jesus of Luke was the Savior, not only of the children of Abraham, but of the children of Adam. The noble Isaiah-prophecy, which we feel was one of the great mainsprings of Paul's life and work, was the real reason of Luke, the disciple of Paul, tracing up Messiah's family line to Adam. "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a Light to the Gentiles" (Isaiah 49:6). Luke alone records the incident and the words of Simeon in the temple.
(3) The genealogy given by St. Luke differs from that presented by St. Matthew, because St. Luke has extricated from family records the line of Mary, while St. Matthew has elected to chronicle the family of Joseph. This solution of the differences between the two lists was apparently first suggested by Annius of Viterbo, at the close of the fifteenth century. Among the many eminent modern scholars who accept it, I would instance Professor Godet and Dean Plumptre. The arguments in favor of this view - viz, that the genealogy is Mary's, not Joseph's - are the following. The table begins as follows: "And Jesus... being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Hell, which was the son of Matthat," etc. In the original Greek all the older authorities, before the name Joseph, omit the article τοῦ, of the. This article is found before all the names in the long list with this solitary exception. This absence of the article τοῦ certainly puts the name of Joseph in a special position in the series of names, and leads us to suppose that the genealogy is not that of Joseph, but of Hell (Hell being the father of Mary, the omission of her name will be treated later on.) The twenty-third verse would then read thus: "And Jesus,... (being as was supposed the son of Joseph)," after which parenthesis the first link in the chain would be Jesus, the heir and grandson, and in that sense the son of Hell. It is by no means unusual in the Old Testament to find the grandson termed the "son" of his grandfather (compare, for instance, 1 Chronicles 8:1 and 3 with Genesis 46:21; Ezra 5:1 and Genesis 6:14 with Zechariah 1:1, 7). On the omission of Mary's name, Godet quotes from the Talmud ('Treatise Bava Bathra,' 110, a), and urges with great truth that not only among the Hebrews did ancient sentiment not accord with the mention of a mother as the genealogical link. The Talmud treatise most singularly comes to our help again by mentioning that Mary the mother of Jesus was called the daughter of Heli. We have before dwelt upon the fact that not only general ancient tradition, but the plain sense of the gospel story, ascribed to Mary a royal Davidic descent. 'Bava Bathra' (quoted by Godet), with great force, asks (though with a different design), what sensible man, after declaring at the commencement of the list that the relationship of Joseph and Jesus was destitute of all reality (ὡς ἐνομίζετο), could take pleasure in drawing up such a list of ancestors? This most pertinent question can only be answered by showing that the list is a list, not of Joseph's ancestors, but of Mary's, who was in very truth the mother of Jesus. In coming to any conclusion respecting the real history of the drawing up the two distinct genealogical tables, the one of Joseph, the other of Mary, it will be ever well to bear in mind that the early chapters of the two narratives of SS. Matthew and Luke, where the events of the birth and infancy of the Lord are told, were most probably based on memories written and oral, proceeding from two distinct centres or circles of believers, eye-witnesses many of them of the things they related or of which they preserved a faithful memory in writing. The one circle - to use Godet's words - of which Joseph was the center, and which we suppose consisted of Cleopas, his brothers James and Jude the sons of Joseph, of whom one was the first bishop of the flock in Jerusalem, included, too, Simeon a son of Cleopas, the first successor of James. The narratives preserved amongst these persons might easily reach the ears of the author of the First Gospel, who doubtless lived in the midst of this flock. But a cycle of narratives must also have formed itself round Mary. These doubtless are those which Luke has preserved. The genealogy, then, of St. Matthew, which has Joseph in view, must have proceeded from his family. That given, on the other hand, by St. Luke, no doubt issued from the circle of which Mary was the center. The other differences in the two genealogies are minor and of far less interest; they are exhaustively discussed in the various monographs which have been written on this subject, and to which reference has been made above.
Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge,
Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,
Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er,
Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi,
Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim,
Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,
Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson,
Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,
Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,
Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,
Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
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