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Bible: What Does Luke 3-4 Teach Us About John the Baptizer and Jesus?

Updated on September 8, 2016

Luke, the Historian


John the Baptizer


The Baptizer's Message

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Impeccable Historical Account

The historian furnishes the political scenery once again, this time identifying the ruler of the Roman Empire (Tiberius Caesar), the governor of Judea (Pontius Pilate), the mis-managers of other regions of Israel—(Herod [Galilee], his brother Philip [Iturea and Trachonitis], and Lysanias [Abilene]—and the corrupt Jewish high priesthood (Annas and Caiaphas) [vv. 1-2a; cf. 2:1-2].

[Ryrie provides valuable dates and geographical points of interest (New Testament Study Bible, 110).]

Meanwhile, the word of God comes to a lowly preacher in the wilderness: John the son of Zacharias (v. 2b).

Whereas Matthew merely repeats John’s message (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) [3:2], Luke and Mark share the distinction of stating that John preached “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” i.e., because of the forgiveness of sins (v. 3; cf. Mark 1:4).

As for the OT quotation, whereas Mark conflates Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, and Matthew pens only Isaiah’s word, Luke, on the other hand, altogether omits the Malachi reference, but quotes more from Isaiah (40:3-5) [vv. 4-6].

Like Simeon, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (v. 6; cf. 2:30; Is. 52:10), but not until the Lord sets up His kingdom.

After brusquely addressing the “multitudes” (and not just the Pharisees and Sadducees, as Matthew notes [3:7]) regarding their need of repentance (vv. 7-8a), and dismissing their appeal to ancestry (v. 8b), John engages in a short Q&A.

He inquires how “the people” in general (vv. 10-11), the tax collectors (vv. 12-13), and the soldiers (v. 14) could “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (v. 8a) and avoid being “cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 9b).

His responses to their anxious “What shall we do?” queries (vv. 10, 12, 14) reflect their need to correct certain moral deficiencies.

John stresses the following reformations:

(1) The “public” needed to show generosity and eschew greed (v. 11);

(2) The publicans must desist from exacting excess profits (v. 13); and

(3) The soldiers had to discontinue their intimidating “shake downs” for money (v. 14).

Public gossip and whisperings regarding the Baptizer’s identity cause him to announce that he himself awaited the Christ (vv. 15-16).

Luke’s description of Christ’s “baptismal” ministry and fiery judgment does not differ from the other gospels (vv. 16b-17; cf. Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8); his reference to Herod’s imprisoning John, however, occurs much sooner in the narrative than it does in either Matthew or Mark (vv. 19-20; cf. Matt. 14:3; Mark 6:17).

The Baptism of Jesus


The account of Jesus’ baptism covers the “essentials” (namely, the heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, the Voice of the Father) [vv. 21-22].

Verses 23-38 apparently list the genealogy of the Lord through Mary (111).

Luke indicates two interesting facts in verse 23:

(1) Jesus began His ministry at thirty years of age; and

(2) Nazarenes supposed Him to be the son of Joseph.

A final observation about this passage finds that whereas Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham, Luke takes it all the way back to Adam, the son (original creation) of God Himself (v. 38; cf. Matt. 1:2).

The Temptation of Christ


Luke 4

After His baptism (where the Holy Spirit “descended” upon Him [cf. 3:22]), Jesus, “filled” and directed by this Spirit, journeys into/in the Judean wilderness: a place northwest of the Dead Sea, near Jericho (v. 1; Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 112).

[The “encasement” in this chapter is an interesting feature.

Note that after being “filled by the Spirit,” Jesus is “led by the Spirit” to endure His forty days of Satanic temptations (v. 1-2).

Three intense tests exemplify the adversary’s attempts to derail the Lord on His way to the cross (vv. 3-4, 5-8, 9-12).

Then Christ returns to Galilee “in the power of the Holy Spirit,” having successfully overcome the devil’s solicitations to do evil (cf. v. 14).

Two questions:

(1) What kind of “relationship” did Jesus sustain with the Spirit before His baptism?

(2) Did Jesus need less power to lead a holy life as a carpenter?

It appears reasonable that He required the Spirit’s strength in a special way to sustain Him during the forty days of fasting and temptation.

No Scriptural evidence exists to show that Jesus had ever before practiced this type of extreme discipline or faced this intensity of testing.

Therefore, it is apparent the Lord drew upon the Spirit in an extraordinary way (and the Father granted Him this power) when He especially required it.

He would require supernatural strength to perform many miracles in His subsequent ministry.]

Except for a rearrangement of the temptations—Luke places the “temple pinnacle” test third, whereas Matthew puts it second—the two accounts use essentially the same rhetoric.

In addition, Matthew notes that angels ministered to Jesus after the trials ended (4:11); Luke writes nothing about angelic comfort, but does indicate a Satanic return engagement (v. 13).



Jesus’ powerful return to Galilee meets with both extensive publicity (v. 14) and popular support for His teaching ministry (v. 15).

This popularity, however, does not extend to His hometown, Nazareth.

Both Matthew and Mark relate the people’s unfavorable reaction to Jesus’ ministry in the synagogue (see Mt. 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6).

Only Luke, however, records that He stood up to read from their Isaiah scroll a text interpreted as Messianic prophecy and now designated as chapter 61:1-2a (vv. 16-17).

In this Isianic passage, the Speaker (Messiah) acknowledges the necessity of the Spirit's “anointing” so that He could preach the gospel (v. 18a).

[Again, another reference to the Spirit appears.]

Not only did the Spirit “anoint” Him—that is, identify Him as the Prophet/Priest/King and endue Him with authority—but He has also sent Him to audiences—the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives—who all knew they were impotent to meet their own spiritual (and physical) needs (v. 18b).

As the Anointed One, He preaches when God was well-disposed to save souls (v. 19; cf. 49:8; 55:6); as the Master Interpreter, the Reader stops short of announcing His current participation in the day of vengeance, since that day had not yet come (v. 19; cf. Is. 61:2b).

Christ's "exegesis" clearly demonstrates that a parenthesis of time exists between the "acceptable year" and the "day of vengeance."

[If the Jews had received Him as their Messiah, then He would have read the rest of verse two.

Jesus would have immediately put down Gentile rule, set up His earthly kingdom, and reigned for one thousand years.]

When Jesus finishes reading and sits down, having successfully aroused the interest of all (v. 20), He clearly claims to fulfill this prophecy (v. 21).

The crowd’s initial reaction seems positive (“marveled at the gracious words”), but soon they "put two and two together," asking, "Is this not Joseph’s son?”—and begin to question His assertion (v. 22).

Historical Examples

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Sensing the rising opposition, Jesus anticipates their response with which they would have challenged Him, quoting an enigmatic proverb—“Physician, heal yourself”—linked to a demand for proof of His claim (v. 23).

[To heal Himself, He would need to revive their acceptance of Him in His hometown—something that they were not about to allow.]

Jesus categorically asserts that hometown folks, especially relatives, do not honor familiar ones from their midst who claim to speak for God (v. 24).

[Mark adds, though, that people from other locales do accept prophets (6:4).]

Then He proceeds to support this statement with two historical examples—Elijah (vv. 25-26; cf. 1 Kings 17:8-24) and Elisha (v. 27; cf. 2 Kings 5:1-14)—whom God sent to Gentile foreigners, one to save from starvation during a famine (the Sidonian widow of Zarephath), and the other to heal of leprosy (the Syrian general Naaman). Israel’s unbelief (then as now) prevents the Lord from acting on their behalf.

Unwilling to accept this truth and repent of their faithlessness, synagogue thugs angrily manhandle Jesus and prepare to throw Him off a cliff (vv. 28-29).

Whether by miraculous means or by the majesty of His mere presence—either appears supernatural—Christ passes “through the midst of them” and continues His itinerary (v. 30).



From Nazareth Jesus travels northeast for twenty-five miles to Capernaum, where the people stand amazed at His authoritative teaching (vv. 31-32).

Not only does Christ instruct the Jews with strong words, but He also supports what He says with powerful actions, casting out “an unclean demon” from a man in the synagogue.

Before his expulsion, this fallen angel had been broadcasting Christ’s identity as the “Holy One of God”—a testimony not meeting with Jesus’ approval (vv. 33-35).

Again, the synagogue comments on the exousia and dunamei of the Lord’s word, and news about Him spreads regionally (vv. 36-37).

Dr. Luke’s account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 38-39) differs little from the other Synoptics, though it offers a more precise diagnosis of her malady (“afflicted with a high fever”), and notes that Jesus stood over her.

He makes no mention of touching her hand (cf. Mt. 8:15; Mk. 1:31).

Regarding other ministrations, the physician does not emphasize demon-possession (as do the others), but does record Jesus’ compassionate “pallet-side manner” (“laid His hands on”) [v. 40].

He also makes much of the demons’ theological testimony, a witness that the Lord again rebukes (v. 41; cf. 4:35).

[Matthew omits the demons’ confession, but adds that the healings fulfilled prophecy (8:17); Mark notes Jesus’ rebuke of the demons for their words of recognition, but does not specify who they knew Him to be.]

This chapter’s final scene finds Jesus addressing a crowd that fears His leaving them (v. 42).

Whereas Mark records that He invited Peter and his companions to join Him as He fulfills His kingdom preaching in other cities (1:38), Luke indicates that Jesus spoke to the crowd directly, informing them that He had to leave in order to fulfill His apostleship elsewhere (v. 43).

[Of course, Jesus instructed both groups about His intentions; Mark emphasized His word to Peter, and Luke did so to the crowd.

Interestingly, Matthew merely mentions that Jesus commanded that they “depart to the other side” (8:18).

See this latter gospel for other variations.]

© 2013 glynch1


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