St. Luke the Evangelist

It sounds like the kind of notes that only a physician would make.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert” (vv. 1,2).

Why does Luke include such detail? Is it only for the sake of presenting an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of Jesus’ life?

No, there’s more to it than that. By including such detailed information about the situation surrounding John’s preparation and Jesus’ public ministry, Luke is giving us a clear indication regarding the nature of both.

First, we note that every detail was a major disappointment for God’s chosen people. Rome ruled the world, and their patience with the Jewish way of life was running short. Herod the Great’s territory had been carved into quarters, and Jerusalem was governed by a foreigner. Finally, the pinnacle of Jewish religion, the office of high priest, was in shambles. One man was supposed to serve for life. Only then would a successor be appointed. Instead, the Gentile governors deposed and appointed high priests as they saw fit, resulting in both Annas and Caiaphas holding partial claim to the office.

Secondly, Luke wants us to know that this bleak political picture wasn’t changing anytime soon. In fact, he had painted a similar picture once before. Thirty years prior, Augustus was Caesar and Quirinius was governor. Since then the names had changed, but the institutions hadn’t. In addition, by mentioning the individual in power at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Luke invites us to quickly recall that all of them were in power at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, each one played some sort of role in Jesus’ death.

The point? An earthly king is the last thing God’s people should have expected. It’s the last thing we should expect. All hopes that Israel would rise to prominence again had long been dashed. And that’s why John the Baptizer came to proclaim - and Jesus came to establish - the arrival of the kingdom of heaven.

For the people of Israel, that might have been a disappointment. It might have seemed like less than what they had expected. Instead, it was so much more. John didn’t come to proclaim that his nation would again see glory. Instead he came to proclaim that “All mankind will see God’s salvation” (v. 6).


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