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LUKE CHAPTER 3
Luke 3:1-14 The preaching and baptism of John.
Luke 3:15-18 His testimony of Christ.
Luke 3:19,Luke 3:20 Herod imprisons John for his free reproof.
Luke 3:21,Luke 3:22 Christ is baptized, and receiveth testimony from heaven.
Luke 3:23-38 The age and genealogy of Christ from Joseph upwards.
The evangelist having given us an account both of the birth of John the Baptist and of our Saviour, and of all the prophecies preceding and attending them both, leaving the history of our Saviour a little, cometh to give us an account of the history of John the Baptist, his entrance upon his public ministry, and fulfilling of it. John the Baptist had six months seniority of our Saviour, and probably did appear so long before him to the world as a public minister; the time of his beginning was in
the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius Caesar was he who next succeeded Augustus (for all the Roman emperors after Julius Caesar were called Caesars, as all the kings of Egypt were called Pharaohs): he was as wicked a prince as most who ruled the Roman empire. Herod the Great (in whose time Christ was born) was some time since dead. Archelaus began to rule in his stead as a king, but the Romans changing the government from a monarchy to a tetrarchy, (that is, a government of four), Archelaus had only the government of Judea; Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great, had the government of Galilee under the title of tetrarch; Philip, another son of his, had the government of Iturea and Trachonitis, under the same title of tetrarch; and one Lysanias had the government of Abilene: all four strangers. So as at this time the Jews were all under the government of foreigners, the sceptre or government was wholly departed from Judah. Archelaus was soon after sent into France, and Pontius Pilate made procurator or governor of Judea and Samaria. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. By the law of God, the eldest son of the family of Aaron was to be the high priest. How there came to be at this time two high priests is not agreed amongst interpreters. Those who are curious in this inquiry may see what Mr. Pool hath collected for their satisfaction in his Synopsis. We must know, that at this time the Jews were under the power of the Romans, and all things amongst them were out of order. Some say the Jews had liberty to choose their high priest, but then their conquerors would turn him out, and sell the place to another. Others say that the high priest had his deputy, who also obtained the same title. Others think, that as they had made the high priesthood an office, to which they chose one annually, (which was by God’s law an office for life), so the high priest of the former year still retained his title for another year. We are at no certainty in these things. It is certain that at this time there were two that bore the title of the high priest, upon what account we cannot tell. It appeareth from John 18:13, that the same men three or four years after bore this title of high priest, whether chosen again or not we do not know.
But this was the time when the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness; the same John of which we heard before. The word of the Lord came to him, commanding him out to preach the gospel. It is a phrase which is often used in the Old Testament, to signify the influence of the Spirit of God upon the prophets, quickening them to their work; and signifieth to us, that no man ought to take this honour unto himself until he be called of God, nor to speak in the name of the Lord until first the word of God cometh to him.
How long the time of John’s ministry was before he was shut up by Herod in prison the Holy Scriptures do not certainly tell us; but it must be very short, for our Saviour’s time was little more than three years, and we hear of his imprisonment in the beginning of our Saviour’s public ministry. All that we have of John’s ministry is to be found either in this chapter, or in Matthew 3:1-17, or in Mark 1:1-45, or in the John 1:1-51; John 3:1-36. From them all it appeareth, that the sum of his doctrine was, the necessity of repentance, and faith in Christ, in order to the remission of sins. His pressing faith in Christ is most clearly declared by the evangelist John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke insist more upon his preaching the doctrine of repentance for the remission of sins, and baptism as an evidence of it. Which doctrine or repentance he pressed both from evangelical motives, The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and from legal motives, or arguments of terror, The axe is now laid unto the root of the trees: in this setting an example to all ministers of the gospel, showing them what should be the main subjects of their discourses, for we shall find that our Saviour preached the same doctrine, and in the same method. What is here said we before opened:
See Poole on "Matthew 3:2". See Poole on "Mark 1:4". John did not preach that baptism was repentance, or that remission of sins was infallibly annexed to it, but that the way to obtain remission of sins was by repentance, and that baptism was an external sign and symbol of it.
All four of the evangelists apply that prophecy, Isaiah 40:3-5, to John the Baptist. Luke only repeats what is Luke 3:5,Luke 3:6 and in Isaiah 40:4,Isaiah 40:5, and he doth but shortly repeat what is in the prophet, Luke 3:5; the prophet saith, And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. But there is nothing more usual than for the writers in the New Testament, in their quotations out of the Old Testament, to repeat the sum of the sense, not the words strictly. For the understanding of that prophecy, we must know, that there the prophet Isaiah was sent to comfort those amongst the Jews who feared God, partly with the assurance of them that they should return from Babylon, their warfare should have an end, Cyrus should deliver them; partly with the assurance of them of a far greater deliverance, in and by the coming of the Messiah (of whom Cyrus was but a type): to this purpose the prophet sets out both Cyrus, and in that type Christ’s coming, as if both were present and at hand. Kings and great princes coming (especially with armies) have usually some coming before them, as pioneers, to prepare their way, by levelling rough places, and removing whatsoever is in the way of their motions, and filling up holes and ditches, &c.; nor are they far off when once their harbingers and pioneers are arrived, or are seen coming. John is here set out as a harbinger to Christ, to prepare his way, or a pioneer, to fill up ditches, throw down hills, to make rough ways smooth, and every way to prepare the way for him: that all flesh might see the salvation of God. And as princes that have wildernesses to pass through have more need of their pioneers to prepare and smooth their ways; so the state of the Jews being now confused, as a wilderness, and corrupt above measure, John the Baptist was sent before to cry in the wilderness, &c. This I take to be the true sense of the prophecy, and that it is mighty vain to strain these metaphorical phrases, and inquire what is meant by valleys, mountains, and crooked ways; they all most certainly signify the same thing, viz. whatsoever might be a hinderance to people’s receiving of Christ; and to philosophize further about them, is but to show the luxury of our wit, rather than any solidity of judgment. The whole scope of these three verses is but to show, that as kings, and princes, and governors of armies, have used to have harbingers and pioneers, or other officers, to go before them, to remove things out of the way of them and their retinue, and to prepare their way; so had Christ, and John the Baptist was the man whom the Lord pitched upon for that purpose, by his preaching to bring men to it sense of their sins, and off from their wicked courses, and to show them their need of a Saviour; that so when Christ came himself forth to preach, people might not be wholly ignorant, but in some measure prepared to receive the joyful tidings of the gospel, which he brought unto them.
See Poole on "Matthew 3:7", and following verses to Matthew 3:10, where we met with all this with no alteration, save that Matthew saith that he spoke this to the Pharisees and Sadducees, seeing them come to his baptism: though he did especially intend them, yet he spake in the hearing of the multitude, amongst whom they were.
Although the preaching of the law doth not immediately conduce to work in us faith in Christ, yet mediately it doth, as it brings men to cry out, as those Acts 2:37, Men and brethren, what shall we do? or as the jailer, Acts 16:1-40, Sirs, what shall we do to be saved? John preaching God’s terrors hath this effect upon the people, they ask him, What shall we do then? The Baptist’s answer may seem a little strange to those who do not consider, that it amounts to the same with Daniel’s counsel to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4:27, Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; and what John had said, Luke 3:8, Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance. Our Saviour said much the same, Luke 11:41, Give alms of such things as ye have; and Peter commandeth, 1 Peter 4:8, Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Solomon saith it covereth all sins, Proverbs 10:12. The people’s question was, What shall we do? What are the fruits meet for repentance, that is, truly indicative of repentance? To this now John answereth, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none. Which must not be interpreted, as obliging every one that had two coats to give away one; but as instructive of us, that ceremonies and ritual performances, in which that age abounded, would not serve their turn, but true and real good works, relieving the poor to their ability, out of their superfluities, from obedience and love to God; not merely pitying them, and saying to them, Go ye and be ye clothed, or be warmed; not saying Corban, and thinking that would excuse them from relieving their parents, or other poor people, but according to their ability relieving them. John doth not here countenance Anabaptist levelling, he only cautions them against Pharisaical hypocrisy, trusting to external privileges, such as having Abraham to their father, or some ritual and ceremonial performances, while in the mean time they neglected the weighty things of the law, of which Christ hath taught us that mercy is one.
We have showed often before that the publicans were men that collected the public revenue. In all times that sort of men have been charged with exactions of what was more than their due. The Baptist, as a fruit or indication of the truth of their repentance, cautions them against exaction, thereby declaring, that acts of justice as well as mercy are true fruits of repentance, and that repentance is vainly pretended while men go on in the same sinful courses wherein they have formerly walked. Our Lord here doth not disapprove of the office of publicans, nor certainly was that to be condemned: if magistrates may impose taxes and payments, which without question they may, for the support of the government for our protection, there is no question but they may appoint officers under what titles they please to collect it. But both those that impose and those that collect such payments are obliged to the rule of justice; the former, to impose no more than is necessary for the end, and in a just proportion; the others, to exact no more than what is appointed them.
A good and faithful minister of Christ should be one able to bring out of his storehouse things new and old, to give every one their portion in their season, and so courageous and faithful as not to be afraid to do it, nor for any reason decline the doing of it. Such was John the Baptist. These were the Roman soldiers, kept by them to maintain their conquest of Judea. Some of these also come to hear John the Baptist preach: hearing him press repentance, and bringing forth fruits that might testify the truth of it, they ask what they should do. John saith to them,
Do violence to no man, &c. Experience hath taught all people, that soldiers (especially employed to keep garrisons amongst a conquered people) are often very insolent, and for their own gain prone to accuse innocent persons, and the jealousy of conquerors often allows them too easy an ear; as also how apt they are by oppression to mend their short commons, or to exact upon others that they may spend luxuriously. All these are acts or species of injustice, which the Baptist lets them know must be left, if they would bring forth fruits fit for repentance. He doth not blame the employment of a soldier, but only regulates their behaviour in that employment. Wars in just causes are undoubtedly lawful under the gospel, and consequently so is the employment of a soldier; we read of several good centurions or captains of hundreds. But the soldier stands highly concerned to look:
1. That the cause be good in which he draweth his sword.
2. That he behaveth himself in it lawfully, not using any needless violence, not accusing any wrongfully, not endeavouring to mend his pay by any, rapine, or unjustly taking away what is another’s, either to spend in luxury, or to uphold himself in his station.
From this instruction of John the Baptist, we may learn several things concerning the nature of repentance.
1. That where there is a true root of repentance, it will bring forth fruits worthy of it.
2. That acts of mercy and justice are true and proper fruits of a true repentance, without which there can be nothing of it in truth.
3. That true repentance is best discovered by our abhorrence of and declining such sinful courses as we have formerly been addicted to, and have daily temptations to from the circumstances of our lives, and those callings, and places, and courses of life wherein the providence of God had fixed us.
4. That these things, repentance and faith, are such proper effects of both, as discover the truth of those gracious habits in the soul, and without which there can be no true evidence of them.
It being known to many what the angel had told Zacharias concerning John thirty years since, and what had miraculously happened at his circumcision, as also what Zacharias his father had prophesied concerning him; and there having been many who had observed the holiness and severity of his life all along, until he came to man’s estate; and knowing that the time was fulfilled for the coming of the Messias, the sceptre being now departed from Judah, and Daniel’s weeks being accomplished; and hearing him preach with that life and power which attended his ministry, as also considering his doctrine (not new in itself, being consonant to the Divine law, and the doctrine of the prophets, but) new to them, who had used to hear of rites and ceremonies and the traditions of the elders, but little or nothing of repentance, or bringing forth fruits worthy of it; they began to reason and debate with, themselves, whether John the Baptist were not the Messiah promised, and in great suspense they were about it. But John quickly satisfied them as to that, not desirous to arrogate to himself his honour, whose, messenger only he was.
See Poole on "Matthew 3:11-12", See Poole on "Mark 1:7-8". John the Baptist in these verses doth not only assure them that he was not the Christ, but also lets them know that Christ was coming amongst them, and that he was more excellent than he, and should
baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire; with fire as the symbol of the Holy Ghost; so some understand it, expounding it as a prophecy of the descent of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:3. Others possibly better expound it of the Holy Ghost working in the souls of believers as fire, purging them, and burning up their lusts and corruptions.
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people: by which words the evangelist lets us know, that what he and the other evangelists have reported concerning John’s preaching was but the sum of it.
These two verses sufficiently confirm to us, that we are not to expect to find the several passages in the Gospel concerning John the Baptist set down according to the order of time in which they happened, for the evangelist sets down the imprisonment of John before the baptism of Christ, mentioned in the two next verses, which we know could not be as to the order of time, our Saviour being baptized by John. John was in so great repute, that Herod himself heard him, did many things, and heard him gladly, Mark 6:20. But John was a faithful preacher, and could not but reprove him for his wicked courses, particularly for his incestuous taking of his brother Philip’s wife; for he was alive when he took her, if it be true which historians tell us, that John was imprisoned in the sixteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, and Philip died not till the twentieth; however, his brother leaving issue, (for we read Herodias had a daughter, Matthew 14:1-36), it was unlawful for him to have married her, especially to turn away his own wife to take her. Matthew reports this history more fully, in Matthew 14:3,Matthew 14:4, &c.: See Poole on "Matthew 14:3-4". It is said, that Herod added yet this above all, that is, above all his former or other wickedness, that he shut up John in prison. This spake him incorrigible in his wicked courses, resisting the remedy, or means to reduce him. A hypocrite may hear the word, and do many things; but he hath always some particular lust, as to which he must be spared, being neither willing to part with it, nor able to bear any reproof for it.
This history of our Saviour’s baptism is reported both by Matthew and Mark, much most largely by Matthew; See Poole on "Matthew 3:13"., &c. Luke only addeth those words,
and praying, which teacheth us that prayers ought to be joined with baptism. What was the matter of his prayer we are not told, though the following words incline some not improbably to judge that he prayed for some testimony from heaven concerning him.
Here is amongst critics a little dispute, whether our blessed Lord at his baptism (after which he soon began his public ministry) was full thirty years of age; ωσει and αρχομενος in the Greek give occasion to the doubt. Those who judge that he was thirty complete, conceive that the age before which the priests and Levites did no service in the tabernacle of God. Numbers 4:3 commanded the number of them to be taken from thirty years old to fifty, and it was done accordingly, Luke 3:34,Luke 3:35, &c. David, in the latter end of his life, so numbered them, 1 Chronicles 23:3, when their number (of that age) was thirty-eight thousand; yet in that chapter, 1 Chronicles 23:24,1 Chronicles 23:27, we find them numbered from twenty years old and upward; but possibly that was for some more inferior service. In conformity to this, most think that both John the Baptist and Christ entered not upon their public ministry till they were of that age; but whether they were thirty years of age complete, or current, is a question, but so little a one, as deserves no great study to resolve: the two qualifying words, ωσει and αρχομενος, would incline one to think Christ was but thirty years of age current, which is advantaged by what others tell us, that the Jews ordinarily called a child two or three years old as soon as it did but enter upon its second or third year. Some think our Saviour was ten months above twenty-nine years of age when he was baptized, after which he was tempted of the devil forty days before he entered the public ministry; but these are little things.
Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph. Joseph was not his natural father, though so supposed by the Jews, Joseph being indeed his legal father, being married to the virgin when our Saviour was born, Matthew 1:20.
There have been great disputes about the genealogy of our Saviour, as recorded both by Matthew and Luke. The adversaries of Christian religion have taken no small advantage from the seeming difference between them, which even many sober writers have thought it no easy matter to reconcile. The apostle hath cautioned us against giving too much heed to endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith, 1 Timothy 1:4; yet certainly it is our duty, as well for the stopping the mouths of such as would clamour against the truth of the whole Scripture, (if not of the whole Christian religion), as, so far as we can, to vindicate holy writ from their little cavils, and thereby also to confirm those who are weak in faith. To make these things as clear as we can: It is plain that both the evangelists agree in their design, by setting down the genealogy of our Saviour, to prove him lineally descended both from Abraham and David, the two persons to whom was made the promise of the Messiah, and the stability of his kingdom, and also in the names of the first fourteen generations, mentioned by Matthew, and here by Luke, Luke 3:32,Luke 3:33, and to Abraham, Luke 3:34. Their disagreement lieth in four things.
1. In the form of the pedigree; Matthew beginning with those who were first, Luke with those who were last in order of time. But this is no valuable exception, one evangelist counts forward, another backward.
2. Matthew counts by three periods, each consisting of fourteen generations; Luke doth not: but neither is this of any moment.
3. Matthew sits down our Saviour’s genealogy before he tells us any thing of his conception or birth; Luke, after his relation of his conception, birth, and baptism.
4. Matthew derives our Saviour’s genealogy but from Abraham; Luke, from Adam.
All these differences lay no foundation for any exception. Several accounts are given why Luke carrieth up the genealogy to Adam; the best seemeth to be this: that Matthew intending his history primarily for the Jews, judged it enough to prove Christ the Son of Abraham, and the Son of David; but Luke designing the information of the whole world, derives him from the common father of mankind. By which means he also showeth the antiquity of the gospel, and lets us know that Christ was he who was promised to Adam, before Abraham’s time, and that the grace of the gospel is not limited to the seed of Abraham. Thus also Luke supplieth what was wanting in Matthew, and truly derives both the first and second act from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of us all. But besides these differences (hardly worth the taking notice of under that notion) there are some seeming contradictions in the genealogies, yet not such but I think a fair account may be given of to any who will but first consider:
1. That they all lie in what Luke hath, from Luke 3:23-31, and from the latter end of Luke 3:34 to the end. So that in Luke 3:32,Luke 3:33, and part of Luke 3:34, we have nothing to reconcile.
2. That these words the son is in the Greek only Luke 3:23, where Christ is said to be "the son of Joseph," but ever after it is supplied by the translators. So as the Greek runs thus: The Son of Joseph, which was of Heli, which was of Matthat, which was of Levi, which was of Melchi, &c. Which consideration cuts off the first cavil, how Joseph could be the son of Jacob, as Matthew saith, and the son of Heli, as Luke saith; for indeed Luke saith no more than, And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, Luke 3:23; that is, Christ was of Heli, the supposed son of Joseph, but truly of Heli, the father of Mary his mother. I know that some think Jacob was also called Heli (as it was ordinary with the Jews to have two names); others think that Joseph is called the son, because he was the son-in-law of Heli, by the marriage of the virgin Mary his daughter. (Naomi calleth those her daughters who were but her legal daughters, Ruth 1:11) In this the most agree. But I must confess I think it is Christ, who is here said to be of Heli (though he was reputed, and generally taken, to be the son of Joseph).
3. That Luke is here deriving our Saviour, not from his supposed father Joseph, but from Mary his true mother. It is not to be conceived that Luke, after such a narration of the predictions of his conception as he had given us in the first chapter, should go to derive Christ from Joseph; and this gives us a fair account why the names are so different from David’s time to the birth of Christ. Joseph (whose pedigree Matthew relates) deriving from Solomon, who was the son of David, succeeding him in the kingdom. Mary (whose pedigree Luke relates) descending from Nathan, Luke 3:31; 1 Chronicles 3:5 tells us he was another son of David. So as after David’s time the persons named which before were the same in our Saviour’s pedigree became diverse, some the progenitors of Joseph, whom Matthew reckons, others the progenitors of Mary, whom Luke nameth. This answereth the objection from the differing number of the persons from Joseph to Zorobabel (excluding them both). Matthew reckoneth but nine, Luke here reckoneth eighteen, in Luke 3:23-28. From Zorobabel to David Luke reckons twenty-two progenitors, Matthew but fourteen, (leaving out three kings of the half blood of Ahab, of which we gave an account in our notes: See Poole on "Matthew 1:1"), so as the Scripture nameth seventeen, though Matthew leaves out three. In two different lines, it is not impossible that one person in so many years might have so many more progenitors than another, supposing Matthew designed to reckon all, which it is plain from his leaving out three kings named in Scripture that he did not.
4. That ordinarily the Jews had two names, sometimes three. All Josiah’s sons had each of them two at least. Matthew had also the name of Levi, &c. This solves the difference from Luke 3:27, where Rhesa is said to be the son of Zorobabel, whenas Matthew saith, Matthew 1:13, Zorobabel begat Abiud. That Abraham was the son of Terah or Thara, and Terah the son of Nachor, appeareth from Genesis 11:24,Genesis 11:26. That Saruch or Serug was the son of Reu or Ragau, appeareth from Genesis 11:20; 1 Chronicles 1:25. That Reu was the son of Peleg, (here called Phalec), and Peleg the son of Eber, and Eber the son of Sala, appears from Genesis 11:18; 1 Chronicles 1:25. But in Genesis 11:12 we read, that Sala was the son of Arphaxad, whereas he is here said to be the son of Cainan, and Cainan is made the son of Arphaxad. So as Luke maketh Sala grandchild to Arphaxad; Moses makes no mention of Cainan at all, but mentions Salah as begotten by Arphaxad. Those who are curious to know what is said for the resolution of this difficulty, may read it largely both in Spanheim’s Dubia Evangelica, and Mr. Pool’s Synopsis Criticorum. It is a difficulty which hath exercised many very learned men, and I doubt whether ever any yet satisfied himself in the resolution of it. It is not probable that Luke should correct what Moses said; the best account I can give of it is, the Septuagint in Genesis 11:12 have it just as Luke here hath it; and it is certain that Luke, in his quotations out of the Old Testament, doth generally follow the Septuagint, being the translation most in use among them. Beza tells us of an ancient copy of the Gospel he had, which mentions no Cainan. The best of it is, that it is a matter of no great moment, for the question is not, whether Sala was the son of Arphaxad, (for so he was, though Arphaxad was his grandfather, in the same sense that Christ is called the Son of Abraham, and the Son of David, and Elisabeth the daughter of Aaron, Luke 1:50) but whether he was the immediate son of Arphaxad or Cainan; whether Moses omitted Cainan, or some transcriber of Luke added Cainan out of the Septuagint (being then the current translation among them): the last is most probable. For the other part of the genealogy, Luke 3:36-38, it plainly agreeth with Genesis 5:6; Genesis 6:10. So that I must profess I see no great difficulty to reconcile the genealogies, admitting the one to give the genealogy of Joseph, and the other to give the genealogy of Mary. That indeed Mary was the daughter of Heli is not to be proved by Scripture, nor yet contradicted, but it is very probably judged so. And though we cannot prove that Cainan, mentioned Luke 3:36, was added out of some later copies of the Septuagint, yet it is more than probable it was so. Which two things if we admit, I see no great difficulty remaining, but a fair agreement between both the evangelists. For I presume none will stumble at the alteration of some letter, or omission of some letter in a name, or addition to it in the end; there is nothing more ordinary than that, when names are mentioned in several languages.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Luke 3". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent