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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 3

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Verses 1-17


Matthew 3:1-12

THE HERALD. His public appearance and proclamation (Matthew 3:1, Matthew 3:2), as foretold by Scripture (Matthew 3:3). His Elijah-like dress (Matthew 3:4). He is listened to by multitudes (Matthew 3:5, Matthew 3:6). His faithful warning to typical Jews, and his pointing not to himself, but to the Coming One (Matthew 3:7-12). The date at which he appeared is stated, in Luke 3:1, to have been "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; i.e. between August, a.d. 28, and August, a.d. 29".

Matthew 3:1

In those days; and in those days (Revised Version). Probably merely contrasting those past days of the beginning of the gospel with the present, when the evangelist wrote (cf. Matthew 24:19, Matthew 24:22, where the days yet future are contrasted with those present). In Mark 1:9 the expression is used directly of the Lord's baptism. And (Revised Version); δέ; Hebrew usage taking up the narrative (of. Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; Ruth 1:1; Esther 1:1). Came; cometh (Revised Version); historic present (cf. Matthew 2:19); παραγίνεται, here equivalent to "come forward publicly," make one's public appearance (cf. especially Luke 12:51; Hebrews 9:11; also especially 1 Mace. 4:46; also infra, Hebrews 9:13 and Matthew 2:1). John; Johanan. The name occurs first as that of a high priest in, apparently, the days of Rehoboam (1 Chronicles 6:9,1 Chronicles 6:10, Authorized Version). "The Lord is gracious" was a fitting title for one born by the special grace of God, and sent to be the herald of his grace to all men (Titus 2:11). The Baptist.

(1) The Jews were far from having attained the simplicity of our present system, by which each person has both a family and a Christian name, and is thus designated with sufficient exactness for all the ordinary purposes of life. Their custom of name-giving was, and still largely is, as follows:

(a) A Hebrew name is given to the child at circumcision. This is the holy name, and is used at all strictly religious ceremonies; e.g. when called to read the Law in the synagogue.

(b) Each person has a name whereby he is known among the Gentiles. This is, at the present time, the name used for business and social purposes, and may be either Hebrew or of some ether language. It is usually connected, either in sound or meaning, with the holy name. So Paul and Saul, Didymus and Thomas.

(c) He may have, either as well as or instead of the last, a name which designates him more exactly

(α) by mentioning his father or some other relation; e.g. Bartimaeus, Barsabbas (probably);

(β) by mentioning some physical, mental, moral, or other peculiarity; e.g. James the Little, Simon the Zealot, Barnabas (the son of exhortation), and, from non-biblical authors, James the Just, Rabbi Judah the Holy, Samuel the Astronomer, John the Shoemaker.

The title "the Baptist" belongs, of course, to this last class, and must have been given him partly because of the number of persons whom he baptized, and still more because baptism was the visible and external aim and result of his preaching.

(2) What was there new in John's baptism? In considering this it must be remembered that

(a) dipping in water had been commanded in the Law as a religious rite to priests (Exodus 30:20; Exodus 40:12; of. Le Exodus 8:6) on their first consecration to their office, and on each occasion that they fulfilled the holiest parts of their duties (cf. the sprinklings of the Levites on their consecration, Numbers 8:5-22); and to all Israelites in eases of ceremonial uncleanness (Le John 14:8; Numbers 19:13).

(b) It was very frequent among the Essenes.

(c) It was, we can hardly doubt, already customary at the admission of proselytes. There are, indeed, no certain allusions in Josephus, Philo, and the older Targumists (cf. Leyrer, in Cremer, s.v. βαπτίζω) to the baptism of proselytes properly so called; but

(α) it is distinctly mentioned in the Mishna, and in such a way as to imply that it was an ancient custom, for the schools of both Shammai and Hillel assume it as a matter of course ('Pes,' 8.8);

(β) as with books, so with customs, acceptance in two bodies originally one, as the Jewish and Christian Churches were, throws back the book or custom before the date of the separation. In other words, it is most improbable that Jews would only have begun to practise baptism at the admission of proselytes after it had been practised by a body which had separated from them. Jews would not be likely to adopt the distinguishing rite of Christians.

(d) Thus already, before John's time, baptism was largely practised as a symbol of purification from sin and of entrance on a new and holier life. Wherein, then, lay the distinguishing feature of John's baptism? Apparently in its being extended to all Israelites, without their having any personal ceremonial hindrance, and more particularly in the special aim and purpose to which it now referred. It signified the entrance upon a new life of expectation of Messiah. As of old, the nation had accepted the offer of God's kingdom, and, having washed their garments (Exodus 19:10, Exodus 19:14), had been sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:8), so now, when this kingdom, was about to be more fully manifested, not the nation, indeed, considered as a whole, but (in harmony with the individualization of the gospel) those persons who responded to the invitation, came forward and publicly renounced their sins and professed their expectation of the kingdom (Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1.274). It is thus easy to account for the deep and widespread impression made by John the Baptist (cf. Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3), and for the important position that he holds in summaries of the origins of Christianity. John's baptism was treated by our Lord himself as the first stage in his earthly ministry, which culminated in the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), and naturally by the apostles as the historical introduction to the teaching and work of Messiah. Josephus's account of John the Baptist is well known, but too interesting to be omitted. "Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army [by Aretas] came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John that was called the Baptist. For Herod had had him put to death, though he was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for baptism would be acceptable to God, if they made use of it, not in order to expiate some sins, but for the purification of the body, provided that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, as many flocked to him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, fearing that the great influence John had over the people might lead to some rebellion (for the people seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it far best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of his leniency when it should he too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, in consequence of Herod's suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. So the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and was a mark of God's displeasure against him" ('Ant,' 18.5. 2, Shilleto's Whiston). Observe that

(1) Josephus confirms the Gospel account of the extent of John's influence over his countrymen; but

(2) attributes his imprisonment and death to a political, not a moral, cause. It is quite possible, on the one hand, that political reasons were not altogether wanting; and, on the other, that Josephus was ignorant of the more personal and stronger motive of Herod's action. Preaching (κηρύσσων). Unlike εὐαγγελίζομαι this word refers, not to the matter, but to the manner, the openness, of the proclamation. In contrast to the esoteric methods alike of heathen philosophers and of Jewish teachers, whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. The herald proclaims as a herald; cf. Isaiah 40:9 (the original context of our Isaiah 40:3); Genesis 41:43 (LXX.). In the wilderness. By this term is not necessarily meant absolute desert, but "des lieux pen habites ou non cultives". The very place in which John preached was part of the symbolism of his whole life. The expectation of Messiah must lead to separation, but separation deeper than that of those who called themselves the "separated'' (Pharisees). Of Judea. The exact expression comes elsewhere only in the title of Psalms 63:1-11, and in Judges 1:16, where it is defined as "in the south of Arad." It seems that, while different parts of the rugged district from Jericho southwards (Joshua 16:1), immediately on the west and north of the Dead Sea, had their distinctive titles—the wilderness of Siph (1 Samuel 23:1-29. 1 Samuel 23:14, 1 Samuel 23:15), of Maon (1 Samuel 23:24), of Engedi (1 Samuel 24:1), of Jeruel (2 Chronicles 20:16), of Tekoa (2 Chronicles 20:20)—the whole district was, as belonging to the tribe and even more certainly to the kingdom and province of Judah, known by the name of "the wilderness of Judaea." According to tradition, John was now preaching near Jericho. We find him soon after this at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28), and later still at tenon, near Salim, in, or on the borders of, Samaria (John 3:23)."

Matthew 3:2

And (omitted by the Revised Version) saying. The parallel passages give the substance of John's preaching—the baptism of repentance. St. Matthew takes, as it seems, a sentence that actually fell from his lips, and presents it as the kernel of his message ("preaching … saying"). This is the more interesting as nowhere else are we told any words uttered by him in this the first stage of his ministry before crowds flocked to hear him. Repent ye … at hand; said word for word by our Lord (Matthew 4:17, note). Repent ye (μετανοεῖτε) The word expresses the central thought of true repentance, in speaking, as it does, of a change of mind. Contrast μεταμέλεσθαι (Matthew 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10). As such it goes deeper than the Old Testament summons "Turn ye" (ובוש), or the rabbinic הבושת, for it points out in what part of man the alteration must be. It is noticeable that the LXX. never, as it seems, translate בוש by μετανοῖν, but often מחן (of man only in Jeremiah 8:6; Jeremiah 31:19; and possibly Joel 2:14; cf. 1 Samuel 15:29), which refers to repentance as a matter of feeling. As Messiah was coming, it was only natural that John should urge repentance. Similarly, we find late Jewish writers expounding Genesis 1:2, "'And the Spirit of God was moving [on the face of the waters].' This is the Spirit of King Messiah, like that which is said in Isaiah 11:2, 'And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.' By what kind of merit does it draw near and come? It says, 'upon the face of the waters.' By the merit of repentance, which is compared to water, as it is written (Lain. Isaiah 2:19), 'Pour out thy heart like water'" ('Bresh. R.,' § 2). But, unfortunately, they assign far too legal a meaning to the word, and their phrase, "do repentance" (הבושת השע), becomes almost identical with the "do penance" (poenitentiam agite, Vulgate) of the Roman Catholics. For the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 3:3

For. The reason for John's appearance and proclamation lies in prophecy. This is he that was spoken of (οὗτος γὰρ ἐστιν ὁῥηθείς). In John 1:23 the following quotation is uttered by the Baptist himself, and some commentators have supposed this to be the case also here. But

(1) this is against the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

(2) The form of the expression in John arises directly from the context.

(3) In the Baptist's mouth the neuter (τοῦτο … τον) rather than the masculine would have been more natural. The expression is doubtless that of the evangelist, suggested to him by John's own utterance, the "is" (ἐστιν) expressing John's permanent character. Contrast εἶχεν ἦν, (verse 4) of his clothing and food. [He that was] spoken of. The expression means, not a mere reference found in Isaiah, but the absolute content of the prophet's words. The utterance of God by means of the prophet is—John the:Baptist. The Prophet Esaias; Isaiah the prophet (Revised Version); the commoner Greek order (but cf. Luke 4:17). The voice, etc. (except "his" for "our God," from the LXX. of Isaiah 40:8). The Hebrew probably joins "in the wilderness" with "prepare ye," but St. Matthew with "crying" (cf verse 1, "preaching in the wilderness," as probably the LXX.) In Isaiah the original meaning of the passage was probably, "prepare for the return to Jerusalem." The figure is that of the common and necessary process in semi-civilized countries of repairing roads before a great personage comes along them. Zechariah had; years before, applied the similar expression in Malachi 3:1 to his son. (For a metaphor like in kind, but with contrasted meaning, of. Galatians 5:7, ἐκόπτειν, breaking up a road to render it impassable.) Paths (τρίβους). According to Philo, the word is equivalent to "a carriage-road" (ἱππήλατος καὶ ἁμαξήλατος ὁδός, vide in Wetstein). It is thus equivalent to the Hebrew (m'sillah, "a highway," "a made road"). Possibly the plural was employed by the LXX. rather than the singular of the original, from their interpreting the passage, not of the return of the Lord to Palestine, but his coming into many hearts.

Matthew 3:4

With this verse we begin to meet with matter peculiar to Matthew and Mark. And the same John (αὐτὸς δὲ ὁἸωάνης).

(1) If the Revised Version "Now John himself," holds good, the phrase seems to mean that not only did Isaiah speak of him in terms that implied that he was the forerunner of Messiah, the true Elijah (Mark 1:2), but also he himself had his very food and dress consistent with his office.

(2) But it is safer, with Thayer's 'Grimm' (Isaiah 1:2, a), to take αὐτός as merely recalling the person before mentioned. "Now he, whom I spoke of, John" (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:30). Had; during all that time (εἶχεν). His habitual dress, etc., was as follows. Of (ἀπό) camel's hair. Not, as Dgr Old Lat. a in the parallel passage in Mark, δέῤῥην, pellem, "a camel's hide," but coarse cloth made from the hair. So probably," hairy man" (2 Kings 1:8; el. Zechariah 13:4). And a leathern girdle. Probably of sheep or goatskin, worn over the garment. Mentioned because

(1) it formed another point of similarity to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8);

(2) girdles were frequently very costly (cf. Smith's 'Dict. of Bible,' 1:701). Every part of John the Baptist's dress was for use, not ornament. And his meat; food (Revised Version); τροφή, not βρῶμα. He cared not what he ate, but what nourished and supported him. Was. The right order of the words (ἡδὲ τροφὴ ἦν αὐτοῦ) lays slightly more stress on the continuance of this mode of life. Locusts. Used for food in the East from the remotest times until now. Four kinds are permitted in Le Mark 11:22. "The wings and legs are torn off, and the remainder is sprinkled with salt, and either boiled or eaten roasted" (Meyer). They are mentioned in Talm. Bab., 'Ab. Zar.,' 4.0 b, as being sold after preservation in wine. The word ἀκρίδες forbids the identification of these locusts with the pods of the carob, or locust tree, such as the prodigal son would fain have eaten. It seems that Jewish Christians of Essene and therefore vegetarian tendencies read ἐγκρίδες (cakes) here. Such at least is the most natural meaning, accepted by Epiphanius, of a quotation which he gives from the Ebionite Gospel according to the Hebrews (vide Tischendorf, in loc.) And wild honey. This apparently simple phrase is, notwithstanding, of doubtful interpretation.

(1) Probably the honey of wild bees. This is still to be found in trees and rocks, and must have been much more common before the greater part of the timber was cut down (cf. Judges 14:8; 1 Samuel 14:25; Psalms 81:16). Bee-keeping was a favourite pursuit of the Essenes, and the Talmud has frequent notices of hives and the methods of taking bees, etc. (vide Hamburger, 'Real-Encyc,' 1. s.v. "Biene"). Hence the need for the addition of some such epithet as "wild," although there seems to be no independent parallel instance of the exact word used (ἄργιον); cf. Pliny's "mel silvestre."

(2) Possibly "tree-honey", a sweet vegetable juice obtained from dates (vide Josephus, infra) and grapes (as probably in Genesis 43:11; Ezekiel 27:17), and perhaps directly from wild trees, such as the manna ash and the tamarisk. So distinctly Suidas. "The forerunner ate locusts and wild honey, which is gathered together from the trees, and is commonly called manna." Diodorus Siculus (b.c. 8) seems to use the epithet "wild" (ἄγριον) to distinguish this vegetable honey from that commonly in use. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 4.8. 3) states that in the plain watered by the fountain of Jericho, "there are many sorts of palm trees watered by it, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey (μέλι δαψιλὸς ἀνιᾶσιν), not much inferior to other honey. This country withal produces honey from bees (καὶ μελιττοτρόφος δερα)." But the former interpretation seems the more probable.

Matthew 3:5

Then. Not merely temporal, as probably in Matthew 3:13, but almost consequential, "thereupon"; so also Matthew 3:15; Matthew 2:7, Matthew 2:16. John's preaching and manner of life were not without effect. Went out; ἐξεπορεύετο (similar in the parallels). Our Lord, when referring to this (Matthew 11:7, Matthew 11:8, Matthew 11:9), uses the commoner ἐξήλθατε, merely indicating the crowds leaving for a while their present surroundings. The synoptists here point rather to the trouble involved and the distance traversed. The singular is used (as often in the Hebrew) because the writer's first thought was of Jerusalem; the other parts were added as an afterthought. All (cf. Matthew 8:34); i.e. from all parts and in large numbers. Judaea. Strictly speaking, this would, of course, include part of the next expression, but the reference here is especially to the hill-country. And all the region round about Jordan; i.e. the inhabitants of the Ghor, the Jordan valley. They presumably came from either side of the river. "Strabo, concerning the plain bordering on Jordan, hath these words: It is a place of an hundred furlongs, all well watered, and full of dwellings" (John Lightfoot, 'Her. Heb.').

Matthew 3:6

And (they, Revised Version) were baptized. The Revised Version probably desires to call attention to the change in the verb from singular to plural. In Jordan; in the river Jordan (Revised Version, with manuscripts). So also parallel passage in Mark. By him; i.e. their baptism was not self-imposed, but an act of submission to his teaching, and of acceptance of his message. The forerunner saw results, not merely in crowds of listeners, but in external actions. By him (contrast John 4:2). Confessing their sins; i.e. in at least some detail; cf. Josephus, 'Ant.,' 8.4. 6, "confessing their sins and their transgressions of the laws of their country (ἐξομολογουμένων τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν καὶ τὰς τῶν πατρίων νομίμων παραβάσεις);" also Acts 19:18, "confessing and declaring their deeds" (cf. James 5:16).

Matthew 3:7-12

The faithful warning. (Parallel passage: Luke 3:7-9, Luke 3:16, Luke 3:17.) Observe that this is before the baptism of our Lord, while the witness in John 1:19-27 is after.

Matthew 3:7

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The typical Jews, considered as one class (τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων), in contrast to the multitudes. Pharisees. Their characteristic is shown in their name, "Separatists;" i.e. from anything that would hinder exact obedience to the Mosaic Law. Hence they are the strict adherents of tradition. They ultimately gained the ascendancy, and, in consequence, the standard Jewish books represent the result of their teaching, They belonged almost entirely to the middle classes. Sadducees. They were chiefly of the noblest, especially the high-priestly, families. Hence their first thought was political quiet, and with this they not unnaturally combined the love of Greek culture. They set the plain meaning of the Law far above all tradition, even that of the Prophets and the Hagiographa. Come (Obtains, Revised Version) to his baptism; ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα (omit αὐτοῦ). They were apparently not merely coming to see what took place, but with the purpose of receiving his baptism (cf. Thayer, ἐπί c. Matthew 1:2, g. γ aa.); cf. Matthew 26:50 (ἐφ δ); Luke 23:48. The marginal reading, however, proposed by the American Revisers "for baptism," does not do justice to the article. The Gospel according to the Hebrews says that they were in fact baptized, but we can hardly suppose this to have been the case after John's words to them. Observe that the Pharisees, with their self-conscious sanctity, were hardly likely to come to confess their sins, or the Sadducees to even listen to so ascetic a teacher. He said unto them; i.e. to the Pharisees and Sadducees; Luke, less exactly, "to the multitudes that went out to be baptized of him." There is, indeed, nothing, save the opening sentence, which refers solely to the Pharisees and Sadducees; but this fact does not show (Bleek) that the words were really spoken to all, and that Matthew's expression is wrong. John doubtless addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees primarily; but as, after all, they only formed the apex of ordinary Jewish thought, what he said to them fitted also the majority of his listeners. O generation (ye offspring, Revised Version) of vipers! The simile not only expresses the thought that, behind their smooth exterior, the outward legal strictness of the Pharisees, and the worldly decorum of the Sadducees, lay hidden malice and venom, but also that this is due to their very nature. It may have directly implied that they belonged in a true sense to the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); of. our Lord's words (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33). Who hath (omitted by the Revised Version) warned you? The verb (ὑπέδειξεν) has elsewhere in the New Testament (St. Luke's writings only) no thought of warning, nor of secrecy, but of teaching, of placing the matter under the eyes of others (of. especially Acts 9:16; Acts 20:35; Luke 6:47). John is making no inquiry for information, but only utters surprise at seeing them (cf. Matthew 23:33, πῶς φύγητε). Whoever can have told you of your danger? He might have saved himself the trouble, you being what you are! Yet the very violence of his expression was such as to call their attention to the depth of their sinfulness, and after all to lead them perhaps to repentance. For this reason he adds, "Bring forth therefore." To flee; aorist, not exactly indicating "the activity as momentary, setting forth the point of time when the wrath breaks forth, in which the flight also is realized" (Meyer), but the flight as one single action, without any reference to the time of the breaking forth of the wrath. From. The wrath is pictured as coming on them from without. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 St. Paul says that Jesus delivers out of (ἐκ) it, implying that he himself and all men are naturally in and under it (but see Matthew 6:13, note). The wrath to come. Perhaps connected in John's mind with the wrath of the Messianic age (Isaiah 63:3-6). If so, it would find its primary fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, but its complete fulfilment only in the manifestation of the wrath at the last judgment—(Acts 24:25; of. Romans 2:5; Romans 5:9; Revelation 6:16, Revelation 6:17; Revelation 11:18). Wrath. Not merely punishment. The thought is of the feeling of anger against sin in him who punishes it.

Matthew 3:8

Bring forth therefore (vide supra) fruits; fruit (Revised Version). The plural is due to a false reading taken from the parallel passage of Luke—it regards the various graces of a good life as so many different fruits (Matthew 21:43); the singular, as one product from one source (Galatians 5:22). The term used here (ποιεῖν καρπόν), and frequently, lays more stress on the effort involved than διδόναι καρπόν, simple "yielding" (Matthew 8:8), or φέρειν, "bearing" in the course of nature. The preacher requires a repentance which produces results. Meet for (of. Acts 26:20). Though strictly meaning "suitable to", the phrase might today be understood as "suitable to produce." John really means that true repentance has fruit which belongs to its proper nature, and which is alone "worthy of" it (Revised Version). Repentance (τῆς μετανοίας). The article is either generic (Authorized Version and Revised Version; cf. Acts 11:18 and probably Acts 26:20); or equivalent to "your". If the latter, the following sentence shows that it is still said in good faith. (For repentance, of. verse 1, note.)

Matthew 3:9

And. An additional warning against any false feeling of security based on natural privileges. As this feeling was common to all Jews, the reference to the larger audience (Matthew 3:7, note) was probably begun here. Think not to say. Not do not think, consider, with a view to saying; but do not think it right to say, do not be of opinion you may say (Luke 3:8, "Begin not to say ). St. Luke deprecates the commencement of such an utterance in their heart; S t. Matthew denies its justice. Within yourselves; cf. Esther 4:13 (Hebrew). We have Abraham to our father. As it was recognized on all hands that the promise of blessing was made to Abraham and his seed, it is no wonder that many Jews presumed upon their descent from him, "supposing,", as Justin Martyr says, that the everlasting kingdom will assuredly be given to those who are of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, although they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God." In later times, when the doctrine of merit was more fully established, God could be represented as saying to Abraham, "If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones, thy merit would avail for them" ('Ber. Rabb.,' on Genesis 10:5 :11. § 44, middle). In John's words, on the contrary, we have the germ of the doctrine afterwards Brought out by St. Paul (e.g. Galatians 3:9, Galatians 3:29), that not natural descent, but spiritual relationship by faith, leads to inheriting the promises. The argument in John 8:39, etc., is closely akin to that presented here. In both passages the Jews lay stress on their origin from Abraham; in both the answer is that morally they are sprung from a very different source (supra, John 8:7, note). But in John 8:1-59. the Jews are thinking chiefly of their present state, of not being as sinful as Jesus makes them out to be, while here they are thinking more of the future, that they have no need to take trouble, because promises for the future belong to them. Hence, perhaps, the exact expression (contrast John 8:33), "We have Abraham as father," which brings out the protecting influence of Abraham as still available. For I say unto you (λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν). The solemnity of the phrase (Matthew 6:25, Matthew 6:29; Matthew 8:11; Matthew 11:9) lies in the self-consciousness which it implies. The absence of the ἐγώ shows that the speaker has no desire to bring out his own personality (contrast Matthew 5:22, etc.), but the message only. That God. Not "the LORD," because

(1) the thought is of power rather than of covenant relationship;

(2) he is about to speak of others than members of the covenant nation. Is able of these stones. These; apodeictic (Matthew 4:3). Some have thought that by these stones John directly means certain Gentiles who were standing near; but it is much mere likely that he points to the literal stones at his feet, and with strong hyperbole says that he who once raised up offspring as the stars for multitude from persons as good as dead (Romans 4:19), and who had originally made man of the dust of the earth, can (δύναται), with both physical power and moral right, raise out of the very rawest material a new Israel (cf. Romans 4:17; 1 Corinthians 1:28, "the things that are not"). Raise up. The verb employed (ἐγείρω) is, as it seems, not used in the LXX. with reference to natural generation, but ἀνίστημι (cf. Genesis 38:8, ἐξανίστημι; Genesis 4:25; Genesis 19:32; cf. also Matthew 22:24). It is, however, very suitable here, for while ἀνίστημι regards future worth, ἐγείρω specially contrasts a later with an earlier state (e.g. sleep)—in this case the nature of children with the insensibility of stones. Children. The new Israel would possess, not merely Abraham's privileges, but his nature and character (τέκνα), in which you to whom I now speak are so deficient.

Matthew 3:10

And now also; Revised Version, and even now. "And" (δὲ), slightly adversative. In contrast to the delay supposed in Matthew 3:9 a, preparations have already been made for your destruction. The axe is laid; Revised Version, is the axe laid; bringing out more emphatically its present position. The American Revisers propose, "the axe lieth at," avoiding the suggestion of an agent; but κεῖμαι often implies one, being used of vessels set ready for use; e.g. John 2:6; John 19:29 (cf. Revelation 4:2). Unto (πρὸς); brought near to (Thayer, s.v., 1.2, a). Therefore. The axe is lying there, therefore every useless tree is sure to be cut down (cf. Winer, 40.2, a). Every tree, etc.; even the noblest (Weiss). However good the tree ought to be, from the character of its original stock (you claim to be Abraham's children, John 19:9), yet, if it does not bear good fruit, it is cut down (Matthew 7:19, note). Into the fire (εἰς πῦρ). Not into a fire prepared with a definite purpose, nor into any one fire pictured as burning (Matthew 17:15; cf. τὸ πῦρ, John 15:6), but into fire generally, which may be in many different places. Worthless trees are only for burning. (For thought, cf. Hebrews 6:8.)

Matthew 3:11

(Cf, especially John 1:27; Acts 13:25; also Acts 19:4.) After our Matthew 3:10 St. Luke inserts details of the various kinds of fruit that repentance ought to produce, suggested by the questions of different portions of the Baptist's audience; and then, with an explanatory note that John's words were due to a misconception having arisen that he was himself the Messiah, he adds what we have in verses 11, 12. But even if verses 10-12 were, in fact, not said consecutively, yet their juxtaposition here may be defended by the real connexion between the statements. In verse 10 John has spoken of the present danger of his audience; he therefore now urges repentance, and that in view of the coming of One who will sift them to the uttermost. With water; in, Revised Version margin (ἐν), and so in the second part of the verse. The thought is not of the instrument by which the baptism is effected, but of the element in which it takes place. "In" suggests more complete submergence of the personality. But he that cometh after me. The expression would recall the thought of" the Coming One"—a common designation of Messiah (Matthew 11:3; Matthew 21:9). Is mightier than I. Not in authority (the next clause), nor in honour (John 1:30), but in inherent strength and power. Whose shoes. Though shoes or boots were usual in the winter, at all events later, and probably also now (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1.621), yet sandals are doubtless meant. "In the LXX. and Josephus σανδάλιον (Mark 6:9; Acts 12:8) and ὑπόδημα [here] are used indiscriminately" (Thayer). Worthy. In moral sufficiency (ἱκανός) , and so in the parallels, but (ἄξιος) in moral desert in John 1:27. To bear; complementary to "loosen" in the parallel passages. The duty of slaves of the lowest rank. The distance of superiority here attributed by John to "him that cometh after me," must be reckoned even greater than it usually is; for most of the slaves then held by Jewish masters would not be Jews, but Gentiles. The thought is, "I am further removed from my successor than the meanest Gentile slave is from his Jewish master." Some have seen in this expression a reference to the practice of disciples carrying the shoes of their teachers (Edersheim, 'Life,' 1.272), but this can hardly have been general so early. He. The emphasis is made the more evident by the absence of any connecting particle. Shall baptize you. "The transference of the image of baptism to the impartment of the Holy Spirit was prepared by such passages as Joel 2:28 (Acts 2:17)" (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:33); camp. also Ezekiel 36:25-27, where the symbol of cleansing by water and the gift of the Holy Spirit are closely connected. With the Holy Ghost, and with fire (ἐν Πνεύματιυ Ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί). To the visible John contrasts the invisible, to the symbol of water the reality of the Spirit; adding (here and in the parallel passage in Luke) to this, which forms the main point of the contrast, the thought of Malachi 3:2, purification as by fire; and, by not placing it under the government ,of another preposition (which would have necessitated the conception of it as a distinct element) implying that it is only another aspect of one and the same baptism. It has been questioned, indeed, whether "fire" here refers to the purification of the godly who truly accept the baptism of the Spirit, or to the destruction of the wicked, as in Malachi 3:10, Malachi 3:12. But the thought is one. The Divine presence will in fact, as is recognized by Isaiah (Isaiah 33:14; Isaiah 31:9), be twofold in its working, according as it is yielded to or the reverse. It burns away sin out of the godly, and it consumes the ungodly if they cleave to their sin.

Matthew 3:12

Whose fan. The pronged winnowing-fork which throws up the grain against the wind. The Coming One is to put an end to the present mixture of chaff and corn. He will thoroughly purge the threshing-floor of this world, gathering the good into one safe place, and destroying the evil. The figure of winnowing comes not unseldom in the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 15:7; Jeremiah 51:2), but generally with the sole idea of destruction of the ungodly, not with that of separating so as to also preserve the godly. Is in his hand. The figure is stronger than that in Matthew 3:10, where the instrument was only lying ready to be taken up. But that was an instrument of destruction alone. And he will throughly purge; cleanse (Revised Version); permundo (Vulgate); διακαθαριεῖ, the preposition is intensive, not local. His. Observe the threefold αὐτοῦ, referring to hand, flour, corn—personal agency, sphere, ownership. In the Vatican and some other manuscripts it is found also after "garner;" but this is, perhaps, introduced from the parallel in Luke. Floor; threshing-floor (Revised Version). Not the barn that English-men think of, but an open and level space (for the figure, cf. especially Micah 4:12). Here the threshing-floor is equivalent to the scene of the Lord's operations, i.e. the world, or rather the universe (cf. Epbraem (? Tartan) in Resch, 'Agrapha,' p. 295). The present mixture of good and evil shall be brought to an end. And gather together, from different parts of the threshing-floor, or from intimate association with the chaff, into one heap. All true believers shall finally be brought to perfect unity (cf. Matthew 13:30). His wheat. The term is adopted by Ignatius ('Ram.,' §4): "I am the wheat of God, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread [of Christ]." Into the garner. The final home of the saints, hidden away and safe from all marauders. Garners in the East are generally subterranean vaults or eaves (but cf. Luke 12:18). But will burn up. Utterly consuming it (contrast Exodus 3:2), as the tares (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:40) and the books of magic (Acts 19:19). The chaff. For, as Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 23:28) when comparing a mere dream with a message from the Lord," What is the chaff to the wheat?" The Targum even interprets Jeremiah's words of the wicked and the righteous. The chaff in Jeremiah includes the straw, for in the East everything except the actual grain is generally burnt, and is sometimes used for heating fireplaces (Mishna, 'Sabb.,' 3.1; 'Parah,' Jeremiah 4:3). With unquenchable fire. "Unquenchable" shows that John is here thinking not of the figure of chaff but of the persons figured by it. But what does the word mean? In itself it might mean that the fire cannot be overcome by the greatness or the nature of the mass that it has to consume; i.e., to drop the figure, by either the number or the character at' the wicked. But from its usage it seems rather to be equivalent to not being overcome by the lapse of time. It is used, e.g., of the perpetual fire of Vesta, of the fire of the Magi, of the fire upon the Jewish altar (vide references in Thayer). The whole expression in itself says nothing about the everlasting duration of the punishment; i.e. it does not decide for "everlasting punishment" or for "annihilation," but seems rather to exclude the possibility of amelioration under it (cf. Isaiah 1:31).

Matthew 3:13-17


Matthew 3:13

Then; temporal (Matthew 3:5, note). When John was preaching and baptizing. Cometh (verse 1, note). From Galilee. Mark adds, "from Nazareth of Galilee" (for this is his first historical mention of our Lord), thereby implying that our Lord had lived in Nazareth since our Matthew 2:22, etc. In contrast to the representative teachers from Jerusalem, and the crowds both from there and from the Jordan valley (Matthew 2:5), this Stranger came from Galilee. To Jordan. It is hard to see why the Revised Version inserts "the" here and leaves the Authorized Version unaltered in Matthew 2:5. To be baptized (τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι); Matthew 2:13, note. By him; and no other. Not mere baptism, but baptism at the hands of John, was our Lord's motive for coming. He would link his own work on to that of John (vide infra)

Matthew 3:14

Matthew 3:14 and Matthew 3:15 are peculiar to St. Matthew. But John. In John 1:31, John 1:33 the Baptist says that he knew him not till the descent of the Holy Spirit; i.e. knew him not in his full Messianic character. Here, either by an involuntary and miraculous impression, psychologically due to the previous revelation he had received (cf. Meyer); or, as is on the whole more probable, from his previous knowledge, direct or indirect, of Jesus, he recognizes his superior sanctity. John's inmost thoughts must therefore have been somewhat as follows. "I have come to announce the advent of Messiah; hero is One who is much holier than I; it may be that he is Messiah, but I have no certainty till the sign promised has been vouchsafed." Forbade; would have hindered (Revised Version), for διεκώλυεν, does not in itself imply speech. (For a similar imperfect of that which was not fully carried out, cf. Luke 1:59.) It is noticeable, though doubtless merely as a coincidence, that the strong compound word διακωλύω and βαπτίζομαι also occur together in Judith 12:7. I have need to be baptized of thee. Many see here a reference to the baptism of the Spirit and fire, mentioned in verse 11. But the following clause, "and dost thou come to me?" implies that the baptisms are identical, viz. baptism by water. The sentence is equivalent to "I John, who myself administer the baptism of repentance, need to profess repentance myself, and ought rather, therefore, to receive such a baptism at thy hands, who art so far holier than I" (cf. further Weiss, 'Life,' 1.320).

Matthew 3:15

Suffer it to be so now; suffer it now (Revised Version); "suffer me now"; ἄφες ἄρτι, only here (apparently) in the New Testament quite absolutely, but Matthew 7:4 slightly favours the Revised Version margin. Now; at this special season (ἄρτι); in contrast to the more permanent relation which shall be recognized later. Our Lord thus slightly removes the trial to John's faith, which a mere refusal might have aggravated. Observe the implied consciousness of his Messiah-ship, even before the baptism. Several of the Fathers (vide Meyer) infer from these words that John was afterwards baptized by Jesus; but this is to completely miss the point of the expression. For thus. Not exactly "by this baptism," but" by the spirit of submission in us both, which in this case will issue in my baptism." It becometh (τρέπον ἐστὶν). Not a matter of absolute necessity (δεῖ, Matthew 16:21; Matthew 26:54), nor of absolute duty (ὀφείλω, John 13:14), but of moral fitness (Hebrews 2:10). It befits us, in our respective characters, to perform this sym bolical act. Compare Melchizedek and Abraham; the representative of the cider blesses the representative of the coming age (Luke 16:16). Us; thee and me. To fulfil; here only with "righteousness" (cf. Matthew 5:17). All righteousness (πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην). Not the whole circle of righteousness (πᾶσαν τὴν δικαιοσύνην), but every part of righteous ness, as each is presented to us (similarly, Acts 13:10; cf. also δικαιοσύναι in Ecclesiasticus 44:10; Tobit 2:14, where, although Neubauer and Fuller explain it as "alms." this is improbable after the preceding ἐλεημοσύναι), and that not merely every part of the righteousness included under the Mosaic, Law, but of that wider righteousness of which that was itself only a part and a type. "Let me be baptized by thee now," our Lord says to John, "for it is fitting for us, in this spirit of submission, to fill up every part of righteousness." Our Lord thus pleads for the absolute submission of John and himself to every portion of righteousness as it may be proposed to them by God to perform; his words thus somewhat resembling those to St. Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me" (John 13:8). Thy duty is to baptize, mine to be baptized. It has generally been thought that in this verse our Lord implies that his baptism was to constitute his own formal recognition and acceptance of his distinctly Messianic duties—an act which involved the complete leaving of his past life and the giving himself up to a new and public life (cf. Weiss, 'Life,' 1.322). But have we any evidence that our Lord came to the baptism with this self-consciousness? May he not very well have known that he was to be the Messiah, and yet not have known that his official life was to begin now? May he not have come to the baptism merely as an individual, feeling the deepest interest in this consecration to the cause of the kingdom, notwithstanding the unique position in which he knew himself to stand with regard to that kingdom? But his voluntary consecration of himself for whatever he might be guided to, was the opportunity taken by the Father for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, which had as its immediate consequence the retirement into the wilderness and the decision there come to. May not, in other words, our Lord's descent into Jordan have been, not the first act of his public life, but the last act of his private life—the former then being the withdrawal into the wilderness, in order there to have uninterrupted communion with his Father, and to meet in his official character his great adversary (cf. especially Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:279, etc.)?

Matthew 3:16

And Jesus, when he was baptized. Combining the statements of the synoptists, we may conclude that Jesus went up from the water at once, praying as he went, and that, while he was going up and praying, the heavens opened. Out of; from '(Revised Version); ἀπό; for, as it seems, he had not gone fully out of the water. The heavens were opened unto him. So also the Revised Version, but the Revised Version margin, with Westcott and Herr, rightly omits "unto him." The words were inserted because it was thought that Jesus alone saw the manifestation, as indeed we should have supposed if we had had only the account of St. Mark, who reads, "he saw" before "the heavens being rent asunder" (but of. John 1:32-34). To our Lord and to the Baptist the appearance was as though the sky really opened (cf. Ezekiel 1:1; Acts 7:56). The Spirit of God; recalling Genesis 1:2. "Messiah now enters on his public office, and for that receives, as true Man, the appropriate gifts. The Spirit by whom men are sub jectively united to God descends upon the Word made Flesh, by whom objectively God is revealed to men" (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:32). Like; as (Revised Version). The comparison is hardly to the gentleness of the descent of a dove, but to a visible appearance in bodily form, as a dove (see parallel passage in Luke). Not, of course, that the Holy Spirit was thus at all incarnate, but that either the appearance of a dove was seen by John's eyes only (cf. especially Theodore of Mopsuestia, in Meyer), or, as is not unlikely (even though the suggestion belongs ultimately to Paulus), a dove really flew down and lighted on the Lord (Luke), and that this, to outsiders merely a curious incident (cf. John 12:29), was to our Lord and the Baptist a sign of spiritual blessing. A dove (περιστερά); any member of the pigeon tribe; chosen because a symbol of deliverance (Genesis 8:8), of purity (Le John 5:7), of harmlessness (Matthew 10:16), and of endearment (So John 6:9). There is no evidence (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:287) that the dove was at this period interpreted by Jews as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Targum on So John 2:12 paraphrasing "the voice of the turtle-dove ' by "the voice of the Holy Spirit," dates in its present form from the eighth to the tenth century. The dove mentioned (though probably by interpolation) in the account of Polycarp's death, appears to be a symbol of the soul (cf. Bishop Lightfoot). Wichelhaus (as quoted by Kubel) says suggestively, "lamb and dove—no kingdom in the world has these emblems on its escutcheon." And; omit, with manuscripts. Lighting; coming (Revised Version), because it is needless to translate a common Greek (ἐρχόμενον) by a rare English word. Observe that it refers to the Holy Spirit, not to the dove as such. Upon him.

Matthew 3:17

Lo; peculiar to St. Matthew—a reminiscence of Aramaic diction. A voice. Similarly in Matthew 17:5 (Transfiguration, cf. 2 Peter 1:17, 2 Peter 1:18); John 12:28 (like thunder); [possibly Acts 2:6, Pentecost]; Acts 9:4 (Paul's conversion); Acts 10:13, Acts 10:15 (Peter). Talmudic and rabbinic writings often mention the Bath-Qol as speaking from heaven. The character of the occasions on which the voice is heard in the New Testament on the one hand, and in the Jewish writings on the other, shows the complete difference in the moral aspect of the two voices. The latter is at best little more than a parody of the former. From heaven; out of the heavens (Revised Version), pointing to the phrase in Acts 10:16. Saying. Western authorities add, "unto him," mostly reading the following words in the second person. This is my beloved Son. Very similar if not identical words were spoken at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), Matthew giving precisely the same, Mark and Luke only omitting "in whom I am well pleased," and Luke also reading "chosen" instead of "beloved." It would seem more natural to suppose that the words spoken on the two occasions were really slightly different, and that therefore Matthew is the less accurate. My .. Son (cf. Psalms 2:7). My beloved Son. The expression is probably based on Isaiah 42:1 (cf. infra, Matthew 1:1-25 Matthew 2:18, note); but this does not necessitate the punctuation of the Revised Version margin, and Westcott and Herr margin: "My Son; my beloved in whom," etc.; Ephesians 1:6.) In whom I am well pleased; rather, in whom I have delight (cf. Isaiah 62:4, Authorized Version). The tense (εὐδόκησα) is equivalent to "my delight" fell on him, he became the object of my love" (Winer, 40:5, b, 2). The Spirit came, the Father bore witness. "Thus the Baptist receives through a revelation the certainty of the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus the reader learns that the Son of David, who through his birth (Ephesians 1:1-23.) and the fortunes of his childhood (Ephesians 2:1-22.) was certified as the Messiah, now also is announced to the last of the prophets as the Son of God, to whom Jehovah, in Psalms 2:7, etc., had promised the Messianic dominion of the world" (Weiss, 'Matthaus-Evang.'). Yet not only so; the words probably revealed to the Lord Jesus himself more of his exact relationship to the Father than he had before as Man realized. Such an assurance of his true nature, and of the Father's delight in him, would be of essential service in strengthening him for his work (cf. Matthew 17:5). There are two other matters connected with our Lord's baptism recorded by tradition -additional words spoken, and an additional sign given. The words spoken are found in "Western" authorities of Luke 3:22, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee," evidently with a desire to emphasize the application of the second psalm. The additional sign is the light or fire. The simplest form of this is (Tatian's 'Diatessaron,' edit. Zahn), "A light rose upon the waters;" and in the Ebionite Gospel apud Epiph., "Immediately a great light shone round about the place;" more fully in Justin Martyr ('Trypho,' § 88), "When Jesus had gone down into the water, fire was kindled in the Jordan;" also in a now lost 'Pred. Paul,' "When he was being baptized, fire was seen upon the water;" and in the Cod. Vercellensis of the Old Latin, "When he was being baptized, an immense light shone round from the water, so that all who had come thither were afraid." Although there is no intrinsic objection to this symbol having taken place, it is very improbable that in this case the evangelists would not have recorded it. The legend may have arisen from Luke 3:11, or, and more probably, from an endeavour to make the baptism parallel to the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2); cf. Ephraem, in Resch, "John drew near and worshipped the Son, whose form an unwonted lustre surrounded."


Matthew 3:1-12

The forerunner.


1. His sudden appearance. It is the first mention of John the Baptist in St. Matthew's Gospel. He flashes upon us suddenly, like his prototype Elijah in the Old Testament. St. Luke tells us of his birth, of his solitary life: he "was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel." Now the time was come. "In those days," St. Matthew says, while the Lord was still at Nazareth, living a family life with brethren and sisters—the children, in all probability, of Joseph by a former marriage—taking his share in the family duties, labouring with his hands to support his virgin mother;—in those days, while the Lord was still unknown, unrecognized, in the world that was made by him, comes John the Baptist.

2. His preaching.

(1) "Repentance." The word means properly a change of mind, an inner, spiritual change. It is the first note of warning in the New Testament, the first practical exhortation addressed generally to all men—the first sermon in the First Gospel. St. John, indeed, belonged rather to the Law than to the gospel. He was the embodiment of the Old Testament, as Christ is the embodiment of the New. But he was preparing the way of the Lord, announcing the kingdom that was coming; therefore he preached repentance. A mighty change must come over all who are to be true citizens of that kingdom, fellow-citizens with the saints. All needed that great change. The Sadducees must lay aside their false doctrine, their worldliness, their indifference; the Pharisees must be set free from their formalism, their hypocrisy, their self-righteousness. All who would receive the Christ, who would come to him for peace and for salvation, must alike repent. Old things must pass away; all things must become new; indifference must make way for devotion, selfishness for self-sacrifice, the love of the world for the holy love of God,. This is the blessed change of repentance, the great need of every human soul.

(2) The kingdom of heaven. The Hebrew nation had been the kingdom of God, the theocracy. But Daniel had prophesied a kingdom' that should fill the whole earth, that should never be destroyed an ever-lasting dominion that should not pass away. That kingdom came from heaven; its government, its laws, its modes of life and thought and worship, are those of heaven; the great commonwealth of which the saints are citizens is now (ὑπάρχει) centred in heaven (Philippians 3:20); it looks to heaven as its home, its proper country; it shall be established there when the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. It is the great Church of Christ, the congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world. It was at hand, not yet come, but very near. Those who would be true citizens of that heavenly kingdom must repent; they must die unto sin, they must receive the consecration of a new and higher life. It is true still as it was then, "Except ye be converted,… ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

3. His description.

(1) By the prophet. He was a voice. John himself applied that description to himself (John 1:23). Be was not the Christ, he said, not Elias, not that prophet; he was but a voice. Humility was one of his most striking characteristics. It was scarcely to be looked for in a man of his stern, severe character. In such a one you would expect unworldliness, self-sacrifice, austere self-control; but scarcely that deep, sincere humility which marked the holy Baptist. The power of God's Spirit can unite in one personality graces which seem almost incompatible. "He must increase, but I must decrease," he said afterwards. He had been famous while Christ was still unknown. He was willing to be forgotten so that Christ should be glorified; nay, in his Utter self-forgetfulness, he rejoiced with joy in the overshadowing glory of the greater Prophet. He is an example to all Christian preachers. He was only a voice—the voice of one crying. His preaching was powerful, aggressive, energetic; the voice was loud and strong. His self-forgetfulness, the intensity of his conviction, gave strength to his preaching. It was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, not in great cities, not in the crowded haunts of men. God sets his ministers sometimes in what seems to them a wilderness; they must work there, where he has placed them; each must do his best in that station to which God has called him. The voice must sound everywhere—in the quiet country and in the great city, in the cottage and in the palace. God sends his ministers where it pleases him; they must accept the leadings of his providence. "Here am I; send me," is the trustful answer of the obedient Christian. But what was the cry? "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Isaiah's words, it may be, referred in their primary sense to the return from the Captivity. The Lord of hosts was about to lead his people back; he goeth before them. A high way through the desert must be made for the great King; every valley must be exalted, every mountain and hill made low. But they had a deeper meaning, a more august fulfilment. The Lord, the incarnate God, was coming now. The proud heart must be abased; the hands that hang down, the feeble knees, must be lifted up; the path must be made straight;. there must be no wavering, no inconsistency, no crooked designs, but a simple, straightforward, decided readiness to receive the coming Saviour. He was at hand; soon he would knock at the door; the gates must be lifted up; the hearts of men must be prepared to welcome and to admit the Lord of glory.

(2) By the evangelist. He was an ascetic; he wore the rough garment of the prophet; like Elijah, he was a hairy man. He was a Nazarite; his unshorn locks waved rough and long in the wind; he drank neither wine nor strong drink; his food was of the commonest, that which the desert supplied—locusts and wild honey, the food of the very poor. He was a very high saint of God, but a saint of the Old Testament type rather than of the New; suited for the times, as Elijah had been; greater than any who had preceded him. But, our Lord has told us, "he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."


1. The multitudes. There was great excitement. It was a time of eager expectation. John's character, his asceticism, his strange, solitary life, his stern, awful, heart-stirring preaching, commanded attention. Multitudes went out to listen to him—"Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan." The wilderness was lonely no more; it was filled with thronging crowds. There was an attraction not to be resisted in his preaching. Men could not but come; they could not but listen. Alas! they did not, most of them, repent. To the many he was what Ezekiel had been in his time, "a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument;" for they heard his words, but they did them not.

2. They were baptized of him in Jordan. He preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. John baptized with water; Christ, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John's baptism was a preparatory rite; Christ's baptism was a sacrament of regeneration, the one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). John's baptism was unto repentance; Christ's baptism was into Christ. John's baptism was incomplete; it was not baptism with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13); it did not remove the necessity of Christian baptism (Acts 19:5). But it was a holy rite, performed in accordance with the Divine command (John 1:33), symbolical, like the purifications under the Law, of that spiritual cleansing which the sinful heart needs, and consecrated at last by the example of the Lord Jesus himself.

3. Their confession. The Greek word seems to imply that the confession was complete, not a mere general acknowledgment of sinfulness, but a special confession of definite sins. John's baptism was unto repentance; confession was the preliminary, the pledge of that repentance without which the baptism was an empty sign. God requires confession of us, not necessarily to man, but to himself. There is no word of Holy Scripture more precious than that gracious promise, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."


1. They came to his baptism. It was strange—the Pharisees came with their intense sectarianism, their hollow formalism; the Sadducees with their indifference, their unbelief. But they came; the power of John's preaching, the attraction of his character and ascetic life, the widespread excitement, drew them with the multitudes who flocked to the banks of Jordan. So people come now in crowds to hear a great preacher; but, alas! often their hearts are not touched. They listen, but they are not converted. Did they seek to be baptized? We might have thought that they were drawn to John only by curiosity, but the Greek preposition seems to imply that they sought baptism at his hands. We cannot tell their motive. Perhaps it was simply the strong current of public opinion; they came because others came; as, alas! many come to church nowadays. Perhaps it was the desire to stand well in the sight of the people, who all regarded John as a prophet. Certainly it was not the right motive. John was unwilling to receive them; they were unfit for his baptism; they wanted the baptism only, not the repentance; the putting away of the filth of the flesh, not the inquiry of a good conscience after God; they did not feel the need of that change of heart which was the necessary preparation for the coming kingdom. Probably John refused to receive them. St. Luke tells us (Luke 7:30) that the Pharisees generally were not baptized of him.

2. His address.

(1) He rebukes them. Mark his unsparing severity. He was no flatterer. The high places in the Church were then in the hands of the Sadducees. The Pharisees had great influence; men revered them for their supposed sanctity; they were the recognized guides of public opinion. But John had no soft words for them. It is painful to Christians to speak sternly; but sometimes holy sternness is necessary, sometimes it is a bounden duty. It is never more necessary than in the case of those who have deluded themselves into the belief that they are righteous men, while their religion is mere formalism, hypocrisy, outside pretence. John called them a generation of vipers, offspring of vipers; our Lord used the same strong words afterwards. They were like the serpent in Genesis-cunning, deceitful; dangerous; all the more so, because they hid their venom under the appearance of godliness. The Baptist distrusted them: "Who hath warned you?" he said. He had not expected that such as they would seek his baptism. He knew the hardness of their hearts, the hollowness of the formalism to which they had enslaved themselves, their pride and confidence in their exclusive privileges. Nothing short of a miracle, he thought, could arouse them. They knew, indeed, that there was wrath to come; but they supposed it was reserved for the Gentiles, and that they, the seed of Abraham, were safe. Could it be that God's Holy Spirit had touched even those proud zealots, and softened even those stony hearts? Nothing is impossible with God. If he bears with hardened sinners, his ministers may well bear with them. Therefore

(2) he counsels them. They must show the sincerity of their repentance by bringing forth the fruit of a holy life—fruit worthy of the repentance which they professed. John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is a change of heart and thought; such a change must manifest itself in a renewed, a consecrated life. They must not trust in their descent from Abraham. God could raise up children to Abraham from the very pebbles that lay in the bed of Jordan. He would gather Gentile believers in crowds into his Church. They would become heirs of the faith of Abraham, true children of that father of many nations, in whose seed all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. We must always be on our guard against putting our trust in external privileges. Those privileges may be very great, very precious helps; but they are only helps toward the spiritual life; they are not the life itself. We must not dare to despise others who seem destitute of our privileges, but rather strive always to show, by increasing holiness of life, that we value and use the blessings which have been conferred upon us. And

(3) he warns them. Judgment was coming. Only holiness of heart and life could endure the searching eye of God. His baptism would not help them unless they brought forth fruit worthy of repentance. The Judge was already in the world. John was nothing in comparison with him—not worthy to do him the most menial service. And as John was inferior to the coming Saviour, so was his baptism inferior to the Lord's baptism. John baptized with water; Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. The baptism which Christ afterwards ordained was a baptism of water, but not of water only; it was a laver of regeneration, a new birth of water and of the Spirit, a baptism into Christ by the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). And he was to baptize with fire. The prophecy was literally fulfilled on the great Day of Pentecost; but its meaning is not exhausted in that first fulfilment. Christ baptized with fire not only then; he baptizes with the Holy Ghost, not only in the sacrament which he ordained. There is a more precious baptism yet; the perpetual baptism of the blessed Spirit's presence, a true baptism with fire—the fire of holy love and sacred energy, which spring from that Divine indwelling. This is the baptism which we must seek and pray for with all the power of our spirit, the only baptism which can help us in the great day, the baptism which distinguishes the saved from the lost, the wheat from the chaff. We must seek it all the more earnestly because he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost is also the Judge, the awful Judge of quick and dead. He will gather the wheat into his garner; he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.


1. Repent. See that your repentance is deep and true, a real change of heart; for only the children of repentance are children of the kingdom.

2. Imitate John the Baptist in his self-denial, in his ardent zeal, in his deep humility.

3. Trust not in external privileges; see that your religion is true—not words, not forms, not mere excitement, but a real active principle of life.

4. Think of the awful fire of judgment; pray for the refining fire of the gracious Spirit.

Matthew 3:13-17

The baptism of Jesus.


1. He was made sin for us, though he was without sin. He came to be baptized; it was the purpose of his coming He would not have come that long journey from Galilee to Bethany beyond Jordan unless there had been some grave reason, some necessity, some deep meaning in his baptism. It was the baptism of repentance; he needed no repentance. It was accompanied with confession of sin; he could not confess, for he had no sin. But God had sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh; in some deep, mysterious sense "he was made sin for us." He bore the sin that was not his own. Therefore, as he submitted in his infancy to the rite of circumcision; as his mother, after the birth of the sinless Child, went through the ordinary purification; so now when he was about to begin his ministry, the Most Holy One came to the baptism of repentance. It seemed to John strange, unsuitable. He felt his own unworthiness in the presence of the Saviour. He himself, he knelt, needed the baptism of the Holy Ghost; the Lord needed not the baptism of repentance. And so he would have hindered him. He had hindered, it seems most probable, the Pharisees and Sadducees. The reasons were very different. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not fit for his baptism; his baptism was not fit for Jesus. But the Lord who, in his ineffable condescension, had taken upon him the form of a servant, in that same condescension submitted to the rites which told of sin and uncleanness. He was baptized, not that he might be cleansed by the baptism of repentance, but rather, as Ignatius says in his 'Epistle to the Ephesians' (sect. 18), that he might by his baptism cleanse water and sanctify it to the mystical washing away of sin.

2. It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. God had sent John to baptize with water (John 1:33). The Son of God, now in the form of man, comes to the baptism which God had commanded. It is an example to us. It is our duty to fulfil all righteousness, all God's ordinances alike. We may not dare to neglect things external, things which some men call unimportant. If God has commanded them, that commandment gives them at once a deep and real importance; it makes them duties of righteousness. The principle of obedience is no less involved in things that seem to some small and trivial, than in the highest duties of religion. The Lord Jesus came to the baptism of John; no Christian man may dare to neglect the baptism of Jesus. For these reasons the Lord offered himself to be baptized. John knew him not at first. He must have heard of him from his parents; he must have known something of the wondrous birth at Bethlehem, and of his own destination to go before the face of the Lord in the spirit and power of Elias. But the two cousins had been long separated from each other; they had grown up far apart; John had lived a solitary life in the wilderness of Judea; Jesus had lived unknown and unregarded in the quiet town of Nazareth. John did not recognize him at first; but he felt the power of his presence. Holy himself, he reverenced that majesty of unearthly holiness which beamed from the calm, sad, gracious eyes of the Saviour of the world. His heart told him that it was a most sacred Person who sought his baptism—a sinless, a Divine Presence that stood before him. His hopes were kindled, his soul filled with intense, eager anticipations. Surely it must be he that should come, the long-expected One. The descent of the Holy Ghost revealed the Messiah (John 1:33). But now a strange feeling of unworthiness came over him. A deep instinct prompted him to say, like Peter," Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" It is ever so with his saints. The nearer we draw to Christ, the more fully the Lord manifests himself to us, the more we feel our own utter sinfulness and weakness. But the Lord, who in his gracious lowliness came to John the Baptist, comes to his people still. John shrank from his awful purity at first; he suffered him when he heard his reassuring words. It is a parable of the experience of many an awakened soul. He seems so awful in his majesty, in his spotless holiness, and we so feeble, defiled with so many sins; but he allures us with his tender pity, he speaks comfortably to our souls, till we welcome the Lord into our heart, seeking henceforth to live always in that blessed fellowship which is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.


1. He went up straightway out of the water. There seems to be meaning in these words. His baptism was a consecration for his great and blessed office. Son of God though he was, he had, in the mysterious union of the human and Divine, increased in wisdom from childhood to manhood; and now, it may be, the full consciousness of his Divine mission, the full clear knowledge of the awful, the most blessed, work which lay before him, dawned upon his holy human soul. He went up straightway; immediately, as he emerged from the baptismal waters, he went up prepared for his work; immediately he arose in the strength of holy purpose and self-sacrificing love. He had lived hitherto in the quiet life of lowly obedience; now he was manifested as the great High Priest, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Priests under the Law received at their consecration the baptismal purification and the anointing of the holy oil. The Lord Jesus, now about to enter upon his three years' ministry, submitted to the baptism of repentance, and was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power.

2. The heavens were opened. Paradise was closed to Adam; heaven is opened to Christ. The sin of Adam closed the way to Paradise; the obedience of the incarnate Son opens heaven to all who follow him. As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. "He hath made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" "Our citizenship is in heaven." Our treasure must be there, our heart must be in that heaven which wan opened at the baptism of Jesus to all his true disciples. Heaven was opened over him at his baptism. It is opened over those who are baptized by his commandment into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For holy baptism admits us into covenant with God: "In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body"—the mystical body of Christ. The members of that body are bound by their baptism to obey the laws of the kingdom of heaven, and to live as citizens of the heavenly commonwealth. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth." They who, by his grace, abide in spiritual union with Christ snail one day, like the holy martyr Stephen, see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

3. The descent of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was conceived by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost was with him always; for in the indissoluble union of the Divine Persons, the Holy Three are One. But this was a consecration of the incarnate Son, God and Man, to his sacred office—a grand and heavenly anointing, visible to himself and to the Baptist. "I saw the Spirit," said John, "descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." God anointed him with the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:38). God the Father consecrated his incarnate Son by this Divine anointing. Now he was revealed as the Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; the King to whom the Lord God would give the throne of his father David; the Prophet who would declare to the faithful all that we need to know, all that we can know while we are in the flesh, of that God whom no man hath seen at any time. "The Spirit descended like a dove;" it descended on him who was dove-like, holy, harmless, undefiled. It found a resting-place in the holy heart of Jesus. Stilt the blessed Spirit is brooding, dove-like, over the face of the world; still he descends, another Comforter, sent by the Father at the prayer of him on whom he now descended, on those who are learning of the Lord Christ to be themselves pure in heart, gentle, harmless, holy. With such he abides for ever, a gracious, willing Guest. Such men he consecrates with a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

4. The voice from heaven. The Father's voice was heard: "This is my beloved Son." How the heart of John the Baptist must have thrilled at the sound of the awful, holy words] It was the Christ indeed, the Only Begotten of the Father. John stood in the presence of the Most Holy One. So doth the Christian heart thrill now when the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed to the soul; when the believer feels that he is in the presence of God, alone with God—solus cure solo; when the heavenly voice is borne in upon his heart; when he knows that his Redeemer liveth. "This is my beloved Son," whom God the Father had loved before the beginning of the world, whom he loved now, always, with an eternal love; in whom he loves all those to whom the beloved Son hath given power to become the sons of God. In that beloved Son God was well pleased—well pleased always, well pleased now in the mysterious self-sacrifice of his incarnation, of his perfect obedience. Those who trust that they, too, being led by the Spirit of God, are in a true, though infinitely lower sense, the sons of God, must try to please him; it must be their highest ambition, whether present or absent, to be well-pleasing in his sight. As they draw nearer to him, serving him with a holier, humbler, obedience, the heavenly voice will grow clearer, more distinct, owning them to be his sons and daughters, the children of his love.

5. The revelation of the blessed Trinity. At the baptism of Jesus by the hand of John, the Holy Three were present—God the Son manifest in the flesh; God the Holy Ghost descending in a dove-like form; God the Father speaking from heaven, recognizing in Jesus, God and Man, the only begotten Son of his love. It was a manifestation of the eternal mystery—the mystery before which we bow in the lowliest adoration of loving faith. In Christian baptism, the sacrament which the Lord Jesus Christ himself ordained, the Name of the blessed Three is by the Lord's commandment pronounced over the new disciple: "Baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The Name is One, the Persons are Three. The doctrine of the blessed Trinity is enshrined in holy baptism.


1. Imitate the Lord Jesus; use all the means of grace; observe all the ordinances of religion. It becometh us to do as he did.

2. Heaven is opened to the eye of faith; it was opened to the dying Stephen. Steadfastly look up to heaven. See God in all his ordinances.

3. Pray earnestly for fuller gifts of the Holy Ghost. The dove-like Spirit is given to the dove-like heart.

4. Seek earnestly to be well-pleasing to God in all things.


Matthew 3:1-3

Preparation for Christ.

It was no accident that brought about the conjunction of the mission of John the Baptist with the advent of our Lord. A Divine providence, the purpose of which was declared in an ancient prophecy, connected the two events. The conjunction is shown by that prophecy not to be like one of binary stars. The work of Christ is not associated with that of John. The Baptist is but the forerunner—the pioneer opening up the way for the glorious King.

I. PREPARATION FOR CHRIST IS NEEDED. The Jews were not fit to receive their Messiah; they needed the preliminary work of the prophet of the wilderness to make them rightly susceptible to the new influences of the kingdom. The world will not welcome its Saviour till the way has been made ready for his approach. Individual men and women are far from the kingdom of heaven, and the intervening district is wild and impassable till God makes a providential path across it. The ploughman must precede the sower. It is the work of John the Baptists to break up the fallow ground. Sometimes the messenger comes in the form of a great sorrow. Men are arrested and aroused, made to feel their helplessness and their need. Then, but not till then, they may receive the kingdom.

II. THE METHOD OF PREPARATION MAY BE VERY UNLIKE THE METHOD OF SALVATION. John the Baptist is very different from Jesus Christ. The one is a recluse, the other a brotherly, sociable Man; the one lives in a wild, antique fashion, the other quite simply and naturally; the one speaks in thunder, the other in the still, small voice of sympathy and "sweet reasonableness." Nevertheless, John prepares for Jesus. The furnace that melts out the ore is harsh and fierce, yet it is making the metal ready for the goldsmith to work up into his beautiful design. Most un-Christlike experiences may bring us near to Christ.

III. THE ESSENTIAL PRELIMINARY TO THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST IS REPENTANCE. The burden of the Baptist's message was "Repent!" It is not to be supposed that he only preached the word. He must have laboured to produce the thing; he must have made it his aim to lead his hearers to a deep sense of their sin. Until a man owns his guilt he will not seek pardon. The reason of this is obvious directly it is perceived that salvation is just deliverance from sin; for who would wish for such a salvation while still clinging to his evil habits? To such a person Christ would appear not at all as a deliverer, but rather as an invader, as a robber who came to steal the choice treasures of the heart.

IV. REPENTANCE IS ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. That kingdom is near at hand; therefore the Baptist urges his hearers to lose no time in making themselves ready for it. The vision of the better life reveals the shame and horror of the life of sin. If there were no hope there would be no repentance; in such a state the awakened conscience could only plunge the soul into remorse—which is hell. Therefore the message of the Baptist must be twofold. It is not right or wise to preach of sin by itself, nor to try to induce repentance chiefly by painting the guilt of the past in the blackest colours. The anticipation of Christ is the best inducement to repentance.—W.F.A.

Matthew 3:8

The fruit of repentance.

John sees a great danger. His preaching is immensely popular. Even the insincere are drawn under the spell of his oratory, and his rousing eloquence is enjoyed on its own account by many who refuse to obey its ideas. He is the lion of the season, and society runs after him as after the latest fashion. To one in dead earnest, as John was, this must have been perfectly abhorrent. Then no doubt there were sentimental, superficial hearers who were really impressed by his preaching for the time, but on whom the effect of it was merely emotional. Such people needed to see that they must have a repentance deeper than the tears of a day.

I. REPENTANCE MUST BE IN THE WILL AS WELL AS IN THE EMOTIONS. It is easy to feel sorry for the wrong one has done; yet this feeling may not carry with it any determination not to repeat the wrong. A wave of emotion may sweep over the soul, and during its passage all love of sin may be buried, and only the most becoming ideas appear on the surface. But they will be but froth and foam melting into nothing, and they will vanish with the retreating wave, leaving the hard rock beneath quite unmoved. There is no real repentance until the will is touched, until the penitent resolves to abandon his sin and to seek a better life. He may well see that he cannot do this himself; his sin is too strong for him, and the better life is above his reach. Repentance is not regeneration, but it is a sincere desire for a new life, an honest determination to seek it.

II. TRUE REPENTANCE WILL REVEAL ITSELF IN CONDUCT. It has its fruits. No one can be really turning round from sin and setting his face towards the light without some results appearing in his behaviour. He will not immediately step on to the pedestal of the saint. He will be still down in the darkness, feeble, depressed, guilty, and conscious of guilt. But every action will show that he is trying to reach after better things, even though they may be still far beyond his grasp. Lorenzo di Medici on his death-bed sends for Savanarola and, in terror of the torments of hell, begs to be assured of the Divine forgiveness. The stern reformer bids the dying man return their possessions to those whom he has robbed, and set his imprisoned enemies free, and he consents. Then Savonarola makes a third demand, that the tyrant will restore their liberties to the Florentines. This is too much for him; he turns away in silent refusal and dies unrepentant—and therefore unshriven.

III. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE PENITENT TO CULTIVATE FRUITS OF REPENTANCE. People sometimes distress themselves with the fear that they have not repented sufficiently to receive the pardon of God. But they make a mistake if they suppose that the exciting of deeper feelings of compunction or the shedding of more tears is what God requires. Let them leave their emotions to take care of themselves, and set their attention on their conduct. This does require thought and effort. Yet the very fact that repentance must bear fruit shows that it is more than a work of man's production. Therefore it is necessary to seek the "grace" of repentance, to pray for the Spirit of God to make the true fruits appear. Lastly, let it be remembered when they do appear they are not all we need; they are only the signs of a right state of mind fur receiving forgiveness.—W.F.A.

Matthew 3:9, Matthew 3:10

The axe at the root.

Here we have an insight into the method of John the Baptist. We see how he led his hearers to repentance. He found them too often soothing their consciences in a false security, and quite blind to the danger that threatened them. So he set to work first to destroy the false security and then to reveal the imminent danger.

I. A GREAT DELUSION. (Matthew 3:9.)

1. Its excuse. The Jews prided themselves in their pedigree. They were Abraham's children, and they expected to be favoured on account of their great ancestor. Glorious promises had been made to Abraham and his seed; the Jews were the seed of Abraham; therefore they concluded that the promises were for them, and that no final harm could come near them. The same delusion is found in those people who comfort themselves with the thought that they belong to a Christian Church, that they are members of a Christian family, that in some way they are included in a Christian covenant, although there is nothing Christian in their character and conduct.

2. Its mistake. There is no such thing as hereditary salvation. The children of a saint will suffer the doom of sinners if they are sinners, quite as much as the children of a sinner; nay, even a worse doom, because their advantages are greater. It is true that great promises are laid up for the children of Abraham; but only they are his true children who have their ancestor's faith. The Jews could not but admit that the Arabs were children of Abraham, yet they did not extend to them the hope of Abraham's blessings. It might have been urged that the Israelites cannot perish because, if they were lost, God would not have a people on whom he could fulfil his rear promises to Abraham. This would be to limit the power of God, to forget his resources. If he wanted other children he could raise them from the very stones of the wilderness. He did raise them from the Gentile peoples. We are none of us necessary to God.

II. A NEAR DANGER. (Matthew 3:10.) This question of Abraham's family is not a subject for quiet speculation only. Soon the futility of the theory of the Jews with which they quiet their fears will be apparent. The axe is already lying by the root of the tree. The Roman power that is destined to cut down the Jewish state is close at hand.

1. Its unsuspected presence.

(1) The tree is still standing—a great tree, with massive trunk and spreading branches. An imposing presence suggests strength and security.

(2) The tree is vigorous. Its stem is not rotten. But it is bearing no good fruit, and it is cumbering the ground; in these facts is its danger.

(3) The axe is unseen. It lies at the root—perhaps hidden among the grasses. Yet the place where it lies suggests utter destruction. We do not see dangers lurking at our feet.

2. Its fatal power. That cold gleam of steel at the root of the tree—how frightfully suggestive it is I It is a small thing by the side of the giant of the forest. Nevertheless how soon cart it bring the proud tree crashing to the ground! No one can escape from the keen blows of the axe of God's judgment.

3. Its merciful warning. Why is the axe laid at the root of the tree? why is it not used at once? Here is mercy in the midst of judgment. The Baptist points to the axe that he may drive his hearers to repentance. Our attention is drawn to it that we may escape—though at the eleventh hour.—W.F.A.

Matthew 3:11

The two baptisms.

John here contrasts himself and his work with Christ and the work of Christ. We cannot but be struck with the humility and the discernment of the Baptist. Thus he reveals himself as true to his mission; he is but the forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord.

I. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE ADMINISTRATORS. John was regarded as the great prophet of his day; yet he considered himself to be infinitely inferior to the coming Christ. Wherein were the great differences between the Baptist and Jesus Christ?

1. In character. John was a holy man, but still a sinner. Christ was faultless, quite pure, and supreme in all goodness. Thus he was and is far above the best of men, as the stars are above the highest mountains; in comparison with the stars the distinction between mountain and plain sinks into insignificance.

2. In power. John was a strong and gifted man, yet how little could he do for the reformation of Israel, for the redemption of the world? He is but the labourer digging out the foundation; Christ is the Master-Builder who raises the great temple.

3. In office. John is the prophet, the messenger of God. Christ is the King. His office is regal, and his honour is the highest.

4. Its nature. John is but a man, though the greatest man of his day; Jesus is the very Son of God. This may not have been known to the Baptist, but an instinctive foreshadowing of the great mystery may have touched him with an awed perception of the wonderful greatness of the Coming One.


1. The water-baptism. This baptism of John's was a token of repentance. It seemed to express the desire of the penitent to wash away his past sin. It was concerned with his guilt and with the need of cleansing it. But it contained no power for the future. It did not regenerate; it did not quicken the dead soul. Thus it must be recognized that repentance by itself is not enough. The penitent still waits for his renewal.

2. The fire-baptism. It might have been thought that the consuming element of fire was better adapted to the ministration of the terrible prophet of the wilderness, while the gentler purifying water would be suitable for the milder methods of the Son of man. Yet the prophecy of the Baptist was fulfilled. We cannot confine his words to the second advent of Christ in judgment. Christ came in his first appearance with flames to burn the evil out of the hearts of men in the consuming power of the Holy Spirit. For here the fire seems to stand for the Holy Spirit, as it did on the Day of Pentecost, when the Gift came in cloven tongues of fire. When Christ enters the soul he both burns up the old evil and kindles the fire of a new life. All life is fire. Even applied physiologically this idea is true; we only live by burning up our own bodies, and that is why we need food, which is fuel. Christ's baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of that Spirit is the lighting of a fire in a man's heart. Thus it is life.—W.F.A.

Matthew 3:13-17

The baptism of Jesus.

This is a narrative which authenticates itself. No Christian writer of a later generation would have invented a story of the baptism of Jesus by John; nor could any current ideas have started a myth in this form. The very difficulties of the story prove its historicity.


1. Note some errors to be avoided.

(1) This was not a baptism of repentance. John saw that, and although lie did not yet know who Jesus was, the pure and spotless life of his mysterious Relative was evidently not unknown to him. He saw that Jesus did. not need the baptism as it was commonly understood.

(2) This was not a mere form. Christ continually contended against the hypocrisy of formalism. He could not have begun his public life with a purely formal action.

(3) This was not only intended as an example for others. In that case the action of Christ would have been simply a theatrical performance, unworthy of him, not to be countenanced by the serious Baptist. Moreover, the results of the baptism show that it had to do directly with the Person and work of Christ.

2. Consider the truths of the incident. Baptism has a double meaning. It looks forward as well as backward. As a rite in regard to the future it is a dedication, an act of self-consecration. Jesus had no sins of the past to wash out; but there was a great future to which he would dedicate himself in baptism. Then he was a Man, and he was humbling himself to the whole round of human duties. It was not in accordance with his mission that he should abandon the religious duties of his day. On the contrary, it was incumbent on him to "fulfil all righteousness" in connection with them. Thus the method of his self-consecration was an act of lowly obedience in connection with the deepest religious movement of the time.

II. LET US LOOK AT THE RESULTS OF THE BAPTISM OF JESUS. There were a vision and a voice.

1. The vision.

(1) The heavens opened. Self-surrender brings us near to God. The heavens open over the head of the utterly unselfish and truly consecrated man.

(2) The descending Spirit. The Spirit comes to Christ, and is in him without measure (John 3:34). The form was symbolical, but the fact was real. After this Christ displayed powers in miracle-working and teaching which he had never shown before. If Jesus needed this endowment of the Spirit, much more do we need it.

(3) The form of the dove. This is very significant. The Spirit takes many forms. On Jesus it appears in love and gentleness. "A bruised reed shall he not break." This form of the manifestation is peculiarly true to the nature of the Spirit. God is most of all present in "the still, small voice." By his gentleness he makes us great (Psalms 18:35).

2. The voice. The vision was especially for Christ's benefit. The evangelist says that "he saw the Spirit of God," etc., as though the people did not see the dove descending. John also saw the vision (John 1:32), and probably no one else. But the voice is not thus restricted. The spiritual grace is personal, for Christ himself; the revelation of the Son of God is for all who have ears to hear.—W.F.A.

Matthew 3:17

Christ the beloved Son of God.

This declaration at the baptism of Christ was repeated later on in his ministry at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). Thus God owns his Son and bears witness to him. Let us consider what the heavenly voice teaches us about him.

I. THE NATURE OF CHRIST AS THE SON OF GOD. It will not profit us much to plunge into the fourth-century speculations concerning the Divine Sonship of Christ in order that we may know him in so far as he has been revealed to us. In metaphysical considerations about the mystery of the being of the Son of God we may lose all living perception of what he is really in his life among us. The broad fact is what is most important to us. Christ is the Son of God. He is not one of God's sons as we may be through him, as in a natural sense we all are because "we are also his offspring" (Acts 17:28). He is the Son of God in a supreme and unique sense. Now, this is not merely a sublime truth of theology. It has important bearings on religion.

1. To know the Son is to know the Father, of whom he is the Image (John 14:7).

2. If the Son is our Friend, the Father cannot be our Enemy; for they are "One" (John 10:30). Therefore our fellowship with Christ carries with it our reconciliation to God.

3. Christ is able to save the world. The Divinity of Christ implies his unlimited power. So great a Saviour is equal to the tremendous task of redeeming a whole fallen world.


1. He is God's beloved Son. This truth seems to belong to the very nature of Christ. It throws light on his permanent relations with God. God is love, and Christ is good and worthy of love. Through all eternity the love of the Father is directed to the Son. But now we see Christ on earth, incarnate, a Man, and in lowly estate. Yet God does not fail to own or cease to love him. He is known to his Father, though he may be despised by men. Surely this must have been a cheering and sustaining influence for Christ in the midst of his hard and toilsome life. In a lower way may not the same be true of us? God recognizes his human family; he owns all his earthly children. The shame of outward conditions does not blind his eye. Rejected by men, his children are still owned and loved by God; and it is better to be loved by God than to be praised by the world.

2. God is well pleased with him. This further truth seems to refer to the immediate condition, to the recent action, of Christ. Jesus has just been baptized; he had persevered in spite of the flattering resistance of the Baptist; he had felt that he must fulfil all righteousness; he had consecrated himself to his great work. God is well pleased with Christ for this.

(1) The obedience of the Son pleases the Father. If, like Christ, we delight to do God's will, he will delight in us.

(2) The good pleasure of God signifies his approval of Christ s work. This mission of saving the world that Christ has just consecrated himself to is well-pleasing to God. Thus God accepts the redeeming work from the first. Now the sacrifice of Christ, being acceptable to God, must be efficacious for man.—W.F.A.


Matthew 3:1-15

The appearance of John the Baptist.

The interval between the last verse of the second chapter and the first verse of this chapter measures the period of the life of Christ stretching from his earliest childhood to his entrance on his public ministry, or close thereupon. Meantime we are here brought to the time when appeared one of the most distinctly marked, most honoured, characters of all history. John the baptist, son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, was the child of prophecy. He was one of the noblest expressions, if not the very noblest, of the true prophet in his character and work. And as he sealed the testimony of his life with his life's blood, it was given him to win the brilliant crown that awaits the prophet and martyr united in one. This is not the place for anything resembling a dissertation on the prophetic character in general, nor on the life and character of John the Baptist in particular. This only is proposed here, to give expression to what may seem the leading suggestions of this chapter as to "one called as was" John the Baptist, prophet and herald of the Teacher, the Example, the Saviour of the world. Let us remark respecting John the Baptist that—


1. This circumstance places John the Baptist in a very small and select number. Many prophets there had been, and many things did they prophesy; but they did not prophesy of many persons.

2. The circumstance must equally stamp with a special peculiarity the prophet so announced. For such a man there must be some very special work.

3. To be long foretold by prophecy must wonderfully stretch the usefulness, or at all events the use, of the person so foretold. Through centuries his name is ordained to be a power. Faith attaches itself to it; hopes cluster round it; love invests something in it.

4. The fact itself must act as a lesson of non-merit and of non-boasting to the person who is all the while exalted by it. A man may be betrayed, perhaps, to think that what he is and what he does, and the consequences and results of his character and doings, are to his own praise (as, if these are wrong, they certainly redound to his own blame); but the use that came of him before ever he was must be all the work of a higher power. He can take nothing to himself for this.

5. In the light of the fulfilling of prophecy, the advent and career of John the Baptist is not only an evidence in the matter of revealed truth, but it is a leading, first-class evidence. It multiplies by a thousand the force of impression of that kind of evidence, when compared with all that results from the fulfilment of a mere event foretold.

III. THE FAITHFUL ATTITUDE OF HIS OUTER LIFE TO HIS VOCATION OR MISSION. The kingdom of God is indeed not meat, nor drink, nor dress. Yet these may have a tale to tell. They rarely fail, in fact, to bear testimony one way or another. They serve to a large degree the part of a test of the mind and the spirit that rule in any one, and certainly not least in one, a large portion of whose life is lived in public.

1. Plainness of dress, abstemiousness in diet; a strict if not severe hold upon the habit of life, shall neither constitute conclusive evidence of the inner life, nor constitute under any circumstances merit; but if the man be honest in these outside "appearances" they do constitute virtue, and are an evidence of wisdom and of goodness; even as their Opposites, ostentation, intemperance, vanity, and heedlessness, are faults that soon hasten to number themselves in the rank of vice and sin.

2. In the dress and diet of John the Baptist there may sometimes seem to be an approach to the ostentation of austerity. We may correctly hold that a certain proclamation of temperateness and severity was intended to be heard. But as these were real, of ostentation there was nothing. The degeneracy of many a day, many a period, the extremes of "purple and fine linen" and "rags." betokened a state of things that required to have most plainly preached, the plainest gospel of plain dress, plain food, and plain, simple manner and speech.

3. The particular burden of the ministry of John the Baptist did simply demand a faithfully corresponding, practical illustration, in the presence of his audience, so to say. Otherwise nothing would have been, in this case, easier than for the whole congregation of the people to observe, to think, and to utter it forth, that their prophet of denunciation was one who "said, but did not." Harmonies there are in the vast ranges of nature—in its highest and in its deepest things; in its sights most open to vision, and its subtleties most veiled with secrecy. And let us learn that it is ours to make harmonies true and genuine in what shall seem all the littlenesses of our daily life, our outer life, our life of sense as well as of soul.

4. We are not to imagine that John the Baptist exhibits this temperateness and plainness simply as the prophet non-imitable (as the priest of old wore garments of splendour not to be assumed by others), but as the example, who is set forth for this purpose, to be imitated, and imitated of all. There is therefore no more uncertain witness beneath the sun than that of him whose sarcastic motto has been written, "Do as I say, but not as I do."

III. HIS ONE EXHORTATION TO THE PEOPLE. (Matthew 3:1.) As there are epochs and turning-points in the history of the individual, so also in the history of a nation, and even of the world. Such a one had notably come in the time of the Flood. But now one very different had arrived. The nation of "Jerusalem and all Judaea" was hoary in sin. Yet it led the world in Divine appointments. The short, sharp summons to it, that meant from the lips of this prophet all mercy, was one of:

1. Alteration; the alteration of the kind that the word "repentance" carries. This is an alteration

(1) deep from conviction of mind;

(2) deep bathed in sorrow of heart; and

(3) developed into a reformed life.

2. The altering was challenged upon one ground, viz. the finding of a new principle of rule on earth—that which could be described as the kingdom or rule of heaven. The principle by which all heaven was ruled was to learn to acclimatize here on earth. Oh, wonderful grace and hope! If the "pattern of the tabernacle" once on a time came down from heaven, much more the pattern of this new-born rule, the not-passing, not-decaying, not-vanishing regime of human society. "For the kingdom of heaven is at hand." So this great practical repentance, rooted in all the deepest of spiritual thought, conviction, and feeling, is pleaded for because of the

(1) novel opportunity;

(2) unparalleled splendour and hope; and

(3) tremendous responsibility that lay couched in the fact that "the kingdom of heaven was at hand."

And this meant the regeneration of the world after long process of ages, through the regeneration of the individual.


1. He was received with attention and obedience on the part of the great bulk of the sinful and sin-burdened people (Matthew 3:5, Matthew 3:6); and he baptized these, with the manner and, no doubt, with some words of approbation and encouragement.

2. He was repaired to by "many of the Pharisees and Sadducees." This meant either a very great and real change already in them, or it meant less than none at all in any good direction, but, on the contrary, an adherence too faithful to their ingrained foolishness, their long blindness, and their rooted hypocrisy. The treatment accorded to these men by John the Baptist proves that the latter was the real state of the case with them. Notice in this treatment:

(1) Its utter plain-spokenness. Fearless of the fearless must John the Baptist have been when he apostrophized such men in the terms, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Events proved that it was from no entrenched position that could reckon on safety, let a man say what his tongue might, that John spoke thus.

(2) Its consenting still to believe that there was a chance, and, therefore, still holding to the words of exhortation: "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance."

(3) Its measured, faithful warning, with urgency added (verses 9-12).

(4) Its self-disclaiming (verse 11.)

(5) Its vigorous, fervent exalting of "the Mightier (verses 11, 12). The language John held in reference to his greater Successor Jesus, in verses 11, 12, is not only an exalting of the Person of Christ, but a description unsurpassed of his Divinest energy, as baptizing with the Holy Ghost;" of his purifying and discriminating energy with fire, and fan in hand, and cleansing of the threshing-floor; and of his consuming energy, "unquenchable fire" for the "chaff."

V. HIS MODEST RECEPTION OF JESUS, WITH ABSOLUTE SELF-RENOUNCING, IN HIS PRESENCE. The attitude of John the Baptist at this unexpected crisis was indeed to be expected. The thing to be observed is that it did not belie expectation! The mark of this great character was made indeed in those days. And the picture is engraved on the page before us, like a lively portraiture indeed. Would that more, many more, of the true servants of God and disciples of Jesus Christ were as transparent and as straight and as charged with sacred energy and reverent modesty!—B.

Matthew 3:15

The overruling reply.

This overruling reply of Jesus to John the Baptist, who very naturally hesitated to administer baptism to him, teaches us a lesson of—





Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17

The heavenly attestation of the Sonship of Jesus.

The singular and thrilling event recorded in these verses is recorded also by St. Mark (Mark 1:9-11)and by St. Luke (Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22) in an equally full manner, while it is distinctly alluded to by St. John (John 1:32, John 1:33). It is remarkable that, though nothing is said either way, we are left to conclude that the vision was confined to the two only—Jesus himself and John the Baptist. From that time John, who had personally long known Jesus, knew him for certain as the Messiah; and not only heralded the Christ, but could point to him as the Christ (John 1:29, John 1:30). Notice—

I. THE CRISIS AT WHICH THIS GLORIOUS ATTESTATION OCCURRED. The first profound act of public, spontaneous self-humiliation is alighted upon by the visit of a supernatural glorification. Immediately the act of baptism was over, the heavens opened, the Dove sped down, the voice of the Majesty himself of all the universe uttered itself forth, and glory was poured on Jesus.


1. The "heavens opened." We are certainly entitled by Scripture warrant, to say the least, in order to help our weaker understanding and thought, to consider heaven as a place, that place being the abode of God. These helps to human imaginings of the Unknown will not discredit our faith in the Divine omnipresence and in the fact that he is perfect Spirit; but they are needful to our present limitations of apprehension of the dim, vast, uncomprehended.

2. The Spirit descended, and in the form of a dove. No doubt it was now that an enormous accession of the Spirit was made to the human nature of Jesus Christ, And the "bodily form" of the dove was to betoken alike the soft flight and that tenderest gentleness of the Spirit, and the peace and love of him who was now more fully replenished with the Spirit.

3. A voice from heaven speaks. It is here said "a" voice. But the words spoken prove that it was none less than the voice of Heaven, the voice of the majesty of the Father, of the Glory—God himself!

(1) Great is the impression of voice.

(2) Great may be the absolute charm of voice.

(3) Great beside all else is the fixed, distinct certainty of voice, as e.g. compared with vision or with imagination.

God speaks in all creation with ten thousand voices, it is true. But when he speaks with that voice which utters words, the ear hears as in its own right. The words uttered by the voice of God assert

(a) the Sonship of Jesus;

(b) that he is the object of the Father's unqualified complacence; and

(c) because flint might be the complacence of feeling chiefly, by the analogy of human relationship, the voice asserts the Father's perfect approbation as well.

III. THE GREAT OBJECT OF THIS ATTESTATION. It appears to have been vouchsafed for the absolute warranting of the faith of John the Baptist. The simplicity, and what should seem in some light the narrowness, of this object invest it to a very large extent with its greatness.

1. What a testimony of condescending graciousness to that one man! He is to live for Christ, to work for Christ, to die for Christ. And to furnish him with exactly the enough satisfaction of evidence, faith, growing into knowledge, all the grandest apparatus of Heaven is brought into use!

2. What a testimony of real consideration to the world! Is a great trust committed to earthly vessels? Is it a trust of critical and tremendous responsibility? Are men, not angels, the ministers of truth, of life, of salvation to their fellow-men, in the name of Christ? Then alike it is mercy for those who are to be blessed, as for those who are to bless, that into these latter, though they should stand but one by one, and follow one another in narrowest line of succession, the whole force of absolute conviction should be thrown by Heaven's and God's own most approved methods. On this occasion we cannot doubt Jesus himself was refreshed with the vision of open heaven, with the alighting on him of the holy Dove, with the voice of the Father, and the words that voice spoke. But, in that John was the witness, and presumably the only witness hereof, the significance can be but one; and it is plain and most striking.—B.


Matthew 3:1-12

The forerunner.

I. JOHN'S APPEARANCE AND CHARACTER. He claimed to belong to the old prophetic line by appearing clad in the prophetic garb, the single rough garment of skin. His manner of life harmonized with his dress; leaving the comfortable home and well-provided life and fair prospects of a priestly family, he adopted the meagre, comfortless life of an ascetic. To entangle himself with the world would have tended to blind him to its vices and silence his remonstrance. He gathered round him a few men like himself, and "taught them to pray." Thus he became "a voice." The rough garment, the long, uncared-for hair, the wiry, weather-beaten frame, the ascetic life, were all eloquent. In any age, in order to become a voice for good, a man must be unworldly, consistent, himself the most convinced. The men who have few desires for earthly gain and comfort are accepted as the messengers of Heaven. There is no power on earth like the power of a consecrated life.

II. JOHN'S WORK WAS TO ROUSE THE PEOPLE TO PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD; to make ready for the coming of their King. The herald of a royal progress has generally nothing to do but proclaim the approach of the king; triumphal arches are extemporized by the meanest village, unseemly things are swept away or hidden, the entire, population turns out to shout a welcome. But John had to turn the thoughts of men from lifelong pursuits; to convert, not an individual, which is hard enough, but a land. He had to prepare the way of One who came with power to bestow the Holy Ghost and make men the sons of God—a King who could be acceptable only to men thirsting for God and righteousness. Who are prepared to welcome Christ? Who are in a condition to hail as good tidings salvation from sin?


1. He preached and baptized. John preached that repentance was needed as a preparation for the coming King. He taught the people that it was a spiritual, not a physical, condition which qualified for entrance into the kingdom; that if it was a mere question of furnishing a number of Abraham's children as subjects for the Messiah, God could turn the stones into children of Abraham. In fact, he excommunicated the whole of Israel, and assured them they could enter the kingdom only by repentance and by the grace of him who would baptize with the Holy Ghost.

2. He put this teaching in a symbolic form. He baptized. The rite characterized his ministry. He was the Baptist. He made the born Jews undergo the rite proselytes underwent. Three things, say the Jews, make a proselyte—circumcision, baptism, sacrifice. And the law for the baptism of a proselyte was: "They bring the proselyte to baptism, and, when they have placed him in the water, they again instruct him in the weightier and lighter matters of the Law, which, being heard, he plunges down and comes up, and behold he is an Israelite in all things." Baptism was the symbol whereby the new birth was expressed to the eye. The Gentile went down into the water as into a grave, in which his old man was left, and he came up a new man, born now a Jew and not a Gentile—born of the water. To ask Jews to submit to this ordinance was to ask them to acknowledge that their physical birth as children of Abraham was insufficient to prepare them for their King. Points for homiletic elaboration: connection of word and symbol in sacraments—relation of sacrament to grace conferred—John's New Testament use of the title "Holy Ghost."

IV. RESULTS OF JOHN'S WORK. There was a fascination about him which drew all classes. The very sight of an old prophet of the extinct type was worth a day's journey to the wilderness. It became the fashion to see John and be baptized. The authorities paid him a compliment they can have paid to very few—they sent a deputation to ask him if he was the Messiah. But a public character or a preacher may be very popular, and yet the impression he makes may be superficial and transitory. Some were guided to Jesus by John, but it is difficult to say how far he succeeded in his object.

V. TESTS OF THE REALITY OF THE IMPRESSION HE MADE WERE GIVEN BY HIMSELF. No one was more surprised than he was at the kind of people that came to him. "Who hath warned you?" They professed repentance, but it was not profession which fitted them for the kingdom,' but the reality. Jesus was to come "with his fan in his hand," to make a thorough separation between bad men and good. Meanwhile judge of your repentance:

1. Not by its present expression in misery of mind or shame. Some derive a deceptive comfort from the remembrance of the wretched days they spent, the tears they shed, the shame they felt, when first they awoke to their sin. Others suspect their own repentance because it brought no such sorrow. Other griefs have struck them so fair and indubitably, have left so distinct a mark, have forced them to so genuine an expression of their pain, that they are staggered on finding no such evident sorrow in their repentance. But there are various temperaments, and you must not measure your grief with the grief of other men. And repentance is not like a worldly loss—it resembles not a fever or acute illness that seizes a man suddenly, but a chronic ailment, which hangs about him always, never making him cry out with pain, but always there, altering his whole life.

2. Judge by the fruits. Wait to see if it destroys sin in the life. Only a trained eye distinguishes the different kinds of corn in the blade, but any passer-by knows the difference between an ear of wheat and an ear of barley. Sunset is often a good deal like sunrise; but wait a little, and the difference is unmistakable. Fine spirit is like water; but apply a match, and the difference is apparent. Compare repentance about a worldly matter—investing in a bad concern; how careful a man is afterwards! The man whose repentance is genuine will not be able to indulge in sin as he did. Especially his characteristic sins will be abandoned.

CONC Matthew LUSION. Christ is now revealed the Giver of the Holy Ghost. This is the gospel preached to us—that there is a river into which we may be plunged, and from it rise new creatures, the whole past swept away, and ourselves started on a new life. We have been baptized in sign that the Holy Ghost is freely given to us. God has by baptism opened to us individually this greatest Gift. We need the outward symbol, for we disbelieve in the Spirit's indwelling. So superficial has been our repentance, so unhelpful, so deceitful, that we always feel as if we were left to struggle alone against sin. We need to listen still to John, whose message was, "There standeth One among you who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost."—D.

Matthew 3:13-17

Baptism of Jesus.

I. ITS OCCASION. How long was Jesus to be known merely as the village carpenter of Nazareth? What is to transpire which shall show him that God's time has come for his public ministry? Ambition makes opportunities. In general, kings have only to wait the demise of their predecessors. To our Lord came at last a summons he could not misunderstand nor resist. John's hearers longed for that which only Jesus could give. He could no longer hide himself in Nazareth when a movement was afoot which he alone could guide, utilize, and prosper. When men truly seek Christ, he does not hide himself from them. He will not cause by his absence the defeat of any righteous movement.

II. ITS MEANING. John did not recognize its meaning. He was taken aback when Jesus presented himself for baptism. This was a difficulty he had not foreseen. He had foreseen trouble with scrupulous consciences; that he would be abused, perhaps endangered; that he would be the repository of disagreeable secrets—a nation's confessor. But this he had not foreseen. How could he baptize One who had no sin? John's refusal a strong testimony to the sinlessness of Jesus. He might not yet know he was the Messiah; it was his personal character and private conduct which had impressed him. He was abashed in his presence, and would have changed places with him. But Jesus demanded the performance of the rite, because, as one with a guilty race, he felt that baptism was for him. He was so truly one with us that he felt ashamed of our sins, grieved because of them, felt as if they were his. The father hangs his head, sickens and dies when the son is disgraced. The wife cannot persuade herself she need not be ashamed when the husband commits a fraud. Our Lord could not claim separation from those whom he more intensely loved than human heart has ever loved; nor could he help feeling a truer sorrow and a deeper shame for sin than the holiest of sinners or the most despairing has ever felt. The baptism may also be looked upon as an anticipation of his death; or, again, as the anointing of the King.

III. OUTWARD SIGNS ACCOMPANYING THE BAPTISM. Outward signs were required to identify the Messiah. John tells us he did not know the Christ till these signs were given. The dove, used in scriptural language as symbol of guileless innocence, here represented the Spirit. It was only the form of a bird which would not have seemed grotesque descending from above; and the dove, which would not settle on anything unclean, was the most appropriate symbol now. Luke adds, "in a bodily form," to remind us that it was not by one attribute or influence the Holy Spirit came upon our Lord, but in his complete Personality. For though Jesus was Divine, he regularly ascribes his power to work miracles to the Holy Spirit. He prays, as if to receive from without the aid he required. His body was sustained by bread, and not by the energy of the Divinity with which it was joined. So his human soul was sanctified by the Spirit, and his human nature empowered to do wonderful works by the same Spirit.

IV. RESULT OF THE BAPTISM. It was not only needful for the people that Jesus be proclaimed publicly as the Messiah, but he himself, when his consciousness of Messiah-ship was numbed by the contradiction of sinners, needed some sure word of God to fall back upon. The sign from heaven was given, no doubt mainly in order that John might be able to identify Jesus as the Messiah, but to Jesus himself it was a helpful sign on which, in times of outward discouragement, he could fall back. Compare instances in which our Lord needed such comfort (Matthew 11:27, etc.); and use to be made of our own baptism.

USES. The Spirit is given to Christ without measure, in a bodily form. The Father makes him Heir of all his treasure, and takes no account of all he takes. There is no gauge, no metre. The more that is used the better. This fulness he received as Man and for us. The head being anointed, refreshment is felt to the very skirts of the garments—to the least and last and lowest of the members of Christ's body. Claiming to be our King, it is this he claims—to give us his Spirit. That very Spirit which enabled him to be what he was and to do what he did, he gives to us. Had Jesus lacked anything which he needed for his office, had he found himself helpless to heal the sick, bewildered by the arguments of clever men, outwearied by the wretched blindness of sinners, unmanned by danger and the approach of death, this could only have arisen from his being abandoned by the Spirit; and when we fail and stop short, when we are overcome by outward difficulties or inward weakness, it is because we are trying to live without the Spirit. The finishing of his work is the guarantee that ours shall be finished. And the indwelling of the Spirit in Christ in a bodily completeness is the guarantee that we shall enjoy, not merely one, but all of his influences, and that in every part of our life he will be sufficient for all our occasions.—D.


Matthew 3:1-4

The herald.

"In those days," viz. while Jesus dwelt at Nazareth, the place of separation and reproach, "came John the Baptist," viz. to herald him. Man's order is to champion that which is popular, God's order is to herald truth. We note—


1. In this quality he was predicted.

(1) Gabriel stood at the right side of the altar of incense, evidently in response to the prayer of Zacharias which had ascended with the incense. Gabriel promised Zacharias that he should have a son in his old age, gave directions for the ordering of the child, adding, "And he shall go before the face of the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the heart of the fathers to the children," etc. (Luke 1:11-17).

(2) Gabriel's words clearly allude to those of Malachi, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," etc. (Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6).

(3) "Elijah," in these passages, comes in two senses, and on the same principle it is evident that the place in Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-3), in the text applied to John, is in its ultimate sense also applicable to the Tishbite.

2. John accordingly behaved like Elijah.

(1) His dwelling was in the wilderness. There he was brought up (Luke 1:80). There he exercised his ministry. Note: We get our moral strength for the rough work of life by retirement with God.

(2) John applied to himself the words of Isaiah, "I am the voice," etc. (see John 1:28). Note:

(a) John was simply the "voice," Jesus is the "Word."

(b) This voice arose out of silence.

Zacharias was dumb until he pronounced the name of "John." So we, until visited by the pledges of his mercy and grace, are dumb before God.

(3) His diet was the wild food of nature. "Locusts" were "clean" (Le John 11:22). Our conversation should be pure. "Wild honey," whether from the rock in which the bee had swarmed, or the saccharine exudation from the palm, date, or olive trees (see Deuteronomy 32:13; 1 Samuel 14:26). Note: Men of heavenly tempers are not epicures in earthly food.

(4) He wore a rough garment. This appears to have been the usual dress of the prophets (see Isaiah 20:2; Hebrews 11:37). Therefore psuedo-prophets assumed it (Zechariah 13:4). John's garb particularly resembled that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). The girdle of dried skin, rough and strong, denoted the wearer to be a man of resolution, like his prototype (Luke 12:35; 1 Peter 1:13). Note: If John's dress was plain in the sight of men, he was himself "great in the sight of God" (Luke 1:15). Let us not plume ourselves upon our clothes, or value our fellows by outward appearances.

3. Yet is John distinguished from that prophet.

(1) He distinguished himself. When priests and Levites demanded it' he were Elijah, he said, "I am not" (John 1:21).

(2) Jesus also distinguished him. "If ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah which is to come." So after John's death he said, "Elijah indeed cometh first and restoreth all things". John Baptist did not "restore all things."

(3) It is evident that in these prophecies there is a double sense. They point to two advents of Jesus. In the first he came to set up a spiritual kingdom, and was heralded by Elijah in "spirit and power." In the second he will come to establish a visible kingdom, and will be heralded by Elijah in person.


1. His testimony was unequivocal.

(1) The "Lord" whom he proclaimed is styled "Jehovah" in Isaiah. John pointed out Jesus of Nazareth as that very personage (see John 1:15, John 1:29).

(2) Herein was John the greatest of all the prophets (Matthew 11:9-11). Other prophets gave marks and tokens by which Christ might be known. John pointed him out in Person. The greatest triumph of prophecy is to bring men to the personal Jesus, in their very soul to see him as the saving Christ.

2. His qualifications were unimpeachable.

(1) John was indicated as a prophet of the Lord in the extraordinary circumstances of his birth (Luke 1:5-25). In these he resembled Samson and Jeremiah (Judges 13:1-25.; Jeremiah 1:5).

(2) He had his commission immediately from heaven (Luke 3:2).

(3) The Jews acknowledged him. Multitudes of them came to his baptism (verse 6). No one disputed his claims Matthew 21:26;.

(4) The testimony of John to Jesus is therefore most valuable. The marks by which John identified Jesus as the Christ were Divine and inimitable (John 1:32-34). It is difficult to conceive how the unbelieving Jews can dispose of John's testimony.


1. He heralded it as the kingdom of the heavens.

(1) The Christian discipleship is a kingdom.

(a) It has subjects.

(b) It has a King.

(c) It has laws.

(2) It is called the kingdom of the heavens.

(a) Its principles are those of heaven.

(b) In the heavens its principles are made eternal.

(c) It prepares its subjects for translation to the heavens.

(3) It is in "spirit and power" the "kingdom of the God of heaven" described by Daniel (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:14). In the other Gospels it is called the "kingdom of God."

(4) John, though a priest, never officiated in the temple. But he introduced the Lord of the temple (Malachi 3:1). Was there not here an intimation that the priesthood of Aaron was now to give place to that of Melchizedek?

2. He proclaimed its near approach.

(1) The coming of the kingdom in "spirit and power" dates from the ascension of Christ (cf. Psalms 110:1, Psalms 110:2; Luke 19:12-14). That event was indeed "at hand," but not the coming of the kingdom in visible glory.

(2) The spiritual kingdom is entered by faith. Believers do not pass out of it at death. In that "article" Jesus, however, comes in Person, though invisibly, to receive them to himself (John 14:1-3).

3. He therefore preached repentance.

(1) "The voice," etc. The imagery here is borrowed from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who on taking a journey or going on a military expedition, used to send persons to "form the road." So repentance must:

(a) Bring down the eminences of pride, presumption, ingratitude.

(b) Fill up the hollows of inattention, apathy, despondency.

(c) Straighten the crooked places of prejudice, censoriousness, covetousness.

(d) Smooth the rough places of sabbath-breaking, drunkenness, profanity, immorality, instability.

(2) John's garb and mode of living preached. His habits were in keeping with his doctrine. Sweet is the harmony between the lip and life.

(3) The time of his preaching was opportune. Jewish writers admit that their nation was then fearfully degenerated. They soon filled up the measure of their iniquity. No preaching was more needed than that of the Baptist.

(4) The place also was opportune. The mind of every man, whether Jew or Gentile, is like the wilderness in which John preached, and needs his stirring words.—J.A.M.

Matthew 3:5-12

Religious revival.

When the Baptist opened his commission the Jewish nation was in a woeful state of degeneracy. In connection with his ministry there was a remarkable revival of religion. This may be viewed as a specimen of revivals of religion in general.


1. Christ was prominent in the sermon.

(1) "Make ye ready the way of the Lord ] ' was the" cry" of the "voice" in the wilderness. "He that cometh" was the grand theme—the Promise of prophecy, the Hope and Expectation of the world.

(2) The sermon set forth Christ in his dignity. "The Lord," equivalent to "Jehovah" in the Hebrew of Isaiah. If amongst men there had not arisen a greater than the Baptist, then who must that Person be whose shoes John was not worthy to bear? Maimonides says, "All services which a servant does for his master a disciple does for his teacher, excepting unloosing his shoes" (cf. John 8:58).

(3) It set forth Christ in his power. "Mightier than I." "God is able of these stones," etc., viz. as he raised up Adam from the dust. "These stones." "John was now baptizing in Jordan at Bethabara (John 1:28), the House of passage, where the children of Israel passed over; and there were the twelve stones, one for each tribe, which Joshua set up for a memorial (Joshua 4:20). It is not unlikely that he pointed to those stones, which God could make to be, more than in representation, the twelve tribes of Israel" (Henry).

(4) It set forth Christ also in his official distinction. "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." John, though a priest, did not presume to wield the fire of the sanctuary. That was a Divine prerogative (cf. Luke 24:49; John 15:26). Apostles presumed not to claim it. Sacraments have no efficacy from those who minister them (cf. 2 Kings 4:31; 1 Corinthians 3:6).

2. It insisted upon essential things.

(1) John preached repentance in order to remission of sins. He insisted that true repentance will have meet fruit. Shakespeare well describes it as

"Heart's sorrow,
And a clear life ensuing."

Those are not true penitents who say they are sorry for sin, and persist in sinning.

(2) John also preached faith in Jesus as the Christ. In the text he spoke of him as coming. Afterwards he pointed him out in Person (John 1:29). That is grand preaching which brings the sinner into personal relationship to his Saviour.

(3) John also preached holiness. His baptism was a ceremonial purification, of which the baptism conferred by Jesus is the spiritual complement. John's baptism was "with water," viz. which washes the surface; Christ's, "with fire," viz. which purges the substance. The regeneration of water is outward and ceremonial, that of the Holy Ghost is inward and spiritual.

3. Its lessons were closely applied.

(1) With encouragement. This was in the forefront. John's ministry was "the beginning of the gospel [or,' good news'] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1).

(2) With entreaty. He besought the people to repent of their sins.

(3) With admonition.

(a) The lineage of goodness is no substitute for repentance. The Talmud says that "Abraham sits next the gates of hell, and does not permit any Israelite, however wicked, to go down there." John preached a different doctrine. Visible Church-membership will not save.

(b) "Think not to say within yourselves," etc. Do not attempt secretly to justify impenitence by things that you have not the courage to announce. Hide no lie that will ruin you.

(c) God is not restricted to any law of succession in his Church. "Of these stones"—Gentiles, apparently without any covenant life, in opposition to fruitless "trees," he could "raise up children unto Abraham" (cf. Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:22-29).

(4) With reproof. The Pharisees and Sadducees, who claimed to be children of Abraham, are described as a brood of vipers—the seed of the old serpent. They are also described as "trees" with leaves (of profession), but without fruit of performance. They are described as the "chaff"—light, hollow, hypocritical, having only the semblance of "wheat."

(5) With warning.

(a) The "axe" of judgment lay at the root of the trees (cf. Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 10:34; Daniel 4:11, Daniel 4:20, Daniel 4:23; Luke 13:7-9).

(b) The "fan" to separate the chaff from the wheat was in Messiah's hand (cf. Psalms 1:4; Daniel 2:35; Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:49).

(c) The "wrath to come," or predicted destruction of Messiah's enemies (Malachi 4:6), was set before them.

(d) The "unquenchable fire" of hell was shadowed in the horrors of the judgments of God upon the city. Gurnell says, speaking of the lost, "Their torment makes them sin, and their sin feeds their torment, one being fuel for the other."

(e) "He that cometh" and "the wrath to come" are nearly associated (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10). It is evermore "wrath to come."

(f) The danger is imminent. "Even now," etc. Fools only can make a mock of sin.


1. Multitudes were deeply moved. This fact is clearly set forth in the text (see also Luke 3:7).

(1) Here was a great honour put upon John. He was a man of retirement. God often confers the greater honour on those who court it least.

(2) These multitudes were not moved solely by John's eloquence. They were "a people prepared of the Lord" (Luke 1:17). The same Holy Spirit who called and qualified John moved the people to wait upon his ministry.

(3) The prayers of the faithful probably had much to do with it.

(a) Like his prototype Elijah, John himself was a man of prayer. This was the moral of his retirement in the wilderness.

(b) There were also those who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem"—those who, like Anna, "departed not from the temple, worshipping with lastings and supplications night and day" (Luke 2:37, Luke 2:38).

(c) Who can say to what extent blessings come upon the Church and upon the world in response to the prayers of saints dwelling in obscurity (cf. Ezra 10:1)?

2. Notorious sinners were moved.

(1) Such there would naturally be amongst the multitudes.

(2) "Publicans and harlots" appear to have been baptized by John (see Matthew 21:32). None are too wicked to be saved but those who are too wicked to repent.

3. Unlikely sinners were moved.

(1) Of this number were the Pharisees.

(a) They were orthodox Jews, who believed in Church doctrines and traditions.

(b) They were formalists, strict in life, and who prided themselves upon their righteousness. What need could such persons feel for repentance?

(c) Yet many of them, their righteousness notwithstanding, had the viper's venom in their hearts. Formalism may consist with heart-malice.

(2) Of this number also were the Sadducees. They were the opposite of the Pharisees. They rejected Church traditions. They interpreted the Scriptures in the rationalistic spirit. They denied the immortality of the soul and the existence of the angels. They were materialists and deists. Of what use would repentance be to such?

(3) John was astonished to see these coming. He noticed how they came in company. So he treated them alike. Extremes meet.

4. The results of the movement were various.

(1) Some came under true religious conviction. They confessed their sins, i.e. took them home to themselves. With these there was no attempt to throw the blame, in whole or part, upon either God or man (see 1 John 1:8). Those who thus received the baptism of John were prepared to become disciples of Jesus (John 1:35-37).

(2) Some came 'because their neighbours came. Note here the power of

(a) example;

(b) fashion;

(c) numbers.

Men, like sheep, are gregarious. Of these some became true disciples. Others went back when the excitement subsided (cf. Ezekiel 33:31-33; John 5:35). Many come to ordinances the power of which they never feel.

(3) Some came from selfish policy. Forming conceptions of the coming kingdom suited to their gross affections, they thought it might offer them advantages of civil distinction. Upon discovering the spiritual nature of the kingdom, they were offended. Such were the majority of the Pharisees and lawyers (cf. Matthew 21:25; Luke 7:27-30). There are still those who join Churches for worldly ends.—J.A.M.

Matthew 3:13-15

The baptism of Jesus by John.

The baptisms of Jesus at the Jordan were two, viz. that ministered by John and that ministered by the Holy Ghost. The former now claims attention. Jesus himself sought this baptism. Why?


1. That the Scripture might be fulfilled.

(1) At the Jordan God "began to magnify Joshua in the sight of all Israel," that he might be the successor of Moses (Joshua 3:7).

(2) Therein Joshua was a type of Jesus. Jesus and his gospel replace Moses and his Law. How fitting, then, that Jesus should be authenticated at the same Jordan!

3. Both authentications took place at the same spot. John baptized at Bethabara (John 1:28). This place had its name, the "House of passage," from the passage of Israel under Joshua through the Jordan there. What a tissue of wonders is the providence of God!

2. That the mission of Jesus might be indicated.

(1) How expressive is the language of signs! To have described the mission of Jesus in words would have been to have written the Gospels by anticipation. This is done in prophecy. We see it in the typical history of Joshua. The sign of the baptism at Bethabara calls attention to this.

(2) In it we see that, as Joshua became the successor of Moses there, so now Jesus comes to abolish the Law and to introduce the better hope of his gospel.

(3) Further, that as Moses died in the wilderness and left the people there, so the Law can bring us into its entanglements and terrify us with trumpet-blasts and thunders, but is powerless to bring us out. But as Joshua brought the people out, so can Jesus do by his gospel what the Law never could effect.

(4) Also that as Joshua became a captain over Israel to fight their battles, vanquish giants, and settle them in Canaan, so is Jesus become "the Captain of our salvation."


1. John himself was astonished at this.

(1) Jesus was personally , immeasurably. John's superior. John, though amongst the greatest of men, was but a man. Jesus was Immanuel. He was that "Jehovah" of whom John was but the herald.

(2) Jesus was officially, unanswerably, John's superior. John baptized with "water." Jesus, with the "Holy Ghost."

(3) But how did John discover this? Previously, he only knew that Messiah had arrived (see John 1:31-33). He was a prophet, and saw as a seer (cf. 1 Samuel 9:15, 1 Samuel 9:17; Luke 1:15; Luke 2:26). We see Jesus unto salvation when God opens the eyes of the soul.

(4) John had need of the baptism of Jesus. No man is so great as to be independent of him. The purest are most sensible of their remaining impurity, and seek the more earnestly the spiritual washing.

(5) But what need had Jesus of the baptism of John? It was the "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Jesus had no sins to confess. Therefore he "went up straightway from the water."

2. He came to fulfil all righteousness.

(1) The dispensation of John was "from heaven" as truly as was that of Moses. It was therefore as necessary that Jesus should respect it as that he should fulfil the Law of Moses.

(2) In this, as in other things, Jesus is our Exemplar; and he teaches us to yield exact obedience to positive precepts. Questionings of reason that would make us hesitate must have no place. And as the baptism of the Spirit followed, we are taught to expect special blessing Upon such obedience.

(3) Jesus submitted to the baptism of John as our Surety; and he shows us that he took our sin upon him that he might wash it away. And the voice of Divine approbation which followed assures us of the effectual manner in which he did this for us. So listen to that voice that it may carry the heavenly witness to your heart. Through Jesus becoming Righteousness we may become righteous. Hence the plural, "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness."

(4) "John forbade" Jesus, as Peter did when Jesus offered to wash his feet (John 13:6-8; cf. Luke 1:43). "Suffer it to be so now." No pretence of humility must induce us to neglect a duty.


1. He was then of the legal age to enter upon his ministry.

(1) (Cf. Numbers 4:3; Luke 3:28.)

(2) John had commenced his ministry six months earlier; for there was that difference of age. God has an order as well as a law. Both should be respected.

2. The juncture was fitting.

(1) It was while John was in the midst of his ministry. He had already spent six months of it, and within another similar term that ministry was closed. As Moses the Levite testified to Joshua, and passed away; so John the Levite—a representative of Moses—testified to Jesus, and passed away. The end of every holy ministry is to testify to Christ.

(2) John's reputation as a prophet was established. His testimony was conclusive. Our influence, at its best, should testify to Christ.

(3) Joshua prepared for the passage of the Jordan three days before that passage was effected. This testimony at the Jordan was three years before Jesus crossed the Jordan of death. He was in his passage through that river in judgment "three days." The baptism of Jesus at the Jordan, that river being viewed as an emblem of death, gives emphasis and illustration to those words of Paul, "Are ye ignorant that all ye who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (Romans 6:3). It is through the death of Christ that we live.—J.A.M.

Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17

The baptism of Jesus by the Holy Ghost.

After receiving John's baptism, Jesus "went up straightway from the water." He did not remain to make confession of sin, and for the obvious reason that he had none. He went up "from the water," or ascended the outer hank of the Jordan; for John appears to have ministered his baptism within the double bank of that river. Then "lo, the heavens were opened unto him," etc. An interval is here clearly marked between the baptism of John and that of the Holy Ghost, to show that the baptisms are distinct. The latter was the true baptism of Jesus.


1. Here is Jesus, declared to be the Son of God.

(1) This is a Messianic title (see Psalms 2:7; also 2 Samuel 7:14, cited Hebrews 1:5; and Luke 1:35).

(2) It does not appear to be used to set forth the pre-existence of Jesus. It is even remarkable that John, when speaking of that preexistence, uses the title "Word;" but when he comes to treat of the Incarnation, then he uses this title (John 1:1-14).

(3) Nevertheless, as a title of the Incarnation, it expresses the Divinity of Christ. It sets forth Messiah as of the same nature with the Father (see ch. 26:63-65; John 1:18; John 5:18; John 10:36; John 19:7; Romans 1:3, Romans 1:4; Hebrews 1:1-14.).

2. He is so declared by the voice of the Father.

(1) This voice was probably like thunder (cf. John 12:29; also Job 40:9; Job 37:4, Job 37:5; Psalms 18:13; Psalms 29:3, Psalms 29:4).

(2) Yet was it distinct from thunder, for it came in articulate phrase. It was therefore supernatural. It resembled the voice in which the Lord spake to Moses or answered the high priests who consulted him by the Urim and Thummim.

(3) The vision of the Father is reserved for the heavenly state. The angels do there continually enjoy it (see Matthew 18:10; Luke 1:19; cf. Esther 1:14). Hitherto man has not seen the Father (see Deuteronomy 4:12; John 1:18). The sonship of man will be revealed in the resurrection; then will also be revealed the Fatherhood of God. We hear of these things now by the hearing of the ear; the eye shall see them then (Romans 8:19).

3. The Spirit of the Father rests upon the Son.

(1) It came from the cloven heavens—from the "excellent glory." It was "the Spirit of glory and of God."

(2) It came as a dove. The stream of glory hovered as a dove hovers before it alights, and then rested upon him. Possibly also in the very form of a dove. In either case it was supernatural.

(3) "It abode upon him" (John 1:32-34). The gift of the Spirit as a Spirit of wisdom and power is to be distinguished from the indwelling of the same Spirit as a Spirit of holiness. The apostles are repeatedly said to be "filled with the Holy Ghost;" but of Jesus it is said once for all that he was "fall of the Holy Ghost" (Luke 4:1).

(4) Out of his fulness we receive the measures of grace (John 1:16; John 3:34, John 3:35).


1. As to the fact

(1) This is certified by Luke, who, after describing the baptism of Jesus, adds this note: "And Jesus himself, when he began to teach, was about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23).

(2) It is also evident from the event. For immediately after his baptism Jesus was driven into the wilderness. There he engaged in conflict with Satan; and after forty days he entered a synagogue and opened his commission in these words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach To-day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:18-21).

(3) He had his commission in the voice. God spake in oh! time by the prophets. The Baptist was the last and greatest of these. "This is my Son." He now calls attention to the mission and teaching of Jesus (cf. Matthew 17:5).

2. As to the form.

(1) The Spirit of God came upon him. This is the indispensable qualification. When he descends upon the preacher, the light of heaven comes into his soul. Without the Spirit of God there can be no effective spiritual teaching.

(2) It came upon him as a dove. The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in tongues or flames, of fire. There was something to he purged in them. Christ had nothing that needed cleansing. The dove is the emblem of innocence, purity, and meekness (see Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 42:2). These qualities should be sought and cultivated by all preachers (cf. Matthew 10:16).

3. As to the effect.

(1) It was illuminating. The glory streaming from the opened heavens was the symbol and sign of spiritual illumination.

(2) It was miracle-working. To the qualification of his baptism his doctrine and miracles are ascribed (see Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:28; John 3:34; Acts 10:37, Acts 10:38).

(3) All God's people have the Spirit of sanctification. Special gifts are specially given.


1. In the complete consecration the baptisms are three.

(1) There was the baptism of water. "Moses brought Aaron and his sons" to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation and "washed them with water."

(2) This was followed by the baptism of oil. "Moses poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anointed him to sanctify him."

(3) The baptisms were completed in that of blood. "Moses took the blood" of the ram of consecration, "and put it upon Aaron's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot."

(4) These baptisms had their counterpart severally in the consecration of Christ, viz. at the Jordan; on the Mount of Transfiguration; and in Gethsemane and Calvary.

2. We are here concerned with the first of these.

(1) As Moses the Levite washed Aaron with water; so John, also a Levite, washed Jesus with water, to mark him as the Antitype of Aaron.

(2) But the baptism which really inaugurated Jesus was that of the Holy Ghost, which followed the baptism of John. "It is the Spirit that beareth witness" in this case, not the "water" (cf. 1 John 5:6, 1 John 5:8, 1 John 5:9).

(3) The attesting voice comes now with fresh meaning. "My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Jesus came to do the will and fulfil the pleasure of God, which the Law failed to do or fulfil (cf. Hebrews 10:5-10).

(4) No eulogy could be greater. We, in Christ, may hear this voice of eulogy in the last day. We are "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).

(5) Bethabara had its name, the "House of passage," from the passage of the children of Israel over the Jordan at that place. Then the river was cloven. Now the heavens are cloven. There the people went up into Canaan, the type of heaven. The gospel is the kingdom of heaven, and brings heaven near.

(6) Jesus at Bethabara represented his Church. There the glory of heaven came down upon him, though he did not then cross the Jordan. We must be baptized from heaven and with heaven before we can ascend into heaven.—J.A.M.


Matthew 3:1

The mission of preaching.

"Preaching in the wilderness of Judaea." John Baptist was not a teacher; he was precisely a preacher, in the first and proper sense of that word. Everywhere in the New Testament it implies proclaiming after the manner of a herald. It is the term used in the Old Testament of the witnessing work of the prophets (see Nehemiah 6:7; Isaiah 61:1; Jonah 3:2, etc.). There is a distinct place for the preacher and for the teacher. They may be combined in one man, and the processes of preaching and teaching may go on together; but usually, if a man has the one gift, he has not the other; and we are constantly making the mistake of expecting a man to have the one gift because we see plainly that he has the other. Two things are gathered up in the term "preaching."

I. PREACHING AS PROCLAIMING A MESSAGE. The preacher is but the agency, or medium, by means of which a message is conveyed. So John calls himself a "voice," because what he said was the all-important thing. This is the idea of the prophet, who was the medium through which a message of God was carried into the minds of men. It is essential to every preacher that he should have something to proclaim; therefore what Christian preachers preach is called the "gospel," or "good news."

1. But the preacher must be sure of his message. Compare the expression used by prophets, "The word of God came to me." A preacher proclaims, not what he thinks, but what he knows; what he grips as the truth of God given him to declare. The "accent of conviction" is the test of the true preacher.

2. And they who hear must feel convinced of the authority of the messenger. Not an authority arising out of his office, but out of the evidence that he holds a commission, and has a message. In what sense can preachers nowadays be said to have their messages direct from God?

II. PREACHING AS PERSUADING TO RESPOND TO THE MESSAGE. This brings to view the personal force of the preacher. To be a herald he need but be a voice. To be a persuader he must be a voice with a tone in it; and that tone is the personal element. See, then, the kind of preachers that become men of power. They are men who "tell the truth;" but they are much more than this—they are men who, like John the Baptist, can "make the truth tell."—R.T.

Matthew 3:2

The plea by which repentance is urged.

"For the kingdom of heaven is at hand." There seems to be evidence that Judaea was in a very low moral condition when John the Baptist appeared. Ceremonial religion took the place of practical righteousness, rabbinical rules covered personal indulgence and iniquity, luxury enervated the wealthy, and restlessness led to crime among the masses. It was a time when a moral reformation was needed, and John was, first of all, a national reformer. What John sought was the national repentance—the change of mind of the nation (compare Jonah's preaching to Nineveh). He dealt with individuals, not in relation to their private concerns, but as representatives of the nation; so we find that he convicts of the sins of classes, not of personal sins. From this point of view John's work can be effectively compared with that of the ancient prophets (e.g. Elijah), who Were essentially national reformers. Those old prophets had demanded national repentance as a preparation for some special manifestation of the delivering or restoring power of God. The revelation of grace could not come unless men were morally prepared to receive it. So John pleads that the Messianic manifestation is close at hand, is at the doors; and there should be readiness to receive it. Illustrate by the Eastern custom of demanding that the roads should be repaired when an Eastern king proposed to visit a district.

I. WE CLAIM REPENTANCE BECAUSE GOD WILL JUDGE, Our plea is the sinfulness of sin, the certain consequences of sin, the future judgment on sins. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." This is right for the individual. Partly right. But even for the individual it may be doubted whether the revelation of Divine grace is not a more truly humbling force. "A sense of blood-bought pardon soon dissolves a heart of stone."

II. JOHN CLAIMED REPENTANCE BECAUSE GOD WILL SAVE. The "kingdom of heaven" is the manifestation of God's delivering grace and power, the fulfilment of the national hope. He says, because God is gracious, therefore repent. The apostle ventures to declare that the "goodness of God" should "lead to repentance." And that is true to human nature, though doctrinal theologies have tended to obscure the truth. Love is the great melting, humbling power. God's redemption is the true convicter of sin.—R.T.

Matthew 3:3

The law of Divine preparation.

God never acts suddenly. He who sees the end from the beginning never needs to act suddenly, for he never can be taken at unawares. It is easy to grasp this thought when we consider only material things; but it is not so easy when we take account of the complications introduced by the ever-varying human will. Do man's impulsive actions never call for Divine promptitude in response to them? To this we answer—No. God's ommscience is to be thought of as including, as anticipating, every movement of the human will. Illustrate by showing how science has corrected the older notion of the suddenness of creation. We now know that preparing the earth for the probation of man was the work of long millenniums, and was arranged in stages, each one of which prepared the way for the other. The older geology explained many things by the theory of sudden catastrophies; the newer geology traces the long preparations for what takes climactic form at last. So it is prophesied that the Lord shall suddenly come to his temple, but the suddenness is only an outward seeming, a sensible impression; really the long ages prepared for his coming. Then it follows that God must always have servants engaged in preparing work, who never can have the cheer of results; and are always in danger of being misunderstood by others, as accomplishing nothing. God will say, "Well done, preparers!"

I. THINGS THAT SEEM SUDDEN AND ISOLATED ARE ALWAYS ISSUES, AND ALWAYS STAND IN CONNECTIONS. illustrate by the coming of Messiah as prepared for by John and connected with his ministry. Take any event that ever has happened, modem scientific inquiry demands to know where it stands; how it is related; what it has come up out of; by what processes it is arrived at. Our Bible is really the history of the Divine series of preparations; and our very life is only apprehended aright when it is regarded as the preparation for the life to come.

II. THE ADVENT OF MESSIAH SEEMS SUDDEN AND ISOLATED, BUT IT IS AN ISSUE, AND IT STANDS IN CONNECTIONS. This opens a familiar line of thought. Preparations for Messiah are found

(1) in promises;

(2) in prophecies;

(3) in songs of hope;

(4) in historical events;

(5) in preaching demands, such as John's, etc.

The issue of four thousand years of Divine preparation.—R.T.

Matthew 3:4

A man may be his message.

The evangelists dwell on the peculiarities of John's dress, food, and habits, as if the utmost importance attached to these, and they were an essential part of John's witness. To see the man was to apprehend his message. His peculiarities were not personal oddities, but designed ministry. How far his dress was the recognized prophet's dress cannot be decided; but it is clear that he designed to present an example of severe self-restraint as a marked contrast to the luxury and self-indulgence of that age. Illustrate by reference to Diogenes the Cynic, who testified against the gaiety and luxury of the Athenians. He limited his desires to necessities. He ate little, and what he ate was often the coarsest. His dress consisted solely of a cloak. A wallet and a huge stick completed his accoutrements. He lived in a tub. Note also the witness of the Quakers' plain garb; and the moral force of distinctive dress such as that worn by sisters of mercy, etc.

I. A MAN HIMSELF IS A POWER OF INFLUENCE. We are so constantly thinking of, and estimating, what a man does or says, that we are in danger of thinking that a man's power is exclusively his activity. Then we are likely to divorce character and work, and say, "It does not matter what a man is privately so that he does well publicly." But the fact is that the man himself does more than the man's activity. 'What he is is more important than what he does. His unconscious influence is more effective than his conscious. Here is the ministry of a man's words and works, but there is also the more searching ministry of the man himself. If John the Baptist had said nothing, he would have preached repentance by his clothes and by his food. From this impress the duty of making our dress and habits the simple expression of ourselves.

II. A MAN SHOULD CULTURE HIMSELF IN ORDER TO BE THE BEST POSSIBLE POWER OF INFLUENCE. Just this John did. He put his daily habits into severe self-restraint; reduced his clothes and food to the narrowest limits. And this because he intelligently set before himself a precise aim, and resolved to. secure fitness for accomplishing that aim. Impress the truth that a man is never his true self while he allows his personal influence to be a mere accident. Most men merely happen to influence. Noble men resolve to influence, decide how they will influence, and put themselves into holy restraints in order, to gain power.—R.T.

Matthew 3:6

The moral value of confession.

"Confessing their sins." "There are two cases which lead men in communities to the confession of particular sins in the presence of their fellows, before God and before man. Any moral exaltation which places them so that they see evil from a plane higher than that on which they live ordinarily, and where its relations, its tendencies, its nature, and character are clearly revealed, constantly tends to produce confession. There is also a confession which results from social magnetism. Communities are sometimes possessed, for short periods, with a paroxysm of contrition." There are many, however, who are quite willing to confess their sinfulness who will not confess their sins. It may be asked—Why should confession be demanded? What moral value lies in it? God knows all things: why, then, does he want us to say to him what he knows? Yet we observe that man demands open acknowledgment of fault, that is, confession, as the sign of sincerity of repentance, on the part of those who grieve him. Repentance as mere sentiment is of no value. If it is more than sentiment, it will gain two forms of expression.

1. Acknowledgment of the sin.

2. Putting away of the sin henceforth.

It is not evangelical repentance we feel if we shrink from doing either of these two things. The moral value of repentance that finds expression in confession is exhibited in a very striking way by St. Paul. "What carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!" (2 Corinthians 7:11). The special point which may be opened and illustrated is, that confession assures of personal thought and feeling. It is the expression of the aroused, awakened man, whose indifference is gone, who sees himself, and is oppressed with the sight. If a man really confesses, he must have got a real self-hold.

I. A RELIGION OF MERE ASSOCIATION IS WORTHLESS. Yet that is all the religion so many have. It has no confession in it, save the unintelligent, parrot-like repetition of a formula.

II. A RELIGION OF PERSONAL CONVICTIONS ALONE IS WORTHY. One of its earliest signs is confession: because as soon as a man comes to think, he is dissatisfied with himself, and finds that he wants to say so. Saying so is the way toward gaining relief.—R.T.

Matthew 3:9

The subtlety of self-deceptions.

The Jews always were, and still are, remarkable for their pride of race; for their confidence of acceptance with God on the simple ground of their Abrahamic relations. And there was a certain amount of reasonable ground for such pride. The Abrahamic was a privileged race; it did stand in a special covenant with God. But, in a subtle way, this merely outward relationship had come to be used as an excuse for neglecting personal piety. Their relation to God was secure for this life and any other, and therefore all anxiety was removed, personal religious concern came to be regarded as a work of supererogation. Illustrate by the deceptive influence of antinomian tenets. How easily they take on a garb of supreme piety, and yet hide out of sight negligences, and even permitted moral evil! In many subtle ways men try to deceive themselves into the idea that race-relations, formal connections, will suffice to secure their eternal safety. In so many forms men say, "We have Abraham to our father;" all is well. Men are glad to get away from the searching spiritual, from that personal Word of God which is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." They can do with general and official relations with God; they cannot do with personal relations. There is a thrill of fear if prophets abruptly say, "Prepare to meet thy God." So they are willing to be deceived. This deception, which John Baptist deals with so scornfully, put on a semblance of piety. Who could take exception to it? And yet the relationship was not necessarily a spiritual one. They are the true children of Abraham who inherit Abraham's faith. This the classes John reproved did not care to see. Spiritual relationships are the only important relationships. Work out two thoughts.

I. Religious self-deceptions provide BODILY OCCUPATIONS AND RELATIONS in place of spiritual ones. Routines, ceremonials, relationships.

II. Religious self-deceptions put MAN'S AUTHORITIES IN PLACE OF GOD'S. Ministries of helpfulness man may provide; "dominion over faith" even the great apostle steadfastly refused to claim.—R.T.

Matthew 3:11

The twofold baptism.

The author of 'Ecce Homo'suggests the distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus, which John himself puts in such strong contrast. "Christ was to baptize with a Holy Spirit' and with fire. John felt his own baptism to have something cold and negative about it. It was a renouncing of definite bad practices. The soldier bound himself to refrain from violence; the tax-gatherer, from extortion. But more than this was wanting. It was necessary that an enthusiasm should be kindled. The phrase, 'baptize with fire,'seems at first sight to contain a mixture of metaphors. Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can warmth cleanse? The answer is that moral warmth does cleanse. No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic. And such an enthusiastic virtue Christ was to introduce." This suggestion helps us to a more precise view of the distinction between the two baptisms, and the relation of one to the other.

I. WATER-BAPTISM IS THE TYPE OF PUTTING OFF SURFACE ACTS OF SIN. Attention should be fixed on the ministry of water. It washes off; it cleanses surfaces. "The result of John's baptism, even for those who received it faithfully, did not go beyond the change of character and life implied in repentance." Illustrate by the advice given to the different classes who came to John. They were to cease their wrong-doing, to put away their characteristic faults, to wash off their particular sins from the record of their lives. In a similar way Isaiah pleads, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16). This is the proper beginning of moral reformation; but it is only a beginning.

II. FIRE-BAPTISM IS THE TYPE OF BURNING OUT THE SOUL OF SIN, THE LOVE OF SIN. Fire is a cleanser; it is, indeed, the supreme cleanser, because it searches into the very substance of a thing. So fire is applied to metals. The fire is to "try every man's work, of what sort it is." Christ is to deal with that spiritual condition out of which the acts of sin come. To put the matter sharply, John only dealt with actions and opinions. Christ deals with feelings, and will; cleansing the very thoughts of the heart.—R.T.

Matthew 3:12

Christ's unquenchable fire.

It is not possible to think that John could have referred to what we call "hell-fire"—the punishment-fires of the next life. And we need have no definite opinions concerning the nature of that fire in order to understand John's figure here. Speaking of Messiah's actual present work in souls, he calls it a "baptism of fire," and he further remarks on its severity and continuity. His baptism of water was but of a temporary and symbolical character. Christ's baptism of fire would be permanent and spiritually real—a fire that would go on burning until all the world's evil was burned up. As illustration, note that "every year all effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up in the autumn fire of nature, and only what has promise of life and usefulness passes scatheless through the ordeal. This flaming besom of nature's fire sweeps from sight in the most obscure nooks, as well as in the most open places, the impurities of death and decay, in order to prepare the stage for fresh life and new growth."

I. THE SEVERITY OF CHRIST'S WORK. Apparently John's seems to be more arresting and severe; but really it does not prove to be so. There is all the difference between "washing off" and "burning out." The very forces themselves, "water," "fire," suggest the distinction. Repentance seems severe; the after-time resolute dealing with sin and rooting it out is much more severe. Christian keeping on is much more stern than Christian beginning. Illustrate by the Book of Revelation. The living Christ is actually present in his Churches, and at work, making them altogether white; and all the forces, famine, war, commotions, disease, etc., are the fires in which he is burning away the dross, and making the silver shine perfectly white. He were no true friend of sinners if he withheld necessary severity.

II. THE CONTINUITY OF CHRIST'S WORK. What is presented to thought is, that nothing will check or stop the Divine fire-cleansing. That it will stop when its work is done is assumed. The fire will keep on consuming as long as there is anything to consume, but no one conceives evil to be eternal. Christ will burn on until his burning work is needed no more.—R.T.

Matthew 3:15

The claims of righteousness.

"For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." The term "righteousness" here plainly means the lawful claims of the authority to which, at a given time, we are subject. It may be the Mosaic Law. It may be the Christian law. But the point of our Lord's answer is really this: "The Messianic lair is not yet come in; it is not yet established; I am still under the Mosaic Law; that requires my obedience to the Jehovah-prophets who may be raised up; I have no right to make laws for myself. I must obey the Law I know until that Law is evidently set aside for another." It is the answer of the truly loyal Jew, of the man who personally feared God, and meant to show his fear by a simple, unquestioning, persistent obedience.

I. THE CLAIMS OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WE KNOW. Every man must be judged in the light of his response to those claims. A man cannot be judged in the light of a righteousness that somebody else knows, or that he may get to know some day. He is responsible if he might have known of a higher righteousness, and made no effort to use his opportunity. From a later standpoint it would have been fitter for Jesus to baptize John; but from that standpoint it was the right thing for John to baptize Jesus. What is our idea of right to-day? And what is our conduct regarded as a response to our idea?

II. THE CLAIMS OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WE MAY COME TO KNOW. For the standard of righteousness can improve; it does change. Our Lord distinctly apprehended stages in the conception of righteousness when he said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees." And the old standard ceases to be our standard when we have gained a new and a better. Illustrate by the disciples found who had only reached to John's baptism. St. Paul instructed them in the more perfect way, and they were baptized in the Name of Christ. So elevation of the standard of righteousness brings serious increase of personal responsibility.—R.T.

Matthew 3:16

The dove-Spirit on Christ.

"Descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." Comparing the accounts given by the evangelists, it still remains uncertain whether what was seen by John actually had the form of a dove, or hovered or brooded as a descending bird does. But for our fixed associations, and the familiar comments, we should be more willing to see that the brooding, resting, abiding of the Spirit on Jesus, is the thing intended to be set prominently before us by the figure. It will be safer, perhaps, to fix attention on both the explanations.

I. THE SPIRIT ON CHRIST UNDER THE DOVE-FIGURE. "The gift of supernatural power and wisdom brought with it also the perfection of the tenderness, the purity, the gentleness, of which the dove was the acknowledged symbol" (see Matthew 10:16). "Harmless as doves;" and compare the Baptist's figures, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Seeley says, "There settled on his head a dove, in which the Baptist saw a visible incarnation of that Holy Spirit with which he declared that Christ should baptize." "According to the symbolism of the Bible, certain mental characters appear expressed m several animals, as in the lion, the lamb, the eagle, and the ox. In this system of natural hieroglyphics the dove denotes purity and sincerity, and hence the Spirit of purity may be most fittingly compared with the dove. The coming of the Spirit like a dove denotes, consequently, that the fulness of the Spirit of purity and sincerity was imparted to Jesus, whereby he became the Purifier of mankind."

II. THE SPIRIT ON CHRIST UNDER THE BROODING FIGURE. The impression to be made both on John and Jesus was of the abiding, permanent endowment of Christ with the precise spiritual power needed for his Messianic mission. We are to distinguish carefully between the Divine nature of Christ, which was unaffected by this brooding Spirit, and the precise gift needed for the Messiahship. The Spirit dwelt in him.—R.T.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/matthew-3.html. 1897.
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