John was a voice in the wilderness

There may be some question about the location of the wilderness mentioned in Luke 3:2. The term wilderness (eremos) is described by BDAG as “an uninhabited region or locality, desert, grassland, wilderness (in contrast to cultivated and inhabited country).” The same term is translated deserts in Luke 1:80, where it seems to refer to an isolated area of Judah.

When John begins his ministry, it is clear that he was working in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Jordan River/Dead Sea.

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Luke 3:3-4 ESV)

Matthew’s account names the area of John’s preaching as “the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1).

This stretch of wilderness is well known as a region of rugged and desolate badlands. Our first photo shows a portion of the wilderness in bright sunlight on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. The view is toward the west. Peter Walker describes the Judean Desert:

It is a place of austere beauty and an almost deafening silence; a place where human beings are acutely conscious of their frailty and utter dependence on water for brute survival. And yet in biblical times it was also a place where people went to find solitude and space, to hear the voice of God addressing them above the cacophony of other competing demands and voices. John the Baptist had begun his ministry here, ‘a voice of one calling in the desert’ (Isaiah 40:3).… (In the Steps of Jesus, Zondervan: 52)

Wilderness of Judea on way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wilderness of Judea on way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the fascinating things about the wilderness is the constant change of the view, especially as clouds move over it from West to East

Wilderness of Judea. View toward east with rain clouds on mountain range. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wilderness of Judea. View west with clouds on the mountain range. Photo: F. Jenkins.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Jordan River was used even by pilgrims coming from Galilee for the various feast days in Jerusalem. Luke’s parable of the good Samaritan speaks of a man “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30). Luke also records that Jesus traveled this way in the opposite direction (Luke 19). John records that Jesus traveled this way from Bethany beyond the Jordan to the Bethany near Jerusalem (John 11).

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