It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene.
Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living out in the wilderness.
Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
Isaiah had spoken of John when he said, "He is a voice shouting in the wilderness: 'Prepare a pathway for the Lord's coming! Make a straight road for him!
Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills! Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places!
And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.'"
Here is a sample of John's preaching to the crowds that came for baptism: "You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God's coming judgment?
Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don't just say, 'We're safe -- we're the descendants of Abraham.' That proves nothing. God can change these stones here into children of Abraham.
Even now the ax of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire."
The crowd asked, "What should we do?"
John replied, "If you have two coats, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry."
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, "Teacher, what should we do?"
"Show your honesty," he replied. "Make sure you collect no more taxes than the Roman government requires you to."
"What should we do?" asked some soldiers. John replied, "Don't extort money, and don't accuse people of things you know they didn't do. And be content with your pay."
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah.
John answered their questions by saying, "I baptize with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am -- so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
He is ready to separate the chaff from the grain with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, storing the grain in his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire."
John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.
John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother's wife, and for many other wrongs he had done.
So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.