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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 3

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-12

John the Baptist (3:1-12)

The Gospel passes without transition from the infancy of Jesus to another "beginning": the sudden appearance of the messenger who prepared for the coming of the Savior. Our translations somewhat weaken the abrupt character of this entering into a new subject John the Baptist speaks with the authority of the ancient prophets whose voice had been silent for centuries. He announces the Day of the Lord, the end of the age, the in breaking of the Kingdom which will be both grace and judgment. For John the Baptist, as for the former prophets of repentance, the Day of the Lord is great and dreadful (see Amos 5:18-20; Malachi 4:1-6). To prepare for it, nothing less would do than a radical change, a conversion of the heart

But for those who repent and believe, this news is great and good news. This is what the quotation from Isaiah indicates. Indeed, the passage announces the coming of the King who comes to comfort his people and to deliver them from their sins (Isaiah 40:1-5). John, the writer tells us, is the voice of the herald who opens the way for the King nothing more, nothing less. The dress of John, as his message, called to mind the figure of the prophet Elijah, about whom there was a tradition that he would precede the Messiah (Malachi 4:5; see Matthew 17:10-13).

The people came to John from Jerusalem and all Judea to be baptized. Baptism was no new thing for the Jews. They practiced ritual ablutions. They probably baptized pagan converts, the baptism symbolizing that the old man was "drowned" along with his sin, and born to a new life. But John demanded this mark of radical repentance of all. And it was to be accompanied by the confession of sins. This obliged men to see themselves as they were before God and to acknowledge their faults, the acknowledgment being in itself a deliverance (see Psalms 32:1-5).

People flocked to this powerful preacher. But he was without any illusions about his success, for he read their hearts. Certainly there were among those who came to him sincere men who were weighed down by their sin and whose repentance was genuine. Jesus later recruited from among them his first disciples (John 1:35-42). But when the Pharisees and the Sadducees came in great numbers, the anger of the Baptist suddenly exploded. He labelled them a "brood of vipers." Why this severe judgment? Who are these men? Since they will be met again and again throughout the Gospel it is worthwhile to stop here for an answer.

"Pharisee" means "separate one." At a time when many of the Jews were neglecting the Law, the Pharisees had separated themselves from the others in order to remain faithful to the commandments of God. There was, then, at the origin of Pharisaism a very positive determination to obey the Lord. The Pharisees observed the Sabbath with extreme strictness. They carefully abstained from all impure contact. They multiplied rules, ever more complicated, which they considered necessary to salvation. They were, in other words, very pious laymen. But there happened to them what happens so often to sects in every age they came to believe that they were the only guardians of the truth, the only "righteous" ones. They looked upon others from the height of their own piety, but Jesus reproached them for having passed by the greatest commandment: love. This is not to say that there were not among them some men of sincere piety. Although John the Baptist, and later Jesus, spoke to them severely, it was because their lives belied their teaching, and that having received much they were more responsible than others.

The case of the Sadducees was different To them was entrusted the keeping of the Temple at Jerusalem and ecclesiastical government. The origin of the name "Sadducees" likely goes back to Zadok, a priest in the time of David. In order to keep their priestly privileges, the Sadducees were forced to conciliate the Roman authorities. They were, above all, "politicians," anxious over their prestige.

In the eyes of John, the gesture made by these men coming to be baptized by him was only a sham repentance. As serpents leave their holes and flee at the approach of fire, so these men Sieved that they could by this gesture escape the coming judgment This achieved nothing. True repentance is recognized by its fruits. They were not children of Abraham but children of the Devil (see a similar judgment of Jesus in John 8:44). It is not sufficient to have glorious ancestors: "God is able from these ones to raise up children to Abraham." The tree of Israel has many a time been pruned. This time the ax blows would be laid the very root Everything that does not bear fruit will be cast to the fire (see Matthew 7:18-19). This is a grave warning, which, rough Israel, is addressed to "religious" men of all tunes, putting all on our guard against our facile religiosity, our self-righteousness, our false securities.

John knows himself to be, and wishes to be, only a forerunner. we can only call to repentance. He is not even worthy to render the One coming after him the ordinary service of a slave; he not worthy to carry his sandals. In veiled terms, John thus announces the arrival of the Messiah whose baptism will be with the Spirit and with fire (vs. 11; Malachi 3:1-3; Isaiah 11:1-5). He one is qualified to beat out the grain on his threshing floor and separate the wheat from the chaff.

The justice and the holiness of God are a consuming fire which destroys and purifies: ". . . who can endure the day of his coming ...?" (Malachi 3:2). Only those who have recognized the gravity of this will understand why the gospel of Jesus is "good news," the way of salvation.

Verses 13-17

The Baptism of Jesus (3:13-17)

The translation of verse 13 does not reflect the present tense the word "come" which seems to be used to underline the unexpectedness of this event. Matthew is the only one of the evangelists who notes John’s disturbance over Jesus’ coming. This man God discerns in the one who conies to him, if not the Messiah (see Matthew 11:3), at least one before whom he, John, is an unworthy sinner, John was not the only one to be astonished by is. Indeed, Christians in all times have posed the question: If Jesus is without sin, as the New Testament affirms (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5), why did he request baptism for the remission of sins?

The response of Jesus is enigmatic: ". . . it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness [or all that which is righteous]." The righteousness of God, in the Old Testament, is his fidelity to the Covenant which he had made with his people. It was his holy will to maintain or to re-establish right relations between him and his people. Here it is simply indicated that Jesus’ baptism was willed by God and conformed to his order. It is only later that the profound meaning of this act may be grasped that by this act Jesus identified himself with his people, took on himself their guilt, and received with and for them the baptism of repentance. The Messianic meaning of this act is to be seen from the rest of the story.

The heavens opened at the moment when Jesus came up out of the water. The Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. The significance of the dove is not very clear. Is it a symbol of purity? Or of divine life?

God himself makes his voice heard, proclaiming that the one baptized with water and with the Spirit is his beloved Son, This word calls to mind both Psalms 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1-4; that is, it brings together the King-Messiah and the Suffering Servant God glorifies his Son in the very moment when he, in self-humiliation, makes the shame of humanity his own. It is significant that this voice is heard a second time in the course of Jesus’ ministry, and that it happens at the scene of the Transfiguration, which immediately follows the announcement of his suffering (Matthew 17:5) . Thus are revealed at one and the same time the Messianic character of the mission of Jesus and the form which his vocation will take not that of a glorious Messiah, but that of the suffering and humiliated Servant. It is this Servant whom God "glorifies" at the very moment of his humiliation by declaring him his beloved Son.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 3". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-3.html.
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