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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Matthew 3



Other Authors
Verses 1-17

THE THIRD CHAPTER presents John the Baptist without any preliminaries as to his birth or origin. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy; he preached in the wilderness apart from the haunts of men; in clothing and food he was apart from the customs of men; his theme was repentance, in view of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. It was a very unique ministry. What other preacher has selected a wilderness as the geographical sphere of his ministry? Philip the evangelist went indeed to the southern desert to meet a special individual; but the power of God was so with John that the multitudes flocked to him, and were led to his baptism, confessing their sins.

In this Gospel there is frequent mention of “the kingdom of heaven,” and for the first instance is here. No explanation is offered by Matthew, nor does he record any explanation as offered by John; the reason being doubtless that the coming of a day when “the God of heaven” should set up a kingdom, and all should see that “the heavens do rule,” had been predicted in the book of Daniel. Consequently the term would not be unfamiliar to his hearers or to any Jewish reader. The same prophet had a vision of the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven and taking the kingdom, and the saints possessing it with Him. Now the kingdom was at hand inasmuch as “Jesus Christ, the Son of David”, was found amongst men.

When there is a genuine and powerful work of God, men do not like to be apart from it, especially if they are religious leaders: consequently we find both Pharisees and Sadducees coming to John’s baptism. He met them however with prophetic insight. He unmasked them as having the characteristics of the serpent, and warned them that wrath lay before them. He knew that they would boast of being in the proper Abrahamic succession, so he knocked that prop from beneath them, showing that it would not count with God. Nothing would do but repentance, and his baptism was with a view to that; but it must be genuine and manifest itself in fruits that were suitable. James, in his Epistle, insists that faith, if it is real and vital, must express itself in suitable works. Here John calls for just the same thing in regard to repentance.

These verses in the middle of Matthew 3:1-17, give us a glimpse of what was wrong. The true Son of David and of Abraham having arrived, the kingdom was near, and no mere successional connection with Abraham would avail. Moses had given them the law: Elijah had recalled them to it, after it had been forsaken: John simply issued a blunt call to repentance, which was tantamount to saying, “On the basis of the law you are lost, and nothing remains but for you honestly to own it with humble sorrow of heart.” The great mass of them were not prepared for that, to their ruin.

John also announced the coming forth of the Mighty One, whose forerunner he was. There was no comparison between them, and he confessed his sense of it by saying he was not fit to carry even the sandals of His feet. He also contrasted his own baptism with water and the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The great Coming One should exercise perfect discrimination, sifting the wheat from the chaff. These He will baptize with the Holy Ghost, and those with the fire of judgment; and the issues will be eternal for the fire will be unquenchable.

These words of John must have been tremendously searching, and they will be fulfilled when the millennial age is about to be introduced. Then the Spirit will be poured upon all flesh, and not the Jew only—that is, upon all that have been redeemed. On the other hand the wicked will be banished to everlasting fire, as the end of Matthew 25:1-46 of our Gospel will show us. Meanwhile there has been an anticipatory fulfilment of the baptism of the Spirit, in the establishment of the church, as Acts 2:1-47 shows. The context here decisively reveals that “fire” is an allusion to judgment, and not to the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, or any similar action of blessing.

When Jesus came forth for His ministry, His first act was to come to John’s baptism, and that in spite of the objection which John expressed. The objection served to bring out the principle on which the Lord was acting. He was fulfilling righteousness. He had no sins to confess, yet having taken man’s place it was right that He should identify Himself with the godly, who were thus taking their true place before God. Men of God in earlier times had done the thing in principle—Ezra and Daniel, for instance—confessing as their own sins in which they had but very little share, though sinners themselves. Here was the sinless One, and He did it perfectly; and lest there should be any mistake, at the very moment He did it, there was the opening of the heavens upon Him, the first great manifestation of the Trinity, and the voice from heaven declaring Him to be the beloved Son, in whom the Father found all His delight. In form as a dove the Spirit descended upon the One who is to baptize others with that same Spirit.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Matthew 3:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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