The Early Ministry Of Jesus
The Early Ministry Of Jesus
The Ministry Of John The Baptist
05.01.00.A. THE PREACHING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST by Domenico Ghirlandaio 1475. The message of the coming messiah was a passion for John the Baptist. As will be shown, he did not fully understand the nature of Jesus, including the fact that He would be crucified (even though he is depicted holding a cross).
John the Baptist was the herald who announced the coming of the Expected One sent by God. That was the only mission for which he was born and, as an orthodox Jew of a priestly family, the Baptist began his ministry at age thirty. It is unclear how long he proclaimed the coming of our Lord before introducing Jesus to the Jewish world, but scholars universally agree that it was longer than their age difference of six months, probably a year or two. Therefore, because Jesus began His ministry at “about” the age of thirty, He was actually somewhat older which permitted sufficient time for John to proclaim His coming.
John and Jesus may have been cousins, but they were not alike in nature. John was a stern man of the desert wilderness and his message was one of denunciation and condemnation; calling for people to repent. Jesus had a milder temper, yet both were fearless when boldness and strength was required. They no doubt met once or twice a year in Jerusalem in the observances during the three festival weeks, but there are no records of that. Both were troubled at the social and religious decay and passionately called men to seek God.
As for Jesus, the quiet days of seclusion in the little village of Nazareth were over. After the rejection by his hometown village He had moved to Capernaum (Mt. 4:13). He began His ministry of preaching the divine plan of salvation near the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee and in the surrounding villages, including those of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum.
Capernaum was a well-established business center known for the manufacture of basalt (volcanic rock) grinding stones and fishing. The large number of black basalt grinding stones and other utensils uncovered there are indicative of a thriving primitive industry. The village was also a resting point where international caravans traveling on the Via Maris stopped for supplies and to pay toll taxes. The significance of the Via Maris cannot be overstated, as thousands of people traveled on this road every year.
Capernaum was also the home of the Roman centurion and his soldiers. The purpose of the military presence was to protect the caravans from thieves and robbers, insure travelers would pay their taxes, and deter any Zealot activities in the area. The village of Gamala, located only a few miles to the north, was the hotbed of Zealot activity. For these reasons, pilgrims going to and from Jerusalem for religious observances traveled in festival caravans.
Little is known of Bethsaida. Supposedly it was a fishing town situated on a hilltop along the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological excavations reveal that the village dates to about the ninth century B.C. and it once had a protective city wall, the foundations of which have been dated to the Assyrian era. It is the only known village in Judaea to have had such a protective fortification. But by the time of Jesus it was an insignificant fishing town even though it had been enlarged and fortified by Herod’s son, Herod Philip.
Bethsaida was also the childhood home of Peter (Jn. 1:44). He moved to Capernaum either because the village was more observant of the Jewish laws and traditions, or because it was also the local center for Jewish sages and their schools. His marriage (Mk. 1:29-30) may also have been a reason. The only recorded miracle that took place there was of a blind man (Mk. 8:22-26). As to Chorisim, Scripture is silent about this village.
Jesus evidently spent considerable time in these three villages because He promised destruction because of their unbelief and rejection of the gospel. In fact, he gave the stinging words that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, known for sodomy and uncontrolled homosexuality, would fare better than they would on judgment day (Mt. 11:24). Clearly hearing His word and rejecting it has profound consequences – as the proverbial saying goes “decisions determine destiny.” Today Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorizim are archaeological ruins and common tourist attractions.
The authentication of Jesus’ message by His works is the major characteristic of His ministry. Moses performed miracles as signs of judgment to authenticate his message, and Jesus likewise performed miracles to authenticate His message (Acts 2:22). But His were not signs of judgment, but miracles of healing, deliverance, love, and compassion. While the ultimate destiny of Moses was to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, the ultimate destiny of Jesus was to die on the cross for the sins (bondage) of humanity and give eternal life. As Moses led the children of Israel in their Exodus out of Egyptian bondage, likewise Jesus would lead anyone who would believe and follow Him out of the bondage of sin and into the Kingdom of God (cf. Isa. 40:3-5).
For four centuries after the prophetic ministries of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, God had not sent a prophet to His people. This period of history is sometimes referred to as the “silent years,” because no prophet had spoken. Note the words of two Jewish writers of the time:
Know that our fathers in former times and former generations had helpers, righteous prophets and holy men …. We were also in our country, and they helped us when we sinned, and they intervened for us with him who created us since they trusted in their works. And the Mighty One heard them and purged us from our sins. But now, the righteous have assembled and the prophets are sleeping. Also we have left our land, and Zion has been taken away from us and we have nothing now apart from the Mighty One and His Law.
2 Baruch 85:1-3
When the latter prophets died, that is, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel.
Mishnah, Sotah 13:3
The Jews clearly recognized their dilemma, which only added to the expectations of a coming Messiah. Therefore, when John began preaching, the people recognized the silence had come to an end, and he had an immediate audience. However, while there was no prophet, God was very active in the lives of the righteous.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:254; When priests and Levites served in the temple, they stayed in rooms within the temple buildings. Otherwise, they lived in communities throughout the countryside. Deut. 16:16; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:20, 23-24; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:93.
. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 96.
. Basalt is a volcanic rock that is soft and easily carved into ornamental and architectural shapes as well as grinding stones and wheels. The basalt rocks, which litter the hills around the northeastern Galilee area, came from several dormant volcanoes on the Golan Heights.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1(118); Wars 2.15.6 (232); Mishnah. Berakhoth. 1.3; Mishnah. Shabbath. 2.5.
. Tosephta, Megillah 4.15; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59, 249; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:278; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 364.
. Signs such as a hand becoming leprous and then restored to it healthy condition; a sea divided that was the escape for the Israelites but drowned the Egyptian army; Aaron’s rod becoming a snake and devouring the Egyptian snake (Aaron’s God destroyed the Egyptian gods).
. See Appendix 3.
. Messianic scholars agee that while no prophet spoke for four centuries, God was clearly active in the lives of His people as demonstrated by divine interventions throughout the Inter-Testamental Period. Therefore, they say that this era was not a period of “silent years.”
. See also 1 Macc. 4:46, 9:27, 14:41; Josephus, Against Apion 1:41.
05.01.02 Lk. 3:1-6 (See also Mt. 3:1-3; Mk. 1:2-4) The Wilderness Near Jordan, A.D. 26
JOHN DECLARES HIS MINISTRY
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
make His paths straight!
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be made low;
the crooked will become straight,
the rough ways smooth,
6 and everyone will see the salvation of God. (Isa. 40:3-5)
The divine calling of John the Baptist fulfilled the promise given by the prophet Malachi, who said, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes” (Mal. 4:5). John called the Jewish people to repentance, a concept that was somewhat new to them. The common belief was that since they were God’s Chosen People they were already saved, and there was no need for repentance. They were familiar with repentance from the standpoint that sins had to be forgiven, but would not keep them from the future messianic banquet. Only absolutely “pure” Israelites were assured of the messianic salvation – no “impure” blood from heathen nations would be accepted – or so they thought. Obviously this was not the opinion of John the Baptist or Jesus.
Jews immersed themselves in a mikvah that was filled with water before entering the temple or synagogue, although that was not for the repentance of sin but for the removal of defilement. John proclaimed the old practice of immersion in a new context, that is, the cleansing from a sinful lifestyle. Most scholars believe that John’s baptism was symbolic of true repentance whereas the baptism most commonly thought of by the Pharisees was the conversion of a Gentile to Judaism.
The religious establishment was not too pleased with John – he was preaching and baptizing even though he did not even graduate from one of their prestigious schools. Furthermore, he did not acknowledge their cherished high social positions, rather, he used powerful and stinging words against them. He called them a “brood of vipers” (Mt. 3:7) and proclaimed destruction and judgment as symbolized with the phrase, the “axe is ready” (Mt. 3:10). He declared that everyone who did not produce good fruit in this life would be cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt. 3:10). He promised profound judgments to come, yet his threatening prophecies were not fulfilled during the lifetime of Jesus.
John’s message of repentance and holy living had a similar ring to the teachings of the Essenes. They had separated themselves from established Judaism due to the corruption in the temple. Some scholars believe John may have been raised by or lived in the Essene community as a youth. Since Scripture indicates that his parents were old, they, no doubt, passed on while he was still young and the Essenes were known to take in orphaned children, especially those of priestly families.
The baptizer came at a time (mid to late 20s, A.D.) when the social-political tension was near the breaking point; every few years there was a revolt in which hundreds, sometimes thousands, were crucified. Caesar Tiberius expounded Hellenistic thought and lifestyle throughout the empire; Pilate angered his subjects with his cruelties, extortions, indolence, and murders. Herod Antipas was almost as wicked as his father Herod the Great and lived the pagan life of a Jewish apostate with reckless lust. Caiaphas and Annas, the temple priests who received their secure positions from Pilate, used the temple to enhance their own wealth at the expense of the common Jews who came to worship.
The Sadducees and leading Pharisees worked in harmony with powerhouse family – Caiaphas and Annas. The common people had become economic slaves in their Promised Land, a land full of pagan idolatry. Two Hellenistic philosophies, Epicureanism and Stoicism, contended for popular supremacy. The former concentrated on sensuality and the latter on intellectualism and pride. Both were influencing Jewish thought and culture. To counteract this pagan invasion, the scribes and Pharisees emphasized traditionalism, multiplied the regulations of daily life, and elevated their Oral Law over the Written Law, while at the same time elevating themselves in the eyes of the people.
The Jewish peasants had nowhere to turn, no one to help them. Into this caldron of hostilities, bitterness, anger, revolts and rumors of revolts, John preached a message from Isaiah, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” Finally, the four-century silence of God was broken; four centuries with not a single voice from a prophet. People flocked to hear John, hoping that in some way he would deliver them from their heartache, tears, and Roman overlords. The entire life of John was a sermon. His simple message was an earth shaking: “Get ready for the coming of the Lord.”
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea” Since there was no universal calendar, it was customary for ancient writers to connect the occurrence of a major event to a year of the king’s reign. Each kingdom had its own calendar and followed a formula similar to the following:
In the “X” year of King “Y,” these events occurred….
Two other biblical examples are,
In the eighteenth year of Israel’s King Jeroboam son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah…
1 Kings 15:1
In the twenty-third year of Judah’s King Joash son of Ahaziah, Jehoahaz son of Jehu became king over Israel in Samaria and reigned 17 years.
2 Kings 13:1
Luke used the time formula to emphasize the importance of the ministry of John the Baptist. But reconciling the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” to today’s calendar has been a subject of debate. Four considerations are presented.
Of these possibilities, traditional scholarship has concluded that Tiberius started his reign when he became co-regent in A.D. 11. This would place the start of John’s ministry in the year 26 A.D.
“Tiberius Caesar … Pontius Pilate … Herod … Philip … and Lysanias … Annas and Caiaphas.” These men were not mythical characters but real persons, who, by their position against Jesus, contributed to the spreading of Christianity. One of the outstanding features of Scripture that is profoundly different from other religions is the fact that nearly all personalities and places have been verified from extra-biblical historical sources. Note the years of reign of the following: Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37). Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26-36), Herod [Antipas] (4 B.C. – A.D. 39), Philip (4 B.C. – A.D. 34), Lysanias (unknown), Annas (A.D. 6-15) and Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36). Luke, more than any other New Testament writer, was careful to anchor events of Jesus to prominent kings and places. Later, using legal terminology, Peter would write,
For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
2 Peter 1:16
“God’s word came to John.” This is a literary formula, indicating that the prophetic message is from God. The word “word” in Greek is rhema, meaning spoken word, as opposed to logos meaning written word. Rhema is similar to the introductions of earlier prophets: Haggai (1:1), Zechariah (1:1), and Malachi (1:1) which made the connection of these prophets to John. In essence, everyone understood that he was in the same office as the post-exilic prophets, a position underscored by his miraculous birth to elderly priestly parents. When the word of God came to John, he preached repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins throughout the remote areas of the Judean Desert. Thus, he was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.
“Repentance.” (Gk. metanoias). This word has dual meanings: a deep mournful sorrow and a complete change of life; a turn-around to seek a moral change. Essentially, however, this compound word connects time and change, so that the final meaning is to think differently after. The definition includes a sense of reconciliation and, furthermore, while there is a sense of turning “from” sin there is also a deeper and more profound sense of turning “to” God. John’s message emphasizes that failure to repent would bring divine wrath and punishment, while obedience would result in entering the Kingdom of God.
A Lesson in First Century Hermeneutics:
05.01.02.X The Major Prophet Speaks.
It was a common interpretation that when a speaker quoted or paraphrased two Old Testament prophets, the credit was given to the major prophet. Giving credit to only one speaker or writer would never be accepted in today’s academic world, but it was common practice in biblical times. A classic example is the passage of Isaiah and Malachi. But because some critics have not understood the biblical hermeneutic, they have concluded there must be a mistake in Scripture.
05.01.02.Q1 Is there a mistake in the quotation of Isaiah?
The issue begins with the simple statement, “the prophet Isaiah” who was a major Old Testament prophet and that is the key to understanding this passage. John said he quoted the prophet Isaiah (40:3), but the parallel quotation in Luke 3:4 begins with words from another prophet, Malachi (3:1). In fact, Isaiah’s poetic phrase barely resembles the complete words attributed to him by any the three gospel writers. NOTE: Concerning Isaiah 40:3, please see the video “Insights into Selected Biblical Difficulties” 04.04.06.V.
The explanation is that the gospel writers combined the key words from two prophets and attributed them to the major prophet, which was common hermeneutics of the first century. This passage is better understood in light of basic knowledge of Hebrew poetry, which in this case, emphasizes the key theme.
A v. 2 I will send my messenger ahead of you,
B Who will prepare your way.
C v. 3 A voice of one calling in the desert.
B’ Prepare a way for the Lord,
A’ make straight paths for him.
Malachi 3:1 (NIV 1984)
The poetic parallel style of Hebrew literature quickly demonstrates the relationship of the two Old Testament passages and points to the theme of the message which is always the center line (C). Observing Mark’s quotation as a whole unit, line A (v. 2 is Mal. 3:1) is the “messenger,” identified as the voice in line C (v. 3 is Isa. 40:3). There is a mnemonic here, meaning a play on words that is easily remembered by the listeners. Malachi uses the word “messenger,” meaning not an ordinary man, but a prophet. John’s name means “my messenger.” Note that lines A and A’ have a common theme, as do lines B and B’. The focus of the poem is the centered line – line C – “A voice of one calling in the desert.”
< ——————————————– >
“Prepare the way for the Lord.” Some older English Bibles have the word “LORD” in capital letters. The capitalization indicates that the original name of God was “Jehovah,” as it is in this case. The application by the Holy Spirit of what is said about Jehovah in the Old Testament is focused upon Jesus in the New Testament – that is that Jesus is God. The focus of this phrase is the preparation for the coming of Jehovah as reflected in Isaiah 40:3. And while Luke said “Prepare the way for the Lord,” Matthew summed up the entire ministry of John in this statement “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2).
Every winter heavy rains washed rocks, trees, and other debris onto the roadways, as well as creating holes and gullies by washing the sandy soil away. The extensive damage to the roads needed to be repaired before the king traveled on them (cf. Isa. 57:14). The king sent road crews out every spring to repair the damage. However, in addition, whenever the king was going to be traveling to a village, a herald would go ahead and tell the villagers that their king was coming. The villagers would then repair any remaining damage to the highways. John used this imagery to tell the people to get ready for their king, who was about to come. With John’s reference to the prophecy of Isaiah, his listeners realized it was time for the prophecies to be fulfilled. Four centuries of divine silence had ended.
It should be noted that beginning on the 15th of the preceding month of Passover, all bridges and roads leading to Jerusalem were repaired to accommodate the influx of pilgrims. The entire infrastructure of Jerusalem including roads, bridges, water lines, were paid for by funds given to the temple. An example was preserved by the historian who indicated that before Emperor Vespasian traveled, his military went out first to repair the roads. In the early days of the First Revolt (A.D. 66-73), the Tenth Legion first fought the Zealots in Galilee and then marched south to destroy Jerusalem. Vespasian was concerned that the condition of the road would slow down the march and the enemy might then attack from the woods. So among his directives he ordered that,
Next to these (footmen and horsemen) followed ten out of every hundred, carrying along with them their arms, and what was necessary to measure out a camp withal; and after them, such as were to make the road even and straight, and if it were anywhere rough and hard to be passed over, to plane it, and to cut down the woods that hindereth their march, that the army might not be in distress, or tired with their march.
Josephus, Wars 3.6.2 (117-118)
. See commentary on 05.01.02.Q1, “Is there a mistake in the quotation of Isaiah?”
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 301-02.
. See “Defilement” in Appendix 26.
. For more information of various reasons for baptism, see baptism as related to Nicodemus in 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.
. John the Baptist used figurative language that is reflective of agriculture and desert life. Therefore, he uses terms such as brood of vipers, fruits (of repentance), the axe at the root of the tree, baptism of fire, the threshing floor, and the burning of the chaff. It was typical language often expressed by orthodox rabbis to those who did not live or preach biblical principles.
. The term “fire” was frequently used by Old Testament prophets: Isa. 29:6; 66:15; Ezek. 38:22; Amos 1:4; 7:4; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Mal. 3:2; 4:1. The term is also found in numerous extra-biblical books such as Jubilees 9:15; 36:10 and in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 66-70.
. Gnosticism would not become influential until the 2nd century A.D.
. Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 563-70.
. De Lacy, “Epicureanism and the Epicurean School.” 3:2-3.
. This formula for dating was used some thirty times in 1 and 2 Kings.
. This date is reconciled to today’s calendar. See Appendix 1 for dates of reign.
. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:854.
. Metzger, New Testament. 104-05.
. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. 30-37; Hoehner presents five interpretations of dating the beginning date of the Baptist. This writer believes that four of them are highly unlikely for various reasons; See Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 79-80. However, F.F. Bruce in New Testament History (192 n2) believes the year A.D. 30 is more likely than any other for the crucifixion date.
. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.1.
. Josephus, Wars 1.21.1.
. Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 57; Metzger, New Testament. 104-05; Tenney, New Testament Times. 164-65; Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:258-60.
. See also Appendix 1.
. When the New Testament writers used terms such as “testimony” or “bore witness” or “I have seen and testify,” these are statements whereby the author places himself under an oath concerning the truthfulness of the statement made. These are statements of legal terminology in both the Greek and Jewish cultures. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 5.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:82; Vine, “Tetrarch.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:624.
. While Luke recorded the year in relation to the year of the Caesar, the calendar he used is unknown. The fifteenth year would probably be August 28 to August 29. Less likely is that he used the Syrian calendar, which would have the year reckoned between the fall of 27 and the fall of the following year. See Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:854.
. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:845; Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 4:975-1008.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:23.
. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 16.
. See Appendix 30 for other applied hermeneutical principles.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:13.
. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:213.
. Parenthesis insert mine for clarification.
05.01.03 Mt. 3:4-6 (See also Mk. 1:5-6) Along the Jordan River
JOHN BAPTIZES THE BELIEVERS
4 John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
John drew large crowds, in part because of his message, and in part because his miraculous birth was well known. His popularity escalated into what may be considered today as international status. The effect of his ministry can be seen in Acts 19, where the Apostle Paul met Jews in Ephesus who were baptized by John but had not heard of receiving the Holy Spirit. Obviously John never traveled to Ephesus, but distant Jews who came to Jerusalem took John’s message home with them. Eventually, some of them met the apostle.
“John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt.” It is often said that John’s clothes and eccentric lifestyle echoed the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs. 1:8). Impoverished people who could not afford woolen clothing wore clothes woven from camel hair. But more importantly, it was the custom of the Hebrew prophets to express themselves in a dramatic manner if they felt their words could not adequately communicate the message. John clearly identified with the ancient prophets as well as with the people who were reduced to economic slavery by the Romans.
Just as both prophets, Elijah and Zechariah, sounded warnings to their people and predicted future events, and John did the same. He lived in isolation and identified with the misery of the peasant people, rejecting the comfortable wealthy lifestyle of the temple priesthood that he could have enjoyed. John seems to have had an immediate following. It is noteworthy that, centuries earlier, just as Elijah had his archenemies, Ahab and Jezebel; eventually John would have his, Herod and Herodias.
“Locusts and wild honey.” Eating locusts and honey was not a menu most people would consider, even in the worst of times, but the Baptist was different. The Mosaic Law prevents Jews from eating insects, with the exception of locusts, a/k/a “grasshoppers” (Lev. 11:22). However, it is highly doubtful these bugs were a part of John’s dietary plan for two significant reasons:
05.01.03.A. THE “LOCUST” OR FRUIT OF THE CAROB TREE. The carob tree was also known as the locust tree, which produces a bean that was commonly eaten by poor peasants. The beans can be stored year-round, while the locust insect has a life cycle of only one or two months. Photographed by the author who held two “locust” pods in his hand.
The locust pod, as a food source for the poor and during a famine, is found in the Babylonian Talmud. While that narrative is somewhat fanciful, it does refer to the carob bean as nourishing the whole world. In this case, the father of the young man, who may have had some messianic aspirations said,
The whole world will be nourished because of my son Hanina – and a morsel of carob bean will satisfy my son Hanina for a week.
Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anith 24b
Just as the word locust has a definition somewhat different from today’s concept, so does the word honey. The definition of the sweet syrup is not restricted to bee honey, but includes any type of sweet syrup originating from a plant or bee. In this context, John’s diet most likely was date honey, or syrup from the date palm tree. This is found in the Jerusalem Talmud as well as in Josephus. When Josephus described Jericho, which is near the area where John preached and baptized Jesus, he referred to the honey that was squeezed from the palm trees, as well as honey made by the honeybee.
There are in it (meaning “Jericho countryside”) many sorts of palm trees that are watered by it, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey, not much inferior in sweetness to other honey. This country produces honey from bees; it also bears that balsam which is the most precious of all the fruits in that place.
Josephus, Wars 4.8.3 (468-469a)
Therefore, the phrase locust and honey was not to be literally interpreted according to modern definitions, but according to ancient definitions that were also symbolic of a poor and humble lifestyle of the prophets. This is an excellent example that demonstrates how a New Testament study cannot be complete without thorough study of the Hebrew Bible and, preferably, related rabbinic writings. The focal point is not the diet or lifestyle of the Baptist preacher, but his message, which was “clothed” in the message of earlier prophets.
Finally, for those who are die-hard loyalists to believing that John ate the bug locusts and not the bean pod locusts, the following two writers will be of particular interest:
While locusts and grasshoppers may have been a dietary delight in some cultures, for Jewish people, resorting to eating insects was a sign of poverty.
“Baptized by him.” The term baptize is from the Greek word baptismos or baptisma. Its root word bapto means to dip, and as such was used by the Greek poet Homer to describe the dipping of hot steel in cold water to temper it. The Hebrew counterpart is tabhal, and is often translated simply as to dip, as when Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan River (2 Kgs. 5:14). Therefore, the Jews were already familiar with the rite of baptism. It was afforded to those who had become proselytes to the Jewish faith, of which some scholars believe there were many.
05.01.03.Q1 What is the primary difference between immersion in a mikvah, and baptism?
Baptism was for the repentance of sin as well as a commitment to something – an office, a calling, or a way of life. It represented a chage of lifestyle. Immersion in a mikvah was for the removal of defilement, such as walking over a grave or touching a corpse. However, the ritual of dipping or immersion daily in a mikvah was not for baptism (repentance of sin) but for the cleansing of defilement. Priests immersed themselves daily before entering the temple. Also, the Essenes in Qumran immersed themselves three times daily to remain ritually pure. In Jewish thinking, purity (Gk. katharos) was defined within the realm of physical, religious, and ethical purity; a term that has both figurative and literal requirements of behavior. There are several unique features of John’s ministry and baptism.
In 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Hebrew and Christian scholars were surprised to learn that the Essenes, who predated Christ by more than a century, had a doctrine and practice of baptism with amazing similarities to early Christianity. Namely, immersion with a repentant heart is a practice that is not found in any other Jewish writings of this time. In one of the scrolls known as the Damascus Document (a/k/a the Community Rule) is a rule in column three that states if a person immerses himself and is not sorry for his sins, he will not be forgiven, even with all the water in the world. Repentance was to be coupled with water immersion; the water cleans the body, the Holy Spirit cleans the inside of the person. Therefore, many scholars believe the doctrine of baptism was not a new concept for the early church, but was patterned from the Essenes and their ritualistic baths. However, this writer believes that the Essene practice of baptism may have been part of the meaning of the phrase “in the fullness of time,” Jesus came to this earth (Gal. 4:4). Men were ready for Him in ways beyond our comprehension.
Finally, for a point of clarification, John’s baptism was a repentance baptism for the forgiveness of sins. The baptism of Jesus is not only for the forgiveness of sins, but also for His redemptive work that is essential for salvation and eternal life. It is the first step in the restoration of mankind to the image of God (see 16.1.18.Q3).
. The camel hair garment was also reflective of the prophet Zechariah (13:4), who wrote the prophetic Old Testament book that bears his name.
 The subject of high taxation that resulted in economic slavery is presented by Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.2 (307-308). See also 02.03.03 “Economy” and 03.06.04 “4 B.C. The Death of Herod the Great.” See also Sanders. “Jesus in Historical Context.” 430.
. Avi-Yonah and Kraeling, Our Living Bible. 272.
. Bacon, Walking Beside Jesus. 33. This tree with its carob pods are grown at the Holy Land Museum and at Neot Kedumim, a biblical landscape reserve located northwest of Jerusalem. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:351.
. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible; 54. Trever, “Palm Tree,” 3:646.
. Bacon, Walking Beside Jesus. 33; Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 1.3; Hareuveni, Nature in Our Biblical Heritage. 35.
. Klausnitzer, Insects: Their Biology and Cultural History. 51
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:199-200.
. Homer. Odyssey. 9.392.
. Williams, “Baptize, Baptism.” 27-30.
. Dugas. “The Reaction of the Hellenistic World to Judaism.” 67-73.
. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 66-70.
. Link and Schattenmann. “Pure, Clean.” 3:102-03.
. According to Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 146, one of the earliest scholars to research Jewish baptisms was a French scholar, Joseph Thomas, who authored Le Mouvement baptist en Palestine et Syrie (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1935). For more on Jewish baptisms, see 05.05.02 and Nicodemus in 05.05.05.
. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 109.
. Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. 5.
. For more information on baptism, see 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.
. Beasley-Murray, “Baptism.” 1:146.
05.01.04 Lk. 3:7-14 (See also Mt. 3:7-10) Along the Jordan River
JOHN CONTINUES TO PREACH REPENTANCE
7 He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!
9 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him.
11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.”
14 Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?”
He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages.”
In today’s language, John would have been called a “hell, fire, and brimstone preacher.” He used strong language and had a definite point to make – no one was going to challenge him or get him to be quiet. His three points were proclaimed with no uncertainty!
05.01.04.Q1 How did the religious leaders appraise someone they suspected to be a new self-appointed rabbi or an aspiring messiah?
Nearly everybody was expecting a messiah, most with great anticipation. Hundreds if not thousands heard John the Baptist. They repented of their sins, fasted, prayed, and expected the restoration of the ancient Davidic Kingdom. But the temple leaders and Romans feared anyone who claimed the title of “messiah,” expecting that another rebellion would soon arise. By this time a number of individuals had come forth claiming to be the messiah (and were usually killed by the Romans). But to identify the real messiah, the temple leaders had devised a 2-step plan to evaluate anyone’s messianic intentions.
Jesus definitely had the two groups of evaluators before Him, and John probably did likewise. Both John and the Essenes used apocalyptic words concerning the future. John the Baptist proclaimed eminent judgment and destruction (Lk. 3:10), and stated that every Jew who did not produce good fruit in his life would be cast into an eternal fire (Jn. 3:10). Neither the Baptist nor anyone else expected Jesus to be as He was, yet the apocalyptic description is applicable when applied to His return and reign during the Millennial Reign.
“Brood of vipers!” It is commonly agreed among scholars that these stinging words were applied directly to the leading Pharisees and Sadducees (Lk. 3:7), as if to emphatically say, “You brood of vipers!” These religious leaders were supposed to be the spiritual shepherds of the common people, but instead had become like vipers – unclean and poisonous snakes; a corrupt wealthy power group. They most likely were part of the “first team” that did not come to repent, but to spy on John and report back to Caiaphas. Hence, John’s targeted response.
However, the phrase was a typical idiom used by rabbis or theological schools when debating became intense. It would not have been uncommon that at the end of an argument, between students of the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, that each would call the other by names such as these:
When Jesus applied the phrase to those who argued with Him, he used typical language that was readily understood and in common use.
“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” This is the ominous warning that destruction is about to fall upon those who do not repent. In this context, the word “wrath” has a double connotation; It referred to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, as well as to the final judgment of God that every person must someday face. When the Romans surrounded Jerusalem, many Jewish believers fled to the Decapolis cities to take refuge and they escaped the destruction and death that fell upon those who rejected Jesus.
“Children … stones.” In this passage Jesus used two words of similar sound in Aramaic and Hebrew, a word play known as a parechesis. The book of Matthew is full of Hebrew thought and idioms. The word stones (abanim) and the word children (banim) sound alike, but in the context of the verse they underscore opposite meanings. Jesus said the Pharisees and Sadducees were to produce good fruit, but stones naturally produce nothing. However, God could have stones produce good children who would honor Him and be children of Abraham. In other words, stones could be more productive than were the critics of John the Baptist. Unfortunately, some details of these thoughts and idioms become lost in the translation from Hebrew and Greek into other languages.
Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees!” In the pictorial language of Hebrew, this symbolized that judgment was extremely near. It gave a severe sense of urgency to the message of repentance and salvation. All the prophets of the Old Testament preached repentance. John most certainly fit the picture quite well. The common theme was that obedience would bring blessings, and disobedience would bring punishment.
But by this time the mindset of the general population was somewhat different. They believed God would come and punish the imperial Romans for occupying their land. They had just experienced a century of Jewish leadership, which was not much better than the rule of the pagans, and they were very disgusted with the influx of Hellenism. Therefore, the message of pending doom and judgment from John was music to their ears. The irony is when Jesus said that “now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees,” He did that precisely during the Passion Week when He cursed the fig tree – the symbol of national Israel.
“The man with two shirts.” Ownership of multiple garments was a sign of wealth. Therefore, if one owned two pieces of garment, the cultural obligation said that he was to help anyone in need. If someone had only an “inner” or “under” garment he was considered to be “naked.” Modesty of dress is a highly biblical value.
“Tax collectors.” Tax collectors were a small group of Jews who were agents for Rome and therefore, highly despised by their Jewish neighbors. Each collector was required to raise a certain amount of revenue based on the population. Anything above that amount, they were permitted to keep. Since this was an excellent opportunity for legalized extortion and money gouging, these agents became extremely wealthy at the expense of their Jewish brothers. Furthermore, since Roman coins had images of men and pagan gods, the strict Pharisees considered anyone who touched a Roman or Greek coin as filthy. Such a person was said to have violated the command against graven images. Hence, tax collectors were passionately hated.
“Some soldiers.” Jewish men were not permitted to serve in the military. The fact that these soldiers asked what they should do is an indication they were Gentiles who came under conviction. However, some scholars believe that a few Hellenized Jewish men may have been in the military. Like tax collectors, they had chosen to leave their Jewish faith to attain wealth and enjoy the permissive Greek lifestyle. Now they were confronted with their sin and asked what to do.
. His use of the term “fire” is typical of many Old Testament prophets who gave similar warnings of judgment.
. Golub, In the Days. 277.
. See a short list of false messiahs at Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”
. John the Baptist used figurative language that is reflective of agriculture and desert life. Therefore, he uses terms such as “brood of vipers;” “the axe at the root of the tree,” “baptism of fire,” “the threshing floor,” and “the burning of the chaff.” These phrases proclaimed that God was angry and judgment was about to fall.
. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 9, Session 2.
. Final judgment: Rom. 2:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; Lake of Fire: Rev. 20:11-15.
. Jesus used these puns and plays on words as memory tools for His listeners. See Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 321-22, 980-81; Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 53.
. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 321-22.
. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 15-17; Vine, “Clothing, Cloths, Clothes, Cloak, Coat.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:105-07.
. See 15.02.09.Q1.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 246.
. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:856.
The Early Ministry Of Jesus
The Introduction And Temptations Of Jesus
05.02.00.A. THE BAPTISM OF JESUS BY JOHN THE BAPTIST. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. The baptism of Jesus was the official inauguration of His ministry. The opening of heaven indicates that there was no barrier between Jesus and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit came upon Him with power. The event occurred about six miles south of Jericho; a short distance north of the Dead Sea.
Until this time Jesus was devoted to meeting the physical needs of His siblings and mother because His father evidently had passed away. Now He was to bring spiritual food to His people and to the whole world.
His ministry began with the announcement by John the Baptist that He is the “Lamb of God.” As previously stated, it was the custom that when a king was going to visit his people, he would send a herald to announce to the cities and villages that their king was coming. Likewise, John the Baptist was the herald who announced to the Jews that their “king” was coming. However, rather than referring to Jesus as a “king,” he referred to Him as the “Lamb of God.” The word “king” or “messiah” would have started a riot or revolt in this politically-charged land. Yet the people understood the term to mean the long expected messiah. For centuries, ever since 586 B.C., the Jews had been under foreign domination with the exception of about one hundred years of independence (163/142-63 B.C.). But that so-called “freedom” was a miserable life under their corrupt leaders. Now they were under Roman authority and, while they had some religious liberties, life in general was very difficult.
As a sage or rabbi, John acquired several disciples whom he instructed. His Elijah imagery captured everyone’s attention, especially with the message of repentance, baptism, and living a pure and holy lifestyle. His image was significantly different than the priestly heritage from which he came that included some comforts of wealth. Yet John’s message was one that the temple priests failed to announce.
. The demise of Joseph is one of the mysteries of the Bible. However, since Jesus was the oldest son, it was his responsibility to care for his parents in their old age and to bury them when they passed on. We know that He had at least four brothers: James, Joses, Judas (Jude), and Simon, and several sisters who were not named.
. John the Baptist is not called a “rabbi” or a “sage” anywhere in Scripture or in extra-biblical writings. However, the mere fact he had disciples is indicative that he functioned as a sage or rabbi.
. A rabbi-disciple relationship was always a teacher-student relationship.
05.02.02 Lk. 3:15-18 (See also Mt. 3:11-12; Mk. 1:7-8) Along the Jordan River
JOHN ANNOUNCES THE CHRIST
15 Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were debating in their minds whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
17 His winnowing shovel is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.” 18 Then, along with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people.
The value of the perspectives of the four gospel writers is clearly evident in this case. In the public introduction of Jesus, each writer clearly reveals his passionate message.
It has been said that the gospels are a unique genre – not a letter (Gk. epistle), but a kind of written report that functioned as an informative advertisement. Jesus came to reveal that the eternal was not the future, but the unseen that exists now. To know God is not an endless pursuit, but a condition of the present reality that is available to everyone. God is not a philosophy or an abstraction, but a divine being with character and personality who desires all men to attain His character and personality. However, humanity could only understand the divine message, if the Divine lived among them. To communicate this concept, the expressions of “Son of Man” and “Son of God,” express the deity of Jesus, but the former title also asserts His humanity.
“I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals.” It was customary for a slave or servant to untie the sandals of a visitor and wash his feet when entering a house. The English word slave or servant is derived from the Greek term doulos. A doulos was a common household slave who performed the most menial of all household chores. Here the gospel writer declares that John was so humbled at the presence of Jesus, that he was not worthy to perform this most menial act of servanthood (cf. 1 Sam 25:41).
Throughout the Middle East, in ancient times and today, feet are considered defiled. The reason is that roads and walkways are dirty, dusty, and covered with animal dung. Throughout most of history, wherever anyone walked, livestock did likewise and, therefore, avoiding animal dung was impossible. That is why sandals were removed when entering a home and if there were no servants or slaves to wash the visitor’s feet, then it was the woman’s responsibility to do so.
“Holy Spirit and fire.” Some scholars believe this phrase refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the followers of Jesus; being on “fire” for God. Jesus said that they would be immersed in the Ruach HaKodesh, meaning Holy Spirit, which began at Acts 2:1ff. (See other opinion below.) However, the term “Holy Spirit” must be understood in the Jewish context because the full Christian understanding of it did not occur until after the ascension. In Jewish thought and philosophy the Holy Spirit had two primary functions.
John used the term precisely within the Jewish definition and understanding of the Old Testament time. He was preaching the divine truth and people began to follow Him, listening carefully to His teaching. He did not perform any miracles at this time.
Others believe this phrase to be a purifying event that will separate the wicked Jews from the righteous ones as described in Malachi 3:19-21; 4:1-3, and Psalm 1:6. The separation was described in agricultural terms. When wheat was harvested, the kernel had to be separated from the wheat chaff. To accomplish this, the wheat was placed on a threshing floor and was lightly crushed with a threshing sled pulled by a donkey. The next step is called “winnowing,” when the wheat was tossed into the air so that the wind, blowing across a threshing floor, blew the chaff to the side and the heavier wheat kernels fell to the ground. The chaff was collected and burned, hence, the vivid imagery of pending judgment in hell. The prophets stated that the Messiah would destroy His enemies with His fiery breath (cf. Isa. 11:4; 30:27-28). The apocryphal writer 4th Ezra restated this prevailing thought:
After this I looked, and behold, all who had gathered together against him, to wage war with him were much afraid, yet dared to fight. And behold, when he saw the onrush of the approaching multitude, he neither lifted up his hand or held a spear or any weapon of war, but I saw only how he sent forth his mouth as if it were a stream of fire, and from his lips a flaming breath, and from his tongue he shot forth a storm of sparks. All of these were mingled together…, fell on the onrushing multitude, which was prepared to fight, and burned them all up.
4 Ezra 13:8-11
The Israelites always associated fire with great events in their history. Examples are the great covenant between Israel and God was witnessed by fire (Gen. 15:17) and when God dedicated the tabernacle with fire (Ex. 40:34). When the Israelites traveled through the wilderness they were guided by a pillar of fire; God appeared in the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:2); a fire after an earthquake (1 Kg. 19:1-12); and a fire in a cloud (Ezek. 1:4). In the Old Testament, fire was associated with judgment and destruction of the wicked, as well as purification of the righteous. The early church, on the Day of Pentecost experienced the Holy Spirit and fire as the presence of God.
However, other scholars say that the term “fire” in Matthew’s gospel is never associated with the Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:3) but with judgment. Furthermore, fire associated with Pentecost never suggests the chaff being blown away by the wind.
“His winnowing shovel.” As previously stated, the term “winnowing” is an agricultural term that is associated with the separation of the wheat chaff from the wheat kernel. In this process, a fork or shovel was used to toss the wheat high into the air, at which time a crosswind blew the chaff to the side and the heavier wheat kernel fell directly to the threshing floor. In this context, the winnowing fork is representative of God’s separation of the unrepentant from the true people of God.
“Clear His threshing floor.” To clear the threshing floor implied that Jesus would remove the judges of the Sanhedrin. The phrase was a common reference pertaining to divine judgment. The Sanhedrin members sat in a semi-circular pattern that resembled a threshing floor so all could see other members and consider carefully the significance of their judgments. The imagery was preserved in the Mishnah:
The Sanhedrin was arranged like the half of a round threshing floor so that they all might see one another.
Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.3
The most famous threshing floor was the floor of Ornan (1 Ch. 21:28; 22: l), which was purchased by David and where later Solomon built his temple, followed by the temple of the first century. This was precisely where Jesus stood before Caiaphas. The image of God was not only that of a judge between the just and unjust, but also that of the Provider for His children.
“He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.” The chaff was burned in clay cooking stoves. John used winnowing as an analogy of judgment by an angry God who will separate the unfaithful from those who accepted salvation. This imagery is common in the Hebrew Bible and, therefore, was familiar to the audience.
05.02.02.A. A RECONSTRUCTED THRESHING FLOOR. The threshing floor was where villagers would lay down their barley or wheat on the ground. A donkey would then pull a threashing sled (shown leaning against the wall) over the wheat, which would loosen the chaff from the kernel. Then the wheat was winnowed by tossing it into the air. Photographed at the Jerusalem Pilgrim Center by the author.
Bible students have often wondered if John thought that he was living at the end of the age; the age that would bring judgment upon the enemies of Israel? The answer is clearly affirmative – yes. At this point, John appears to believe that the messiah is an agent of God who will bring judgment upon Israel and function as the expected political-messiah. He does not realize that his messiah is the Messiah. As will be demonstrated later, John believed that the messiah would come with fiery judgment on the wicked, and he would most certainly overthrow the Roman tyranny. Little wonder then, that he used such strong language.
05.02.02.B. TWO BOYS WINNOWING WHEAT. Two boys, dressed in authentic first century clothes, are winnowing wheat in an open field. It is a process of throwing the wheat up into the air so the wind can blow the chaff aside while the heavier wheat kernels fall down to the threshing floor. The kernels are then gathered and the chaff is burned. Photographed at the reconstructed Nazareth Village by the author.
. Mellowes and Cran, Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 3.
. Jn. 3:13; 5:27; 6:27; cf. Mt.26:63-64; Tenney, The Gospel of John. 105.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:312.
. John the Baptist used figurative language that is reflective of agriculture and desert life. Therefore, he uses terms such as brood of vipers, fruits (of repentance), the axe at the root of the tree, baptism of fire, the threshing floor, and the burning of the chaff.
. Link and Tuente. “Slave, Servant, Captive, Prisoner, Freeman.” 3:589-91.
. Howard, Jr., “Shoe, Sandal.” 4:491-92; Cameron, “Sandal.” 5:268; Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 403.
. See “Defile” in Appendix 26.
. Lk. 24:49; Jn. 15:26, 16:13-14; Ac. 1:8.
. Barclay, “Mark.” 79-81.
. Scholars debate on the classification of 3rd Ezra (a/k/a 1 Esdras) and 4th Ezra (a/k/a 2nd Esdras). Sometimes these are listed in the Apocrypha (see 02.02.03) and other times they are listed in the Pseudepigrapha (see 02.02.24). The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.
. Isa. 31:9; Amos 7:4; Mal. 4:1; Jub. 9:15; 36:10; Enoch 10:6, 12ff; 54:6; 1QH 6.18-19; et. al.
. Isa. 1:25; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:2ff; 1QH 5.16.
. Mt. 3:10, 12; 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41.
. The preferred location for threshing floors was on a hill top where there was a constant cross wind.
. This custom was popular in other cultures as well, such as the Roman senate was seated in a semi-circular fashion.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.3.
. Job 21:18; Ps. 1:4; Isa. 29:5, 41:16; Dan. 2:35; Hosea 13:3.
05.02.03 Mt. 3:13-17; Lk. 3:23a (See also Mk. 1:9-11) From Galilee to Jordan
JESUS IS BAPTIZED
Mt. 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”
15 Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.
16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven:
This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!
Lk. 23 As He began His ministry, Jesus was about 30 years old
When Jesus left Galilee, it was not the area by the Sea of Galilee, but the Roman provincial district of Galilee which was a large area to the west of the Sea. The village of Nazareth is within that district. He went to His cousin John who was along the Jordan River a short distance north of the Dead Sea.
“To be baptized by him (John).” The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of His ministry. This obedient act was performed for several reasons:
05.02.03.Q1 Why was Jesus baptized (Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-23a)?
Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, but there are reasons or insights that define the meaning of that phrase. The term righteousness (Gk. dikaiosyne) is defined by a number of phrases such as uprightness, upright, just acquitted or as said in a simplified manner, as if I never sinned. But obviously everyone does sin, and baptism is the symbolic act to declare one has accepted divine forgiveness as if he never sinned. But since Jesus never sinned, His baptism was for the fulfillment or purpose of righteousness as follows:
His baptism was the last act of his private life and first act of his public ministry. While the baptism has symbolism (described above), so does its location. Note the following:
The Jewish people practiced two rituals in water:
Baptism was a one-time event for the repentance of sin. It was usually practiced for a number of reasons, such as when someone became a member of the Sanhedrin. The Essenes also baptized new members into their sect, and many scholars believe the Pharisees did likewise, but evidence for a firm conclusion on this matter is still lacking.
The ritual immersion in a mikvah was in response to defilement caused by a physical transgression (touching a dead body, walking over a grave, etc.), whereas baptism was for repentance of sin and the coming to faith. Since there is no Christian counterpart to ritual immersion, it is difficult for Gentile believers to understand its purpose.
“After Jesus was baptized.” The ministry of Jesus was inaugurated with the symbolism of entering the water, which was equated with death, and then brought out of the water, which was equated with the rebirth of new life. By His baptism, he identified Himself with the sinful and lost people, in order to become the sacrificial Lamb of God. As Jesus publicly dedicated Himself to do His Father’s will (Lk. 22:42; Mt. 3:15), the “voice from heaven” confirmed His calling.
At the close of His ministry, Jesus brought a sense of reality to the symbolism of death and life when He died on the cross and arose three days later. It has been a doctrine of the church for believers to declare that they have died with Christ to the passions of the world and have been raised to live in the newness of His life.
Over the centuries there have been numerous church discussions on the mode of baptism. Some churches today teach that a new convert needs to be completely submersed in water, because the definition of baptize in the Greek is to submerse or put under the water. Others teach that the full meaning of the doctrine can be found in the symbolism of sprinkling water on the new believer and, therefore, submersion is not necessary. Such discussions have, unfortunately, led to arguments and church splits, all of which could have been prevented if they had known what the early church fathers taught about the matter. The Didache (ca. A.D. 90-120) is the earliest known book on church doctrines, rules, and procedures. The authors understood not only their language but also their culture and context. They had an interesting interpretation concerning the mode of baptism.
As for baptism, baptize in this way: Having said all this beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, however, baptize in another kind of water; if you cannot do so in cold water, then do so in warm water.
But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Before the baptism, let the person baptizing and the person being baptized and others who are able fast; tell the one being baptized to fast one or two days before.
Obviously, there was a preference as to how a baptism was to be performed. Note that fasting was a part of baptism, probably because the church considered conversion a serious decision during a time of persecution. Finally, it should be understood that baptism did not begin with John and Jesus, as it was an old Jewish custom for new converts. The observers of John knew precisely what he was preaching and doing.
The site where Jesus was baptized was not difficult to find. Several accounts written by visiting pilgrims centuries ago gave archaeologists strong clues as to where the event occurred. The primary difficulty with opening the area for modern tourism was that the large area was filled with explosive land mines that remained hidden since the Israeli-Jordanian wars. Once both governments cleared the area, it was opened to the public.
One of the accounts was written by a Spanish nun, Egeria, Etheria, or perhaps Atheria, in the years 381-384. All that is known about her must be taken from the surviving parts of her book, The Tree of Life: A Brief History of the Cross. She was not a merchant or one who held office in government or the church, but rather, she was a pious woman from northern Spain or southern France who was sincerely interesting in walking the steps where her Savior once walked. In 384 she visited the home of Peter (06.03.04) when it was standing complete in Capernaum. In her description she said that it had been turned into a church that consisted of three concentric octagons. She also mentioned that the small church was occupied by many monks and that,
Between the church and the [monk’s] cells was a plentiful spring which flowed from the rock.”
A century and a half later, another pilgrim, Theodosius, is believed to have visited the site between the years 515 and 530. He described the Church of Saint John the Baptist as being on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
At the place where my Lord was baptized is a marble column, and on top of it has been set an iron cross. There also is the Church of Saint John Baptist, which was constructed by the Emperor Anastasius. It stands on great vaults which are high enough for when the Jordan is in flood …. From the Dead Sea to the Jordan, where the Lord was baptized by John – there are about five milies.
Theodosius, De Situ Terrae Sanctae 20
Like the Bordeaux pilgrim, Theodosius located the hill from which Elijah was taken up, which he called the Little Mount Hermon, across the river from the baptismal site. He continued to say that the site was near the intersection of the Roman Jerusalem-Jericho road and the road that connected with the Via Nova Traiana on the Transjordanian high plateau located to the east.
Only a few decades later, in 570, Antoninus Piacenza, a pilgrim from the Italiam village of Piacenza, toured the Holy Land and was a somewhat more descriptive of the site. He said,
We arrived at the place where the Lord was baptized. This is the place…where Elijah was taken up. In that place is the “little hill of Hermon” mentioned in the psalm…. By the Jordan, not far from where the Lord was baptized is a very large Monastery of Saint John, which has two guest houses.
Pilgrim of Piacenza, Itinerarium 12.4
Finally, a pilgrim named Arculf, visited the site around 670 or 680 and also mentioned a church and gave this description (speaking of himself in the third person):
The holy, venerable spot at which the Lord was baptized by John is permanently covered by the water of the River Jordan. Arculf, who reached the place, and swam across the river both ways, says that a tall wooden cross has been set up on the holy place…The position of this cross where, as we have said, the Lord was baptized, is on the near side of the river bed. A strong man using a sling can throw a stone from there to the far bank on the Arabian side. From this cross a stone causeway supported on arches stretches to the bank, and people approaching the cross go down a ramp and return up by it to reach the bank. Right at the river’s edge stands a small rectangular church which was built, so it is said, at the place where the Lord’s clothes were placed when he was baptized. The fact that it is supported on four stone vaults, makes it usable, since the water, which comes in from all sides, is underneath it. It has a tiled roof. This remarkable church is supported, as we have said, by arches and vaults, and stands in the lower part of the valley through which the Jordan flows. But in the upper part there is a great monastery for monks, which has been built on the brow of a small hill nearby, overlooking the church. There is also a church built there in honour of Saint John Baptist which, together with the monastery, is enclosed in a single masonry wall.
The Writings of Arculf
05.02.03.Z THE MOSAIC MADABA MAP DEPICTING “BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN.” This section of the 6th century Madaba Map preserved the village of “Bethany beyond the Jordan” as “Ainon where now is Saphsaphas” meaning “the place of willows.” It also depicts a ferry crossing the Jordan just north of Bethany in an area where now is the Allenby Bridge. Many old maps as this one were oriented toward the east and, therefore, north is toward the left. Wikipedia Commons.
05.02.03.A. THE BAPTISMAL SITE OF JESUS. Tourists look at what historians believe to be the original baptismal site of Jesus. It is located a short distance north the Dead Sea – the same location where Joshua crossed the River to enter the Promised Land of Canaan fifteen centuries earlier. The baptism at this location marked the beginning of a new era. Across the narrow river is the Hashmonite Kingdom of Jordan. Photograph by the author.
Critics have pointed to the fact that Arculf said that the baptismal site was on the western side of the River rather than on the eastern side as all other sources indicated. There are two possible reasons for this discrepancy.
Few sites have as many ancient witnesses as does the place where Jesus was baptized. The mosaic Madaba Map these descriptions of the hill and buildings enabled archaeologists to find the old church foundations and, thus, secure the site identity.
“The Spirit of God descending like a dove.” The Holy Spirit (Shekinah Glory)  came upon Jesus in a dynamic manner to empower and equip Him to do the will of the Father who voiced His delight. The Trinity made the first dynamic action. Just as centuries earlier the dove announced to Noah the end of the flood and death to humanity, now it had announced the beginning of eternal life through Christ Jesus. The promise of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus was the prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 11:2 and 42:1. Luke’s intention here was not only to report the actual event of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, but obviously, also to reflect upon a similar event that occurred in the days of Samuel the prophet. When Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, the Spirit of God came down mightily upon David (1 Sam. 16:13). In the Jewish tradition as recorded in the Talmud, the Spirit of God is described as descending or hovering over the waters as a dove in Genesis 1:2 and another Talmudic passage makes the clear association between the Spirit of God and the dove. It reads as follows:
And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters – like a dove, which hovers over her young without touching them.
Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 15a
Those who were present at the baptism, who undoubtedly included some representatives from the Sanhedrin, could not have missed this association. Just as God ushered in a new creation (Gen. 1-2), so likewise would Jesus be the One who would usher in a “new creation” of a New Covenant. Genesis 1:2 was predictive of the significant event that came upon Jesus. Might not the Spirit, Who as a dove brooded or rested on a troubled earth at a crisis time produce light, life, and love? In later years when God destroyed the inhabitants of the earth with a great flood, it was a dove that encouraged Noah to face the crisis with high hopes (Gen 8:8-12). A similar image of the Spirit of God “hovering” was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as follows:
And over the poor will His Spirit hover and the faithful will He support with his strength.
Dead Sea Scroll
The conclusion is obvious; the passage is to be interpreted as meaning that just as the Spirit of God hovered over His new creation, so the Spirit of God hovered over Jesus who was about to usher an age of new creation in men’s hearts and lives. Unfortunately, as the church lost the heritage of its Jewish roots, it also lost spiritually enlightening insights such as this one.
“The Spirit of God descending like a dove.” In this phrase all three persons of the Trinity are present. Unfortunately, some have attempted to translate this phrase to mean “a spirit of a god.” The key is in understanding Greek grammar, which states that it is not necessary for a noun to have an article for it to be a definite noun. Both the head noun and the genitive noun can have either an article or lack thereof and it makes little semantic difference. The result is that the statement is a definite noun. Hence, the phrase “a spirit of a god” is clearly a misinterpretation. The theological significance is enormous. Furthermore, the imagery of a peaceful dove has a clear reflection to the Old Testament account of a dove in the flood narrative (Gen. 8).
“This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” One of the unique features of reading Scripture with Jewish eyes is how various segments of verses are tied together to create a powerful message. One of the most profound uses is this statement spoken by God at the baptism of Jesus. The statement consists of three phrases and each one points to an Old Testament verse that intensifies its impact. See 11.01.02 concerning the same thought at the Transfiguration. The three phrases are:
You are My Son, today I have become your Father.
For centuries rabbis had pondered the reference to the word “Son” and concluded it was a messianic prophecy. Therefore, this interpretation was well-established by the first century and the divine voice clearly affirmed the deity of Jesus, a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. While the voice identified Jesus as the Son, it did not confer the status or office (priest/king) upon Him at this time. Note: According to Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, and 5:5, Jesus was installed into this office (priest/king) at His resurrection /ascension.
“Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
While the phrase reflects upon the sacrifice that Abraham was about to make, after the resurrection of Jesus it was recognized to be prophetic, reflecting the future sacrifice that Jesus would make. This astounding message was sandwiched between two incredible verses and those in attendance must have wondered what kind of person this Jesus was.
This is My Servant;
I strengthen Him,
this is My Chosen One;
I delight in Him.
I have put My Spirit on Him;
He will bring justice to the nations.
Whereas Psalm 2:7 refers to a royal announcement, Isaiah 42:1 refers to a servant. First century Jews believed these two passages to be of a messianic nature, but they could not understand how a king could also be a servant. This apparent contradiction became known as the “Messianic problem,” and would be resolved only when they understood the identity of Jesus as their Messiah.
Finally, theologians have often called this event the “theocratic anointing.”  The term applies to a special intervention by the Holy Spirit Who equips someone who is called to fulfill a special mission. Moses and the seventy elders (Num. 11:17; 25) are among several examples of the Old Testament era.
05.02.03.Q2 Why did Jesus have to wait past age 30 to begin His ministry (Lk. 3:23)?
According to Moses, the age of ministry according to Moses was from the age of 30 until 50 (Num. 4:3-43). Scripture states that “Jesus was about 30 years old” which is obviously indicative that He was not age 30 when He began His ministry. That raises the question as to why Jesus waited until He was past 30 to begin His ministry.
John and Jesus were cousins who were six months apart in age. John had to obey Numbers 4:3-43 and could not begin his ministry until he was the age of 30. In the meantime, Jesus had to wait until the “time was fulfilled” (Gal. 4:4) before He could begin, and that included waiting for John to,
Therefore, it can be assumed that Jesus was probably between the ages of 31 and 33 when He began His teaching ministry. (He began with a teaching ministry and had five disciples before He performed His first miracle in Cana.)
. Brown, “Righteousness, Justification.” 3:352-54.
. Acts 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 11:18; 13:38; 26:18.
. Older references to the location identified it as being just south of the Sea of Galilee. However, more recent scholarship agrees with ancient witnesses who place the location north of the Dead Sea.
. For more information of various reasons for baptism, see baptism as related to Nicodemus in 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.
. See 05.01.03 and 05.03.02.Q1 “Was the baptism by John similar to the baptism ritual that the Jews performed when a proselyte joined them?” 05.05.05.A “Dead Sea Scroll 4Q414 With Baptismal Liturgy;” see also chapter 7 of the Didache.
. See 05.05.05.D “First Century Mikvah;” and the video of Dr. Paul Wright who discusses the mikvah at the southern temple steps (04.04.03.V).
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “B”).
. Also see comments on baptism at 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.
. For other references that pertain to the doctrine of baptism, see Mt. 29:19; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38, 8:36-38, 10:47-48, 16:14-15; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12.
. The Didache is a book on church order that was written within a century of the life of Jesus. For more information, see 02.02.08.
. See also Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.” 58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec, 1991) 65.
. Shanks, “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem.” 32.
. Thiede and d’Ancona. The Quest for the True Cross. 66-67.
. Quoted by Wilkerson, Egeria’s Travel’s. 120.
. Piccirillo, “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 439-41.
. It was not unusual for people to take on the name of their town or village as a last name.
. The work of Piacenza, Itinerarium, in English is Itinerary. Quoted by Wilkerson, Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades. 69; See also Piccirillo. “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 440-41.
. Quoted by Wilkerson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 107.
. See http://israel-tourguide.info/2011/01/10/earthquakes-history-archaeology/ Retrieved August 25, 2014. The Jordan valley is one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. There have been hundreds of minor earthquakes, and major ones have dammed the Jordan River repeatedly, sometimes for days, in 1160, 1267, 1534, 1834, 1906 and 1927. At such times, buildings are destroyed, thousands of lives are lost, and the river often redirects itself as a new river bed is formed.
. See “Madaba Map” in Appendix 26; See also 14.02.03.D and 05.02.03.Z.
. Khouri, “Where John Baptized: Bethany beyond the Jordan.” 36.
. The Shekinah Glory appeared four times in the life of Jesus: 1) to the shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), 2) at His baptism (Mt. 3:16), 3) at the transfiguration (Mt. 17:5)and, 4) at His ascension (Acts 1:9).
. Babylon Talmud, Chagim 15a.
. Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.” 58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec,1991) 65.
. Erickson, Christian Theology. 861. This doctrine is so basic to Christianity that some theologians do not single out this passage in their writings.
. For passages that refer to the deity of Christ, see Mt. 1:18-25, 3:17, 17:5; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:14, 18, 33-34, 3:16-18; 1 Jn. 4:9; Isa. 9:6; Phil. 2:7-11.
.Wallace, Greek Grammar. 243, 250-51. For further study, see “Apopponius’ Canon and Anarthrous Constructions in Pauline Literature: An Hypothesis.”which was developed by David W. Hedges for his Master of Divinity thesis. See also Granville Sharp’s Rule at http://www.bbc.edu/journal/volume1_2/granville_sharp-baker.pdf Retrieved January 12, 2015..
. See Appendix 6 concerning Old Testament sacrifices and Jesus.
. See further details in Appendix 26.
. See further details in Appendix 26.
. http://www.bookmanministries.com/Documents/Theocratic%20Anointing.pdf. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
. Joshua, (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9), Othniel (Jg. 3:10), Gideon (Jg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jg. 11:29), Samson (Jg. 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14).