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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Luke 3

 

 

Verse 1-2

Luke 3:1-2. Now in the fifteenth year of Tiberius — Reckoning from the time when Augustus made him his colleague in the empire: Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea — He was made governor in consequence of Archelaus being banished, and his kingdom reduced into a Roman province. See note on Matthew 2:22. And Herod — Namely, Herod Antipas; being tetrarch of Galilee — The dominions of Herod the Great were, after his death, divided into four parts or tetrarchies: this Herod, his son, reigned over that fourth part of his dominions. His brother Philip reigned over another fourth part, namely, the region of Iturea and that of Trachonitis; (that tract of land on the other side Jordan, which had formerly belonged to the tribe of Manasseh;) and Lysanias, (probably descended from a prince of that name, who was some years before governor of that country,) was tetrarch of Abilene, which was a large city of Syria, whose territories reached to Lebanon and Damascus, and contained great numbers of Jews. Annas and Caiaphas being the high- priests — “By the original constitution of the Israelitish state, one only could be high-priest at one time, and the office was for life. But after the nation had fallen under the power of foreigners, great liberties were taken with the sacred office; and high-priests, though still of the pontifical family of Aaron, were put in or out arbitrarily, as suited the humour, the interest, or the political views of their rulers. And though it does not appear that they ever appointed two to officiate jointly in that station, there is some probability that the Romans about this time made the office annual, and that Annas and Caiaphas enjoyed it by turns. See John 11:49; John 18:13; Acts 4:6. If this was the case, which is not unlikely; or if, as some think, the sagan, or deputy, is comprehended under the same title, we cannot justly be surprised that they should be named as colleagues by the evangelist. In any event it may have been usual, through courtesy, to continue to give the title to those who had ever enjoyed that dignity, which, when they had no king, was the greatest in the nation.” — Campbell. Thus the time of the public appearance of John the Baptist, the harbinger of the Messiah, is distinctly marked by Luke; for he tells us the year of the Roman emperor in which it happened, and mentions, not only the governor or procurator of Judea, and the high-priest who then officiated, but several contemporary princes who reigned in the neighbouring kingdoms. By his care, in this particular, he has fixed exactly the era of the commencement of the gospel. The word of God came unto John — John, the son of Zacharias and forerunner of Jesus, was a priest by descent, and a prophet by office, (Luke 1:76.) He was surnamed the Baptist, from his baptizing his disciples; (see note on Matthew 3:1;) and was foretold anciently under the name of Elijah, because he was to come in the spirit and power of that prophet. From his infancy he dwelt in the wilderness, or hill-country, with his father, till the word of God, by prophetic inspiration, or, as some think, by an audible voice from heaven, such as the prophets of old heard, and which he knew to be God’s by the majesty thereof, came to him — Called him forth to enter upon the work to which he was destined before he was conceived in the womb, namely, to prepare the Jews for the reception of the Messiah.


Verses 3-6

Luke 3:3-6. And he came into all the country about Jordan — He made his first public appearance in the wilderness of Judea, Matthew 3:1; that is, in the uncultivated and thinly-inhabited parts of the hill-country round Hebron, where his father dwelt; Luke 1:39-40; but after his fame was spread abroad, and many came to him, he left Judea and passed over Jordan, residing chiefly at Bethabara, for the conveniency of baptizing, John 1:28; John 10:40. He travelled, however, through all that country; preaching the baptism of repentance — That is, calling sinners of all descriptions to repentance, and admitting the penitent to the baptism of water as an outward or visible sign, or emblem of the free and full remission of all their sins. In other words, he enjoined the penitent to be baptized, as a testimony, on their part, of the sincerity of their repentance, and on the part of John, who administered this ordinance by the commandment of God, as a seal or token that their sins were remitted. As it is written in the book of Esaias, The voice of one crying, &c. — See the notes on Isaiah 40:3-5. The evangelist, by citing this prophecy, as accomplished in the Baptist’s preaching, shows us its true meaning. Isaiah, by expressions taken from the custom of kings, who commonly have the roads through which they pass prepared for them, signified that the Messiah’s forerunner was to prepare his way, by intimating that the institutions of Moses were to be relinquished as the means of salvation, and by exhorting the people to repentance and amendment of life. Matthew tells us, that John enforced his exhortations to repentance from the consideration that the Messiah’s kingdom was at hand; the kingdom of heaven, foretold by Daniel the prophet, the new dispensation of religion, wherein all ceremonial observances were to be abolished, and nothing but repentance, partly flowing from, and partly followed by, faith in the Messiah, and producing sincere obedience, would avail toward the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, and the enjoyment of eternal life. According to Luke, the argument whereby John enforced his exhortations to repentance was, that sinners would thereby obtain the remission of their sins. The two evangelists, therefore, being compared, show, that the great and distinguishing privilege of the new dispensation is, that therein pardon is promised to, and conferred on, penitents who believe in Jesus, and that the kingdom of God, including righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, (Romans 14:17,) is set up in their hearts and governs their lives. Every valley shall be filled, &c. — Of these metaphors, which are plainly taken from the making of roads, the meaning is, that the Messiah’s forerunner, by preaching the doctrine of repentance, and thereby affecting men’s minds with remorse and shame for their past conduct, and producing amendment of life, should be instrumental in effecting such a change in the hearts and lives of the Jews, that many of them should acknowledge, receive, and become subject to the Messiah, when he appeared. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God — After such a preparation of the way as is now described, mankind shall behold, not a splendid temporal monarch, accompanied with a magnificent retinue, but the author of that salvation which God has prepared before the face of all people. Luke 2:30-31; see notes on Matthew 3:3.


Verses 7-9

Luke 3:7-9. Then said he to the multitude, O generation of vipers — See note on Matthew 3:7. Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of repentance — The Baptist did not stop at preaching repentance, and rest satisfied with the people’s making a profession thereof, but he insisted on the necessity of their bringing forth fruits suitable to such a profession, or a thorough reformation of their conduct in all respects. See this explained particularly in the notes on Matthew 3:8-10. Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father — That is, trust not in your being members of the visible church, or in any external privileges whatsoever; for God requires a change of heart, and that now, without delay. For the axe is laid to the root of the trees — That is, the patience of God is very near come to an end, with respect to you, and his judgments are at hand and ready to be inflicted; so that if you continue unfruitful, notwithstanding the extraordinary means now to be tried with you, destruction will speedily overtake you. The drift of all John’s sermons was to root out their prejudices, and give them a sense of this important truth, that acceptance with God does not depend upon flowing garments, broad phylacteries, frequent ablutions, much fasting, and long prayers; but that good works, proceeding from faith and love, are necessary thereto.


Verses 10-14

Luke 3:10-14. And the people asked him, What shall we do then? — To avoid the judgments of God. He answereth, He that hath two coats, &c. — Be careful, not only to observe the ceremonies of religion, but to attend to the great duties of justice, mercy, and charity. The sum of all is: Cease to do evil, learn to do well: these are the fruits worthy of repentance. Then came also publicans — A set of men whose office it was to collect the taxes which the Romans had imposed on the Jews, and to pay them to others, who were called the chief of the publicans; and these people, being generally persons of an infamous character for their injustice and oppression, applied themselves to John, under a strong conviction of their guilt, and said, Master, what shall we do? — Namely, to testify the sincerity of our repentance. And he said, Exact no more than is appointed you — As if he had said, I do not require you absolutely to quit your employment, but take care that, in levying the taxes, you compel no man to pay you more than his just proportion of the sum which you are allowed by the law to raise. And the soldiers applied themselves to him on the same occasion, saying, What shall we do? — The Baptist’s sermons were so affecting, that they impressed men even of the most abandoned characters, such as the private soldiers in all countries commonly are. And he said, Do violence to no man — Commit no violence on any man’s person or property. “The word διασεισητε properly signifies, to take a man by the collar and shake him; and seems to have been used proverbially for that violent manner in which persons of 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.” — Doddridge. Neither accuse any falsely — Do not turn informers, and give false evidence against innocent persons, in order that with the protection of the law you may oppress them, and enrich yourselves with their spoils. The word συκοφαντειν, which we render, to accuse falsely, answers to the Hebrew עשׂק, and signifies also to circumvent and oppress. 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 is well known the word οψωνιοις, here rendered wages, signifies provision, or food; but, when applied to soldiers, it is generally used to signify the pay that was allotted for their subsistence. It appears that the soldiers who now addressed the Baptist were not heathen, but Jews; otherwise one part of his advice to them would certainly have been, that they should relinquish idolatry, and embrace the worship of the true God. To account for this it must be observed, that it was the custom of the Romans to recruit their armies in the conquered provinces, and, as the Jews did not scruple to engage in a military life, many of them may now have 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. See Macknight.


Verses 15-17

Luke 3:15-17. And as all the people were in expectation, &c. — The austerity of John’s life, the important subjects of his sermons, the fervency of his exhortations, and the freedom, impartiality, and courage with which he rebuked all classes of sinners, raised him very high in the esteem of the generality of people; insomuch that many began to be of opinion he might be the Messiah. And possibly the extraordinary events which had occurred thirty years before, namely, the vision which his father Zacharias had seen in the temple, the coming of the eastern sages to Jerusalem, the prophecies of Simeon, and the testimony of Anna, which doubtless would be fresh in the memories of many of them, and would all be applied to John, might strengthen that opinion. And, if John had aspired after grandeur, he might for a while have possessed honours greater than any of mankind could justly claim. But he was too upright and pious to assume a character which he had no right to, and therefore he declared plainly that he was not the Messiah, but one of the lowest of his servants; one sent to prepare his way before him. At the same time, to give his hearers a just idea of his Master’s dignity, he described the authority and efficacy of his ministry. John answered, saying, I indeed baptize you with water, &c. I am sent from God, and the message I bring is, that all ranks and orders of persons must repent. Withal, to impress this doctrine more deeply on their minds, I address their senses by baptizing all my disciples with water. But one mightier than I cometh — There is an infinitely greater prophet than I am, ready to appear, namely, the Messiah; the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose — For whom I am not worthy to perform the meanest servile office. He shall baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire — His baptism shall be unspeakably more efficacious than mine, for he will bestow on you the gifts and graces of his Holy Spirit. Whose fan is in his hand — See this and the preceding verse explained at large, in the notes on Matthew 3:11-12.


Verses 18-20

Luke 3:18-20. And many other things preached he unto the people — In this manner did John inculcate the doctrine of repentance, and declare his Master’s greatness. But his sermons were not confined to these matters. He discoursed also on many other important subjects, according as he knew they would be profitable to his hearers. But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him, &c. — In the whole course of John’s ministry he showed great integrity and courage, but especially in his intercourse with Herod the tetrarch, who, it seems, had heard him, and admitted him into conversation; for he was so bold as to address the tetrarch on the subject of his favourite sins, particularly his adultery with Herodias. This he represented to him in its true colours, and reproved him for it. But the effect of his exhortation was not what it ought to have been. It did not bring Herod to repentance. On the contrary, it so provoked him, that he cast the Baptist into prison, and thereby put an end to his ministry, after it had lasted a considerable time. This circumstance, though it happened after, is here mentioned before our Lord’s baptism, that his history (that of John being concluded) might then follow without any interruption.


Verse 21-22

Luke 3:21-22. When all the people were baptized — If we reflect on the number of the people who followed John, and were baptized by him, and the regard they expressed for him before and after his death, and yet that no sect was produced in consequence of such belief and baptism, it will afford a very good argument in favour of the superior power, dignity, character, and office of Jesus. Jesus, praying, the heaven was opened — It is observable, that the three voices from heaven (see Luke 9:29; Luke 9:35; John 12:28) by which the Father bore witness to Christ, were pronounced, either while he was praying, or quickly after it. Thou art my beloved Son, &c. — See note on Matthew 3:16-17.


Verses 23-35

Luke 3:23-35. And Jesus — John’s beginning was computed by the years of princes: our Saviour’s by the years of his own life, as a more august era: — began to be about thirty years of age — The Greek here, και αυτος ην ο ιησους ωσει ετων τριακοντα αρχομενος, should rather be rendered, (as many commentators understand it,) And Jesus, beginning, (or, when beginning,) namely, the public exercise of his ministry, was about thirty years of age. “I can recollect no sufficient authority,” says Dr. Doddridge, “to justify our translators in rendering the original words, began to be about thirty years of age, or, was now entering on his thirtieth year. To express that sense, it should have been ην αρχομενος ειναι, &c., as Epiphanius, probably by a mistake, has quoted it.” The author of the Vindication of the beginning of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel, [with whom Dr. Campbell agrees,] extremely dissatisfied with all the common versions and explications of these words, would render them, And Jesus was obedient, or lived in subjection [to his parents] about thirty years; and produces several passages from approved Greek writers, in which αρχομενος signifies subject. But in all those places it is used in some connection or opposition, which determines the sense; and therefore none of them are instances parallel to this. Luke evidently uses αρχομενων, Luke 21:28, in the sense we suppose it to have here: and since he had before expressed our Lord’s subjection to his parents by the word υποτασσομενος, Luke 2:51, there is great reason to believe he would have used the same word here, had he intended to give us the same idea. The meaning of the evangelist, therefore, evidently is, that Jesus, having received those different testimonies from his Father, from the Spirit, and from John the Baptist, all given in 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 and Levites entered on their sacred ministrations in the temple. Both Jesus and John deferred entering on their public ministry till they were that age, because the Jews would not have received any doctrines from them if they had begun it sooner. Our great Master, as it seems, attained not to the conclusion of his thirty-fourth year. Yet what glorious achievements did he accomplish within those narrow limits of time! Happy that servant, who, with any proportionate zeal, despatches the business of life! And so much the more happy, if his sun go down at noon. For the space that is taken from the labours of time, shall be added to the rewards of eternity.

Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli — That is, the son-in-law: for Eli was the father of Mary. So Matthew writes the genealogy of Joseph, descended from David by Solomon; Luke that of Mary, descended from David by Nathan. In the genealogy of Joseph (recited by Matthew) that of Mary is implied, the Jews being accustomed to marry into their own families. The genealogy inserted here by Luke will appear with a beautiful propriety, if the place which it holds in his history be attended to. “It stands immediately after Jesus is said to have received the testimony of the Spirit, declaring him the Son of God, that is to say, Messiah; and before he entered on his ministry, the first act of which was, his encountering with and vanquishing the strongest temptation 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 break the head of the serpent. Accordingly Luke, as became the historian who related Christ’s miraculous conception, carries his genealogy to Adam, who, together with Eve, received the fore-mentioned promise concerning the restitution of mankind by the seed of the woman.” — Macknight.


Verse 36-37

Luke 3:36-37. Which was the son of Cainan — “There is no mention made of this Cainan in either of the genealogies which Moses gives, Genesis 10:24; Genesis 11:12; but Salah is there said to be the son of Arphaxad. Cainan must therefore have been introduced here from the translation of the Seventy interpreters, who have inserted him in both these places in the same order as we find him here; and as this translation was then commonly used, and was more generally understood than the Hebrew, it is probable that some transcriber of this gospel added Cainan from that version. Unless we suppose that Luke himself might choose, in writing this genealogy, to follow the LXX., as he appears to do in several other passages that he has quoted from the Old Testament.” The evangelist’s design was only to present us with the genealogy of Christ in its ascent to Adam, and this is equally clear, whether we reckon Salah as the immediate descendant of Arphaxad, or whether we consider him as his grandson by Cainan.


Verse 38

Luke 3:38. Adam, which was the son of God — Adam, being descended from no human parents, but formed by the power of a divine creating hand, might with peculiar propriety be called the son of God, having, in his original state, received immediately from God, whatever the sons of Adam receive from their parents, sin and misery excepted.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 3:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/luke-3.html. 1857.

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