John the Baptist, under arrest
John, advance man for Jesus1 Fifteen years into Tiberius Caesar’s reign, Pontius Pilate served as governor of Judea. Herod ruled Galilee. His brother Philip ruled the areas of Iturea and Traconitis. Lysanias ruled the territory of Abilene. Herod, Philip, and Lysanias each held the title of tetrarch. 
2 Annas was high priest, and then Caiaphas. This is when God’s message got to Zechariah’s son John, who was living in the badlands.
3 John preached that message throughout the Jordan River Valley. He said God wanted people to stop sinning, express regret for sins they committed, and accept forgiveness by getting baptized. 4 A book quoting the prophet Isaiah describes it this way:
"A voice cries out in the barren land,
Get ready, the LORD is coming.
Clear the road.
Every mountain will get leveled.
Switchbacks get straightened.
Rough roads get smoothed.
6 Then people everywhere will see God coming to save them.”. 7 When crowds came to get baptized, John tore into them. “You people think you’re born of Abraham but you’re actually the children of poisonous snakes. Who warned you to crawl out of your hole and slither away from the punishment that’s coming? 8 Don’t just say you’re done with sinning. Be done with it. Prove it in the way you live. You don’t get a free pass because you’re a Jew. Don’t say to yourself, ‘We’re going to be okay because we’re children of Abraham.’ I’m telling you, God can turn this bed of stones into children of Abraham. 9 There is an ax raised and ready to cut into the root of every tree that does not produce good fruit. That worthless tree will get chopped up and thrown into the fire.”
10 The people cried out, “What should we do?” 11 John said, “A person who has two coats should give one of them to a person who doesn’t have any. And a person who has food should share it.” 12 Tax collectors in the crowd came to him, hoping to get baptized. They said, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He said, “I’ll tell you what not to do. Don’t overcharge the people by collecting more taxes than you’re supposed to.” 14 Some soldiers came to him and asked, “What about us? What should we do?” John said, “Be content with your salary. Don’t extort money from people and threaten to accuse them of breaking the law if they don’t give you what you want.” 15 The Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to come soon. They began to wonder, “Could John be the Messiah?”
16 John answered that question. “Listen, I baptize you with water. But someone is coming who’s more important than me. I’m not worthy to untie the straps on his sandals. He’ll baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit. 17 He’ll be like a farmer with a pitchfork in his hand, ready to separate valuable wheat kernels from the worthless chaff and stems. He’ll collect the wheat and keep it protected in his granary. Everything else he’ll burn with a fire that can’t be put out.”
18 This is just a snippet of John’s sermons, which included stern warnings as well as Good News. 19 John criticized Herod for committing despicable sins such as stealing his own brother’s wife, Herodias, and marrying her. 20 Herod would eventually add one more sin to his list: he would arrest John and toss him into prison.
Jesus baptized21 When John was still baptizing people, he baptized Jesus. As Jesus prayed there, the sky opened up. 22 The Holy Spirit came down in physical form, like a dove. A voice from somewhere in the sky called out, “You are my Son. I dearly love you. And I want you to know how pleased I am with you.”
Family tree of Jesus23 Jesus launched his ministry when he was somewhere around 30 years old. People thought Joseph was his father.
Joseph was the son of Eli 24 who was son of Matthat who was son of Levi son of Melki son of Jannai son of Joseph
25 son of Mattathias son of Amos son of Nahum son of Esli son of Naggai
26 son of Maath son of Mattahias son of Semein son of Josech son of Joda
27 son of Joanan son of Rhesa son of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel son of Neri
28 son of Melki son of Addi son of Cosam son of Elmadam son of Er
29 son of Joshua son of Eliezer son of Jorim son of Matthat son of Levi
30 son of Simeon son of Judah son of Joseph son of Jonam son of Eliakim
31 son of Melea son of Menna son of Mattatha son of Nathan son of David
32 son of Jesse son of Obed son of Boaz son of Salmon son of Nahshon
33 son of Amminadab son of Admin son of Arni son of Hezron son of Perez son of Judah
34 son of Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham son of Terah son of Nahor
35 son of Serug son of Reu son of Peleg son of Eber son of Shelah
36 son of Cainan son of Arphaxad son of Shem son of Noah son of Lamech
37 son of Methuselah son of Enoch son of Jared son of Mahalalel son of Kenan
38 son of Enosh son of Seth son of Adam son of God.
Bible experts estimate the year as around AD 28-29, since Tiberius followed Augustus in AD 14.
Herod Antipas (21 BC-AD 39) and Herod Philip (20 BC-AD 34) were sons of Herod the Great, former King of the Jews.
Iturea and Traconitis were provinces in what is now Syria.
Abilene was a small plug of territory, apparently along the western slopes of Mount Hermon. Capital city: Abila, location uncertain.
In the ancient Roman political world, a tetrarch was a step above a governor, but a step below a king.
Annas was high priest from AD 6-15. Several short-lived high priests followed. Then came Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law, who served from AD 18-36.
Jews considered tax collectors collaborators with the enemy—Romans who had been occupying the Jewish homeland for about a century. Tax collectors were often Jews who bid on the job of collecting taxes from their fellow Jews. Their bid was a promise to pay that amount of money to Rome. Whatever they collected above that bid, they kept as profit. Many tax collectors had a reputation for overcharging. Some rabbis later taught that it was perfectly okay to lie to a tax collector—essentially, to cheat a cheater.
“Messiah” in the original Greek language of the New Testament is Christos, from which we get the word Christ. It means “Anointed One,” as in “anointed by God.”
The Greek word for “Good News” is euaggelion, from which we get words such as evangelize and evangelical.
“If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother” (Leviticus 20:21 NIV).
Reluctantly, Herod later had John the Baptist beheaded at the request of his wife Herodias and her dancing daughter Salome. (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29).
One ancient manuscript adds, “Today I have begotten you.” Some Bible scholars say this suggests that on the day Jesus was baptized, God adopted Jesus as his Son. A Christian group known as Ebionites taught this idea, early in the Christian movement. But it didn’t make the cut as one of the approved teachings. The same quote, referring to Jesus, shows up in Acts 13:33, “You are my son. Today, I brought you to life.” That’s a paraphrase of Psalm 2:7, which some early Christians interpreted as a prophecy about Jesus. Some students of the Bible say they wonder if a scribe who was aware of the saying in Psalms may have inserted it into the single surviving manuscript that adds this line to Luke 3:22.
If Jesus was born before King Herod died in 4 BC, Jesus may have been in his mid-30s. Some Bible experts say that Luke wasn’t so much trying to report the age of Jesus as he was to report that Jesus was a mature adult. Only priests nicely aged at least 30 years were eligible to serve in the Jewish worship center (Numbers 4:3).
Also spelled Heli.
The Bible never tells us why John the Baptist did not follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest in the Jerusalem Temple. He would have had a comfortable life then. But he chose the lonely life of an isolationist, self-sacrificing prophet who lived in the Judean badlands. We can only guess why he did this. What would you guess?
John’s idea of baptizing people seems to come from out of nowhere. Perhaps the closest thing to that are the Jewish cleansing rituals that required people to take a bath to purify themselves before they went to worship at the temple. These baths washed away impurities caused by such things as menstruation, bleeding after childbirth, or touching a corpse. Do you think baptism is anything like that – a ritual that washes away our impurities?
Luke quotes Isaiah, a prophet who lived 700 years before the time of Jesus, and he applies the quotation to John the Baptist. Old Testament experts say the section of Isaiah that Luke quoted was written for Jews exiled in Babylon, in what is now Iraq. That is why the chapter begins with “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 New Living Translation). Do you think Isaiah had any idea that someone would take his words out of context and apply them to someone else centuries later? And why do you think Luke did this?
Starting a sermon by telling the people they are “children of poisonous snakes” (3:7) seems a bit much. What do you think John was trying to do with that?
When people asked John how they should live their life after they repented and got baptized, John doesn’t tell them to obey the Jewish laws. He tells them to help people and stop cheating them. Who are some other people in the Bible you can think of who teach that kind of thing?
Herod would later order John beheaded. A Jewish historian named Josephus, who was born about 10 years after that execution, confirmed the story. He wrote that after Herod lost a battle to some Arabians, the Jews concluded God was punishing him “for what he did to John, who was called the Baptist. Herod killed him, a good man who commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both in righteousness to one another and in piety to God, and in this spirit to be baptized.” It’s rare that Bible characters show up in ancient writings like this. What do you think about that – the fact that it is rare, but that it does happen from time to time?
What’s the point of the family tree of Jesus? Matthew traced the family tree of Jesus back to Abraham, father of the Jews. But for some reason, Luke decided to trace the family tree of Jesus all the way back to Adam, the son of God. Why did Luke do that?
LIFE APPLICATION. John the Baptist was the odd man out. A lone voice with a unique point of view. Fortunately, people listened to him. Unfortunately, it got him killed. When have you or someone you know taken a lonely stand for something you knew was right?
LIFE APPLICATION. Family trees were important to the Jews. For example, Jews came back from a generation of exile in what is now Iraq some 500 years before Jesus. But if men who said they were priests couldn’t prove they were descended from Jacob’s son Levi, they weren’t allowed to serve in the Temple (Ezra 2:59). What good are genealogies today?