For the full text of Luke 3, click here.
The beginning of this chapter again makes me think of this gospel as more of a historical accounting than the others. Luke takes the time to set the time and place of John’s ministry by specifying who was in power. He begins with the current Roman emperor down to the “tetrarchs“, but also includes the religious power with “during the high priesthood”. All this to introduce that it was time that John the Baptist was in the wilderness and baptizing people. As in Mark, Luke mentions that this baptism is for the “repentance and the forgiveness of sins”. I’ve always loved the word repentance. I know it sounds weird, but I do. I like it more than apology. Repentance comes with a commitment, it comes with the assurance that the offending party will try not to do it again. Even if they fail and it happens again, it’s not a simple hollow apology.
John the Baptist wants them to sincerely try to do better, to be better, because the Kingdom of Heaven is coming and they need to be ready. He even gives them advice about how to go about it. Okay, let me go back a second. Luke does also mention the prophecy from Isaiah 40, but he gives a little more of it and what’s there is also a little different from what we read today in Isaiah.
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”Isaiah 40:3-5
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,a
make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”Luke 3:4-6
These two passages are similar enough to not make a fuss over, but Mark and Matthew both leave out verses 5 and 6 entirely. Luke includes the promise that the people will “see the salvation of God” and I imagine that’s pretty moving to someone coming out to hear this man speak. Of course, for the educated, this could be implied, but I don’t think everyone was equally educated on the scripture.
“Crowds” came here to be baptized and Matthew specifically calls out Pharisees and Sadducees as being among them. It is this group that he says John the Baptist was talking to with his “you brood of vipers” speech. In Matthew, the entire speech is given in one go, but Luke has it as a back and forth with the crowd. He chastises them, they ask what they can do, and then he gives them the answer of repentance and elaborates on what that means. The two speeches are different in that Luke has everything Matthew mentions and a little more, while Mark doesn’t so much mention the crowds as John the Baptist’s insistence that the one who comes after him is greater.
The thing about the repentance given is that the tax collectors and the soldiers are given specific instructions that in my mind are things they should already be doing. It’s interesting to see in this light that John has to tell them to stop using their authority for personal gain that harms the general public. It helps to paint the picture of the kind of corruption that appears to be rampant in the age that Jesus comes to the world. The tax collectors must be told to not collect more than they were authorized and the soldiers have to be told to not extort the public for more money.
John the Baptist realizes that they think he might be the Christ and this is when Luke has him talk about the one who is coming to baptize them with “the Holy Spirit and fire”. Strangely, Luke first mentions that Herod had John locked up at his sister-in-law’s behest after “reproving” Herod as well. As usual, people in power did not like to hear about how messed up they were. This is followed by the baptism of Jesus Himself.
Luke is considerably more spare with this telling of Jesus’s baptism. He uses one sentence and two verses, which I find a little strange with how detailed other areas are.
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;c with you I am well pleased.”dLuke 3:22-22
This is followed by another and distinctly different genealogy of Jesus. There are a few things that make this one quite different from the genealogy we saw back in Matthew 1. First of all, this works backwards. It begins with Jesus and works it’s way all the way back to Adam and then God. Matthew’s began with Abraham and worked to Joseph and then Jesus. The other major distinction is that the names for Solomon to Shaeltial and then Abiud to Matthan are completely different. Matthew has Jesus following the lineage of Solomon while Luke has Nathan. The lines diverge and meet at Shealtiel during the exile to Babylon and then diverge again and meet at Matthan but also have a hole where there is a Jacob in the Matthew line where a Heli is in the Luke line. There are several theories for these differences.
Personally, I can see how with so many generations in the middle, there could be more than one line to David. Among the theories is that one is more of a legal line and the other is more of a physical line. I can also see how things may have gotten messy during the exile and there could be uncertainty about the exact line of succession there. It’s like all those Americans who say they have Native American heritage because some cousin says their great great grandfather was from this or that tribe. It’s important for the prophecy that Jesus come from this line, but whether that’s strictly legal or physical doesn’t seem to be specified. Of course, it seems obvious to me that it’s legal because that’s how Jesus comes to Joseph in the first place through both lines. Joseph is the legal guardian of Jesus, but God is His Father, you know? If it were physical, we’d see the lineage traced through Mary. That said, she is mentioned in Matthew, along with some other women, and none are mentioned in Luke which is more consistent with genealogies of the time.