SCRIPTURE: Luke 3:7-18
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VERSES 7-9: BRING FORTH FRUITS WORTHY OF REPENTANCE
7He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be baptized by him, "You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and don't begin to say among yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father;' for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones! 9Even now the axe also lies at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doesn't bring forth good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire."
"He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be baptized by him" (v. 7a). Matthew 3:7-10 records this incident in nearly the same words, but has John addressing Pharisees and Sadducees. Luke's "multitudes" makes the call to repentance and fruitfulness more general.
"You offspring of vipers!" (v. 7b). These people think of themselves as children of Abraham (v. 8), but John suggests that they are really descendents of the serpent –– the tempter –– the destroyer of all good things (Genesis 3).
"who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (v. 7c). Perhaps they have come only out of curiosity to hear John –– a new phenomenon –– a break from their routine. More likely, the Holy Spirit has created in them a hunger for the Word of God –– a hunger that caused them to pack their lunch and head for the desert to hear this new prophet –– their first prophet in four hundred years.
"Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance" (v. 8a.) John warns that God requires honest repentance –– transformed lives –– fruitfulness (v. 8a). The fruits of the Spirit come to mind (Galatians 5:22-23).
"and don't begin to say among yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father;' for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (v. 8b). The Jewish people "held that God would judge the nations with one standard but the Jews with another. John warns that God can raise children of Abraham even from the stones that lie at their feet. Jews should not expect exemption from judgment.
"Even now the axe also lies at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doesn't bring forth good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire" (v. 9). Judgment is at hand, and pedigree is no defense. The judge asks only one question before marking a tree for the fire –– Does this tree bear good fruit? If not, the tree will soon find itself on the fire.
VERSES 10-14: WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?
10The multitudes asked him, "What then must we do?" 11He answered them, "He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise." 12Tax collectors (Greek: telonai –– toll collectors) also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what must we do?" 13He said to them, "Collect no more than that which is appointed to you." 14Soldiers also asked him, saying, "What about us? What must we do?" He said to them, "Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages."
"The multitudes asked him, 'What then must we do?'" (v. 10). This is the same question that the crowds will ask at Pentecost (Acts 2:37). Peter will answer, ""Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
"He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise" (v. 11). At first blush, this seems like a minor remedy to a major problem. John could require any number of more difficult remedies –– sharing food and clothing seems too easy. However, this is similar to the demand that Jesus will make on the rich man who wants to gain eternal life –– "Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor" (18:22).
"Tax collectors (telonai –– toll collectors) also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what must we do?'" (v. 12). These are Jews who have won the bid for collecting tolls, tariffs, and customs duties for Rome. It is a system with a high potential for abuse. Toll-collectors can easily demand more than the required amount and pocket the difference. John answers their question simply, "Collect no more than that which is appointed to you" (v. 13).
"Soldiers also asked him, saying, 'What about us? What must we do?'" (v. 14a). These are most likely Jews –– possibly in Herod's service –– perhaps assigned to protect toll collectors and to enforce collections. These people, too, are tempted to coerce excessive payments for personal gain. John answers, "Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages" (v. 14b).
John, however, does not tell tax collectors and soldiers to find new occupations but instead tells them to deal fairly and honestly with people.
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VERSES 15-17: HE COMES WHO IS MIGHTIER THAN I
15As the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ, 16John answered them all, "I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, 17whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
"As the people were in expectation" (v. 15). It has been a long time since the Jewish people have seen a prophet of John's stature. It is only natural for them to wonder if he might be the one for whom they have been waiting. Each of the Gospel writers, therefore, takes pains to make it clear that John is subordinate to Jesus.
"I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I" (v. 16a). In spite of his harsh assessment of this crowd, John does not deny them baptism. His purpose, like that of Old Testament prophets, is not to condemn, but to save. He has delivered bad news to this crowd (vv. 7-9), but only to prepare them for good news (v. 18).
"He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire" (v. 16b). This can also be translated "wind and fire," which are suggestive of the Pentecost experience (Acts 2:1-4 –– also written by Luke).
The question is whether the baptism of fire is intended to redeem or to destroy. Some scholars link the baptism of fire of verse 16 with the unquenchable fire of verse 17, giving it a sense of judgment. However, God also uses fire to refine and purify, so it seems likely that the baptism of Holy Spirit and fire is intended to save rather than to destroy.
"whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (v. 17). The winnowing fork is a shovel-like tool with which the farmer tosses grain into the air. The wind blows away the lighter chaff, letting the heavier grain fall to the threshing floor. The farmer then burns the worthless chaff and collects the valuable grain.
VERSE 18: HE PREACHED GOOD NEWS
18Then with many other exhortations he preached good news (Greek: euengelizeto –– good news, gospel) to the people.
We are surprised to hear John's preaching characterized as "good news." However, he preaches news both bad (judgment) and good (the redemptive quality of repentance).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated. We are using the WEB because we believe it to be the best public domain version of the Bible available.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)
Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol, 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (New York: Doubleday, 1970)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Bowie, Walter Russell, The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978)
Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 1 –– 9:20, Vol. 35A (Dallas: Word Books, 1989)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
Wilson, Paul Scott, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan