1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’”
4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him
6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
in those days (v.1) — approximately 30 years after the events in chapter 2
Luke gives the date of the beginning of John’s ministry as the fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar, which most authorities identify with A.D. 26. The wilderness of Judea is the region east and south of Jerusalem, including the lower Jordan Valley, and the western side of the Dead Sea. — Ironside, pages 24-25
The forerunner is John the Baptist, a typical Old Testament person, of whom the Lord says later in the Gospel, “Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet, this is he of whom it is written, Behold I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before thee. Verily I say to you, that there is not arisen among the born of women a greater than John the Baptist, but he who is a little one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he” (Matthew 11:9-12). In the same discourse the Lord says, in vindication of John, who was then in prison; “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias who is to come.” In the first chapter of Luke the angel announced his birth and says: “For he shall be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine or strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the sons of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn hearts of fathers to children, and disobedient ones to the thoughts of just men, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people” (Luke 1:15-17). In these words, given through the Holy Spirit, the Lord Himself and an angel of the Lord, we have the three prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the forerunner quoted. These are: Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6. That he was sent in fulfillment of these prophecies is therefore unquestionable. — Gaebelein, pages 57-58
Prophet after prophet appeared to the nation to forewarn it of judgment and to exhort the people to turn back to God to prevent the coming judgment. However, judgment fell, and the northern kingdom of Israel was carried into captivity to Assyria. Then other prophets exhorted Judah to turn back to God, lest a similar judgment fall on her. God’s promise was such that even if judgment fell for disobedience, and they subsequently returned to Him, He would send the Messiah to bless them. John, then, in calling the nation to repentance, was functioning as an Old Testament prophet. His ministry was in keeping with the principle of Deuteronomy 28 and 30. Before Messiah’s blessings could come, the people must turn from their sin to God. They must seek His forgiveness. — Pentecost, pages 84-85.
kingdom of heaven (v.2) — used only by Matthew — refers to the rule of heaven over earth
The kingdom of the heavens is an Old Testament term. It is to be in the earth and not in heaven. It is a kingdom in which the heavens rule (Daniel 4:26). The setting up of that kingdom is spoken of in Daniel 2:44, and in the seventh chapter, verse 14. It is in the hands of One who is the Son of Man, Messiah, the Son of David, who is to rule in righteousness. In that kingdom there will be universal peace, and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the deep. His own people, the house of Judah and the house of Israel, will all be regathered into the land, Jerusalem built again and become the great center of blessing for the nations of the earth. In one word, the kingdom of the heavens is the literal fulfillment of all the prophecies and promises contained in the Old Testament, which the Lord gave to the seed of Abraham, and the blessings of the nations of the earth to come after this kingdom is set up. … This kingdom, the forerunner declares, now has drawn nigh, it is at hand. The King is in the earth, Emanuel, He whose name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and concerning whom it is said, “that of the increase of His government and the peace there shall be no end upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever.” Not alone did John preach this kingdom to its Jewish, earthly form, but the Lord Himself declared that it had drawn nigh, and when the King sent out His disciples He told them to preach, “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn night,” the special Messianic kingdom power was put upon them to heal the sick, to raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons (Matthew 10).
But as the forerunner and his testimony is rejected, and the King Himself, the coming of that kingdom of the heavens is postponed. It is not set aside completely, but only postponed, and all the glories of that earthly Messianic Kingdom, which will reach from sea to sea, so minutely pictured in Old Testament prophecy, will yet be established in the earth with Jerusalem as the center, for the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. The kingdom of the heavens is not the church, and the church is not the kingdom. — Gaebelein, pages 60-61
The three synoptists were careful to relate John to the prophetic program revealed in the Old Testament. All quoted Isaiah 40:3-5 in explaining the ministry of John. In Isaiah 40, the prophet brought a comforting message to a distressed, oppressed people. The northern kingdom had already gone into captivity. The southern kingdom was threatened with a like exile. There was no visible hope for the nation. Yet God sent His prophet to promise that the oppression by Gentiles would be terminated and the nation’s warfare would cease. God would pardon all the nation’s sins. The prophet promised the coming of a Messiah who would bring redemption from sin and deliverance from Gentile aggressors.
The prophet went on to say that the Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner who would make an announcement in the desert concerning His coming. The voice, the prophet said, would not be heard in the temple or in Jerusalem but outside the city in the desert. This is indeed significant, for when the temple was originally built, God occupied the temple as His dwelling place (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). However, because of iniquity God departed from the temple, In Ezekiel 10-11 the prophet traced the departure of the glory of God from the temple and from the nation. Having removed Himself due to His peoples’ sins, God judged the nation. The judgment included Nebuchadnezzaar’s invasion, destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of the people.
When God returned to His people, He would speak to them outside Jerusalem and the temple. God’s plan unfolded when John appeared as the messenger of Messiah. John did not come in priestly robes that he by birth was eligible to wear but rather in the attire of a prophet — Pentecost, page 82
Isaiah (v.3) — Isaiah 40:3 (Malachi 4:5; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4; John 1:23)
The book [Isaiah] falls naturally into three great divisions. There are first 35 chapters, constituting a great movement; of judgment pronounced, shot through again and again, as all the Hebrew prophecies are, with the light of mercy, and the gleaming glory of infinite grace, that for evermore enwraps the judgment of God. The great subject of this first division is judgment. The prophet first of all utters an impeachment of the nation, with strange, alarming, and terrible denunciation of the condition of God’s ancient people. Then moving on, he tells the story of how he was called and commissioned to his work. In those chapters are two movements of judgment: first, the judgment of the chosen people on account of their failure; secondly, the judgment of the nations.
Then there is a small division in the heart of the prophecy, chapters 36-39, four chapters only, which may be called historic; corresponding with the story in some of the historic books of the Bible. In these the prophet describes the condition of affairs in his own time, and so explains the great burden of judgment that he has been compelled to utter.
Then at chapter 40 commences the supreme message of the Book of Isaiah, that for which all the rest has been necessarily preparatory. In Isaiah, as in every Hebrew prophecy, judgment is not the final word, and the prophet breaks out, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.” Then, as if he were listening to something that was not to come for centuries after — for an inspired man has not only keen vision but acute hearing — he says, without naming the man, “The voice of one that crieth, “Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah, Make level in the desert a highway for our God.” The prophet has heard the cry afar off before any one else has heard it. It is a voice in the desert; but he understands it, he knows what it means, and in a moment he begins, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain;” and the majestic description of issues moves on through chapters 40 and 41, and everything moves forward to chapter 42. “Behold My Servant, Whom I uphold; My Chosen in Whom My soul delighteth.” From that moment the prophecy centers in, and proceeds through, that Servant of Jehovah. — Morgan, pages 20-21.
clothed (v.4) — similar to Elijah’s clothing (2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4)
baptized (v.6) — prior to this, only Gentile proselytes were baptized
The baptism of John shows clearly what repentance means. Jordan is always in the Word the type of death. Thus John baptized in the river of death, which would mean unto death. The people came, confessed their sins, seeing then their true position, what they were and what they deserved; they went down into the Jordan to be buried in water, thus typifying death. They heard, they believed, they confessed and witnessed to it outwardly. In this way they justified God, as recorded in Luke 7:29-30. — Gaebelein, pages 67-68
Although the Jews were familiar with the concept of baptism and John did baptize, there are several important reasons for concluding that he was not merely performing the Old Testament ritual of cleansing. The text does not tell us that he was functioning as a priest, using water for cleansing as provided by the law. Rather, it is specifically stated that John preached “a baptism of repentance” (Luke 3:3). Thus Scripture distinguishes his baptism from a baptism for ceremonial cleansing. Four facts about John’s baptism are recorded: (1) John’s baptism was in view of the coming of Messiah (Matthew 3:2). (2) It was in view of the people’s uncleanness (Mark 1:5). (3) It was based on confession and repentance (Mark 1:4). (4) It was with a view to receiving forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). — Pentecost, page 84