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ON ENTERING UPON HIS MINISTRY, JESUS REMAINED STILL UNKNOWN, EVEN TO THOSE WHO HAD HUMBLED THEMSELVES AND PROFESSED PENITENCE IN ISRAEL. IN THE BAPTISM UNTO REPENTANCE, HE RECEIVED HIS SOLEMN CONSECRATION UNTO DEATH; WHILE AT THE SAME TIME HE IS OWNED AND GLORIFIED BY THE FATHER AS HIS BELOVED SON, THE WHOLE BLESSED TRINITY SHEDDING THEIR LUSTRE AROUND HIM, AND HIS ADVENT BEING ANNOUNCED BY HIS SPECIAL MESSENGER JOHN.
3. (Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:19-34)
Summay:—This section gives an account of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus, and of his ministry, which commenced by calling the people to repentance, and subjecting them to a general purification, preparatory to the advent of the Messiah. His ministry culminated in the baptism of Christ Himself, whom John recognized by miraculous tokens from heaven, and proclaimed on this occasion as the Messiah. The section is divided into two parts: John as forerunner of the Lord, and as preacher and baptist,—(1) in his relation to the people; (2) in his relation to the Lord Himself, or the baptism and glorifying of Jesus. We note the marked contrast between the baptism of Jesus and that of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
A. Matthew 3:1-12
1In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Isaiah], saying. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4And 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. 5Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about [the] Jordan, 6And were baptized of [by] him in [the] Jordan, confessing their sins. 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his1 baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And 9 think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [for] our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10And 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. 11I indeed baptize you with [in] water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes2 I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with [in] the Holy Ghost, and with fire:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his [threshing] floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Matthew 3:1. In those days, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, Exodus 2:11; Exodus 2:23; Isaiah 38:1.—This indefinite mode of marking time always refers to a preceding date. Here the reference is to the residence of Jesus at Nazareth during the period of His obscurity; the contrast being all the more striking, when we bear in mind that during that season His inner life was maturing to the full glory of His theanthropic consciousness. (For other explanations of ἐν ταῖς ἡμέρ. ἐκ. comp. Meyer, p. 79.)
From the narrative of Luke we learn that John the Baptist was about half a year older than Jesus. The dates between the commencement of Christ’s ministry and that of His forerunner also correspond. It is not probable that either John or Jesus would have entered on their ministry before the completion of their thirtieth year. According to the law of Moses (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:47), the age of thirty was required for commencing the exercise of the priestly functions. The Levites ( Matthew 8:24) could not enter on their duties before the age of twenty-five. Subsequently, however, this was reduced to the age of twenty (1 Chronicles 23:24; 2 Chronicles 31:17). Although there was no law confining the exercise of the prophetic office either to a particular age, or even to the male sex, it seems natural that persons who claimed public authority as prophets would wait till they had attained the canonical age for the priesthood. On the other hand, neither John nor Jesus could have been more than thirty when they entered on their ministry. According to this calculation, Jesus must have commenced His public career in the year 780 from the foundation of Rome (see Leben Jesu, vol. i. p. 161), and John a short time before. From Luke 3:1, we infer that John began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius. But Tiberius was associated in the empire two years before the death of Augustus, that is, about the year 765. Accordingly, it is understood that Luke reckoned the reign of Tiberius from that year. This makes John’s ministry commence in 779.
In the wilderness of Judah (Judges 1:16; Joshua 15:61).—It was also called Jeshimon, 1 Samuel 23:19; 1Sa 26:1; 1 Samuel 26:3. It consisted of a rocky district in the eastern portion of the territory of the tribe of Judah, toward the Dead Sea. In this district the town of Engedi, and other places mentioned in the Old Testament, were situated, Joshua 15:62; Judges 1:16. It terminated on the northwest in the wilderness of Thekoa; on the southeast in the wilderness of Engedi, the wilderness of Ziph, and the wilderness of Mara. See the corresponding art. in the Encycls. Tradition, however, attaches the designation of “the wilderness of John” not to the places where he exercised his ministry, but to the district where from early youth he lived in retirement (Luke 1:80). This wilderness was situated amid the mountains of Judæa, about two hours to the southwest of Bethlehem. The term “wilderness” (מִדְבָּר, as distinguished from עֲרָבָה, a steppe) was given to a district which was not regularly cultivated and inhabited, but used for pasturage (from דָּבַר, to drive), being generally without wood and defective in water, but not entirely destitute of vegetation.
John the Baptist.—The Hebr. name יוֹחָנָן, “the Lord graciously gave,”3 is akin to the Phœnician and Punic חַנִּיבַצַל. John, the son of Zacharias the priest, and of Elizabeth (Luke 1:0), a near kinsman of Jesus, and only six months older than He (Luke 1:36), was born, according to rabbinical tradition, at Hebron, but according to modern expositors, at Jutta, in the tribe of Judah. From earliest childhood he was of a thoughtful disposition, and lived in retirement in the wilderness (Luke 1:80) as a Nazarite ( Matthew 3:15), agreeably to the Divine ordinance. There the spiritual gifts with which he had been enriched by the Holy Ghost, who had sanctified him from the womb, developed and took shape in conformity with his high and holy calling to prepare the way for the Messiah. In his own person he embodied, so to speak, the Old Testament dispensation in its legal bearing, just as the Virgin Mary embodied and represented the evangelical aspect of the Old Testament as set forth in Abraham and the prophets. John was the personification of Old Testament righteousness according to the law; Mary was the personification of Old Testament faith in the promise, and of deep and earnest waiting for the promised salvation. Hence John appeared in Israel as the preacher of repentance, and the baptist.4 He commenced his public ministry in the wilderness of Judæa in the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, appearing in the garb, and following the manner of life, of a Nazarite. Summoning the people to repentance, he announced to them the near approach of the kingdom of heaven (the kingdom of the Messiah—Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14). On the desert bank of Jordan, in the solitary district near Jericho, 1. began what, from its special Divine appointment, and the prophetic authority with which it was administered, was really a new ordinance—the baptism unto repentance, and admission into the kingdom of heaven, with a view to the reception of the coming Messiah. His baptism implied that the whole people were unclean, and, in their present condition, unfit for the kingdom of heaven (according to Haggai 2:14). So far as Israel was concerned, the rite originated in the Levitical lustration appointed for the unclean (Genesis 35:2; Exodus 19:10; Numbers 19:7; Jdt 12:7; Joseph, de bello Jud. ii. 8, 7; Wetstein in loc.; Nork, Mythologisches Wörterbuch, Wassertaufe, etc.). But it also bore analogy to the symbolical purifications, by water and otherwise, common among the various nations of the world, and to the baptism of Jewish proselytes,5 viewing these ceremonies in the light of the predictions of the prophets (Ezekiel 36:25; Isaiah 44:3; Zechariah 13:1). This baptism was administered by immersion, and not merely by sprinkling. It denoted purification by, not only washing, but by submitting to sufferings akin to death. So far as is known, this rite was not accompanied by the usual sacrifices; but the deepest spiritual part of the sacrificial service—the confession of sins—preceded the immersion. This confession of sins, however, was not made over the head of an animal, as in the Levitical sin-offerings (Leviticus 16:21; Numbers 5:7), because the spiritual truth, that he who offered the sacrifice must himself be the sacrifice, or offer up himself, was nearing its grand realization. In one respect, however, the baptism of John resembled the sacrificial services of the priests, as John administered the rite of submersion himself; whereas, in ordinary lustrations, the person to be baptized sprinkled himself with the water of baptism. The immediate object of John’s baptism was to prepare the people for the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:11); its final and highest object, the manifestation of the Messiah to His people (John 1:31; see Leben Jesu, ii. 452; iii. 49). The Lord’s manifestation to John, and the public witness of the Baptist to Jesus, as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, completed the prophetic mission of John. This appears from the fact, that henceforth the rite of baptism and the most distinguished of John’s disciples became connected with Jesus Himself.
Meanwhile John pursued his ministry even beyond its goal, which had now been reached. His course was, in consequence, marked by some degree of hesitation, although his sole and earnest desire still was to prepare the way of the Lord, and to promote His cause (John 1:36; John 3:23; Matthew 11:3). But the manifest contrast between the baptism of John and that of the disciples of Jesus,—between John’s disciples and those of the Lord—between the rigid asceticism of the former, and the social, genial deportment of the latter,—suggested comparisons which, from the legal notions of the Jews, led to conclusions derogatory to the teaching of Christ, and, in the end, even to the rejection of both teachers. Besides, this contrast between the Old Testament type of righteousness and that of the New, subsequently cave rise to odious dissensions, and at a later period induced some of the disciples of John to abandon Jesus, and form a sect, which still waited for the coming of the Messiah, or even acknowledged John as its Messiah (see Gieseler, Kirchengeschichte i. 69). This result, however, the Baptist had not anticipated, when continuing the exercise of his ministry. His sole and growing aim was to accelerate the triumph of Messiah’s kingdom. Hence his denunciations of wickedness became more and more vehement. His denunciation of the adulterous connection between Herod Antipas and his brother Philip’s wife led to his imprisonment. Like his prototype at Horeb, he could not understand or fall in with the Divine arrangement of events. In order to bring about an immediate and full manifestation of judgment and vengeance, the Baptist now despatched his embassy to Jesus (Matthew 11:0), to induce the Messiah at once to reveal His power. Such being his views and motives, the scene at Horeb was once more enacted (1 Kings 19:0). It was necessary that not only the contrast between the Old and the New Testament, but the spiritual superiority of Jesus, should be fully exhibited. It was not in his intellectual discernment, but through his feelings, that John erred in regard to Jesus: he was “offended” where, in analogous circumstances, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Mary, and Peter stumbled. With divine gentleness, Jesus corrected his mistake; and this correction served at the same time as his vindication before the people. John is the greatest among the prophets of the Old Covenant; but the least in the kingdom of heaven—in the New Covenant—is greater than he in all that is distinctive of the New Testament, especially in clearness of faith and patience of suffering. Those who imagine that there is an inconsistency between John’s testimony, John 1:36, and his message, Matthew 11:3, apparently forget that this testimony was the utterance of his loftiest faith, while his subsequent embassy was that of his deepest temptation. Nor is there any ground for maintaining that the narrative of John and those of the synoptic Gospels differ in regard to the Baptist. That Christ considered the cause of John as identified with His own, and the Baptist himself as His forerunner and servant, appears from the fact, that He treated the iniquitous execution of John, which Antipas was induced to order, as an act of hostility against Himself and His kingdom (Matthew 14:13). For historical details, comp. the article in the Encyclops. See Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 5, 1 (also a monograph by Rohden, “Johannes der Täufer,” Lubeck, 1838).
Matthew 3:2. The kingdom of heaven (of the heavens, τῶν οὐρανῶν).—Viewing the kingdom of God in its entire historical extent and development, we mark in it two periods. In the first it appears in its typical form, as the Old Testament theocracy; in the second, as the kingdom of heaven, ἡ βασιλεία τῶνοὐρανων. The contrast between the new manifestation, and the old form of the kingdom, had already been specified by Daniel ( Matthew 2:0 and Matthew 7:0). The use of the plural number in the original—the kingdom of the heavens, which also occurs in the Lord’s Prayer—may be explained by the conception of seven heavens (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:2 : “the third heaven”), but especially by the fact, that the kingdom of God extends, in its various spheres, throughout infinity. The kingdom of heaven, as appears from the prophecies of Daniel, is the kingdom of the Messiah; while the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it is the kingdom of God’s Spirit, in which the will of man is made conformable to the will of God—a kingdom which comes from heaven, is heaven on earth, and ends in heaven. The expression is only found in Matthew (and in the rabbinical writings); but the same idea pervades the whole New Testament, where it frequently recurs under the designation of βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ, or βασιλ. τοῦ Χριστοῦ, or sometimes simply “the kingdom.” Matthew no doubt chose the expression “kingdom of heaven,” in order to distinguish the Christian kingdom of God more fully from the Jewish theocracy. (Monograph: Fleck, De Regno Divino, Lips. 1829.)
The contrast between the common Jewish expectations of the Messiah’s kingdom (or the revelation of the Messiah with miraculous signs from heaven, resuscitation of the race of Abraham, war and victory over the Gentiles, subjugation of the Roman world to the Jews, a reign of a thousand years, etc.), and the kingdom of heaven in its true and spiritual manifestation, is already clearly indicated by the preaching of John. It has sometimes been said that the repentance inculcated by John was merely that of the Old, not that of the New, Testament. But, even granting this, we must remember that John cherished the spiritual views of repentance propounded by the prophets, and not the common legal notions of the Jews, and that he represented the Old Testament in its point of transition to the New. The Baptist evidently regarded repentance as a μετανοεῖν—a change of mind. He was aware of the difference between mere outward and real repentance—between transient feelings and that deep change which manifests itself by corresponding fruits of righteousness. His idea of repentance exceeded the outward requirements of the Mosaic law as much as his rite of immersion that of sprinkling. In his view, repentance implied an entire renunciation of the world—dying to the old, and consecration to a new life. Besides, it is important to bear in mind that the Baptist seems to have already, in some measure, realized the rejection of the unworthy portion of the race of Abraham, and the calling of the Gentiles. But the great point of distinction lies in this, that the repentance which he enforced must have sprung from faith in the predictions regarding the coming Messiah. The circumstance, that Josephus, in his notice of the Baptist (Antiq. xviii. 5, 2), omitted any allusion to John’s testimony to the Messiah, is readily explained from his perfidious subserviency to Roman domination, which led him to renounce every hope dear to the Jewish heart and people.
Matthew 3:3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 40:3.—The quotation is made by the Evangelist, and not by the Baptist. In this case, also, we have the fulfilment of a typical, not a verbal prophecy. In its primary historical application, the passage (Isaiah 40:3, quoted from the Septuagint) contains a summons to prepare the way of Jehovah, who was about to bring back His people from exile. There is an allusion to the well-known Oriental custom of preparing the way for princes in their travels (Wetstein in loc.). The summoning voice is that of a herald. The application of the passage by the Evangelist shows that, in his mind, the advent of Christ was that of Jehovah Himself, and the true deliverance of God’s children from bondage; and that he regarded John as the real herald of the Lord. Many expositors of the original passage join the expression, ἐν τῆ ἐρήμῳ, with ἑτοιμάσατε; but the Evangelist evidently connects it with βοῶντος, as John was actually in the wilderness. The sense would be the same in both cases, the object of the Evangelist being to give a symbolical import to the wilderness where the Baptist exercised his ministry.
What Isaiah uttered as a typical prophecy, became a distinct prediction in Malachi (Matthew 3:1), who regarded the mission of the forerunner of the Lord as corresponding to that of Elijah, and hence assigned to him even the name of Elijah (Matthew 4:5). It is not to be supposed that the prophet referred to two forerunners,—one heralding the Lord’s coming to deliver His people, and merely resembling Elijah; the other, Elijah himself, come to make preparation for the day when Messiah should return to judge the earth. The prophet evidently regarded the day of judgment and the day of deliverance as the same. Similarly, the angel Gabriel also referred to John’s ministry as a fulfilment of the prophecy regarding Elijah: “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6, comp. Luke 1:17). Lastly, Christ Himself blended the two predictions of Malachi, and applied them to the Baptist (Matthew 11:10, comp. Matthew 3:14 and Matthew 17:11). Among Jewish theologians, different views obtained about the return of one of the old prophets preparatory to the coming of Messiah (Berthold, Christologie, p. 58).
Matthew 3:4. The same John had his raiment, etc.—The expression implies that, as in the case of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), the austere, ascetic appearance of the Baptist corresponded with the character of his preaching, being an emblem of renunciation of the world, and of repentance. (1) His (peculiar and distinctive) dress was of camel’s hair. Not of camel’s skin, but of camel’s hair, from which a coarse kind of cloth, used for clothing and for the covering of tents, was manufactured (see Meyer, p. 83). (2) He had a leathern girdle. (3) His food consisted of locusts, ἀκρίδες. “Several kinds of locusts were used for food, especially by the poorest of the people. Leviticus 11:22; comp. Plin. Hist. Natur. 6:35; 11:32, 35. This is still the case in the East, especially among the lower classes. After throwing away the wings and legs, they cover the body with salt, and eat it either boiled or fried. (Niobuhr, ‘Reise,’ i. p. 402, etc.) The older expositors, under the impression that locusts were unfit for eating, conjectured that the original reading must have been, not ἀκρίδες, but ἐγκρίδες, cakes, or καρίδες, shrimps, or something else. But these conjectures do not deserve further consideration.” See Meyer, p. 83. (4) Wild honey was also part of his food. The question has been started, whether this honey was derived from trees or from bees? The latter flowed in abundance from clefts of rocks in the wilderness; the former was a kind of honey which issued from fig-trees, palms, and other trees. Meyer adopts the view of Suidas, that it was honey from trees; but surely it is needless to discuss whether the Baptist used one or both kinds of honey.
Matthew 3:5. Then went out to him, etc.—That is to the banks of Jordan, הַיַּרְדֵּן (Gen 13:10-11. 1 Kings 7:46; 2 Chronicles 4:17), from יָרַד to run or flow (as the German Rhein from rinnen). For a description of the scene, see Winer and other Encyclops, and geographical works, especially Robinson; comp. also a beautiful sketch of the quiet around the scene, in the Travels of Pastor Schulz of Mühlheim. Note particularly, that Jerusalem herself, the holy city, goes into the wilderness as a penitent,—the wilderness being considered, according to Old Testament notions, as an unclean locality, the habitation of demons (Leviticus 16:21). A prelude this of Christ going forth to Golgotha, and of Christians going “beyond the camp,” Hebrews 13:13. Hence also Jerusalem is first mentioned, though in strict historical succession it would have been: the district about Jordan, Judæa, Jerusalem.
Matthew 3:6. And were baptized, immersed, in the Jordan, confessing their sins.—Immersion was the usual mode of baptism and the symbol of repentance. According to Meyer, repentance was symbolized by immersion, because every part of the body was purified. But, in that case, the whole body might have been washed without immersion. We must keep in view the idea of a symbolical descent into the grave, or the death of sin, although this view, as explained in Rom. vi, could not yet have been fully realized at the time (comp. Leben Jesu 2:177. See also Ebrard, Wissensch. Kritik 257, who maintains that John fully understood the import of Christian baptism, and administered it accordingly). A full confession of sins accompanied the act of immersion. The compound ἐξομολογούμενοι denotes public confession. Hence it may perhaps be inferred that the confession was definite and specific,—the more so, as we might otherwise infer that a Jew would on such an occasion confess his special sins rather than hid general sinfulness. The particular form of confession was, however, undoubtedly left to each individual.
Matthew 3:7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees, etc.—Circumstances now arose of a character to perplex the Baptist about the propriety of his administering baptism. When the Pharisees and Sadducees presented themselves, he might refuse to administer the sacred rite, for which their impenitence rendered them unfit; while, on the other hand, a baptism of repentance seemed inapplicable in the case of the Lord Jesus.
The Pharisees, Talm. פרושין; according to Suidas, ἀφωρισμένοι, separated, distinctively pious, from פָּרַשׁ, to separate or divide,—not from the Particip. Act., “those who divide or make sharp distinctions” (teachers of the law), but from the passive or reflective form, in the sense of “separating themselves.” They did not, however, constitute a sect, but a school or party, actuated by the most intense sectarianism. They were the living expression of outward, traditional, and legalistic Judaism; and their strict separation was in reference to Gentiles, Samaritans, publicans, and sinners. They prided themselves on the most rigid observance of those legal prohibitions and lustrations, prescribed in their traditions, which detracted so grievously from the spirituality of the law, and perverted its object. On their history, doctrines, and religious and political importance, see Josephus, Antiq. xiii. 5, 9; xiii. 10, 5, etc. Their true character can only be thoroughly gathered from the Gospels, from the narrative of our Lord’s sufferings, from the Acts of the Apostles, and the history of Ebionism. Compare the article on the subject in Winer [and other Encyclops.], and also the author’s Leben Jesu ii. 1, p. 15, the Gesch. des apostol. Zeitalters, i. p. 296, [and works on Jewish History].
The Sadducees, Σαδδουκαῖοι (derived, according to Epiphanius, Hœres. i. 14, ἀπὸ δικαιοσύνης, i. e. from צַדִּיק, but, according to Jewish tradition, from a person called Zadok).—They were the party opposed to the Pharisees. On negative, antitraditional, foreign, and philosophical grounds, they rejected not only traditionalism, but also the inspired writings, except the books of Moses; and denied, along with the authority of the prophets, all the deeper truths of revelation, such as the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection, and its higher manifestations, such as the apparitions of angels. On all these points comp. Winer [and other Encyclops.], and the passages of Josephus relating to the subject, etc.
The third school or religious party of the Jews at this period, the Essenes, constituted a regular and fully organized sect. Comp. regarding them, Joseph. De Bella Jud. ii. 8; Antiq. xiii. 5, 9; and Philo’s dissertation: Quod omnis probus liber. The Essenes (a name derived from ὅσιος, or חָסִיד, or better from אְסָא, to heal—hence the healers, θεραπευταί) did not submit to John’s baptism. This is easily accounted for from the fact, that daily lustrations formed part of their ordinary religious observances. Hence they probably considered themselves as far beyond the baptism of John, which was only once administered, and, as a community, prepared to receive the Messiah. Lastly, from their blending of Alexandrian philosophy with Jewish notions of legal purifications, their views and expectations concerning the Messiah must have undergone considerable modification.
These three parties represented the three great deviations from the spirit and tendency of genuine Judaism. The Pharisees, like the Roman Catholics, exalted tradition into revelation, and superstitiously based their whole system on the principle of a righteousness procured by external observances. The Sadducees limited revelation to the law of Moses, and degraded the Mosaic faith into a rationalistic morality, a mere obedience of the law. The Essenes combined their Oriental and Alexandrian theosophy with revelation, excluded the idea of typical sacrifices, introduced dualistic doctrines, and based on it an esoteric righteousness peculiar to the members of their religious order. The Essenes formed a distinct sect; and, although the closest approximation in the syragogue to a deeper and more spiritual view of Judaism, and in some measure even anticipating the idea of a universal priesthood (as Ritschl has shown), they also adopted a greater admixture of views entirely heathen than any other school. Hence the idea of any connection between them and Christ, or even John, cannot for a moment be entertained (a statement, however, which does not apply to the later followers of John). By their lifeless orthodoxy, the Pharisees perverted Judaism itself into a sect; while the Sadducees formed an accommodating, negative, and sectarian party, who considered themselves, and acted chiefly as, a philosophic school.
The authority of John as a prophet, which, according to this passage, seems at first to have been recognised by a large portion of the dominant parties, and which probably occasioned the embassy, or at least private deputation, from the Sanhedrim, received a serious blow when John commenced his de nunciations. The dislike thus engendered became strengthened and rooted when the scribes saw Him whom John announced as the Messiah of Israel,—one so entirely different from what they had expected; and lastly, when the Baptist promulgated views wholly opposed to those of the Pharisees on the question of divorce, and, consequently, fell a victim to the resentment of Herod and his wife. Accordingly, when afterwards challenged to give an opinion on the divine authority of John’s baptism, the Pharisees declined to do so. Luke (Luke 7:30) refers to this subsequent attitude of the Pharisees and scribes in reference to the baptism of John.
It deserves notice, that Matthew does not repeat the article before Σαδδουκ.; “he includes them and the Pharisees in one and the same unworthy category.”
Matthew 3:7. When he saw them come ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα.—The meaning is not, against the baptism, as Olearius and some others would interpret the passage. The contrary is to be inferred from what follows: who has warned you? The expression does not, however, denote simply their coming for the purpose of being baptized. The Baptist regards them as unfit and improper candidates who presented themselves for baptism only to strengthen their self-righteous conceit. The suggestion of Meyer (p. 86), that, immediately on their arrival, they were deterred by John’s denunciations from submitting to baptism, is equally unfounded. Such conduct would have placed them in open conflict with the Baptist; a course which even prudence forbade. But the effect of these denunciations was to diminish, and ultimately to stop, the crowds, belonging to their party, which had flocked to the scene of John’s ministrations This explanation removes the imaginary contradiction, which some have pretended to discover, between the narrative of Matthew and that of Luke, Sehneckenburger in favor of Luke, de Wette in favor of Matthew.
According to Luke 3:7, these denunciations were addressed to the multitude (τοῖς ὄχλοις); according to Matthew, to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their interest in and sanction of the movement, no doubt, attracted crowds to the place of baptism. The presence of a multitude thronging to submit to what, after all, was to them only an outward rite, ill accorded with the real aim of John, who was anxious not for a general profession, but for individual conversions.
O generation (brood) of vipers.—Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν denotes persons at once deceitful and malicious. Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 59:5; Psalms 58:5. The expression would convey to an Israelite the idea of representatives of pernicious doctrines and principles,—instruments of the kingdom of darkness. Such were preëminently doomed to punishment. Genesis 3:0; Matthew 13:41; 2 Thessalonians 2:0, etc.—Who hath warned you?—An indication of his distrust of the sincerity of their ostensible motives. It could only have been by a special miracle that you would have been directed hither by the Spirit of God.—To flee.—To flee, and thus to escape from, בָּרַח מִן. The infin. Aorist denotes their being already ostensibly in the act of fleeing.—From the wrath to come, ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς.—The wrath, or the holy penal justice of God, is here identified with punishment it self. Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3.
Matthew 3:8. Bring forth, therefore.—Οὖν, a conclusion relating partly to the charge brought against them, and partly to their profession of repentance. Fruits.—Proper, suitable fruits. Comp. Matthew 7:17 ff, also with special reference to the Pharisees. Such good fruit as could not be produced without an entire change in the fruit-tree itself.
Matthew 3:9. And think not—do not imagine you might say within yourselves,—i. e., think; אִמי בְּלִבּוֹ, to say in one’s heart: Psalms 4:4; Psalms 10:6; Psalms 14:1; Matthew 9:21; Luke 3:8; Luke 7:49.—We have Abraham for our father;—i. e., we shall be saved, because, as descendants of Abraham, we are members of the theocracy, and partakers of the promise given to our father. This view is clearly propounded in later rabbinical writings. See Meyer, p. 87. Compare John 8:39; Romans 9:0 As to the genuine children of Abraham, see Romans 4:0.—God is able.—God’s almighty power and liberty are not limited by hereditary right. He may reject them as spurious children of Abraham; and, on the other hand, He is able to create out of the stones in the wilderness genuine children of Abraham by faith, i. e., to transform uncultivated portions of the human race,—undoubtedly a reference to the calling of the Gentiles.
Matthew 3:10. And now also the axe is laid, etc.—The preceding sentence only implied that the punishment of the spurious descendants of Abraham was possible; that now under consideration asserts that it was not only possible, but near,—nay, that it had already begun. Hence the use of the present tense. Now already the axe lies at the root of the tree, ready for its work of destruction. The statement implies that they are unfruitful trees, or trees of a bad kind ( Matthew 7:19). The punishment will equally descend on all; every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, etc. This evidently refers to the exclusion of the unbelieving Jews from the kingdom of Messiah.
Matthew 3:11. I indeed baptize you in (ἐν) water (immersing you in the element of water) unto repentance.—The Baptist thus declares that he is not the judge, and, at the same time, that by his baptism of water he does not secure their salvation, but merely calls them to repentance. Lastly, he teaches them that his was merely a symbolical and temporary mission as the forerunner, to prepare for the higher mission of the Messiah. He that cometh after me (immediately following me), = the Messiah. The Baptist here describes his personal relation to the Messiah: I am not worthy to bear His sandals, to carry them and to take them away—in Mark and Luke, to tie on and to unloose. Among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, this was the function of the meanest slaves. (See Wetstein, Rosenmüller, Jahn.)—He proceeds to point out the relation of his baptism to that of Christ. He shall baptize, or immerse, you in the Holy Ghost and in fire.—He will either entirely immerse you in the Holy Ghost as penitents, or, if impenitent, He will overwhelm you with the fire of judgment (and at last with hell-fire). This interpretation of the expression “fire” has been propounded by many of the Fathers (some of whom, however, referred it to the fire of purgatory); and among modern expositors, by Kuinoel, Schott, Neander [de Wette, Meyer]. But some commentators—among them Erasmus [Chrys., Calv., Beng., Olshaus., Ebrard, Ewald, Alford, Wordsworth]—apply the expression to the kindling, sanctifying fire of the Holy Ghost. The warning tone of the passage, and the expression unquenchable fire, in Matthew 3:12, are against this interpretation.6 In some Codd. the words καὶπυρί are omitted, probably from the erroneous supposition that they were equivalent to Holy Ghost.
Matthew 3:12. Whose fan.—Here we have another figure of judgment, showing, even in a more striking manner than the preceding, the necessity and propriety of such judgment. The theocracy is the husbandry of God. But if the wise husbandman removes from his garden all such trees as merely encumber the ground, much more will he in harvest-time separate on the threshing-floor the wheat from the chaff, and deal with each according to the rules of husbandry. But the theocracy, or the kingdom of God, is with great propriety represented as God’s special field, of which both the sowing and the harvest are His (Matthew 13:3). The fan in His hand, or the instrument for the separating or purging, is the word, or the preaching of the Gospel.—Threshing-floor ἅλων, גֹּרֶן—a circular space, beaten down or paved, on the farm. The corn was either trodden by oxen [or horses], or crushed by means of a threshing, sledge drawn by oxen [or horses]. Robinson, ii. 306. The threshing-floor denotes Messiah’s sphere of action (Ewald),—the holy land in an ideal rather than a material and literal sense (Meyer); not mankind (Baumgarten-Crusius), or the Jewish people (de Wette). The extent of this threshing-floor necessarily increases from century to century. The starting-point was the land of Judæa; the farthest verge is the earth’s remotest boundary,—being then ground beaten for threshing, and no longer a field which requires to be sowed. The purging of the threshing-floor is effected by separating the wheat and the chaff of the sheaves collected on it. He will διακαθαρίζειν, i. e., thoroughly purge.—The Wheat.—True and penitent believers, the precious, pure produce of God’s husbandry.—The garner, ἀποθήκη, the granary; usually dry, subterranean vaults. An emblem, first, of the kingdom of heaven on earth: and, secondly, of the heavenly inheritance.—The chaff.—In the widest sense, whatever is crushed, cut small. Here it means the whole refuse of God’s husbandry: First, the agencies applied to bring out the wheat; and, secondly, the persons whose hearts have clung to these agencies alone, and who, by their vain, formal services, have themselves become chaff. Whatever is to be assigned to the fire, the judgment-fire (Malachi 4:1), hell-fire (Matthew 25:41), is chaff. Chaff was used for fuel.—The expression, unquenchable fire (see Isaiah 66:24), points beyond the figure to the reality, although it denotes, in the first place, the violent, uncontrollable blaze of a straw fire. When the fiery judgment begins, it continues without interruption, till the unquenchable fire of Gehenna is kindled.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The almost simultaneous appearance of two such personages as John and Jesus indicated that this was a unique period of extraordinary commotion in the history of the world. John the Baptist was the personal embodiment of the Old, Christ that of the New, Testament; and as John was the forerunner of Christ, it follows that the Old Testament was the forerunner of Christ in respect of the inward and spiritual obedience and righteousness which it demanded. This spiritual legalism John represented, just as the Virgin was the representative of the prophetic hope and the evangelical aspirations of the Old Testament. Hence, Mary brings the Lord to the people; John brings the people to the Lord. But both were merely the means for introducing the New Testament and the Lord: He Himself is the new and perfect revelation of the divine, theanthropic, and redeeming life.—The contrast between John, the rigid preacher of repentance, and Jesus, the gentle preacher of the kingdom of heaven, had already been typified among the ancient prophets by the similar contrast between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah, for the most part, performed miracles of vengeance and judgment, pointing forward to the final catastrophe, the fiery judgment, and the end of the world. Hence he was appropriately snatched from the world in a fiery chariot. On the other hand, Elisha performed, for the most part, miracles of mercy and deliverance, thus preparing the way for the Messianic prophets. This contrast in the typical missions of Elijah and Elisha was itself an emblem, which had its entire fulfilment in the great contrast between Old and New Testament times, as exhibited in the twofold advent of the Baptist and of Christ.
2. The Old Testament contains the most varied references to the New, by its promises, its law, its types, and its prophecies. Its most striking reference, however, is that with which it closed, presenting as it did, in the person of the Baptist, the most faithful embodiment of the old dispensation. Thus the relation of the Baptist to Christ was that of the Old Testament itself to the Saviour. The grand mission of John was the baptism unto repentance. Its elements and commencement existed in the Old Testament; but the ordinance itself can only be understood if viewed as a new act of Divine revelation, a Divine mission, a prophetic creation. Its real import appears from the declaration that the whole people of Israel were utterly unclean. Once of old they walked over the dried bed of Jordan: now they must be immersed in the current of Jordan in their old state, in order to come out of it thoroughly renewed. But this declaration of the Baptist implied also the idea, that mere legal lustrations were incapable of purifying the people,—a truth which was also conveyed to their minds by the solemnities of the great day of atonement (Leviticus 16:0). Lastly, all this indicated that the baptism unto repentance was itself only a symbol, being an outward expression of the fact, that legal institutions were incapable of delivering the Jewish nation from sin. Accordingly, the baptism of John was at the same time a baptism unto repentance and in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, and its last and highest aim was to point the people to the person of the Messiah.
3. That John appeared in the wilderness as a preacher of repentance, and there administered his rite of purification, is another evidence of the great change which the views of Israel were about to undergo. According to Old Testament ideas, the camp would be considered clean, and the wilderness unclean (Leviticus 16:0). This, however, is now reversed; and Jerusalem must go forth to the wilderness, there to seek her purification. Typically, this contrast points forward to Golgotha, to the accursed place without the city, and to the Church of Christ disowned and excommunicated by the synagogue. But it also points backward to the voice of him who cried in the wilderness. Isaiah 40:3 (comp. John 1:23). Again, the wilderness is a symbol of the nation itself, or at least of the state of the Jews at the time. In that wilderness the prophet can find no path for the advent of the Lord. Hence a way has now to be prepared for Him by repentance; and this forms the burden of his message. Such was the grand mission of John: his work and commission was mainly, if not exclusively, to call to repentance. Besides the symbolic character attaching from its nature to a wilderness, the sojourn of John in the desert pointed to those deeper experiences, resulting from contemplation, retirement, and constant prayer, which marked the spiritual development of genuine Judaism even at an earlier period (Moses, Elijah, John, Christ, the Anchorites).
4. The expression, “Repent ye,” is not equivalent with “Do penance.”7 The original means, Change your minds, your mode of thinking and of viewing things,—not in order that the kingdom of heaven may come, but because it is coming or approaching (for the kingdom of heaven is at hand). This change of mind could only spring from a sense of the free mercy of God in manifesting the kingdom of heaven, and from the revelation of Christ in His grace and truth. Nor can it ever be otherwise; for without repentance, change of mind, conversion, regeneration (John 3:0), it is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven.
5. We have already indicated the peculiar meaning attaching to the expression, kingdom of God, as distinguished from the kingdom of heaven. The former is the general conception and includes the entire kingdom of God, in every sense and bearing. Thus the theocracy was the kingdom of God in its typical and Old Testament form; while the kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God in its reality, or the real theocracy. Viewed as a whole, the kingdom of God is the higher manifestation of the universal supremacy and rule of God in nature and in history, and the preparation for the kingdom of glory (kingdom of power, kingdom of grace, kingdom of glory). In direct contrast to the kingdom of grace is that of darkness. It appears along with the kingdom of grace, and keeps pace with it; and, though appearing to conquer, ultimately is always conquered. At last, when the kingdom of God shall have been perfected, it will also have reached its full and final development, and be ripe for the self-annihilation which awaits it. Then shall it also appear that all along it had been entirely subject to the kingdom of omnipotence, and subservient to the advancement of the kingdom of glory. In New Testament times, the Christian Church and the Christian State may be regarded as the twofold manifestation of the kingdom of God; which, however, must not be confounded with the essence of the kingdom of God. Lastly, the kingdom of God is the kingdom of heaven, both in respect of its origin and its goal, its essence and its manifestation, its King and its people, its law and its citizenship—the royal dominion of God in the souls of believers, through Christ and his Holy Spirit.
6. We may view the asceticism and austerity of John under a twofold aspect. On the one hand, it marks him out as a perfect Nazarite. The institution of Nazarites, with its various prohibitions, was from the first intended as something similar to, nay, as a higher completion of, the legal priesthood (Leben Jesu, i. 63; Apost. Zeitalter, ii. 303 and 3988). Hence the circumstance, that both John and the Apostle James were Nazarites, may be regarded as forming an appropriate transition from the Old Testament priesthood to that of the Spirit under the New Testament, just as the synagogue was a transition from the temple to the church. In other words, the Nazarites were the connecting link between the Old and New Testament priests, just as the synagogue was between the temple and the church, and the washing with water, between circumcision and baptism, and the breaking of bread and the cup of thanksgiving, between the passover and the Lord’s Supper. It was necessary that John should occupy the position of a Nazarite in order to pronounce sentence of impurity, not only upon the Jewish people, but upon their priesthood. Nor was his profession merely symbolical, implying a symbolical renunciation of the world. He actually renounced the pomp, the luxury, and the pursuits of his age and nation, and appeared before his cotemporaries free to utter his solemn denunciations against Pharisees and Sadducees, against the rulers of the synagogue and the rulers of the people.
7. It is most important to note the contrast between the grounds on which John was unwilling to baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees, and those on which he shrunk from baptizing the Lord. In his judgment, the former did not come up to the law of the Old Testament, while Jesus went far beyond the Old Testament. The Pharisees were unfit for baptism; baptism was unfit for the Lord Jesus. The rulers of his people appear in the presence of the Baptist as “children,” or rather as a race degenerate, and alien to true Judaism; while before Christ the Baptist lowly bends as the humblest servant in presence of the most glorious Lord. How different, then, the picture here presented of the spirit of the Old Testament from that drawn by some, who would identify the religion of the Old Covenant with Pharisaical Judaism!
8. The circumstance, that the Baptist is here introduced as denouncing sinners, sufficiently accounts for the difference between his delineation of the advent of Christ as the Judge, in the passage before us, and his description of Christ as the suffering Saviour in His address to His disciples, John 1:0 Besides, throughout the Old Testament, and indeed throughout Scripture, judgment and salvation are closely connected; and it has been too much the practice of scholastic theologians to sever and disjoin these two ideas. Further, the picture presented to the mind of the Baptist was evidently that of the advent of Christ, in all its phases to its final manifestation, commencing with the first, and including the second appearance of the Saviour. The judgment of separation, which was to be completed at His second advent, commenced at the first. The “fruits meet unto repentance,” which the Baptist required, were evidence of a genuine religious and moral renovation and regeneration, which implied the opposite of mere externalism and feigned repentance.
9. The baptism of water, and the baptism of fire,—the one administered by John, the other by Christ; the one bearing reference to the advent of the Messiah, the other, to the Messiah Himself, who had already appeared; the one, unto repentance in the sense of renouncing and dying unto the world, the other, unto repentance in the sense of the death and resurrection of Christ; the one, with water, which can only purify externally (legally and symbolically), the other, with the Holy Ghost, whose fire purifies internally, and purges away all dross; the one, to a forgiveness of sins which as yet was only matter of hope, and was to be really obtained in the baptism of the Spirit; the other, as the seal of actual forgiveness of sins. The baptism of John contained only the germ of a sacrament in the peace of hope which it conveyed, and the conditional assurance of a future baptism of the Spirit or reception into the kingdom of the Messiah; while Christ’s baptism of the Spirit finds its appropriate expression in the sacrament of Christian Baptism as the sign and seal of the inward baptism of the Spirit. It is indeed true that the baptism of the Saviour by John constitutes both the origin and the basis of Christian baptism; but it were to detract from the full meaning of that sacrament to assimilate it with the baptism of John, instead of viewing the latter as gradually advancing from the baptism of disciples to the baptism of Christ. Christian baptism, on the other hand, in the same proportion in which it degenerates in the church, relapses into the baptism of John, i. e., it approaches to the character of mere water-baptism. But whatever way we regard it, this great difference remains, that while the disciples of John still waited for the formation of the Church, we behold it in all its beauty, and with all its blessings of forgiveness and of peace. In other words, in the one case, the full idea of baptism, in its objective import as a sacrament, is realized,—the only requirement being, that he who receives the ordinance receive it in spirit and in faith; while, in the other, the objective aspect of baptism—or the Church—was still awanting. Hence the baptism of John might be repeated; not so Christian baptism. The baptism of John was not complete: in it the full idea of the rite was not exhausted;9 while we, who are baptized into the death of Christ, can fully enter into its meaning.
10. The transcendent majesty of the Lord appears, as He stands side by side with the Baptist, the greatest among them born of women under the Old Covenant. But the greatness of John consisted mainly in his almost unexampled humility, which from the first led him to designate his work which shook Israel to its centre as merely preparatory, and to subordinate himself at once to Him who was far greater than he.
11. The baptism of fire—in the sense of its purifying efficacy—had been already predicted by Malachi (Matthew 3:3). Hence we conclude that the baptism of John must have conveyed at least some of the effects of this purifying fire. In another respect, also, there is a close connection between John and Malachi, as the denunciations of the Baptist were only a further development and application of the great truths propounded by the prophet about the insufficiency of the old theocracy; and just as Malachi pointed to the Baptist, so the Baptist points to Christ. Although the awakening produced by John, as every legal awakening, was not of a lasting character, its effects were permanent in the hearts of the elect, and more especially among his own disciples. This was sufficient—the Lord found a soil ready and prepared.
12. The most marvellous evidence of the spiritual power wielded by John was, that he induced the self-righteous and hypocritical professors of his age to submit to a baptism unto repentance, and that in such numbers, that it became a kind of agreeable fashion to go into the wilderness to be baptized (John 5:35).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
John and Christ; or the Founder of the New Covenant accredited by the last prophet of the Old Covenant.—John a connecting link between Malachi and Christ.—Old Testament prophecy pointing to Christ in the Baptist.—The baptism of John in its import, 1. as a token from God; 2. as concluding the Old Dispensation; 3. as a prophecy of the baptism of Christ.—As the renunciation of the world initiated by the Baptist only reached its completion in the death of Christ on the cross, so the baptism of John in that of Christ.—Baptism implies a descent into the depths,10 1. of self-knowledge; 2. of repentance; 3. of renunciation of the world; 4. of self-surrender to the grace of the Lord.—The call of the Old and New Testaments, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: 1. The agreement between John and Christ in this call; 2. the difference in their meaning and application; 3. the call of John fully understood and completed in that of Christ.—The eternal basis and fundamental idea of all preaching—repentance and faith.—Baptism and preaching always go together.—John the prototype of preachers of repentance, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 1. The whole man, in all his saying and doing, a voice; 2. only a voice; 3. a voice crying; 4. a voice sounding through the wilderness, and awakening it.—Consistency of practice and teaching as giving point to our preaching—which is the voice of the Spirit in the world, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. 1. How it sounds: a. It sounds from every direction; b. in every place; c. at every hour; d. for every heart. 2. What the voice requires: a. A way for the Lord; b. to prepare the way for the Lord; c. to prepare it in the wilderness.—The way of the Lord is prepared by making a plain path. 1. The heart which was lifted up must be abased by repentance. 2. The heart that was abased must be lifted up by faith. 3. The heart which was wavering must have a straight path marked out by spiritual decision of life.—The outward renunciation of the world by the Baptist an emblem of that inward renunciation which every one has solemnly vowed in baptism.—Spiritual life is that state in which we freely renounce all things.—Wonderful effect upon the world of a believing renunciation of the world.—When judgment is at hand, our safety lies in being ready to part with all things.—Times of awakening are times of budding. 1. Their presence marks a spring-time from on high; 2. the blossoms must decay; 3. many blossoms are empty and fruitless; but, 4. some lasting fruit also remains.—The baptism of John the last festive hour of the Old Covenant.—Legal repentance must be followed up by evangelical repentance; i. e., sorrow for sin, caused by fear, must be followed by sorrow for sin, caused by love.—Genuine confession of sin marking spiritual decision and action.—Genuine confession of sin the foundation of every confession of faith.—Christ submitted to the baptism of John, although even Pharisees and Sadducees had received the rite.—The Pharisees and the Sadducees applying for baptism, or professing penitence. 1. Both parties were equally hypocritical. 2. The differed in the peculiar form of their hypocrisy. 3 They were equally overwhelmed by the judgment which descends on all hypocrites.—The self-righteousness of religious formalism always produces a generation of vipers hypocritically conforming to its demands: 1. A low and unimpressible generation; 2. a cunning; 3. a malicious and dangerous, generation.—The genuineness of our repentance must be proved by good fruits.—Our spiritual state must be brought to the test of everyday duty, or, Christian virtue must imply and perfect natural virtue.—There are in every age those who appeal to their descent from Abraham. Such appeal has, 1. always the same meaning; Isaiah , 2. different in different ages; and yet, 3. in every age equally vain and pernicious.—“God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham;” or, the creative power of free grace: 1. It can create children of Abraham from the stones of the wilderness (the hard hearts of the heathen),—for a stone has manifestly no life. 2. Such a change may be expected rather than in those who hypocritically profess to be Abraham’s children; for empty profession simulates life.—The Lord as Judge, under the figure of a husbandman: 1. among His trees; 2. on His threshing-floor.—“The axe is laid to the root of the trees:” 1. Its meaning: judgment has already commenced; there is no time to be lost. 2. Its application: be changed into good trees; bring forth fruits of righteousness; there is still time for it.—The majesty of Christ, as manifest in the contrast between John and Christ.—The baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit; the baptism of the Spirit and the baptism of fire.—The baptism of the Spirit is itself a baptism of fire.—The grand final harvest in history; or, judgment and salvation. 1. The fan on the threshing-floor; or, the word of God separating the two classes. 2. The gathering of the wheat into the kingdom of love; or, the complete salvation of God’s people. 3. The chaff in unquenchable fire; or, the judgment of hypocrites.—The burning chaff, or the judgment: 1. As consuming all those outward forms, whether secular or spiritual, which had served as the vehicle of life; 2. as fiery torments of mere professors of religion, who sought for life in those forms alone,—a. throughout the course of history,—b. at the end of the world.—All empty profession as continually self-destroying and self-consuming—a hell: 1. an emblem of hell; 2. that which really constitutes hell; 3. the final object of hell.—The judgment of the world is at the same time the completion of the kingdom of God and of His children.
Starke:—The sum and substance of all Divine teaching is, repentance and faith.—He that would enter into the kingdom of heaven must, with heart and soul, forsake the kingdom of the world.—Wherever Christ goes with His Gospel, He finds nothing but a wilderness.—The law must rouse the conscience and open the door for the Gospel.—Teachers of religion must neither be flatterers, nor self-seekers, nor servants of men.—A Christian is satisfied with such provision as he can get. Let a minister be content even though he be placed in a wilderness.—Worldly men tremble, indeed, in view of judgment and of wrath; but although they dissemble and humble themselves, they are not sincere in Christ—It is quite possible to combine a holy zeal with genuine love.—Preachers should be acquainted with the prejudices of men.—We become Christians, not by birth, but by regeneration.—Outward communion with the Church will only ensure heavier judgment to those who enjoy it without becoming true believers.—The less merit a minister claims for himself in the work of his Master, the more successful will he be.—Holiness and humility advance at equal pace.—A preacher must know both how to allure and how to arouse his hearers.
Gerlach:—The tree which is unfit for bearing good fruit is fit at last for firewood. The man who will not be a monument of saving grace shall show forth the justice and holiness of God.
Heubner:—To become a preacher in the wilderness, requires moral heroism.—The doors of the heart must be thrown wide open if the King of glory is to enter in.—The confession of sinners (of sins) is of incalculable value.—”Generation of vipers:” there is frequently much of the serpent about the human heart, both in its malice and inclination to wards falsehood and deception.—The plainness and unsparing severity of John is far preferable to weak gentleness; the former rouses and excites just apprehension, while the latter lulls asleep and causes false security.—The false confidence of the Jews and their ancestors a warning to all.—National pride.—Only that which is good and pure can be admitted into the kingdom of Christ: all that is impure will be cast out.
BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR
The Sinaitic Manuscript of the Bible, which Professor Tischendorf rescued from the obscurity of the Convent of St Catharine on Mount Sinai, and carefully edited in two editions in 1862 and 1863,* two years after the issue of the third edition of Dr. Lange’s Commentary on Matthew, has been carefully compared in preparing the American edition of this work from Chapter 8 to the close of the Gospel of Matthew. I thought I was the first to do so, but just before I finished the last pages of this volume, I found that Bäumlein, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John,** and Meyer, in the fifth edition of his Commentary on Matthew, both of which appeared in 1864, had preceded me, at least in print. No critical scholar can ignore this manuscript hereafter. For it is the only complete, and perhaps the oldest of all the uncial codices of the Bible, or at least of the same age and authority as the celebrated Vatican Codex (which is traced by some to the middle of the fourth century), and far better edited by the German Protestant Professor, Tischendorf, than the latter was by the Italian Cardinal, Angelo Mai. In the absence of a simpler mark agreed upon by critics (the proposed designation by the Hebrew א has not yet been adopted, and is justly objected to by Tregelles and others on the ground of typographical inconvenience), I introduce it always as Cod. Sin., and I find that Dr. Meyer in the fifth edition does the same. As I could not procure a copy of the printed edition of this Codex till I had finished the first seven chapters, I now complete the critical part of the work by adding its more important readings in the first seven chapters where they differ from the textus receptus, on which the authorized English, as well as all the older Protestant Versions of the Greek Testament are substantially based.
*Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, sive Novum Testamentum cum Epistola Barnabœ et Fragmentis Pastoris (Hermæ). Ex Codice Sinaitico auspiciis Alexandri II., omnium Russiarum imperatoris, ex tenebris protracto orbique litterarum tradito accurate descripsit Ænotheus Friderious Constantinus Tischendorf, theol. et phil. Dr., etc. etc. Lipsiæ, 1863. The text is arranged in four columns and covers 148 folios; the learned Prolegomena of the editor 81 folios. There is besides a magnificent photo-lithographed fac-simile edition of the whole Sinaitic Bible, published at the expense of the Emperor of Russia, in 4 volumes (3 for the Old and 1 for the New Testament, the latter in 148 folios), under the title: Bibliorum Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus. Auspiciis augustissimis imperatoris Alexandri II. ed. Const. Tischendorf. Petropoli, 1862. A copy of this rare edition I have also consulted occasionally, in the Astor Library of New York. For fuller information on this important Codex (in the words of Tischendorf: “omnium codicum uncialium solus integer omniumque antiquissimus”), we must refer the reader to the ample Prolegomena of Tischendorf, also to an article of Hilgenfeld in his Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie, vol. vii. (1864), p. 74 ff. (who is disposed to assign it to a somewhat later age), and to Scrivener’s treatise, which I have not seen.
**Hengstenberg, in his Commentary on John, concluded in 1863, pays no attention whatever to this Codex, and is very defective in a critical point of view
Matthew 3:3.—δια ησαιου, through Isaiah, instead of ὑπὸ Ἠσαί̈ου, by Isaiah. The reading διά is sustained also by Codd. B., C, D., Syr., Sahid., Æth., Vulg., Griesb., Lachm., Tischend., Alf., and is more correct; for the word was spoken by the Lord through Isaiah (a Domino per, as Irenæus has it). Hence insert in text on p. 67 after by: [through; διά].
Matthew 3:6.—Cod. Sin.: ιορδανη ποταμω (also in Codd. B., C’., M., Δ., etc.) for ̓Ι ορδάνη ὑπ̓ αὐτοῦ. But ποταμῷ, river, may have been inserted from Mark 1:5.
 Matthew 3:7.—[Lachmann and Tregelles omit αν̓τοῦ; Tischendorf retains it.—P. S.]
 Matthew 3:11.—[Literally: sandals, i. e. soles merely. of wood or leather, bound under the feet; hence ὑποδήματα form ὑποδέω. But the C. V. is more generally intelligible and may be retained.—P. S.]
[The German Gotthold, Gottlieb.]
[John represents also the prophetic or evangelical element of the Old Testament religion by pointing to “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He united the spirit of Moses and that of Isaiah, and stood nearest to Christ, who was the end of the law and the promise. Hence he is called the greatest among those that are born of women and yet, as still belonging to the preparatory dispensation of the Old Testament, less than the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 11:11). The comparison is not one of personal merit, but of stand-point and official position.—P. S.]
This view was for a long time generally entertained (for example, by Selden, Lightfoot, Danz, Ziegler, etc.); but has latterly been called in question by Schneckenburger (“Das Alter der jüd. Proselytentaufe,” Berl. 1828), by Meyer, and others, on the ground that “the earliest mention of baptism in the case of Jewish proselytes occurs in the Gemara Babyl. Jebamoth, 46, 2, while neither Philo, Josephus, nor the older Targums refer to such a rite. It seems to have originated after the destruction of the temple. Before that, proselytes were admitted by circumcision and the offering of a sacrifice, which latter, like every other sacrifice, was preceded by a Levitical purification with water, which the proselyte administered to himself.” But this very lustration was the germ of the later baptism of proselytes, only that it formed an adjunct of circumcision, and not of the sacrifice which was offered. After the destruction of the temple, when sacrifices ceased, the rite of baptism necessarily acquired much greater importance than formerly.
[Not necessarily so. It is harsh to separate “the Holy Spirit” and “fire,” as referring to opposite classes of persons, when they are clearly united in ὑμῦς, and by the copulative καί (not the disjunctive ἤ, aut). Moreover this prophecy was literally fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in tongues of fire. Acts 2:3.—P. S.]
[“Do penance,” is the Roman Catholic version, made at Rheims, A. D. 1582. It follows closely here, as elsewhere, the Latin Vulgate which renders the Greek μετανοεῖτε, Matthew 3:2, etc.: Poenitentiam agete. This difference of translation affects materially the whole conception of repentance. Luther translates: “Thut Busse;” but there is a difference between Busse, repentance, and Büssung, penance.—P. S.]
[The original substitutes here a (—) for a (,). I looked at the work quoted and rectified the reference.—P. S.]
[Dr. Lange: “Die Taufe des Johannes ging noch nicht in die volle Tiefe;”—a Play on words with reference to the etymology of Taufe from teufen, tiefen, i. e., to plunge into the deep, to submerge. With the same reference Dr. Lange calls Christian baptism “die absolute Vertiefung.” which is equivalent in meaning to the apostle’s figure of burial with Christ: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death,” Romans 6:4.—P. S.]
[“Die Taufe geht mit uns in die Tiefe.”—Comp. the preceding note.—P. S.]
B. Matthew 3:13-17
(Second Pericope on Sunday after the Feast of Circumcision or New Year)
Contents.—He who baptizes with the Spirit, and with fire, humbles Himself to submit to the baptism of water, administered to a sinful community. From this communion with sinners the Father exalts Him into communion with the blessed Trinity. The Baptist points Him out to the people as the Messiah promised to the fathers.
13Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to [the] Jordan unto John, to be baptized of [by] him. 14But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of [by] thee, and comest thou to me? 15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so11 now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of [from] the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, 17 and lighting [coming] upon him: And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Matthew 3:13. Then (τότε).—In contrast with the baptism of the Pharisees and Sadducees, we have here the baptism of Jesus. At that time Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan, to be baptized of him. Meyer suggests the following as the object of Christ’s baptism (p. 91):—”Jesus did not come to be baptized from a feeling of personal sinfulness (Bruno Bauer, comp. Strauss); nor because, according to the Levitical law, His personal connection with an impure people rendered Him impure (Lange); nor for the purpose of showing that there was no incompatibility between His σὰρξ and life in the Spirit (Hoffmann, Weissagung und Erfüllung, vol. ii. 82); nor because baptism implied a declaration of being subject to the penalty of death (Ebrard); nor in order to elicit the Divine declaration that He was the Messiah (Paulus); nor to confirm the faith of His followers, inasmuch as baptism was a symbol of the regeneration of His disciples (Ammon, L. J. vol i. 268); nor to sanction the baptism of John by His example (Kuinoel, Kern); nor to indicate His obligation to obey the law (Hoffmann, Krabbe, Osiander); nor, lastly, because, before the descent of the Spirit, He acted like any other ordinary Israelite (Hess, Kuhn, comp. Olshausen). The true explanation of this act, as furnished in Matthew 3:15, is, that, as the Messiah, He felt that, according to the Divine will, He had to submit to the baptism of His forerunner in order to receive the Divine declaration of His Messianic dignity ( Matthew 3:16-17). It was not in baptism that He first became conscious of His dignity as the Messiah, as if by that act He had been inwardly transformed into the Messiah; the expression, πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν ( Matthew 3:15), implies that He was conscious of being the Messiah, and of the relation in which, as such, John stood towards Him.”—We thankfully admit the value of the comprehensive summary furnished by Meyer of the various views propounded on the subject of Christ’s baptism. But his own explanation does not make it any clearer, either on what grounds Jesus submitted to a baptism unto repentance, or in what sense we are to understand the words of the Saviour, “Thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness,”—an expression which must evidently refer to Old Testament righteousness. With this remark we return to our own explanation. In strict application of the law of Moses as expounded by Haggai (Matthew 2:14), John had pronounced the whole people of Israel impure. Jesus Himself, although sinless and holy, was included in this general declaration; His connection with His people rendering Him levitically unclean. This implied that, from His connection with the people, He must needs suffer, or that He, being innocent, must suffer for the people. And thus he fulfilled all righteousness. Meyer is, of course, right in suggesting, that when the Saviour thus freely yet obediently submitted Himself to the judgment resting upon His people, He was preparing for His own glory, and hence, also, for “the declaration of His Messianic dignity.” But this formed the second or last element in the baptism of Christ, not its basis or fundamental idea. It is scarcely necessary to add, that our explanation includes that of Ebrard; only that, in our view, the idea of consecration unto death was not yet fully expressed in the baptism of John, which only implied sufferings similar to death.
Matthew 3:14. But John forbade Him [sought to hinder him].—According to Strauss and de Wette, this passage is inconsistent with the statement in John 1:23, “I knew Him not.” But this passage refers only to the prophetic or divine certitude of the Baptist concerning the Messiahship of Jesus. Such certitude could neither be the result of what his mother Elisabeth would tell him, nor of his previous acquaintanceship with Jesus: it could only be obtained by a distinct sign from on high. Still he was sufficiently impressed with the religious and moral exaltation of Jesus to feel that He required not baptism at His hands (Hoffmann). Add to this the wonderful impression produced by the personal appearance of the Lord, and by the increasing conviction of John that what his parents had formerly told him would now prove to be true. Accordingly, he felt as the less in presence of the greater—as a sinner in presence of the Holy One. The obvious inference from the baptism which He administered, and to which Jesus was about to submit, seemed so strange to the Baptist, that he shrunk from it. Hence the expression he forbade Him, διεκώλυεν—the composite being stronger than the simple verb. Jesus removed these objections by simply referring to the requirements of righteousness; by which our Lord must have meant the Levitical consequences of John’s prophetic mission, and not that John would see what miraculous sign should accompany the rite. The great object was simple obedience. How to own and glorify the obedience of His dear Son, God reserved to Himself. Any confession of sin was, of course, out of the question: there was only a profession on the part of Jesus, that as an Israelite He became subject to the law, and that He was connected with humanity by the ties of blood, of history, of suffering, and of love. The apocryphal Prœdicatio Pauli (see Credner, Beiträge i. p. 360) first set forth the false notion that Jesus made a confession of sin; while in the Evang. sec. Hebr. (see Hieronymus, Contr. Pel. iii. 2), Jesus replies to the solicitations of His mother and brethren to be baptized along with them: “Quid peccavi, ut vadam et baptizer ab eo? nisi forte hoc ipsum quod dixi, ignorantia est.” On the discussion between John and Jesus in the Evang. sec. Hebr., see Meyer, p. 92.
Matthew 3:15. Thus it becomes us.—The baptism of Jesus was a duty, not only on the part of the Lord, but also on the part of the Baptist.
Matthew 3:16. Went up straightway.—A special meaning attaches to the word εὐθύς, as if He had flown upwards from out of the water. This miraculous ascent from the deep was connected with the equally miraculous descent of the Spirit of God from on high.
Lo, the heavens were opened unto Him; ἀνεῴχθησαν.—The contradictory [rationalistic] explanations of Paulus, who speaks of a clearing up of the sky, and of Kuinoel and Amnion, who speak of a thunder-storm, may neutralize each other. Meyer maintains that it must not be considered as a poetic description of what took place, but that the heavens were literally opened, and the Holy Spirit descended through this opening. It is difficult to understand the exact meaning of Meyer, as this view implies that the event itself was mythical, and hence also poetical. In another place (Leben Jesu, ii. 1, p. 183), we have ventured to suggest that even the outward phenomena attending this great event were unique, the stars making their appearance on the occasion. In this way it would seem to bear analogy with the darkening of the sun at midday during the crucifixion, even as Christ’s baptism was analogous, and formed a prelude to, His final sufferings But there was also undoubtedly a vision, in which, although mainly designed for the Saviour, the Baptist had also a part (comp. John 12:28; Acts 9:7; Acts 22:9). For the Baptist must evidently have heard the voice by which Jesus was designated as the “beloved Son.” Although the word εἰδε refers primarily to Jesus Himself, we conclude that John also participated in the vision,—1. from his having heard the voice; 2. from the account given by Luke and by John. Thus, while the vision was primarily designed for Christ, it must have been beheld by both.
Like a dove (Luke: σωματικῷ ἔιδει ὡσεὶπεριστεράν).—The expression cannot be meant as symbolical simply of the manner in which the Spirit descended—rapid (Fritzsche), quiet (Neander), pure (Olshausen), creative (Baumgarten-Crusius). Meyer very appropriately calls attention to the parallel passage in Luke; nor must we lose sight of the import of the term εἶδε. The Gospel of the Hebrews, as quoted by Epiph. 30:13, correctly interprets the phrase as implying that he saw the Holy Spirit of God descending in the form (or rather in the visionary form, εἴδει) of a dove. It was not a real dove; but, to his vision, it appeared as the form of a dove descending. A symbol this of perfect gentleness, purity, fulness of life, and of the power of communicating it.
Matthew 3:17. And lo a voice.—Comp. Luke 5:12; Luke 19:20; Acts 8:27; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 6:2; Revelation 7:9. Along with the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son also now manifest themselves. The term Son is applied to the Messiah (Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 42:1), not merely in reference to His official character, but more especially to His Divine nature. There is evidently an allusion here to the miraculous origin of Christ by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35). The expression, ὁ , is neither equivalent to our “most beloved” (in the superlative degree), nor to “only one,” but means “only beloved“ or beloved in a unique sense.—Ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα, In whom I am well pleased.—The verb is put in the Aorist to denote the eternal act of loving contemplation with which the Father regards the Son. There is a rhythmical connection between this event, the testimony to the Son heard in the temple, and, lastly, the voice from heaven heard on the Mount of Transfiguration. Nor must we omit noticing the peculiar demonstrative form of the expression, in Matthew, “This is My beloved Son,“ not, “Thou art My Son:” implying, 1. that this voice was specially designed as a revelation to John 2:0. that it was granted to him for the purpose of his mission, which was to introduce Jesus as the Messiah to the people. In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, there is a more particular reference to Jesus Himself as the source and spring of the vision, “Thou art My beloved Son;” while John lays special stress upon the part which the Baptist sustained in the vision.
General Notes on the Whole Section.—The objections raised by modern criticism against the historical character of this narrative fall to the ground the moment we acknowledge the supernatural element in the life of our Saviour. We cannot even admit with Meyer that there is a real difference between the account as gives by John and the other Evangelists; far less can we agree with him in reducing the fact in the case to the vision of a dove. The fact, that this was a vision, does not exclude the objective reality of this miraculous event; on the contrary, It is in perfect accordance with it. The question, whether before that time the dove was regarded as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, is one of considerable interest. Among the Syrians, the dove was held sacred, as the symbol of the fructifying power of nature (Creuzer, Symbolik, ii. 80). This throws fresh light upon the expression in Genesis 1:2, that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters:” the Talmud has it, that He moved over it like a dove. But the symbol is not further carried out in the Old Testament, though there is much significance in the dove of Noah’s ark, and the dove in the Song of Solomon. Our Lord also alludes to it in Matthew 10:16. Taking a general survey of these emblems, we gather the impression, that the symbol of a dove referred more particularly to the Church, as indeed the Holy Spirit manifests Himself, and, so to speak, assumes shape in the Church. On the Talmudical and rabbinical interpretations of this symbol, comp. Meyer, p. 98.
According to Strauss, the statement of the Evangelist, that “Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost,” cannot be reconciled with the narrative in the text, that at His baptism He was baptized with the Holy Ghost. Critics of his school have attempted to connect this baptism with the Holy Ghost, with the view of some of the Gnostics (Cerinthus, Basilides, Valentinus, etc.), that the man Jesus received at His baptism the heavenly Logos. But all these assertions ignore the truth of the human development of our Lord. At His birth, He was filled and actuated by the Holy Spirit, so far at His talent and disposition was concerned. This implied His perfect sinlessness. But at His baptism, He attained the full consciousness of His nature and mission at the God-Man and Saviour. From that moment He became the organ of the Holy Spirit, not merely so far as He was personally concerned, but also as fully realizing His mediatorial character and work, and its relation to the salvation of mankind. He now received the Holy Ghost in His capacity as founder of the spiritual community about to be instituted. But this fulness of the Spirit remained still concealed under the form of a servant, and in the lowliness of His walk and work. It was only after the work had been finished and accepted, that the Spirit was poured out in all His fulness upon His believing people; and the dove, which had erst descended into His heart, now issued forth to move and to brood over the waters of the nations of the earth.
In the passive baptism of Jesus (that by John), we have the first glimmer of a distinct revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. It brightens into full glory at the active baptism of Jesus, or the institution of Holy Baptism in Matthew 28:0, which is in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.—The connection between the two events is manifest.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Jesus cometh from Galilee to the lower Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. From this we draw the following inferences: 1. The influence of the baptism of John had extended over the whole people of Israel. 2. Jesus came under the direct and irresistible impulse of the Holy Spirit. This was His first act after attaining manhood, since the time when, at twelve years of age, He manifested Himself in the temple, and again retired to the obscurity of Nazareth. Yet this act, so enigmatic to many of our modem theologians, was performed without any doubt or hesitation on the part of our Lord. The Divine call had reached Him, that He, the Holy One, should, according to the demands of the law, submit to the judgment of sinners. And this constituted, so to speak, the consecration for His work, to which He submitted, in anticipation both of the sufferings and the glory which were to come.
2. John was surprised when he saw Jesus coming to be baptized. The Baptist, no doubt, knew the prophecies which his parents had uttered concerning Jesus; probably, he was even personally acquainted with Him. Add to this the impression produced by the appearance of Jesus Himself. But all this was not sufficient to warrant him in presenting Jesus as the Messiah to the people: He had yet to await a distinct revelation to that effect. But it was more than sufficient to make him feel that baptism for purification was entirely inapplicable to the Lord, viewing Him in His personal character and dignity. Hence he could not but shrink, for the moment, from the tremendous consequences of his baptism; all the more, that in the presence of Jesus he felt more deeply than ever his own unworthiness and sinfulness: hence his refusal and his confession: “I have need to be baptized of Thee.” But Jesus judged otherwise. The inference from the baptism of John was none other than that from the law itself, which again only reflected the sacred and solemn object of His incarnation and life. There is a historical connection between the Holy One and His sinful brethren; therefore must he suffer with and for them. Thus the baptism of John was not only applicable to Jesus, but attained its real meaning and object only by the baptism of Jesus. Thus it became the symbol of His consecration unto death, for the salvation of the world. Hence the exclamation of John, after the baptism of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
It seems as if, in this controversy between Jesus and John, the Old and the New Testament had, for the time being, changed sides. John appears almost the representative of the liberty of the New, Christ that of the legal rigor of the Old Testament. “Thus the rods of Old Testament and of New Testament righteousness are here joined into a cross” (Leb. Jesu, ii. 1, p. 177). But the connection and unity between the two dispensations appears in this intertwining of its ultimate links.—Jesus conquers in this contest. More than ever before does the Baptist now humble himself, under a sense of the deep responsibility of his office. The Lord also humbles Himself under the law, to which he now formally becomes obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:0).
3. This is the only instance in which there is neither confession of sin on the part of Him who is baptized, nor reproof and exhortation on the part of the Baptist. The baptismal address comes from heaven itself; but the blessings of the baptism descend upon all mankind. Heaven once again opened at the baptism of Jesus—primarily for Him, and, through Him, for all mankind. The blessing which flowed from this baptism—the prophetic import of which attained its fulfilment in the death on the cross—appeared at the close of Christ’s mission on earth, in the institution of holy baptism for His people, with the gracious blessing of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—attaching to it. For this purpose did the Father reveal Himself on this occasion; for this purpose did Jesus obtain without measure the anointing of the Spirit; for this purpose did He as the Son throw open the portals of heaven, and offer himself by the Holy Ghost to the Father, for the salvation of the world.
4. The germs of the doctrine of the Trinity which occur in the Old Testament, are taken up in the commencement of the Gospel history, where the miraculous conception of Jesus through the Holy Ghost is announced (Matthew 1:0; Luke 1:0). This mystery is more clearly brought out in the narrative of Christ’s baptism, and is more fully developed in the progress of the Gospel history. This shows that what is called the Trinity of revelation depends on the Trinity of essence For the relation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as here revealed, is preëminently that of nature or essence (ontological); while afterwards, in Matthew 28:19, it appears more especially as a relation of manifestation or of revelation.
5. The glorification of Jesus by the voice from heaven, heard at his baptism, may be regarded as the second stage in the miraculous events attending His life, by which he was gradually and increasingly manifested as the absolute Wonder, and hence as the Wonderful or Wonder-worker. The first of these heavenly attestations was His miraculous birth, and with it the star and the angels’ hymn. Then followed the manifestation of Jesus at His baptism, when, instead of the voice of angels, that from heaven is heard, and which, from its utterance, we recognize as the voice of the Father. Instead of the star standing over Bethlehem, we have now the vision of a dove descending upon the Lord. This glorious manifestation becomes still brighter at the transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount. Here also the voice of the Father descends in the cloud upon the Mount—it is heard close by; while the fulness of the Spirit resting on Jesus shines forth in His personal appearance, as He stands transfigured before His disciples. Once more is the same voice heard: this time in the Temple, and in the midst of His people; and although it only conveys to Him personally the assurance that the name of the Father shall be glorified in Him, it appears to his followers to be the voice of an angel, to the people—the sound of thunder. This is the third occasion on which the voice from heaven is heard. Lastly, on the Mount of Olives He is carried upward to the Father in a cloud of glory, and by the power of the Spirit. The various stages of this direct attestation from heaven may thus be marked:—1. The miraculous origin of Christ from heaven; 2. the consecration, among His chosen ones, for His appearance in the form of a servant upon earth; 3. the prelude of the transformation of His earthly appearance as a servant, celebrated among His disciples; 4. the same as celebrated among the people; 5. the resurrection-glory, and the final transfiguration.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The mighty impulse of the Spirit leading Christ to Jordan. This appears from the circumstance, 1. that He came from a great distance; 2. that He came alone; 3. that He came fully decided on the course before Him.—Christ resolved on submitting to baptism.—Jesus does not shrink from the same baptismal bath which the “generation of vipers” had received.—The various humiliations to which Jesus submitted during His youthful course: 1. from Bethlehem to Egypt; 2. from the temple to Nazareth; 3. from His sacred retirement to the baptism of sinners.—How the Lord owned the Divine institution of baptism.—How He honored the sacred office.—The twofold difficulty of John’s work: 1. He was obliged to baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees; 2. he had to baptize the Lord.—John himself required the grace of the Lord.—How the Baptist confessed that he stood in need of the baptism of Jesus.—How the holy office entrusted to ministers must tend to humble those who are in earnest, but how it also elevates them.—The greatness of John as appearing most fully in his humility.—He who was baptized greater than he who baptized.—“Suffer it to be so now.” The infinite import of the word now: 1. A summing up of eternity in time, and of time in “today,” and of “today” in the moment which claims our decision; 2. an enigma propounded by the past and solved by the future; 3. an altar on which our obedience is claimed, and a blessing promised; 4. a passing phase of earth, which may be transformed into a revelation of heaven.—“Suffer it to be so now. 1. Suffer it at last to be Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. suffer it quickly to be Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. suffer it to be so for a moment; 4. suffer it to be so once for all.—The baptism of Jesus the fulfilment of all righteousness, 1. so far as the mission of John was concerned; 2. so far as the demands of the law were concerned; 3. so far as the dealings of God with men, according to the fundamental principles of His administration, were concerned.—Import of the fact that the Holy One submitted to the baptism of sinners: 1. Sinners must be immersed in the waters of judgment. 2. The Sinless One is immersed along with them, in order to give them courage for the judgment. 3. He must be immersed for them to change that judgment, so far as they are concerned, into salvation.—The glory of the Lord in this great act of His humiliation.—The manifestation of the Messiah.—The manifestation of the Messiah in the glorious light of the Trinity.—“Out of the water,” a watchword of life. 1. The earth out of water; 2. Noah and his race out of the water; 3. Moses and his people out of the water; 4. Christ and His Church out of the water.—Heaven opened on the occasion of baptism. 1. Heaven is opened, a. for all the blessings which come down from above; b. for all the prayers which ascend from below. 2. It is opened over him who is baptized: a. over the Lord Himself; b. over all who are baptized in His name.—Heaven opened: the heart of the Father opened.—“The Spirit of God descending like a dove:” 1. In His purity like a dove; hence He finds at first only one resting-place—the head and heart of Jesus. 2. In His gentleness like a dove; hence addressing Himself to man. 3. In His harmlessness like the dove; hence conquering the wicked one. 4. In His love as the dove; hence imparting life to the Church.—The voice from heaven in the manifestation of Christ, and its echo in the justification of the sinner.—How the three tokens accompanying the baptism of Christ are spiritually repeated in every baptism. 1. Heaven is opened to the child which is now placed by the side of the Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The dovelike mind of the Holy Spirit is imparted by the Son to the child. 3. In the testimony to the Son the child hears the testimony of sonship, and of the Father’s good pleasure.—The baptism of Jesus as the sealing of His name.—The baptism of Jesus the manifestation of His humiliation and exaltation: 1. As His first actual and personal humiliation and exaltation; 2. as throwing light upon the humiliation and exaltation of His childhood; 3. as the token of His future humiliation and exaltation; 4. as the act deciding the future humiliation and exaltation of His whole life.—Jesus undertaking His work in full consciousness of what awaited Him, and being attested by the Father and the Holy Ghost.—The blessedness springing from certitude of the Divine call.
Starke:—God has in His wisdom fixed for every one of us the proper time when we are to come forth.—However highly placed a man may be, he should pay all becoming reverence to the Divine institution of the word and sacraments.—Humility a precious gem.—Christ has consecrated the washing of regeneration.—Let us be careful to know what “becometh us” at every time.—Heaven, which was closed by the first Adam, is opened again over the second.—To us also has heaven again been opened by Christ, the Lord from heaven.
Gossner:—As soon as the sinner opens his heart to God in repentance, God opens the heavens and owns him as His child.
 Matthew 3:15.—[The words to be so, are unnecessary. Suffer it now, is sufficient for ἄφες ἄρτι.—P.S.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany