Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, May 30th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Attention!
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Matthew 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

The Dedication of the King

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

Matthew leaves us in the previous chapter with young Jesus at home in Nazareth. Now thirty years have passed. Jesus is grown and is about to begin his public ministry. With the exception of Luke’s brief account, the events between the youth of Jesus and His ministry are without record. Luke’s comment that "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men" stands as sufficient testimony to His early years (2:52). What happens in this intervening time is unnecessary to know. Legends of Jesus’ traveling to the Far East where he encounters and is influenced by Eastern mysticism are devoid of merit

In those days: Matthew’s absence of detail as to the date of John’s ministry is supplemented by Luke. Luke records that these events take place in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Annas and Caiaphas being high priests (3:1-2). Tiberius begins to co-reign with Augustus c. A.D. 11. He becomes sole ruler c. A.D. 14. Luke’s reference to the fifteenth year is probably counted from Tiberius’ co-regency. This time frame brings John’s appearance to around the year of 26 A.D. Pilate is governor of Judea from 26-36 A.D.

came John the Baptist: Like Jesus’ birth, the account of John’s is filled with interest. John is born to Elizabeth and Zacharias (Luke 1-3). Elizabeth is a relative of Mary (Luke 1:36), perhaps a cousin, making Jesus and John kinsmen. Both Mary and Elizabeth are with child at the same time and John’s birth occurs six months before Jesus’.

John, who plays a vital role in the mission of Jesus, possessed God’s full divine authority in his preaching and baptizing (Mark 11:30). His baptism, however, is temporary, being only valid before the cross (Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3). He is a righteous man who warns Israel of her sins (Matthew 3:6), teaches his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1), fasts often (Matthew 9:14), shuns the comforts of society (Luke 1:80), and manifests a complete self-effacing quality (Luke 3:16; John 1:19). Jesus describes him as the last of the great prophets (Luke 11:11; Luke 11:13) and the promised "Elijah" (Matthew 17:11-13).

Malachi prophesies that God will send Elijah to restore the hearts of the people before the day of the Lord (4:5; Matthew 11:14). The Jews anxiously wait the ushering in of the great Messianic age. Even today, though mistaken in their understanding of the Old Testament prophecy, orthodox Jews reserve a cup and a place at the Passover table to symbolize his expected return. Like many great men of God, John’s preaching results in his imprisonment and untimely death (Matthew 4:12; Matthew 11:2-4; Mark 6:14).

By virtue that John is called "the Baptizer," we understand his mission and action. McGarvey says this title is given to John because he is the originator under God of this ordinance (33). There is some disagreement among scholars as to the role, if any, that baptism plays in the Jewish community of that time. Some, like Albert Barnes, maintain that baptism is commonly administered at that time to Jewish proselytes (Barnes 21). Boles indicates, however, that no one is directed by God to administer such a baptism before John the Baptist. While the Law of Moses requires the ritual washing of vessels, bathing of priests, cleansing of the unclean (Leviticus 14:9, Numbers 19:19), such is never referred to as a baptism per se (Boles 65). Paul’s words in Hebrews 9:10 about "divers baptisms" has reference to the twenty some provisions under which the old law requires these washings. The question of proselyte baptism has no bearing on the baptism of John. Even if such is commonly practiced, its meaning is significantly different from that of John’s. One major difference seems to be that while John baptizes his converts, Jewish proselytes baptize themselves. In any case John’s baptism is sanctioned by God and is not a mere human appendage to the Law (Luke 7:29).

The word Baptism is often misunderstood today. Because the English equivalent is a transliteration rather than a true translation of the Greek (baptizoto baptize) much confusion has arisen as to mode. Literally speaking, the word may be said to conceptualize a dipping or a complete submersion. Vine says the process consists of immersion, submersion, and emergence (Vine 96). The modern practice of sprinkling or pouring water over one’s head is a violation of the biblical definition and must be rejected in the salvation process. True baptism is submersion (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).

John’s baptism, while required by God during his ministry and while holding some similarity to Christian baptism, is yet different from that practiced after Jesus death. John’s baptism calls for the recipient to hear the good news and believe on the One who is yet to come. Christian baptism requires One to hear the good news and believe on the One who has already come. John’s baptism requires one to confess his sins (Mark 1:4-5). Christian baptism requires us to confess the lordship of Jesus. John’s baptism is not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:1) and is valid only before the cross (Acts 19:1-6). Christian baptism is valid from the cross onward. John’s baptism precedes Jesus, but Christian baptism represents His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6).

preaching in the wilderness of Judaea: The wilderness of Judea is the rough region of barren hills east of Jerusalem toward the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Here John spends his nomadic life as he grows accustomed to the rigors of outdoor living (Luke 1:80). No doubt he comes to understand intimately the barren austerity of the land, the bedouin herdsmen with their sheep and goats, and the wild animals and snakes that make their home here. This is an unlikely place for a "king’s herald." One might expect that a king will send his forerunner to the best hotels, that he will eat the best of foods, and that he will wear the best of clothes so as to give the best impression of the royal one to come. But just as God has brought Jesus into the world in a manger, so John’s surroundings portray the mission of the Messiah. His is not a worldly mission of comfort, and His is not a worldly kingdom. His is spiritual.

Some suggest that John is actually an Essene, a group of ascetic religious separatists whose monastic colonies are located near the northern end of the Dead Sea and around Engedi. This group, while perhaps holding selected similarities to John, is much unlike him. Fowler reveals several major differences, including the following: John eats locusts while the Essenes abstain from animal food; their doctrine of God’s absolute preordination of everything conflicts with John’s doctrine of personal responsibility; John is intensely evangelistic whereas the Essenes are monastic in nature; John prepares the way for the Messiah whereas the Essene community, despite its messianic fervor, never recognizes the Messiah when He comes (Fowler 92-93).

Verse 2

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

And saying, Repent ye: Before one can demonstrate a genuine change of life, inner change must occur. John’s imperative to repent strikes at the very essence of his countrymen’s problem. The Jews have long been people who draw near with the mouths but whose hearts are far from God (Matthew 15:9). The prophets of old had called for Israel to repent and turn from her rebellious ways (Joel 2:12; Isaiah 55:5). John’s message, and later Jesus’, is that a change of heart is still required (Matthew 5:8). "Repentance" (metanoein) is a change of thought, thus a change of purpose, which then leads to an outward change of life (Broadus 33). While the word itself does not necessarily involve grief, anyone who changes from sinfulness to holiness will surely experience remorse. Robertson observes that John does not call for the people to be sorry but to change their attitude and conduct. In translation the difficulty arises because the English word "repent" (from the Latin repoenitet—to be sorry again) does not adequately satisfy the Greek concept. Paul distinguishes between sorrow and repentance, showing that one (sorrow) is the outcome of the other (2 Corinthians 7:10).

for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: Even today, much confusion exists over the concept of the kingdom, some still looking for it to come. John, however, announces that the kingdom is at hand (lit: has come near). Likewise, Jesus preaches the nearness of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17). Then He sends out the 12 and then the 70 to proclaim the same message. He foretells that some then living will not die until the kingdom comes with power (Mark 9:1; Matthew 16:28). This fulfillment occurs on Pentecost as the Holy Spirit is poured out and the church is established (Acts 2).

Verse 3

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Isaiah 40:3 predicts the coming of John the Baptist, who is unlike the other prophets of old.
While most come to the city, John resides and preaches in the wilderness. His cry in the "wilderness" is not only literal but figurative. It is literal because he preaches in the countryside. It is figurative in that he addresses a society barren of righteousness.

John is appropriately described as "the voice" since John’s personality is lost to his message about Jesus. In John 1:19, when priests and Levites are sent from Jerusalem to ascertain John’s identity, he gives himself no credit and denies he is the Messiah.

Verse 4

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

There has always been a connection between one’s outward appearance (clothing and diet) and his philosophy of life. In the Old Testament, we often find repentant sinners sitting in sackcloth and fasting (Genesis 37:34; Esther 4:1). John does not call Israel to asceticism, but his lifestyle stands in stark contrast to the excesses of the day. His clothes and food foreshadow the contrast between the material blessings of Judaism and the spiritual blessings of the kingdom he heralds.

McGarvey points out that Greek extravagance was beginning to contaminate Jewish life (Fourfold 69). Like Elijah, who had cried out against Phoenician luxury and licentiousness, John wears rugged clothing and eats the simplest foods (2 Kings 1:8). His austere self-denial portrays the seriousness of his mission. Jesus’ message also reflects the simplicity to which his followers are called. Like John, Jesus teaches that life consists of more than food and clothes (Matthew 6:25).

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: The camel’s hair of ancient times is not the luxurious fabric known by the same name today. It is a rough, unrefined hair shed by the camel in the spring and woven into inexpensive garments for the poor. In biblical writing it is often referred to as "sackcloth."

and a leathern girdle about his loins: The belt John wears is a universal part of dress for the people of that time. It is tied around one’s middle (loins) and serves as a way to bind the garment. It also serves as means of support and can be used to tuck the robe into when working or running.

and his meat was locusts and wild honey: Honey is prevalent under rocks and in the crevices of the wilderness hillsides. It provides not only a sweetener but a food source. Old Testament stories such as those of Samson (Judges 14:8) and Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:25) include the role of honey. Israelites are promised a land flowing with milk and honey as they enter Canaan (Exodus 3:8).

Today Western culture finds locust reprehensible. Nevertheless, it is clear from Leviticus 11:22 that God considers them "clean." Locusts are a winged insect, closely resembling the grasshopper. They are eaten in a variety of ways: salted and dried in the sun after which they can be stored; roasted or boiled; fried in butter; or eaten fresh. Regardless of the way they are prepared, locusts are a staple for the poorer classes of people in all Eastern countries. Ellicott indicates their taste is similar to shrimp (24).

Verses 5-6

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan: John’s preaching attracts huge crowds from the entire Jordan River Valley. Typically prophets go to the cities to preach. In this case the people go out to John in the wilderness. The "region round about Jordan" includes parts of Peraea, Samaria, Galilee, and Gaulonitis (Elliott 24). People then, as well as now, often recognize they have deep spiritual needs and are willing to travel great distances to find solace for their longing hearts.

And were baptized of him, confessing their sins: John administers a heavenly sanctioned immersion, identifying him as a "baptizer." Repentance and confession are necessary prerequisites to baptism. It seems obvious from the numbers that flock to John that the people’s confessions are general in nature. The main point seems to be that they make known with their lips the change that has occurred in attitude and heart. The Greek word exomologeo (confess) indicates an open public confession (Robertson 26). Unfortunately many of the people do not follow though with their initial change of heart because not all who accept John later accept the Messiah.

in the Jordan: The Jordan River is the most significant river of Palestine. It lies in a valley which totals more than one hundred and sixty miles in length and is from two to fifteen miles wide. The river itself has long played an important role in biblical history. Joshua divides this river as the children of Israel enter Canaan. Elijah divides it with his mantle. Naaman finds healing. And here Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness. During normal rainfall it is a shallow, muddy river with a depth that varies from three feet to twelve and a width of some ninety feet. During flood season, however, it will sometimes extend itself to a width of almost a mile. As it snakes its way from the Sea of Galilee south to the Dead Sea, it descends some six hundred feet: an average of fourteen feet a mile.

Verses 7-8

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism: As with the Lord, John encounters those whose hearts are insincere. Not the least of these is the religious leaders of the day. The irony of this situation is seen in that the Pharisees and Sadducees, often known for their contempt for each other, find commonality in making John their enemy.

By the first century, Palestine is filled with many splinter religio-political groups and sects. Two of the most important are the Pharisees and Sadducees. The name "Pharisee" is derived from a Hebrew term that means "separated," indicating their theology. Even though they live among the people, they take great care to separate themselves from all "uncleanness." They teach much that is correct, but their attitude about God’s law and their fellow man condemns them. In fact, Jesus commands the people to obey their words but to reject their example (Matthew 23:3). They love to appear pious: enlarging their phylacteries and garment fringes, taking the most prominent seats in the synagogue, demanding to be called "father," and proselytizing for their brand of superficial religiosity (Matthew 23) while defrauding the widows and needy.

It is difficult to say exactly when this group develops, but Josephus indicates that both the Pharisees and Sadducees emerge in the days of Jonathan, the high priest (159-144 B.C.). This is what is commonly called the inter-testament period.

Some believe the Pharisees descend from the Hasidim, a former group of "pious ones" who previously opposed Antiochus Epiphanes’ attempts to blot out the distinctiveness of Jewish life by introducing Greek worship and customs (see 1 and 2 Maccabees). Their opposition ends in revolt when Antiochus profanes the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. This revolt and the subsequent conflict are led by Judas Maccabaeus. Ellicott indicates that separateness becomes a test of religious character (24). If one keeps himself unmingled from outside culture, he is of high religious character.

Admission to the Pharisee sect requires a probationary period of up to one year during which time the applicant has to prove his ability to follow ritual law. The Pharisees despise the mass of their own countrymen as "brute people of the earth" (Ellicott 25). They also disdain tax collectors and all sinners. After leaving the marketplace or any public gathering, they ceremonially purify themselves as soon as possible (Mark 7:2-5). On the positive side, however, they revive the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and of the rewards and punishments that are to follow (Ellicott 25). They believe in angels and in God’s providence carried out by angels and spirits (Fourfold 72). Thus, their theology is closers to Jesus’ than other groups of the time period.

Within the sect there are two schools. These are represented by the followers of Shammai and the followers of Hillel. Shammai represents the much more conservative, hard-line interpretation of the Law while Hillel’s followers take a more liberal approach.

The Sadducees are at the opposite end of the religious spectrum. They are the ultra liberals of New Testament times. While their origin is also unknown, many scholars believe that their name is derived from Zadok (Sadok in the LXX) who is a chief priest under Solomon (1 Kings 1:32). His descendants are called "son’s of Zadok" (Ezekiel 40:46) from which came the term "Zadokites" or Sadducees (McGarvey 85). This sect also gains much popularity during the inter-testament period.

Perhaps the major characteristic of the Sadducees is their opposition to the Pharisees. They differ on many issues primarily because their philosophical underpinnings differ so greatly. The Sadducees deny that Israel possesses an oral law transmitted to them by Moses and hold that only the written law has divine authority (Smith’s Bible Dictionary 579). They scorn the legalistic traditions of the Pharisees.

The Sadducees compromise both religiously and politically. While they do not relish Greek culture with its emphasis on philosophy and intellectualism, they greatly enjoy its practical slant. They number less than the Pharisees but are wealthier. During Annas’ leadership, they run the Temple franchises, which include the money exchanging and sale of sacrificial animals at an exorbitant charge.

In New Testament times, the Sadducees are still closely associated with the priestly class (Acts 5:17) to the extent that the terms "chief priest" and "Sadducee" are used almost interchangeably (McArthur 62). In reality, however, the Sadducees hold little regard for religion and doctrine. They deny the existence of angels, the resurrection, and the super-natural. They consider themselves the masters of their own destiny. With this philosophy it is little wonder the early church encounters much opposition from this group. While the Pharisees, with their legalistic hypocrisy, oppose Jesus’ ministry, it is the Sadducees who oppose the church’s teaching about the resurrection.

MacArthur points out that while both Pharisees and Sadducees have representative members in the Sanhedrin, they are in almost constant opposition to each other. The Pharisees are ritualistic, separatists, commoners, most of whom have a trade, while the Sadducees are rationalistic, collaborators, and wealthy aristocrats. Their common ground is found in their expectation of reward. The Pharisees expect their reward in heaven while the Sadducees expect theirs on earth. Neither group is concerned with inner spiritual qualities but both rely on a works-oriented mentality to merit their reward. The Sanhedrin, with the Pharisees and Sadducees, makes up the heart of ecclesiastical Judaism. These civil and political aspects of Judaism work together to bring about Jesus’ crucifixion and to stimulate opposition to the church (Camp 79).

In considering these two groups, it is no wonder Matthew lumps both into one category in verse seven by use of a single definite article. Both have the same need and the basic same problem: self-righteousness.

O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? John’s warning is without hesitation and without leniency. He severely rebukes them for their hypocrisy. It is clear this group is self righteous and sees no need for true repentance. He calls them a "generation of vipers" and asks them who has warned them to flee from impending doom. The picture here is to a wilderness fire that sends snakes and small creatures scattering ahead of it. Jesus repeats this epitaph as he foretells the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70 (Matthew 23:33). Here Matthew hints not only of the destruction of their nation but also of the ultimate judgment that is coming.

"Generation of vipers" (gennemata echicnon) more correctly means "offspring" or "brood" of vipers and emphasizes the guile and malice of these evil men (Matthew 23:33). He demands in verse eight that they prove the sincerity of their action.

Verse 9

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 think not to say within yourselves: John not only warns them about their lives but also about their thoughts. Actions begin in the heart or mind.

We have Abraham to [our] father: Nothing warms a Jew more than his claim to Abrahamic descent. God promises Abraham that He will make of him a great nation, and the Jews take great pride in the fact that they are that nation (Genesis 12:1-3). They fail to see that Israel is simply the progenitor of the Messiah through whom "all nations" will be blessed. They think God’s blessing to Abraham is exclusively theirs. Even the early church struggles with this dilemma. Not until the Holy Spirit descends on the house of Cornelius do Jewish Christians come to understand that the Messiah is universal. With this elitist attitude the Jews falsely believe Abraham’s goodness is meritorious and his favor with God not only suffices for himself, "but was such a treasure of merit that all the claims and needs of his descendants could not exhaust it" (Fowler 103). The Talmud teaches that Abraham sits next to the gates of hell and prevents any wicked Israelite to enter (Fourfold 75).

John’s words indicate that God’s kingdom is not a kingdom that is attained by physical birth. It requires a change of heart, followed by a "new birth." This truth is what Jesus discusses with Nicodemus, a concept this Jewish leader had a hard time grasping (John 3).

for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham:

John makes the point that a God powerful enough to bring forth offspring from parents past the age of childbearing can raise up children from stones. As well, John may be alluding to the fact that Abraham was the rock from which the Jews were hewn (Isaiah 51:1); yet God can just as easily raise up other children from him.

Verse 10

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: John compares the Jewish nation to trees. He warns that the ax of God’s wrath will not simply prune the trees but will strike at their roots to destroy them. As a farmer, at the end of each season, cuts and burns those trees that do not produce fruit, so God will destroy those Jews whose lives are barren of repentance and works.

therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire: These words seem to be addressed specifically to the Sadducees and Pharisees. Without doubt, however, their application is universal. God has always brought His wrath upon those who disobeyed, both individually and collectively. The nation of Israel has been carried away into captivity twice for her unrepentant attitude. Some 40 years after John, the nation is again razed by the Romans. Without doubt, John’s prophetic words foreshadow this complete collapse of the Jewish economy in A.D. 70. The symbolism of the fall of Jerusalem also prefigures the eternal and final judgment of unquenchable fire found in verse 12.

Verse 11

I indeed baptize you with 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 with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire:

The contrast is now made between the missions of John and Jesus. When John uses the figure of baptism, he shows that Jesus’ mission is far more extensive and powerful than his own. What the "Baptist" has begun will find its culmination in Jesus. Jesus will have ultimate power both to bless and destroy (Matthew 28:18).

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: The major difficulty in the interpretation of this phrase comes in the words "unto repentance." Mark 1:4 clarifies that John’s baptism is "for the remission of sins." McGarvey suggests the phrase under consideration might correctly be rendered "in order to repentance." In other words, John’s baptism is required "to cause those yet unbaptized to repent, in order that they might receive the baptism and enjoy its blessings too" (McGarvey 37). Because the remission of sins is attached to John’s baptism, "the desire to obtain this blessing would prompt those yet unbaptized to repent, so that they might be baptized" (McGarvey 37).

but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: It is the custom of a slave to unloose the sandals of his master. Yet, John feels so inferior to Jesus that he does not consider himself worthy of being the Messiah’s slave.

he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire: Verse 11 should be considered with verse 12. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire are not the same but are contrasting events. The baptism with fire completes John’s analogy of the evil tree and proves that fire is in reference to punishment. Fire does not describe the Holy Spirit’s redemptive work. Z. T. Sweeney observes that the word "fire" in the New Testament is never used to denote a spiritual blessing or the work of the Holy Spirit in purifying the sinner. The idea that Holy Spirit baptism is given to cleanse men from their sins is born out of the "castaway doctrine of the total depravity of man and his total disability to hear, believe and obey the truth" (49).

Jesus’ words recorded in Acts 1:5 further indicate that the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that of fire are to be distinguished. In this verse Jesus refers back to John’s statement as he instructs his apostles to remain in Jerusalem. Notice, however, that only the baptism of the Holy Spirit is mentioned. This is fulfilled on Pentecost as the apostles receive power from on high.

Verse 12

Whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Farmers of John’s day are well acquainted with this metaphor. After grain is harvested, it is trodden out on the threshing floor by oxen. It is then winnowed by repeatedly tossing it into the air with a large wooden shovel until the wind removes the chaff. So it will be with Jesus’s kingdom. The good will be gathered into "barns," but the evil will be burned with unquenchable fire. Jesus uses similar word pictures to describe the final judgment of the wicked (Matthew 25:12; Matthew 25:30; Matthew 25:46).

The word translated "fan" in the Authorized Version may be more correctly translated "winnowing shovel" (Thayer 556-2-4425).

Verse 13

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

Having left Jesus in the city of Nazareth as a child (2:23), Matthew now reintroduces Him by referring to the first recorded act of His earthly ministry. The importance of John’s role as the Messianic harbinger is seen by the fact that Jesus travels, probably on foot, some sixty or seventy miles south to the Judean countryside where John is baptizing. Jesus’ willingness to do the Father’s will is here manifest as He leaves the fertile country hamlet of Nazareth and ventures to the barren soil of unconverted hearts.

Verse 14

But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

John’s objection shows he fully recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. John has already voiced his humility by saying he is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, and now he expresses his deference by saying he is unworthy to baptize Him. John, knowing Jesus has no sins to repent, recognizes his own spiritual poverty as he stands face to face with the sinless Lamb of God (John 1:29-30).

Verse 15

And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

This passage paints one of the most beautiful pictures in all of God’s word. Paul explains in Philippians 2:7-8 that Jesus, while divine, submits to the will of the Father, even unto death on the cross. This submission, evident from the beginning of His ministry, is here manifested. Though sinless, He submits to John’s baptism, for it is sanctioned by God. Jesus fulfills all righteousness by setting an example for all to follow. John’s submission is also seen as his initial hesitation to baptize Jesus gives way to obedience.

Verse 16

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: Matthew here gives us additional insight into the practice of baptism. Just as Philip and the nobleman go down into the water to accomplish baptism (Acts 8:38), so now Jesus comes out of the Jordan River. This picture, taken with the meaning of the Greek "baptizo," gives irrefutable proof that biblical baptism is immersion. Matthew uses the preposition "apo" (Greek: from) to describe Jesus’ ascent from the water. Mark, on the other hand, uses the preposition "ek" (Greek: out of). Taken together, these words leave little room for misunderstanding that baptism means immersion. That John is baptizing in Aenon near Salim because there is much water there (John 3:23) supports this conclusion.

and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: Luke records that after Jesus is baptized and while he prays, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him. Although Jesus is the divine Son of God, He finds prayer a necessary part of his ministry.

There is some question as to who sees the dove and who hears the voice (verse 17). Matthew says Jesus sees the Holy Spirit descending. We know, however, that John also sees it (John 1:33-34), and it seems reasonable to conclude that the multitude sees it as well. The physical manifestation seems to be designed as an announcement of the Christ. John, as a man, has announces the Christ, and now heaven confirms the message.

All four gospel writers attest to the fact that the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus "as a dove." Opinion differs as to whether the Spirit takes the literal body of a dove or whether it descends in the gentle manner of a dove or both. Luke uses the words "in bodily form like a dove" (Luke 3:22). In any case, the "dove" has long been the symbol of purity, peace, and gentleness.

Verse 17

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

These same words are spoken as Jesus is transfigured on the mount (Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:7) and during the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 12:28). In each instance God expresses His approval of Jesus.

Verses 16 and 17 present a clear picture of the Trinity. While all three personalities are in perfect unity and agreement, each is separate and distinct from the other. Here we see the Son coming out of the water, the Spirit descending as a dove, and the Father speaking from heaven. Today our baptism also glorifies each of the Godhead, for when we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we begin a new walk with each (Matthew 28:19).

The baptism of Jesus is a milestone in the Master’s earthly pilgrimage. Henceforth, Jesus begins His three-year journey to the cross.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-3.html. 1993-2022.
 
adsfree-icon
Ads FreeProfile