II. Baptism, Genealogy, and Temptation (Luke 3:1–4:13)


II. Baptism, Genealogy, and Temptation (3:1–4:13)

3:1 Here Luke fast-forwards to the future. Tiberius had replaced Augustus as Roman emperor. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC, his territory was divided among his three sons: Herod Antipas, who ruled over Galilee; Philip, who ruled over Iturea and Trachonitus (areas in the northeastern part of Herod’s kingdom beyond the Jordan); and Archelaus, who ruled over Judea. Archelaus was banished by Rome in AD 6 and replaced by a Roman governor. Thus, at this point in Luke’s narrative, Pontius Pilate had been appointed the Roman governor of Judea. The Roman tetrarch ruling Abilene (an area northwest of Damascus in Syria) was Lysanias. It’s uncertain why Luke mentions him. Some early church fathers claim that Luke was from Antioch in Syria, which would explain his interest in that area.

3:2 Having mentioned those ruling over Palestine in 3:1, Luke now mentions the Jewish religious rulers: Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the actual high priest at the time. Annas was Caiaphas’s father-in-law and the former high priest, but he still retained the title.

During the historical period when the various men in 3:1-2 ruled over Palestine, the word of God came to John . . . in the wilderness of Judea. The Jewish people were oppressed by Gentile rulers and longed for deliverance, and John was going to prepare the way for their deliverer. But Jesus wouldn’t be the kind of deliverer they were looking for. They wanted deliverance from Rome; Jesus would deliver them from sin and judgment, which is the prerequisite for social and political freedom. They needed the latter before they could have the former.

3:3 As John began his public ministry, he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was calling Israel back to God, which begins with repentance: sorrow over sin and an inner resolve to turn from it. Water baptism would be a visible declaration of their repentance. A right attitude and disposition toward their sin was necessary to prepare them for the Messiah’s arrival.

3:4-6 John’s ministry fulfilled the words of Isaiah 40:3-5. The wilderness in which he cried out reflected Israel’s barren spiritual condition (3:4). True repentance would knock down every mountain of pride that kept the people from God. John’s proclamation and baptism would make a straight path for the Messiah to bring salvation and all of his kingdom promises to them.

3:7-9 For those unwilling to acknowledge their sin and need for repentance, John pulled no punches: Brood of vipers! . . . Produce fruit consistent with repentance (3:7). In other words, if you claim you’re not a sinner who needs to repent, then demonstrate your professed faith in God by bearing righteous fruit in your life. John also warned his hearers not to assume they were safe merely because they were descendants of Abraham (3:8). God had brought judgment on the people of Israel before because of their sins. That they were currently under foreign rule, in fact, was an indication that the nation had forsaken God in the past. That the ax is already at the root of the trees (3:9) meant judgment was right around the corner—a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70.

3:10-14 Those among the crowds who were convicted over their sins asked, What then should we do? (3:10). How could they meet the spiritual conditions John was setting forth? He told them to practice generosity, honesty, and contentment in their daily lives (3:11-14). Repentance is validated by how we relate to others. In the words of Paul, “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14).

3:15-17 In light of everything John was saying and doing, many began to wonder if he might be the Messiah (3:15). But John made it clear that the differences between him and the Messiah were so vast that he didn’t even qualify to unfasten the coming King’s sandals. John’s water baptism was inferior to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire that the Messiah would bring (3:16), a reference to the fact that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-4). Fire is used in the Bible as a metaphor of both purification and judgment. Here John emphasized judgment: the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out (Luke 3:17).

3:18-20 John exhorted the people to repentance and proclaimed to them the good news of the coming kingdom of God (3:18). But John was no coward. He spoke truth to power. Not only did he rebuke the masses, but he rebuked the rulers. Herod Antipas, for instance, had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (see Lev 18:16). Herodias had unlawfully divorced Philip, so John reproved Herod for this and for all the evil things he had done (3:19). As a result, Herod arrested John and threw him in prison (3:20). Thus ended the public ministry of the greatest prophet prior to the coming of Jesus Christ (7:28).

3:21-22 Before John was locked up, he baptized Jesus (3:21). Jesus had not come for baptism to repent for his own sin but to identify with and represent the people whom he had come to save. At the moment of his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove, and the Father announced from heaven his great pleasure in his beloved Son (3:22).

Scripture clearly teaches the Trinitarian nature of God. He is one (Deut 6:4), yet he exists in three co-equal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Matt 28:19). The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit. Here Luke describes the actions of all three persons of the Godhead as the public ministry of Jesus began.

3:23-38 The genealogies of Luke and Matthew (Matt 1:1-16) demonstrate that Jesus was a legitimate heir to David’s throne. The differences between the two lists have to do with the fact that Matthew provides Jesus’s legal genealogy through Joseph, his adoptive father, and Luke provides Jesus’s biological genealogy. Since he was thought to be Joseph’s son (2:23), he is related to David on both sides of his family tree. He was qualified to be the Messiah, legally through Joseph and physically through Mary. Luke also traces Jesus’s genealogy back to Adam through Nathan (3:38) because Jesus is the promised “offspring” who would strike Satan’s head in fulfillment of God’s promise (Gen 3:15).

4:1-2 After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. Don’t miss that when Jesus’s ministry began, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” We should not be surprised, then, that Christians are exhorted to be “filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). Paul contrasts this to being filled with wine. We are not to be intoxicated with alcohol but intoxicated with the Spirit, coming under the influence and governance of God in our daily lives. This will not happen if Christians merely sip from the Spirit on Sundays. Such limited engagement will not lead to changed lives.

Notice also that the Spirit led Jesus “into the wilderness . . . to be tempted by the devil.” Evidently being under the influence of the Spirit does not mean uninterrupted peace and tranquility. Jesus was in the middle of the Judean wilderness, a completely barren place. He was hungry, having not eaten for forty days (4:2). And he was under spiritual attack by Satan. No one would volunteer for this assignment. Nevertheless, he was full of the Spirit. You cannot measure your spiritual condition by your circumstances, then. Jesus’s circumstances were bleak, but he was in the center of God’s will for him. Likewise, just because your external circumstances appear to be smooth, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are spiritually healthy.

But why was Jesus in the wilderness? He was the “second” or “last” Adam (1 Cor 15:45, 47). The devil tempted the first Adam and succeeded in having him kicked out of the garden into the wilderness (Gen 3:1-24). The first Adam was on defense and lost, but the second Adam played offense. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, he went into the wilderness to face the devil so that he might bring humanity back to the garden. Though he was physically hungry from a lack of food, he was spiritually nourished for a spiritual battle.

4:3 Satan spoke three temptations to Jesus, but they were all driving at the same point. Would Jesus act independently of God? This is also the question that we face in each wilderness experience we encounter: Will I act independently of God?

The devil urged him, If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread. The “if” clause doesn’t mean he was tempting Jesus to prove that he was the Son of God. He was not saying, “If you’re the Son of God (because I’m not sure that you are), then do this.” The devil knows who Jesus is. Satan was well aware of Jesus’s unique eternal relationship to the Father (10:18; see also Matt 3:17). The “if” clause assumes the reality of the statement. In other words, he was saying, “Since you are the Son of God, here’s what the Son of God should do.”

Satan had been watching Jesus, and he knew his weak spot: hunger. Therefore, Satan attacked at his point of crisis, at his point of need. He will do the same to you. You need to be aware of your weaknesses and vulnerabilities because you can be sure that Satan is aware of them.

4:4 Though Satan had identified a genuine need in Jesus’s life, he tempted him to fill that need in an illegitimate way. He questioned God’s willingness to provide for him. But Jesus wasn’t fooled. He responded by quoting Scripture: Man must not live on bread alone. If the Son of God faced the devil while full of the Spirit and armed with the Word, why would you do otherwise? Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, in which Moses reminded the Israelites—who were in the wilderness—that they hadn’t survived merely because they ate manna. They survived because of the source of the manna. Jesus refused to act independently of his Father; he trusted in his provision. We must not seek to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways.

4:5-7 Next the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (4:5). He claimed that all this authority had been given to him, and he could give it to anyone. Therefore, he offered it to Jesus if he would worship him (4:6-7). This raises questions. How did Satan obtain this authority? Who gave it to him?

Adam was called to rule the world on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26, 28). By rebelling against God, he abdicated his role and handed it over to Satan, who is now the “god of this age [or ‘world’]” (2 Cor 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). Thus, the devil offered Jesus what he had come into the world to claim. He had come to be a King over a kingdom. And, if he listened to Satan, he wouldn’t have to work so hard. All Jesus had to do was worship the one who could give it to him immediately.

4:8 Again, however, Jesus answered with the Bible: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only (see Deut 6:13). Jesus didn’t need Satan’s offer. The Father had already promised his Son all of the kingdoms of the earth: “I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps 2:8). But obtaining that would require the fulfillment of a mission that included perfect obedience to the Father and a sacrificial atoning death for sinners. Anything less would result not in the redemption of the world but would deliver Satan a victory. Jesus was destined to be King, but he would only pursue it in submission to the Father. Worship is reserved for the one true God.

4:9-11 Finally, the devil took him to Jerusalem, stood him on the pinnacle of the temple, and tempted him to jump (4:9). Since Jesus liked using Scripture, Satan decided, “I can play that game too.” Be warned: the Bible has been used many times throughout the centuries to lead people astray. Satan knows the Bible better than many Christians, and he uses it. He quoted Psalm 91:11-12, assuring Jesus that if he threw himself off the temple, God would send his angels to protect him (4:10-11). This would be a spectacular, supernatural way to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and it would result in a safe landing. No suffering required. And no cross.

4:12-13 Once again, Jesus relied on God’s Word: Do not test the Lord your God (see Deut 6:16). To say it another way, don’t back God into a corner. We are not to intentionally create the need for a miracle. God will create miracle opportunities on his own.

Jesus was determined to be God’s Messiah, in God’s way, according to God’s timetable, for the glory of God. After this, the devil departed from him (4:13). This demonstrates a very important principle for waging spiritual warfare. Satan is allergic to the proper use of Scripture. Three strikes, and he’s out.