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 wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3)
Some spiritual insights to be drawn from this familiar passage -
- This passage is I believe intensely prophetic of the Lord’s call to His own at the end – the two witnesses will fulfill this call (in the spirit of Elijah) to straightness and return to the Lord.
- John stood outside the nation; they came to him in the area of the Jordan river; the Jordan pictures the division between life and death; a crossing over; a coming into the true life and testimony of the Lord; baptism pictures a forsaking resulting in a changed life; a new kind of life (a separating of soul and spirit; the difference between a merely religious life and a truly spiritual life)
- Everything about John stood against the desolate spiritual condition of the people – his words, his dress, his diet, his base of operations – in both his person, lifestyle, and message he represented the Lord’s bitter displeasure with His own; the ones He redeemed from Egypt so long ago. The prophet and the prophet’s message were one; John appeared only when this was so, when the Lord had prepared His chosen vessel; a weakened instrument duly fitted for the times and His purpose
- The message of repentance is not preached to the lost but to the Lord’s own found people – John is a prophet not an evangelist, in a time when all is crooked, when the proud are exalted and the humble are laid low; everything is inverted, upside down, contrary to the Lord purpose and intent (note: salvation is not an end in itself, but a means for the Lord to achieve His purpose; is all your thought and confidence on your own salvation (personal interest in other words) or the grander and eternal purpose of God?). Strongholds exist that are generations old and deep, The enemy energizes them and sustains the people in their blindness and religious pride – traditions, doctrines, assumptions, false teaching, a crossless, small “c” christianity, etc.
- John (and his small remnant company of disciples – some of whom followed the Lord later) is alone – he is a remnant of one crying in the wilderness – “Who warned you…?” – no one, which was why he was there – where were all the teachers, the guides, the leaders, the shepherds, the priests? All hopelessly corrupted from top to bottom; all the political and religious leaders blinded by worldly power and greed and temporal cares; the people content in their lives as slaves to Rome (the world); they were not seeking the Lord’s kingdom but a safe and secure and comfortable place in the world. Religious power had lied down with political power – think Roman Empire, British Empire, American Empire, etc. The virgin had become the harlot, full of adultery and fornication, and she is riding (straddling) the filthy beast
- There is a “we are rich and need of nothing” aspect in the people – “We have Abraham…”. ” I am saved by faith alone” says the modern believer, “who are you to tell me the Lord is not pleased, not satisfied; that I will be judged? I go to church, we send thousand of missionaries to the third world; we support the local food bank, the homeless, we are a bible-believing church…. “
- “brood of vipers” – read: “children of Satan” – I see no way to soften this – fearful are His judgments (see the curses in Deuteronomy promised to His own people and fulfilled to both houses to the awful letter. “Oh but in this time of grace the Lord will not judge His own people” – OH really?)
- It is a time just prior to the wrath of the Lord coming (AD 70, when all fell, the temple, the city, the land, everything they trusted in)
- The Lord is looking for fruitfulness, the real evidence of salvation; A tree that bears no fruit is useless and must come down. This is inevitable – it is not a question of if but when. This whole “christian thing” we see in the world today cannot stand in the end. Jesus Himself is weeping over the very state of it – but soon His tears will give way to righteous indignation and action!
- “God’s salvation” seems to be the Lord Himself in His coming – for us this is very soon in His second advent in judgment to claim all that is His to claim – His bride, then the throne of the world
- John’s message is “Turn! – turn back to the Lord, back to truth and reality, back to what is real and authentic, live the life, come out of the falseness, the deadness, the fruitlessness”
- We see later, when the Lord Himself walked on the scene how many beggars, lepers, orphans, sinners and widows went uncared for by this “religious” people – they had failed the test, for this is how the Lord sums up whether His life is really in us – it is very practical – the very ones who are most impacted by the curse of sin and death – the fatherless, the widows, the orphans, the poor and needy – these are his measuring rods – think deeply on this my brothers, think very deeply on this, for this hard word may stir some of you in ways never known before. Our Lord touched the ones he helped. He looked into their eyes; the Father led them to each one personally, many of whom followed Him afterwards
- Honesty, integrity, uprightness, separateness (spiritually) from strongholds of falseness and hypocrisy
- Materialism, greed, love of money in the service of Mammon – covered over with swooning choruses of “We love you Jesus” in great halls every Sunday”
- It is the charge of adultery and sexual perversion that finally ends John’s ministry – this is most insightful, as we consider the state we are in right now – the beast rising, the harlot pruning herself, the love of pleasure and ease and comfort; we must also consider that John in some degree glimpsed (in the spirit) the divine mystery that the One coming after Him would be the “Bridegroom” and that the summing up of all things in Him would involve the marriage of the Lamb and the bringing forth of a bride (taken out of His body) worthy of Him
- John was beheaded, as will be the two witnesses – this represents a rejection of the Lord Himself, the cutting off of the head; the separating of the head from the body, which is really Satan’s intent – that the One New Man in Christ will not walk on this earth in the full expression of the life of God
Consider loved ones, consider well, this word, for the times we are in will find us out, what we are made of, whether we will company with John beyond the river, or remain at the gate of the city. Let our hearts cry out and let our prayers rise up for all those who have been taken captive by the enemy to do his will; all those who are blind and complacent and overly confident in this day of reckoning.
Ask yourself this – if one such as John was to rise up in this day and venture into one of so many churches in the world today – what would become of him? “Oh but we are not like Israel in the days of Pontious Pilate?” Oh Really?
Ask the Lord what it means today spiritually for us to wear camel hair and to be content with locusts and honey? Harshness, bitterness mixed with sweet, a standing against the strongholds, a vow of spiritual separation supported by a life of purity, integrity, contrition. To see is everything! And to hear what the Lord is saying to us! Oh Lord, this is our heart cry and prayer in these dark days, when all seems fallen, mixed, compromised, superficial, soulish and deep, deep into the lives and hearts of those who claim your salvation.
Come Lord Jesus Come!
It is You alone we love!