skip to Main Content


BI 1973 Story of Jesus / Lipscomb University

Unit 1b

Jesus’ Baptism and Temptations


John the Baptist Prepares the Way

 Read Luke 3:1-2

  • Tiberius began his reign as emperor after Augustus’ death in August, 14 AD, but given the uncertainty as to whether or not Luke counts the first five months as the first year of his reign, 28 AD is the best estimate for the beginning of John’s ministry. This coincides with John 2:20 which dates the completion of Herod’s temple to 27/28 AD (according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod the Great began rebuilding the temple mount in his 18th year as ruler, 20/19 BC; 46 years later = 27/28 AD).
  • Luke is the only NT writer to mention three Roman emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius (Acts 11:28, 18:2).
  • This passage is similar to the dating of the prophets’ ministry in OT, according to the rulers of the time. John is a prophet for his age.
  • Pilate was prefect of Judea 26-36 AD (according to the Caesarea inscription discovered in 1961).
  • Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) ruled Galilee in the north of Palestine 4 BC – 39 AD, but Judea in the south was under direct Roman rule since Archelaus (another son of Herod) was deposed in 6 AD (the time of the census and the riots mentioned in Unit 1A).
  • Annas wasn’t the official high priest after 15 AD, but the Jews considered this a lifetime office, despite the Romans appointing them at will.

 Read Luke 3:3-6

  • All four gospels describe John the Baptist by quoting from Isa. 40:3. Luke extends the quote through vs. 4-5. Mark adds an introduction about the messenger from Mal. 3:1.
  • The Jordan river runs about 70 miles from the sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south.
  • Matthew and Mark describe John wearing camel hair clothes and eating locusts and honey, like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). The word translated “locusts” may possibly refer not to insects but to the seeds of carob plants, a chocolate substitute. In any case his diet was pretty plain.
  • In the ancient world kings would send envoys ahead to have roads repaved and straightened before them. John, however, calls for the people to repair their hearts in preparation for this king.
  • John’s message of repentance links him with the teaching of OT prophets, but there is no clear precedent for his baptism of repentance. Jews were normally not baptized, as they were already the “chosen people.” John’s baptism was not an act of conversion of Jews becoming Christians; instead his baptism encouraged the Jews to rededicate their lives to God.  Jewish proselytes (Gentiles becoming Jews) were baptized but not for repentance. The reclusive community of Qumran by the Dead Sea (where the Dead Sea scrolls were found) practiced multiple baptisms daily for ritual cleanliness but not for repentance. [Beasley-Murray]
  • OT background for John’s baptism may perhaps be found in Ezek 36:25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” This verse symbolizes cleansing from sin and spiritual renewal, the purpose of baptism. Note, however, that the Greek word baptizo means “to immerse” in all NT examples: sprinkling was not substituted for baptism until later in church history. For instance, Acts 8:39 says, “when they came up out of the water,” indicating that they had gone down into the water. Paul in Romans 6 compares baptism, going into the water and coming back up, to death, burial, and resurrection which is appropriate symbolism for immersion but not for sprinkling.
  • John’s baptism was not complete in itself, but pointed the way to Jesus. In Acts 19, some disciples of John who had been baptized by him come to hear about Jesus for the first time; they are baptized this time in the name of Christ.
  • It’s possible that God inspired John to baptize in order to prepare the way for the institution of Christian baptism, but the text does not clearly say this.
  • We’ll discuss the importance of baptism in more detail in unit 3A.

 Read Luke 3:7-14

  • Matthew 3:7 identifies this “brood of vipers” whom John addresses as Pharisees and Sadducees, the two major sects of Judaism. Pharisees were strict observers of the law, but the more liberal Sadducees were in the majority. John’s blunt criticism in public of Jewish leaders would eventually get him killed.
  • (8) In Aramaic there is a pun with “stones” and “children” as the words sound alike.
  • True repentance must demonstrate results; fruitless trees are thrown into the fire. It is characteristic of Luke to focus attention on social justice and helping those in need (the parallel passage in Matthew 3:10 stops after Luke’s v. 9).
  • How often do we look in our closets full of clothes and say, “I have nothing to wear”? The materialistic mindset rules in America. We are rich in comparison to the rest of the world, yet we never seem to have enough. We would be better off following John’s admonition to share our abundance with those who have none, rather than adding to our wardrobe every fashion season. The fourth century theologian Augustine asked how a Christian could have extra sandals drying out and rotting in his closet while the poor go barefoot. Jesus will teach more on the subject of being content with what we have, in the parable of the rich fool (12:13-21).
  • Tax collectors would bid with the Romans to have the job, then charge citizens extra for their fee. The people hated them as collaborators and thieves. John doesn’t tell them to quit their jobs but to charge a modest and fair price. Likewise, soldiers should be content with their wages and not bully people for more.
  • God calls us to be more than Christians in name only, going through the motions of religion. He expects to see the fruits of our faith.
  • If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Additional discussion: the reality of sin

  • John preached a message of repentance. Just as Jesus would later in his ministry, John directed much of his criticism at the religious Pharisees who did not think of themselves as sinners who needed to repent.
  • This failure to recognize sin for what it is remains a problem today. Many people do not want to think of themselves as sinners in need of salvation. If a person does not acknowledge that he is sick, he will not seek out a physician. Likewise, people will not respond to the church’s message that “Jesus can save you from your sins” if they do not admit they are sinners.
  • Sometimes it’s difficult even for Christians to admit our sinful nature. We compare ourselves to others and think, “I’m not a murderer, prostitute, thief — those are the real sinners.” The Bible, however, emphasizes that we all are sinners who need forgiveness.
  • The most frequent term for sin in the NT is the Greek word hamartia, an archery term literally meaning “to miss the mark.” The apostle Paul writes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned [missed the mark] and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22-3).
  • It doesn’t take a lifetime of sins to “miss the mark.” Think of it this way: you have a perfectly white tablecloth but then you spill one drop of black ink on it. Do you see the 99% of the cloth which is still white, or do you notice the one black spot? One spot makes the cloth imperfect. It only takes one sin to make us imperfect, that is, unlike God’s perfect holiness. We do not have to live in constant sin to be a sinner in God’s eyes. That’s the reality we must acknowledge which leads us to Jesus and his gift of forgiveness if we repent of those sins.

 Read Luke 3:15-20

  • A winnowing fork (something like a pitchfork) would separate the good grain from the worthless chaff.
  • “Baptize with Spirit and fire” implies both salvation and judgment; the good wheat is saved, the chaff burned up. Fire implies both positive (purifying) and negative (destroying wickedness) consequences. (Mark 1:8 does not mention fire.)
  • Beasley-Murray says this is not a contrast but an increase, from lesser to greater, water as one mode of cleansing, but spirit and fire as an even more powerful means of forgiveness and renewal; see OT precedents Isa 4:2-5, Mal 3:1-2. Water alone cannot wash away sins. The work of Jesus will put transforming power into the act of baptism.
  • Following his stylistic pattern of alternating parallel accounts, Luke concludes John’s ministry before beginning Jesus’, even though this places his record of Jesus’ baptism in the next verses after John’s imprisonment (one of many examples of how the gospel writers were not concerned with strict chronology).
  • In John 1:29, the Baptist recognizes Jesus as “the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” This prophetic insight into Jesus’ true mission as the sacrifice for our sins came long before his disciples understood it.

 Read Luke 3:21-22

  • Luke gives a brief account of Jesus’ baptism. Matthew 3:14 records John’s initial refusal to baptize Jesus, feeling unworthy to do so: “I should be baptized by you.”
  • The fourth gospel does not record Jesus’ baptism but indirectly refers to it by mentioning the dove descending on Jesus (1:29-34).
  • In Christian art through the centuries the dove became the most prominent symbol for the Spirit of God.
  • If Jesus was sinless, why did he need to be baptized and receive the Spirit? We can think of two benefits for him, two for us:
    • as a sign of divine approval to Jesus, confirmation from the Father that he truly was God’s son; note proximity to the temptations in the next chapter, where Satan challenges him, “if you are the son of God.” His baptism prepared him to face these temptations with assurance.
    • as an anointing for his messianic role (Acts 10:38)
    • as a sign to the world of God’s power working through him
    • as a sign to the world of eschatological fulfillment, the new age beginning with Jesus.
  • The word eschatology in the note above refers to “the last things” but the NT writers emphasize that with Jesus, the new age has already begun. We are now living in “the last days” (Acts 2:16-17, Heb 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20).
  • Isaiah spoke the promise that the Spirit was to be given to the “Servant” (Isa 11:1-3, 42:1, 61:1), a promise fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism.

 Read Luke 3:23-38

  • If Jesus was born between 8-4 BC (see 1A notes), and his ministry began 28 AD, he would be in his early to mid 30s. When Luke says that Jesus was “about thirty,” he gives us a round figure, as we might say today, “in his thirties.” If he was precisely 30 years old in 28 AD, he would have been born in 2 BC, two years after Herod the Great’s death, which would contradict Matthew’s statement that Jesus was born in the time of Herod. So Jesus probably started his ministry when he was 33-35 years old. This is a good example of when we cannot read just one verse but must take into account all the different biblical facts to interpret a passage.
  • Length of Jesus’ ministry: the synoptic gospels mention only one trip to Jerusalem at Passover (the final trip before his death), and seem to record only one year of ministry. John’s gospel mentions several trips to Jerusalem and three Passovers, one at the beginning of his ministry (2:23), in the middle (6:4), and the final visit (11:55), giving a two-year ministry.
  • Jesus probably died in 30 AD. Many people assume without evidence that John 5:1 refers to Passover, thus claiming the traditional three-year ministry. They also wrongly assume that Jesus was born in year 0, so they get the date 33 AD for his death, 30 years old + 3 year ministry, all based on faulty assumptions.
  • Genealogy puzzle: Luke differs from Matthew in the list of ancestors from David to Jesus. Whereas Matthew gives the descendants of Solomon, the official royal lineage, Luke follows the lineage of Nathan (another son of David), perhaps for theological reasons, to show there were no true kings in the spirit of David until Christ (since Solomon’s line was cut off because of sin, Jer 22:30).
  • Clearly Luke is more concerned with theology than biology, going back all the way to Adam, the first “son of God” who sinned; Jesus now represents true, obedient sonship.
  • Notice the context, why this genealogy was placed here, between 3:22 (where God calls him “my son”) and 4:3 (where Satan questions this claim, “If you are the son of God…”). Throughout this section Luke focuses on Jesus’ identity as Son of God.
  • One theory from 1490 AD says that Luke gives Mary’s lineage while Matthew gives Joseph’s family line. However, Luke specifically says that Joseph is the son of Heli; Mary is not mentioned in either listing. Furthermore, nowhere in the NT is she said to be of Davidic descent, a curious absence if it were so important.
  • Another possibility sometimes mentioned is that Joseph had a step-father and thus had two official lineages, but all this is mere speculation, not confirmed in scripture.
  • It’s worth noting that Matthew’s list is not complete. When compared to 1 Chron. 3:10-16, Matthew omits four names to create three groups of 14 generations. Clearly the Jews did not treat genealogies so strictly as we might assume today.
  • Conclusion: neither Matthew nor Luke is concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ literal, biological ancestry, as both trace the line to Joseph who was not his real father. Both writers emphasize the divine sonship of Jesus, born to a virgin. He fulfills OT prophecy by being a type of king like David, a man after God’s own heart, rather than being David’s biological descendant.

Additional discussion: on being a “son of God”

  • The gospels clearly teach that Jesus is the one and only true Son of God in the divine sense, but there are other ways in which the NT uses this phrase.
  • Luke describes Adam as “son of God.” In a general sense we might think that all people are “sons” or children of God in that he created all of us. However, the Bible doesn’t use the phrase in this way. All humanity was created in and bears the image of God, as told in Genesis 1. But the designation of “son” is reserved for a special meaning.
  • The apostle Paul writes that through faith in Jesus, we may become sons of God by adoption. In his divine plan God “predestined us for adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5). “God sent his Son … that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. Therefore now he is not a servant but a son. And if a son, an heir also through God” (Gal 4: 4-7).
  • In Paul’s use of the term, a person is not naturally a son of God just because God created him. All people have fallen into sin and lost our original relationship with God, how we were intended to be. Only by faith in Christ can this relationship with the Father be restored. Thus Paul describes this as an adoption.
  • Some people take offense at Paul’s exclusive use of the word “son.” They want to change the wording of the Bible to include women by saying “children of God” or “sons and daughters.” But Paul’s use of this language is crucial. Minister Tim Catchim explains: “When Paul uses gender-exclusive language in reference to adoption, saying Christians have been “adopted as sons,”  he is ironically being strategically inclusive. By placing women into the category of adopted sons, he is including them in all the perks and privileges of what it meant to be a son at that time in history. If he had made gender-specific statements such as ‘You have been adopted as sons and daughters,’ it would have perpetuated the cultural hierarchy between male and female common in his time, in which a daughter did not receive the same inheritance as a son. At first glance it appears that Paul is working out of a misogynist paradigm, but in fact, Paul is strategically subverting misogyny by placing every women as a ‘son’ in God’s family. The rights to an inheritance are now open to both males and females.” So when Paul uses the term son to refer to both male and female believers, he elevates women to equal status with men as potential heirs of God.


 Read Luke 4:1-13

  • The story of the temptations is found in Matthew and Luke.
  • The tempter is subtle. None of these courses of action Satan suggested to Jesus was inherently sinful. The power of temptation lies in the way sin is made to look like good, for those who take only the short-term view.
  • This “Son of God” is tempted by Satan, but unlike the first son of God (Adam), Jesus’ obedience is perfect. Confirmed by God as his Son at baptism, Jesus confirms his sonship himself against Satan.
  • These temptations each challenge Jesus’ self-concept; “if you really are the son of God…” He was similarly challenged on the cross: “If you are the Son of God, come down” (Matthew 27:40).
  • Stones to bread: will Jesus use the power of God for personal ends, to satisfy his personal hunger? He answers from Deut 8:3: “ Man does not live by bread alone.” Matthew includes the second part of the quote “… but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The importance of priorities continues to be a key theme of his teaching (“Seek first the kingdom and all these other things shall be given to you,” Luke 12:31).
  • Kingdoms of the world: this temptation was obviously a vision, as there are no mountains in Judea or anywhere high enough to see all the earth (Matthew mentions the high mountain). For a time, God has given this world over to Satan to tempt us (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; 1 Cor 2:6, 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 1 John 5:19), but Jesus would one day reign. The question is, will he take this shortcut to power that Satan offers, or will he submit to God’s will, serving him only, and take the path leading to glory by means of the cross? Satan offers Jesus power, to be the kind of messiah the people wanted, a political leader who would overthrow the Romans. He rejects this path, ironically insuring that most of the Jews will reject him. He answers with Deut 6:13.
  • Temple (Luke swaps Matthew’s order of temptations 2 and 3): will Jesus test God to see if he will save him? He answers from Deut 6:16. Jesus trusts God without testing him. “The faith which is dependent on signs and wonders is not faith. If faith cannot believe without sensational miracles, it is not really faith; it is doubt looking for proof and looking in the wrong place” (Barclay, Matthew).
  • In one sense we may find it difficult to relate to these temptations, as these unique offers from Satan would apply only to the Son of God. They don’t seem to resemble our daily struggles. However, we can see in this story how Satan tempts us to use our strengths in the wrong ways, just as he tempts Jesus to misuse his divine power. Someone with intelligence, wealth, or talent may be tempted to use these abilities exclusively for their own benefit rather than for others and for God’s glory. We often think that Satan attacks us where we are weak, but he can also try to manipulate us where we are strong as well.
  • Even Satan knows how to quote scripture. We must have more than biblical knowledge; we must have the will to obey God’s message.
  • We should probably understand these as temptations Jesus faced not once but struggled with throughout his life. The text says Satan “left him until an opportune time.” Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did not sin.”
  • In Luke 4:8 Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan,” the same phrase he uses to rebuke Peter in Matthew 16:23/Mark 8:33. Jesus uses these harsh words with Peter when the disciple wanted to prevent Jesus’ death, misunderstanding his divine mission. Jesus was probably tempted many times to pursue another path that would not lead to the cross, but he remained committed to God’s eternal plan.
  • This experience must have been crucial to Jesus, as only he could have told the story of this private event to his disciples for them to tell later.

Jesus’ first miracle

 Read John 2:1-12

  • John records this as Jesus’ first public miracle. In the fourth gospel it occurs after the calling of the disciples, which we will cover in unit 2.
  • Tuesday, the “third day” of the week, was a common day for Jewish weddings.
  • In vs. 4, Jesus says to his mother (literally in Greek) “what to you and to me?” that is, what do we have in common, what business do we have together? (an idiomatic Jewish expression). He calls his mother “Woman,” but this was not a sign of disrespect as it might sound today. The NIV translation softens the abrupt tone by adding the word “dear.” In John 19:26 he says something similar. He looks down from the cross and tells Mary, “Woman, behold your son” indicating that John would be taking care of her from now on.
  • Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come.” Why does Jesus say this? “Jesus’ service for the kingdom of God is determined solely by his Father; into that area not even his mother can intrude” [JBM]. Perhaps he objects to performing such a trivial miracle; he does not want to be seen as merely a wonder worker who would attract curious crowds but not true disciples. But out of respect for his mother, he does what she asks anyway. (See other references to Jesus’ “hour” in John 7:6, 30, 8:20, 12:23, 13:1, 16:21, 17:1.)

Key themes in Unit 1

  • submission to God’s will: 1:38
  • reversal of worldly values: 1:51-3
  • repentance requires results: 3:7-14
  • contentment with what we have: 3:11-14


Back to Unit 1a

Go to Unit 2a

Back To Top