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Matthew 3

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Verses 1-12

Mat 3:1-12

Section IV.
John’s Ministry and the Baptism of Jesus,

Matthew 3:1-17

J.W. McGarvey

John in the Wilderness, Matthew 3:1-6. (Mark 1:1-6; Luke 3:1-6)

1. In those days.—These words connect the events about to be related with those of the preceding chapter. But those events occurred during the infancy of Jesus, and these when he was about thirty years of age. (See Luke 3:23.) Consequently a period of more than twenty-eight years had intervened, and we see that Matthew uses the expression "in those days" very indefinitely. This accords with Matthew’s general inattention to chronology.

the Baptist.—The title Baptist is given to John, because he was the originator under God of the ordinance of baptism. It is supposed by many that the ordinance did not originate with him, but that he copied it from the Jewish proselyte baptism. It is doubtful, however, whether proselyte baptism existed among the Jews previous to this time, as it is not mentioned in history until the third century of the Christian era. Moreover, it was a different rite in its form from John’s baptism; for, while John immersed others, in proselyte baptism the candidate immersed himself by going into the water to a convenient depth and dipping himself under. (See Kitto’s Cyclopedia and Smith’s Dictionary.) Such a baptism was by the law required of all persons who were unclean. When the sprinkling of blood or of the ashes of the red heifer was required, this bathing always followed; and it constituted a part of the process of purification in all other cases. (See Leviticus 14:9; Numbers 19:19; Numbers 7; Numbers 8; Leviticus 15. passim; 16:24-28; 17:15.) Some twenty distinct cases are specified in which the law required this bathing, and it is to these that Paul refers when he states that the law consisted in part of "divers baptisms." (Hebrews 9:10.) But the law required nothing of this kind in the case of proselytes as a means of initiation; and when the practice of proselyte baptism was introduced it was a human appendage to the Jewish ritual, just as infant baptism was to the Christian ritual.

2. Repent ye—The theme of John’s preaching was repentance, and the chief motive by which he enforced the duty of repenting was the near approach of the kingdom of heaven. The latter event served as a motive to induce repentance because only by repentance could the people be prepared for it. A people totally indifferent to their violations of the law already given, would be ill-prepared to receive an additional revelation. John’s theme, therefore, was well adapted to his mission as the herald of the coming kingdom.

3. The voice.—That John was certainly the person spoken of by Isaiah as "the voice crying in the wilderness," is evident from the fact that he alone, among all the great preachers known to history, chose a wilderness as his place of preaching. All others, not excepting Jesus and his apostles, went into the cities and villages where the people could be found: John alone began and ended in the wilderness, the people going out to him instead of his going to the people.

Prepare ye the way.—The object of John’s mission was to prepare the people for Jesus and for the subsequent preaching of the apostles. (See Luke 1:17.) Here this preparation is figuratively represented by the physical preparation of a path by straightening it, and thus making the journey over it more rapid and less laborious. (Comp. Luke 3:4-5.)

4. his raiment.—John’s dress, a coarse fabric woven from camel’s hair, with a raw hide girdle attached to it; and his food, consisting of the Egyptian locust and wild honey, were so unusual that the Pharisees said he had a demon (Matthew 11:18); but nothing could be more appropriate than that be whose mission it was to call men to repentance should himself set an example of austere self-denial.

5. went out to him.—Not-withstanding the unfavorable locality selected by John, he had no lack of an audience. The term all, however, is used here according to a Hebrew idiom by which it is put for the greater part. This appears from Matthew’s subsequent statement that the chief priests and elders of the people did not accept John’s baptism, and from Luke’s statement that the Pharisees and lawyers, as a class, rejected it. (Matthew 21:23-25; Luke 7:30.)

6. confessing their sins.—We have seen (Matthew 3:2) that John’s chief theme was repentance, and here we learn that those baptized by him confessed their sins. Repentance and confession of sins, then, were the prerequisites to his baptism, and these imply faith in what he preached. The confession must have been of a very general character; for the brief duration of John’s ministry, and the vast numbers that he baptized forbid the supposition of a detailed confession of all the sins of each individual.

John’s Preaching and the Christ Announced,

Matthew 3:7-12. (Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:7-18)

J.W. McGarvey

7. Pharisees.—The term Pharisee is derived from a Hebrew word which means separated. It represents a party among the Jews who were so called because of their extreme care to keep themselves separated from all persons and things which were legally unclean. The sect originated in the early part of the interval between the close of the Old Testament history and the birth of Jesus, but at what exact time is not now known. The fundamental peculiarity of their system was belief in the traditions of the elders, which they understood to consist in laws and regulations orally transmitted from Moses and the prophets. On account of the supposition that these traditions originated with inspired men, they were regarded as equal in authority with the written word. (See Matthew 15:1-9.) The Pharisees lived abstemiously, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and had almost unbounded influence with the masses of the people. For further details in reference to their history and doctrine, see Josephus, Ant. xii. 9:5; 10:5; xviii. 1:3, 4; Wars. ii. 8:14; Smith’s Dictionary; and the passages of the New Testament in which they are mentioned.

Sadducees.—The Sadducees derived their name, according to Jewish tradition, from one Zadok, the founder of their sect. It is ingeniously argued, however, by a writer in Smith’s Dictionary, that this tradition is incorrect, and that the name was taken from that Zadok who was high priest under Solomon. His descendants were called "sons of Zadok" (Ezekiel 40:46; Ezekiel 48:11), from which expression the term Zadokites or Sadducees, as it comes to us through the Greek, might very readily be formed. They were diametrically opposed to the Pharisees, rejecting the authority of oral tradition, living a luxurious life, and denying the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels and spirits. (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8; Josephus, Ant. xviii. 1:4; Wars. ii. 8:14.)

come to his baptism.—Many understand these words as meaning that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. His question, "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come," naturally suggests this meaning. But we are expressly informed that the Pharisees rejected John’s baptism (Matthew 21:25-27; Luke 7:30), and the argument which John employs below (Matthew 3:9) implies that they were trusting in the fact of being Abraham’s children, and that, consequently, they denied a necessity for either the baptism or the repentance which John preached. Moreover, the question which he put to them is susceptible of an easy interpretation in harmony with these facts. Seeing that they affected to despise John and to utterly disregard his warnings, it was not expected that they would go near to his place of baptizing; but they came, and, by coming, indicated that they felt some of the alarm which had been generally awakened by his preaching. By demanding, "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" John taunts them with the fact that they were alarmed, and that his preaching had alarmed them. Luke’s report of this speech represents it as being addressed to "the multitude" (Luke 3:7), but Matthew’s more specific language points out the particular portion of the multitude for whom it was intended.

generation of vipers.—More correctly rendered offspring or brood of vipers. This expression emphasizes the guile and malice of these men, and shows that they had no good motive in coming to the baptism.

8. fruits meet for repentance.—In this expression men are represented as trees, and the change of conduct brought about by repentance as fruit which they should bring forth. It probably suggested to John the allegory of Matthew 3:10, below.

9. We have Abraham.—It was thought by all of the Jews that the Messiah’s kingdom would be a kingdom over the Jews as a nation, and that all Jews would be citizens of it. They relied, therefore, for their admittance into the kingdom, on the mere fact that they were Abraham’s children. It was this thought which led Nicodemus, after hearing Jesus declare that "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God," to exclaim, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9.)

of these stones.—The point in this remark is to show that it is the mere creative power of God that makes men children of Abraham, and that, therefore, there is no spiritual virtue in the connection.

10. the axe is laid.—Returning now to the metaphor of fruit trees, which he had introduced before (Matthew 3:8), John employs a brief allegory in which his hearers are compared to trees in an orchard. An axe lies at the root of every tree which has not hitherto brought forth fruit, in readiness for the woodman to cut it down if fruit shall not soon appear. Thus he insists on the personal responsibility of every man, without regard to ancestry.

11. I indeed.—John advances from the warning contained in his allegory to the announcement of him who would inflict the punishment therein indicated. He presents the Coming One, first, as contrasted with himself in reference to the baptism he would administer; and, second, as a judge who would separate the righteous from the wicked as a husbandman separates his wheat from the chaff.

with water.—The Greek preposition (ἔν) here translated with primarily means in, and should be so translated in all instances, except where the context or the nature of the case forbids. It must be admitted by all that there is nothing in this context to exclude its ordinary meaning, unless it be the use of the same preposition with the terms Holy Spirit and fire. But the apostles were certainly baptized in the Holy Spirit; and it is equally certain that the wicked will be baptized in fire. (See below.) The immediate context, then, instead of forbidding the ordinary sense of the preposition, requires it. The remoter context has the same force, for it had just been said that the people were baptized by John in the Jordan; and there it is impossible to render the preposition by with. Baptized "with the Jordan" would be absurd.

unto repentance.—The rendering, "I baptize you unto repentance," implies that the baptism brought them to repentance. But such is not the fact in the case, for John required repentance as a prerequisite to baptism, and it is rather true that repentance brought them to baptism. If we adopt the rendering, "into repentance," which is more literal, we are involved in a worse difficulty; for, if baptism did not bring the baptized unto repentance, it certainly did not bring them into it. Again, if to avoid these two difficulties we suppose the term repentance to be used by metonymy for the state of one who has repented, we encounter another difficulty not less serious; for the state of one who has repented is entered, not by being baptized, but by repenting. Finally, to assume, as some have done, that the preposition has the sense of because of, is to seek escape from a difficulty by attaching to a word a meaning which it never bears. The preposition (ἔις) is never used to express the idea that one thing is done because of another having been done. Neither, indeed, would it be true that John baptized persons because of their repentance; for, while it is true that repentance did precede the baptism, it was not because of this that they were baptized; but baptism had its own specific object, and because of this object it was administered. The phrase under consideration has another meaning which, though somewhat obscure as regards its connection with the facts, is very naturally expressed by the words themselves. The preposition is often expressive of purpose, and the phrase may be properly rendered "in order to repentance." The baptism was not in order to the repentance of the party baptized. To so understand it would be to encounter the difficulty first mentioned above. But a baptism which required repentance as a prerequisite would have a tendency to cause those yet unbaptized to repent, in order that they might receive the baptism and enjoy its blessings. Prizes in schools are given in order to good behavior and good recitations, although the good recitations and the good behavior must precede the reception of the prizes. Promotions in the army are in order to the encouragement of obedience and valor, although these qualities of the good soldier must appear before promotion can take place. In the same way was John’s baptism in order to repentance. The inestimable blessing of remission of sins being attached to baptism (see Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), the desire to obtain this blessing would prompt those yet unbaptized to repent, so that they might be baptized. The words declare simply that the general purpose of John’s baptism was to bring the people to repentance.

with the Holy Spirit.In the Holy Spirit. (See first note on this verse.) The prediction here made that the Coming One would baptize in the Holy Spirit, began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. (Comp. Acts 1:5; Acts 2:4.) But John speaks as if the baptism in the Holy Spirit was to be as general under Christ as baptism in water was under his own ministry. Some have inferred from this that all of the subjects of Christ’s kingdom were to be baptized in the Holy Spirit; and another reason for the same conclusion is the fact that the baptism in the Holy Spirit and that in fire seem to include all men; the latter, all the wicked; the former all the righteous. But a prediction is best understood in the light of its fulfillment; and it is a fact that the apostles on Pentecost, and the household of Cornelius, are the only persons said in the New Testament to have received this baptism. (See Acts 1:5; Acts 2:4; Acts 11:15-16.) True, others, by imposition of apostolic hands, received miraculous gifts of the Spirit, and we would be justifiable in regarding these as instances of baptism in the Spirit if they were precisely like the two so called. But between these two and all others there is at least this remarkable difference, that in these two the Spirit came directly from Christ without human intervention, while in all others it was imparted through human hands. While the baptism in the Spirit, then, was actually confined to these two groups of persons, the benefits resulting from it extended to all. The benefit of this baptism in the house of Cornelius was the admission of all Gentile converts into the church on an equality with the Jews; and the benefit of that on Pentecost was to extend the blessed fruits of plenary inspiration to all disciples, both Jews and Gentiles. These considerations are sufficient to account for the general terms of John’s prediction.

Some have supposed that the baptism in the Spirit is not confined to those who received miraculous gifts, but is enjoyed by all who receive the Holy Spirit at all. This hypothesis, which I am not prepared to adopt, would very satisfactorily explain John’s language.

with fire.—A few eminent commentators refer the expression in fire to the cloven tongues which sat upon the apostles when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Alford affirms, "This was literally fulfilled on the day of Pentecost;" and, in opposition to the more usual interpretation which refers it to the final punishment of the wicked, he says: "To separate ’the Holy Spirit’ as referring to one set of persons and ’fire’ as belonging to another, when both are united in ’you,’ is in the last degree harsh, besides introducing confusion into the whole." As to the literal fulfillment on Pentecost, the learned author seems to have forgotten that it was not literal fire which sat on the apostles, but "cloven tongues like as of fire" (Acts 2:2); and that, even if these tongues had been actual fire, their sitting on the heads of the apostles could not have constituted a baptism of the apostles in fire. As regards the separation of the persons addressed into two parties, we see no difficulty, for such a division is clearly indicated in the context. In the preceding verse John uses the fruitful trees for good men and the unfruitful for bad men; and in the following verse he uses the wheat and the chaff in the same way. It is not at all harsh, then, to understand him as keeping up the distinction in the intermediate verse, and as using the term you to comprehend both classes. The term you, indeed, must be understood indefinitely, because the parties he was addressing had not been baptized, and he could not say to them in the strict sense of the pronoun, "I baptize you." The term is used indefinitely for the people at large. Finally, in both of the connected sentences, the term fire is connected with the fate of the wicked, and used as the symbol of punishment. The unfruitful trees are to be burned with fire, and the chaff is to be burned with "unquenchable fire;" it is, then, "in the last degree harsh" to understand it differently in this sentence. It is clearly the wicked who are to be baptized in fire, and the fulfillment of the prediction will be realized when they are cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15.)

12. whose fan.—The term rendered fan (πτον) means a winnowing shovel, and is rendered fan because the modern implement for separating the grain from the chaff is so called. The ancients, after the grain was trodden out on the threshing-floor by oxen, winnowed it by tossing it repeatedly into the air with a large wooden shovel until the wind blew away all the chaff. This was called cleaning the floor; that is, the threshing-floor. The world is here represented by a threshing-floor; its mingled population of saints and sinners, by the chaff and grain covering the floor; the work of Christ, by that of a farmer who cleans up the floor with his winnowing shovel; the salvation of the righteous, by gathering the wheat into the garner; and the punishment of the wicked, by burning up the chaff.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way - Matthew 3:1-12

Open It

1. What phrases, words, or images spring to mind when you hear the term "preacher"?

2.What preacher has influenced you most?

3. Why are many people uncomfortable with "fire and brimstone"-type preaching?

Explore It

4. What famous preacher is described in this passage? (Matthew 3:1)

5. Where was John the Baptist’s "sanctuary" or "pulpit"? (Matthew 3:1)

6. What was John’s message? (Matthew 3:2)

7. Why was John’s ministry significant? (Matthew 3:3)

8. What did John look like? (Matthew 3:4)

9. What kind of unusual diet did John follow? (Matthew 3:4)

10. How did people receive John’s message? (Matthew 3:5)

11. Besides strong preaching, what went on at John’s "desert revival meetings"? (Matthew 3:6)

12. Where did John perform his baptisms? Who came? (Matthew 3:5-6)

13. What kinds of religious leaders came to listen to John? (Matthew 3:7)

14. What harsh name did John call the religious leaders? Why? (Matthew 3:7-10)

15. What was John’s message to the local "men of the cloth"? (Matthew 3:7-10)

16. What was the purpose of John’s water baptism? (Matthew 3:11)

17. How did John compare himself to the one who would come after him? (Matthew 3:11)

18. How did John describe the type of baptism Jesus would bring? (Matthew 3:11)

19. With what images did John describe Jesus? (Matthew 3:12)

Get It

20. Why is it that coming from a religious family doesn’t guarantee spiritual security?

21. What does it mean to repent?

22. Why do you think John lived such an eccentric life?

23. Why was John the Baptist so harsh with the religious leaders of his day?

24. What is the significance of the images "winnowing fork," "gathering His wheat," and "burning up the chaff"?

25, What was John trying to communicate by using the word "fire" three times in this passage?

26. What is the difference between God’s discipline and God’s punishment?

27. What kind of "fruit" or character do repentant people produce?

Apply It

28. What could you do this week to encourage your pastor or preacher?

29. What first step could you take toward obeying God better today?

30. What particular sin(s) do you need to repent of today?

Verses 13-17

Mat 3:13-17

Jesus Baptized, Matthew 3:13-17. (Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22)

J.W. McGarvey

13. from Galilee.—The departure of Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan for the purpose of being baptized by John, is the first voluntary act of his life recorded by Matthew. It was the beginning of his public career.

14. John forbade him.—John’s objection to baptizing Jesus shows clearly that he believed him to be the Coming One whom he had predicted, although he had not witnessed the final proof of this fact, which was the descent of the Holy Spirit on him after his baptism. (John 1:33-34.) The baptism which he needed from Jesus was evidently that in the Holy Spirit.

15. thus it becometh us.—In his reply Jesus acknowledges some force in John’s objection. By the term now, "suffer it to be so now," he intimates that the appearance of inferiority to John was to be but temporary. The specific reason for which he submitted to baptism is then given. Baptism had two aspects: it was an act in connection with which remission of sins took place, and it was an act of obedience to a positive command of God. In its latter aspect it was incumbent on Jesus as a Jew, though he needed not the promised remission of sins. If he had neglected it he would have fallen thus far short of perfect righteousness, and this defect would have clung to him to the end of life. What is true of Jesus in this particular is certainly true of other men; so that even if we could in our thoughts divest baptism of its connection with remission of sins, it would still be an act of obedience the neglect of which would be a sin.

16. out of the water.—The preposition here rendered out of (ἀπὸ) means from. It is frequently used where the motion is out of, e. g., Matthew 2:1; Matthew 3:13; Matthew 7:4; Matthew 12:43; Matthew 13:1; Matthew 14:13; Matthew 14:29; but in such cases it is from the circumstances and not from the preposition alone that this fact is ascertained. It here designates the departure from the water after he had come out of it, and should be rendered from. In Mark, according to the corrected Greek text, we have ἔκ, and the parallel there is correctly rendered "coming up out of the water." (Mark 1:10.)

he saw the Spirit.—The statement that he saw the Spirit descending, which is also the language of Mark (Mark 1:10), has been taken by some as implying that the Spirit was invisible to the multitude. But we know from John’s narrative that it was also seen by John the Baptist (John 1:33-34): and if it was visible to him and to Jesus, and if it descended, as Luke affirms, in a bodily shape like a dove (Luke 3:22), it would have required a miracle to hide it from the multitude. Moreover, the object of the Spirit’s visible appearance was to point Jesus out, not to himself, but to others; and to point him out as the person concerning whom the voice from heaven was uttered. No doubt, then, the Spirit was visible and the voice audible to all who were present.

17. a voice from heaven.—The voice from heaven gave expression to two distinct thoughts: First, That Jesus was God’s beloved Son; Second, That in him—that is, in him as entering now on the work of human redemption—God was well pleased. It gave a pledge that the mediatorial work of Christ would be accepted on the part of God.

Argument of Section 4

In this section Matthew presents two more proofs of the claims of Jesus. He shows, first, that he was attested by John, himself a prophet, as the one mightier than himself, who should baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire—which was equivalent to declaring him the Messiah. Second, he shows that Jesus was declared both by the Father and by the Holy Spirit to be the Son of God—the Father uttering the words, and the Holy Spirit pointing out the person. Thus again, in a single section of his narrative, our author exhibits both the Messiahship and the Sonship of Jesus.

The Baptism of Jesus - Matthew 3:13-17

Open It

1. What are some initiation rites or affiliation procedures that organizations make new members go through?

2. Why are transfers of power in some governments fragile?

3. How would you feel if the world’s leading, most renowned expert in your field publicly solicited your help?

Explore It

4. Where did Jesus come from? Why? (Matthew 3:13)

5. Why did Jesus leave Galilee and travel to the Jordan River? (Matthew 3:13)

6. How did John react to Jesus’ request? (Matthew 3:14)

7. What exactly did John say to Jesus? (Matthew 3:14)

8. How did Jesus respond to John’s reluctance? (Matthew 3:15)

9. Why was it important for John to comply with Jesus’ request? (Matthew 3:15)

10. What change took place in heaven after the baptism of Jesus? (Matthew 3:16)

11. How did the Spirit of God play a role in the baptism of Jesus? (Matthew 3:16)

12. What was the Spirit’s appearance? (Matthew 3:16)

13. What kind of voice was heard at the baptism of Jesus? (Matthew 3:17)

14. What was the relationship between Jesus and the Father? (Matthew 3:17)

15. What did God the Father say about Jesus? (Matthew 3:17)

Get It

16. Why do you think John felt awkward about baptizing Jesus?

17. In what ways are many Christians concerned about "proper" behavior and striving for righteousness?

18. What does this passage show about God’s triune nature?

19. What do we tell the world by being baptized?

20. If God spoke in an audible voice about you today, what might He say?

21. What pleases God?

22. How are you able to please God?

Apply It

23. What could you do today for Christ out of obedience and respect for Him?

24. What needs to change this week in order for you to see the Spirit of God work in and through your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 3". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/matthew-3.html.
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