A couple of years ago, we were having a great deal of trouble with our telephone system. With the breakup of “Ma Bell” everyone seemed to be placing the responsibility to fix the problem on another group. Finally, in frustration, I called a friend who works for the phone company, solely to find out who to call for help. In a matter of minutes there were supervisors on the line and things really began to happen. Soon, a supervisor from another part of town was at my office, solely to assure me that the repair man was on his way, and that the problem would be fixed, that night.
It began to dawn on me that my friend was a person of substantial influence and position in the phone company. When I asked the supervisor what my friend did in the company he responded, “When they call us, we drop whatever we’re doing and do what they say.” One’s position and one’s power has a lot to do with what he or she is able to accomplish.
So it was with our Lord Jesus Christ. From all outward appearances, our Lord was a person with no great power or station in life. He was born into a very poor family, as is evident by the circumstances of His birth. He was apparently a carpenter until the commencement of His public ministry. But at His baptism, there was a dramatic pronouncement from God Himself, which identified Christ as Israel’s King, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at this time endued Him with power to carry out His mission.
Perhaps the major tension of this text has to do with the necessity of Christ’s baptism by John. You will recall that John emphatically stressed the superiority of the Messiah to himself. One evidence of this was the superiority of His baptism:
John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but He who is mightier than I is coming, and I am unfit to untie the thong of His sandals; He Himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).
If John’s baptism was inferior to that of our Lord, then why did our Lord not baptize John, rather than have John baptize Him, just as John himself had protested in Matthew’s account?
A second tension has to do with the genealogy of our Lord. Not only does the genealogy differ from that of Matthew’s account, but it also is placed differently. Luke includes his genealogy just after the baptism of the Lord, and immediately prior to the beginning of His public ministry. Matthew’s account placed the genealogy at the beginning of his gospel.
In this lesson we will seek to learn the meaning of the events of our Lord’s baptism, and also the significance of His genealogy, as placed in conjunction with His baptism by Luke. We will seek to understand the significance of these things in conjunction with the ministry of our Lord. We will also attempt to determine what Luke’s unique contribution is by means of his gospel. Finally, we shall seek to learn the meaning and the implications of our Lord’s baptism and genealogy for us as well.
The key to understanding the baptism of our Lord is to be found in the technical meaning of the expression, “My son” in the Bible. It is directly related to the designation and appointment of the Israel’s king by God. Let us see how this concept of “sonship” is developed in the Old Testament.
1 Samuel 9 & 10
Israel’s first king was Saul. In spite of being forewarned of the high price of a king, the Israelites demanded a king, like all the other nations had (cf. 1 Sam. 8). God granted Israel’s request and it was the task of Samuel, the priest, to designate who the king would be. In 1 Samuel 9 & 10 the entire process is described in detail. Saul and his servant were out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and eventually came upon Samuel, who anointed him with oil, designating him as Israel’s ruler (1 Sam. 10:1). Shortly thereafter, the Holy Spirit came upon Saul (10:6-13), empowering him for his task.
1 Samuel 16
Saul, due to his disobedience, was rejected as God’s king, and another was destined to be his replacement. Since it was not just Saul, but his dynasty that was rejected, it was necessary for God to designate through Samuel who the new king would be. The account of this designation is found in 1 Samuel chapter 16. After viewing all of David’s older brothers and learning that none of them were to be king, David was sent for and anointed in the presence of his brothers as Israel’s new king, at which time the Holy Spirit also came upon him (16:13).
2 Samuel 7
Later, God would make a covenant with the house (dynasty) of David, known as the Davidic Covenant:
“Now therefore you shall say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be ruler over My people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth. I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, and I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”’“ (2 Sam. 7:8-16, emphasis mine).
Note well that the relationship between Israel’s king and God is described as the relationship between a father and a son: “I will be a father to him and will correct him with the rod of men … ” (v. 14). The statement, “You are My son,” then, becomes a technical expression to designate Israel’s king, as can be seen in the second Psalm:
“But as for Me, I have installed My King` Upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware’” (Psalm 2:6-9).
“In Thee I Am Well-Pleased”
Thus, the expression, “Thou art My beloved Son” designates Jesus as the king of Israel, Israel’s Messiah. At the announcement of His birth this was promised (1:32), and now God has declared it so. In addition, the expression, “in Thee I am well-pleased,” is also significant, underscoring the same truth. The words are intended to recall this passage in the prophecy of Isaiah:
“Behold My Servant, whom I uphold My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” (Isa. 42:1-4)
In this prophecy, Israel’s Messiah, God’s Servant, is the One in Whom God delights, and He is also the One on Whom the Spirit will come (42:1).
The evidence is more than sufficient to indicate to any willing person that the declaration of the Father, along with the descent of the Holy Spirit, designated Jesus as the King of Israel, empowering Him for the task which was before Him. Like Samuel, John the Baptist was privileged to play a part in identifying the Lord Jesus as God’s King. As our Lord commenced His public ministry, the fact that He was the King of Israel was acknowledged. In the words of Nathaniel, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).
The genealogy of our Lord immediately follows the brief account of our Lord’s baptism in the gospel of Luke. As we can see by comparing Luke’s genealogy with that of Matthew, there are considerable differences. They are not only placed in different locations in the gospel, but Luke’s genealogy runs from Christ back to Adam. Matthew’s runs from Abraham to Christ. The biggest difference is that after David, many of the names are different. It would seem best to explain the difference by viewing Luke’s genealogy as tracing the physical ancestors of Christ through Mary, while Matthew’s genealogy traces the kingly line of Christ through Joseph.
Luke’s genealogy ends with Adam, the “son of God” as the first ancestor. In one sense, Adam and Eve were to serve as “kings” over the creation, for they were created to “rule” over God’s creation (Gen. 1:26). Adam and Eve sinned, and their “rule” was greatly diminished. As the “second Adam,” Christ would come to reign over God’s creation as Israel’s king. Luke’s next event is the temptation of Christ, for it is after our Lord’s victory over Satan’s solicitations that He is shown to have the “right to reign.” The baptism of Christ identifies Christ as Israel’s king, and demonstrates that He has the Father’s appointment and the Spirit’s anointing. The genealogy shows that our Lord has the right lineage, that He is indeed of the “throne of David.” The temptation proves that our Lord has the godly character to reign. In every way, Luke shows our Lord to be qualified for the task He has been given.
It would seem that Luke’s gospel has uniquely established the “kingship of Christ” in a way that would be meaningful to his Gentile readers:
To Greco-Roman hearers of Luke’s narrative this would evoke echoes of the Roman use of the flight of birds of omen to discern the decrees of fate. For example, Plutarch in describing how Numa was chosen king after Romulus tells how Numa insisted that before he assumed the kingship his authority must first be ratified by heaven. So the chief of the augurs turned the veiled head of Numa toward the south, while he, standing behind him with his right hand on his head, prayed aloud and turned his eyes in all directions to observe whatever birds or other omens might be sent from the gods. when the proper birds approached, then Numa put on his royal robes and was received as the ‘most beloved of the gods.’ In such a thought-world the Lukan narrative would be viewed as an omen of Jesus’ status. Exactly what that status was can be discerned from the bird involved, a dove, and the interpreting voice from heaven.
In Mediterranean antiquity the dove was symbolic of ‘the beneficence of divinity in love, the loving character of divine life itself’ (E. R. Good enough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period [New York: Pantheon Books, 1953], VIII: 40-41).57
In the first chapters of his gospel, which are unique in their detailed accounting of the events surrounding the births of Jesus and John the Baptist, Luke has already indicated that Jesus Christ was the “King of Israel.” In the baptism of Jesus, both the Father and the Spirit bear testimony to this. The genealogy shows that Jesus Christ is one with man, and that He is also of the lineage of David.
The remainder of the gospel will play out the response of Israel to the claim of Christ to be their King. In chapter four, Jesus presented Himself as the King, which was initially welcomed, but was then rejected when the fuller implications of His coming were explained (Luke 4:16:-30). Jesus presented Himself (just as the Old Testament prophets had) as the King who would come to deliver the oppressed and the downtrodden, including the Gentiles. This was simply too much for the Jews, who sought to kill Him after hearing of this (Luke 4:23-29).
In a variety of ways, Jesus spelled out the meaning of His kingship and of His kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount was a clarification of what the kingdom was to be like (Luke 6). The opposition began to grow in proportion to an awareness of what Christ’s kingdom was to be like. No one could deny that our Lord had power, but as His message began to be rejected, His power was attributed to Satan. To this our Lord responded, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
Christ’s power was proof of His claim to be Israel’s king. Ultimately, Israel rejected Her king. They even crucified Him on charges that He claimed to be their king (Luke 23:2), and rejected Him as their King by saying, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
Just as God bore witness to the fact the Jesus was the Son of God, Israel’s King, at His baptism, so He testified to His kingship by raising Him from the dead, and sitting Him at His right hand. When the Spirit came upon the newly born church at Pentecost, Peter preached, demonstrating that Jesus was the King of Israel, and that God had raised Him from the dead. Peter’s conclusion was forcefully proclaimed,
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
King Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father, and He is going to return, to subdue His enemies and to establish His kingdom. It is no wonder that fear came upon the crowds and many professed Christ as their Savior and King on that day.
When the Jewish religious leaders forbade the followers of our Lord to preach the gospel, the church viewed this as a rebellion against Christ as Israel’s King. Their words reveal that they see these events as fulfilling the words of the psalmist in Psalm 2, which speaks of the Christ as God’s King:
“O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST’” (Acts 4:24b-26).
The declaration of Jesus as Israel’s king has many implications for us, as well as for those who had to respond to the personal appearance and claims of our Lord in the days of the New Testament. Let us consider some of these areas of application as we conclude our lesson.
First, if Jesus Christ is God’s King, then we had better listen to him carefully, and do as He commands. I do not believe that the disciples heard the words spoken by the Father at the baptism of our Lord. My impression is that only John and Jesus heard them. Virtually the same words are spoken in the hearing of three of the disciples from the mount of transfiguration, and here it is very clear that these words are intended to encourage the disciples to listen to Jesus very carefully:
“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; hear Him!”(Matt. 17:5).
The clear impact is this: If this is the Son of God, you had better “listen up”!
Peter says the same thing to his readers. If God’s words authenticated the words of Jesus, then Peter says that they also authenticated the apostolic preaching of the cross.
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 2 Pet. 1:16-19.
With this, the writer to the Hebrews is in agreement. He has written, For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”?
“I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM, AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? … For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 1:5; 2:1-3a).
Second, Jesus Christ, the King, is coming again, to reward the righteous and to overcome His enemies. The message which Peter gave to His audience is applicable to us as well. Jesus Christ is God’s King. He is presently seated at the right hand of the Father, but He will come soon. His return is described in detail in the book of Revelation. There is no question as to whether or not He is returning. The only question is whether you await Him as your King, or whether He will come unexpectedly upon you as an enemy. I urge you to accept Him today. This is the message of the psalmist, when he speaks of the King and of our response to Him:
Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:12).
Finally, when Christ comes as King, all those who have trusted in Him will reign with Him. Not only is the Lord Jesus the Son of God, but all the saints are also known as the “sons of God,” who will reign with Him.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God … For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of it own, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God … And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:14, 19-21, 23).
He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son (Revelation 21:7).
May you be among that number, who are the sons of God, and who reign with Him forever.
Just as our Lord was baptized by the Spirit, designating Him as the Son of God, and empowering Him for His mission, so every true saint is baptized as well by His Spirit, and empowered to serve Him.58
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16)
58 “There is a remarkable correspondence in both content and sequence between the events and persons found in Luke and Acts (see C. H. Talbert, Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts [Missoula: Scholars Press, 1974], pp. 15-23). Among these correspondences are the baptism of Jesus followed by prayer and the descent of the Holy Spirit in physical form, which is paralleled by the prayer of the disciples (Acts 1:14) as they await their baptism in the Holy Spirit which then occurs with accompanying physical manifestations (2:1-13). For Luke the baptism-prayer scene in Jesus’ career is prototypical for his disciples’ experience. Just as the Holy Spirit had come on Jesus after the baptism of repentance and in response to his prayer to empower him for his work, so the Spirit which the risen Lord has poured out (Acts 2:33) is given to his disciples, after prayer, to empower them for their mission. The one who was anointed by the Holy Spirit in 3:21-22 has become, by virtue of his exaltation, the one who pours out the Spirit, baptizing his followers with the Holy Spirit and fire. It is this baptism which empowers disciples for their ministry.” Talbert, p. 42.