PassageThe first two chapters of Luke cover Jesus’ birth and a bit of his childhood. With this chapter, we start into beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. (As an aside, verse 23 (ESV) tells us that Jesus is 30 at this point, and his ministry lasts about 3 years, making him 33 when he dies and rises.) But before we get to Jesus, the story temporarily pivots back to John the Baptist.
The chapter starts with John living in the wilderness, when the word of God comes to him. Because of this, John travels around the region of the Jordan river, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (verse 3 (ESV)). Verses 4–6 (ESV) tell us that this fulfils a prophecy from Isaiah, and quotes it. (The prophecy is from Isaiah 40:3–5 (ESV).)
Although the phrase “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” sounds like a good thing, John definitely emphasizes the “repentance” part—if people aren’t really repenting, then nothing John is preaching is going to do them any good:
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 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.” (verses 7–9 (ESV))The crowd seems to take it well, though: they ask him what, then, they need to do, and he replies that they should share what they have with others. Then some tax collectors ask what they, specifically, should do, and John tells them not to collect more than what is authorized. Soldiers, similarly, ask what they are to do, so he tells them not to extort people, but to be satisfied with their wages. In fact, the crowd is so impressed that they start to wonder if John might actually be the Christ; he disillusions them on that point, however:
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (verses 16–17 (ESV))In fact, one of the people who comes to be baptized by John is Jesus himself. After he’s baptized the heavens are opened, the Holy Spirit descends onto him, and a voice comes down from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (verse 22 (ESV)).
Unfortunately, John’s straight talk isn’t limited to just the people, he also speaks truth to power: he tells Herod that he shouldn’t be having his brother’s wife, so Herod locks John in prison.
After this, verses 23–38 (ESV) trace Jesus’ ancestry, right back to Adam.
ThoughtsI think the fact that soldiers were asking John what they should do means that his message was extending beyond Jews; there were Jewish tax collectors, but I don’t know if there were Jewish soldiers. I might very well be wrong. In either case, though, notice that John doesn’t tell them to resign; being a tax collector isn’t sinful, according to John—no matter how much their neighbours might have despised them—nor is being a soldier, but using those jobs for illicit gain is.
There’s a message being preached here that I don’t think the crowd is fully taking in; it’s the same message that they would later be very angry at Jesus for preaching, and it’s in verse 9 (ESV): “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.” This message is aimed squarely at the Jews: the time is coming, John is saying (and Jesus will also say), when God is going to open up His salvation beyond just the tree that is not bearing good fruit (Israel), to other trees (everyone else). This doesn’t by any means that Jews can’t be saved, quite the opposite, but it does mean that the exclusivity of God’s relationship with the Jews is going to change. As I say, nobody seems to be getting angry at John for preaching this message, in this passage, but they get angry with Jesus for preaching it later on.
The Herod mentioned here is the king of the Jews, under the authority of Rome. There’s a bit more detail given in Mark 6; essentially, Herod married his brother’s wife, John told him he shouldn’t have done that, and Herod had him locked up. Eventually, he has John beheaded as well.
I don’t have much to say about the genealogy of Jesus, except to point out that Matthew and Luke have different approaches to their genealogies (Mark and John don’t have a genealogy): While Matthew traces Jesus lineage back to Abraham, emphasizing his Jewish heritage, Luke traces him all the way back to Adam, emphasizing his humanity.