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Prepare yourselves for more dates. Time has elapsed, and it is now the fifteenth year of the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius. Since he ruled from 14 to 37 CE, it is likely that the year Luke has in mind is 29 CE.
Luke offers a sketch of the big power-players at this time. First up is Pontius Pilate, who was prefect of Judea from 26 to 36 CE. Herod was tetrarch over Galilee from 4 BCE to 39 CE. And Philip and Lysanius were also tetrarchs over several territories to the north and northeast of Galilee.
Yes, there will be a test later.
Along with these political leaders, Luke mentions two religious leaders: Annas was high priest from 6 to 15 CE, while Caiaphas held the position from 18 to 36 CE.
Now that we're situated in terms of time and the who's who of the region's political elite, Luke gets down to business.
God taps John on the shoulder in the desert, where he's been for a while (remember 1:80).
John goes throughout the region that surrounds the Jordan River, announcing that God will forget everyone's sins as they are ritually washed in the river's water.
Luke mentions that John's the guy who the prophet Isaiah wrote about a while back.
He's the dude shouting out in the wilderness to get ready for the coming of the Lord. He's going to build sidewalks and flatten out rough ground. Everyone's going to witness God's work of deliverance.
John also demands quite a lot from the crowds who undergo this ritual bath. Metaphor time: the people are a bunch of snakes who are lucky to have the chance to escape the brutal wrath that is on its way.
They better follow up their bath with actual actions to prove that they've turned their lives around. They better not act all smug and secure in the fact that they are part of Israel by birth. That's not enough, because God is able to turn stones into Jews (fortunately, not the other way around).
This whole repentance thing is a lot like a fruit tree, John adds. If the tree doesn't produce fruit, the wood will then be useful for lighting fires.
With all of these perils, the crowds want to get it right: "What then should we do?" (3:10).
Well, if you've got an extra coat, give it to a person who doesn't have one. Beat the rush to Goodwill.
If you've got food, share it with the hungry. Find the local food pantry or soup kitchen, and get busy.
Baptized tax collectors want to know what they should do, too. Answer: Don't collect a penny more than what you're supposed to.
Now the soldiers are asking, "What about us?" Simple. Don't bully anybody. Don't intimidate anyone into giving you cash. And just be glad for the wages you do get.
The ancient blogosphere is buzzing with speculation that John is the Messiah.
John silences the speculation. His gig is simply baptism by water. Everyone should really look for a super mighty person to follow. New guy will be able to baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire. John's not even important enough to take this guy's sandals off.
The real messiah is going to have a "winnowing fork" (3:17 NRSV). What's he going to do with a big fork? He'll toss a pile of harvested grain in the air so that the heavy kernels fall to the ground in a pile and the useless chaff flies away with the wind. Then he'll put the scrumptious kernels in his barn, but he'll burn the chaff with fire that will never stop blazing.
In other news, John's been saying that Herod married his brother's wife, which flies in the face of the Torah (check out Leviticus 18:16). And this was only one of many wicked acts.
Herod adds another crime to his résumé when he arrests John and throws him in prison. Yeah, this was before the First Amendment.