Mark 1:2-8, Matthew 3:1-12 & Luke 3:1-20 JOHN THE BAPTIST
Isaiah prophesied of John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1). 400 hundred years was a long time for a prophecy to become real (since the silent time at the end of the Old Testament). Isaiah announced John and John announced Jesus. In the prophesy we learn about John that he is a messenger. Both Isaiah and John the Baptists were prophets. John was born to Zachariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was related to Mary (Luke 1).
Luke 1 gives a time basis for when John the Baptist began his ministry. Tiberius Caesar was a Roman emperor from A.D. 14 to 37. Herod Antipas, Philip, Pontius Pilate, and Lysanias each had their own province in Rome to govern. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, a province of Rome. Herod Antipas was governor of Galilee. Herod Antipas and Phillip were half-brothers and sons of Herod the Great who had been dead more than 20 years. Annas and Caiaphas were priests. Annas held the position first. Caiaphas was Annas's son-in-law. Jewish law provided for only one high priest from Aaron's line and he held the position for life. The significance that there were two priests shows corruption from the Roman government trying to take control.
I find it interesting that John did his work in the wilderness and not in the cities where the majority of the people would live. The people in the country of Judea and all Jerusalem came to John at the River Jordan, John did not come to them. We come to Christ to confess. In Joshua 1 and 2, the Israelites renewed their covenant with God before entering the promised land. John is also calling for the people to renew their covenant with God. John separated himself from the religious leaders in the city. To be "holy" means to be set aside. John could talk more freely and easily away from the city.
John's task (ministry) was to "prepare the way for the Lord" by preaching and baptizing; to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. To repent is to turn away from sinful ways. John was a "preparer." We read that with baptism, the people were confessing their sins. Just as John prepared the way for the Lord, I can do that for others too. People need to first hear about Jesus to be prepared to meet Him in a personal relationship. I think of it like an advertisement that lets me know about a product before I personally touch it in the store, deciding whether or not to accept it. The advertisement prepares the way for me to make a choice when I actually have the product in front of me.
Luke 3:5-6 is not in the Mark and Matthew versions, but Luke 3:4 is the same as Matthew 3:3 and 1:2-3. Luke quotes Isaiah (40:3-5; 52:10) in that salvation is for "all people," not just the Jews . God is going to level everything and make it easy for everyone. Jesus Christ is easy. Just believe in Him and what He has done on the cross. The path is easy to salvation. The rough places shall become level ways to prepare the way for righteousness (Jesus) in people's hearts. Other thoughts: Does this verse refer to the leveling of "mountains of pride" and the filling up of valleys of other sin, and the straightening of crooked people?
I wonder why Mark took a pause to describe John's appearance. What significance is there to know John wore camel's hair, a leather belt around his waist, and ate locust and wild honey? John dressed like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Did he dress so gruff to make himself different than the other religious leaders that he was not to be put on a pedestal, but was an insignificant servant? Did he dress to live by example that he was not greedy and selfish as the other religious leaders of the day? John practiced what he preached. Did he dress to catch people's attention? If I saw someone today dressed so differently and eating so differently, I would be curious and stop to watch.
In Matthew's version of this story, John is critical of Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to be baptized just because it was the popular thing to do. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" to indicate that their heart needs to be true to repentance and after repentance, show a change by being fruitful. The Pharisees and Sadducees were hypocritical in their action to be baptized because their heart was to gain political power and to keep the law strictly. They were not confessing their sins. They were merely following a ritual. God looks not at our rituals, but at our actions (fruit). I call myself a Christian, so I should act like one. Others should see my faith by my actions. A fruit tree is expected to bear fruit and if it does not, it is chopped (with ax) down. My life should be productive just as a fruit tree should be productive.
Luke 3:7-9 also references the vipers and tree and ax, etc.
John preaches "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
John speaks of two different kinds of baptism: 1) with only water (old covenant) and 2) water with the Holy Spirit (new covenant).
Water baptism was familiar to the Jews who baptized those who converted to Judaism. The Holy Spirit had not yet come among the people on Pentecost (Acts 1:8; Acts 2). Jesus had not died and risen yet when John was baptizing, so these people were still under the Old Testament covenant with repentance through sacrificing. Baptism was an outward sign of commitment. It was a personal and public identification with Jesus. Was John's baptism merely symbolic or was it valid?
The old covenant baptism prepared a person's heart through repentance to accept the news that Jesus was coming. New covenant baptism is one of the three ways to receive the Holy Spirit (#2 is communion & #3 is God's Word). Matthew 3:11 references "baptism for repentance." So people confessed, repented, and were forgiven, but under the old covenant, the baptism did not regenerate (renew daily through the Holy Spirit). To "repent" meant to be converted from unbelief to faith, but more so "repent" means to confess sin and turn away from it.
New covenant baptism with the Holy Spirit baptizes into death with Christ (Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12) and the person is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 11 adds one word to these verses, that being "fire." "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Act 1:5-8; 2:1-13; 11:16) Baptism by fire may refer the gift of the Holy Spirit as on Pentecost or Baptism by fire may refer to judgment to come. I am not sure which it means.