PREPARING THE WAY FOR THE LORD REQUIRES REPENTANCE THAT IS PROVEN GENUINE BY THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE
The ministry of John the Baptist paves the way for the coming of the promised Messiah who will bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. The core message in conjunction with the symbolic baptism administered by John is one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is easy for religious people and especially religious leaders to try to cloak themselves with the trappings of spirituality while never demonstrating the fruit of genuine repentance. John the Baptist pulls no punches and bluntly condemns such hypocrisy by exposing the failure to demonstrate sacrificial love and generous care for those in need. When one’s life remains characterized by greed and self-interest, the baptismal waters cannot mask the lie of an unrepentant heart. Despite false security and a religious lineage, the hypocrite should expect the axe of God’s impending judgment.
(:1-2a) TIMEFRAME FOR THE MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST DEFINED BY PROMINENT AUTHORITIES
Geldenhuys: As an author with historical aptitude, Luke gives an exceptionally full chronology for the commencement of John’s public appearance. He does this because, on account of the preparatory nature of his work, it is really also the time-indication for the beginning of the public appearance of Jesus (which commenced only about six months later). . . All these chronological data, taken together, show that John was called to appear as forerunner of Christ in public between the years A.D. 26 and 29. Probably the exact year was A.D. 27.
A. Political Hierarchy
1. Ruler = Tiberius Caesar
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,”
2. Governor = Pontius Pilate
“when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,”
“and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,”
“and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,”
“and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,”
Anyabwile: The Caesars were the rulers of the Roman world. Beneath Caesar was a governor named Pilate. And beneath Pilate were three tetrarchs who ruled various regions. Philip ruled Iturea and Trochonitis, Lysanias ruled Abilene, and Herod ruled Galilee, Jesus’s hometown area.
B. Religious Hierarchy: Annas and Caiaphas
“in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,”
Leon Morris: Annas was high priest AD 6-15, when the Roman governor Gratus deposed him. Five of his sons became high priest in due course, and Caiaphas, who held the office AD 18-36, was his son-in-law. Luke uses the singular, which shows that he knew there was only one high priest. He appears to mean that Caiaphas was officially in office but that Annas still exercised great influence, perhaps even was regarded by many Jews as the true high priest (cf. Acts 4:6). It may be worth pointing out that when Jesus was arrested He was first brought to Annas (Jn. 18:13).
I. (:2b-6) WAY OF THE LORD PREPARED BY THE MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
(:2b-3a) His Entrance Onto the Stage of History
1. Prophetic Burden
“the word of God came to John,”
The power and authority as well as the content for his ministry derived from God rather than human initiative
“the son of Zacharias,”
3. Place of Ministry
“in the wilderness.
And he came into all the district around the Jordan,”
Contrast lowly position of John with the movers and shakers identified up above who were in the positions of prominence; interesting platform for such an important ministry = the wilderness
Liefeld: The desert held memories for the Jews as the locale of the post-Exodus wanderings of Israel. It also had eschatological associations (cf. not only Isa 40:3 but also Hos 2:14).
A. (:3b) His Core Message
“preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;”
Cf. Luke 1;16-17
Anyabwile: Repentance = that turning in the heart and mind that results in a changing of direction of the entire life
MacArthur: Saving repentance never exists except in partnership with faith. It is impossible to have true faith in Jesus Christ apart from true repentance from sin or true repentance from sin apart from true faith. They are two sides of the same work of the Holy Spirit to convict sinners of their sin and draw them to Christ. It must be clearly understood that repentance is not a human work that earns salvation. Repentance is not a pre-salvation effort by sinners to set their lives right that God rewards by saving them. In repentance sinners recognize their dire condition, acknowledge that they are unable to save themselves, and turn to Jesus Christ as the only One who can save them. Left to themselves, the unregenerate will never come to that conclusion, since they love darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). The conviction that produces repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit, who “convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)
Darrell Bock: John’s baptism was a step on the way to the Promised One’s forgiveness. The repentance in view here will not only make one alter the way one lives, but also will cause one to see “the Mightier One to come” as the promise of God. To submit to this baptism is to confess one’s commitment to this perspective. This is the essence of John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
B. (:4-5) His Core Function
“as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. 5 Every ravine shall be filled up, And every mountain and hill shall be brought low; And the crooked shall become straight, And the rough roads smooth;’”
MacArthur: Quoted from Isaiah 40:3-5. A monarch traveling in wilderness regions would have a crew of workmen go ahead to make sure the road was clear of debris, obstructions, potholes, and other hazards that made the journey difficult. In a spiritual sense, John was calling the people of Israel to prepare their hearts for the coming of their Messiah.
C. (:6) His Core Goal
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Speaking of the universal scope of the gospel message – both Jews and Gentiles
Geldenhuys: all flesh shall see His redemption as it finds form in the Messiah. Nothing will prevent Him. Everything is prepared for his coming. He will come and all will see Him. This does not, however, mean that all will be saved by Him. His coming will mean redemption to those that are prepared, but doom to His adversaries.
Piper: In Luke 2:30-31 Simeon says of the baby Jesus, “My eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles. . . .” And in Acts 28:28 Paul says to the Jews who rejected the Gospel, “Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” So Luke begins and ends his big two-volume work with this emphasis: the salvation Jesus brings is for all men and any attempt to limit its proclamation or effect to any ethnic group or groups is wrong.
II. (:7-9) WARNING TO RELIGIOUS HYPOCRITES
A. (:7) Labeling the Hypocrites = “Brood of Vipers”
“He therefore began saying to the multitudes who were going out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”
They were going to try to argue their status as the spiritually elite from their physical lineage back to Abraham; but John short circuits that argument by labeling them “brood of vipers”
Cf. John 8:43
Geldenhuys: like snakes hastening to escape when the grass which sheltered them has been set on fire behind hem
MacArthur: Possibly a reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. But this certainly also looks beyond any earthly calamity to the eschatological outpouring of divine wrath in the Day of the Lord, and especially the final judgment, where divine wrath will be the just fruit of all the unrepentant (cf. Ro 1:18; 1 Th 1:10; Heb 10:27).
B. (:8a) Lesson for the Hypocrites = Demonstrate Repentance
“Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance,”
Genuine repentance must always lead to observable fruit
C. (:8b) Legacy of the Hypocrites = No Free Pass
“and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
In their nationalistic sense of elitism, they imagined that they had a lock on spirituality that could not be denied to them.
D. (:9) Lethal Destruction Aimed at the Hypocrites = Fire of God’s Wrath
“And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Piper: What these Jews had forgotten–and it’s what all people forget when they try to obligate God by any of their human distinctives or human efforts–they forgot the freedom of God to have mercy on whomever he wills. They forgot the power of God who can always find a way to rebuke human self-reliance while keeping his promises. So verse 9 repeats the warning implicit in verse 7. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Don’t trust in the kind of tree you are. If there is no fruit that accords with repentance you will be destroyed. It doesn’t matter if the tree is Jewish or Gentile, what matters is repentance and its fruit.
III. (:10-14) WORD OF CORRECTION: DISPLAY RIGHTEOUSNESS APPROPRIATE TO REPENTANCE BY BEING GENEROUS INSTEAD OF GREEDY
Addresses 3 very different classes of people –
A. (:10-11) Addressing the Multitudes = Common People
1. (:10) Concern: What Shall We Do?
“And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’”
2. (:11) Command: Be Generous in Providing for Those in Need
“And he would answer and say to them, ‘Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.’”
Self sacrificial love for neighbor is the evidence of a regenerated life
Lenski: No new, strange laws are laid down; nor does John require of others the mode of life that he led as part of his peculiar calling. It is the old law and will of God that are done with a converted heart in the power of God’s grace.
B. (:12-13) Addressing the Tax-Gatherers – Hated Jews
1. (:12) Concern: What Shall We Do?
“And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’”
2. (:13) Command: Don’t Be Greedy
“And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’”
Did not instruct them to leave their profession of tax gathering; but rather to act with integrity
Leon Morris: The Romans taxed people by farming out the taxing rights to the highest bidder. The successful man would pay Rome the amount he bid, but he would collect more than that to pay expenses and to give him his legitimate profit. But it was a strong temptation to levy more tax than was strictly necessary and to pocket the extra. This provoked resentment, especially among the patriotic, who in any case did not like to see Jews helping the Romans by collecting their taxes for them. So the tax collectors were hated.
C. (14) Addressing the Soldiers – Hated Romans
1. (:14a) Concern: What Shall We Do?
“And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’”
2. (:14b) Command: Don’t Be Greedy
“And he said to them,
a. Don’t Abuse Your Power – to Steal Money
“Do not take money from anyone by force,”
b. Don’t Make False Accusations – to Extort Money
“or accuse anyone falsely,”
c. Be Content With Your Compensation
“and be content with your wages.”
Did not take some type of pacifist position as if it were immoral to be a soldier
Bible Background Commentary: Some commentators think these “soldiers” are Jewish police who accompanied tax gatherers or Herodian mercenaries, but more likely these are the light auxiliary non-Jewish troops that Rome recruited from Syria. Although the large legions were stationed in Syria, not Palestine, some soldiers were stationed in Palestine (Caesarea and Jerusalem) and smaller bands no doubt marched through. The frequency of Roman soldiers’ illegal concubinage with native women also indicates that all soldiers did not remain in their garrison at all times. Jews were exempt from required military service due especially to their dietary laws. Soldiers occasionally protested their wages, creating trouble with the government (e.g., the frontier mutiny of a.d. 14); they were known for extorting money from local people they intimidated or for falsely accusing them (see, e.g., the papyri; Apuleius). (The IVP Bible Background Commentary – New Testament)
Lenski: Each station in life has its peculiar temptations and sins. Repentance will show amendment especially in avoiding these sins. Failing in this is proof of spuriousness.
Piper: When a person turns to rely on God’s mercy, he can no longer hate his neighbor. It is psychologically impossible to cherish the mercy God has shown to us and at the same time refuse to show it to another. . . negatively, the fruit that befits repentance is the refusal to exploit anyone to get more money or things. And, positively, the fruit that befits repentance is the willingness to give of our food and clothing and money to those who have need.