What does Luke 3:1 mean?
ESV: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,
NIV: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene--
NASB: 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 and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
CSB: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,
NLT: It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene.
KJV: 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,
Verse Commentary:
In several instances, Luke ties his account of Jesus' life to major figures of that era (Luke 1:5; 2:1–2). Here, again, is a list of then-well-known names meant to establish a timeframe for these events. Most important of those is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, whose reign began after that of Augustus (Luke 2:1). That establishes this moment somewhere around AD 29.

Pontius Pilate (John 18:28–29) took over as governor of the province of Judea, replacing Valerius Gratus in AD 26. Pilate was removed shortly after Jesus' crucifixion, ending his term around AD 36. He was deposed, in part, for the way his brutal, reactionary style triggered unrest among the Jewish people.

As a conquered people, Israel did not have legitimate kings during this era. Rather, Rome appointed certain men and their families as regional authorities. One such family was the Herods. Ironically, they were Idumeans: the surviving remnants of Edom, themselves descendants of Esau (Genesis 36). This was the twin brother and rival of Jacob, the man later renamed Israel (Genesis 35:10).

At the time of Jesus' birth, Herod the Great held control over the entire region of Judea. Two of his sons, Herod and Philip, were given a portion of territory to rule after his death. They were installed as tetrarchs, a term used by Rome for those not deemed important enough to call "kings." The "Herod" mentioned during the adult life of Jesus later took on the name Antipas, though he is most often referred to using his inherited name. This is the ruler who jealously imprisoned John the Baptist and later had him executed (Matthew 14:10–12). He was later replaced by Agrippa, who interacted with the apostle Paul (Acts 25:13).

History records almost nothing about Lysanius, though he seems to have been given power like that of the sons of Herod.

Luke will continue to tie these events to history, noting the service of two men carrying the title "high priest" (Luke 3:2). This list of powerful, important people is followed by noting that God's message came to an obscure person living in an obscure place.
Verse Context:
Luke 3:1–6 continues a pattern establishing Luke's account as genuine history. Once again, he ties these events to other historical markers. This also creates contrast: while powerful men are in powerful positions, the "the word of God" comes to a strange hermit living in the desert. Luke's account also provides a connection between John's ministry and the prophecies which predicted it.
Chapter Summary:
The early part of Luke's gospel shifts back and forth between the histories of Jesus and John the Baptist. Chapter 3 starts with historical and prophetic context about John. It then depicts some of John's interactions with local religious leaders. Luke gives only a brief description of Jesus' baptism. He also touches on John's criticism of Herod the Tetrarch, which would eventually result in John's execution (Matthew 14:10–12). The chapter ends with a genealogy of Christ.
Chapter Context:
Chapters 1 and 2 provided early history for both John the Baptist and Jesus. Chapter 3 establishes John's preaching ministry and its connection to Jesus Christ. The chapter ends with a genealogy which some believe runs through Mary's side of the family. Chapter 4 transitions from Jesus' baptism into His public ministry, by describing His fasting in the wilderness and temptation by Satan.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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