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The preaching and baptism of John: his testimony of Christ. Herod imprisoneth John. Christ baptized, receiveth testimony from heaven. The age and genealogy of Christ from Joseph upwards.
Anno Domini 26.
Luke 3:1. Now in the fifteenth year, &c.— Though the evangelist has told us in what year the Baptist made his first public appearance, he has not intimated in what period of his ministry Jesus came to be baptized; (see Luke 3:21.) wherefore, seeing the Baptist's fame had spread itself in every corner, and brought people to him from all quarters, it is probable that he had preached at least several months before our Lord arrived at Bethabara. If so, as it is natural to think that John came abroad in the spring, Jesus could not be baptized by him soonerthan in the summer or autumn. The reign of Tiberius had two commencements; one when Augustus made him his colleague in the empire, and another when he began to reign alone after Augustus's death. If, as historians tell us, Tiberius's pro-consular empire began about three years before Augustus died, that is to say, August 28, in the year of our Lord, 11, and from the building of Rome 764, the whole ofthat year would, by common computation, be reckoned the first of Tiberius; and consequently, his fifteenth year, though really beginning August 28, in the year of our Lord 24, and from the building of Rome 778, would be reckoned from the January preceding. Supposing then, that the Baptist begantopreachinthespring of this fifteenth year, according to common computation, and that Jesus came to him in the summer or autumn following, the latter would be, at his baptism, thirty years of age, a few days more or less, provided we fix his birth to September, from the building of Rome 748, that is, a little more than a year before Herod died;—or, but twenty-nine years of age, if we suppose that he was not born till September, from the building of Rome 749, that is, a few months only before Herod died.
At this period Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea: after the death of Herod the Great, Augustus confirmed the partition which that prince by his latter will had made of his dominions among his children. According to this partition, Archelaus obtained Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, with the title of Ethnarch; for though his father had called him king in his testament, the emperor would not allow him that dignity, till he should do something for the Roman state which deserved it. Archelaus, after a tyrannical reign of ten years, was deposed for his mal-administration; and his country was made a province of the Roman empire, under the name of Judea. Properly speaking, indeed, Judea was an appendage to the province of Syria, being governed by a procurator, subject to the president of that province. Yet the procurators of Judea were always vested with the power of presidents or governors; that is to say, gave final judgment in every cause, whether civil or criminal, without appeal, unless to the emperor, by whom Roman citizens, in whatever part of the empire they lived, had a right to be tried, if they demanded it. Judea therefore was in effect, a distinct province or government from Syria. Accordingly, the evangelists give its procurators, when they have occasion to mention them, the title of governors, as that which best expressed the nature of their dignity. The proper business of a procurator was, to take care of the emperor's revenues in the province belonging to him; as the quaestor's business was to superintend the senate's revenuein the province belonging to him. But such procurators as were the chief magistrates of a province, had the dignities of governor and quaestor united in their persons, and enjoyed privileges accordingly.
By virtue of the partition above-mentioned, Herod Antipas, another of the first Herod's sons, governed Galilee and Perea, or the country beyond Jordan, with the title of Tetrarch; which, according to some, was the proper denomination of the fourth dignity in the empire; or, as others think, the title of one who had only the fourth part of a country subject to him; though in process of time it was applied to those who had any considerable share of a kingdom in their possession. This is the Herod, under whose reign John began his ministry, and by whom he was beheaded. It was to him likewise that Pilate sent our Lord, in the course of his trial.
St. Luke tells us, that Philip's dominions were Iturea and Trachonitis: but Josephus says, they were Auranitis and Trachonitis. Reland reconciles the historian with the evangelist, by supposing that Iturea and Auranitis were different names of the same country. The Itureans are mentioned with the Hagarites, 1Ch 5:19 and half the tribe of Manasseh is said to have seized upon their territories. Jetur, the son of Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was their father, and gave them their name. Trachonitis was situated between Palestine and Coelo-Syria; its ancient name was Argob, Deuteronomy 3:13. It was full of rocky hills, which in Herod the First's time afforded shelter to bands of robbers, whom he was at great pains to extirpate. Abilene was a considerable city of Syria, whose territories reached to Lebanon and Damascus, and were peopled with great numbers of Jews.
Luke 3:2. Annas and Caiaphas being the high-priests— According to the institutions of the Jewish religion, there could be only one high-priest, properly so called, at a time; that minister being typical of the one Mediator between God and man. The most probable solution therefore of the difficulty in the text, is, that Annas was the high-priest, and Caiaphas his sagan, or deputy; to whom also the title of high-priest might, in an improper or secondary sense, be given. Aaron, the high-priest, left two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar; Eleazar, the eldest, obtained the sacerdotal tiara by birth-right; but under the judges it was translated from his family to that of his brother; for Eli, who was both high-priest and judge, is not mentioned among Eleazar's posterity; (see 1 Chronicles 6:4; 1 Chronicles 6:81.) So that he must have been of Ithamar's family, as indeed Josephus expressly affirms. Accordingly, Ahimelech, the father of that Abiathar (1 Samuel 22:20.) whose deposition by Solomon is declared to have been an accomplishment of the word of the Lord concerning the house of Eli, 1Ki 2:26-27 and who, for that reason, must have been one of Eli's descendants, is said to have been of the stock of Ithamar, 1 Chronicles 24:3. But the high-priesthood passed from one family to the other more than once; either through the legal incapacity of him to whom it appertained by right of succession, or by the decree of the chief magistrates, who seem to have claimed the disposal of this dignity; for it was brought back to the family of Eleazar, in the person of Zadok, by Solomon, 1 Kings 2:27-35. In latter times, the high-priesthood was possessed by the Asmoneans, who were neither of the one family nor the other, but common priests of the course of Joarib. The dignity of the high-priesthood made him who enjoyed it, whether he was of the posterity of Eleazar or Ithamar, the first of the sacerdotal order; the head of the other family being second only, and next to him. It is supposed that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of both, when he mentions a chief-priest and a second priest, Jeremiah 52:24. In like manner, notwithstanding Abiathar, of the line of Ithamar, was deposed from the high-priesthood, he is honoured with the title which in those days was given to the high-priests, and set almost on an equality with his successor Zadok, of the line of Eleazar, 1 Kings 4:4.—and Zadok and Abiathar the priests. If therefore Caiaphas was the second priest, as is probable from his succeeding Annas, he might be called the high-priest in a less proper sense. Or, if Annas was removed, and Caiaphas succeeded him before the year expired, they might both properly be said to have been high-priests that year: but though Annas was deposed to make way for Caiaphas, he was restored to his dignity soon after our Lord's death, Acts 4:6. It should be observed, that those who once bore the office of high-priests always retained the title afterwards; and Annas having enjoyed it before Caiaphas, might for that reason have been honoured with the title. It has been suggested, that Annas represented Moses, as the nasi, prince, or head of the Sanhedrim; and Caiaphas Aaron, as the proper high-priest; and that they both continued in their office till the death of Christ. See John 18:13.
Luke 3:3. And he came into all the country about Jordan— What St. Luke terms the country about Jordan, St. Matthew calls the hill-country of Judea: their accounts maybe illustrated from Josephus, who tells us, that the mountains above Jericho ran north as far as Scythopolis, and south to the territory of Sodom, at the bottom of the Asphalticlake: opposite to this there was another range of mountains on the other side of Jordan, beginning at Julias, where the river falls into the sea of Galilee; and extending themselves southward to the extremity also of the Asphaltic lake. The plain between these mountains, and through which the Jordan ran, was called the Aulon, also the Campus Magnus, or Great Plain; and is often mentioned in the Jewish history. According to Josephus, the length of the Aulon was from the village of Ginnabris, to the northern extremity of the Asphaltic lake, and measured 1200 stadia; but its breadth between the mountains was only 120 stadia. The Scriptures, however, extend the Campus Magnus to the southern extremity, or bottom of the Dead Sea; Deu 34:1-3 which for that reason they call the sea of the plain. There is another Campus Magnus mentioned by Josephus, called also The Plain of Esdraelon, from the city ofJezreel. This plain extendeditself from Scythopolis on the east, to the plain of Ptolemais, or Acra, on the west. The plain of Acre on the north was bounded by a range of hills, and to the south by mount Carmel, but eastward it was joined to the plain of Esdraelon by a narrow way. Besides the above-mentioned, there is a large extent of flat country lying along the Mediterranean, from mount Carmel to the utmost boundary of the land southward. In this plain there were no mountains, only a few sandy hillocks, such as at Joppa, on which Gath of the Philistines is said to have been built. These were all the remarkable plains in the land of Israel; the rest of the country was high and mountainous, having but small openings or flats between the ridges of the hills. With respect to the Jordan, we learn from Josephus, as well as from other modern travellers, that it was a very large and rapid river. See his Wars, B. 3. 100: 18. Shaw's Travels, p. 373. Maundrell's Journey, p. 81 and the notes on Joshua 3:13.Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 49:19. The particular part of the river where John baptized was called Bethabara, or the house of the passage; either because the Israelites anciently passed over at that place, or because it was the common fording or ferrying place, to and from Judea. On either supposition, the banks of the river there must have been free of wood, and not so steep as those described in the place above referred to. If Bethabara was the place where the people under Joshua passed the river, it stood directly opposite to Jericho. If it was the then common ferrying-place, we may suppose that the Baptist chose it for the sake of making himself better known, and that he might have an opportunity of addressing greater numbers of his countrymen, as they travelled from one part of the country to another.
Preaching the baptism of repentance— John being called to prepare the Jews for the reception of the Messiah, he atchieved this work through divine grace, by pressing all ranks of men to repent,— Μετανοειν, that is to say, to alter their practical judgments concerning things, and to be suitably affected with remorse and shame for their guilt and past misconduct: but the Baptist did not stop here; he required all his hearers to bring forth fruits meet for repentance; (Luke 3:8.) that is, enjoined them to make a thorough reformation in their lives: and all this is well described, and fully expressed, in the metaphorical language of the prophet, quoted in the next verses. The Baptist inculcated likewise this doctrine by the rite of baptism, which represented the nature and necessity of repentance to men's senses, as his sermons set these things before their understandings. See the note on Mat 3:2 and on Isaiah 40:3.
Luke 3:6. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God— The evangelist seems to have quoted these words from Isa 52:10 though they may very well agree with Isa 40:5 where the prophet says, all flesh shall see it together, that is to say, the glory of the Lord, amply revealed in the salvation of mankind. See Ch. Luke 2:30. St. Luke seems to have taken in this part of the prophesy, which is omitted by St. Matthew, in order to point out its accomplishment, by the admission of the Gentiles into the church of Christ; for it plainly appeared to every discerning believer, at the time when he wrote, that all flesh was to see the salvation of God, and to partake, if faithful, of its inestimable benefits.
Luke 3:7. O generation— Ye brood. Some would read the last clause, τις υποδειξει ;—Who will warn you to flee? A mere servile fear of punishment, says Dr. Heylin, was not a sufficient motive to a total reformation, and would soon wear out of their minds; John therefore censures it as defective.
Luke 3:10. What shall we do then?— Ποιησομεν, the same word as that used in Luk 3:8 and rendered bring forth; and consequently it should be translated in the same manner, to make the propriety of the reply more conspicuous.—Bring forth therefore fruits, Luke 3:8.—Ver. 10. What fruits shall we bring forth?
Luke 3:12. Then came also publicans— The publicans, or tax-gatherers, wishing by all means to keep their places under the Messiah, might be anxious to know what qualifications were necessary for that purpose: or rather, since our Lord hath elsewhere declared, that the tax-gatherers, with the rest of the people, were sincere in their professions of repentance, Mat 21:32 we may believe that the gravity of theBaptist'sexhortation,thevehemencewithwhich he delivered his threatenings, and his character for sanctity, accompanied with the power of divine grace, affected them to such a degree, that many, who till then had looked on ceremonial righteousness as a principal requisite to salvation, sensible of their error, came to him, and said, "If matters be so, what must we do?" Indeed the tax-gatherers and others, who thus addressed the Baptist, were, in general, people of infamous characters; yet he did not, like the Pharisees, shun their company for that reason: on the contrary, he received them with great humanity, and recommended to them equity in the discharge of their office, Exact no more, &c. that is to say, "In levying the taxes, compel no man to pay you more than his just proportion of the sum which you are allowed by the law to raise."
Luke 3:14. And the soldiers likewise— It was the custom of the Romans to recruit their armies in the conquered provinces; wherefore, as the Jews did not scruple to engage in a military life, many of them might nowhave been in the emperor's service. Or we may suppose, that after Judea was made a province, the Romans took into their pay the Jewish troops which Herod and his son Archelaus had maintained; for it is certain that the soldiers who now addressed the Baptist were not heathens, otherwise his advice to them would have been, that they should relinquish idolatry, and embrace the worship of the true God. The word rendered do violence, διασεισητε, properly signifies to shake, and sometimes "to take a man by the collar and shake him:" and it seems to have been used proverbially for that violent manner, in which persons in this station of life are often ready to bully those about them, whom they imagine their inferiors in strength and spirit; though nothing is an argument of a meaner spirit, or more unworthy that true courage which constitutes so essential a part of a good military character. The word Συκοφαντειν, which we render to accuse falsely, answers to the Hebrew עשׁךֶ, oshek, and signifies not only to accuse falsely, but to circumvent and oppress. "Do not turn informers and give false evidence against innocent persons, in order that, with the protection of law, you may oppress them, and enrich yourselves with their spoils." He adds, and be content with your wages: "Live quietly on your pay, and do not mutiny, when your officers happen not to bestow on you donations and largesses to conciliate your favour." It seems the Baptist, in his exhortations to penitents who asked his advice, did not follow the example of the Jewish teachers; for he was far from recommending the observation of ceremonies, and the little precepts of man's invention. He attended to the character of the persons; he considered the vices to which they were most addicted; and he strenuouslyenjoined the great duties of justice, charity, moderation, and contentment, according as he found those who applied to him had failed in them; and so by giving Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans, soldiers, and all sorts of persons, instructions adapted to their circumstances and capacities, he prepared them for receiving the Messiah, who he was sure would soon appear, although he did not know the person particularly who was to sustain that high character.
Luke 3:15. And as the people were in expectation,— John had now acquired an extraordinary reputation by the austerity of his life, the subject of his sermons, the fervencyofhisexhortations,and the freedom, impartiality, and courage with which he rebuked his hearers: yet his fame received no small addition from the various rumours current in the country at that time; for the vision which his father Zacharias had seen in the temple, the coming of the Eastern philosophers to Jerusalem, the prophesies of Simeon, the discourses of Anna, the perplexities of Jerusalem, and Herod's cruelty, though they had happened full thirty years before this, must still have been fresh in the memories of the people, who, no doubt, applied them all to John. Their expectations therefore being raised to a very high pitch, they began to think he might be the Christ, and were ready to acknowledge him as such: so that had he aspired after grandeur, he might, at least for a while, have possessed honours greater than any of the sons of men could justly claim. But the Baptist was too strictly virtuous and holy, to assume what he had no title to;and therefore he declared plainly, that he was not the Messiah, but the lowest of his servants; one sent to prepare the way before him. See the next verse.
Luke 3:17. Purge his floor,— Cleanse, &c.
Luke 3:18. Preached he— Ευηγγελιζετο, He evangelized, or preached as an evangelist. See Luke 2:10. It is observable, that in the parallel place; Mat 3:1 the word κηρυσσων is used, which implies the notice given by Christ's herald, who is sent before to make preparation for his prince, and to announce his approach. Dr. Doddridge renders and paraphrases the present verse thus: and offering many other exhortations to them, to the same effect, he published to the people these glad tidings of the Messiah's approach, and endeavoured to prepare them to receive him in a proper manner. Dr. Heylin renders it, And with many other exhortations, he preached the gospel to the people: for, says he, the doctrine of a second baptism, or purification, &c. is purely evangelical.
Luke 3:21. Now when all the people were baptized,— Now while all the people were receiving baptism. Heylin. If we reflect on the number of the people who followed John, and were baptized by him, and the regard which they expressed for him before and after his death, and yet that no sect was produced in consequence of such a belief and baptism, it will afford a very good argument in favour of the superior power, dignity, character, and office of Jesus. It is observable, that all the three voices from heaven, by which the Father bore witness to Christ, were pronounced while he was praying, or very quickly after it. Compare Ch. Luk 9:29-35 and John 12:38
Luke 3:22. Thou art my beloved Son;— See on Matthew 3:17. The epithet beloved given to the Son on this occasion, marks the greatness of the Father's affection for him, and distinguishes him from all others to whom the title of God's Son had been given. Accordingly we find our Lord alluding to it with peculiar pleasure, in his intercessory prayer, John 17:26. It was therefore the voice of God the Father which was heard at Christ's baptism; probably loud like thunder, as in the instance recorded by Joh 12:29 making a sound which no human organ of speech was able to form, and consequently it could not be mistaken for the whispering voice of any of the multitude present, see Pro 8:30 to which it is thought the voices allude. The Son of God was one of the Messiah's known titles, founded on Psalms 2:7. Isa 7:14 where it is expressly attributed to him; and therefore, according to the received language of the Jews, Jesus was on this occasion declared from heaven to be their long expected Deliverer, and his mission received a most illustrious confirmation from the Father Almighty; a confirmation, on which Jesus laid great stress, as absolutely decisive, John 5:37. For, lest the people might have applied the words of the voice to the Baptist, the Holy Spirit alighted upon Jesus, and remained visible for some time in that singular symbol, see Joh 1:33 which probably surrounded his head in the form of a large glory, and pointed him out as God's beloved Son, in whom the richest gifts and graces resided. Thus all present had an opportunity to hear and see the miraculous testimony; particularly the Baptist, who, as soon as he beheld the Spirit remaining upon Jesus, is supposed to have made use of the words, This is he of whom I spake, &c. John 1:15. The descent of the Spirit on Jesus was predicted Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 61:1. In like manner, the voice from heaven is supposed to be predicted Psalms 2:7.
Luke 3:23. And Jesus himself began to be, &c.— Our Lord having received these different testimonies from his Father, from the Spirit, and from John the Baptist, all given in the presence of the multitudes assembled to John's baptism, began his ministry when he was about thirty years old, the age at which the priests entered on their sacred ministrations in the temple. See the beginning of the first note on this chapter. To understand St. Luke's account of our Lord's age at his baptism aright, we must take notice, that his words stand thus in construction; Και αυτος ο Ιησους αρχομενος, ην ωσει ετων τριακοντα : and Jesus himself, when he began, was about thirty year of age; that is to say, when he began his ministry,—in opposition to the commencement of the Baptist's ministry, the history of which is given in the preceding part of this chapter. In Act 1:21-22 we read, Wherefore, of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning [αρξαμενος, ] from the baptism of John unto the same day that he was taken up from us, &c. Here Christ's ministry is evidently said to have commenced at the baptism of John,—the time that John baptized him, and to have ended at the day of his ascension. The author of the Vindication of the beginning of St. Matthew's and St. Luke's Gospels, would render the words, and Jesus was obedient (or lived in subjection to his parents) about thirty years: and he produces several passages from approved Greek authors, in which αρχομενος signifies subject; but in all these places it is used in some connection or opposition, which determines the sense, and therefore none of them are instances parallel to this; and since the evangelist had before expressed our Lord's subjection to his parents by the word υποτασομενος, Ch. Luk 2:51 there is great reason to believe that he would have used the same word here, had he intended to give us the same idea. With what amazement should we reflect upon it, that the blessed Jesus, though so early ripened for the most extensive services, should live in retirement even till the thirtieth year! that he deferred his ministry so long, should teach us not to thrust ourselves forward to public stations, till we plainly discover a divine call. That he deferred it no longer, should be an engagement to us to avoid unnecessary delays, and to give God the prime and vigour of our life. Our great Master attained not, as it seems, to the conclusion of his thirty-fifth year, if he so much as entered upon it; yet what glorious atchievements did heaccomplish within those narrow limits of time! happy that servant who with any proportionate zeal dispatches the great business of life!
Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,— I. In the first place, with respect to the genealogies of St. Matthew and St. Luke, we may observe, that St. Matthew opens his history with our Lord's genealogy, by Joseph his supposed Father; St. Luke gives us his genealogy on the mother's side. The words before us, properly pointed and translated, run thus; being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli. He was the son of Joseph by common report; but in reality the son of Heli, by his mother who was Heli's daughter. We have a parallel example, Gen 36:2 where Aholibamah's pedigree is thus deduced; Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon; for, since it appears from Luk 3:24-25 that Anah was the son, not the daughter of Zibeon, it is undeniable that as Moses calls Aholibamah the daughter both of Anah and of Zibeon, because she was the grand-daughter; so Jesus is fitly called the son of Heli, because he was his grandson. However, the common pointingandconstructionofthepassagemaybe retained, consistently with the present opinion; because though the words the son of Heli should be referred to Joseph, they may imply no more than that Joseph was Heli's son-in-law, his son by marriage with his daughter Mary. The ancient Jews and Christians understood this passage in the one or other of these senses; for the Talmudists commonly call Mary by the name of Heli's daughter. In proof of what we have advanced above, we observe that the two genealogies are entirely different, from David downward; and that if, as some have supposed, these genealogies exhibit Joseph's pedigree only, the one by hisnatural, the other by his legal father, the natural and legal fathers would have been brothers, when it is plain they were not; Jacob, Joseph's father in St. Matthew, being the son of Matthan, the son of Eleazar; whereas Heli, the father supposed to be assigned by St. Luke, was the son of Matthat, a different person from Matthan, because the son of Levi. And further, on this supposition we should be altogether uncertain whether our Lord's mother, from whom alone he sprang, was a daughter of David; and consequently could not prove that he had any other relation to David, than that his mother was married to one of the descendants of that prince. Let the reader judge whether this fully comes up to the import of the passages of Scripture which tell us, he was made of the seed of David. Romans 1:3.Acts 2:30; Acts 2:30.
II. Taking it for granted, then, that St. Luke gives our Lord's real pedigree, and St. Matthew that of his supposed father, it may reasonably be asked, why St. Matthew has done so? To which it may be replied, that he intended to remove the scruples of those who knew that the Messiah was to be the heir of David's crown; a reason, which appears the stronger, if we suppose with some learned writers, that St. Matthew wrote posterior to St. Luke, who has given the real pedigree. Now, though Joseph was not Christ's real father, it was directly for the evangelist's purpose to derive his pedigree from David, and shew that he was the eldest surviving branch of the posterity of that prince; because, that point established, it was well enough understood that Joseph, by marrying our Lord's mother, after he knew she was with child of him, adopted him for his son, and raised him both to the dignity and the privileges of David's heir; accordingly, the genealogy concludes in terms which imply this; Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus. Joseph is not called the father of Jesus, but the husband of his mother Mary; and the privileges following this adoption will appear to be more essentially connected with it, if, as is probable, Joseph never had any child: for thus the regal line of David's descendants by Solomon, failing in Joseph, his rights were properly transferred to Jesus, his adopted son, who indeed was of the same family, though by another branch. St. Matthew therefore has deduced our Lord's political and royal pedigree, with a view to prove his title to the kingdom of Israel, by virtue of the rights which he acquired through his adoption; whereas St. Luke explains his natural descent in the several successions of those from whom he derived his human nature, down to the Virgin Mary. See the note on Matthew 1:16.
III. Our Lord's genealogy given by St. Luke, will appear with a beautiful propriety, if the place which it holds in his history is attended to. It stands immediately after Jesus is said to have received the testimony of the Spirit, declaring him the Son of God (which includes his being the true Messiah), and before he entered on his ministry, the first act of which was, his encountering with and vanquishing the strongest temptations of the arch enemy of mankind. Christ's genealogy by his mother, who conceived him miraculously, placed in this order, seems to insinuate that he was the seed of the woman, which, in the first intimation of mercy vouchsafed to mankind after the fall, was predicted to bruise the serpent's head. Accordingly, St. Luke, as became the historian who related Christ's miraculous conception in the womb of his mother, carries his genealogy up to Adam, who together with Eve received the before-mentioned promise concerning the restitution of mankind by the seed of the woman. That the genealogy, not only of our Lord's mother, but of his reputed father, should have been given by the sacred historians, was wisely ordered; because the two, taken together, prove him to be descended from David and Abraham in every respect, and consequently that one of the most remarkable characters of the Messiah was fulfilled in him; the principal promises concerning the great personage, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, having been made to those patriarchs in quality of his progenitors. See Genesis 22:18. Psa 132:11-12 and Matthew 1:1.
IV. Bishop Burnet, speaking of the authentic tables which, according to the custom of the Jewish nation, were preserved with the greatest accuracy, observes, that had not the genealogy of Christ been taken exactly according to the temple registers, the bare shewing of them had served to have confuted the whole. For, if any one thing among them was clear and uncontroverted (the sacred oracles excepted), it was the register of their genealogies; since these proved that they were Abraham's seed, and likewise made out their title to the lands, which from the days of Joshua were to pass down either to immediate descendants, or, as they failed, to collateral degrees. Now this shews plainly, that there was a double office kept of their pedigrees; one was natural, and might be taken when the rolls of circumcision were made up; and the other relative to the division of the land; in which, when the collateral line came instead of the natural, then the last was dropped, as extinct, and the other remained. It being thus plain from their constitution, that they had these two orders of tables, we are not at all concerned in the diversity of the two evangelists on this head; since both might have copied them out from those two offices at the temple; and if they had not done it faithfully, the Jews could have authentically demonstrated their error in ascribing to our Saviour by a false pedigree, that received character of the Messiah,—that he was to be the son of David. Therefore, since no exceptions were made at the time when the sight of the rolls must have ended the inquiry, it is plain that they were faithfully copied out; nor are we now bound to answer such difficulties as seem to arise out of them, since they were not questioned at the time in which only an appeal could be made to the public registers themselves.
Luke 3:36. Which was the son of Cainan,— This Cainan is found only in the LXX: but all the other names, from Abraham back to Adam, are found also in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, in the like order as St. Luke has placed them; and all the names from David back to Abraham are the very same as are mentioned in St. Matthew's genealogy.
Luke 3:38. Adam, who was the son of God.— Adam being descended from no human parents, but formed by the immediate power of the divine creating hand, might with peculiar propriety be called the Son of God, in his original state, the heir of immortality and glory. The evangelist might likewise intend by this expression to prove, if needwere, the possibility of Christ's being born of a pure virgin; for if divine Omnipotence could create or produce the first Adam from the dust of the earth, without a parent, it was equally capable of producing the second Adam from the womb of a virgin. Wetstein observes, that St. Matthew, writing for the Jews, deduces our Saviour's pedigree from Abraham to David; but St. Luke, writing for the Gentiles, traces his pedigree as high as Adam, the common father of mankind, to shew that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, born for the common good of the human race: and when he calls Adam the son of God, he means to express that Christ, born of the virgin, is the second Adam, and that his birth, by the Holy Spirit, is a no less singular instance of the divine power, than was the creation of the first Adam.
Inferences drawn from Luk 3:23-38 of this chapter.—We have before observed, that when we survey such a series of generations as this before us, it is obvious to reflect, how, like the leaves of the tree, one passeth away, and another cometh. Of those who formerly lived upon the earth, and perhaps made the most conspicuous figures, how many are there whose names have perished with them! how many, of whom only the name is remaining! and in this view, how vain is the search after posthumous fame, a desire to render ourselves conspicuous to future ages!
It is observable, that all which the divine wisdom has been pleased to tell us concerning Methuselah, the oldest of the sons of men, is, that at the age of 187 he begat a son called Lamech; that after this he begat other sons and daughters; that he lived 969 years, and that he died. Genesis 5:25-27. This is the whole history of his life and actions; and it is a picture of the generality of mankind, who think themselves of great consequence in the world. They marry, and are given in marriage; they perform the common offices of nature; and all that their posterity, is like to know of them is, perhaps, barely their names, in a genealogy like that before us; or, at most, the number of years they lived, the names of the children they begat, and possibly the sum total of the wealth they left behind them, after a painful and penurious life. Now, who would wish for such a fame as this! Or who would desire to be so impertinently remembered for circumstances which do no honour to his memory?
It would be well, therefore, if those who are fond of a posthumous acquaintance with mankind would seriously consider with themselves, from a review of their character, in what light they may suppose posterity will regard them. They should consider and examine, whether they are masters of the amiable and useful qualities of the genuine Christians; and whether, if their actions were drawn out to view, and the sources of them opened, they would appear to flow from pure motives, and tend to promote the glory of God and the good of mankind: if not, their names are not worth preserving, and silence is the best compliment that can be paid them.
There are others, of a more lively and active turn indeed than the former; yet they are as far from entertaining any pious and truly Christian sentiment, or doing any thing more agreeable to their holy calling: I mean those who are led away by their sensitive appetite, and who have a great alacrity in all brutish pleasures; pretenders to wit and humour, ridiculers of the preachers of righteousness, and far gone in those fashionable vices which erewhile caused the universal deluge. What a mortifying reflection must it be to a polite and well-bred sinner, to consider, that even at that awkward age, before the modern arts of gallantry probably were in being, iniquity should be carried to so great a height, that it was very near extirpating the species! surely nothing can give us so mean an idea of the pretensions of our men of pleasure, as to compare them with an antediluvian reprobate.
Whatever we may fancy of our refinements upon wickedness, it will appear that we can no more out-act the vices than the virtues of our predecessors. Some advantages our ancestors before the deluge certainly had above any of their puny successors: they had a long scene of life before them, to perpetrate and lengthen out their pleasures; and as their bodies were more durable than ours, so were they likewise proportionably more robust, since it requires less natural vigour to support a man to the age of eighty or ninety, than eight or nine hundred years. How then must it have moved the scorn of one of these ancient libertines, to see a creature so full of weakness and infirmity, pretending to primitive vigour and activity, and aping his strong progenitors!
If the abandoned could be persuaded to think seriously of their condition; if they would look backward upon what they have been doing, and forward to what they have to do; if they would reflect upon the transitory nature of their enjoyments, and the certainty of either a weak old age, or an immature and hasty death; they could not, if they had the least degree of gracious sensibility, withstand the terrors of so powerful a conviction. Alas! if we speak truth, when we tell one of this stamp and character that he must die at last, what matters it how long his life is? What matters the youth and beauty, the strength and vigour that he enjoys!
But where is the voluptuous libertine that lives out even half his days! how often is he cut off in a midnight revel, or in prosecuting a criminal amour! the pains and infirmities of age are his portion even in the bloom of youth. His vigour is worn out at once, and the rest of his days are but labour and sorrow,—under the fears of quitting even this wretched being, and of entering into another more dreadful and discouraging! Disabled for the pleasures of this life, he has no relish for the happiness of a better; and the most that can be said of him is, that he lives under a perpetual uncertainty whether he should wish to live or die. What an abject state of mind! thus to linger upon the brink of a precipice, when we are sure that we must take the leap at last!
There is not in nature a more melancholy consideration than is afforded to us by a poor wretch of this stamp. His youth is despicable, but his old age is almost beyond contempt. At the same time he sees that he is the jest of fools, and scarcely pitied by the wise and good; the scorn and derision of all around him, and not so much as the favourite of himself. What horror, to be conscious that no one values or esteems him, and, at the same time, to be conscious that he deserves it all! to have out-lived the capacity of enjoying life, and yet to be convinced by every thing he hears and sees, that it is time for him to quit the stage and make room for others!
This indeed is the case of the wicked only—of those particularly who are full of youthful follies. But old age is far from being an object of desire, even in its best and most venerable circumstances. How often do we see the ruins of an excellent understanding, so disfigured and defaced with age as to be a reproach to human reason! and who knows how soon he himself may sink down to circumstances as miserable and disgraceful? Who would accept of life upon such ignominious terms? Surely none can be so fond of this present world, but those who fear to venture upon another!
The happiness and value of human life therefore consists not in the number of years, but in the internal experience of the life of God, and in the outward manifestation of every divine grace and virtue. It is but a passage to a better state; and he who has his eye fixed upon his journey's end, will never be offended at the shortness of it.
Methuselah, we read, lived 969 years; Enoch but 365. One of them secured a blessed immortality; he walked with God, and was translated: concerning the other, we only know that he died. Need I put the question to any one, Whether, at first sight, he would rather be Methuselah or Enoch?
Thus much for human life in general: and as to the titles and marks of honour that distinguish us from each other in it, however they may divide the world, yet how very soon will they be extinguished! what do we know of these patriarchs before us?—And what a poor idea must we form hence of all our little strifes and competitions! Are any of these worthies either the better or the worse for the high or low stations which they possessed in life?—Their fortunes are now determined:—Their love also, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:6.
And such will be the state of all the great ones whose names now fill the world with wonder. They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them. And is it worth while then for an ambitious spirit to rend the world into parties, for the sake of so short-lived a glory?
Vain and despicable indeed is all sublunary glory depending on the breath of men. But religion opens to us a new scene of ambition, in the realms of bliss, by recommending to us beings of a superior character. The time will come, when, if it be not our own fault, we shall be removed from the groveling pursuits of this transitory life, to the society of the glorified saints and angels of God. The reason why we are so apt to be unmoved with these thoughts in our lifetime, is, because they are so refined and abstracted, and we so fallen and carnal. But the day will arrive, when the partition between the two worlds will be broken down, and all the tribes of intellectual beings be laid open to our view; and, if we be faithful to the grace of God, we shall know, even as also we are known: we shall then with ever-waking eyes behold the glories of our blessed Redeemer, who will be the joy of our hearts to all eternity; when the frail monuments of which the world is so proud shall for ever be buried in oblivion.
To conclude. If we desire that our lives here may not be useless, let us, under the aid and blessing of heaven, fill them up with acts of love, charity, and benevolence. If we would avoid being bewitched with pleasure, let us begin to despise it while young: If we will provide against the miseries of age, let us, through the grace of God, arm ourselves with early piety; if we be fond of rank and precedence, let us consider that death will level us; nay, and if we be desirous of fame upon earth hereafter, let us reflect that we shall be incapable of enjoying it. In short, let us all remember, that we are intended for another life, and let us fix all our hopes of happiness, of fame, and of pleasure there; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Great expectations had been raised concerning the son of Zacharias from his infancy; and now he appears to answer them.
1. The time of his entering publicly on his ministry, is here observed. It was in the reign of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip of Iturea, and Lysanias of Abilene. They were called tetrarchs, either as having each the fourth part of what was under the dominion of Herod the Great, or as standing in the fourth rank of governors, which are reckoned thus; the emperor, proconsuls, kings, tetrarchs. They were all foreigners, a mark of the sad subjection of the Jewish people, now reduced entirely under the Roman yoke, the sceptre being finally departed from Judah, and the very kingly office abolished in Judea:—Annas and Caiaphas being the high-priests, not that they both bore that office at the same time, but Annas had been, and Caiaphas was now in that station; or as some suppose, Annas was the sagan, or chief of the priests, who stood next to the high-priest in rank and honour. See the Annotations.
2. The origin and tendency of his ministry is declared. The word of God came unto John in the wilderness, he was inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to go forth, being endued with extraordinary gifts and graces, and possessed of the spirit of prophesy; and hereupon leaving the solitude where he had hitherto abode, he came into a more populous part of the country near to Jordan, preaching publicly the necessity of repentance, and admitting to his baptism those who made profession of it, as the sign and seal of the remission of their sins. Note; All who repent truly of their sins, and by faith turn to Jesus, are assured of their pardon.
3. John herein eminently fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah, chap. Isaiah 40:3-5. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, loud and vehement, prepare ye the way of the Lord into your hearts; by a deep and humbling sense of your sins make his paths straight; let every obstruction from pride and ignorance be removed, as the harbinger clears the way for the entry of the king. Every valley shall be filled, the lowly and depressed with sin shall be raised up by pardoning grace and divine consolations; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, the proud and self-righteous shall be humbled into the dust of humiliation, or sunk into the belly of hell; and the crooked shall be made straight, the perverse dispositions and conduct of sinners shall by divine grace be rectified; and the rough ways shall be made smooth, the most untractable spirits softened and subdued, or every difficulty in the way of men's receiving the Messiah shall be removed. And all flesh, not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also, shall see the salvation of God; multitudes of all nations, ranks, and ages, will embrace the gospel of Jesus, and partake of his eternal redemption.
4. He addressed himself with very awakening language to the multitude who came to him. He charges them as a generation of vipers, full of venom, hypocrisy, and Satanical subtilty; and asks, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? from the national judgments ready to descend upon them, or the more terrible and eternal vengeance hanging over every guilty sinner's head? He warns them therefore of the necessity of a speedy and real change of heart and life, evident in the fruits of all holy conversation and godliness; without which, their boasted privilege as Abraham's descendants would profit them nothing, but rather aggravate their guilt. God wanted them not; he could, and would, from stones, from Gentiles, raise up a more illustrious and numerous race, the heirs of Abraham's faith, his spiritual children, who should supply their place, if they continued hypocritical and impenitent: now therefore the call of mercy was sent to them, that they might prevent their impending doom, before the axe of divine vengeance was laid to their roots; and they, as barren trees, were cut down and cast into the fire, utterly destroyed as a nation; and as the sinners of old, suffering also the vengeance of eternal fire. Note; (1.) The sinner has no moment to lose; death and judgment are at his heels. (2.) No outward privilege can profit those whose hearts remain unrenewed and unholy. (3.) True repentance will be seen by its fruits; the change will be internal, universal, evident. (4.) It is a fearful thing for an impenitent soul to fall into the hands of the living God.
5. The Pharisees and Sadducees were probably disgusted at these hard sayings, and left him; but the people, the publicans and soldiers, were deeply affected, and earnestly solicitous to know what those fruits of repentance were, which they were required to produce: and a blessed symptom it is of real penitence, when we are thus diligent to inquire what is the mind of God, and really disposed through grace to follow it. To these, therefore, John directs his instructions, suited to their several circumstances and temptations.
[1.] To the people in general, he recommends a liberal distribution to the necessities of their brethren; supplying them according to their ability with food and raiment; and where the call was urgent, straitening themselves, rather than suffer their neighbours to perish with cold, or be famished with hunger: and a truly charitable soul is not only to its power, but sometimes above its power, willing.
[2.] To the publicans, the collectors of the public taxes, many of whom were Jews, he gave in charge, that they should use no exaction, nor levy more than the government demanded. Their employment, though in general odious to the people, was not in itself unlawful, while they demeaned themselves in it with justice and integrity.
[3.] To the soldiers, who seem to have been also Hebrews, perhaps the guards of Philip, or Herod, he said, do violence to no man, extort nothing from the people by threatening, behave not insolently nor outrageously in your quarters: when employed in war, use no unnecessary devastations, nor wanton cruelty; neither accuse any falsely, neither their comrades to their officers, nor the people where they might be stationed, through malice, or for the sake of money; and be content with your wages, neither increasing them by plunder, nor seeking to advance them by mutiny; a caution well deserving the notice of all servants, who, if once they give way to discontent, will soon be tempted to use unlawful means to gratify their covetousness.
2nd, We have,
1. The general expectations which the people were in of the Messiah. The sceptre was departed from Judah, and the prophesies of Daniel concerning him now required his coming; which made many turn their eyes to John, who appeared with marks of such singular distinction, and spoke with such authority and zeal, that they began to think that this might be the long-expected Messiah.
2. John immediately undeceived them, disclaiming all pretensions to that honour; and directs them to expect shortly the Great Prophet, whose forerunner he was. The meanest office under him he acknowledges himself unworthy to discharge; and his baptism was not worthy to be compared with the more powerful and efficacious influences of that Holy Ghost, which, under the ministry of Jesus, should be abundantly dispensed, and act, like fire, with astonishing energy upon the souls of men. By his gospel he would make a thorough separation between the faithful and the hypocrites; and by his judgments on the Jewish people sweep them away as the chaff before the fan: and, when he has gathered in his saints, the wheat, into his garner; the wicked, the self-righteous, and the apostate, will be cast into the everlasting burnings,—an awful declaration, which deserves the most awakened attention. These and many other things did John with great freedom and fidelity deliver, preaching the glad tidings of the gospel (ευηγγελιζετο ) to the people, and urging upon their consciences the importance of the truths that he declared. Such ministers ought all who are put in trust with the gospel to be; affectionate, zealous, indefatigable, free, copious, evangelical. Then may we expect to reap the fruit of our labours, in a harvest of immortal souls.
3. After a short but glorious course of about a year and a half, a sudden stop is put to the Baptist's ministry by a most unjust imprisonment. Unable to flatter, yea, zealous to reprove, the most exalted sinners, Herod the tetrarch escaped not his sharp rebukes for the complicated crime of taking his brother Philip's wife, and marrying her during his life; thus joining incest to adultery; and for all the other evils which Herod had done, which were many and notorious. Exasperated at this plain and faithful dealing, he added this to all his other wickedness, that he shut up John in prison, and after a while was prevailed upon to take away his life. Note; (1.) When God's ministers are thus compelled to an involuntary silence, their sufferings speak as loud as their sermons. (2.) Mysterious are the ways of Providence. The excellent of the earth become a prey to persecutors, who triumph at their fall. Where, will some say, is the God of judgment? Wait a moment. The mystery will soon be unfolded.
3rdly, The evangelist finishes the history of John's ministry, which continued near a year after Christ's baptism, before he enters upon the public appearance of Jesus.
1. After a multitude of others had been baptized, at last Jesus also comes to John, and is baptized of him in Jordan: when, looking up in prayer to his Father, instantly the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost in a bodily shape descended upon him, both to qualify him for his mediatorial work, and to be a sign to John that he was the Messiah; which was farther confirmed by an audible voice from heaven, God the Father testifying his delight in this Son of his love, and his perfect satisfaction in his undertaking. Note; (1.) Christ prayed, to set us the example. In this way the communion between earth and heaven is to be maintained. (2.) If God be well pleased in his Son, then may we confidently rest our souls on him as our Saviour, and never doubt of his willingness and power to save to the uttermost.
2. The age and pedigree of Jesus are recorded by the evangelist. He was about thirty years of age when he entered on his public ministry, descended from David by his mother's side, as well as by Joseph's his reputed father. See the Annotations.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent