Luke 3:7-18


Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9 parallel each other. The exception is in Matthew where the Pharisees and Sadducees are spoken to, whereas in Luke the multitudes are addressed. This is not a contradiction. Luke 3:10-15 is found only in Luke. At this point Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; and Luke 3:16-17 parallel each other. Luke 3:18 is found only in Luke. John 1:19-34 is plainly a later occasion. This is important, as we see below.

Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him,  "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

The text continues what was said in the previous verses. The interpretation of verses 7-18 is connected to verses 3-6. This is a good follow up sermon text.

According to Acts 3:15 this occasion is at the very end of John's ministry, just before Christ appeared. His ministry caused a great stir. He was powerful.

"Brood of vipers" denotes impenitent, hypocritical, self-satisfied Israel. Read the contexts of Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; John 8:44. They are liars and murderers like their father, the devil.

The Baptist asks them a rhetorical question which they can answer themselves. Evidently the answer, in the Baptist's sense of the term, is  "no one." They though that mere physical descent from Abraham protected them from judgment. The wrath is future but in verse 9 plainly shows that it is also present. Compare John 3:36.

Luke 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves,  'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

Beck: Do the works that show YOU have repented.
The NASB translates: "Bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance."

This is a very personal matter.

"And do not begin to saw to yourselves." Don't ever say to yourself.

"For I tell you" is "Because I am telling you" and is used in the New Testament for authoritative words by Jesus, John and the Apostles. This is what God says.

"Abraham as our father." Look at John 8:33,37,39 and Romans 4; 9:6-7; 11:13-24. Mere nationality and descent are no protection. God can raise up His children from other nationalities, in fact from stones if He so wills.

Luke 3:9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

Luke puts great emphasis on this figure of speech. All the verbs are in the timeless present tense. Judgment is coming quickly. Read John 15:6.

The tree becomes good only if man repents. Then it will bear good fruit. If not, the individual must face judgment. Look at the first of Luther's 95 theses.

Luke 3:10  "What should we do then?"  the crowd asked.

This is a major paragraph, found only in Luke. We ask: Did all the people repent? We don't know. We do know from Luke 7:30, that the Pharisees and lawyers refused the Gospel by rejecting John's baptism. At any rate the questions asked in verses 10:14 indicate repentance and this surely means that these people were baptized before they asked these questions. John is not giving a set of rules for people to fulfill as a preliminary to baptism.

The crowd repeated this question. All the people asked the question, not only the leaders, but also the common people.

Most probably the people had been baptized, and they were now asking if there was something extra special that they should do.  "In view of what has been said, and since we have been baptized, is there something else? How are we to live this new baptized life?"

Luke 3:11 John answered,  "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."

The Greek word for "answered" shows that John said this over and over again.

The Jews often wore two undergarments. Rather than wear two, John says, give one to a person who cannot afford it. Christ told his disciples to not wear two undergarments in Luke 9:3.

The question of the people and John's answer show the utter spiritual ignorance of the people. John's answer is a simple application of Leviticus 19:18. It is nothing new. Look at Galatians 5:14. This includes the entire life of the children of God in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Luke 3:12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized.  "Teacher,"  they asked,  "what should we do?"

 "Tax collectors" were Jews who were much hated by their fellow Jews because they collected taxes for the Roman tax-collectors.

The text indicates that these Jewish tax-collectors had been baptized and were now asking about anything additional that they should do.

The soldiers did not address John as  "Teacher." They also asked the same question.

Luke 3:13 "Don't collect any more than you are required to,"  he told them.

The tax-collectors usually collected more money than they should have, but they were protected by law. Each profession has its major sin. It becomes a way of life in that profession and often it takes real courage, under such circumstance, to do as God wills.

By the way, Scripture does not condemn taxation and service in the military.

Luke 3:14 Then some soldiers asked him,  "And what should we do?"  He replied,  "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -- be content with your pay."

Were these Roman soldiers or soldiers of Herod Antipas? Where they Roman or Jewish? Since the Baptist's ministry was limited to Israel, see John 1:31, these notes suggest that these were Jewish soldiers.

"Don't ever shake anyone down and don't blackmail anyone, and be constantly satisfied with your wages."  These soldiers were evidently misusing their position by practicing extortion. By nature everyone is given to crooked dealings and constant dissatisfaction.

These soldiers had obviously been baptized also. And it must have been difficult for them to practice true Christian love among their fellow-soldiers.

Luke 3:15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.

All the Gospels clearly indicate that John's activity caused a sensational stir in Israel. All the people were secretly asking this question. Everybody was uncertain.

Luke 3:16 John answered them all,  "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

While  "all"  were wondering, he answered  "all." This indicated the great attention John had drawn, but he consistently gave the same answer.

John indicates a difference in persons doing the baptizing, not a difference in baptism. Both the baptism of John and of Jesus are Christian baptism. See the notes for Advent II Gospel.

John was at the end of his ministry and this happened just before Christ appeared on the scene.

John was strong and powerful and had a great impact on the people, but this verse also shows his great humility. He did not exploit the opportunity to his own advantage. Many times people in  "middle management"  positions, or those working in periods of great change, take advantage of the situation for their own enrichment. Not so John.

"He will baptize you" that is, He is their Savior. That is the point of the sentence. John is Jesus' humble forerunner, doing only that which he was told to do. He does not say that his baptism was not effective. Interpret this according to the prophecy in verse 6.

Here "baptize" is future, because Christ has not yet appeared. Do not limit this to Pentecost. In John 1:33  "baptize"  refers to Christ and is in the present tense. Christ had appeared by then.

"With Spirit and fire." This is the purest Gospel. It indicates the divinity of Christ and the bestowing of salvation which always involves the Triune God.

"Fire" does not refer to the tongues of fire on Pentecost. Acts 1:5 and 11:16 make no reference to fire.

Every baptism, whether performed by the Baptist, his disciples, Jesus' disciples, on Pentecost, or any time after, even up to the baptisms on the year 2001 and beyond -- every baptism is effective only because Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit and fire. "FIRE"  is the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. Luther understood the word "fire " in this way. Look at The Lutheran Hymnal #224, verse 3.

Luke 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

The verse speaks of the final judgment. Note that Jesus is referred to four times. He is the Judge of the living and the dead. We have the metaphor of the threshing floor. Note that no one will be overlooked. The elect will be gathered into heaven.

Here  "fire"  means the fire of hell, and hardly needs comment.

Luke 3:18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

This verse is found only in Luke. It sums up the many other instances of his preaching the Gospel. John correctly defined and divided Law and Gospel, and constantly included exhortations of Law. He made reference to both the second and third use of the Law as we see in verses 7:17.

John was an ascetic man but was also an evangelical preacher. He did not require others to be ascetic, but he did require that they live according to the Law of God in all their daily activities. And he would insist that all preachers be evangelical in their preaching.

The prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5 was truly fulfilled.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Luke-John, Festival Season Sunday, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 6-8. Used with permission.

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