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Matthew 3

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-12



Harmony pages 12-14 and Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18.

In a preceding chapter we have considered somewhat the biblical material for a life of John the Baptist, and certain questions touching his position in the kingdom of our Lord. The analysis of that material will constitute the outline of all our discussion of John. We now take up the beginnings of his ministry.

The time, in our era, was A.D. 29, since John had been preaching several months before he baptized Jesus, and Luke tells us that "Jesus himself, when he began to teach, was about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23).

The true time would be four years earlier, A.D. 25, if we are correct in our revision of the Abbott Dyonisius Exiguus. It is characteristic of Luke to collate his date with the world movements. It was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar who, as adopted son, succeeded Augustus, somewhat after the time that Jesus, twelve years old, became conscious of his messiahship. Since the deposition of Archelaus, Judea, ldumea, and Samaria had become an imperial province, ruled by procurators appointed by Caesar, and subordinated to Syria ruled by proconsul. About a year before Christ was baptized Tiberius had appointed Pontius Pilate the sixth procurator, and he remained in office until after Christ’s death. Pontius Pilate obtained this office because he had married the vicious granddaughter of Augustus; her profligate mother, daughter of Augustus, was one of the most infamous profligates of a profligate age. Strange it is that the New Testament is the only history that speaks a good word of either Pilate or his wife. In its fidelity as history, it neither omits the blemishes of its saints, nor withholds, when due, praise to the most wicked.

The military headquarters of the procurator was Caesarea, built by Herod the Great. But the turbulence of Jerusalem often required his presence in that city, particularly at the three great feasts. Pilate had already steeped Jerusalem in blood and had been forced by pressure of the Jews to withdraw the idolatrous Roman eagles from the holy city. (See Josephus, Antiquities, Book XVIII, Chapter 5, Section 1.) It was probably on this occasion that Pilate "mingled the blood of Galilean Jews with their sacrifices" in the Temple, to which our Lord later referred, at Luke 13:1-2. This Pilate, already at bitter feud with the Jews, was Roman ruler of Judea, Samaria, and ldumea, when John commenced his ministry.

At the same time Herod Antipas, who later beheaded John, and mocked our Lord at his trial, was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. At the same time Herod Philip II was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitus, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene. At Jerusalem the infamous Annas, and his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas, were both high priests, contrary to Jewish law, but by Roman appointment. We shall see our Lord, some three and a half years later, brought before them both. These references of Luke enable us to understand the world political and ecclesiastic conditions under which the ministries of John and our Lord commenced.

The place is at the fords of the Jordan near Jericho. Later we see John at other places, higher up the Jordan, but never in the cities – always in the desert places. This fact alone demonstrates that John is not officiating as a priest of the Old Testament in either synagogue or temple, but as a reformer prophet of the new dispensation.

John’s dress, diet, and habits. "Now John himself had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his food was locusts and wild honey." The angel who announced his coming declared, "He shall drink no wine nor strong drink" (Luke 1:15). He fasted often, and taught his disciples to fast (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:35). Our Lord himself said of him, "He came neither eating nor drinking," and adds, "but what went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they who are gorgeously appareled and live delicately are in kings’ courts (Luke 7:25).

You must understand that "the locusts" eaten by John were not fruits of the tree, "honey-locust," but migrating grasshoppers, a common enough food with many eastern people, and permitted as food by Jewish law (Leviticus 11:21-22).

His enduement for service. "He was full of the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb" (Luke 1:15), and like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) and Paul (Galatians 1:15) and his Lord (Isaiah 49:5), he was "set apart" to his office from his mother’s womb. Indeed, he was the only child known to historic records who, before he was born, "leaped with joy" spiritual (Luke 1:44).

His preparation. Our only record is: "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the desert until the day of his showing unto Israel."

He was no product of the schools, either secular or rabbinical. He derived his knowledge from neither synagogue nor Temple, but was wholly taught by God. We have no information of the character of his necessarily profound meditations in his thirty years of desert life. The preparation was long, silent, and solitary. But he shook the world in his few months of public ministry.

After what order was he a prophet? The record is clear. The order was as unique as the order of his Lord’s priesthood. Malachi says, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come." This prophecy made a profound impression on the Jewish mind, as is evident from several New Testament incidents. It was a Jewish custom to place a chair for Elijah at the family feast following the circumcision of a child. If the chair was so placed when John was circumcised, they ought to have placed the baby in it, for behold, Elijah had come. Our Lord says expressly that John was the promised Elijah (Matthew 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13). John himself disclaims being Elijah, that is, in a literal sense (John 1:21), but the announcing angel explains "He shall go before his face, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). Indeed, Elijah himself appears on the scene at the transfiguration of our Lord (Matthew 17:3). Elijah was by far the most dramatic of the Old Testament prophets, in his garb, in his desert life, in the abrupt entrances on the stage of life and sudden exits, in the long silences, in the great issues of reformation suddenly thrust for instant decision on the king and people. The resemblance between Elijah and John is every way striking. If Elijah had his weak Ahab and relentless Jezebel, John had his weak Herod Antipas and vindicative Herodias. If, through terror of Jezebel, Elijah flees and despairs, so John, in a dungeon, apprehensive of the "convenient day" of Herodias, falls into doubt.

His commission as Elijah. Malachi says, "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:6). To this the announcing angel refers, at Luke 1:17. The question arises, what is the exact meaning of the passage? Does it imply an alienation between parents and children, which John’s mission is to remove by restoring proper parental love and care toward their children and proper filial regard and reverence for parents, according to the reciprocal obligations of the Fifth Commandment, and on the line of Paul’s precepts – "fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," and "children, obey your parents in the Lord"? If so, it was a mighty mission, for the earth is already cursed when these reciprocal obligations are disregarded, to the moral destruction of the family. If so, the passage becomes a golden text in all Sunday school movements. In my early ministry I so used it as a text before the Sunday School Convention of Texas assembled at old Independence. In my sermon I stressed the growing evil of race suicide, the fashionable mothers depriving their children of maternal love and care in order to attend the calls of a worldly, frivolous society, and the modern absorption of fathers in business which led them to disregard the spiritual welfare of their children.

But if this be the meaning, we fail to find this important matter the theme of special discussion either by Elijah or John. But, perhaps, the marginal reading of the revision conveys the true idea, "Turning the hearts of the fathers, with the hearts of the children" toward God, and not toward each other, and "turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the just." This last accords with the preaching of both Elijah and John, and lifts their commission from the fifth to the first commandment.

His commission as the messenger of the Temple visitor: "Behold) I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like the refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness." When men who remembered the glory of Solomon’s Temple lamented the comparative insignificance of Zerrubbabel’s Temple, the prophet Haggai assured them that the glory of the latter house should exceed the glory of the former house, because to it "The Desire of all nations should come." Now, John is the messenger who prepares the way for the Messiah to come suddenly to his Temple. That John did prepare the way for the Messiah’s searching and purifying visit to his Temple is evident from John 2:13-17.

His commission as the voice and the grader of the highway to God, Isaiah 40:1-11. This passage of Isaiah is the most important of the Old Testament forecasts of John, and perhaps it is the least understood in its richness. On it observe:

(1) It is the beginning of the Old Testament Book of Comfort. Commencing with the fortieth chapter, the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah, treating of the Messiah’s advent and mission constitute the Old Testament Book of Comfort, as John 14-17, treating of the Holy Spirit’s advent and mission, constitute the New Testament Book of Comfort.

Isaiah’s paragraph commences: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned." The voice of John the Baptist is the response to this command to comfort.

(2) Therefore he is a preacher of the gospel, which means "good tidings" – "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God!" (Isaiah 40:9). Hence, as soon as John’s voice broke the prophetic silence of 400 years, Mark, in his first sentence drives down the corner post that establishes the starting point of the New Dispensation: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." And when our Lord comes up to Mark’s corner post, he puts up this discriminating signboard: "The law and the prophets were until John, and since that time the kingdom of heaven is preached and all men press into it."

What a pity that our pedobaptist brethren cannot lay aside their Old Testament colored glasses, and our Campbellite brethren lay aside their Pentecostal delusion concerning the kingdom, which mistakes the Spirit’s advent for the Messiah’s advent, and both of them with unveiled faces behold Mark’s corner post and our Lord’s signboard I

(3) Observe John’s grading of the King’s highway of Holiness (Isaiah 40:3-5). In this connection observe also the relevance of the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 35:1, "The waste places of the Jordan shall be glad," or as a great scholar puts it: "The banks of the Jordan shall rejoice because of them," i.e., because of John and Jesus.

The same great chapter of Isaiah also says of John’s highway: "And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; and the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for the redeemed; the wayfaring men, yea fools shall not err therein. No lion shall be there nor shall any ravenous beast go up thereon; they shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of Jehovah shall return and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

His commission as friend of the bridegroom. "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom that standeth and heareth him rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is made full." The New Testament represents our Lord as the bridegroom of the church in the divine purpose (Ephesians 5:25-26) and at his first advent (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29) and at his final advent (Matthew 25:1-13; Ephesians 5:27; Revelation 19:6-9).

In our context, "the friend of the bridegroom" is not what we call the "best man," or first male attendant, who attends to the business matters and arranges the details of a marriage. It has a much higher meaning, to wit: the evangelist who, through his preaching, espouses the lost sinner to his Saviour. As Paul expresses it: ’For I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2).

"The friend of the bridegroom" is even more than the officiating clergyman, who merely performs a marriage rite, without having had anything to do with bringing the groom and bride into loving relations. His business is to "make ready the people prepared for the Lord." Through his preaching the sinner is convicted of sin, and then through contrition led to repentance, and then through faith, is mystically united to Christ.

The idea is somewhat presented in the mission of Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24), who went to Haran to seek a wife for Isaac. He faithfully negotiated the business of his mission, and brought Rebekah to Isaac.

In this touching story, in which the old servant set forth in a matchless plea the worthiness of his master, Abraham, and the desirableness of his son, Isaac, so winning Rebekah to leave her father’s house and to accept Isaac as a husband, Edward Eggleston, in the Circuit Rider, makes his preacher take a theme: "I have come to seek a bride for my Lord," and so happily expounds it that a brilliant but worldly young lady arose at once, laid aside all her jewels, and openly professed faith in the glorious Saviour so faithfully presented by the preacher. What, then, every evangelist does in individual cases, John the Baptist did on a large scale, introducing and uniting a lost world to a gracious Saviour. To the sinner he said, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" How gloriously he presented the excellencies of the Saviour appears from the record, and suggests to every preacher a great lesson on how to present acceptably and savingly the Saviour to the sinner. We must not, therefore, understand John’s mission as stern and sad, but full of joy.

His commission to give the knowledge of salvation in the remission of sins (Luke 1:77). On many accounts we should stress this point, because a modern denomination insists that God’s "law of pardon" was not announced until the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection.

It was not Peter, in Acts 2:38, who first promulgated this law of pardon. The honor belongs to John the Baptist. In my early ministry I held a debate with a preacher who affirmed that the kingdom of heaven was not set up until this day of Pentecost, and then in Acts 2:38 was the law of pardon first promulgated. I asked him these questions:

(1) What did Christ give to Peter? He said, "The keys of the kingdom."

(2) Did Peter have those keys on that Pentecost? He answered, "Yes."

(3) Did God then and there build a kingdom to fit the keys, or were the keys made to fit the kingdom?

(4) Did Peter, using the keys, open the door of the kingdom that day? He said, "Yes."

(5) Did he open it from the inside or from the outside? If from the inside, was not Peter in it? If from the outside, when and how did Peter himself get in?

(6) And if from the outside, when the 3,000 were added to them, did that leave them on the outside?

(7) Did Peter open the Jew door that day, and what door did he open in Acts to Acts 10:43? And if Acts 10:43 was the Gentile door, why did he [that preacher] not look there for the law of pardon to Gentiles, and why did he, a Gentile, deify the Jew door, Acts 2:38?

(8) And what about the door that John the Baptist opened in Luke 1:77?

His commission to announce the antecedent withering work of the Spirit. "The voice of one saying, Cry, And one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodness thereof is the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of God shall stand forever."

On this text Spurgeon preached a great sermon. He said, "The command to John was to speak comfortably to Jerusalem" (Isaiah 40:1-2). And John asked, in order to speak comfortably, "What shall I cry?" And the strange answer comes: "Cry that all flesh is grass, and the grass withereth and the flower fadeth." That is, before you get to the comfort, the carnal nature must wither, then comes the spiritual nature, which abideth forever.

Therefore John said to fleshly Israel: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore) fruit worthy of repentance and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And even now the ax lieth at the root of the trees: every tree, therefore, that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:7-10). This is John’s sermon on the necessity of regeneration.

This last commission of John leads up to a thorough discussion of the great staple of his preaching, "Repentance toward God on account of sin."


1. What is the time ill our era when John commenced preaching?

2. Show how Luke, in a characteristic way, collates this date with the political and ecclesiastical conditions of the world.

3. What was the place of John’s first preaching?

4. Describe his dress, diet and habits.

5. What of his enduement for service?

6. What of his preparation for service? Answer negatively and positively.

7. After what order was he a prophet, and what is the parallel between John and Elijah?

8. What was John’s commission as Elijah?

9. Which of the two meanings of this commission seems best to fit the work of John and Elijah?

10. What of his commission aa the messenger of the great Temple visitor? II. What was his commission as the voice and grader of the highway of God?

12. What the Old Testament book of comfort, and the New Testament book of comfort?

13. Describe how Mark and our Lord marked the beginning of the new dispensation.

14. What of the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 35:1, and its application to John’s ministry?

15. What of the description of the highway in that chapter, graded by John?

16. In his commission as "friend of the bridegroom," does it mean that he was only what we call "the best man," or does it mean the same as the officiating preacher, or does it mean something higher than both? If so, what, and explain.

17. Illustrate by the remarkable history in Genesis 24.

18. Describe the Methodist preacher’s sermon on that chapter.

19. What of John’s commission with reference to remission of sins, and why should we stress this point?

20. Give the several questions propounded in a debate, where the affirmation was made that the kingdom of heaven was set up on the day of Pentecost, and the law of pardon then and there promulgated.

21. What of his commission to announce the antecedent withering work of the Holy Spirit?

22. Describe Spurgeon’s sermon on this text.

Verses 11-17



Harmony pages 14-16 and Matthew 3:11-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:15-23.

In several preceding chapters we have turned aside somewhat from the regular course of the narrative to consider, at length, at its first New Testament appearance, the vital and fundamental doctrine of repentance, as preached originally by John the Baptist, and continued by our Lord and all his apostles. We have seen that while John had clear conceptions of the etymology of words and of doctrines in their abstract sense, he was no mere theorist, but intensely practical, insisting on concrete truth as embodied in the daily life. To him, therefore repentance was as inseparable from fruits, worthy of it, as a tree is from its proper fruits. Hence he not only urges reformation in its positive and negative sense of "ceasing to do evil and learning to do well," but the instant and continuous responsibility to an inexorable judgment at the hands of the coming Messiah. "And even now the ax lieth at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. . . . Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor; and he will gather his wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire." We now come to the comparison instituted by John between Christ and himself: "I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire." On this remarkable passage observe:

First, no comparison is instituted between the water baptism of John and the water baptism administered by our Lord through his disciples. They are exactly the same in subject, act and design, as has already been shown, but the comparison is wholly between the dignity of Christ’s superior person, office and power, and John’s inferior person, office and power. The dignity of person John counts not himself worthy to loose the latchet of the Messiah’s sandals. The Messiah is mightier than John, equaling him indeed in water baptism, but exceeding him in two other baptisms, to wit: baptism in the Holy Spirit, and baptism in fire.

The controversies of the ages arise on the meaning of "He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire." The first question to be answered is: Do baptism in the Spirit and in fire mean the same thing? In other words, is "baptism in fire" epexegetical of baptism in the Spirit? If they are identical in meaning, then what is the baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire? And when, where, how, and why first administered by our Lord? And is it continuous now as well as then? But if baptism in the Spirit and baptism in fire be two distinct things, then what is the baptism in fire, and where, when, why and by whom administered? There is more confusion of mind, and more inconsistency of interpretation on these questions than on any other New Testament problems.

My own interpretation of the passage, and my answers to the questions are worth no more than the common sense and argument back of them. In general terms I refer first to three sermons in my first volume of sermons, entitled severally: (1) baptism in water; (2) baptism in the Holy Spirit; (3) baptism in fire.

Second, in my interpretation of Acts 2 there is an elaborate discussion of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, where for the first time in the history of the world it ever occurred. Just here we need something, clear indeed, but far less elaborate. Here, on one point at least, and much as I deprecate it, I must utterly dissent from Dr. Alexander Maclaren, commonly regarded as the prince of Baptist expositors.

In the first volume of his elaborate exposition of Matthew, he labors at great length to prove that "baptism in fire" is epexegetical of "baptism in the Holy Spirit." leaving the general impression on my mind, at least, that "baptism in fire" means cleansing or purification, about equal in force to sanctification. At other times I don’t know what he means. For if baptism in the Spirit and in fire is equivalent to sanctification, then how is it there was never in the history of the world, a baptism in the Spirit before the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection? Surely men were spiritually cleansed, sanctified before that date. My own mind is clear on the following negations:

(1) Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not regeneration, nor conversion, nor sanctification, but an entirely new thing, a thing of promise, unknown to the world until the first Pentecost after our Lord’s resurrection and exaltation. Whatever it is, it is wholly connected with the advent and administration of that "other Paraclete," the Holy Spirit, who as Christ’s alter ego, rules the churches on earth, while Christ remains, rules, and interests in heaven.

(2) The baptism in fire is not cleansing, but destructive and punitive, the exercise of sovereign judgment by our Lord, unto whom as the Son of Man, all judgment has been committed. Its punitive character as judgment takes cognizance only of one’s attitude toward and treatment of Christ in his cause and people as presented by the gospel. It is exercised now on nations or cities, as Jerusalem A.D. 70, and on the souls of the wicked when they die, as Dives in the parable (Luke 16:23-24); and on the bodies of all the living wicked in the great world-fire of the final advent (Malachi 4:1-2; 2 Peter 3:7-10) and finds its highest expression, when after the final judgment, the wicked, both souls and bodies, are baptized in the lake of fire (Matthew 10:28; Revelation 20:14-15).

That Dr. Maclaren is mistaken about the import of baptism in fire appears from the context. Read carefully the three verses, Matthew 3:10-12. The tenth verse closes: "Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." The eleventh verse closes: "He will baptize you in fire." The twelfth verse closes: "But the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire."

It violates every sound principle of interpretation to make "fire" in the middle verse of the context mean something radically different from the "fire" in the first and third verses. There can be no doubt of the destructive, punitive character of the fire in verses ten and twelve; there should be none of the like import in verse eleven intervening. This becomes more evident when we consider that John is interpreting Malachi 3:1-4:3. The whole context of the prophecy shows that when the Messiah comes he will discriminate between evil and good persons (not mixed evil and good in one person), and separate them one from another by diverse fates, so that there would be no difficulty in discerning between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not. The refiner’s fire of Malachi 3:2-3 has not a different purpose from the fire that burns like an oven in 4:1. We doubt not the appropriateness of using the refiner’s fire to represent the purifying work in individual character, as set forth by the hymn: "Thy dross to consume, thy gold to refine." And this would be a genuine work of sanctification. But such is not Malachi’s idea, in this connection, nor that of John the Baptist, as appears not only from Malachi 3:5-6; Malachi 3:16-18; Malachi 4:1-2, but from the historical fulfilment of Malachi 3:12, when he does come suddenly to his temple at the beginning and end of his ministry, John 2:13-18; Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46. In neither of these Temple purgations was there a work of individual sanctification, but the latter is indirectly connected with the cursing of the barren fig tree, as in Matthew 3:10, the barren tree is hewn down and cast into the fire. Malachi is not considering a mixture of good and evil in one individual, the evil to be eliminated by the fire of chastisement; but he is considering a mixture of good people and evil people. God’s fire will be used to separate them and make evident the difference between them. So Paul discusses the same thought: "But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire." Here Paul’s use of the fire, at the last great day, is not to separate the evil from the good in individual character, but it is to separate evil people from good people, who by unwise builders have been mingled together in building a temple upon the foundation, Christ. If the builder puts on the foundation, Christ, the unregenerate, hypocrites, formalists, ritualists, then that fire will separate them, and the builder who put them on will suffer loss to the extent that his work is destroyed in the revelation of that great fire test.

To find a fulfilment of the identity of the "baptism in Spirit and fire" in the "tongues of fire" at Pentecost is merely silly, since they were not tongues of fire, but “tongues like as of fire.” A rising flame parts itself into the appearance of tongues. So the luminous appearance at Pentecost distributed itself into tongues, as fire seems to do.

On our paragraph, Matthew 3:10-12, Dr. Broadus, in his commentary, ably shows that we may not interpret the "fire" in Matthew 3:11 as differing in import from the "fire" in Matthew 3:10; Matthew 3:12. To pray that we may "be baptized in fire," while not so meant, is equivalent to praying that we may be cast into hell. The baptism in fire is the punitive destruction of the wicked. A few terse sentences will enable us to discriminate:

In the baptism in fire, Christ is the administrator, an in- corrigible sinner is the subject, the element is fire, the design is punitive.

In the baptism in the Holy Spirit, Christ is the administrator, the Holy Spirit is the element, the subject is a Christian, the design is to accredit and empower him for service.

In regeneration the Holy Spirit is the agent or administrator, the subject is a sinner, the design is to make him a Christian.

In sanctification the Holy Spirit is the agent, the subject is a Christian, the design is to make him personally holy, i.e., a better Christian. Regeneration and sanctification have been wrought by the Spirit in all dispensations since Adam.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit never occurred in the history of the world until the first Pentecost after Christ’s exaltation.

But it was prefigured twice in types. First, when Moses had completed the tabernacle, or movable house of God, the cloud, representing the divine inhabitant, came down and filled it (Exodus 40:33-38). Second, when Solomon had completed the Temple, the fixed house of God, the cloud, representing the divine inhabitant, came down and occupied it (1 Kings 7:51-8:11).

So when Jesus had built his church, antitype of tabernacle and Temple, the Holy Spirit came down to accredit, empower and occupy it (Acts 2:1-33). In other words –

The baptism in the Spirit was the baptism of the church – the house that Jesus built to succeed the house that Solomon built, as that had succeeded the house that Moses built.

From that date the church was accredited, occupied and empowered by the other Paraclete, the Promised of the Father and the Sent of the Father and Son.

Daniel, in his great prophecy, fixing the date and order of events, says, "Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy" Here "the Most Holy" is a place, a house, and not the person, Christ. His anointing came at his baptism when the Spirit came on him.

As the sanctuary of both Moses and Solomon has been anointed when ready for use, so in this verse, following Messiah’s advent and expiation, a new most holy place was anointed by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the new Temple.

Because the old Temple had served its day, the very hour Christ said, "it is finished," referring to the expiation of sin by the true Lamb of God, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom." The new Temple was ready, waiting for its anointing on the day of Pentecost. Hence, I repeat, when we come to interpret Acts 2, all the words of John the Baptist and our Lord, in the Gospels, which speak of the baptism in the Spirit as a promise, and all the fulfilments, Acts 2:4; Acts 8:17; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:6, and Paul’s great exhaustive discussion at 1 Corinthians 12-14, will be fully considered.

The import of John’s comparison between Jesus and himself is, therefore, that Jesus is mightier than himself. John himself was not the Messiah, but only his herald. John is but a voice soon to be silenced forever. John must decrease, as the morning star pales and fades before the increasing light of the day. John is not the true light, but only a witness to the light. John indeed baptizes -penitent believers in water, but the one who follows him will not only continue the baptism in water, but will also baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire.


This predetermined culmination of John’s ministry was the manifestation of the Messiah to Israel. This manifestation would directly connect with his administration of the ordinance of baptism. He himself declares: "And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water. . . . And I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding on him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Spirit" (John 1:31; John 1:33). When by this sign the as yet unknown person of the Messiah is disclosed to John himself, then must he who had hitherto spoken of the coming Messiah in general terms now identify the person, and by repeated testimony lead Israel to accept him so identified, in all his messianic offices. So that the culmination of John’s ministry consists in two particulars:

(1) John must baptize the Messiah, receiving for himself in the ordinance demonstrative evidence of the right person.

(2) This person of the Messiah so manifested to John, must by him be identified to Israel and through his repeated witness, set forth in all his messianic offices as the object of their faith. These two things accomplished, his mission is ended forever. We can do no more in rounding out this chapter than to consider the first part of this culmination, reserving for the next chapter John’s identification to Israel of the person of the Messiah and his presentation of him in all his messianic offices as the object of faith. For the present, therefore, our theme is…

The Harmony, in three parallel columns, pages 15-16, gives us the record of this momentous event, according to three historians (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). All these historians identify the person so baptized as Jesus. Matthew says, "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him." Mark says, "And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan." Luke says, "Jesus also having been baptized." Thus the person of the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee. All of them give two heavenly attestations to Jesus as the Messiah; the visible descent on him of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, and the voice of the -Father from the most excellent glory, declaring Jesus his most beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. He himself came to John and solicited baptism at his hands. The ordinance was administered in the river Jordan.

According to these and correlated passages, the honorable position of this ordinance in the kingdom of God is as follows:

(1) In it is the Messiah manifested.

(2) In it the whole Trinity are present. The Son is being baptized, the Holy Spirit and the Father attesting the Son. Hence in our Lord’s Great Commission, reaching to all nations throughout all time, those disciples must be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Thus the doctrine of the Trinity is indissolubly connected with baptism and is proclaimed wherever in pool, lake, river, or sea the ordinance is administered.

(3) Therefore it is a confession on the part of every disciple submitting to the ordinance that he accepts Jesus as the sent of the Father, and anointed of the Spirit to be his sacrifice, prophet, priest, king, and judge.

(4) Its symbolism expresses the heart, of the gospel and unites therein our Lord and all his disciples who follow his example (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1; 1 Corinthians 15:29).

A great sermon on the position of baptism has been translated into foreign languages. This was a sermon before the Southern Baptist Convention by Dr. Henry Holcombe Tucker, editor of the Christian Index. From this honorable position of the ordinance it follows that it should never be belittled or despised as a matter of small moment.

The act of John in baptizing Jesus was one thing and not three things. John did not sprinkle water in Hesys (rantizo) and pour water on Jesus (cheo) and dip Jesus in water (baptizo). He did a specific thing. Whatever the specific thing John did, to which Jesus submitted, is the thing which Jesus did when he also (through his disciples) baptized. (Compare John 3:22-23; John 4:1-2.) And it follows that the specific thing which John did, to which also Jesus submitted, and which he himself did (through his disciples) is the very thing which he commanded) in Matthew 28:19, to be done unto the end of time.

Apart from the clear meaning of baptizo, we may settle the question in another way. The argument of Romans 6:3 and Colossians 2:12 shows that Jesus was figuratively buried and raised in baptism, and that we who follow him are planted in the likeness of his death and also raised in the likeness of his f resurrection. Therefore baptism is indissolubly connected with the resurrection of the buried dead.

Since John administered a baptism (eis metanoian) unto repentance, a baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins (eis aphesin hamartion), we have the question, why should Jesus seek baptism at John’s hands, seeing he needed no repentance and no remission of sins? John himself raised this question: "But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus, answering said unto him, Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffereth him" (Matthew 3:14-15). The answer is clear, as John understood later. (See John 1:31; John 1:33.) John’s baptizing had a twofold purpose.(l) as related to penitent believers, (2) as to the Messiah himself. In no other way could John complete his ministry. Out of this comes another question, How harmonize John’s protest (Matthew 3:14) with his subsequent declaration, "I knew him not, at John 1:31; John 1:33? John could not know the person of the Messiah until he saw the appointed sign, the visible descent of the Spirit upon him, but he could be impressed in mind, in other ways, that Jesus was not a sinner needing repentance.

One of the most remarkable things about Jesus was a presence that at times filled friend and foe with awe and amazement. A glory of irresistible power radiated from him. I cite five instances of the radiating power of this presence on his enemies: Twice when he alone purged the Temple, driving all his panic-stricken enemies before him (John 2:13-16; Matthew 21:12 f; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45 f); the overawing of the Nazarenes when they rejected and sought to kill him (Luke 4:29-30); the prostration of those who sought to arrest him (John 18:6) ; the outcry of the demons when brought into his presence (Matthew 8:29 f; Mark 5; Luke 8.) Not only John the Baptist felt the radiating power of this sinless, awful presence, but Christ’s own disciples many times later. For example, Peter, at the miraculous draught of the fishes (Luke 5:8); Peter and others at the stilling of the tempest (Mark 4:41); at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:6-7); all the disciples on the last journey to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32). We thus understand how John the Baptist (Matthew 3:14) could be impressed with the sinlessness of Jesus, and yet not really know he was the Messiah until the sign came.

Now we have seen why Jesus should be baptized of John, but why baptized at all, that is, why to his own mind? The reasons are as follows:

(1) As he foreknew, in connection with this ordinance, it would be his own inauguration as Messiah. Therefore he overcame John’s scruples. Therefore, when baptized, he prayed for his spiritual anointing and the attestation of his Father. His prayer was not vague and indefinite. He knew he must be anointed as prophet, priest, and king, and sealed as the sacrifice for sin. He knew he must be endued for service as Messiah by the Holy Spirit. He must be equipped to resist and overcome the devil. All this appears as follows:

Anointing as Prophet: Read Isaiah 11:1-5; Isaiah 42:1-2, which describe his spiritual equipment for service. He prayed for that. The fulfilment is, "God gave not the Spirit to him by measure," but immeasurably (John 3:34). Read Isaiah 61:1 f and his declaration, Luke 4:16-21. He was anointed to do this very preaching.

Sealed for Sacrifice: Referring to this descent of the Spirit our Lord says, "Him hath God, the Father, sealed" (John 6:27).

On receipt of this enduement of the Spirit: He went at once to meet the temptation of Satan, as the Second Adam (Matthew 4:1 f; Mark 1:12 f; Luke 4:1 f).

So, also, the descent of the Spirit: Was his anointing as King and Priest.

(2) He was baptized to set forth in symbol the great truths of his gospel – his death, burial, resurrection (Romans 6:1 f; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1; 1 Corinthians 15:29).

(3) As an example for all his followers (see same scriptures).

However, he had the messianic consciousness before his baptism. He sought the baptism; he overcame John’s scruples; he prayed for the anointing and attestation before he received them.

The meaning of his reply to John, "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" is that neither he nor John must stop at only one of the purposes of John’s baptism, but meet all the other purposes of that baptism. And evidently, as set forth in 2 above) this baptism would memorialize all righteousness, which comes by vicarious expiation, burial and resurrection. It would be a pictorial gospel.


1. What comparison did John institute between Christ and himself?

2. Was this a comparison between John’s baptism in water and Christ’s baptism in water? If not, what is the point of comparison?

3. On what phrase of this comparison arise the controversies of the ages, and what two questions are involved in the controversies?

4. From what great Baptist expositor does this interpretation dissent, and what is the point of the dissension?

5. What negations express the dissent from Dr. Maclaren?

6. How is the baptism in fire exercised?

7. Give the argument to show that Dr. Maclaren is mistaken about the baptism in fire.

8. Reply to the contention that tongues of fire at the first Pentecost after the resurrection, prove the identity of baptism in the Spirit and fire.

9. Analyze, in a few terse sentences, the baptism in fire, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, regeneration, and sanctification.

10. Show how the baptism in the Holy Spirit was twice prefigured.

11. Explain the baptism in the Holy Spirit from the passage in Daniel 9.

12. What of the predetermined culmination of John’s ministry, and what were his own words to show that it connected with his baptism in water?

13. It what two things, then, does the culmination of John’s ministry consist?

14. Who are the historians that give an account of John’s baptism of the Messiah?

15. In whom, as a person, do all these historians identify him?

16. What two attestations of Jesus as the Messiah do all the historians give?

17. According to these and correlated passages, what of the honorable position of this ordinance in the kingdom of God?

18. What great sermon on the position of baptism has been translated into foreign languages?

19. What follows from this honorable position of the ordinance?

20. What was the act of John in baptizing Jesus?

21. Apart from the clear meaning of baptize, how otherwise may we settle the question?

22. Why should Jesus seek baptism at John’s hands, seeing he needed no repentance and no remission of sins?

23. How may we harmonize John’s protest (Matthew 3:14) with his subsequent declaration, "I knew him not," (John 1:31; John 1:33)?

24. But why should Jesus be baptized at all?

25. How does it appear that he had the messianic consciousness before his baptism?

26. What, then, is the meaning of his reply to John, "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness"?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 3". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/matthew-3.html.
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