Luke 3:1, 2
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee…
We have these historical personages brought into view in order to fix the year when John began his ministry. At the time when they lived they would have scorned the idea that their names were only to be valuable in proportion as they shed light on the life and the work of this rugged Jewish saint. But so it is. We only care to know about these Romans because their figures cross the stage of sacred history, and because they came into temporary relationship with John and with John's great Master. Their names, however, being brought into conjunction with his, let us notice the contrast which they present to us.
I. THEY WERE UNLIKE AS THEY COULD BE TO ONE ANOTHER IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND SURROUNDINGS OF THEIR LIFE. These Roman worldlings dwelt in palaces, lived in luxury, surrounded themselves with everything that could minister to comfort and enjoyment; they were gorgeously apparelled, and lived delicately in their kingly courts (Luke 7:25). John was a man who despised delicacies, and deliberately chose that which was coarse in garment, unpalatable in food, rude in dwelling. His life was positively devoid of that which was refreshing, comforting, delightful, so far as the outward and the visible were concerned.
II. THEY WERE DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED IN CHARACTER. If we except Philip, who left a reputation for justice and moderation, and Lysanias, of whom nothing or little is known, we may say of the others that they were men whose character was not only reprehensible, but even hideous. Of Tiberius Caesar we read that, after he came to the throne, he entirely disappointed the promise of his earlier years, and that he "wallowed in the very kennel of the low and debasing." Of Pilate we know from the evangelists' story that he was a man, not indeed without some sense of justice and pity, not incapable of being moved at the sight of sublime patience and innocence, but yet sceptical, superstitious, entirely wanting in political principle, ready to sacrifice righteousness to save his own position. Of Herod Antipas we know from Scripture that he was cunning, licentious, superstitious. But of John, the Hebrew prophet, we know that he was utterly fearless and disregardful of his own interests when duty called him to speak freely (ver. 19); that he was a faithful preacher of Divine truth (vers. 7-14); that he was perfectly loyal to that One who was so much greater than himself (ver. 16); that he was capable of a most noble magnanimity (John 3:29). He was a godly, upright, heroic soul.
III. THEY HAVE LEFT VERY DIFFERENT MEMORIES BEHIND THEM. Of one of these Romans (Tiberius) we read that he "deserved the scorn and abhorrence of mankind." Perhaps this language, only a very little weakened, might be used of two others of them. But concerning John, after our Lord's own eulogium (Luke 7:25), we feel that we can be in little danger of thinking of him too highly and of honoring him too much.
IV. THEY RESEMBLED ONE ANOTHER ONLY IN THAT THEY BOTH RAN GREAT RISKS OF EARTHLY ILL. Devotedness in the person of John exposed itself to severe penalties, to the condemnation of man, to imprisonment and death. But worldliness in the person of these Roman dignitaries ran great risks also; it had to encounter human fickleness and human wrath. Tiberius is believed to have become insane. Pilate committed suicide. Herod died in exile. Worldly policy may succeed for a time, may stand in high places, may drink of very sweet cups, but it runs great risks, and very often it has to endure great calamities. Alas for it, that, when these come, it is wholly destitute of the more precious consolations!
V. AT DEATH THEY CONFRONTED A VERY DIFFERENT FUTURE. Well might the least guilty of them shrink from that judgment-seat at which all men must stand! how must the worst of them be covered with shame in that awful Presence! and how serious must be the penalty that will be attached to such flagitious abuse of position and opportunity! On the other hand, how high is the power, how bright and broad the sphere, how blessed the hope, into which the faithful forerunner has entered! He has "passed into that country where it matters little whether a man has been clothed in finest linen or in coarsest camel's hair, that still country where the struggle - storm of life is over, and such as John find their rest at last in the home of God, which is reserved for the true and brave." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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,
WEB: Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,