Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

15. The Preaching of John (Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:1-18)*

Luke introduces his account of the preaching of John (3:1-2) with a catalogue of the men who exercised power in God’s Land at that time. The list has been acclaimed as the hall-mark of a thorough historian, but such an interpretation misses the main point. It is true that the details Luke supplies make possible a chronology of the ministries of John and Jesus, but the real purpose was to represent the people of God as under the thrall of the powers of evil-Tiberius Caesar, Pilate and Lysanias, the Herods, Annas and Caiaphas. What a crew! A people governed, or, rather, misgoverned by such a bunch was surely ready for the gospel of the kingdom of God. Here was hard rapacity, cynical selfishness, vice unlimited, crafty wirepulling, the pride of power, and in every one of them an utter disregard for the well-being of the two or three millions of common people over whom they were set.

Those evil days

Matthew, beginning this section of his record, achieves the same effect by a different device: “And in those days came John the Baptist” (3:1). Precisely what days are not specified, but a devout Jew who knew his Scriptures would recognize the echo of Exodus 2:11,23, when Moses went out and looked on the burdens under which his brethren laboured, the children of Israel sighing by reason of the bondage. It was “in those days” that “the word of God came upon John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” (Lk. 3:2; cp. Jer. 1:1 LXX); and it was to such a man, not to any of these eminent scoundrels, that the spirit of prophecy was imparted.

It was “the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar”. This infamous Tiberius reigned as emperor from A.D. 14, but he had been associated with Augustus Caesar from A.D. 11, and the word used by Luke suggests this. So the public work of John began either In A.D. 26 or 28/29, the baptism of Jesus following fairly soon after.

Messiah’s Herald

The proclamation began, not because John thought that he had a message and that the time was ripe for its proclamation, but because of a specific divine commission: “the (spoken) word of God came upon him.” At the same time he was given a sign: “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33). So from the earliest possible time John knew himself to be Messiah’s forerunner. It was his work and highest honour to announce him to the nation.

Yet he did not attempt any sensational demonstration in Jerusalem and the other big cities. Instead, as the news spread that after a lapse of centuries the Spirit of prophecy burned once again in Jewry, he remained in the wilderness, and the people came to him in evergrowing crowds. The bare facts are not without their symbolic value-John was preaching “in the wilderness of Judaea” and also in “the region about Jordan” that is, not far from ancient Sodom and Gomorrha. It was a people and an epoch desperately in need of his call to repentance.

An Elijah Prophet

All John’s way of life, and especially how he dressed was designed to emphasize his message. His rough camel’s hair coat and crude skin belt were a deliberate imitation of Elijah (2 Kgs. 1:8). This is more than hinted at in Luke’s phrase: “The same John”, or “John himself “-implying, like Elijah—was dressed in this way. Thus without verbal reiteration of the fact, the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy (4:5) of an Elijah-like prophet was proclaimed to the nation.

The synoptists saw even more symbolic truth of this kind in the rough simple fare which he subsisted on. In the Bible, honey is symbolic of wisdom, human (Lev. 2:11; Pr. 25:16,27) or divine (Pr. 24:13; Ps. 19:10; 119:103; Rev. 10:9). John’s words were wisdom from God, free from any human modification or “refinement”. And was it not “wild honey” which enabled another John, the friend of David, to smite the Philistines? (1 Sam. 14:27-30).

John’s primitive diet quietly rebuked the obsession of the affluent, then and now, with food and drink. Perhaps the godly were reminded of the prophet Joel’s vivid use of a locust invasion (1:4; 2:1-11) to describe the inevitable divine judgment which must one day come on this people. And could they fail to be reminded also of Joel’s ringing call to repentance (2:12-17)?

A Message from the Old Testament

To all this symbolism was added the point-blank witness of Holy Scripture. John himself asserted unequivocally (Jn. 1:23) that he was the fulfilment of the majestic prophecy they were so familiar with in Isaiah 40. All four gospels make this their main point about John. There is no need to spend time arguing whether the words should read as in the A.V. or be re-punctuated to preserve the Hebrew parallelism: “In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The Hebrew and Greek texts allow of either. On reflection the meaning is seen to be essentially the same both ways.

But what is the meaning? Is the picture that of a diligent preparing of roads suitable for the visit of a king? Or is the idea rather that of a people preparing to meet their God by a return to Him in contrite humility? One phrase in Isaiah 40 appears to be decisive: “Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand ...” For this coming the people must make themselves ready. Here, then, was a re-statement of John’s function as a herald of the Messiah.

He insisted that Messiah’s kingdom was at hand: “The kingdom of God (of heaven) has drawn near.” Yet now, two thousand years later, that kingdom has not yet come-its coming is certain but is as yet without accomplishment. On this problem here are two worthwhile comments:

“Had the nation (of Israel) continued to obey the Lord’s voice and to keep the covenant, and when Christ came, received him as king on the proclamation of the gospel, they would doubtless have been in Canaan until now; and he might have come ere this, and be now reigning in Jerusalem, King of the Jews and Lord of the nations” (Elpis Israel, p.30], 11th ed.).

“He (God) makes the accomplishment of His declared purposes wait upon the prayers of His people” (R.R. in Nazareth Revis. p.16 )-and therefore upon their repentance.

But in this interpretation the way must be left open for the other idea, for in so many places in Isaiah the picture is that of a people returning from bondage, glad to seek again the fellowship of their God: “Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people” (57:14). “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. . .They shall be turned back (i.e. repentant), they shall be greatly ashamed” (42:15-17).

Isaiah, always Isaiah

John called for a complete reversal of existing standards-valleys filled, mountains and hills to be made low, that is, an end to religious privilege, Jewry on the same level before God as all the rest of the world (cp. Is. 41:15-18; 2:12-15-the same symbolism). In the Hebrew text “the crooked shall be made straight” reads almost like: “Jacob shall be made Israel”, and it was precisely this which John sought to achieve.

Isaiah’s “Comfort ye!” also means “Repent ye!” Clearly, this is how John read his main proof-text (it is there in Mat. 3:7c also). And to this imperative he also added: “Believe” (Acts 19:4). Moreover, Isaiah (and John) foretold what a national repentance of Israel might accomplish: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh (the Gentiles included) shall see it together.” Here the LXX version reads: “shall see the salvation (the Jesus!) of God” (and in Is. 52:9,10), and this is adopted by Luke in his citation of the passage. The saving of those who are flesh, tne mere grass and flowers of the field, is the manifestation of the glory of the Lord—this is His Glory, His greatest work.

Isaiah continues, and no doubt John preached (because this Scripture specially was his text): “the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the Word of our God (Jesus, the Word made flesh) shall rise, shall be raised, for ever” (the Hebrew text uses the word for resurrection). So John taught the people to be expectant. With Isaiah, he said to the cities of Judah: “Behold, your God”—and he pointed them to one who would “feed his flock like a shepherd, and gather the lambs with his arm.”

So completely did Isaiah anticipate John’s work as a herald that Mark introduces his account of the Baptist with a masterly “confusion” of his prophetic sources: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face which shall prepare the way before thee” (1:2). But this quotation is from Malachi 3:1. To be sure, it is followed immediately by the familar words of Isaiah 40. But why should Mark apparently attribute Malachi’s words to Isaiah, also? A simple answer is that this is Mark’s way of expressing his conviction that the Malachi prophecy was not independent but rather was a conscious comment on or expansion of the words of Isaiah. That Mark knew that he was putting together passages from two different prophets is clear from the fact that his Malachi quotation follows the Hebrew Masoretic text (with one small significant change) whilst the words of Isaiah are the LXX Greek text verbatim.

The Isaiah prophecy is referred to (Mt. Lk) as “spoken” by the prophet. This is with reference to “the voice in the wilderness”. In the primary meaning of the prophecy, that voice was Isaiah himself. And now the “spoken word” descends from God upon His messenger John (Lk).

When the apostle John includes the Isaiah quote (1:23), he seems deliberately to switch from the LXX to a different Greek verb, as though to make allusion to Joshua’s last appeal for repentance in Israel: “Put away the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel” (24:23).

Austere, but gracious

Though John may have been dour and exacting in his demands for a drastic change of heart in Jewry, there was yet something gracious and encouraging and understanding about him. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”, was his imperative, the Greek form of the verb requiring immediate and decisive action. But there was nothing rigid about his teaching; no spiritual strait-jacket, this. “Make his paths straight”. So whilst there was only one way of the Lord, there were several paths by which a man might draw near. But the word for “paths” means “worn tracks”. In other words, the recognized well-established ways of religion in Israel were devious. They needed to be “made straight” (Pr. 4:26 RVm).

And whilst “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” carried a solemn implication of the coming of a Judge, there was also the gracious call to experience the remission of sins through the rite of baptism which he offered. Both Mark and Luke give prominence to this, but Matthew carefully leaves it out, presumably because it is his purpose to follow on immediately with a detailed account of the baptism of Jesus, and the juxtaposition of these ideas might convey wrong impressions that Jesus, like all the rest, needed remission of sins.

(It will be shown in the next study that in all essentials John’s baptism was an anticipation of Christian baptism. For the present, attention is directed to Lk. 1:77; Mt. 26:28; Acts 2:38.)

The great Isaiah 40 prophecy is, of course, a proper corrective of this misconception (that Jesus needed to have sins forgiven). It calls his work “the way of Jehovah”; it bids men prepare “a highway for our God”. And Mark’s use of Malachi is made with a significant change of pronoun. “Prepare the way before me, the Lord of hosts” becomes: “Prepare thy way before thee”. Those familiar with the doctrine of God-manifestation in Christ find no problem here. (See “He is risen indeed”, p. 73,74).

Disciples of all Kinds

The people turned out in crowds to hear the preaching of John. “Jerusalem and all Judaea”, writes Matthew, with evident allusion to John’s text in Isaiah (40:2,9). But much of this attention was fashionable curiosity regarding this man who was so different, so peremptory in his demands, and so sure of the divine authority of his message. To those who came in sincerity he taught a humble repudiation of any spirit of self-justification.

Concerning evil practices now to be put away he encouraged open confession (s.w. Acts 19:18)-to himself or before all the rest? He brought his disciples to the waters of baptism, there to reject their old way of life and to consecrate themselves to the service of the Messiah, now about to be manifested. Thus within a short time-probably a matter of months only—he built up a solid body of disciples who accepted his reforming spirit into their lives.

But there were others who came in a different frame of mind. These included Pharisees and Sadducees to whom any spirit of true self-abnegation was altogether foreign. Some of these, it is certain, were an official deputation from the religious authorities in Jerusalem, enquiring into the bona fides of this new prophet (Jn. 1:19). The findings of this commission were never published, for they could find nothing amiss with either the man or the message, and in later days Jesus reproached them openly for their lack of candour in their official attitude concerning John (Mk. 11:27-33).

Also it may be surmised that some of these religious leaders who came to John’s baptism were feigning discipleship. The real motive of these evil men was to join the new movement in pretence, with the deliberate intention of wrecking it later on from within. This was the policy they followed with the early church after the ascension of Jesus, and with no little success (e.g. Gal. 2:4). John saw through their pretensions at once, and roundly castigated them for it: “Generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (1 Th. 1:10; 2:16 Rom. 1:18). Perhaps his figure is that of snakes sliding rapidly through the undergrowth before the fierce heat of an advancing fire. But more likely John here labelled them as the seed of the serpent (Ps. 58:3-5), which in the guise of friendly adviser wrought such evil in Eden. The Messiah, the promised Seed of the woman, is soon to be manifested, John warned them, to crush in the head not only the serpent but all his evil brood (Gen. 3:15). This kind of application of the primeval prophecy is to be traced right through the New Testament-in John’s gospel and first epistle, in several of Paul’s letters, and on into Revelation.

To these men who came to him full of confidence in their own spiritual qualifications John put a peremptory demand for immediate repentance (the Greek has an aorist imperative here) and for a life of practical godliness which would make their change of heart evident not only to God but also to men.

All self-esteem must be let go. “Think not to say within yourselves (the Greek verb implies cock-sureness), we have Abraham to our father.” These men, the seed of Eden’s serpent, preened themselves on having the blood of Abraham in their veins, as though that fact could in itself make them spiritually acceptable to God. The Talmud has this: “A single Israelite is of more worth in God’s sight than all the nations of the world.” True, of course, regarding a true i Israelite but not true of these self-righteous t charlatans.

A year or two later Christ’s counter to this ,attitude was: “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (Jn. 8:39,44). The Baptist’s more withering retort was: ‘I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” It has been suggested that as he spoke John pointed to the cairn of twelve great stones which had been lifted from the bed of the Jordan when Israel crossed into the Land of Promise (Mt. 3:9; Josh. 4:3).

There is a hint here that John spoke in Aramaic, or even in Hebrew, making a play on the words for “sons” and “stones”. But there was no light-hearted joke. John’s words carried a grim message to these who vaunted their national privilege. In effect, he declared all Jewry excommunicated. To be accepted by God, every man jack of them must start life afresh in His sight, rising as a new creature from the waters of baptism, and disowning by repentance the old way of life. It may be that John’s allusion was not to Joshua’s cairn, but to “these stones”-the slabs which sealed the tombs in that vicinity, pointing well the lesson that before a man can live unto God he must first die; and this John bade them do in the waters of baptism.

Again the message came from Isaiah: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord (note the irony here!): consider the rock whence ye are hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Consider Abraham your father, and Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him” (51:1,2). The point here is easy to grasp. There must be no pride in descent from Abraham, for if God called this holy couple, aged, childless, sterile, and made them into a great nation, He could do the same again-and will! For the context in Isaiah goes on to foretell the passing of the Mosaic order and the acceptance of Gentiles as seed of Abraham (v.4-8).

Vivid Metaphors

John’s warnings of impending judgment were couched in terms of two figures of speech, both culled from his favourite Isaiah. There is the picture of the lumberman shaping up with his keenly-sharpened axe precisely where the first cut shall be made for the felling of a fruitless tree (Mt.7:19;Lk. 13:7-9; Jn. 15:6). Or possibly this figure had another slant. The temple was garnished with wonderful carved work-trees large as life (1 Kgs. 6:29). It is conceivable that these pseudo-religious Pharisees and Sadducees thought of themselves as “palm trees ... planted in the house of the Lord” (Ps. 92:12,13). In that case, John’s warning is a reminder of a prophecy in the Psalms of a time when men would both literally and figuratively “break down the carved work thereof with axes and hammers” and “cast fire into the sanctuary” (74:6,7).

John talked also about the threshing and winnowing of the corn, followed by the fierce blaze of burning chaff. (The temple area was a threshing floor! 2 Sam. 24:18ff). It was customary to separate wheat and chaff with the use of a large shovel called a fan. By means of this the threshed wheat was cast up into the air against the wind. The light chaff was blown down-wind, whilst the heavier grain fell to the ground near at hand. Thus the wind (or, spirit) of the Lord separated the good from the worthless. Then the chaff was burned with a blaze which was inextinguishable until there was nothing left to burn (Jer. 23:28,29). In this sense, and not in any mediaeval hell-fire sense, the fire was unquenchable.

These two figures-of trees to be cut down (literally: cut out), and of chaff to be burned to ashes-are intermingled in the prophets, as they were also in John’s admonitory preaching:

“Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 5:24).

“Behold, I will make thee a sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them” (41:15,16).

“For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be as stubble. . .that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1 and 3:2,3).

John may even have been implying that Messiah would deal with the unworthy as with the mighty oppressors of Israel-”like the chaff of the summer threshing floor, the wind (the Spirit) carrying them away that no place be found for them” (Dan. 2:35).

Fire or fire!

John’s preaching was not all minatory. There was also the winsome appeal of the blessings which Messiah would bring. It is remarkable that John chose to emphasize, not the alluring pictures painted by the Old Testament prophets of the Messianic Age, but another of Isaiah’s prophecies: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, (even) with fire” (Mt. 3:11). Thus John set alternatives before the people-either Messiah’s fire of regeneration, or Messiah’s unquenchable fire of destruction. It must be one or the other.

Isaiah and his contemporaries had the same choice set before them-either the purging of sin by a coal from the altar, brought by one of the Lord’s “fiery ones” (6:6,7) or the fire of judgment devouring the stubble (5:24). By and by Jesus himself was to bid men make their choice: “Every one shall be salted (as a sacrifice; Ley. 2:13) for the fire (of God’s altar);” the alternative-a Gehenna of fire “where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48,49).

To this day the issue is unchanged. Either the zeal of God’s house eats a man up, like the flame of the altar of consecration, or else the Lord is revealed to him in the Last Day in flaming fire, taking vengeance because he knows not God (2 Th. 1:8,9). Is there really any other alternative?

“Is he the Messiah?”

In everything John pointed men away from himself and towards the coming Messiah. “He is mightier than I ... coming after me, he is preferred before me.” I am not worthy to baptize him. Even “his shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose (as he prepares for baptism), not worthy to bear them” (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:7;Jn. 1:15).

It is possible that by this figure of speech John was alluding to the Mosaic practice of loosing the sandal of one who refused his brother’s widow a (evirate marriage, thus proclaiming: ‘The Law is dead. The One who comes after me will raise up true seed to Israel. There will be no reproach possible against him.’ If this idea is correct, John was also implying that there was room for ample reproach of this kind against the priests and rabbis.

John’s campaign set the people in a state of high expectation. “All men (of every kind and character) mused in their hearts, whether he were the Christ or not.” This statement by Luke (3:15) is altogether mvstifying. Had not John explicitly disavowed all Messianic claims? Had he not plainly proclaimed himself a forerunner? And was he not a Levitical priest, with no descent from David? And since the Messiah was universally expected to be a mighty King of the Jews, how could they possibly assign such a role to John? Perhaps there was a school of thought which considered the possiblity of Messiah’s manifestation first of all in a much humbler role. The word “mused”—RV: reasoned-is almost always used in a bad sense, here perhaps hinting at Luke’s depreciation of the biblical ignorance behind these speculations. Soon John was driven to say explicitly: “I am not the Christ” (Jn. 1:20).

Counsel in Godliness

Some among the people received John’s exhortations with deep seriousness of purpose. “What then must we do?” they asked of him in response to his demand for repentance. Obsessed by the ideal of salvation by works, they pressed their enquiry: “What must we do?”

The replies which John gave to the various types of individual who recognized the need for reformation are not to be interpreted as being the gospel which he preached, but rather as examples of how the repentant spirit which he called for should express itself in what is nowadays called “practical Christianity”.

“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none.” It was a doctrine which found little expression in Jewry, and almost none at all in the pagan world outside. Thus John stressed personal responsibility (in the spirit of the Good Samaritan) for social problems with which there is personal contact—a striking contrast with the formal institutionalised soul-less benevolence which the 20th century specialises in.

And here already, in anticipation of the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, was a big emphasis on faith as the virtue which specially commends a man to God. For in those days when insurance was unknown and national health or national security schemes not even thought of, it called for real faith to believe that God would not let a man down when he tried to live in such an altruistic spirit. God is never in debt to any man, but remarkably few have the faith to believe this.

Publicans were among those who took John’s message seriously. With lively and uneasy consciences they sought his guidance, hoping doubtless that he would view with tolerance their alliance for profit’s sake with the hated Roman master-race. There is nothing amiss in itself with tax-collecting, said John, anticipating the teaching of his Master (Mt. 22:21), but you shall be tax-gatherers of a kind the world has never seen as yet-fair and reasonable, free from all rapacity. John may even have meant: ‘Collect only the sums demanded by your Roman masters. Do not add any overheads or personal surcharge for your own pockets which are already well-lined. You have already plundered the people so much that you can easlily live for the rest of your days on what you have already amassed.’

Was Matthew one of these publicans, being made ready for the better life he was soon to lead? Zaccheus in Jericho almost certainly heard this call to sanctified government service, and doubtless had many a sleepless night because of it.

Soldiers also were constantly among those who were drawn by the magnetism of this rough single-minded preacher. These men were nationalist irregulars preparing to help Barabbas in his bid for power. With three concise commandments John shot their insurrection fervour to fragments:

“Do violence to no man” (he used a word which pointedly suggests political revolution). Abandon all idea of either guerilla fighting or open war against the Roman regime, no matter how much you hate it.

Nor must you turn against those who choose to co-operate with Rome. “Neither accuse any falsely.” Cease your campaign of lies and vilification against your rulers and against all who work with them.

“Be content with your wages.” Settle down to a quiet orderly life, and cease your struggle centred on materialism and politics.

Again, all this was a remarkable anticipation of the principles of the Sermon on the Mount.

Even harlots sensed that they could find on Jordan’s banks solace for their souls and wise guidance for a new and better life (Mt. 21:32), but what John said to them is not recorded. It may be readily surmised.

John’s stirring call was heard and its power felt throughout the nation, specially in Nazareth, and even much further afield than that, for evidently some of the Dispersion who came to Jerusalem for the Feasts were drawn by the news of this preacher, and then went home to pass his message on to others (Acts 13:24,25; 18:25; 19:1-7).

“And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people” (Lk). What other things? There was the open rebuke of the vicious life of Herod (3:19). There was encouragement of his close disciples in the art of prayer (11:1), and doubtless a good deal more instruction was educed from Isaiah 40 (and later chapters) and from Malachi 3,4—the prophecies which were so pointedly about himself.

By all these means the way was being prepared.

And the signal reached not only the people but also the King in his obscurity.


Yet the sorry fact has to be faced that John’s mission turned into failure.

“The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God, being not baptized of him” (Lk. 7:30). “Why did ye not then believe him?” (Mt. 21:25).

“He (John) was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing tor a season to rejoice in his light” (Jn. 5:35)

The parable of the unclean spirit cast out and later returning with seven more worse than himself (Mt. 12:43-45) is a picture of the evanescent repentance and renewed corruption of “this wicked generation”.

“Elias is come already, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise also shall the Son of man suffer of them” (Mt. 17:12).

‘If ye will receive him, this is Elias which was for to come ... John came neither eating nor drinking,and they say, he hath a devil” (Mt. 11:14,18). Compare also: Ez. 33:31,32.

Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist

“Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body: supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when others came to crowd about him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I mentioned, and was there put to death.” (Ant. 18.5.2). Here it is interesting to note:

  1. how completely Josephus misunderstood the meaning of baptism;
  2. that he believed the characteristic Greek body/soul dichotomy;
  3. that he assigns a hopelessly wrong reason for the imprisonment of John.
Notes: Matthew 3:1-12.

Preaching: “heralding”- “The voice of a crier begotten of a dumb father”.
Kingdom of heaven. Matthew’s characteristically Jewish equivalent for the kingdom of God, as the following parables demonstrate:

4:17 = Mk 1:15
11:11 = 7:28
19:14 = 10:14
13:11 = 8:10
5:3 = Lk. 6:20
Confessing their sins. Literally: “confessing forth”; cp.Jas. 5:16; Acts 19:18. Is there any 20th century equivalent of this? Confession of personal sins was a completely new thing in Israel; and nationally, only on the Day of Atonement.
He said; i.e.kept on saying.

The wrath to come. This phrase curtly refuted the Sadducees’ doctrine of the hereafter.
Fruits meet for repentance, thus emphasizing that repentance is more than confession of faith and baptism.
Stones. The play on “sons”, in Aramaic or Hebrew, shows the language of John’s preaching. The same argument, only more copious, proves that Jesus habitually used Greek.

Children of Abraham. The same mentality in Rom. 2:17-29; Is. 48:1,2; Mic. 3:11; Jer. 7:3,4.
The root of the tree ... fire. Consider Ps. 80:16,17; Is. 10:33,34. Fire is the doom of every fruitless fruit tree:

Mt. 7:19; Ik. 13:7,9; Jn. 15:6. 12. Note: His wheat... the chaff.

Mark 1:2-8

The Gospel, used for (a) the good news of the kingdom; (b) the sum of saving knowledge (traditionally); (c) narrative about the Lord, as in 1 Cor. 15:l;2Tim.2:8.
Remission. In O.T. comes only in context of Year of Jubilee or Day of Atonement. Here, neither.
The river of Jordan. Specified here (and only here) as a river because Mark’s readers were Romans, who knew nothing of the Jordan?
Camel’shair, worn by a priest, in spite of Lev. 11:4. Hinting at the end of the Mosaic order?
Stoop. In LXX the normal meaning is “worship”.
/ baptized. The past tense suggests that these words were addressed to John’s own converts.

Luke 3:1-18

Iturea. 1 Chr. 1:31 suggests the Edomite origin of the name. Lysanias... Abilene. Why mentioned at ail?
Annas and Caiaphas. The former was high priest from A.D. 7 to 14, and the latter from 17 to 35, with three other high priests in between. But through all this period Annas was the only one who really held authority. Hence Jn. 18:13,24.
The way of the Lord. This recurs, in the same context, in Acts 18:25.
Every valley. . . filled, every mountain ... brought low. The rabbis coined and transmitted the fantasy that the Shekinah Glory did precisely this for Israel in the wilderness.

The extra quotation here in v. 5,6 sums up figuratively the ideas of repentance and remission of sins. It also indicates that N.T quotes from O.T. do not necessarily cite all that is relevant for the purpose in mind.
Salvation of God. Another Isaiah phrase equivalent to “righteousness”; 52:10; 56:1; 46:13; 51:5.
Begin not. This seems to suggest that John feared that the crowds listening to him might be influenced by Pharisee-Sadducee criticism.
Whether he be; more literally: lest he be, as though implying alarm: “and we unprepared for his coming.”
Worth. Gr: sufficient. But Acts 13:25 has a word which means “worthy”.

Fire. For the double idea mentioned in the text, see also: Is 4:4,5; Lev. 10:2; Mic. 5:7,8; Mt. 13:42,43; Acts 2:3,18,19. Compare also Peter’s double use of the symbol of water-either saved or destroyed by it (1 Pet. 3:20). Similarly baptism saves or condemns.

John the Baptist and Isaiah

40:1; 46:8 LXX:
40:4; 59:8:
Crooked made straight.
Spirit, wind.
Jerusalem, Judaea.
40:24,30 LXX:
Chaff, fan, wind (spirit)
Stronger than I.
Abraham our father... these stones.
52:10; 56:1,2 etc:
Salvation of God.
Food to the poor, two coats.
Generation of vipers.

Previous Index Next