1 It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. 2 Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. 3 Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
4 Isaiah had spoken of John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him! 5 The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth. 6 And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.’”
7 When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.
19 John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. 20 So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.
Three things to note here. First, Luke has John say, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire,” whereas Matthew had Jesus make that statement in Matt. 7.19. Someone who is trying to ‘prove’ that the Bible is ‘false’ might use this sort of thing as ‘evidence’ of their case, since our modern minds are conditioned to ask who actually said it, or perhaps they both said it. But this whole way of thinking runs contrary to what the Bible is, how it came to be written, and how it functions in our lives. I’ve mentioned this a number of times this year, but it bears repeating – each of the Gospel writers crafts his own story, presents the Gospel in his own way, even while borrowing (at times heavily) from the others. Luke read this statement in Matthew’s account and decided it worked better in his account coming from John the Baptist. One is no more or less true, each is working to provide a certain emphasis, guided by the Spirit’s inspiration and making full use of their literary abilities (which for Luke were considerable).
Second, what Luke gives us here is a great deal more of John’s teaching than the other Gospels. We are left to wonder exactly what “repent” means in the other Gospels, but Luke has John give specific examples that show repentance is something that affects the totality – and each part – of a person’s life, and centers on doing justice to others. This is quite congruent with Jesus’ own teaching in Luke and serves to foreshadow and reinforce what is coming.
Third, take note that Luke tells us about John’s arrest right here, just before Jesus is baptized. As we will see tomorrow, John is not specifically mentioned in Luke’s baptism scene. We are left to infer his presence because he was just the focus of the narrative and was baptizing people, but in Luke John fades immediately from view. The focus turns and remains on Jesus. This is intentional on Luke’s part and is yet another example of his literary skill and efficiency.
The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.