15 Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 16 John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
So John has appeared on the scene, he’s given people a message of repentance and he’s enlightened them specifically on what repentance means in a practical manner.
The people’s response is positive, and they begin to wonder if John is the Messiah that was promised. The nation had been conquered previously by the Romans and was under Roman control. The people chaffed at the Romans mostly because of the cluelessness to the Jewish religion that many Roman officials showed and the brutality with which Roman officials often resorted when challenged by protesters.
The nation was expecting deliverance from the Lord, and with the coming of this wilderness prophet, people begin to wonder if God has sent him to lead them against Rome.
John puts a stop to it quickly. He baptizes with water as a symbol of repentance and a commitment to God, but One would follow him who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. Fire is symbolic. God appeared to Moses as a fiery bush. God is described elsewhere as a consuming fire. Paul in one of his epistles describes a scene after death of believers passing through a fire that consumes their previous life’s sinful acts and worthless things they accumulated. So there’s a sense that the Messiah will baptize them with the Holy Spirit, giving them communion and a relationship with God and anointing them with power, and baptizing them with fire, purifying their lives and consuming the worthless things they cling to.
The idea is that John’s is symbolic of an inner transformation, of a commitment by the individual to change and do better, while the Messiah’s baptism would restore the relationship with God, grant them the Spirit of God to guide them into a better Way, and cleanse from them any petty or worthless things they valued more than God or their fellow man. The Messiah’s baptism would be a transformative one.
Fire is also symbolic of judgment. If someone continued on with their evil and refused to repent, if someone’s life was full of worthless things, then they would lose it all in the fire that would be a judgment to them. God was going to separate the good from the evil, and some people were going into a fire that would consume everything.
The takeaway is the same as the previous passage. John is calling people to commit to change. To commit their lives to doing better towards their fellow man and towards God. Essentially, John is beginning the message of Christ: for men to build up and focus on the important things, your fellow man and the Lord, because those are the only things that will last for all time.
18 So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. 19 But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, 20 Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison.
Luke gives a brief interjection that is outside of the chronology to catch the reader up on what happens with John.
John is uncompromising and not a respecter of status or office. He confronts the king of the Galilee region, Herod Antipas, who divorced his first wife and took for himself the wife of his brother Philip, Herodias. Such a marriage was not lawful, and John calls the king to account, much as previous prophets had done to previous kings. And like many of those prophets, John is imprisoned for his message and eventually executed.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”
23 When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age…
Jesus goes out to meet his cousin John. It’s possible they’ve seen each other before. Mary and Elizabeth seemed to be close, so it’s possible that the two cousins spent time together as younger children. But this is a different occasion. John had been called, and now it was time for Jesus to follow His own call.
So Jesus chooses to get baptized. Why? It wasn’t for repentance. It was a sign of commitment. A sign that Christ was beginning a new phase of His life, one that was not about the day to day work He did, but about His own ministry and mission. It was a symbol of His commitment to God’s call.
God validates His act and testifies that this is not a baptism of repentance to the people, for God is ‘well-pleased’ with His Son. The Holy Spirit descends upon Him and rests on Him, signifying that the works He would do would be from the Lord, from the Father.
And with that, Jesus begins His three and a half year ministry.