The Voice Crying in the Wilderness (2)
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” (Luke 3:1-2). Not only do these names date the beginning of John the Baptist’s public ministry, as we saw last time, but they also indicate the wickedness of the days when his voice cried in the wilderness.
Tiberius Caesar was an ungodly Roman emperor (although he was not the worst). The Roman dominion over the Jews was a judgment upon them for their sins. Pontius Pilate was the wicked Roman governor of Judaea, which included the holy city of Jerusalem. He was the one who sentenced Jesus Christ to crucifixion, for He “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” according to that famous line in the Apostles’ Creed.
Herod (Antipas) and Philip were two sons of Herod the Great, who sought to kill the baby Jesus (Matt. 2:1-20). Herod Antipas was the one who imprisoned and executed John the Baptist (Luke 3:19-20; Mark 6:14-29) and to whom Christ referred as “that fox” (Luke 13:32). Herod questioned and mocked the Lord at His trial (23:8-11). Through their rejection of Christ, “the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves” (12).
Annas and Caiaphas are called “high priests” (3:2). According to God’s law, there should be only one high priest at a time, since each high priest was to be succeeded at his death. This reference to both men as high priests points to the Roman practice of selling this office and Jewish intrigues and conspiracies concerning the high priesthood. Annas occupied this office for nine years, after which he advised Caiaphas his successor and son-in-law. Calculating Caiaphas was the one who stated regarding the Lord that “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50; cf. 18:14). Annas and Caiaphas were leaders in the Jewish trial of Jesus Christ (18:13, 19-24, 28) and the trial of Peter and John (Acts 4:6).
Clearly, the days of John’s preaching, the days of Christ’s ministry and the days of the apostolic church were evil, judging from the leaders in church and state!
In the specific wicked days indicated in Luke 3:1-2, John began his crucially important ministry. He did not receive an ordinary call. He was not anointed as a priest, though his father, Zacharias, was a priest. Nor was he a Christian minister who was chosen by a congregation and ordained by the laying on of hands.
John received an extraordinary call. The angel Gabriel proclaimed John’s call to his father in the temple before he was born or even conceived (1:13-17). Mormonism falsely claims that John was ordained by the angel when he was eight days old (Doctrine and Covenants 84:28), but this was the day of his circumcision and public naming (Luke 2:59-63). John was equipped and qualified through being filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (1:15), the godly instruction of Zacharias and Elisabeth in his parents’ home, and prayer and meditation in the wilderness. Then John received a direct and irresistible prophetic call that he should begin his public ministry.
You see how God calls to special office in his church and kingdom? Those whom He granted the extraordinary (and temporary) offices, such as apostle, prophet or forerunner of the Messiah, received an extraordinary call. Those whom God grants the ordinary (and permanent) offices, such as pastor, elder or deacon, receive an ordinary call through the church and by the vote of the members.
John was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry (Luke 1:24-26; cf. 3:23). Before this, he lived in solitude in the deserts with the wild beasts (cf. Mark 1:13). Then he was shown or manifested to Israel (Luke 1:80).
Vast crowds came to hear that voice cry. Luke 3:7 tells us that it was a “multitude.” According to Mark 1:5, “there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem.” Matthew 3:5 adds that “all the region about Jordan” came to hear John preach. Among John the Baptist’s Galilean disciples were Andrew, Simon, Philip and Nathanael (John 1:35-51). All sorts of people were in the crowds: tax collectors and soldiers (Luke 3:12, 14), fishermen, like Peter and Andrew, and even Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 3:7), and priests and Levites (John 1:19).
Let us picture the scene when John “came into all the country about Jordan” (Luke 3:3). This was to the north of the Dead Sea, near the River Jordan. He went from place to place, to locations he had probably seen and noted during his years of solitude in the wilderness before his public preaching (1:80). The people from Jerusalem and the nearby regions of Judaea, Perea and Galilee and from all walks of life such as soldiers and Sadducees, fishermen and Pharisees came to hear him preach. Over many days and weeks and months, vast crowds of hundreds and thousands, even a “multitude” (3:7), flocked to hear him.
How did the attendance at John the Baptist’s ministry compare to the Old Testament preaching prophets from Samuel onwards? From the biblical records, it would appear that John the Baptist received a consistently larger crowd than Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Elijah or Elisha, or Hosea or Joel.
Next time, we shall consider why, in God’s providence, such unprecedented large crowds came to hear John the Baptist. Rev. Angus Stewart
- Volume: 15
- Issue: 7
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851