05.01 The Ministry Of John The Baptist

05.01 The Ministry Of John The Baptist

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.01 The Ministry Of John The Baptist

Chapter 01

The Ministry Of John The Baptist


05.01.00.A. THE PREACHING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST by Domenico Ghirlandaio 1475 (2)

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).

05.01.01 Introduction

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.01.01 Introduction

05.01.01 Introduction

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.[1] 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.[2] The large number of black basalt[3] 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.[4]  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.[5]

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[6] 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).[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]  However, while there was no prophet, God was very active in the lives of the righteous.


[1]. 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.


[2]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 96.


[3]. 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.

[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1(118); Wars 2.15.6 (232); Mishnah. Berakhoth. 1.3; Mishnah. Shabbath. 2.5.


[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.


[6]. 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).


[7]. See Appendix 3.


[8]. 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.”


[9]. See also 1 Macc. 4:46, 9:27, 14:41; Josephus, Against Apion 1:41.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.01.02 JOHN DECLARES HIS MINISTRY

05.01.02 Lk. 3:1-6 (See also Mt. 3:1-3; Mk. 1:2-4) The Wilderness Near Jordan, A.D. 26



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:[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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).[5]  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).[6]  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.[7]

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,[8] Epicureanism and Stoicism,[9] contended for popular supremacy.[10] 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.


05.01.02a (2)


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:[11]

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.

  1. Since Tiberius reigned with Augustus for a brief time, the question is whether his reign included the time of co-regency. It was not uncommon for kings and emperors to co-reign – meaning that there were two monarchs in power at the same time. Augustus made Tiberius his colleague in the years A.D. 11 or 12.  When Augustus Caesar died in August A.D. 14 and Tiberius Caesar took full control on September 17, A.D. 14.[12]  The question is whether Luke intended to include the time of co-regency and which calendar he was using. There were a number of calendars at the time: Jewish, Syrian-Macedonian, and Egyptian calendars, but the calendar of choice was probably the Julian calendar. Luke, no doubt, thought he was recording a precise date, but could not foresee the challenges that would follow centuries later.[13]
  1. The first year of a king’s reign was often known as the “Ascension year,” and the following year was considered the first year, even though in modern thinking, this would have been the second year of rulership.
  1. The Jewish provinces were under the control of the Roman provincial capital in Damascus, Syria, where the calendar year began on September 1. If Luke intended to include the time of co-regency then the fifteenth year would have been from October 1, A.D. 27 to September 30, A.D. 28.[14] If the Roman calendar is used, then the fifteenth year began August 19, A.D.  28 and ended on the following August 18, A.D. 29, which would make the date of crucifixion to be in A.D.  30, if Jesus ministered for three and a half years (which in all probability was a year longer).[15]  If, however, Luke counted the co-regency of the Caesars, then the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar would have been in A.D. 26, which works very well with biblical chronology.
  1. Finally, another clue is the temple remodeling program, which was in its forty-sixth year (Jn. 2:20). John’s use of the verb (was) implies that the construction was still in process. The beginning of this massive project can be reckoned to 20-19 B.C., in accord with the writings of Josephus, who stated this work began in the 18th year of Herod’s reign.[16] However, he also indicated that construction began three years earlier. Some scholars believe the earlier date may have been the preliminary design work.[17] If the most likely beginning date of the temple reconstruction was the 18th year of Herod’s reign, then the forty-sixth year would be late in the year A.D. 28, the year of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.[18]


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).[19]  Luke, more than any other New Testament writer, was careful to anchor events of Jesus to prominent kings and places. Later, using legal terminology,[20] 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 wordRhema 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.[22] 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.[23] Essentially, however, this compound word connects time and change, so that the final meaning is to think differently after.[24]  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.[25]  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.[26] 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.[27]  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.”

 05.01.02b (2)


< ——————————————– >

“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).


05.01.02c (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.[28]  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)[29]


[1]. See commentary on 05.01.02.Q1, “Is there a mistake in the quotation of Isaiah?”


[2]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 301-02.


[3]. See “Defilement” in Appendix 26.


[4]. For more information of various reasons for baptism, see baptism as related to Nicodemus in 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.


[5]. 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.


[6]. 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.


[7]. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 66-70.

[8]. Gnosticism would not become influential until the 2nd century A.D.


[9]. Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 563-70.


[10]. De Lacy, “Epicureanism and the Epicurean School.” 3:2-3.


[11]. This formula for dating was used some thirty times in 1 and 2 Kings.

[12]. This date is reconciled to today’s calendar. See Appendix 1 for dates of reign.


[13]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:854.

[14]. Metzger, New Testament. 104-05.

[15]. 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.

[16]. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.1.

[17]. Josephus, Wars 1.21.1.

[18]. 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.


[19]. See also Appendix 1.


[20]. 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.


[21]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:82; Vine, “Tetrarch.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:624.


[22]. 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.

[23]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:845; Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 4:975-1008.

[24]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:23.


[25]. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 16.


[26]. See Appendix 30 for other applied hermeneutical principles.


[27]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:13.


[28]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:213.


[29]. Parenthesis insert mine for clarification.


05.01.03 Along the Jordan River: JOHN BAPTIZES THE BELIEVERS

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.01.03 Along the Jordan River: JOHN BAPTIZES THE BELIEVERS

05.01.03 Mt. 3:4-6 (See also Mk. 1:5-6) Along the Jordan River




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.[1] 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[2] 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.

05.01.03a (2)


“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:

  1. The insect has only a short one or two month life cycle and, therefore, would only have been a brief menu option. Hence, John would have been starving about ten months of the year.
  1. The most likely definition is that the locust was the bean pod of the locust tree.[3] This wild edible plant has a taste similar to chocolate and is commonly known today as carob or carob pod.[4] The bean pod is found in abundance and would have been dried, stored in clay jars, and enjoyed throughout the year. More importantly, it was also the menu during times of famine, or by desperately poor people – the kind that might wear clothes made from camel hair. Even though this tree did not grow in the desert areas where John did most of his preaching, the pods are easy to carry and preserved well in the desert climate.


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.[5]   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[6] 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:[7]

  1. Herodotus (484 – 425 B.C.) said that the insects were dried in the sun, ground into a powder, and then mixed with milk for a beverage.
  2. Diodorus Sisulus (1st century B.C.) wrote of a group within the population of Ethiopia, he called them “Acridophagous,” whose staple food was locusts preserved with salt to last all year.

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.[8]  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.[9]  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).[10]  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.[11]



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.[12] 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.[13] There are several unique features of John’s ministry and baptism.[14]

  1. The people remembered his miraculous birth and, so when he began to preach, crowds came to hear him.
  1. There were no miracles in the ministry of John, but the Holy Spirit functioned through his sermons of repentance.
  2. His baptisms did not have a concept of the death, burial, and resurrection as in the baptism of Jesus.
  1. His was a baptism of repentance and purity — that those who were baptized were sorry (repentant) for their sins and they dedicated themselves to live according to the precepts set forth in the Hebrew Bible.[15] The baptisms by the disciples were like those of John.
  1. John was the forerunner of the Messiah. Those who were baptized by him also identified themselves with him – and as such – they would identify themselves with the coming Messiah and the Messiah’s message about the Kingdom of God.


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.[16] 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.[17]  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.

05.01.03b (2)


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.[18] It is the first step in the restoration of mankind to the image of God (see 16.1.18.Q3).


[1]. The camel hair garment was also reflective of the prophet Zechariah (13:4), who wrote the prophetic Old Testament book that bears his name.


[2] 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.

[3]. Avi-Yonah and Kraeling, Our Living Bible. 272.


[4]. 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.


[5]. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible; 54. Trever, “Palm Tree,” 3:646.


[6]. Bacon, Walking Beside Jesus. 33; Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 1.3; Hareuveni, Nature in Our Biblical Heritage. 35.

[7].  Klausnitzer, Insects: Their Biology and Cultural History. 51


[8]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:199-200.


[9]. Homer. Odyssey. 9.392.


[10]. Williams, “Baptize, Baptism.” 27-30.


[11]. Dugas. “The Reaction of the Hellenistic World to Judaism.” 67-73.


[12]. Harrison,  A Short Life of Christ. 66-70.

[13]. Link and Schattenmann. “Pure, Clean.” 3:102-03.


[14]. 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.


[15]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 109.


[16]. Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. 5.

[17]. For more information on baptism, see 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.


[18]. Beasley-Murray, “Baptism.” 1:146.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.01.04 JOHN CONTINUES TO PREACH REPENTANCE

05.01.04 Lk. 3:7-14 (See also Mt. 3:7-10) Along the Jordan River




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.”[1]  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!

  1. He preached with the gift of sarcasm, and proclaimed that people were sinful and had to repent. He baptized those who repented telling them it was time to live holy lives before God.
  1. Those who repented were to bear the fruit of repentance. In other words, their changed hearts resulted in changed lives.
  1. John portrayed an imminent judgment that was about to fall upon Israel. He was big on judgment speeches and apparently rather light on sermons of mercy.


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.[2] But the temple leaders and Romans feared anyone who claimed the title of “messiah,” expecting that another rebellion would soon arise.[3] 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.

  1. An observation team was sent first, which listened carefully to what was said, but they did not engage in any discussions or debates. The team would have consisted of Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and any other prominent individuals who desired to engage in this field of discovery. The team would return to the temple and report what they had seen and heard. If the president of the Sanhedrin (Annas or Caiaphas) and their fellow leaders believed additional observation was needed, a second team was sent.
  1. The second team confronted the individual with a wide variety of questions and the responses were reported to the high priest.


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).[4]  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:

  1. “You sons of the devil.”
  1. “You sons of hell.”
  1. “You brood of vipers.”
  1. “You serpents.”


When Jesus applied the phrase to those who argued with Him, he used typical language that was readily understood and in common use.[5]

“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[6] 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.[7] The book of Matthew is full of Hebrew thought and idioms.  The word stones (abanim) and the word children (banim) sound alike,[8]  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.[9] If someone had only an “inner” or “under” garment he was considered to be “naked.”[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] Now they were confronted with their sin and asked what to do.


[1].  His use of the term “fire” is typical of many Old Testament prophets who gave similar warnings of judgment.


[2]. Golub, In the Days. 277.


[3]. See a short list of false messiahs at Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”


[4]. 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.


[5]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 9, Session 2.


[6]. Final judgment: Rom. 2:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; Lake of Fire: Rev. 20:11-15.

[7]. 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.   

[8]. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 321-22.

[9]. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 15-17; Vine, “Clothing, Cloths, Clothes, Cloak, Coat.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:105-07.


[10]. See 15.02.09.Q1.


[11]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 246.    


[12]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:856.

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