Summary: Luke sets the stage for the coming ministry of Jesus in this passage on the start of the ministry of John the Baptist.
Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. We are focusing our attention during this Advent Season on one of the Scripture Readings read during Advent. And so today’s text is Luke 3:1-6.
I have spent many wonderful hours studying this remarkable passage. I wish we could spend the rest of Advent looking at this marvelous portion of God’s Word as it contains many rich truths. But, I will simply direct your attention to some of the highlights.
Let’s read Luke 3:1-6:
1 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, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill
shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places
shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
Luke is a gifted author and historian. He sets the stage for the arrival of Jesus with a masterful economy of words and presentation of details.
Luke begins his Gospel alternating events between John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah (who is John’s cousin). So, after his prefatory dedication to Theophilus (1:1-4), Luke writes about the prediction of John’s birth (1:5-25), and then about the prediction of Jesus’ birth (1:26-38).
After Jesus’ mother Mary’s visits John’s mother Elizabeth (1:39-56), Luke tells about John’s birth (1:57), and then about Jesus’ birth (2:1-7).
After the account of John’s birth, Luke says about John, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (1:80). And after the account of Jesus’ birth, Luke says about Jesus, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52).
Then Luke introduces the public ministry of each cousin. John and Jesus undoubtedly knew each other. It is likely that they visited each other, as cousins often do. It is likely that John knew that Jesus was sent from God, and that Jesus knew that John was to be the last and greatest prophet in Israel. So, Luke introduces the ministry of John (3:1-22), and then introduces the ministry of Jesus (4:14-15).
In today’s text Luke introduces the ministry of John the Baptist. John the Baptist is really setting the stage for Jesus. Because Luke is a careful historian, he wants to set the scenery on the stage before Jesus steps onto center stage. With just a few words Luke paints a masterful tapestry that sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry.
I. The Historical Setting (1:1-2a)
First, notice the historical setting.
Luke gives us seven names, knowing that his readers will study their names to understand their historical setting better. And so we read in Luke 1:1-2a, “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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.”
These were terrible times for the people of God in Israel. They were living under the oppressive rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar. His predecessor, Augustus, who was the Caesar at the time when Jesus was born, died on August 19 in 14 AD. That is when Tiberius Caesar became the Roman Emperor. And so, the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar would be 29 AD. Although there is some dispute about that date, many scholars put that year as the start of John’s public ministry.
Life in Israel at the time was utterly miserable for the Jews. They lived under the tremendously oppressive rule of Tiberius Caesar, who was a tough leader. He was involved in treason and sedition. He was a pagan who promoted himself as a god. He was cruel, self-centered, narcissistic, egotistic, and a megalomaniac. He ruled for 23 years, and in his later years he apparently became demented. He became increasingly cruel, and the last part of his rule has been called “a reign of terror.” He had supreme control over the Roman world and was the worst possible leader for the Jews.