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At that time. Between 25 and 30 years have passed since the end of chapter 2. John the Baptist came. Called the “Baptist” because he baptized. He was a reformer and preacher, who led the religious “revival” in preparation for the work of Jesus. Prophecy mentions him (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). His birth was announced by an angel (Luke 1:13); he was from a priestly (Levitical) family, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth (who was the cousin of Mary). Desert of Judea. A rocky area in the eastern part of Judea, west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Few people lived there, and it was mostly used for pasture.
Turn away from your sins. To “repent” is to “turn away,” Sorrow is not repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). John’s baptism was “renewal” and pointed to Christ (Acts 19:4). Kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom ruled by the Messiah, predicted by the prophets (especially Daniel 2:44). This announcement thrilled all Judea, Is near. Still future, but near! It had not begun with Abraham or David or even John the Baptist. (See John 1:17). It is the Kingdom of heaven, not earth, and has a King sent from heaven. This King was revealed to be the one born at Bethlehem (John 1:33-34). John is the herald.
Someone is shouting. John the Baptist was a sermon! He didn’t try to honor himself, he put his all into pointing to Christ. The prophecy is Isaiah 40:3. Get the Lord’s road ready. Kings of that day built straight roads for their chariots and armies. The “desert” was the spiritual condition of the world. Make a straight path. Cease your evil ways, because the King comes!
Camel’s hair. See 2 Kings 1:8. Clothes made from the hair of a camel woven into a coarse cloth. The poor of the East have worn such for centuries. It was the uniform of a prophet (Zechariah 13:4). Leather belt. Used to fasten the loose clothes of the East. Ate locusts and wild honey. Not what we call locusts, but a kind of giant grasshopper, still eaten by the poor in the East, and kosher to the Jew (Leviticus 11:22). Bees nested in the rocks, and wild honey was plentiful. John lived off the land.
People came to Him. Not everyone, but great crowds! Possibly the “thief was one of these (Luke 23:39-43), since he was certainly a “zealot.” [See notes on Mark 15:7. ]
He baptized them. In the Jordan river (Mark 1:5). The Jordan is the important river of Palestine. It begins in the mountains of Lebanon, runs south into the Lake of Galilee, leaving it descends southward along Galilee, Samaria and Judea, to end in the Dead Sea. (Ferry-boats were used on this river—2 Samuel 19:18 Septuagint.) Confessed their sins. Baptism itself is a burial in water, a “baptism into death,” a symbol of burying the old life and of death to sin. They “verbalized” their confession, and also “acted it out” in baptism. Confession of sin, turning from sin to God, and baptism are prescribed as conditions of forgiveness.
Pharisees and Sadducees. The two main religious sects. The PHARISEES began about the time of the Maccabees after the return from captivity. They were a “renewal group,” “Jewish Puritans,” but they had degenerated into formalists who ignored the “inner life.” They were meticulous in ritual, orthodox, but full of spiritual pride. The SADDUCEES, SO named for Sadduc, their founder, were aristocratic traditionalists. Mostly political, and not religious at all, they did not believe in “angel, spirit, or the resurrection from the dead.” The High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas, were Sadducees. You snakes. They were poisonous like snakes, polluted by their sin, hating one another and hateful to God. Who told you? Wrath had been predicted (Malachi 3:2; Malachi 4:5). John’s question doubts their sincerity.
Do the things that will show. The change in life proves the change in heart. No change means no repentance (James 2:18-23).
And don’t think you can excuse yourselves. They believed Abraham would keep them from being lost eternally, even in their sin. John destroys this. God can take these rocks. Perhaps pointing to the rocks in the Jordan. In destroying the higher claims of Judaism, John points to the Gentiles who become God’s children by faith in Christ (see Galatians 3:29).
The axe is ready. A sign the tree is to be cut down. The tree is the Jewish Nation. Every tree that does not bear. Jesus made a fruitless fig-tree represent the whole Jewish Nation (Luke 13:6), but John gives a universal law—what does not bear good fruit is cut down and destroyed.
I baptize you with water. His baptism was with water only. Christian baptism (the baptism that makes Christians) is with both water and spirit (John 3:5; Acts 19:1-7). The one who will come. The King is greater than John. He can do what John can only promise. Holy Spirit. Note how Jesus uses John’s statement in Acts 1:5. Christian baptism is with water AND Spirit (Acts 2:38), with every one becoming through this act the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Fire, Some of those who came to John would later accept Christ, but some would not. The “fire” of Matthew 3:10 destroys; and it is used in the same sense in Matthew 3:12. Therefore it must be understood in Matthew 3:11 to mean a “baptism of suffering” which would come to those Jews who did not accept Christ as the Messiah. See Christ’s words in Matthew 23:29-39.
Winnowing shovel. In Palestine, grain was threshed on an outdoor threshing floor, either by being pounded, or being walked-on by cows. Then the winnowing shovel was used to throw it up into the air for the wind to blow away the chaff, and the threshed grain would fall back to the ground. The wheat was put into the barn. The chaff was gathered and burned. The barn symbolizes the home of the saved. The fire is symbolic of hell.
At that time Jesus. Matthew does not speak about the time from Nazareth (Matthew 2:23) until now. Luke speaks of Jesus in the Temple at twelve years old (Luke 2:41-50). He had worked in Nazareth as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Galilee. Josephus (the Jewish historian) says this northern area of Palestine contained 240 towns and villages and a huge population. Nazareth was one of the towns. To be baptized. This was to set an example, but especially to be identified (John 1:33). Jesus walked 60 or 70 miles to come here to be baptized.
But John tried. While there is not evidence that John had ever met Jesus before, he knew something about him, and tried to change his mind. [Their mothers were cousins.] I ought to be baptized by you. John may have believed Jesus to be the Messiah, but he knew it after he had baptized Jesus (John 1:33).
Let it be so for now. “Now” implies that the “time” required that he be baptized. True, baptism was for sinners; and Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15), yet he had humbly accepted the obligation of human duties (Hebrews 2:14), and must set a perfect example. He obeyed the Jewish Law, and must also obey the Divine rite that John administered. All that God requires. His baptism set the pattern for him to be the first among many brothers (Romans 8:29). Note the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:16. In Christian baptism (in contrast to John’s baptism)—water and Spirit are united (John 3:5 : Titus 3:5).
He was baptized. The baptism took place in the river Jordan, and was certainly by immersion. Dr. Whitby of the Church of England said: “The observation of (conclusion reached by) the Greek Church is this, that he who ascended out of the water must first descend into it. Baptism is therefore to be performed, not by sprinkling, but by washing the body.” Dr. Schaff wrote: “While the validity of baptism does not depend on the quantity or quality of water, or the mode of its application, yet immersion and emersion [emergence] is the primitive and expressive mode to symbolize the idea of entire spiritual purification and renovation.” Dr. Schaff also says: “The Greek word ‘baptize’ as derived from a root that means ‘to dip,’ ‘to immerse.’” All the great scholars agree with these views. Jesus came up out of the water. Luke 3:21 tells us he was praying as he came up. Then heaven was opened. The skies parted, to reveal the very throne of God. The Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit comes to anoint Jesus [Christ means anointed], to identify him (John 1:32-34) and to give him power (John 3:34). The form of a dove was used to make the Spirit visible.
And then a voice. Three times God speaks from heaven in connection with Christ’s ministry: at his baptism; at his transfiguration; and in the temple just before his suffering. This Is my own dear Son. The words of Psalms 2:7. Note the time chosen by God to speak this, It is just after he humbles himself obediently in the act of baptism that the Holy Spirit anoints him as the Christ, and God formally identifies him as his Son. This very forcefully implies: that we must be baptized to follow Christ; that it is when we turn from sin and are baptized that we receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38); that when we reach out in obedient faith, God will declare us his children (2 Timothy 2:19).
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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Matthew 3". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25