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Luke 3:3-6 meaning

Luke introduces John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The parallel gospel accounts for this passage are Matthew 3:2-3, Mark 1:2-4, John 1:22-23.

John the Baptizer begins preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (v 3).

Luke informs us in the previous verse that John the Baptizer was living in the wilderness when he came into the district around the Jordan (Luke 3:2). This was a rugged landscape north of the Dead Sea located between the mountains of Jericho to the west and the Jordan River to the east. These geographical details are important for Luke to include as they will confirm John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in verses 4-6.

The Greek word translated as baptism in this verse comes from the Greek word, βάπτισμα (G908 - pronounced: "Bap-tis-ma"). It describes an immersion. To be baptized is to be immersed into something. The act of baptism usually involves water as a way to symbolically demonstrate the immersion. We will explore additional aspects of baptism later in this entry.

The Greek word that is translated as repentance in this verse is a form of μετάνοια (G3341 - pronounced: "me-ta-noi-a"). It is a compound word consisting of "meta" meaning "change" or "transformation," and "noia" meaning "mind" or "perspective."

Luke's (and Mark's) phrase, that John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins indicates that he was calling people to radically change their perspective on life and consequently how they lived so that their sins would not be held against them.

It is interesting to note that in Luke and Mark the repentance is for the forgiveness of sins, whereas in Matthew the repentance is "for the kingdom" (Matthew 3:2) Matthew's language of repent "for the kingdom" would have resonated with his Jewish audience who were looking for the kingdom (Romans 9:31, 1 Corinthians 1:22a). Luke and Mark's language of repent for the forgiveness of sins would have better resonated with their Gentile audiences (Luke, Greek; Mark, Roman) who were looking for a better way to live (Romans 9:30, 1 Corinthians 1:22b).

In Matthew's gospel there is an added urgency to John's message, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). This was John's way of telling the people of Judea that the King (Messiah) was coming very soon to establish His kingdom and that now was the time to get yourself ready in advance of His arrival. It was not normal for itinerate prophets to preach a message of personal pardon and forgivenessForgiveness came from God alone (Mark 2:7).

According to the Jewish customs of the era, forgiveness was transactionally accomplished through the making of official sacrifices offered in God's holy Temple administered by God's holy priests, according to the Law of Moses (mostly described in the book of Leviticus). So, for John to preach a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, indicated that he was either a religious lunatic, or he was a prophet from God.

Taken together, John's message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and of the imminent arrival of the Messianic Kingdom as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, was a call to stop living according to the corrupt systems of this world and live according to the good principles of the Messiah. In essence, John was saying, "Turn from your old ways because there is about to be a complete change of who's in charge."

Whoever is in charge makes the rules. And it is generally considered prudent, if not right and wise, to adhere to the rules of the one who is in authority.

In first-century Judea, there were basically two groups in power: Rome and the Jewish Religious Authorities. Rome had political power over the province of Judea. Rome imposed a rule of law on those it conquered, and it brutally enforced the rule of law with military might. Many conquered people groups welcomed Roman rule because its system, though harsh, brought order and provided stability for greater prosperity than the chaos of tribal feudalism. Rome was no worse an alternative than the local tyrants and was seen as an improvement in many other respects.

Many Jews did not share this perspective. They saw Rome as an oppressor and were appalled at its celebration of pagan practices that were an abomination to God. Jews were ashamed to be a part of the Roman Empire. But because of Rome's military superiority, they had little choice but to comply with its power.

The Religious Authorities (Pharisees and Sadducees) were the main cultural influencers. The Pharisees taught the Jewish scriptures and their traditions in the local synagogues. The Pharisees were regarded as the cultural heroes by many Jews and were widely respected for their righteousness and knowledge. The Sadducees operated the Temple in Jerusalem. Together these two groups were the cultural gatekeepers of Jewish society.

Success, if not survival, for first-century Jews often meant compromising with Roman rule and/or Jewish legalism.

But Jesus was not coming to compromise with anyone. He did not come to follow or fit into any man-made system. He came to establish His own kingdom. John's message of repentance was a call to affiliate with the coming Messiah instead of the Roman Empire or the religious leaders of the day.

Once again, John's message was, "Now it is time to change your thinking. It is time to change your ways. It is time to change your behavior and allegiance because God is about to usher in His kingdom." The fact that this will be a Messianic kingdom is apparent, for John proclaimed that the kingdom would be of heaven (Matthew 3:2). The moment you have been waiting for is about to arrive. Such a message would have profoundly resonated among the Jews.

In verse 4, Luke identifies John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah's third Servant Song (Isaiah 40:3), As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, offering it as proof that Jesus is the Kingly Messiah. John, according to Luke (as well as Matthew, Mark, and John) is the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is the prophetic herald who warns everyone to Make ready the way of the LORD, Make His paths straight!

Whereas Matthew and Mark only quote the first lines of this prophecy, Luke includes the entire revelation from Isaiah 40:3-5. This is most likely because Luke is writing his gospel account to the Gentiles who do not have the same knowledge of Old Testament prophecy as Matthew's Jewish audiences. As a historian (Luke 1:1-4), Luke is more thorough and interested in relaying the details to his Greek audience than the action-oriented Mark was in his more concise account to his Roman audience. Luke wants to make it clear that John is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 as well as spell out the ramifications of the Messiah's coming.

Isaiah's prophecy is similar to John's words from Matthew 3:2: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." And it captures the essence of John's preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin in the wilderness as recorded by Luke and Mark (Mark 1:4).

"A voice is calling,
'Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
'Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'"
(Isaiah 40:3-5)

Both Isaiah and John announce a divine arrival:
"Clear the way for the Lord"
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Both give a call to action and change:
"Clear the way."
"Make smooth."

Both allude to an upheaval of the status quo. In particular, the political status quo is about to be capsized:

"Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley."
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Being in the wilderness of Judea (Luke 3:2) when he proclaims his message further associates John and therefore the Messiah, Jesus, with Isaiah's prophecy.

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