Your session will end in  seconds due to inactivity. Click here to continue using this web page.

Setting the Stage for Jesus, Part 1

Luke 3:1 December 05, 1999 42-35

Well, that was just thrilling music for us to enjoy this morning. And it's a good thing that we had all of that wonderful music to enjoy because the sermon may be a bit tedious and I'm not saying that because it is to me, I'm always thrilled with the sermons, but...it may be to you because we are... One of the wonderful things about doing Bible exposition is you have an immense amount of variety in the context of Scripture. Sometimes you're dealing with a very profound theological issue, sometimes you're dealing with fascinating narrative stories, sometimes you're dealing with very practical applicational passages of Scripture, sometimes you're dealing with prophetic things that give us a window on the future and sometimes you're dealing with historical information. And that, too, is in the Bible and it is authored by God's Holy Spirit and it is there for our edification and the strengthening of our understanding of God's Word.

And as we come this morning to Luke chapter 3 and the opening of that chapter, we come to what is a very historical portion of Scripture. Most preachers would skip over this, frankly. In fact, probably advise anybody to skip over it because it is a bit on the academic side. But it provides a very important context for us for the present and the future understanding of the gospels as they unfold the story of Jesus Christ, most particularly in Luke's gospel. Luke is a very careful historian. And as he begins chapter 3 he is really launching the story of Jesus Christ, the birth narrative of Jesus and John is contained in chapters 1 and 2. Thirty years have now passed since the birth of John and the birth of Jesus and it is time for the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ. And that's where we are as we come to Luke chapter 3. We get to the real story, the birth narratives are gone, they're in the past. Thirty years have intervened in the life of John and the life of Jesus. They're both around the age of thirty when John begins his ministry of announcing the arrival of Messiah and about six months later Messiah steps on to the scene. So we've come now to the ministry of John and the ministry of Jesus, the great story of the coming of the Savior of the world, the God/Man, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

But because Luke is a careful historian, he wants to frame the scenery for us before we look at the drama of the life of Christ. He doesn't want the story to unfold on a bare stage, but rather he wants to create for us the historical setting, the social setting, the political setting and the religious setting that really creates the context in which the story of Jesus unfolds.

For thirty years the life of John, the prophet who would announce the arrival of Jesus, for thirty years the life of Jesus has been very, very private. And though His birth was known, of course, to Joseph and Mary and it was known to the shepherds, and it was known to those who were looking for the redemption of Israel because Simeon and Anna announced it, beyond that it was largely a very private thirty years for Jesus. John was well known to his parents. The angel Gabriel had announced to Zacharias that he would have a son who would be a prophet and who would be the forerunner to the Messiah. But beyond Zacharias and Elizabeth, we're not sure how many others knew, certainly Joseph knew and Mary knew because Mary was related to Elizabeth, the mother of John. But apart from those initial folks, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna and those looking for redemption in Israel, and the shepherds who heard the words of the angels and visited the child in the manger, there wasn't anybody else in Israel perhaps with a few exceptions that really was aware of those people, John and Jesus, for 30 years. They didn't have any public ministry for those 30 years, there's only one incident in the life of Jesus recorded, and we looked at that last week, and that at the age of 12 when He was in the temple and announced that He knew He was the Son of God. But apart from that these had been very, very private years.

All we know about Jesus during these years we find in chapter 2 verse 40, "The continued to grow, become strong, increasing in wisdom, the grace of God was upon Him," and verse 52, "Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men." That's all we know about Him for 30 years, His life was very, very private. And all we know about John in those 30 years is told in chapter 1 verse 80, "The child John continued to grow to become strong in spirit, lived in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel."

So, in both cases you have 30 very private years. Gabriel is silent for 30 years, he doesn't tell anybody who John is or who Jesus is. Zacharias and Elizabeth by now have died and gone on to glory. Joseph has, no doubt, died. Mary is in her mid forties. Simeon and Anna were old at the time they met the baby Jesus and surely they're gone as well. No angelic host has appeared in the heaven to make any announcement. The prophet John hasn't said anything in the thirty years and Jesus only one comment, and that at the age of twelve, acknowledging Himself to be the Son of God. So they are thirty silent years. And the Messiah living in the obscure, out-of-the-way, off-beat path town called Nazareth and nobody in Nazareth was pointing to Him saying, "This is the Messiah," not even Mary. There was no prophet. There was no word from God. There was no angelic visitation.

And John far from the cities lived out in the desert for his thirty years. He was, in every sense, a wilderness man. He wore a camel's hair garment which indicates probably that it was a hide of a camel that he had made into some kind of a garment to keep him warm out there and it was a leather belt that went around his waist, maybe taken as well from a camel or some other animal. And his diet, according to Matthew 3 verse 4, was locust and wild honey. This is really a mountain man, in every sense an unrefined kind of life, a very difficult, tough kind of life but he was uninfluenced by the establishment. He was apart from the social establishment and also apart from the religious establishment.

But as we come to chapter 3, the real story begins and God breaks 425 years of prophetic silence. Let's look at verse 1. "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea an Trachonitis and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness."

Now this is all the background that we need to begin the story. And Luke gives us a very, very helpful picture in just a few words. Remember now, it's been 425 years since a prophet spoke. The long wait is finally over. The last prophet that spoke is Malachi. Four-hundred and twenty-five years is no voice from God and all of a sudden God calls John in the wilderness and verse 4 says, "John becomes the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'" And therein he announces the arrival of the Messiah.

So on to center stage comes John, the first prophet in over 400 years, the last of the Old Testament prophets. And he has two tasks. One, to prepare the people for the Messiah. Two, to present the Messiah to the people. So part of his ministry focuses on the people getting them ready for the Messiah, and the other part on the Messiah, presenting Him to the people. And we'll see that unfold in the rest of chapter 3.

As I said, we haven't heard anything from John since the brief comment in chapter 1 verse 80 that says he was growing, becoming strong in spirit and living in the desert until his ministry began. But then look at verse 2, the end of the verse, "The word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness."

Now God had promised that this John would be the prophet introducing Messiah. Go back to chapter 1 verse 13. When God came to Zacharias, the priest who was old, 70, 80 years old, and his wife as well, He said to him, "Zacharias, your petition...verse 13...has been heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will give him the name John." Now they were a barren couple, they never could have children. They were now in their seventies, perhaps even in their eighties. It was impossible and yet God miraculously intervened and you will bear this son, verse 14, "You'll have joy and gladness, many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink no wine or liquor, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb." He actually started his prophesying before he was even born. "He will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him...that is before Messiah...in the spirit and power of Elijah, the great prophet of old, for the purpose of turning the hearts of the fathers back to the children and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

So, Gabriel came and told Zacharias he was going to have a son through his wife Elizabeth and this son would be John, the forerunner of the Messiah, the herald who would announce His coming. No king in ancient times ever arrived without an announcement. No king ever showed up at a town without somebody preparing the way, somebody making a path, somebody making a way ready for his arrival, and that would be the responsibility of John.

Well, as the story unfolds in chapter 1, the baby John was born. We go later in chapter 1 and we find in verse 57, "The time had come for Elizabeth to give birth and she brought forth a son." So the prophecy of John was fulfilled, she had that child. Verse 59, "On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zacharias after his father, his father answered and said, 'No indeed, he shall be called John.'" And that is because that was the name given to him by the prophecy of God through the angel Gabriel. And his father concurred. Verse 63, "His name is John."

And then in that wonderful benedictus starting in verse 67, Zacharias, the father of John, the forerunner of the Messiah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. And down in verse 76 this is what he said to the little eight-day-old baby that he surely held in his arms, "And you, child, will be called the prophet of Most High for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways." That is what Isaiah had prophesied. That is what Gabriel had told Zacharias. And that is what Zacharias reiterates. He is having a son, the son is John, he is the forerunner of the Messiah to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Well for Zacharias to know that and Elizabeth to know that and certainly they conveyed that to John, was about the extent of it. And for 30 years this man, John, grew and developed and lived in the wilderness. He was from his mother's womb filled with the Holy Spirit and we can ascertain from that that he was a godly man, a true prophet of God but had to wait 30 years for his prophetic ministry to begin. And then it was in chapter 3 and verse 2 that at that time the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

Now let me take a little time in developing this because it's very important in the larger context. The phrase "the word of God came to John" deserves some scrutiny. When you see a word, the word "word" in Greek, in English I should say, you only have one word for it. The word has only one English word, "word." But in the Greek "word" is a translation of two Greek words. It can be logos, which is probably the most common one and the other is rhema. Logoshas to do with the general concept. So we read ton legon te theo(??) in Luke 5:1, "the word of God," and that's a general reference to Scripture, or general reference to revelation. Logosis the more general of the two words. This is the word rhema. Rhemaactually means "a specific statement," it is not general, it is particular. And so what you have here is not the idea that Scripture came to John. John did not reveal Scripture, John didn't write Scripture, John the apostle did, as we know, but not John the prophet. This rather is a specific word coming to him from God calling him into ministry. This is the rhemaof God, the special statement from God launching him into ministry.

Now, this is his divine calling then. And at this point, divine silence of 425 years is broken as God calls John to his prophetic ministry. Now it's very important to notice this little phrase "the word of God came to John," because that is a classic phrase that any Jew would immediately recognize. And Luke uses it very thoughtfully because of what he wants us to understand.

If you go back in to Genesis 15 you run into the great patriarch, the father of Israel, the greatest of all Jews because he's the first one that launched the Jewish people by the covenant with God, his name is Abraham. And in Genesis 15:1 it says, "The word of the Lord came to Abraham." In 1 Samuel 15:10 it says, "The word of the Lord came to Samuel." In 2 Samuel 7:4, "The word of the Lord came to the prophet Nathan." In 1 Kings 17 it says, "The word of the Lord came to Elijah." And so the word of the Lord, or the word of God coming to someone was indicative of a calling from God, and we find that particularly illustrated among the prophets.

For example, Jeremiah chapter 1, it says, "The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign." So it was a way to introduce a prophet to say "the word of the Lord came." And in Jeremiah's case, the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. And the introduction of John the Baptist very closely parallels that, as we'll see in a moment.

That is the way Ezekiel is introduced. Ezekiel 1:3, "The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel." Hosea 1:1, Joel 1:1, Jonah 1:1, Micah 1:1, Zephaniah 1:1, Haggai verse 3, and then Zechariah 1:1, Malachi 1:1, all the same, the word of the Lord came...the word of the Lord came...the word of the Lord came.

So that constituted in the Jewish mind a calling for a prophet, a calling for one who would be a spokesman for God, going all the way back to Abraham. So Luke carefully chooses words, now watch, to put John in the prophetic succession. Even though it's been 425 years, it does not mean that the prophetic office has ended. There has been a gap but the Old Testament prophetic office doesn't culminate until the arrival of John. So John is spoken of in very familiar terminology to place him in the succession of prophets and, in fact, as we know from Matthew chapter 11, of all the prophets who ever prophesied, John is the greatest prophet who ever lived because he was given the greatest privilege and that was to actually introduce on sight the Messiah Himself. And that is why Jesus said of him, "Among the prophets, among those in the Kingdom there's never been a greater than John the Baptist."

So, Luke identifies then the call of God in the life of John. He identifies John so we have no mistake, he is John, the son of Zacharias, not any other John, but the son of Zacharias the priest to whom was promised a child who would be the forerunner of Messiah. And it is the John, the son of Zacharias, in case there might be another Zacharias with a son named John, the one who is in the wilderness. And we go back again to chapter 1 verse 80 where it tells us John spent his whole life in the desert, or the wilderness. So this is that John.

Now it tells us that he is in the wilderness. Now the wilderness referred to here is defined in Matthew 3:1 as the wilderness of Judea. I don't know if you're familiar, probably in your mind's eye you have some idea of the map of Israel, if you don't you can look in your maps in the back of your Bible and you'll see some maps there. The wilderness of Judea would be from the north end of the Dead Sea, about half way up the Jordan River, to...to the Sea of Galilee. Going north from the Dead Sea, up toward Galilee, we don't know exactly how far to the precise point would be considered the wilderness of Judea, probably maybe all the way up near the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. It would be east of the hill country of Judea. Judea, as you know, Jerusalem is on a plateau and there's mountains and hills and then it sinks down into a valley 1500 feet below sea level. That area coming back...coming down the back eastern slopes of the mountains down into the Jordan Valley into that desert area is the wilderness of Judea. It is a barren area. It is a devastated area. In fact, George Adam Smith called it "the devastation," and it goes from the hill country of Judea on the west of the Jordan River, north toward the Dead Sea. Most people would draw a sort of a northern boundary at the Jabbok River, there's a little river called the Jabbok River that comes from the east and flows into the Jordan. Somewhere halfway toward the Sea of Galilee, that area would be the area of wilderness where John was living. Eking out an existence, believe me, that would be a very difficult place to live and the difficulty of it demonstrated by his diet of locusts and wild honey.

So here is this wilderness man, this prophet called by God, born by a miracle conception between two people who were barren and pass child bearing capability, this one who is to prepare the people for the Messiah and present the Messiah to the people when He arrives. And with the launch of John in his ministry, the privacy is over...the privacy is over and the whole presentation of John becomes very public. In fact, the whole country was going out eventually to hear John preach, his ministry was so public and followed by the ministry of Jesus which was public. In fact, it was so public in Acts 26:26 the apostle Paul is talking to King Agrippa and he says to him, verse 26, "For the king knows about these matters," the matters of Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection Paul had been preaching about. He says, "Agrippa, I know you know about these matters because none of these things escape your notice because this has not been done in a corner," Acts 26:26. So the ministry was very, very public. It went from 30 years of being very, very private, to three years of very, very public ministry. And that all is launched by the call of John who steps on to center stage to get people ready for the Messiah and present Him about six months later when He arrives.

Now to understand the ministry of Jesus, to understand His difficulties as He ministered, to understand the hostility, His execution, to understand the hostility toward John who eventually got his head chopped off, to understand the whole drama recorded in Luke's gospel, we need to get the setting. We don't want to just look at the actors on a bare stage, and so Luke in his wonderful way sets the scenery for us, and he does it in verse 1 and the first part of verse 2.

"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iduraea and Trachonitis and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John..." Now all of that is a tapestry that provides a backdrop for the drama that is going to unfold.

Now as we go down through verse 6 we're going to see four aspects of this context. And Luke is taking his time to set the stage. We're going to see the historical setting. We're going to see the geographical setting. We're going to see the theological setting and we're going to see the prophetical setting. We're going to see how this fits in history, how it fits geographically, how it fits theologically, how it fits prophetically. And those four will unfold for us as we look at these opening verses.

Now as I said, this is going to be a bit tedious and I'm going to give you dates and I'm going to give you names and all of this and you may get lost, but I just want to encourage you all of it will be on the quiz. So listen carefully.

Now for this morning, let's look at the historical setting--the historical setting. Now I find this fascinating and I hope you'll find it to some degree fascinating. We won't spend a lot of time, we don't have a lot of time this morning, but I'm going to run down this fairly rapidly, it is important to fix in your mind.

Now I purposely didn't say chronological because that isn't the issue. To find the exact year, month, day is not what Luke is after. He starts out by saying, "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar...if all he wanted us to know was a specific year, then why did he give the next six names? Because they don't have any time connected with them. No, that isn't the idea. The idea is not to identify a chronological time. The idea is to identify a context historically, politically, and religiously. He wants to paint the picture, whether it was in 29 or 26 A.D. that was the specific year, whatever the month might have been we don't know that, the issue is to understand the context.

These were desperate times for Israel. These were dark times. These were oppressive times. They were apostate times, hypocritical times, times when the promises to Abraham to David and to Jeremiah in the New Covenant were not being realized. They had been under oppression for a long, long time by Gentile powers. They fought against that. They resented that. The Gentiles had brought idols in, they had desecrated Israel, desecrated the temple. They continued to do that even under the Roman rule as they had done it under the Greeks. There had been rebellions, the most notable of which was the Maccabean revolt to throw the Greeks out because of their idolatrous impositions on Israel's life. These were very difficult times when they did not enjoy their freedom, when they couldn't see the promises of the covenant coming to pass but it looked like the very opposite. There was no true king in Israel. There was no true land given to them as had been promised to Abraham. There were no real blessings and the whole nation was even religiously corrupt, as well as being politically oppressed and in bondage by an occupying Gentile, Roman idolatrous power.

And Luke wants us to get a feel for this and that's why he gives us these seven names. And these are names that we know about in history so we can reconstruct the scene. Seven names help us with the historical setting.

Now, first of all, let's look at the first name, Tiberius Caesar...in the fifteenth year of the reign, really the Greek word is not a technical word, it's just a generic word for the governing. It's hegemonias(?), the ruling, the governing. In the fifteenth year of the governing of Tiberius Caesar. And again the fifteenth year is mentioned and that's helpful to us, Luke isn't setting a date or he wouldn't have bothered to give the other six names, but he does give us a little help on fixing the point of time. He's more concerned about the conditions then he is the chronology, but the fifteen year does help us because it allows us to establish some very important dates which do show up at the entrance of Jesus on Palm Sunday into the city in fulfillment of precise dates given by Daniel. That's why they're important. You have to know these, you have to land on these and have something in your mind because the rest of the story is going to...is going to be affected by it.

Now, you say, "Okay, fifteen year reign of Tiberius Caesar, when did Tiberius Caesar start to reign?" There are some who say he began his official reign the year that the predecessor died, Caesar Augustus, who is mentioned and I went into some detail about him, chapter 2 verse 1, I won't go back over that, a fascinating, fascinating character, as all of the Caesars are. But Tiberius, we know exactly when he died according to Roman record, he died in August 19 of the year A.D. 14. So if Tiberius took over that year, you can add fifteen years, that would mean that John receives his call from God and launches his ministry in the year 29...14 plus add 15, that's 29. That would put John's ministry in the year 28 or 29. And there are scholars who have marshalled reasons to support that view. And you cannot be dogmatic about this, although I have a preference and I'll try to explain it to you.

There's a more traditional view that carries for me great weight and that is the view that fifteen years is not to be counted from the death of Augustus, but it's to be counted from a number of years before he died so that it gets us to a different date at the end, and I'll explain what I mean. When Tiberius became Caesar, he was made Caesar, as all the Caesars are supposed to be were made...were supposed to be made by the senate, the Roman senate. It was not a monarchy passed down generationally, being a Caesar was the privilege conferred upon a man by the senate, the Roman senate. But the Caesars tended to be very power hungry, as you can imagine, and Augustus was no different. So Augustus, they were sure, would want to keep this in his family and pass it on to his sons and so the senate made the provision that his authority would end at his death and that it would not be able to...it would not be able to be passed on to his sons. This was done in order to preserve the senate's right to choose the next Caesar.

But Augustus was a wily guy and a very, very influential and powerful one and in order to avoid losing this power in his family, before he died, before his responsibility ended at his death, he appointed a co-caesar, and the idea was that he could appoint this co-caesar years before his time was up and then it would automatically pass to this man who would be the man of his choice and through that man could pass his own heirs.

Unfortunately the co-regent that he appointed died before he did. That didn't stop him, he selected a second choice, he selected a man named Tiberius who happened to be his son-in-law. Now the historians tell us he hated him. Most of the Caesars hated everybody, but Augustus hated Tiberius, his son-in-law, but he wanted to be able to pass the emperor's position on to his grandsons and so he chose Tiberius and he made him Caesar in really a co-caesar. In fact, he adopted Tiberius and made Tiberius his own son by adoption, and in the Roman world that was...that was better than being a born son. If somebody adopted you, that was by choice. If you were born into the family, that was just the way it happened.

So in 4 A.D. Augustus made Tiberius his own adopted son and then in 11 A.D. he made Tiberius co-caesar, again not because he liked him but because he wanted to pass the throne through him to his grandsons. So if you start when Tiberius actually began governing, the fifteenth year of his governing, if he took his co-caesar position which, by the way, Augustus forced the senate to affirm so that it was legal, the senate actually affirmed it, if that happened in 11 A.D. add 15 years to that and you have 25 or 26 A.D., preferably 26 A.D. So I take it that that's the better way to understand this, that it starts in 11 A.D., the year then is 26 A.D. That means the calendar that we use which is based on the other chronology is off four years. Christ would have been born then in 4 B.C. and by the age of 30 it would have been 26 A.D. which is consistent with this chronology.

Now there are other matters that get introduced into this discussion, such as Syrian calendars, and such as the fact that the Jews may have only counted the reign of a king from the Jewish new year following his enthronement. And there are people who want to throw all kinds of things into the gears on this issue. But I really do prefer the 11 A.D. time because that is the time when he became officially the Caesar, had all the power of Caesar over all the provinces as co-caesar with Augustus. That takes us to 25 to 26 A.D. scenario.

I'll give you just a few quick supporting arguments. Luke, the writer, could understand a co-regency because in verse 2 he understands the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas and although Caiaphas was the official high priest, Annas was the real power and so you have there, he says, the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. That shows that he understood a co-regency in a high priest role and could well be an analogy for him understanding the same with regard to Tiberius and Augustus.

It is also very important to note that Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his Antiquities, tells us that Herod the Great began to build the temple in the year 19 B.C., nineteen years before B.C. begins. In 19 B.C....before A.D. begins, I mean...in 19 B.C. according to Josephus, Herod began to build the temple. That would be the eighteenth year of his reign which began in 37 B.C., so it's 19.

When you come to John 2:20 the Jews said the temple had been being built for 46 years. The temple has been under construction for 46 years, they said, when Jesus came to the Passover. Jesus comes to the Passover, and He says He's going to destroy this temple and raise it up, they think He's talking about the temple of Herod which he started in 19 B.C., he's been building it for 46 years, they said that would make the date for that Passover 27 A.D. and that would mean that Christ's ministry began in the latter part of 26 and John's ministry began six months earlier. So 26 is a very reasonable assumption.

Another thought is many scholars believe that the events around Christ's birth told in Matthew 2 lead us to believe that He was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great. Herod the Great, you remember, wanting to destroy all the babies, so that Jesus would have been born shortly before the death of Herod the Great. So he died April 4 of the year 4 B.C. So Christ could have been born in 4 B.C., just before the death of Herod in April and that would mean you add 30 years and you're back at 26 again. And Jesus, according to verse 23 of Luke 3, you can see it there, began His ministry at about 30 years of age.

Now did you get all that? Well, you can get the tape or maybe you can look at your notes and make some sense out of them later. The reason I give you that is because all the way through the chronology of the life of Christ, this comes into play because there are certain Passovers, certain prophecies being fulfilled. And when I wrote the MacArthur Study Bible, the notes on the study Bible, this is one of the great challenges you have, you have to pick a chronology and then it has to be consistent. If you look in the charts at the beginning of the New Testament, you'll see a time line for the New Testament and you'll see I have chosen the year 26 to begin that time line which I think is consistent with that and makes for a consistent chronology all the way through. Therefore in actuality Christ would have been born, if we adjust the calendar, Christ would have been born in 4 B.C., so those people who believe that Jesus has to come two thousand years after His birth have already missed it by four years. Okay? So don't get too cranked up on the year two thousand having some prophetic significance. We passed the year 2000 since Christ four years ago.

Now the reign of Tiberius Caesar, obviously we can give you a lot of history about that, I'm not going to do that. The reign of Tiberius Caesar is linked with a number of trials, linked with treasons, sedition. There were lots of Jews when he was the emperor, when he was the Caesar, there were lots of Jews deported out of Israel and taken to Rome for trials and sedition and things like that. He was a typical Caesar with all of the bizarre machinations, all of the expressions of cruelty, all of the self-centeredness, all of the ego gone mad...the whole thing was all part of Tiberius. And in his latter years he descended into dementia, to one degree or another. His mental abilities were so severely hindered that the last part of his rule has been called "A reign of terror," a combination of his wickedness unchecked because of his irrationality. He was in many ways the worse possible kind of ruler.

So, over the life of Israel hangs this great cloud, this dark ominous cloud by the name of Caesar Tiberius and he is oppressive and he at any time can reign down all the evil of the Roman purpose on their heads. To be ruled by a Gentile pagan, uncircumcised idolater is the worst possible scenario for the Jewish people. And then in addition to that, one more name, Pontius Pilate, familiar to all of us, and just reading his name heightens the drama, doesn't it, because we know how he plays such an important role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And it says, "Pontius Pilate was governor." It's not a noun here, it's actually a participle. He was governing, it's the same generic word from hegemoneuo. He was ruling in the land of Israel, in the land of Palestine.

We know about him because in 1961 there was a plaque discovered and a dedicatory statement discovered in Caesarea. Caesarea was the center of Roman occupation, you can visit the ruins today and still see some of the original Roman ruins there. But in Caesarea where the Romans had their main occupation center in the land of Palestine, apparently there is a building built there called the Tiberium, named for Tiberius. They did a lot of that. The city of Tiberius which you can visit in Israel today was named for Tiberius. It's on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee. But in 1961 there was discovered there a dedicatory plaque on a building called the Tiberium and on that dedicatory plaque is the name "Pontius Pilate." Pontius Pilate is a real person. He has the dedicatory plaque because he built the building in honor of Tiberius and called it "Tiberium."

On that plaque he is called "Prefectus." Prefectus was the official title. He was a Roman Prefect...a Roman Prefect. Later on that word in verse...in I think 46 A.D. was changed to Procurator. Sometimes you hear Pilate called a procurator, but that wouldn't have been true until 46 A.D. and Pilate was through in 36, so he was never called a procurator. In 70 A.D. they changed it to alegate(?), he wouldn't have been called that either. By then he was certainly dead. But he was a prefect.

Now he ruled over the land of Palestine in Israel from 26 to 36, so he came into power when John came into his prophetic office. The way that happened is fascinating. When Herod the Great died, Herod was an Idumaean, not a Jew, from Idumaea. Herod ruled that area. He was sort of a petty king. The Romans let him rule because they needed somebody to rule there, he was familiar with the people and the tradition and the customs, he had the power base there and he was favorable to Rome, he was compliant to Rome, he did what Rome wanted, so they left him there. When Herod died in 4 B.C., as I already mentioned, he had three sons, Archelaus, Philip and Herod Antipas, three sons. And when he died he wanted the kingdom split to those three sons. He wanted a third to go to Archelaus, a third to go to Philip, and a third to go to Herod Antipas, that's the way he wanted to divide it up.

And so that happened when he died. However, Archelaus who got Judea, Samaria and Idumaea which is south of Judea, that's really the main part of Palestine, he was so bad that two years later he was deposed...no, ten years later he was deposed. He survived for ten years. You've got to remember this cause it...some of it doesn't stick as well as others, I know you're having trouble, I can't even remember this stuff. But he was in there for about ten years, I think till 6 B.C. (means A.D.) and they dumped him. So in 6 B.C. (means A.D.) they dumped him.

They had to have somebody else to rule that are, Judea, Samaria and Idumaea. They just combined it into one area, called it Judea and put in a series of prefects, the fifth of which was Pilate. So you had Archelaus ruling that area for ten years, and then you had a succession of four rulers and finally in 26, the same time John steps in, you have Pilate. So those dates coincide very well. It was at the time when Pontius Pilate had just stepped in to governing Judea because Judea was now the name for all three areas.

So Pontius Pilate brings some tremendous interest to anybody who understands anything about the story of Jesus. Pontius Pilate, what an amazing person he was. He had a deserved reputation of being implacable, inflexible, self-willed, wicked. One writer says his rule was characterized by briberies, insults, robberies, outrageous, wanton injuries, frequent executions without trial and endless savage veracity...Pontius Pilate. And, you know, it was under Pontius Pilate that Jesus was executed by the Romans.

Now you not only have this interesting figure Pontius Pilate, but you also have Herod, the next one, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee. Herod was Herod Antipas...Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, the brother of Archelaus who originally had ruled where Pilate was now the Roman ruler. And Herod Antipas had Galilee and Peraea, he was given that in 4 B.C. when his father died. And by the way, he ruled until 39 A.D., so whenever from now on in the story of Jesus you read Herod, it's this Herod. Herod the Great is dead, he dies just after the birth of Jesus in 4 B.C. and now Herod Antipas rules through the whole life of Jesus. Herod Antipas was a full brother of Archelaus. herod Antipas was, as we shall see as the story unfolds, also a part of the execution of Jesus. He received Jesus from Annas and Caiaphas to hold a sort of mock trial as the petty king and mocked Jesus in really frighteningly blasphemous ways, as the story unfolds at the end of the account of the life of Jesus. He incensed the Jews, Herod Antipas did, he built a capital city, he built Tiberius only he built it on a Jewish cemetery. And then he put idols in public places. They hated him. He just flaunted idolatry in their faces, he flaunted their traditions and their sacred ground.

His devotion to Rome was so strong and he was such a wicked man that it was Herod Antipas who chopped John's head off because he made a promise to a girl who seduced him with a dance and said I'd give her anything she wanted and she wanted John's head on a platter, and he served it up. As I said, Herod Antipas, we'll see in Luke 23, plays a part in the execution of Jesus.

And then there is mentioned his brother Philip and Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, that's northeast of the Sea of Galilee. And he ruled from 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., a long rule of 37 years. The capital of that region is a city way up at the head waters of the Jordan River called Caesarea Philippi, another city named after Caesar. Philip was a brother, another Herodian, a member of the Herodian family and he ruled that area.

One other person is named, Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene. He's the only Texan in the group. I don't know if you people realize that Abilene is a Bible name, but it is. And for years critics said Luke is wrong here, he doesn't...Luke's history is bad here because the Lysanias we know about in history lived...died 34, 36 B.C. and he was killed by Marc Antony, so Luke's way off because Lysanias has got to be dead for fifty-some years by this time. That was until recent archaeologists have discovered some tablets with inscriptions showing Luke's accuracy to be precise. The record of these inscriptions tells us there was another man named Lysanias who ruled precisely in the time of John and precisely in the region of Abilene which is north of Galilee and west of Damascus. And so the archaeologists have aided us in supporting the testimony of Luke.

And they're all Gentiles. And they're all to one degree or another wicked. And they all have power over the holy land that was promised to Abraham. And they are all rulers and it isn't David and it isn't a Jewish king and it isn't anybody in the Messianic line. The word "tetrarch" is repeated here three times, tetrarch...tetrarch...tetrarch. And it's repeated, I think, to make a point. You know what a tetrarch was? A tetrarch was a low-level, low-ranking king, a petty king, a small-time king, a petty prince. And here is Israel under the dominating power of the Gentile Caesar and being ruled by a quartet of petty princes, all Gentiles, all uncircumcised pagans, all idolaters, and there is no fulfillment and there is no freedom and things couldn't have been worse. They are occupied. They are oppressed. They're in bondage to the most powerful, most perverse and most petty of idolatrous Gentiles, far from having the promises of God through Abraham and David and Jeremiah fulfilled. With all that Gentile heathen cloud ominously hanging over them, their life was very fragile and they had really no freedom to enjoy. And worse, and this is for next time, it was also, verse 2 says, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. And if you think the Gentiles were bad, you haven't seen anything yet. These were far worse because they were corrupt in the name of God...and we'll see that next time. Let's pray.


Father, as the stage is set, we can feel the anticipation of the unfolding of the story in this environment and all of the amazing strands that run through this great story of Jesus Christ. Prepare our hearts and open us to the truth as we lay the foundations now to understand fully the wondrous, wondrous work of salvation through the Messiah. We pray in His great name. Amen.