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Luke 3:2–3 ESV
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The narrative picks back up with John. As we have been informed by the time jump John is now a grown man. It is important to understand why Luke includes some of the details he does. John starts out in the wilderness, he only comes into the Jordan after having received the call from God. For the gospel writers, this detail is important, it isn’t just a recording of an historical fact, it functions to serve how they are forming their narrative about Jesus by modeling the history of Israel. When Israel was under the judgment of God in the 40 year wilderness generation they (or their children) eventually crossed over at the Jordan into the Promise Land. Most Jews during the second temple period understood themselves to still be experiencing the exile to some degree or another and for various reasons. So now that we know where John is and why his locations are significant lets take a look at what he is doing. He is proclaiming a message of a baptism of repentance. What exactly does that mean? The Greek word for repentance is actually two words combined into one. It means not only to be convinced of something else, to change one’s mind, but to follow it through with different actions, to walk in a different direction. It is difficult to say exactly when Jews begin practicing baptism. Many different religious did, and still do, have some kind of cleansing ritual involving water. The origins of Jewish baptism is likely found in the Old Testament cleansing that was mandated by the Law of Moses for various issues. Combine those laws with the powerful realities of the parting of the Red Sea and Jordan River and one can see who emerging out of water would have become very symbolic for 2nd Temple Judaism. We also benefit in understanding where Judah was in its history. They had experienced the Exile and by God’s grace was allowed to come back to the Land. They understood that the Messiah would be appearing shortly thanks to the prophecy of Daniel. Many Jews also believed that the type of Messiah which would come would be dependent upon how faithful Judah was to the covenant. stipulations. In addition to all of this we know that if a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism during this period they had to do three things, 1. Take on the sign of circumcision (If male), 2. Agree to take on the yoke of the Law, and 3. be baptized. Luke goes on to further articulate the meaning of this baptism, it is for the repentance of sins. This is important to understand because it identifies the problem with which both John and Jesus will give to the reason why the Messiah has to come in the first place. John task is to prepare the people for their coming Messiah. This is done by calling the people to repentance from their own, personal sins, to cleanse themselves from ungodliness, and to conduct ones life in a way that pleasing to God.
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