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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 3

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Verses 1-4

John the Baptist

Without any introduction, John the baptist appears on the scene. He comes with the sound of the footsteps of His Lord behind him. John lives in the wilderness and preaches in the wilderness, away from the residential area of the people. This clearly expresses God’s opinion about Jerusalem, the holy city, where the priests do service. John withdraws from all this. He has no part in it.

The expression “kingdom of heaven” comes from the Old Testament. In the New Testament this expression is only found in this Gospel. Matthew uses it more than thirty times. John the baptist uses this expression without any explanation. His hearers and readers of this Gospel are familiar with it from the book of Daniel. Daniel speaks in this way to Nebuchadnezzar about the God of heaven Who will establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed, that is the kingdom of heaven (Daniel 2:44).

Other expressions are kingdom of God, kingdom of the Father, kingdom of the Son of Man, kingdom of the Son of His love, the eternal kingdom. They all refer to the reign of God, to “the days … as long as the heavens [remain] above the earth” (Deuteronomy 11:21), those are the days when “[it is] Heaven [that] rules” (Daniel 4:26).

As has been said, Matthew in the only one of the four evangelists who uses the expression ‘kingdom of heaven’. The other evangelists always speak of the ‘kingdom of God’. It concerns the same kingdom, but with a different accent. With the ‘kingdom of heaven’ the emphasis is on the reign over the earth according to heavenly standards later in the millennium. With the ‘kingdom of God’ reference is made not only to a kingdom on earth, but also to the rule of the Lord Jesus over the hearts of His subjects now. The kingdom of heaven is more about the outward reign. The kingdom of God is more about the inner reign.

John announces the kingdom as “at hand” because the King is there (cf. Luke 17:21). Israel, however, rejects its King. This gives the kingdom a hidden character. This is what the Lord speaks about in Matthew 13. In his preaching John announces the kingdom of heaven. But before it can really come, there must first be repentance.

The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in him (Isaiah 40:3). John calls himself only “a voice”, which means that his person does not matter. The quotation also makes it clear that it is Someone else Who will do the work. The prophecy of Isaiah is about Yahweh. Matthew applies this here to the Lord Jesus. It is one of many proofs that the Lord Jesus is Yahweh, the God of the covenant.

As for John’s appearance, his clothing and his food fit his preaching. It is simple clothing and simple food. They also seem to refer to the fact that he does not accept anything from people. The explicit mention of the material of his clothing and belt seems to indicate that he did not receive it from people. They come from nature, creation, just like his food. In all respects, he goes his way separate from people because of their sinful state and in dependence on God.

Verses 5-6

The Baptism of John

John preaches outside the religious center of those days, Jerusalem. The power of God, however, is with John in such a way that people flock to him. Crowds come to him from everywhere. They are attracted by his radical preaching. People are looking for the meaning of their life. They don’t find it in the religious center Jerusalem, but also not in the countryside. The message of John offers hope.

John’s baptism is not Christian baptism. Through Christian baptism a disciple is attached to a dead Christ. After baptism, the Christian follows a rejected Christ. The baptism of John attaches people to a Messiah living on earth. His baptism is connected with the coming of the Messiah Who will ascend the throne and establish the kingdom. The Lord Jesus joins himself by being baptized with this company (Matthew 3:13).

Verses 7-10

Preaching of John

The religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, also come to the baptism of John. The Pharisees are orthodox. They add to the Word of God. They are the most influential and want to hold firmly to what they see as truth. The Sadducees are liberal. They break apart the Word of God and believe only what they can reason intellectually. John puts them all on the same level when he calls them a brood of vipers.

The religious leaders see the enormous power of John’s preaching and also how crowds flock to him. They don’t want to stay out of it. They think they can participate without conversion. They are only interested in their own honor. They want to keep their influence over the crowds.

John does not want to baptize them. He sees through their cunning intentions. By calling them ‘brood of vipers’ he declares outrightly that they are descendants of the devil. He asks them how they can imagine of escaping the coming wrath. This question must touch their conscience so that they will truly come to conversion.

John does not explain how a sinner can be saved or how God forgives sins. He simply points out that someone who says that he is in relationship with God must prove it by showing deeds that are in keeping with God. If there is true and living faith, this will be evident from the works (James 2:14).

He tells them that they don’t have to point to their descent from Abraham either, because it’s completely useless. God does not look at our parents or ancestors, but at our hearts. It is not our origin that counts for Him, but whether we have gone to the Lord Jesus in repentance for our sins. God can give life to dead stones. He did so spiritually, for believers are called “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5).

The religious leaders must clearly think that judgment is near. The axe of judgment will soon cut down the tree of their pride, on which there is no fruit for God. Then that tree will be thrown into the fire of hell, so that they will be separated forever from the God with Whom they never shared part.

Verses 11-12

John Announces Christ

In his announcement of the Mighty John indicates that there is no comparison between him and the One Who comes after him. John makes himself nothing and Christ everything. In His presence John regards himself as nothing. The point is not that he would not feel at ease with Christ, but the glory of Christ is so great for him, that he himself disappears into nothingness. Christ’s walk is so much more exalted than his walk. He does not dare to compare his walk with that of Christ.

The work of Christ is also so much more exalted than his work. He baptizes with water, but Christ will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and baptism with fire are two different things that will happen at two different times. The baptism with the Holy Spirit has to do with the first coming of the Lord Jesus on earth, with His completed work on the cross and His glorification in heaven. The baptism of fire has to do with His second coming to earth, when He comes to judge. Between the two comings lies the time of grace.

Both events indicate the great characteristics of the two comings of Christ. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the power of God’s blessing in view of the kingdom of heaven as it is now, in the time of grace. The baptism of fire will accompany the kingdom of heaven when Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth in majesty.

The coming of Christ will cause a separation between who are of Him, “His wheat”, and who are not of Him, “the chaff”. The picture of the threshing floor is used. There the wheat is separated from the chaff with the winnowing fork. As a result, complete cleaning takes place. The wheat is a picture of the believers. They have accepted Christ and He is their life. The chaff is a picture of the unbelievers. He will baptize His ‘wheat’ with the Holy Spirit and He will baptize the ‘chaff’ with fire. This will be fulfilled for Israel at the beginning of the millennium. A partial fulfilment of the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place at Pentecost. This is how the church came into being.

Verses 13-17

The Baptism of the Lord Jesus

Here we find the first public activity of the Lord Jesus. Scripture does not say much about the time between His birth and His first public activity. Only Luke mentions something about Him when He is twelve years old (Luke 2:41-1 Thessalonians :). There it turns out that He is busy with the things of His Father and submissive to His earthly parents. This characterizes Him Who reveals God to men and at the same time perfectly presents Man to God. He lives, also in the years before His public activity, as God has meant that man shall live. In Him the word is true that God is well-pleased in man and indeed in this Man.

The Lord Jesus comes to John to be baptized by him. Baptism is the door through which He must enter as the Shepherd to begin His ministry (John 10:2). He does not come from Jerusalem. He never lived there, just like John. He wants to be baptized to identify himself with those who, through baptism, have indicated that they are looking forward to Him. By His baptism He recognizes them as His people.

John feels unworthy to perform this act on Christ. He wants it to happen the other way around. The Lord gently reprimands him. This must be done. John must permit it. In His grace He connects John with Himself when He says, “it is fitting for us.” He says as it were: “In fulfilling the will of God, I have My part and you yours.”

If the Lord Jesus is baptized, it is to fulfil “all righteousness”, that is, to do what is right and to do it in all aspects in which God asks it of Him. If the people are baptized, it is under confession of their iniquity. The Lord Jesus has no sins to confess. He can say: “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46). But because He has taken His place as Man, it is appropriate that He unites Himself with the pious who thus take their place before God. He does so in grace, as He does everything in grace. He thus fulfils “all” righteousness and not just what the law demands.

When Christ comes up from the water, the first great revelation of the Divine trinity takes place. Never before has heaven opened to let God’s pleasure be heard about anything or anyone on earth. Now it is. Also for us the heaven is now open, the veil is torn. We are sealed and anointed just like Him (2 Corinthians 1:21). The Father also acknowledges us as sons of His pleasure. The Lord Jesus is this in His own power and right, we have come into the relationship of sons to the Father through grace and the redemption that the Son has brought about.

Heavens open above Him. This is not to give him an object there, as was the case with Stephen (Acts 7:55-Philemon :). He Himself is the Object of the opened heavens. When heavens open, it is always to show Him and glorify Him (John 1:51; Revelation 19:11).

Then we hear the wonderful testimony of God the Father: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This testimony is the result of the fulfilment by Christ of all righteousness in the waters of the Jordan. At the same time it is God’s jealousy for the honor of His Son. He does not want the inappropriate idea to arise in any way among the bystanders that the Lord Jesus is a man like all those who have been baptized. He is the unique, sinless Son of God.

That He is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) speaks of what He is officially. This is connected to the glory of the throne and the certainty of the promises. He is also the Son of the virgin (Matthew 1:21), the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). This is His relationship to the human race. But the voice of the Father proclaims Him as His beloved Son, the object of His special pleasure.

He is the Son in His Manhood with the express intention of, by His death, bringing others into that holy relationship with the Father to share with Him in the Father’s love. Here is a Man on earth, sealed by the Father, Who shows us what the place of the Christian is today on earth.

The Lord Jesus is the example to us in four ways with regard to the place He has by virtue of His personal dignity, which we have received and may share with Him through the redemption which He has secured for us:
1. Heavens are opened to us.
2. The Holy Spirit is given to us.
3. We have received our part in sonship.
4. We are objects of the Father’s pleasure.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/matthew-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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