Lecture 2: John the Baptist and Early Galilean Ministry
Course: Life of Christ
This is the 2nd lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.
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John the Baptist
We think about John and his teachings which involved the call of Israel back to covenantal faithfulness. John is the eschatology prophet who announces the arrival of the Messiah and the Eschaton, the new age. And the roots of this are in a series of passages from the Hebrew Scripture. The first being Deuteronomy 30: 1-6, we have a promise to re-gather the nation and to circumcise their hearts. In Ezekiel 11:17-21 there is another promise to regather the people in the land with a new spirit and a new heart. In Jeramiah 31:31-34, a promise of a New Covenant, the idea of the Law being placed within people and the context of forgiveness and then in Ezekiel 36:24-28 is a picture of being sprinkled clean and purified with a new heart and spirit. All of this is operating in the background of what John the Baptist doing. John the Baptist is engaging in a baptism that is unique in Jewish background. There is a cleansing in Judaism to bring people back to proper status with God. There is proselyte baptism in which a gentile becomes a Jew, but the baptism John is engaged in is special eschatological baptism because it is baptism that prepares for God’s coming. Then it says, ‘I am ready for God to come.’ It is also a baptism that associated with repentance, but notice that this repentance is cooperative as well as individual. It is a call to Israel to become faithful again. This isn’t difficult to figure out interpretatively or hermeneutically if you are a Jew. Your country is overrun by foreigners, so what does that mean according to the Torah? You’ve been unfaithful; the nation is in a condition of sin. So how it that corrected? Repentance and faithfulness that’s rooted in the Law; it’s being faithful to the Law. There’s a rabbinic saying, ‘if Israel will keep two Sabbath’s faithfully, the Lord will return.’ This shows the degree in which they are faithful to the Law.
So, this is a call for Israel to return to the faithfulness of the Law and be ready for the coming of God; the coming of the Eschaton (pronounced Eskaton), the beginning of the New Age. This forms the back drop or back ground of Jesus’ ministry. Now, when Jesus gets baptized by John, he is endorsing the ministry of John the Baptist. So John the Baptist is a divine messenger prophet. And in the wilderness, there is a call to escape the exile, the judgement through divine release because the Kingdom of God is at hand. This is Matthew’s emphasis. However, Luke does something that Matthew’s doesn’t; in Matthew 3:3 Isaiah 40 is cited in verse 3 saying, ‘the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ This is like a red carpet for the entrance of God. In Luke 3:4-6 Luke uses more of the Isaiah passage, ‘every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low, and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough ways will be made smooth, and all humanity will see the salvation of God.’ So this involves all the nations. The preparation is for a new era and a way to escape the judgement. The baptism of repentance is for the forgiveness of sins. There is also an ethical call associated to this which is only in Luke. There is the announcement to the one who comes. These particular two elements that are only found in Luke; first in Luke 3:10-14, the setting, dating and relationship to rulers is unique to Luke. In addition, there is John’s preaching that is also unique to Luke.
The ethical thrust here helps us to define repentance and it also says not to rely merely on your ethnicity. He uses the Greek verb, ποιησατε or poieo (to make or do) and the crowd then asks, ‘what then shall we do?’ The verb in verse 10 answered the verb in verse 8. The question is repeated again in verse 12 and then again in verse 13. These are three different groups. So what constitutes the action worthy of repentance? So here, repentance is seen in very concrete terms. Verse 10 says, ‘so the crowds were asking him, what then should we do;’ John answers, ‘the person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.’ In verses 12 – 14, the tax collectors ask the same things, along with some soldiers. ‘Collect no more than you are required to. Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay,’ he said to the soldiers. When you think of repentance, who do you normally think of as being the one before whom one repents? God is the answer; but if we ask what the product of repentance is, it’s other people. It’s how you relate to other people. John the Baptist came to turn the hearts of people to God and turn the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wise. This is the ethical triangle that we’ve talked about: the person, God and people. So if I repent to God, what should that mean? It impacts on my relationship with other people. This is what John the Baptist is teaching. That’s why Josephus called him a teacher of virtue. So, a relationship with God should impact on my relationship with others.
Another detail unique to Luke is the way in which the saying about baptism with water vs the baptism of the stronger one works, its context. Notice the introduction in this passage, where it says that he was conversing with the people. They were wondering that perhaps John might be the Christ. John answered the question, ‘I baptize in water, there is one stronger than me who comes, and I am not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.’ Note that a Jewish person should not be a slave because of their experience in the Exodus. But should they become a slave, there is one act they should not perform which involves washing the feet of their master. So, what vocation does John have? He is a prophet. How high up on the vocational latter is a prophet? It’s high, correct? Under prophet, comes a pastor and under a pastor comes an elder. So John is saying that distance between him and Christ is so great that he isn’t even worthy to perform a task that Jewish slaves should not perform for their masters. In this text, how do we know that the Messiah has come? He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This is part of the New Covenant, the promise of a new era. John’s the forerunner of the new era. So Luke is saying that this baptism is the sign that identifies the coming of the new era, the new age and the Messiah. Thus the spirit is a very important part of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. (Note that this phrase is not that common in the Old Testament) This also tells us that the Spirit in the life of the person is an important aspect of the Gospel. The Spirit represents the sealing of the relationship between the person and God. There is not specific passage in the Old Testament that ties the bringing together of the Messiah bringing the Spirit. Being a prophet declaring the will of God, John shows us something new. So you have the eschatological era with the Messiah being the key figure and then you have the Spirit. The Spirit represents the purifying work of cleansing and fire which is the purging judgement. This also shows us that there are a lot of Jewish themes in the New Testament that are not yet connected, yet the portrayed characters will eventual connect these pieces in this new era. Along with this, the signs that Jesus is doing, verify this new era. John sees all of this as a unity of what coming forth. This new era represents the reestablishment of just rule of God on behave of the righteous. Later, John will send massagers asking if he is the one or not. John wasn’t seeing everything that he thought was coming, there is doubt in him. It’s the timing that confusing John. As already mentioned, John the Baptist is announcing a new period, that of the Eschaton. We normally think of the future when we think of the Eschaton, but when Jesus came, we entered the Eschaton. When we think about eschatology, we think about the return of Jesus, but in the New Testament, eschatology includes Jesus’ first coming but it represents the beginning of the end times. This means that Jesus doesn’t just come as a bearer of wisdom. He is not merely a teacher of ethics; he is the bearer of a new era. This is against those who appeal to the gnostic gospels or who come out of the Jesus Seminar or those who appeal to the Q tradition; they say that he was just a non-eschatological figure and only a teacher of wisdom of the will of God or simply a prophet. That’s why they have a non-eschatological Jesus, that why any passages on the Eschaton is attributed to the early church. In Jesus’ relationship with John, there is an eschatological dimension to what Jesus is doing.
Mark shows that this is fundamentally a private event between God and Jesus. John the Baptist saw it and Jesus participated in it and I think that’s all of it. Look at what Mark says, 1:9, ‘in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight. The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.’ We have a second person speaking directly to Jesus. This event is an event which Jesus participates in the baptism of John which might indicate that Jesus needed to repent. In Matthew, we get an exchange between John the Baptist and Jesus; John’s sensitivity this and that fact that Jesus doesn’t really need to participate in his baptism. But Jesus says that it’s necessary to fulfill all righteousness because what Jesus is not getting baptized for himself, he is getting baptized as a representative of what John the Baptist’s ministry is all about. He is getting baptized because he is coming as Israel king and to an Israel that needs to repent. And in getting baptized, he is identifying with that message. Jesus comes in anticipation of the Eschaton that John is announcing, thus Jesus is an eschatological figure. In addition, the spirit descending on Jesus is an indication of that. God says, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ John’s baptism is a baptism that’s saying that Israel is in need to returning to covenant faithfulness. This, of course, is setting the stage for Jesus launching into ministry. This draws off of Psalm 2:7 where it reads, ‘The king says, I will announce the Lord’s decree. He said to me: You are my son! This very day I have become your father!’ And then in Isaiah 42:1, ‘Here is my servant whom I support, my chosen one in whom I take pleasure, I have placed my spirit on him; he will make decrees for the nations.’ Jesus, being endowed by God’s spirit, he becomes the anointed one.
In Luke’s genealogy preceding the temptation, the genealogy goes all the way back to Adam. In being identified with Adam, it goes on to say, ‘son of Seth, son of Adam, Son of God.’ When Luke attaches ‘Son of God’ to Adam, he’s saying that it has a human dimension, right before the temptation, thus Jesus becomes the second Adam, but we are not using the title here. Jesus is going to negotiate his way through the temptations with Satan three times when Adam failed in only one temptation. Adam represented humanity; Jesus is even more qualified to represent humanity. And the issue from Adam until now is faithfulness. In this, we see Jesus’ absolute commitment to represent God. That’s how he resists temptation. It misses the point in thinking that he resists temptation in reciting Scripture. Scripture is a means; he resists temptation by his sense of absolute loyalty and faithfulness to God. Scripture helps to express that. This concerns how we think about God, not just what we think about him, and even though Jesus is answering the Scripture, more important is the allegiance that Jesus feels to faithfully follow in the way God calls us to be led. He doesn’t do anything that reflects badly on that faithfulness. Unlike Adam, who was called to doubt God and when he doubted whether he would really die if he disobeyed God, he fell.
The Early Galilean Ministry
We will first see an interchange between Jesus’ action, his teachings and his miracles. We usually think in terms of Jesus’ teachings and consider his miracles but we are usually not sure about his actions. We will see that there is an interaction going on between word and deed. What Jesus says illustrates what he does and what he does illustrates what he says and there is constant interaction between these two. Part of what makes Jesus’ authority is not just the speaking but the fact that he acts. It is teaching but not just in a verbal sense. On page 8 of Jesus, According to Scripture and in Mark 2:1-12; in this you will see that the Luke column is sequenced exactly as the Mark column is. (If you don’t have this, search the internet for parallels of the synoptic Gospels.) But in column from Matthew, things are not sequenced but separated. This happened because the Gospel writers sectioned their writings off topically, not necessarily chorological. In mark 2:1 to 3:6 are five consecutives controversies, literally put on top of one another. It seems that early in Mark’s Gospel, he’s saying what the controversy around Jesus is about. And so five different areas of conflict emerge with Luke, but this is different from the things that Matthew is concerned about. So these controversies could cover a much larger time span during the Galilean Ministry than what Luke shows them to cover. In comparing Luke 4:16-30, we have the same in Mark 6:1-6a. We know that Luke has twenty four chapters while Mark has only sixteen. So we are approaching the middle part of Mark, but we see in Matthew 13, having 28 chapters, we see again that we are close to the middle of Jesus’ ministry. Now in the passage of Luke, the crowds ask Jesus to perform the signs in Nazareth that he performed in Capernaum. However, we see in Luke that Jesus hadn’t travelled to Capernaum yet; that he was going there next. This could possibly suggests that Luke has moved an event that was in the middle of the Galilean ministry and put it at the front or beginning of the Galilean ministry to say that this is the kind of experience Jesus had in his ministry. He starts off with Jesus in the synagogue in his home town being rejected. And the dislocation within the material is the clue that is what happened.
Remember now, that the ancient writers cared less about chronological sequences than we do today. However, we do this, ourselves, all the time but just don’t realize it; however, often the assumption is that history requires chronology, but this is not necessarily so. Highlighting certain events is more important than giving a chronological sequence of events. Another example of this in Luke is in Luke 9, it says that he set his face to go to Jerusalem and at the end of chapter he is at Martha and Mary’s place. From John, we know that Martha and Mary live on the edge of Jerusalem at Bethany. Luke has him going to other places but he will end up in Jerusalem. So order comes in a number of ways: chronological, logical, etc. You can say it follows a general chronology but the lack of a specific chronology typifies this story where Jesus grew up. And realize that in any harmony, a justification of what these events are in the order they are, is not given. This helps us understand that in Matthew, we are looking at things through Matthew’s eyes and this goes for Luke and Mark and also in John.
The key issue again is Jesus’ authority and the announcement of the Kingdom. The synoptic Gospels are concerned with what comes with Jesus than talking about who Jesus is. It talks about what he is bringing, what he is announcing. Back to the John the Baptist questions that gets ask in the middle of his ministry. ‘Are you the one to come, or should we expect another?’ Jesus’ answer, ‘tell him what you have seen.’ He didn’t answer in terms of his person, he answered in terms of his actions and what they represented. So more time is spent in discussing what comes with Jesus and he brings than who he is. Of course, these have implications of who Jesus is, because Jesus is the one bringing it. The stress is on appreciating what God is bringing. In Matthew 4:12 where the Galilean ministry is introduced, it reads: ‘Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee. While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoke by Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way by the sea,, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned,’ We are getting an idea of Messiah as light where it ended in Luke 1 & 2 being a light to the gentiles. ‘From that time Jesus began to preach this message, repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.’ And at the same time, he begins to introduce the Kingdom of God. We now come to the synagogue scene in Luke where the Spirit is anointed in 4:16-30. Did Jesus highlight himself as a prophet or a Messiah in these verses? In the citation itself, the word ‘proclaim’ is mentioned three times, but this word is ambiguous in regards to the question because prophets proclaim. He is going to act, not just proclaim. He’s going to set the oppressed free; those who are oppressed by the devil. The Kingdom of God is going to defeat the kingdom of the devil. Note, in retracing our steps, the spirit came upon him at the baptism and then the voice came from heaven saying, this is my son in whom I am well pleased. So this anointed refers back to what happened at the baptism. This is the overall narrative that is taking place. One has to know the story of the sequence of Jesus’ life to see this. The time he is invoking is the time from Isaiah 61. So, at this point, Jesus is more interested in talking about the time and what it is, he’s bringing and being explicitly clear as to who he is in the mist of this.
There are a lot of prophetic ideas in the text and interestingly in verse 26, Elijah was sent to Sidon, this was gentile territory. In addition, of all the lepers in Israel, none of them were cleansed except Naaman, a Syrian. So the crowd gets upset with him for including the gentiles in his ministry. During the time of Elijah, Israel was not doing well in their faithfulness to God. It was during a time that Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. Gentiles were getting the benefit from the ministry of Elijah during that time. Thus, the implication here was that the Israel was in the same state as it was in the days of Elijah and the gentiles were going to receive the blessing that were to come. So we see that Jesus’ ministry is about reconciliation, as mentioned, your relationship with God is supposed to affect your relationship with your fellow man. So the Jews there in the synagogue could not tolerate the idea of the gentiles might be included in any ministry in regards to the Eschaton.
Back to the order of things: words, miracles and actions. Jesus is saying if you understand the actions I am performing, you will understand the time. If you understand the time, you will understand the figure. The reader here is being put in a position of seeing this. So the controversy is over the judgement and gentile blessing. Luke is more focused on the figure, the Kingdom bringing. He’s not trying to trying to be explicit about who Jesus is but on the fact that the Kingdom and the Eschaton is present. This is what is being proclaimed and also fulfilled. They recognize that Jesus has a role in this and they’re trying to figure out where he fits because they bring up the fact that he grew up amongst them and his father was Joseph and he grew up not far from them. But in bringing up the history of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus is trying to tell them that they are missing the point and that they are not in the condition to welcome it.
We get the call of Jesus here with Jesus eventually going out and choosing the disciples. We get the day in Capernaum in which Mark and Luke remark that Jesus teaches with authority. Mark is very clear that this happens with the acts and word combination that is called ‘new teaching.’ In Mark 1:21, ‘then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law.’ So, if Jewish teaching is any indication of the way the Jewish Rabbi would teach would be by referring to previous Rabbis. You don’t hear Jesus doing that. ‘Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit and he cried out, leave us along, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you – the Holy One of God! But Jesus rebuked him. Silence! Come out of him! After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They all were amazed and ask each other, what is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.’ So this new teaching involves actions and teaching together and giving evidence of what he’s talking about. Interestingly, the Gospel of John says the same thing, ‘don’t believe what I say but believe what I do.’ And it turns out that Jesus is fighting against things that affect life.
So we get miracles and exorcisms side by side. In Jewish teaching, the testament of Moses says when Satan is defeated; the Kingdom of God is come. We get a confession at the exorcism of Jesus being the Holy One of God. Then later on, there is a unique remark in Luke 4:41, ‘he placed his hands on every one of them and healed them. Demons also came out of many, crying out you are the Son of God! But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.’ This is unique to the Gospel of Luke. Do we equate the Son of God with Messiah? Most congregations would think about the second person of the Trinity. He silenced them because there were all kinds of views who the Christ was, as in 2nd Temple Judaism; Jesus wasn’t going to be any of those, exactly. He was recasting this title so that people would understand what type of Messiah he would be in terms of their expectations which were wrong. Nevertheless, he had to recast it. This was the same with the disciples; Peter confesses at Caesarea, Philippi that Jesus was the Christ. Interestingly, the title ‘Son of the Living God’ is only in Matthew. When Jesus mentions that he is going to suffer, Peter stands against it as that’s not the Messiah Peter thought; the Messiah doesn’t suffer. Jesus rebuts Peter for this. This shows that Jesus was reshaping how they thought about the Christ.
In chapter 5:1-11, Luke gives us his version of the Call of the Disciples. This is the place where Jesus takes them out fishing and he instructs them to cast the net having a huge catch of fish. The boat begins to sink as the catch is so large. Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees asking him to go away. Peter’s ‘theology’ here is that if Jesus is holy, Peter can’t be in his presence. And Jesus’ ‘theology’ here is, if you understand that you are a sinner, I can work with you. You understand who you are before God and God can work with that. The person God can’t work with is the person who doesn’t think they have a need from God and who doesn’t appreciate the fact works to make us holy, we are holy in and of ourselves. There is terrific humility in Peter, even though his theology is wrong. Jesus takes him and rehabilitates him and changes his theology in the process. Jesus is not going to think in terms of righteousness and sinners in the way Peter does. If someone is a sinner, it becomes a requirement to take the initiative to go out and minister to that person.
In verse 12, we have the cleansing of the Leper which then leads to observance to the law. All of these acts are declarations of how the oppressed are being released in Luke. In the healing of the Paralytic, as he was lowered down before Jesus, he said, ‘your sins ae forgiven.’ Jesus perceived the Pharisees hostile thoughts and said, ‘which is easier, to say, your sins are forgiven, or to say, stand up and walk?’ One problem here is that you can tell if anything has happened, but if Jesus tells the man to get up and walk, they can see that something has happened. So Jesus then says, ‘so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.’ Jesus uses this action of something you can see to validate something you can’t see, ‘your sins are forgiven.’ The action adds to the demonstration that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And this action portrays the otherwise unseen authority, thus miracles must be audio visuals of other things. In flashing back to Jesus in the boat with Peter, James and John and the miracle of the huge catch of fish, Jesus tells them, ‘I will make you fishers of men.’ In verse 27, Levi is called to join Jesus. This is a beautiful picture of ministry, a picture of a physician. In the relationship between any physician and patient, the patient expects the doctor to heal him of his sickness. So when Jesus pictures himself as a physician, the sick go in recognizing they are sick and Jesus is the physician that heals them of their sins.
In verse 33, Jesus demonstrates the superiority of the new by saying that no one pours new wine into old wineskins because if you do, they will burst and the skins will be destroyed; the same as using a new patch and sewing it on an old garment. In addition, those that like the old wine will not like the new wine. You cannot mix the old and the new. In Luke 6:1, Jesus was going through a grain field on the Sabbath where the disciples gathers and ate some of it. In this act, Jesus demonstrates that he is lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is associated as far back in the Bible as the creation and also it is part of the Ten Commandments. This is a lesson on how the laws are designed to work. This deals with compassion. In another Sabbath incident, Jesus reminds those around about the scene going back to David, David has violated the law; they entered the house of God and ate the sacred bread. David didn’t get judged by God, nothing happened when they ate the bread in the temple. Nothing happened except for the eating of the bread. The question Jesus is asking here, why didn’t something happen to David? But Jesus is demonstrating that the Law was always designed to function in this way, but you have the law do more than it was designed to do. The examples Jesus uses here are David, Scripture, Priest working on the Sabbath and the sacrifices associated with the holy day. But finally, Jesus says, ‘and the Son of Many is Lord of the Sabbath.’ This is the last of the argument. So the Sabbath controversy point to the Lordship on the one hand and compassion on the other. Thus, we are to minister in such a way to reflect the compassion of God. The church says that God loves you and has a plan for your life, but yet where is the action that shows this? Where is the Word and action coming together? If Jesus’ ministry is that of word and action joined to one so that one reinforces the other, where is that ministry in the church? And what do we communicate in the way we relate to the outsiders?
We are seeing an expanding influence; Matthew is clear about the gentile interest as we set up the Sermon on the Mound. We see that the people coming not only from the regions within Israel but coming from Tyre and Sidon as well. The twelve are called in verse 6:12. This is a reformed or reconstituted Israel that is being formed. Jesus is not attempting to lead Judaism, yet. He is simply calling on Israel to respond to her Messiah. These are symbols of a new era with a new community that’s being formed. There are zealots and tax collectors in the same group. Think about this on the political spectrum! The zealots want to remove Rome, the tax collectors is collecting taxes for Rome and then average people in between. They are all lay people. What we are seeing is the laying of a ground work of ministry, in which the nature of the time is being highlighted, but there are little hints here and there, the healing of the paralytic, the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath and you have better appreciate whose back the Kingdom is coming on.