Bible Commentaries

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Matthew 3

Verse 1

In those days; during the remaining period of his infancy and youth, Jesus resided at Nazareth. As John was but six months older than our Savior, and as Jesus was about thirty years of age (Luke 3:23) when he commenced his public ministry, a long period must have elapsed between the events mentioned at the close of the last chapter, and those described in this and the succeeding verses.--Wilderness; a solitary country region, remote from the villages and towns.

Verse 2

The kingdom of heaven; the gospel dispensation,--the coming and kingdom of the Messiah.

Verse 3

Esaias; the Greek form of the Hebrew word Isaiah. (Isaiah 40:3.)--Prepare ye the way of the Lord. As monarchs, on their journeys, were preceded by a herald, summoning the inhabitants of the provinces through which they were to pass, to prepare, highway for the royal retinue, so John, the herald of the Messiah, called upon the people to prepare their hearts, by penitence and holy lives, for the spiritual religion of the Savior.

Verse 4

This was food and clothing of the most humble kind. The idea of the verse is, that, like his great prototype Elijah, John the Baptist led a life of extreme austerity and self-denial.

Verse 5

Jordan. The River Jordan is about one hundred miles in length, forming the eastern boundary of Palestine.

Verse 7

The Pharisees and Sadducees were two prominent religious sects among the Jews. The Sadducees maintained the doctrine that the soul of man perishes with the body.

Verse 8

Fruits meet; conduct suitable to, or consistent with.

Verse 9

The meaning is, Do not imagine that God regards you with favor because you are the descendants of Abraham. From the very stones of the Jordan, God is able to raise up servants and friends.

Verse 11

The idea of the verse undoubtedly is, that John performed merely an external rite,--the symbol and pledge of repentance,--but that the reality of new spiritual life was to be bestowed by the coming Savior.

Verse 12

Fan; a winnowing instrument.--Garner; granary.

Verse 14

John did not yet know that Jesus was the Messiah. This fact was revealed to him by the descent of the Holy Spirit, after his baptism. (See John 1:31-34.) His remark, therefore, in this verse, is of great interest, as showing how strong an impression the private and personal character of the Savior had made upon his friends and acquaintances, before he had commenced his public ministry.

Verse 15

To fulfil all righteousness; to carry into full effect every divine institution.

Verse 16

Like a dove. But why in this form? The Scripture use of this emblem will be our best guide here. "My dove, my undefiled, is one," says the Song (Song of Solomon 6:9). This is chaste purity. Again, Be ye harmless as doves," says Christ himself (Matthew 10:16). Further, when we read the Song (Song of Solomon 2:14) "O my dove that art in the clefts of the rocks in the secret places of the stairs (see Isaiah 60:8), let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely,"--it is shrinking modesty, meekness gentleness, that is thus charmingly depicted. In a word, when we read (Psalms 68:13), "Ye shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold," it is beauteousness that is thus held forth. And was not such that "Holy, harmless, undefiled One," the "Separate from sinners"? And when with John 1:32-34 we compare the predicted descent of the Spirit upon Messiah (Isaiah 11:2), "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him," we cannot doubt that it was this permanent and perfect resting of the Holy Ghost upon the Son of God--now and thenceforward in his official capacity--that was here visibly manifested.

Verse 17

In whom I am well pleased. This English is scarcely strong enough. "I delight" comes nearer, perhaps, to that ineffable complacency which is manifestly intended; and this is rather preferable, as it would immediately carry the thoughts back to that august Messianic prophecy to which the voice from heaven plainly alluded (Isaiah 42:1), "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTETH." Was this voice heard by the bystanders? From Matthew's form of it, one might suppose it so designed, but it would appear that it was and probably only John heard and saw anything peculiar in the great baptism. Accordingly the words "Hear ye Him" are not added as at the Transfiguration.

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Bibliographical Information
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Matthew 3". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". 1878.