Something important is going on here that I need to get a handle on. John the baptizer (son of Zechariah) appears on the scene. It happens far away from the epicenter of the religious elites. John is out in the wilderness.
And then … Bam! The word of God comes to him. John is to get things ready for the Messiah.
And, he does. My oh my does he.
John has a message for me. I must listen because it is God’s word.
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight!
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be made low;
the crooked will become straight,
the rough ways smooth,
6 and everyone will see the salvation of God. | Luke 3:1-6 (CSB)
When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, no prophetic voice had been heard in Israel for 400 years. His coming was a part of God’s perfect timing, for everything that relates to God’s Son is always on schedule. The fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar was A. D. 28/29.
Luke named seven different men in Luke 3:1–2, including a Roman emperor, a governor, three tetrarchs (rulers over a fourth part of an area), and two Jewish high priests. But God’s Word was not sent to any of them! Instead, the message of God came to John the baptizer, a humble Jewish prophet.
To forecast the universal address of the good news, which John will introduce, Luke sets John’s appearance on the canvas of world history and then narrows it down to local history. Such fanfare marks the importance of this background information; and the details of chronology, government, geography, and high priesthood point to its reliability.
Luke knows what he’s writing about and relates it to the whole wide world for which he’s writing his book and to which its message, the good news, is addressed for its universal reach.
“God’s word,” which “came on John” like a burden he had to unload by preaching it — this word equates with the good news in the Book
Or is God’s word not the message John is to preach but God’s calling him to preach? Luke doesn’t detail a divine call to preach. So, the coming of God’s word on John probably relates to the message, the good news itself.
Luke uses the singular of “high priest” for Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas, the two of whom occupied the high priestly office not concurrently but in A.D. 6–15 and 18–36, respectively. But though Annas wasn’t officially the high priest during Caiaphas’s tenure in that office, unofficially he exerted high priestly authority with and through his son-in-law, so that Luke merges them into a single high priest, so to speak.
The description of John as “the son of Zechariah” reminds us of John’s miraculous birth to aged parents and of Zechariah’s prophecy that John would be “a prophet of the Most High” in that he would “proceed before the Lord to prepare his paths [and so forth]”.
“In the wilderness” reminds us also of where John grew up and prepares for his dramatic entrance onto the public stage. Luke omits a description of John as a wild man of the desert who wore a coat of camel’s hair and a leather girdle and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6; Matthew 3:4). Such a description wouldn’t serve Luke’s purpose of appealing to a genteel cosmopolitan audience, represented by the “most excellent Theophilus,” to whom he dedicated this account.
Here is the literal translation:
And in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s rule, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea [southern Israel] and Herod [Antipas] was tetrarch [small-change ruler] of Galilee [norther Israel] and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the Iturean-and-Trachonitian region [north and west of Galilee] and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene [northwest of Galilee], 2 at the time of the Annas-and-Caiaphas high priest, God’s word came on John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Lk 3:1–6). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (pp. 234–237). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 180). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.