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§ 15. COMING AND MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, Matthew 3:1-40.3.13 .
1. In those days The days in which our Saviour dwelt at Nazareth, as is detailed in the last chapter.
Yet between the two chapters an interval of near thirty years has transpired. The infant Saviour has grown to manhood, and the period when the main work of his mission must be accomplished has arrived. His reputed father, Joseph, after living for some years as a carpenter at Nazareth, had died. His maternal brothers and sisters had grown up around him. The prodigies which attended his birth had almost passed from memory. His younger brothers, ignorant of the occurrence, doubted his claims to the Messiahship. His mother almost alone retained the remembrance undimmed; so that when the time for his first miracle arrived (John 2:3) she erred, not by want of faith, but by impatience for the mighty work.
Why did the brethren of our Lord, and his Nazarene townsmen, not recognize in his perfection of childhood his divine nature? This is not wonderful. It is probable that his innocent goodness appeared tame and insipid to their depraved tastes. It attracted less notice than the flaring smartness of many a boyish genius, or the precocity of any boyish bully. The sinless man was despised and rejected; no wonder the sinless child. Of the personal appearance of Jesus, not the slightest description is given in the New Testament. Pictures of him were in existence as early as the fourth century; but they are rather representatives of the ideal of Jesus in the mind of a man of pictorial genius, than an authentic likeness of his person.
Came The evangelist says not that John lived; or that he appeared or flourished; but emphatically he came. The beginning of the explanation of the word is found in Matthew 17:10-40.17.13, where our Lord declares that John the Baptist is Elias (Elijah) that should come. And by this we are referred to the fourth chapter of Malachi, which chapter should be well studied, in connection with the history of Elijah the prophet, by all who would get the key to the character of John. For John was the antitype of Elias, and in him Malachi 4:5 was fulfilled.
John the Baptist His miraculous birth, with its attendant wonders, is narrated by Luke, chap. 1. John was the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, devout persons and of priestly rank. His mother was cousin of Mary, the blessed virgin mother. His birth was six months previous to that of the Messiah. It was pre-announced by the angel Gabriel, was attended by marked miracles, and celebrated by his father in an inspired song. He waxed strong in spirit, and preparatory to his stern mission “he was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.” While our Saviour was maturing to manhood in Galilee, John was growing up to be his forerunner in the hill country of Judea; so totally unacquainted, that when Jesus came into John’s presence for baptism, the Baptizer knew him not.
The Baptist That is, the Baptizer. Many learned men have maintained that the baptism of proselytes existed among the Jews before the coming of John. After a critical review of the question of its existence, (Bib. Rep., April, 1853,) Prof. Stuart decides that “the probability, on the ground of evidence, is strong against it.” John then was probably called the baptist as being the first baptizer. Passages like John 1:25 and Matthew 21:24-40.21.27 are most naturally explained under the view that John originated baptism proper by divine appointment, but in accordance with a Jewish expectation, that something of the sort would be established, suggested by passages like Isaiah 52:13; Ezekiel 36:25; Zechariah 13:1.
Preaching That is, proclaiming; or still more literally, heralding, or crying forth as a herald who goes forth to make proclamation. Heralds were anciently kings’ criers, who went forth to proclaim their mandates.
Wilderness of Judea In the deserts near the Jordan. John appears to have begun his ministry first in the rural districts near Hebron. Afterward he removed nearer to the wild tract between Jerusalem, the Jordan, and the Dead Sea; and finally took his position at Bethabara. This spot he selected from the need of plenty of water. Along the western margin of the Jordan and Dead Sea the country was wild, and covered with but a thin population. Bethabara was traditionally believed to be the place where Joshua and the tribes entered the land of Canaan. Hence its name signifies the ford of the Jordan.
It is proper here to point out some of the special traits in which Elijah was the historical type of John.
Elijah was the founder or introducer of the prophets, as Moses was of the law, and as John was the introducer of the kingdom of Christ. He preceded the coming and indwelling of God with the prophetic order; as John preceded the coming and indwelling of God in Christ. He dwelt apart, as John did, in the desert, as a rebuke of the corruption of the social mass. He had his Ahab and his Jezebel, by whom he was murdered in intention; as John had his Herod and his Herodias, by whom he was murdered in reality.
2. Repent The Jewish nation had in the time of John verged to the extreme point of depravity. Such is the testimony given in the strongest language, and painted in the most vivid colors by their own historian, Josephus. John came therefore to bring about a reformation, in order to set them in fitting state to receive the Messiah. That is, it was his mission to bring them to the moral standard of the Mosaic law, in order to fit them for the Gospel. Like his type Elijah, he was but partially successful; and a captivity, worse than punished Israel for rejecting Elijah, has fallen on Israel for rejecting John.
Kingdom of heaven As Jesus is the Messiah, that is, the Anointed, that is, the King, so his Gospel is a law, and his dispensation is a kingdom. As a false king, namely, Satan, the adversary, has long maintained on earth the unrightful dominion of hell, so it is Messiah’s mission to come to the earth and raise the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom on earth is the shadow and lower apartment of the kingdom above. Sometimes both the kingdoms, above and below, are contemplated as one. Is at hand The establishment of this kingdom was predicted by Daniel 2:44: “The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” The kingdom of heaven, expected by the Jews of John’s day, varied according to the views of different individuals and different sects. Generally they expected that the Messiah, a man endowed with attributes more or less divine, would be the founder and monarch of that kingdom. It should be a holy kingdom, rule over all nations, and last forever. Israel would be, instead of Rome, the ruling nation of the earth. At this particular time the dominion of Rome over Judea was oppressive. Palestine was governed by a Roman procurator, who held his capital at Cesarea, leaving Jerusalem in a secondary rank. The national feeling was embittered, and seditions under rebellious leaders were constantly occurring. Hence it was a favorite thought that the Messiah should break the Roman yoke, and rule supremely at Jerusalem.
3. This is he that was spoken of by Esaias Isaiah 40:3-23.40.5. I agree with Mr. Watson, that the passage has no reference to the return from Babylon, (as some commentators imagine,) of which it would be no true description.
The voice of one crying The passage is more fully given by Luke 3:4-42.3.6, to which, or to the prophet, the reader should refer. Dr. Thomson says:
“When Ibrahim Pasha proposed to visit certain places on Lebanon, the emeers and sheikhs sent forth a general proclamation, somewhat in the style of Isaiah’s exhortation, to all the inhabitants, to assemble along the proposed route, and prepare the way before him. The same was done in 1845, on a grand scale, when the present sultan visited Brusa. The stones were gathered out, crooked places straightened, and rough ones made level and smooth. I had the benefit of their labour a few days after his majesty’s visit. From customs like these comes the exhortation of John the Baptist: ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make his paths straight,’ etc.”
And so King Messiah is coming with all his train to assume his dominion. Before him a herald comes to prepare the way. The herald’s voice is heard ringing from the wilderness through which He is to march. As before the chariots of ordinary kings, the road must be graded; the elevations must be lowered and the depressions raised; so before this Divine King the very mountains must sink, and the vales must rise to prepare a level for his wheels.
4. Raiment of camel’s hair Of the finer hair of the camel an elegant kind of cloth is manufactured in the East called camlet. Of this our European and American camlet is an imitation, made of wool. But John’s garment was a coarse stuff, woven of the long and shaggy hair of the camel, such as was anciently worn by monks and anchorites. It was not, therefore, as some imagine, the camel’s skin. So his type Elijah was a hairy man in his dress. 2 Kings 1:8. So the false prophets imitated him by wearing a rough garment to deceive. Zechariah 13:4. Elijah also was girt with a leathern girdle about his loins. 2 Kings 1:8. It was customary to wear a girdle around the waist, in order to confine the loose dress to its place.
Meat Food. This sense of the word, like most of the peculiarities of phrase in the Scripture, is the old English mode in use when the Bible was translated. Locusts The law of Moses gave permission to eat locusts. “These may ye eat, of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four… the locust after his kind, and the bald locust,” etc. Leviticus 11:21. The Eastern locust is a food of a poor kind. On this subject Dr. Thomson says: “Do you suppose that the meat of John the Baptist was literally locusts and wild honey? Why not? by the Arabs they are eaten to this day. The perfectly trustworthy Burckhardt thus speaks on this subject: ‘ All the Bedouins of Arabia, and the inhabitants of towns in Nejd and Hedjaz are accustomed to eat locusts.’ ‘I have seen at Medina and Tayf locust shops where these animals were sold by measure. In Egypt and Nubia they are only eaten by the poorest beggars.’ ‘The Arabs, in preparing locusts as an article of food, throw them alive into boiling water with which a good deal of salt has been mixed. After a few minutes they are taken out and dried in the sun; the head, feet, and wings are then torn off; the bodies are cleansed from the salt and perfectly dried, after which process whole sacks are filled with them by the Bedouin. They are sometimes eaten boiled in butter, and they often contribute materials for a breakfast when spread over unleavened bread mixed with butter.’ Thus far Burckhardt. Locusts are not eaten in Syria by any but the Bedouin on the extreme frontiers, and it is always spoken of as a very inferior article of food, and regarded by most with disgust and loathing tolerated only by the very poorest people. John the Baptist, however, was of this class, either from necessity or election. He also dwelt in the desert, where such food was and is still used, and therefore the text states the simple truth. His ordinary ‘meat’ was dried locusts; probably fried in butter and mixed with honey, as is still frequently done. This honey, too, was the article made by bees, and not dibs from grapes, nor dates from the palm, nor anything else which ingenious commentators have invented. Wild honey is still gathered in large quantities from trees in the wilderness, and from rocks in the wadies, just where the Baptist sojourned, and where he came preaching the baptism of repentance.” Wild honey The chance honey produced by wild bees in hollow trees or clefts of rocks. So 1 Samuel 14:25: “All they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground. And when the people came into the wood, behold the honey dropped.”
This coarse and wild diet was intended by John, as well as by Elijah, to represent a perpetual fast.
John here presents the symbols of the repentance he preaches, according to ancient customs. The hair or sackcloth, the fasting and the solitude, were the ordinary outward signs of deepest humiliation. The whole process was a mode of saying: “We confess ourselves by sin unworthy of every blessing, even of food and raiment, and deserving to be sunk into humiliation and woe.” And John did not this for himself, but for the people. He was their representative. He was showing them by sign, as well as by word, what they ought to be and do. At the same time, by retreating from all society, he was protesting against the unutterable apostacy of the whole social system.
5. Went out Left their homes and went to the desert. Jerusalem, and all Judea Never was preacher, for the time, more successful than John. At his voice from the wilderness the heart of the whole nation was stirred. When they beheld his stern form their spirits were awed. When he announced the kingdom of heaven their expectations were roused. At no time perhaps did the preaching of Jesus himself produce so great a movement. Nor did the common people ever lose their reverence for the Baptist; the rulers never dared deny that he was a prophet, lest they should be stoned by the people. So prominent did he become, that Josephus, who, perhaps, never referred to Christ, did, as we shall remark in our notes upon the twelfth chapter, mention John the Baptist. Nor at this day are there wanting skeptics who affirm that John was the superior of Jesus. Yet the excitement of John’s preaching was but temporary; but for Jesus his name would be almost unknown; while the seed quietly sowed by Jesus, growing in secret, hath become the great tree which fills, and shall fill the earth. The whole social mass was moved. All about Jordan On both sides. There could have scarce been less than millions. There was once three millions of Jews at one passover. This was a movement of another kind, but no less numerous.
6. In Jordan The Jordan had several banks within banks, so that a person could be in the Jordan on dry ground. “In approaching the river,” says Dr. Thomson, “you descend several benches or terraces.” This expression, “in the Jordan,” only indicates, therefore, where the rite was performed; it in no way indicates the mode.
The JORDAN is, historically, the most interesting river in the world. It derives its sources from the snows of the Lebanon, whence it flows down to the Lake Gennesaret, through which it passes. Its current through the middle of that lake is distinctly visible. Thence it descends, through a distance of about sixty miles, to the Dead Sea. Its channel is very serpentine, but it trends, very directly, toward the south. The narrow plain upon its banks is usually very fertile, it is calculated to be, on the average, about thirty yards wide and nine feet deep, and its current is very rapid.
Confessing their sins Thus acknowledging that repentance was the object of their baptism. This act of repentance and baptism, under the administration of John, truly performed, had two effects: 1. It placed the subjects of the baptism in a present state of grace and favour with God. 2. It placed the heart in a right state to receive the coming king Messiah even in his mild and spiritual form, and to enter into his coming kingdom. Perseverance in the same temper, and progress in the same direction, would have brought them to the purposed result. It was by apostacy that Israel lost the Saviour.
7. Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees Many, but not all. They were the heads of the Church and State, and it was hard for them to come down into the vale of humiliation.
The PHARISEES derived their name from a Hebrew word signifying to separate. It indicated a profession of standing apart from a wicked world. When they arose is not clearly known. Their number at Herod’s death, according to Josephus, was six thousand. They claimed to be the orthodox party, and believed in the strictest letter of the law and all the traditions of the rabbies. They maintained their power by display of external sanctity, and so became hypocritical and ambitious; they exercised great influence over the popular mind; they finally only served to shed an air of sanctity over the wickedness of the day, and thus became the authors of a full security for crime. When John came many of them presented themselves for baptism. A few may have been truly penitent, but the larger number, perhaps expecting that they would be the hierarchy in the new Messianic realm, were insincere. When there came a Saviour from sin instead of a saviour from Rome and a conqueror, their hearts were wholly hostile unto him. They adhered to their sins; they took a stand of opposition to him; they involved themselves in rankling hate, sophistical gainsaying, plots and conspiracies, until they consummated their whole career by false accusation and judicial murder.
The SADDUCEES were worldly unbelievers, who admitted, indeed, the Pentateuch as the temporal though divine constitution of the state, and Moses as a founder; but denied immortality, spirits, angels, or resurrection. Their name is derived by some from their supposed founder, Sadoc, who flourished in the time of Alexander the Great; but others maintain that the word is but a form of the Hebrew word for “the just ones.” Their ideal theory of righteousness was very high; for a maxim, derived from Sadoc himself, as is claimed, runs thus: “Be not as those slaves that serve their master on this condition only, namely, that they may receive a reward.” But a maxim of such a nature could serve as little else than a moral pretension, which could be repeated with a lofty air of virtue, but would leave the heart and life to practical selfishness and sin. Herein the Sadducees resembled the Grecian Stoics, and the sect derived, no doubt, much of its character from Grecian philosophy. They were generally aristocrats in government, philosophical in profession, and ambitious of rule. Many of the Jewish statesmen were of this sect.
There was a third sect, called ESSENES, who lived in monastic seclusion, (very much like the Shakers of the present day,) renouncing meats, wine, marriage, and all secular life, and giving themselves up to visionary piety, and worshipping angels. Many of these, doubtless, became Christians, and brought in those heresies to the Church. Indeed, they were perhaps the original authors of the monkish and conventual system subsequently developed in popery.
Generation of vipers Not only m the history of the fall, but through the Bible generally the serpent is the emblem of a wicked race. John really holds these classes of men as the head and front of Jewish wickedness. They were responsible, in a great degree, for the depraved character of the times. John evidently knows their radical insincerity; they are, in spite of their coming for baptism, serpents, and of the very essential race of serpents.
8. Fruits meet John evidently sees the want of a proper prospect of reformation in these men correspondent with the external repentance. Meet Suitable.
9. Abraham to our father Abraham is but poorly the father of a brood of serpents. John warns them that bodily descent will not save them; they will be tried under the severe law of an individual responsibility. Of these stones Pointing, perhaps, to the stones of the Jordan. In thus sinking the high claims of Judaism, John, no doubt, indicates the coming rejection of the Jewish race.
10. Axe is laid unto the root of the trees Is about being laid by the axeman’s stroke. The verbs of this verse are in the present, to express a closely approaching future. Root To express utter destruction. It was not to be a simply organic destruction, but individual also. Each individual fruitless tree was to be hewn down by a stroke of death and cast into the subsequent fire of perdition. No Abrahamic descent could save them.
11. He that cometh after me is mightier This entire speech of John’s is mainly founded on the closing two chapters of the Old Testament, to which we have already referred, where is predicted the day of Christ’s coming, preceded by his harbinger, and attended by all the terrors of searching scrutiny, divine blessing, and fiery judgment. In this expression John alludes to Malachi 3:1: Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Jehovah whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple. (We may here remark that LORD, in capitals, in the Old Testament, means Jehovah, the incommunicable name of God.) The one to come after John was, indeed, mightier than he, being no other than Jehovah incarnate. Shoes Whenever a Jew entered a respectable house he left his sandals at the door. Orientals of rank are attended by a servant, who takes them in charge; and this is a very menial duty. But so humble is John the Baptist in comparison with his Lord, that the service which is too disgraceful to be performed for any man by anybody but the lowest servants, is too honorable for him to perform. This menial duty was sometimes performed in reverence by disciples for the rabbi. Baptize you with the Holy Ghost God’s holy Spirit had been at various times bestowed in sanctifying, regenerating, and miracle-working power under the old dispensation. Since the close of the Old Testament books, miracles had ceased; but Christ came preceded, attended, and succeeded by a stupendous display of divine powers. The baptism of the Holy Spirit in its sanctifying, quickening, and even wonder-working power, was one of these displays. It was even made visible in the memorable season of Pentecost. Acts 2:0.
This text is the fundamental passage for showing, from the very nature of the rite, what is the true mode of performing baptism. This I have shown at fuller length than is here possible, in my two sermons on The Double Baptism, in the Methodist Episcopal Pulpit. We may here remark:
1 . The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not by immersion but affusion. At the Pentecost, where the Spirit baptism was made visible, the tongues of fire descended and sat upon them. When our Lord was baptized the Holy Spirit descended and lighted upon him. On Cornelius and his company it was poured out. So Titus 3:5-56.3.6. The washing of regeneration is shed on us. Baptism by the Holy Ghost is always by affusion.
2 . If so, then the word baptizo, as a religious rite, does not necessarily or properly signify immersion. It is the descent of the element upon the person, not of the person into the element. For if baptism by the element spirit is affusion, then baptism by the element water is affusion. The meaning of the word is the same whatever be the element.
3 . We have here a principle of interpretation. The symbol ought always to conform to and picture its original. Now, spirit baptism is the original of which water baptism is the symbol. If spirit baptism be by affusion, certainly water baptism must also be affusion. Spiritual affusion cannot be symbolized by immersion in water. Hence immersion fundamentally fails to be a picture of the original. It is symbol without a reality, a shadow without a substance.
4 . The baptism by fire is a case equally clear. Its process was made visible at the Pentecost, when the fiery tongues sat upon the apostles. Baptismal fire is by affusion; the fire of hell is by immersion. So, Matthew 3:10, the fruitless tree is cast into the fire. So, Revelation 20:15, cast into the lake of fire.
And with fire The baptism of spirit and of fire are no doubt different parts or phases of the same process. To understand the difference between the two phases we must reduce the idea of spirit back to its simple idea of a breathing. “He breathed upon them and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20:22. Hereby was effected the gentle impartation of holy tempers, consecrating unction, and comforting grace. The baptism of fire, manifested in the fiery tongues at Pentecost, is the severer purgation, burning sin away by sharper agonies, imparting a severer spiritual purity and energy, and qualifying the preacher for the performance of sterner rebuke toward a wicked world.
12. Whose fan John here proceeds to describe the terribly discriminating and adjudging process which the coming king Messiah was about to perform. Similar images are contained in Malachi 3:1-39.3.6, upon which and upon Malachi iv, we have repeatedly said John’s speech was founded as a prediction of his day. Fan Or winnowing shovel. Wheat was winnowed from the chaff by dropping it from an uplifted shovel, so that the chaff might be taken off by the wind. Purge Cleanse from the chaff. Floor The area of flattened and hardened ground in the field where the winnowing was done. Garner Granary or grain depository. The garners or granaries of the East are often excavations in the earth in which the grain is buried; frequently for the sake of concealment, either from an enemy or from an oppressive government. Sometimes, the owner being slain or driven away, the subterranean treasure is found accidentally by the plow, or other means. Unquenchable fire A reference is here made to the practice of burning the chaff under process of winnowing. Lest the flying particles of chaff should be driven back into the wheat, a fire is made to burn, in whose blaze the chaff is forthwith consumed. The wheat is the righteous, the chaff is the wicked, and Christ is the winnower; the granary is heaven, the unquenchable fire is hell.
This epithet unquenchable is decisive against Restorationism and against Destructionism.
Restorationism teaches that the wicked will be delivered from hell; but this supposes the word unquenchable to be an empty terror devoid of meaning. For to what amounts it that the fire is unquenchable if the sinner may be snatched from it at any moment? what cares he for the phantasm of a hell forever empty though forever burning? Moreover, what sense in supposing a hell forever preserved flaming, yet forever void. But, in fact, hell is the penal condition of the condemned sinner, and the fire the penal essence itself; hell has no existence save as a penalty for guilt. Terminate the penalty and the fire has gone out.
Destructionism is the doctrine that the sinner ceases, by the penalty, to exist. So that God still keeps an empty hell eternally burning! In other words, this term unquenchable is unmeaning, and so essentially false.
§ 16. BAPTISM OF JESUS, Matthew 3:13-40.3.17 .
13. Then cometh Jesus We have already remarked (Matthew 3:1) on the unacquaintance of John with Jesus, according to John 1:31-43.1.33.
Though the visible descent of the dove-form Spirit was to be a complete token to John alone, that does not prove that the descent was visible to John alone, or that the scene itself of the baptism was (as some commentators think) secret. A similar testimony to his Divine Sonship (John 12:28-43.12.29) was certainly not secret.
14. John forbade him This clearly implies that though John was unacquainted with his person, yet the spirit of discerning within recognized the divine in Christ. So confident is John of this, that though he knows him not, he addresses Jesus as his own superior. He only needs to behold the sign that God has appointed, and then he will proclaim him to the world openly. Before that token is given John does not dare to preach him to men. In this way it will be seen that there is no contradiction, as some have supposed, with John 1:31.
I have need to be baptized of thee John has objections. But what objections! They are deep, gentle humility itself. The rough voice of the rebuker melts down to tenderness when he sees the great, gentle One coming. I am a sinner, thou art the sinless One; I am the sent messenger, thou art the coming Jehovah-Messiah. And comest thou to me for baptism? O baptize my body and soul with thy blessed spirit.
15. Suffer it Gently the Baptist declines, gently the Saviour insists. He could command, he only requests. It becometh Such is the divine propriety. Us That is, it becometh not one alone, but both of us. It is becoming my mission to submit to humilities; it becomes your office to recognize my submission. To fulfil all righteousness To meet every legal and official requirement.
In regard to our Saviour’s baptism, there are three difficult questions to be answered: 1. Being sinless, how could he be baptized with the baptism of repentance? 2. Being John’s superior, how could he receive baptism from him? 3. Being king, Messiah, how could he be prepared to become a subject of his own kingdom?
1 . To the first question it is replied, that Christ’s whole life was a bearing the sins of others. He assumed humanity, that the penal liabilities of humanity might be imputed to him.
2 . To the second question it is replied, that, however superior our Lord was in nature, John was at that moment his superior in office. So the priest who anoints the king, or the chancellor or judge who administers the oath to the president, is at that moment his official superior.
3 . To the third question it is replied, that every candidate baptized for fitness for the coming kingdom, is baptized for his own place in that kingdom; the subject for subjection, the king for royalty. John’s baptism of Jesus, therefore, was, as it were, an unction for his kingship or priesthood.
16. Baptized How he was baptized is not said. His coming out of the water aids us not in guessing how, for the preposition properly signifies from. Nor if Jesus waded into and out of the water, would it in the least aid the matter. Thousands in ancient and modern times have been baptized by affusion, as they are represented in ancient pictures, standing or kneeling in the bed of a stream. But at any rate, the mode of his baptism was such as to make it the symbol and picture of the spiritual baptism which forthwith descended upon him in dovelike form.
And he saw That is, Jesus saw the dovelike Spirit. And John says that he saw it John 1:32. There is no proof for the opinion of some that it was unseen by many others. Like a dove That is, in a dovelike shape, as Luke beyond all equivocation declares in a bodily shape like a dove. That is, the Spirit invested itself with a dove form, in order to make itself visible to their senses. It assumed the form of a dove, as that bird was to the minds of those spectators the emblem of innocence. We cannot understand the purpose of commentators who endeavour to mar the beauty of this gracious manifestation by talking of its not being a dovelike form, but forsooth a quivering motion, (of what?) like a dove!
And here have we not a striking illustration of the Incarnation? As the Holy Spirit the third hypostasis in the Trinity, assumes the bodily form of a dove by way of self-manifestation to the eyes of men, so what difficulty in supposing that the second person of the Trinity should become God manifest in the flesh in a human form? So, many a time in the Old Testament, the angel of Jehovah, or rather the angel-Jehovah, being no other than Jehovah manifest, is described as appearing to the patriarchs. In Eden Jehovah-God walked in the garden, and pronounced sentence upon Adam. Jacob wrestled with God “face to face” at Peniel. The angel-Jehovah appeared to Moses, and said, “I am the God of thy Father.” And revealing his name, to be uttered to Pharaoh, he says: “Thus shalt thou say, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The most learned doctors in the Church, in all ages, have agreed, and that on most reliable ground, that this personage so at various times appearing, was no other than the Son of Man, seen at last in vision by Daniel, (chap. 7,) invested with “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.” Few persons, at any rate, feel any difficulty in supposing, or at least comprehending and conceiving, that these angelic forms were visible embodiments of the person of Jehovah. What greater difficulty is there in conceiving that the person of Jesus should have been as truly the visible representative manifestation, or embodiment, of the same Divine Being?
17. Voice from heaven Proceeding as from the firmament, just as the dove-like form came from what, in optical language, all men would call the opening firmament or sky. My beloved Son Here the whole Trinity united at the scene. The Son is consecrated by the Spirit, and proclaimed by the Father. So John passed through the three stages of ignorance, faith, and knowledge: ignorance, when he knew him not; faith, when first he saw him; knowledge, when God the Father acknowledged him from heaven. Now he could safely identify him to the world as Lamb of God.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent