Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Now in the fifteenth year - This was the "thirteenth" year of his being sole emperor. He was "two" years joint emperor with Augustus, and Luke reckons from the time when he was admitted to share the empire with Augustus Caesar. See Lardner's "Credibility," vol. i.
Tiberius Caesar - Tiberius succeeded Augustus in the empire, and began his "sole" reign Aug. 19th, 14 a.d. He was a most infamous character - a scourge to the Roman people. He reigned 23 years, and was succeeded by "Caius Caligula," whom he appointed his successor on account of his notorious wickedness, and that he might be, as he expressed it, a "serpent" to the Romans.
Pontius Pilate - Herod the Great left his kingdom to three sons. See the notes at Mat 2:22. To "Archelaus" he left "Judea." Archelaus reigned "nine" years, when, on account of his crimes, he was banished into Vienne, and Judea was made a Roman province, and placed entirely under Roman governors or "procurators," and became completely tributary to Rome. "Pontius Pilate" was the "fifth" governor that had been sent, and of course had been in Judea but a short time. (See the chronological table.)
Herod being tetrarch of Galilee - This was "Herod Antipas" son of Herod the Great, to whom Galilee had been left as his part of his father's kingdom. The word "tetrarch" properly denotes one who presides over a "fourth part" of a country or province; but it also came to be a general title, denoting one who reigned over any part - a third, a half, etc. In this case Herod had a "third" of the dominions of his father, but he was called tetrarch. It, was this Herod who imprisoned John the Baptist, and to whom our Saviour, when arraigned, was sent by Pilate.
And his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea - "Iturea" was so called from "Jetur," one of the sons of Ishmael, Gen 25:15; Ch1 1:31. It was situated on the east side of the Jordan, and was taken from the descendants of Jetur by the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, Ch1 5:19.
Region of Trachonitis - This region was also on the east of the Jordan, and extended northward to the district of Damascus and eastward to the deserts of Arabia. It was bounded on the west by Gaulonitis and south by the city of Bostra. Philip had obtained this region from the Romans on condition that he would extirpate the robbers.
Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene - Abilene was so called from "Abila," its chief city. It was situated in Syria, northwest of Damascus and southeast of Mount Lebanon, and was adjacent to Galilee.
Annas and Caiaphas being highpriests - There was, properly speaking, but one high priest of the Jews; yet the name of high priest continued to be given to those who had been in that office, and especially when they still possessed some civil office after they had left the high priesthood. In this case it appears that "Caiapas" was high priest, and Annas "had been," but had been dismissed from the office. It is highly probable that he still held an office under the Romans, and was perhaps president of the Sanhedrin. He is mentioned before Caiaphas because he was the father-in-law to Caiaphas, and probably was the eldest, and had been longest in office. Instances similar to this may be found in Josephus.
There is one remark to be made here about the manner in which the gospels are written. They have every mark of openness and honesty. An impostor does not mention names, and times, and places particularly. If he did, it would be easy to ascertain that he was an impostor. But the sacred writers describe objects and people as if they were perfectly familiar with them. They never appear to be "guarding" themselves. They speak of things most minutely. If, therefore, they had been impostors, it would have been easy to detect them. If, for example, John did not begin to preach in the 15th year of Tiberius - if Philip was "not" tetrarch of Iturea - if Pontius Pilate was not governor of Judea, how easy would it have been to detect them in falsehood! Yet it was never done. Nay, we have evidence of that age, in Josephus, that these descriptions are strictly true; and, consequently, the gospels must have been written by people who were personally acquainted with what they wrote, who were not impostors, and who were "honest" people. If they were "honest," then the Christian religion is true.
On the baptism of John - see the notes at Matt. 3.
What shall we do, then? - John had told them to bring forth fruits appropriate to repentance, or to lead a life which showed that their repentance was genuine. They very properly, therefore, asked how it should be done, or what "would be" such a life.
He that hath two coats ... - Or, in other words, aid the poor according to your ability; be benevolent, and you will thus show that your repentance is genuine. It is remarkable that one of the "first" demands of religion is to do good, and it is in this way that it may be shown that the repentance is not feigned. For.
1. The "nature" of religion is to do good.
2. This requires self-denial, and none will deny themselves who are not attached to God. And,
3. This is to imitate Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.
Coats - See the notes at Mat 5:40.
Meat - Provision of any kind.
The publicans - See the notes at Mat 5:47. There is reason to think that the "publicans" or "tax-gatherers" were especially oppressive and hard in their dealings with the people; and that, as they had every opportunity of exacting more than they ought, so they often did it, and thus enriched themselves. The evidence of repentance in them would be to break off their sins in this respect, and to deal justly.
Exact - Demand, or take, no more.
Than that which is appointed - That is, by the government. John does not condemn the office, or say that the employment should be forsaken. Though it was hated by the people - though often abused and therefore unpopular - yet "the office itself" was not dishonorable. If there is a government, it must be supported; and of course there must be people whose duty it is to collect taxes, as the means of the proper support of the government; and as such a support of the government is necessary, so the people should pay cheerfully the just apportionment of their rulers, and regard favorably those who are authorized to collect it. See Rom 13:1-6.
The soldiers likewise - It seems that "they," also came to his baptism. Whether these were Jews or Romans cannot be ascertained. It is not improbable that, as Judea was a Roman province, they were Jews or Jewish proselytes in the service of Herod Antipas or Philip, and so were really in the Roman service.
Do violence ... - Do not take the property of any by unlawful force, or do not use unjust force against the person or property of any individual. it is probable that many of them were oppressive, or prone to violence, rapine, or theft, and burdensome even in times of peace to the inhabitants.
Neither accuse any falsely - It is probable that when they wished the property of others and could not obtain it by violence, or when there was no pretext for violence, they often attempted the same thing in another way, and falsely accused the persons of crime. The word rendered "falsely accused" is the one from which our word "sycophant" is derived. The proper meaning of the word "sycophant" was this: There was a law in Athens which prohibited the importation of "figs." The "sycophant" (literally "the man who made figs to appear," or who showed them) was one who made complaint to the magistrate of persons who had imported figs contrary to law, or who was an "informer;" and then the word came to be used in a general sense to denote "any" complainer - a calumniator - an accuser - an informer. As such persons were usually cringing and fawning, and looked for a reward, the word came to be used also to denote a fawner or flatterer. It is always used in a bad sense. It is correctly rendered here, "do not accuse any falsely."
Be content ... - Do not murmur or complain, or take unlawful means to increase your wages.
Wages - This word means not only the "money" which was paid them, but also their "rations" or daily allowance of food. By this they were to show that their repentance was genuine; that it had a practical influence; that it produced a real reformation of life; and it is clear that "no other" repentance would be genuine. Every profession of repentance which is not attended with a change of life is mere hypocrisy. It may farther be remarked that John did not condemn their profession, or say that it was unlawful to be a soldier, or that they must abandon the business in order to be true penitents. It was possible to be a good man and yet a soldier. What was required was that in their profession they should show that they were really upright, and did not commit the crimes which were often practiced in that calling. It is lawful to defend oneself, one's family, or one's country, and hence, it is lawful to be a soldier. Man everywhere, in all professions, should be a Christian, and then he will do honor to his profession, and his profession, if it is not a direct violation of the law of God, will be honorable.
In expectation - Expecting the Messiah. Margin, "suspense." That is, they were not certain whether John was not himself the Messiah. They confidently "expected" his appearing, and there minds were in "suspense," or they were in a state of doubt whether he had not already come, and whether John was not the Messiah.
Mused in their hearts of John - Thought of his character, his preaching, and his success, and anxiously inquired whether he did not do the things which were expected of the Messiah.
See the notes at Mat 3:11-12.
See the notes at Mat 14:1-13. "Added this above all." To all his former crimes he added this; not implying that this was the "worst" of his acts, but that this was "one" of his deeds, of like character as the others. The event here mentioned did not take place until some time after this, but it is mentioned here to show what was the end of John's preaching, or to "fill out" the account concerning him.
See the notes at Mat 3:13-17. "Jesus being baptized;" or, Jesus "having been" baptized. This took place after the baptism, and not "during" its administration, Mat 3:16.
Praying - This circumstance is omitted by the other evangelists; and it shows,
1. That Jesus was in the habit of prayer.
2. That it is proper to offer up special prayer at the administration of the ordinances of religion.
3. That it is possible to pray in the midst of a great multitude, yet in secret. The prayer consisted, doubtless, in lifting up the heart silently to God. So "we" may do it anywhere - about our daily toil - in the midst of multitudes, and thus may pray "always."
In a bodily shape - This was a real visible appearance, and was doubtless seen by the people. The dove is an emblem of purity and harmlessness, and the form of the dove was assumed on this occasion to signify, probably, that the spirit with which Jesus would be endowed would be one of purity and innocence. The "Holy Spirit," when he assumes a visible form, assumes that which will be emblematic of the thing to be represented. Thus he assumed the form of "tongues," to signify the miraculous powers of language with which the apostles would be endowed; the appearance of fire, to denote their power, etc., Act 2:3.
Jesus began to be ... - This was the age at which the priests entered on their office, Num 4:3, Num 4:47; but it is not evident that Jesus had any reference to that in delaying his work to his thirtieth year. He was not subjected to the Levitical law in regard to the priesthood, and it does not appear that prophets and teachers did not commence their work before that age.
As was supposed - As was commonly thought, or perhaps being legally reckoned as his son.
See, on this genealogy, the notes at Mat. 1:1-16.