Lesson 11: The Word of God Came Unto John the Son of Zechariah
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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records.
Welcome again! This is lesson # 11. We're ready to begin in Luke's account (Luke ch. 3) according to our previously agreed upon plan of analysis. Luke and Matthew each gave us two chapters of background material by way of introduction. We appreciate that; because those four chapters are the extent of our prelude to the ministry of John and Jesus. The other two writers, Mark and John, just wade right in to John the Baptist's ministry in the first chapters of their books and do not give us a section corresponding to the material at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. So we are now at the point where all four writers begin to tell us about the ministry of John the Baptist and then the ministry of Jesus. Priests and scribes and teachers of the law started their careers at age 30 in those days. This was God's instruction to Moses concerning the Levites (in Num. 4:3). John the Baptist was of the Levitical tribe. John's father Zechariah was a priest, we learned in Luke 1:5. However, Jesus was NOT of the Levitical tribe. But, it was undoubtedly God's will that the Messiah begin his work at age 30 also. John, you will remember, was six months older than Jesus. Thus, John would have entered service about half a year before Jesus.
Let's begin by reading the first two verses of Luke ch. 3. Are you ready? "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness." Luke, here, in these two verses steps from the introductory phase of his writing INTO the body of his text. These two verses accomplish two important things: first, we are introduced to the Emperor and the local rulers that were in power at that time. (#2) By this means Luke establishes the date when John the Baptist was divinely commissioned to begin his work. Any good encyclopedia will tell you that Tiberius became the Roman Emperor in A.D. 14. Thus, the 15th year of Tiberius
Caesar would have been AD 29 or AD 30 depending on the month, which we don't know. Tiberius Caesar followed Augustus Caesar which Luke mentioned, Luke 2:1. You will remember, Augustus was the Caesar that gave the decree THAT All, THE WORLD SHOULD BE TAXED. That was the reason for Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, back in AD 0, the way we are reckoning time in this study. Now, do you recognize any other names in v.1 here? What about Herod the tetrarch of Galilee? What about Philip? These are the sons of Herod-the-great. You will remember they came into power while Joseph and Mary and Jesus were in Egypt, after Herod-the-great killed the babies in and around Bethlehem (that's at the end of Matt. ch. 2). Herod the tetrarch of Galilee mentioned here in Luke 3:1, was Antipas or Antipater Herod. I think I made the point before, Antipater Herod was the ruler of Galilee, the province where Jesus grew up, longer than Jesus lived. The word "tetrarch" used here in v.1, technically means the ruler of one-fourth of a country. But, the word was used undoubtedly in a loose sort of way and may have been applied to any small-time ruler. A governor was a little higher rank than a tetrarch, but basically the same duties. Do you recall Archelius Herod, the son of Herod-the-great that reigned in Judea in the room of his father (Matt. 2:22)? The information Luke gives us here in Luke 3:1, tells us enough to figure out that Archelius had been replaced by a governor named Pontius Pilate. Some of these names will occur over and over before we complete this study. So, we need to get them firmly planted in our mind NOW. So, take the time to make a note on your map-worksheet. Put a line through Archelius Herod and write in "replaced by Pontius Pilate." Find an open spot on your map, draw a little stick man in Galilee, draw a crown on his head and write in his name: Antipater Herod. Further up north, write in Philip in the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis. Put Lysanias in Abilene at the very top, right-hand side of your map. You got it? There is a little dotted or dashed line on your map that are the approximate territorial boundaries. Samaria is not mentioned here. But, it is my understanding that the territory of Samaria more or less went with Judea so far as Roman administration was concerned.
Now, let's discuss v.2. Luke switches now from the Roman administration to the Jewish religious leaders. Normally, there should have been only one high priest. The high priest was the man who supervised the twenty-four courses of priest that conducted the worship at the temple. The high priest was also the chairman of the Jewish council, a body of seventy men (priests, elders and scribes) who were permitted to meet and deliberate by Roman permission. However, notice here, Luke says there were TWO high priests at that time: Annas and Caiaphas. Now Annas was the rightful high priest. This was an hereditary office established in the O.T. Moses' brother, Aaron was the first high priest. That's back in Exodus. However, remember now, the Jews had lost their independence and were under Roman sovereignty. So, if the Romans didn't get along with the high priest, they simply appointed a high priest to suit them. Thus, the Jews in general may have looked to Annas as their rightful high priest; but, the Romans dealt with Caiaphas, who was Annas' son-in-law. Don't forget Annas and Caiaphas, for we're going to meet both of them again. Now, re-read these verses. This is a miniature orientation course on the situation in Palestine at that time.
Then, let's tune-in the last part of v.2. "...the word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness." O.K., now that connects up with Luke's last verse back in chapter one. Do you remember! "...the child grew, and waxed strong in. sprit, and was in the desert£ till the day of his showing unto Israel." Now, v.2 here in Luke's account is describing the DAY OF HIS SHOWING IN ISRAEL; i.e. when John began his prophetic duties. Now, we're talking about the son of Elisabeth and Zechariah in their old age, better known as John the Baptist. This is NOT the John that wrote the fourth gospel; so don't get them confused. That was John the apostle. But, you will remember, John the apostle mentioned John the Baptist (that we're discussing now) in his prologue, John 1:6. He said, "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light." LIGHT is there capitalized, personifying Jesus as LIGHT. We talked about this before. In those words, we learned the purpose and mission of John the Baptist. We also learned the purpose and mission of John the Baptist in Luke's account. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah (in the temple): "...he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb." Now, at the risk of being over-bearingly repetitious; let me say it again. The point here is; John didn't just pop out of the blue. John too was prophesied in the O.T. Isaiah described John in his prophecy as: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness." (Isa. 40:3). Then Isaiah, there, even quoted (or summarized) John's message. This is what Isaiah said, the VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS would say: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." i.e. Isaiah was saying this prophet would come BEFORE the messiah. And, we went over this before: Malachi, in the very last words of the O.T., gave THIS promise from God: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming...of the Lord." Then Gabriel, the angel in Luke 1:17 told Zechariah that Zechariah's son, John, would "go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah...[he would] make ready a people prepared for the Lord." So, get your perspective now! John the Baptist was a prophet, just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Malachi and the other prophets of old. There were inspired prophets all through the O.T., in almost every generation. Some wrote books of scripture, some didn't. But, then a little over 100 years after the Jewish nation was released from Babylonian bondage, the prophets fell silent. No more prophets came for about 400 years. Then, that silence was broken by John the Baptist. His message was: get ready for the messiah! The Lord himself is coming! And that's just what the O.T. had said he would say. Take just a minute and put both eyeballs in the middle v.2 here in Luke ch. 3, "the word of God came unto John." Do you see that? Now, you need to understand this is an expression taken from the O.T. Take the time to compare THIS to Isa. 2:3, Jeremiah 1:2, and Ezekiel 1:3. The expression "the word of the lord came" is used in Ezekiel (alone) at least 50 times.
O.K. back to Luke. Luke here in v.3-4-5-6, more or less gives John an introduction. Are you ready? Beginning in Luke 3:3, let's read. "And he came into all the country about. Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Then in v.7-20 down below, Luke quotes and emphasizes some of the dialogue and important events in John's life. But, before we look at that; let's try to analyze Luke's introduction of John. We learn in v.3, that John preached in the region around the Jordan River. To "preach" here simply means to announce publicly. Now, glance at your map! The Jordan River is that stream that connects the Sea of Galilee with the Dead Sea. Actually, we would call these lakes instead of seas. In its widest place, the Sea of Galilee is not more than 7 or 8 miles wide. It's a freshwater lake. The Jordan River flows right through the Sea of Galilee. But, then the larger lake, called the Dead Sea, is just that: a dead stagnant pool. The Dead Sea may be slightly more than 10 miles wide in some places. It's about 50 miles long. The only way water GETS OUT of the Dead Sea is to evaporate, there's no outlet. And, that it does at a very rapid rate. And, as the water evaporates the remaining water gets saltier and saltier. No fish or animal life of any kind lives in the Dead Sea. You see, it's a dead sea.
Now, this is in the middle of Luke's introduction of John; but, let's drag in just a little more geography here. This is where John the Baptist preached, Luke said, "into all the country about Jordan" (v.3). It's only about 60 miles between these two lakes; but, that section of the Jordan River must be over 100 miles long; because, it's a very crooked river in spite of the fact its general course is straight. The lower part of the Jordan Valley, nearest to the Dead Sea, must average about 10 miles wide, but the river overflowed a good bit of the land in the valley during certain times of the year. So, the land in that section was not generally inhabited. Thus, it was a "wilderness", you see. That's a good name for it! Actually, there was a rough strip of land all along the west side of the Dead Sea that extends up into the Jordan Valley. All of this section is sometimes referred to as "wilderness." So, I have written on your map "Wilderness." Do you see that? Now, that's where John preached. Now, it's ironic that John went out into the wilderness to preach. All the big religious whing-dings today look for a stadium full of people. But, John wentout into a sparsely populated place, call the "wilderness," and the people CAME TO HIM by the droves. That tells you SOMETHING about John's preaching. Jesus said, in Matt. 11:11, that no prophet has ever arisen, GREATER than John the Baptist.
We want to get into John's message and exactly what John said. But, before we get into John's message; let's do a little scavenger hunt for some personal facts about John that might give us a better profile of John. First you will remember, he was the son of priest. His parents were old when John was born and possibly deceased by the time John began his personal ministry, at about age thirty. Luke makes it plain that John grew up in the country, in the desert; Luke said (Luke 1:80). John's diet and dress were very crude. Thus, we might say he adapted well to wilderness life, or in other words desert life. Matthew described John's lifestyle like this (Matt. 3:4): "John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey." Mark uses almost identical words (Mark 1:6)/ except that instead of "leathern girdle", Mark says, "a girdle of skin." Leather, of course, was made from animal skins; but, Mark's words seem to give us a c ruder picture. A girdle, as they used the word, simply meant what we would call a belt.
I suppose that leather belts, THEN (like today), were usually made of the best leather and polished well and complimented with a sporty buckle. But, the text would tend to describe John's belt to the other extreme, impressively so. Camel's hair must refer to some crude fabric made from that source. It certainly was not of the grade that kings wore. So, I get a picture of John something like this: a young man 30 years old wearing some crude fabric like burlap held together with a broad animal skin-of-a-belt that probably had the animals' fur still on one side. I might call your attention to II Kings 1:8, just here, In that verse, the servants of King Ahsz.iah described Elijah to the king like this: "He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather." I think you remember, Elijah was the prototype of John. The angel, Gabriel said, John would go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). He must have just collected his food as he went through the wilderness. It was said in the O.T. that Palestine flowed with milk and honey. Wild honey sounds pretty good, especially if ye had a little butter and a biscuit to go with it; which John probably didn't have. But, locusts surely don't appeal to me like they did to John. Locusts are usually thought to be an insect similar to a grasshopper. Sometimes known to us as the cicada. Now, I don't have any idea what receipt John may have used; but, I would say few people seem to share his taste. However, Halley says they taste like shrimp, if you’re interested. Incidentally, the locust WAS considered as clean food to the Jews. I'm talking about ceremonially clean, as discussed in Leviticus 13:22. Also, in connection with his diet, we discussed this before; John was a nazarite and ate nothing from the grapevine. And he did not use STRONG DRINK, Gabriel said (Luke 1:15). Jesus said on this point, "John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil”. Thus, I get the impression that John was looked upon contemptuously for his conservative dress and his unusual diet. So, you must build your own image of John. He must have been a tough old critter. I say old, but John was young. If you have ever seen Bible literature used in little children’s classes, this is one point that is often overlooked. It’s not uncommon to find John depicted as an old man leaning on a cane. But, John was young, 30 years old when he started preaching and he was beheaded shortly thereafter. So, John NEVER got old. O.K. our time’s up, so we’ll get back to John in Lesson #12. Have a good day!