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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Matthew 3

Verse 1

3:1 Verse 1. In those days is indefinite and it is at least a quarter of a century after the close or the preceding chapter. In that chapter (Mat 2:21) Jesus was but a "young child" while now he is about 30 years old (Luk 3:23) . Baptist Is from the Greek word BAPTISTES which Thayer defines, "a baptizer; one who administers the rite of baptism," hence the name John the Baptist. It Is sometimes asked why a man would come to baptize in a wilderness where there are no people to baptize nor any water available tor such a purpose. Both assumptions are wrong, for while the territory was not settled or inhabited, there was nothing to prevent the people of the settlements going out to him, wbich they did (verse 5). Also the word does not mean a place where there would be no water. Wilderness is trom EREMOS which Thayer defines. "an uncultivated reglon .fit for pasturage," There would not likely be much pasturage where there was no water. Besides, Judea was not so large a region but that the river of Jordan could be reached for the purpose of baptizing.

Verse 2

3:2 Verse 2. Repent. from METANOEO and Thayer defines It here as follows: "To change one's mind tor the better I heartily to amend with abhorrence tor one's past sins." To amend means more than a mere state of the mind; It requires that one do something about It. BASILEIA Is the only word in the Greek New Testament for "king dom." It has several phases of meaning and hence I consider it well to give a pretty extensive quotation from the lexicons as to their definitions: "1. royal power. kingship, dominion. rule. 2. a kingdom i.e. the territory subject to the rule of a king. 3. property the kingdom over which God rules ... the kingdom of tbe Messiah . . . the rule of God, the theocricy of God's rule, the divine administration."-Thayer. I have quoted only such words in Thayer's lexicon as are In italics, which denotes the direct detlnition. omitting for the sake of space his many remarks on the word. The same rule will be followed in quoting from the other lexicons: "1. dominion, reign, rule. 2. a kingdom, dominion, realm"'-Roblnson. "A king- dom; royalty, dignity, power, reign, rule. sovereignty, dominlon."-Groves. "A kingdom, realm, i.e. the region or country governed by a king; kingly power. authority, dominion, relgn."- Greenfield. This paragraph may not be quoted again in full. hence the reader is urged to study It carefully to discover its shades of meaning, also to make a note of Its locatlon for ready reference. At hand is from EOGIZO and means "Is near," which denotes that it was not yet In actual existence in the days of John the Baptlst.

Verse 3

3:3 Verse 3. The prophecy cited Is in Isaiah 40 : where the prophet passes from a favorable turn in the affairs of ancient Israel to the time when preparation. were to be made tor Christ's entry upon the new dispensation. Make his path straight has the idea. of preparing a path for another to use afterward. By taking down the high and rough places and taking out the sharp curves, the other party could make better progress in his travels. Of course this Is all figurative and refers to the work of John in bringing about a reformation among the Jews. Such a work would get a group of people in better frame of mInd and character to receive the more advanced work of Christ.

Verse 4

3:4 Verse 4. In Zec 13:4 a false prophet Is described as wearing a rough garment to deceive the public. indicating that such a garment was an article of clothing peculiar to a prophet. It was appropriate that John the Baptist, who was a true prophet, wear such a piece made from the hair of eamels. The girdle served as a belt to hold the loose garment close to the body. Lev 11:22 included the locust among clean foods that the Jews were permitted to eat. Wild honey is so called because it was made by wild bees and deposited in hollow trees or crevices of rocks. Honey Is one of the purest ot foods in the vegetable class, and locusts could be classed with the animal kind. John the Baptist, therefore, had a somewhat balanced though simple diet.

Verse 5

3:5 Verse 5. The text does not say that every individual in these dIstricts was baptized. but that great throngs from all of them came out to be baptized.

Verse 6

3:6 Verse 6. Baptized. is from BAPTIZO which Thayer deflnes first, "Properly to dip repeatedly, to Immerge, submerge. 2. to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water." Strong defines It. "To make whelmed (i.e. fully wet)." From this meaning of the word we can understand why John was baptizing In Jordan., not at or nearby. Confessing their sin is the simple phrase used here, but In Mar 1:4 and Luk 3:3 it is worded "baptism of repentance." The meaning of the passage is that the people professed to have repented of their sins and were baptized on that declaration.

Verse 7

3:7 Verse 7.. The Pharisees and Saducees. were two leading sects of the Jews In the tlme of Christ. They had some radical differences which wtll be described. in another place. There were some principles. however, which they both had In common and one of them was hypocrisy. and both made great claims of excellence which they did not possess. This, too, will be described elsewhere. Generation of vipers is a figure of speech meaning a class of vile and poisonous characters, They came to the baptismal services of John for the outward appearance it made. In his preaching John exhorted the people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. in order to escape the wrath of God. He had not specified any classes, so the response of these sects was an outward admission of their being sinners thougb their attitude was one of self-righteousness.

Verse 8

3:8 Verse 8. Meet for repentance means for them to prove by their works that they have really repented. A mere sorrow or regret for sin does not constitute repentance in the sight of the Lord, but the guilty one is expected to reform his life by ceasing to do the things that were wrong.

Verse 9

3:9 Verse 9. John was an inspired man and could read the thoughts of these boastful pretenders. But aside from this truth, the language at these Jews indicated thelr pride of ancestry. (See Joh 8:33.) John did not intend to belittle the importance ot Abraham, but he meant that having descended through the line of that great patriach did not entitle them to any special favors in their wrong doing. It was God's will that Abraham's lineal descendants become the special race for His purposes, but that was not because no other plan would have been possible. As far as power or ability was concerned, He could have caused the stones to .become impregnated with the divine germ of life so that they could give birth to children to be enrolled in the register of Abraham's seed. Such a possibility as described above existed though the Lord never intended to do such a thing. There was another feat. however. that was as wonderful as that, which was to convert Gentile heathen into descendants of Abraham by faith. (See Rom 4:11.) .

Verse 10

3:10 Verse 10. This verse is figurative and general and denotes the judgments of God against sin. An ax lying at the root of a tree suggests a probable attack upon it. The instrument is near but inactive, yet ready to be used if and when a decision is made against the tree. The tact on which the decision will be made is that the tree does not produce good fruit. I do not believe this verse applies to the Jewtsh nation as a whole for there was only one "tree" at the Lord tha.t could be considered. The words every tree indicate that John was speaking of indlviduals all of whom were exhorted. to repent and thus escape tbe wrath of God. The condemnation to such wrath was starting through the preaching of John. but the final result of rejecting that preaching would not come until the great judgment day. Being an inspired man John the Baptist was able to predict the future lot at all classes of men who were in his hearing, even to the punishment of fire awaiting the unsaved at the time of the final judgment. ThIs prepares us to understand the following two verses.

Verse 11

3:11 Verse 11. There are three baptisms referred to in this verse, one administered by John and two by the Lord; the two were in the future when John spoke. The three baptisms were in different elements, namely. water, Holy Ghost and fire. and the three were for that many different kinds of subjects. The water baptism administered by John was performed upon penitent Jews and it was for the remission of their sins. The Holy Ghost baptism administered by the Lord was performed upon the apostles and it was to "guide them into all truth" (Joh 16:13). The baptism with fire to be administered by the Lord (at the judgment day) upon the unsaved and it is for the purpose of punishment. The simple pronoun you Is used by John because he knew that in his audience were men who would become apostles and hence would receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. He knew also that some of his hearers would live and die in their sins because they would be too stubborn to repent, and these would receive the baptism of fire. But he spoke to the multitude as a whole and intended the two baptisms to be applied to the ones deserving . them. This explains Act 1:5; Act 11:16 where the baptism of the Holy Ghost only is mentioned because the apostles were the only ones being considered. Shoes not worthy to bear is an allusion to the customs of that time. Loose sandals were worn in foot travel and upon entering a home they were removed and taken charge of by a servant. By way of illustration John regarded himself as unworthy even to bear the shoes of the one who was soon to come after him in the work of further reformation.

Verse 12

3:12 Verse 12. The figures' now change and are drawn from a different source. In verse 10 they were based upon the work of horticulture, while in this they are upon that of agriculture. Fan is from PTUON and is defined "a winnowing-shovel" in Thayer's lexicon. Grain was piled down on a smooth place called the threshing floor and trampled out by oxen or beaten with a large club called a flail. Then an instrument like a broad shovel was used to scoop up the shattered grain and toss it up into the wind so the chaff could be blown to one side. The grain was stored in the garner (granary) and the chaff was burned. The process is used to illustrate the separation of the wicked from the good at the day of judgment. The good will be taken to the garner which is heaven, and the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire. The terms ordinarily used to describe the threshing process do not cover all of the phases of the work as it pertains to humanity, hence John qualified the fire by the word unquenchable which comes from the Greek word ASBESTOS and Thayer's definition is, "unquenchable." There will be only one judgment day and hence no continual gathering of chaff to cast into the fire. There is but one explanation, therefore, for using unquenchable fire, and that is that the wicked will not be put out of existence as literal chaff is, but will continue to exist and burn endlessly, and that will require a fire that cannot be put out.

Verse 13

3:13 Jesus had spent his life through childhood and early manhood with his parents at Nazareth which was in Galilee. The time came when he was to enter upon his life's work and he had reason for starting it with being baptized. There was only one man baptizing people then and that was John the Baptist, hence Jesus left his home and came into Judea where John was baptizing in the Jordan.

Verse 14

3:14 John did not know the divine identity of Jesus until the baptism had taken place (Joh 1:33), therefore his remarks were not prompted by that subject. They were cousins according to the flesh and about the same age. It is reasonable to conclude that John knew Jesus as a near relative and humbly placed himself in a lower rank of excellence. All that John knew as to the purpose of water baptism was that it was for the remission of sins. Someone had to start the great work of reform without being baptized himself, and of the two John considered Jesus to be the more worthy of the honor.

Verse 15

3:15 Had the remission of sins been the only result to be accomplished by baptism, Jesus would not have come to John at all for it because he had no sins to be remitted. Hence it was necessary for John to be informed of the reason why Jesus made the request. Fulfill is from PLEROO and Thayer's definition at this passage is, "to perform, execute." Righteousness is from DIKAIOSUNE and Thayer defines it as follows: "b. integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting. Mat 3:15; Mat 5:6; Mat 5:10; Mat 5:20; Mat 6:33." Note that nothing in the definition requires any act in the nature of repentance or confession, hence Jesus who had no sins to confess could adopt the definition in his reason for requiring baptism. But while he had no sins to confess he did have a duty to "perform," and by so doing he could maintain his "integrity." When this explanation was made to John lie promptly performed the baptism and thus cooperated in the act that Jesus said would be fitting or becoming.

Verse 16

3:16 If Jesus went up out of the water it was necessary that lie go down into it, and that would agree with the definition of "baptize" as given at verse 6. The heavens were opened unto hint and he saw the Spirit in the form of a dove. This together with Joh 1:32-34 indicates that Jesus and John were the only witnesses of this remarkable event. It was fitting that John be permitted to see it since that was the sign the Lord had given him by which he was to recognize the One for whom all this preparatory work was being done.

Verse 17

3:17 If only the eyes of John and Jesus saw the heavens open and the bodily shape of the dove, it would be reasonable to conclude that their ears only heard these words. It also indicates one reason why the words "hear ye him" were not added as they were at chapter 17:5. The Father here acknowledged Jesus as his Son after he had fulfilled his righteous duty of being baptized. But his life's work was only beginning and hence it was not time to give the command to hear him.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 3". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.