This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent in lectionary cycle C, the year when the Gospel of Luke is the primary source of our gospels for the coming 12 months. The gospel is taken from a section in which Jesus is preparing for public ministry. Luke these six verses of the Sunday gospel, Luke places the story of Jesus in continuity with the biblical history of God’s dealings with humanity found in the Old Testament. As well, he places the story in the context of human history and begins with the familiar “In the fifthteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” Verses 1 and 2 need a “playbill” so you might familiarize yourself with the “actors.”
1 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 tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…
- In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar: Tiberius succeeded Augustus as emperor in 14 CE and reigned until 37 CE. The fifteenth year of his reign, depending on the method of calculating his first regnal year, would have fallen between 27 and 29 CE.
- Pontius Pilate: prefect of Judea from 26 to 36 CE. The Jewish historian Josephus describes him as a greedy and ruthless prefect who had little regard for the local Jewish population and their religious practices (see Luke 13:1).
- Herod: i.e., Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. He ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BCE. to 39 CE. His official title tetrarch means literally, “ruler of a quarter,” but came to designate any subordinate prince. The gospels report Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.
- Philip: also a son of Herod the Great, tetrarch of the territory to the north and east of the Sea of Galilee from 4 B.C. to A.D. 34. Only two small areas of this territory are mentioned by Luke.
- Ituraea: a short-lived principality located in the Biqâ valley of Lebanon.
- Trachonitis was a region in the North Transjordan over which Herod Philip was tetrarch.
- Lysanias: nothing is known about this Lysanias who is said here to have been tetrarch of Abilene, a tetrarchy named after its chief town, Abila, which is located 18 miles northwest of Damascus