Chapter three continues Luke’s parallel between John and Jesus. In the first two chapters we find the angelic announcements of the two, followed by their births, circumcisions / namings, and a brief account of their boyhoods. John’s story always came first, then Jesus’. Now, in chapter three, we find the beginning of their respective ministries. Again, Luke’s pattern continues first with John, then Jesus.
Unlike the other writers, Luke offered a couple of broad timeframes to identify the beginning of their ministries. John began before Jesus, since Jesus was baptized by John then sent into the wilderness (chapter four) before officially beginning to preach. Thus, Luke dated John’s ministry (3:1-3) but only mentioned Jesus’ approximate age (3:23). Luke used the timelines of six rulers to narrow down the year: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, and Annas/Caiaphas (3:1-2), though only “the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar” is precise. John began to minister at some point in A.D. 29 and baptized Jesus later that year, probably during the summer or fall, when Jesus would have been 32 years old. “About 30 years old” (3:23) is an accurate approximation. 1
As Malachi prophesied (4:5-6) and Gabriel promised (Luke 1:16-17), John’s message had one main theme: the Messiah is coming so prepare your hearts. Baptism was (and still is) a frequently-used method to identify oneself with a prophet’s message, so John baptized many people who repented of their sin in light of Messiah’s imminent arrival. It is interesting that one of the natural results of their clean hearts was the desire to do good works. John did not offer good works in place of repentance for sin but as further proof of repentance. Baptism is a single event, but good works are to be a believer’s lifestyle.
Luke ended this section with what seems to be an unimportant afterthought. Matthew began his story with Jesus’ heritage. Why would Luke include it buried after his baptism? There are at least two reasons.
First, whereas Matthew focused on Jesus’ Jewish and royal line (promoting Abraham and David), Luke focused on his human line, which came solely through Mary. Although Mary is not named here, this is her family tree. Joseph became “the son of Heli” (or “Eli”) by marrying Heli’s daughter; Joseph’s father was Jacob (Matthew 1:16).
Second, Luke traced Jesus all the way back to Adam, the direct creation of God, to encompass the entire human race. This emphasizes that Jesus was more than just Jewish. Jesus’ temptations, ministry, and sufferings would all affect him to the core of his humanity, and his work would be for all humans, not just the Jews. As we will see, Gentiles will receive much more attention in Luke than the other gospels, and Jesus’ humanity – especially his weaknesses and sympathies – will be on full display. Luke placed the genealogy precisely at this point to remind us that Jesus was as human as those he came to save.
- Jesus’ first Passover after his baptism, recorded in John 2:12-25, would have been in the spring of A.D. 30, following his 33rd birthday.
Harold Hoehner gives a thorough treatment of the dates for John’s and Jesus’ births, ministries, and deaths in his book, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. All dates offered here are based on Hoehner’s research and conclusions. ↩