November 2014 • Volume XV, Issue 7
The Voice Crying in the Wilderness (2)
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of
Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of
the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of
Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the
word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the
wilderness” (Luke 3:1-2). Not only do these names date
the beginning of John the Baptist’s public ministry, as we
saw last time, but they also indicate the wickedness of the days when
his voice cried in the wilderness.
Tiberius Caesar was an ungodly Roman emperor (although he was
not the worst). The Roman dominion over the Jews was a
judgment upon them for their sins. Pontius Pilate was the wicked Roman
governor of Judaea, which included the holy city of Jerusalem. He
was the one who sentenced Jesus Christ to crucifixion, for He “suffered
under Pontius Pilate,” according to that famous line in the
Herod (Antipas) and Philip were two sons of Herod the Great,
who sought to kill the baby Jesus (Matt. 2:1-20). Herod Antipas was the
one who imprisoned and executed John the Baptist (Luke 3:19-20;
Mark 6:14-29) and to whom Christ referred as “that fox” (Luke 13:32).
Herod questioned and mocked the Lord at His trial (23:8-11).
Through their rejection of Christ, “the same day Pilate and Herod were
made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves” (12).
Annas and Caiaphas are called “high priests” (3:2). According to God’s law, there
should be only one high priest at a time, since each high priest was to be
succeeded at his death. This reference to both men as high priests points
to the Roman practice of selling this office and Jewish intrigues and conspiracies
concerning the high priesthood. Annas occupied this office for nine years, after which he
advised Caiaphas his successor and son-in-law. Calculating Caiaphas was the one who stated
regarding the Lord that “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for
the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50; cf. 18:14). Annas
and Caiaphas were leaders in the Jewish trial of Jesus Christ (18:13, 19-24, 28) and the
trial of Peter and John (Acts 4:6).
Clearly, the days of John’s preaching, the days of Christ’s ministry and the
days of the apostolic church were evil, judging from the leaders in church and state!
In the specific wicked days indicated in Luke 3:1-2, John began his crucially
important ministry. He did not receive an ordinary call. He was not anointed as a
priest, though his father, Zacharias, was a priest. Nor was he a Christian minister who was
chosen by a congregation and ordained by the laying on of hands.
John received an extraordinary call. The angel Gabriel proclaimed John’s call to
his father in the temple before he was born or even conceived (1:13-17).
Mormonism falsely claims that John was ordained by the angel when he was eight days
old (Doctrine and Covenants 84:28), but this was the day of his circumcision
and public naming (Luke 2:59-63). John was equipped and qualified through being
filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (1:15), the
godly instruction of Zacharias and Elisabeth in his parents’ home,
and prayer and meditation in the wilderness. Then John received a direct and
irresistible prophetic call that he should begin his public ministry.
You see how God calls to special office in his church and kingdom? Those
whom He granted the extraordinary (and temporary) offices, such as apostle, prophet
or forerunner of the Messiah, received an extraordinary call. Those whom God grants the
ordinary (and permanent) offices, such as pastor, elder or deacon, receive
an ordinary call through the church and by the vote of the members.
John was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry (Luke 1:24-26; cf.
3:23). Before this, he lived in solitude in the deserts with the wild beasts (cf. Mark 1:13).
Then he was shown or manifested to Israel (Luke 1:80).
Vast crowds came to hear that voice cry. Luke 3:7 tells us that it was a “multitude.”
According to Mark 1:5, “there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem.”
Matthew 3:5 adds that “all the region about Jordan” came to hear John preach. Among
John the Baptist’s Galilean disciples were Andrew, Simon, Philip and Nathanael (John
1:35-51). All sorts of people were in the crowds: tax collectors and soldiers (Luke
3:12, 14), fishermen, like Peter and Andrew, and even Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt.
3:7), and priests and Levites (John 1:19).
Let us picture the scene when John “came into all the country about Jordan”
(Luke 3:3). This was to the north of the Dead Sea, near the River Jordan. He went
from place to place, to locations he had probably seen and noted during his years of
solitude in the wilderness before his public preaching (1:80). The people from Jerusalem and
the nearby regions of Judaea, Perea and Galilee and from all walks of life such as
soldiers and Sadducees, fishermen and Pharisees came to hear him preach. Over
many days and weeks and months, vast crowds of hundreds and thousands, even a “multitude”
(3:7), flocked to hear him.
How did the attendance at John the Baptist’s ministry compare to the Old Testament preaching
prophets from Samuel onwards? From the biblical records, it would appear that John the
Baptist received a consistently larger crowd than Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Elijah or
Elisha, or Hosea or Joel.
Next time, we shall consider why, in God’s providence, such unprecedented large crowds
came to hear John the Baptist. Rev. Stewart
The Necessity of Baptism
A reader asks, “If someone who was not circumcised
was rejected from the covenant, is that still true
today? Would it be right to say, ‘Yes,’ based on
Hebrews 2:2-3? Another way of putting the question
would be: Does Genesis 17:14 have any parallel in
These are the texts: “For if the word spoken by
angels was stedfast, and every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense of reward;
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great
salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by
the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that
heard him?” (Heb. 2:2-3). “And the uncircumcised man
child whose flesh of his foreskin is not
circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his
people; he hath broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:14).
Although the questioner does not explicitly say
this, I am assuming that he understands that baptism
has taken the place of circumcision in the new
dispensation (Col. 2:11-12). I am also assuming that
he is aware that circumcision has no spiritual
significance today. His questions, therefore, refer
The answer to this question is indeed, “Yes.” The
two texts quoted are relevant and make clear that
the failure of parents to baptize their children is
in the new dispensation as great a sin as failure to
circumcise was in Israel during the old
dispensation. It is even correct to say that those
who fail to have their children baptized have broken
There are several things that must be said about
In the first place, the question immediately comes
up: What about Baptists? Baptists believe only in
“believer’s baptism.” That is, only those who are
old enough to make a credible profession of their
faith in Christ are to be baptized.
There is no question about it that they are very
wrong in their theology. This is not the forum,
however, in which to debate the whole question of
infant baptism. But the situation of Baptists is
somewhat different from the situation presupposed by
the questioner. The texts quoted have to do with
Israel, and Israel was the church of the Old
Testament. These people were, therefore, God’s
covenant people. The context is exactly that God
establishes His covenant with Abraham and his seed,
and gives circumcision as the sign and seal of the
covenant. The refusal of an Israelite to have his
child circumcised was a flat-out rejection of the
sign of the covenant and, therefore, of the covenant
God’s commands had to do, therefore, with His
covenant people. The Baptists do not even have a
biblical covenant doctrine. The punishment for one
of God’s covenant people who refused to circumcise
his children was to be cut off from the covenant,
from the Old Testament church and from the people of
God. In fact, by refusing to circumcise their
children, they were cutting themselves off from the
covenant people of God.
The New Testament equivalent of this punishment for
those who refuse to baptize their children is
Christian discipline, ending in excommunication from
the church and thus from God’s covenant people.
That such refusal was a serious matter in Israel is
evident from the fact that God was ready to kill
Moses for not having circumcised his two sons. The
narrative is given in Scripture in Exodus 4:24-26.
It seems as if Moses’ wife, Zipporah, was the one
who refused to have the boys circumcised. Even
though she had been born and raised in a home where
God was worshipped and served, she was not of the
seed of Abraham and did not have directly the
promises of the covenant, nor the sign of it.
Nevertheless, they were both on their way to join
Israel, and God insisted that they become a part of
His covenant people by giving their sons the sign of
His covenant. They would not be a part of God’s
covenant people without it.
It seems as if during the forty-years wandering in
the wilderness, the people also failed to circumcise
their sons. I wonder sometimes if this was not due
to the fact that every person older than twenty was
killed in the wilderness, except Joshua and Caleb.
However that may be, the nation could not enter the
promised land without all the uncircumcised males
being circumcised (Josh. 5:2-9).
It must be understood that circumcision and baptism
are signs and seals of the covenant that are added
to the Word of God as visible proof of the truth of
the gospel that God establishes His people in the
line of generations. Infants who are born dead and
or who die shortly after birth need not be baptized:
their salvation does not depend on it, contrary to
Rome’s teaching. There is no magical power or even
spiritual power in the water of baptism; it derives
its power from being a sign and seal that
accompanies the Word. The power is that of the Holy
Spirit who works grace in the believer through faith
in Christ. Prof. Hanko
Belgic Confession 34: Holy Baptism
... Therefore we believe that every man who is
earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought
to be but once baptized with this only baptism,
without ever repeating the same, since we cannot be
born twice. Neither doth this baptism avail us only
at the time when the water is poured upon us and
received by us, but also through the whole course of
Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists,
who are not content with the one only baptism they
have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism
of the infants of believers, who we believe ought to
be baptized and sealed with the sign of the
covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were
circumcised upon the same promises which are made
unto our children. And indeed Christ shed His blood
no less for the washing of the children of the
faithful than for adult persons; and therefore they
ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that
which Christ hath done for them; as the Lord
commanded in the law that they should be made
partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and
death shortly after they were born, by offering for
them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, that
baptism is to our children. And for this reason Paul
calls baptism the circumcision of Christ.
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