We saw from the previous post on this passage that John the Baptist was not like so many modern-day preachers who use smooth sounding words to ingratiate the audience. John told the people of Israel what they needed to know. Verses 10-14 show us how the people responded to John’s message. First, we find that…
The People Asked for Clarification (vv. 10-14).
Verses 10-14 demonstrate the nature of true repentance.
Repentance illustrated for the general populace (vv. 10-11).
In verse 10, “the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” Since John the Baptist rebuked many for insincere repentance, they asked how they would be affected if they truly repented of their sins.
John the Baptist willingly replied to their question and said in verse 11, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” In order to understand this command it is necessary for the reader to understand that the nation of Israel was under the Mosaic Law (Christians are not). The Mosaic Law was given to Israel as their national constitution – it not only contained their religious duties but their civic obligations as well. The Law told them how to live as God’s chosen nation. It included laws to help Israel care for the destitute (a civil social safety net). Israel had a social mandate which God has not given to any other nation or to the church. Israel was responsible to care for the poor within the nation, however, because the nation fell away from God, it did not keep the Mosaic Law with all its regulations, which included how to care for the poor. Repentance would cause Jews to return to God which would be demonstrated by obedience to the Law, specifically, caring for the less fortunate.
Repentance illustrated for tax collectors (vv. 12-13).
In verse 12, “tax collectors also came to be baptized” and they asked, “Teacher, what shall we do?” In response to John the Baptist’s strong rebuke, even the tax collectors, who had come to be baptized by him, hesitated because of John’s demands. Their hesitation is demonstrated by the fact that they asked John how repentance would affect them.
John replied “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” If the tax collectors were truly repentant, they would care for others and would not defraud others by over-collecting from the populace.
Repentance illustrated for soldiers (v. 14)
Lastly, in verse 14, “the soldiers asked… ‘And what shall we do?’” The soldiers likewise wanted to know how true repentance would affect their lives.
John answered, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Notice carefully, that John the Baptist was not a pacifist – he did not tell them to stop soldiering! Rather, he told them that repentant soldiers will not abuse their authority by taking advantage of people.
This passage is significant considering the rampant easy-believism which has infected much of western Christianity. The Gospel has been so watered down that repentance is often ignored. Contemporary Christians are hesitant to declare a strong message of repentance because they don’t want to “offend” the lost. But without repentance, the salvation of the lost is impossible.
True repentance involves the sinner admitting his sin and submitting to God’s authority so that he will obey God’s commands. This is not works-based salvation. We can’t earn our salvation by our good works (Eph 2:8-9). However, if we are truly repentant we will demonstrate our salvation by our good works (Eph 2:10). Repentance is not expressed through religious rituals or an ascetic lifestyle; repentance is a turning from sin to God, and it is demonstrated by the repentant one obeying God’s commands which he/she previously ignored.
This passage does not indicate how the people responded to John. John faithfully proclaimed God’s Word, and he was not responsible for their reaction, whether positive or negative. However, the passage does imply that they were not listening well to John because they misunderstood His role.
The People Wondered about John (v. 15).
Verse 15 says, “Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not…” Because of John’s bold declarations, many people began to wonder if John was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel.
Therefore, in verses 16-17 we have John’s clarification regarding his identity and role.
John Explained His Lesser Role (vv. 16-17).
In these verses John the Baptist declared that the coming Messiah was far more important than he. Therefore, the Messiah’s work was greater than John’s.
John’s water baptism (v. 16a)
In verse 16, John said, “I indeed baptize you with water.” John immersed in water those who responded to his message with repentance. The people did not get baptized in order to repent. They repented of their sins and therefore, they were immersed in water to demonstrate that they were repentant. However, John emphasized the fact that his water baptism did not confer any spiritual power upon those who were immersed – being dipped under water cannot change anyone.
However, in contrast to John’s ministry, the Messiah’s work would be unique and special.
The Messiah’s baptism (vv. 16b-17).
The importance of the Messiah:
John said, “One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” John admitted that “one mightier” than he was coming. This is a clear reference to the coming of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. John used an analogy to explain his role in relation to the Messiah’s. A servant was responsible to take off his master’s sandals and to wash his feet. Even though John the Baptist did not yet know who the Messiah was, he knew that He would be far greater. In fact, John the Baptist placed himself lower than a servant. He said that he was not even worthy to loosen the Messiah’s sandal straps.
Not only was Messiah greater than John the Baptist, but the Messiah had a greater work than John the Baptist.
The work of the Messiah:
In verses 16b-17 John the Baptist described the Messiah’s future work as a baptism as well. However, the Messiah’s baptism is in fact, two separate and distinct baptisms (remember, the word “baptism” merely means immersion, and the context helps us to define what type of immersion is in view).
John described Jesus’ first baptizing work when he said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” This is an oblique reference to the saving work of Jesus Christ – those who receive Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit. This is an allusion to a specific aspect of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, which began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and ends at the Rapture. Spirit baptism is the means by which Jesus Christ builds His church (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). The Holy Spirit immerses all believers during that time frame into the New Testament Church.
John described Jesus’ second baptizing work when he said, “He will baptize you with …fire.” Unfortunately, many Pentecostals and Charismatics have misinterpreted this passage. They mistakenly think that this is a positive reference to the gift of tongues. However, the context clearly shows that the baptism by fire is a negative reference to the future judgment of sinners.
John’s point was that Jesus’ work is superior because He has the power to baptize with the Spirit or with the fire of judgment.
So clearly, Jesus’ role will be to distinguish between believers and unbelievers, the saved and the lost, those who are born again and those who have not been born again.
Verse 17 demonstrates Christ’s discriminating work by employing an agricultural illustration. John said, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor…” A winnower is one who sifts the grain at harvest time with a winnowing fan. The harvested crop is brought into the “threshing floor” where the winnower beats the wheat to loosen the heads of grain, and casts it into the air with the “winnowing fan” so that the wind can blow away the chaff and allow the grain to fall to the ground. Jesus is the winnower who is going to separate the wheat from the chaff. So the imagery clearly shows that Jesus will divide people into two groups. This is in harmony with the prediction of 2:34-35 where it was said that Jesus would divide the nation (believers from unbelievers).
Furthermore, we are told that Jesus will “gather the wheat into His barn.” The wheat represents those who respond in faith to Jesus, the Messiah. They are gathered into His barn, an allusion to His Kingdom. However, “the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire…” Chaff is the useless part of the grain – it represents those who would not respond in faith to Christ. Notice that the chaff is thrown into the fire, which is representative of hell, the destruction of unbelievers, which refers back to Jesus’ baptizing work by fire.
In this passage we find that John the Baptist admitted to being inferior to the Messiah. This meant that the Messiah’s work was also greater than John’s. John’s role was merely to prepare people for the Messiah by leading them to repentance. The Messiah’s work has two broad aspects, salvation and judgment. He will save some and immerse them into His church through the Spirit, but He will also judge others and immerse them in the flames of hell.
Ultimately, John the Baptist’s message was one which carried promise as well as warning. His listeners needed to understand that they were all doomed for judgment because of sin. Only Messiah could save them and He would only save those who repented of their sins. Their repentance would prepare them for the salvation which Messiah would bring.
In verse 18 Luke summarized John’s preaching ministry.
John’s Preaching Summarized (v. 18).
Luke said, “And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.” Obviously, John the Baptist had more to say than what Luke recorded. However, what is recorded is a faithful summary of the overall tenor of his message to Israel.
Unfortunately, John’s faithful preaching was met with hostility, specifically the hostility of Herod.
Herod Reacted Against John (vv. 19-20)
Luke said, “But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.” The imprisonment of John actually took place later in the Gospel narratives. Luke mentions his imprisonment merely to show how Herod responded to God’s message as delivered by John.
This ending is key to Luke’s narrative which was written to teach Theophilus a lesson.
That which stands out in this passage is the humility and obedience of John the Baptist. John had a humble regard for himself and knew that God was using him to prepare for the coming of One far greater than he. He willingly and joyfully fulfilled God’s will in his life.
However, John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually killed. John (and Jesus to follow) experienced the rejection of the nation.
Likewise, believers have the responsibility to follow God and to proclaim God’s glory to those who are lost. However, though believers may understand, believe, and declare God’s truth to others, it does not guarantee that others will embrace the message. Obedience does not translate into a carefree life. Some will respond and repent; others will reject the message and hate the messengers. Believers, who are rejected by the world, are not failures.
Obedience to God costs.
Are you willing to follow God regardless of the cost involved?
First, you must receive Christ as Saviour, regardless of what friends or family may say.
Secondly, you must demonstrate your repentance through baptism, regardless of what friends or family may say.
Finally, you must demonstrate that you have repented of your sins by living a life of obedience and good works, regardless of what friends or family may say.