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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - John; Judea; Scofield Reference Index - Gospel; Holy Spirit; Thompson Chain Reference - John the Baptist; Leaders; Ministers; Preaching; Religious; Wildernesses; The Topic Concordance - Baptism; John the Baptist; Kingdom of God; Repentance; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Deserts; Judea, Modern; Prophecies Respecting Christ;
John the Baptist begins to preach, 1.
The subject of his preaching, 2, 3.
Description of his clothing and food, 4.
The success of his ministry, 5, 6.
His exhortation to the Pharisees, 7-9.
He denounces the judgments of God against the impenitent, 10.
The design of his baptism, and that of Christ, 11, 12.
He baptizes Christ in Jordan, 13-15;
who is attested to be the Messiah by the Holy Spirit, and a
voice from heaven, 16, 17.
NOTES ON CHAP. III.
Verse Matthew 3:1. John the Baptist — John, surnamed The Baptist, because he required those to be baptized who professed to be contrite because of their sins, was the son of a priest named Zacharias, and his wife Elisabeth, and was born about A. M. 3999, and about six months before our blessed Lord. Of his almost miraculous conception and birth, we have a circumstantial account in the Gospel of Luke 1:0: to which, and the notes there, the reader is requested to refer. For his fidelity in reproving Herod for his incest with his brother Philip's wife, he was cast into prison, no doubt at the suggestion of Herodias, the profligate woman in question. He was at last beheaded at her instigation, and his head given as a present to Salome, her daughter, who, by her elegant dancing, had highly gratified Herod, the paramour of her incestuous mother. His ministry was short; for he appears to have been put to death in the 27th or 28th year of the Christian aera.
Came - preaching — κηρυσσων, proclaiming, as a herald, a matter of great and solemn importance to men; the subject not his own, nor of himself, but from that God from whom alone he had received his commission. See on the nature and importance of the herald's office, at the end of this chapter. κηρυσσειν, says Rosenmuller, de iis dicitur, qui in PLATEIS, in CAMPIS, in AERE aperto, ut a multis audiantur, vocem tollunt, c. "The verb κηρυσσειν is applied to those who, in the streets, fields, and open air, lift up their voice, that they may be heard by many, and proclaim what has been committed to them by regal or public authority as the KERUKES among the Greeks, and the PRECONES among the Romans."
The wilderness of Judea — That is, the country parts, as distinguished from the city; for in this sense the word wilderness, מדבר midbar or מדבריות midbarioth, is used among the rabbins. John's manner of life gives no countenance to the eremite or hermit's life, so strongly recommended and applauded by the Roman Church.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/matthew-3.html. 1832.
15. Preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-17; John 1:19-28)
The preaching of John soon attracted opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. They sent representatives to question him and then report back on what he taught and who he claimed to be. John denied that he was promoting himself as some new leader in Israel. He did not consider himself to be either the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15,Deuteronomy 18:18 or the ‘Elijah’ promised in Malachi 4:5. He was only a voice calling people to turn from their sin and be baptized, and so prepare themselves to receive the Messiah. He was like a messenger sent ahead of the king to tell people to clear the way for the royal arrival (Matthew 3:1-6; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:19-23).
John commanded all people to repent, no matter who they were. Those who were descendants of Abraham were no more privileged in the eyes of God than the stones on the ground. All people, regardless of nationality, religion or social status, were to leave their selfish and sinful ways, and produce results in their daily lives that would prove their repentance to be genuine (Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14).
Although John baptized people to show they had repented and been forgiven their past sins, his baptism gave them no power to live a pure life. It was merely a preparation for one who was far greater than John. Jesus Christ would give the Holy Spirit, which, like fire, would burn up the useless chaff of the heart, leaving the pure wheat to feed and strengthen the life (Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:24-28).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/matthew-3.html. 2005.
PREPARATION FOR HIS MESSIANIC WORK; THE HERALD; BAPTISM; TEMPTATION; AND HIS PUBLIC IDENTIFICATION BY JOHN THE BAPTIST
And in those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, saying Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:1-2)
In those days ... that is, some thirty years after the events recorded in the previous chapter. This is typical of Matthew's slight attention to chronology. Jesus was about 30 years of age when he was baptized (Luke 3:23). The date of John's ministry is also given by Luke as occurring in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1).
John the Baptist ... John is called "the baptist" because he baptized people. McGarvey identified John as the originator, under God, of the ordinance of baptism. Dummelow commented on the immense popularity of John the Baptist, "The public appearance of the Baptist marked a new era. He came forward in the two-fold capacity of a prophet and forerunner of the Messiah. Since prophecy had been silent for 400 years, and all patriotic Jews were longing for the coming of the Messiah to deliver them from the Roman yoke, it is not surprising that he was welcomed with enthusiasm; and that those who ventured to doubt his mission found it expedient to dissemble (Matthew 21:26)." Jesus had the highest opinion of John (Luke 7:28). The Jewish priests said he was possessed by a demon (Matthew 11:18), but this poor opinion of John was a reflection upon themselves and sprang out of the evil in which they were engrossed.
The wilderness of Judaea ... was a strip of waste land also called a desert (Luke 1:80), lying west of the Dead Sea near the mouth of the Jordan. This wilderness platform of John's preaching served to identify him as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." That John the Baptist was most certainly the person spoken of by the prophet, Isaiah, "is evident from the fact that he alone, of all the great preachers known to history, chose a wilderness as his place of preaching."
Repent ye ... John's message was one of repentance. Benjamin Franklin, pioneer Restoration preacher, proclaimed that God appointed three changes in conversion and three actions designed to effect those three changes. These are FAITH to change the heart (mind); REPENTANCE to change the will; and BAPTISM to change the status. Repentance involving a change of the will is far more than mere sorrow for sin (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance is an instantaneous change of the will, induced by godly sorrow, and issuing forth in a reformation of life, and marked by restitution wherever possible. See under Matthew 18:3.
The kingdom of heaven ... This is the kingdom of Daniel 2:44. John was the herald of this approaching king, Christ, in his kingdom. That this wonderful new kingdom was not to be a kingdom of this world in the ordinary and secular sense was a fact unknown to the Jews and only dimly appreciated by the Twelve themselves, especially at first. The kingdom of God and the church are one and the same institution, and this fact is more and more apparent. See under Matthew 16:13-19.
Is at hand ... With the ministry of John the Baptist, the kingdom was near but not yet established. Moffatt's translation of this place is: "The reign of heaven is near." In Mark 9:1, Christ emphatically declared that the kingdom of God would be established with power within the lifetime of the apostles, saying, "Verily, I say unto you, There are some here of them who stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power." Both Christ and Judas Iscariot were to taste of death before the kingdom began; and, therefore, the words "some of them" are most precisely accurate.
 J. W. McGarvey, New Testament Commentary (Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Co.), p. 33.
 J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 629.
 J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 34.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/matthew-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
In those days - The days here referred to cannot be those mentioned in the preceding chapter, for John was but six months older than Christ. Perhaps Matthew intended to embrace in his narrative the whole time that Jesus lived at Nazareth; and the meaning is, “in those days while Jesus still dwelt at Nazareth,” John began to preach. It is not probable that John began to baptize or preach long before the Saviour entered on his ministry; and, consequently, from the time that is mentioned in the close of the second chapter to that mentioned in the beginning of the third, an interval of twenty-five years or more elapsed.
John the Baptist - Or John the baptizer - so called from his principal office, that of baptizing. Baptism, or the application of water, was a rite well known to the Jews, and practiced when they admitted proselytes to their religion from paganism. - Lightfoot.
Preaching - The word rendered “preach” means to proclaim in the manner of a public crier; to make proclamation. The discourses recorded in the New Testament are mostly brief, sometimes consisting only of a single sentence. They were public proclamations of some great truth. Such appear to have been the discourses of John, calling people to repentance.
In the wilderness of Judea - This country was situated along the Jordan and the Dead Sea, to the east of Jerusalem. The word translated “wilderness” does not denote, as with us, a place of boundless forests, entirely destitute of inhabitants; but a mountainous, rough, and thinly settled country, covered to some considerable extent with forests and rocks, and better suited for pasture than for tilling. There were inhabitants in those places, and even villages, but they were the comparatively unsettled portions of the country, 1 Samuel 25:1-2. In the time of Joshua there were six cities in what was then called a wilderness, Joshua 15:61-62.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/matthew-3.html. 1870.
Now in those days Luke 3:1. And in the fifteenth year It could not be gathered from Matthew and Mark in what year of his age John began to preach: but Luke shows sufficiently, that he was about thirty years of age. The ancient writers of the Church are almost unanimously agreed, that he was born fifteen years before the death of Augustus. His successor Tiberius had held the government of the Roman Empire for fifteen years, when the same John began to preach. In this way are made up the thirty years which I have mentioned. Hence it follows, that he did not long discharge the office of teacher, but, in a short time, gave way to Christ; for we shall soon find, that Christ also was baptized in the thirtieth year of his age, when he was immediately installed into the discharge of his public office. Now as John, the morning-star, or dawn, was immediately followed by Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” (Malachi 4:2,) there is no reason to wonder, that John disappeared, in order that Christ might shine alone in greater brightness.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/matthew-3.html. 1840-57.
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea ( Matthew 3:1 ).
Now we have the silent years of Christ. We are jumping now from the return to Nazareth to the beginning of His public ministry. There are some twenty-eight to twenty-nine years that nothing is recorded. Now in the Apocrypha, there are books in the Apocrypha that report to have the stories of the early life and the boyhood of Jesus: the healing of little birds with broken wings and fanciful stories. The Lord has seen fit to just leave that portion of His life in silence, and where the Scriptures are silent it's best that we remain silent. So we jump those years. Now one little gospel gives us one little insight when he was twelve years old, but that is the only glimpse that we have of the boyhood of Jesus. And at twelve years he seemed to be a very unusual young man, as we will find in another of the gospels.
So we are jumping now to John the Baptist who was preaching in the wilderness of Judaea and he was saying,
Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, [that is John the Baptist is the one that Isaiah spoke of] saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John has his raiment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey ( Matthew 2:2-4 ).
Whether the locust be that insect of the grasshopper family or the carob tree fruit is really not sure. Some say it's that carob long bean, kind of a fruit that grows there on the carob trees. They call it Joshua's bread. Some say that is what the locust were. Others say it was that insect of the grasshopper family, which some people do consider a delicacy like they do escargot and other things. To every man his own taste, I guess. They tell me they're good, but I can't bear to eat them. I just as soon get my calories some other way.
Then went out to John the Baptist people from Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and from the region round about Jordan, and they were baptized by him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers ( Matthew 3:5-7 ),
Now this is John's opinion of the religious scholars,
O, generation of vipers who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits that meet repentance ( Matthew 3:7-8 ):
Bring forth fruit in your life that really shows repentance. There are a lot of people who claim, oh I repent, but there is no fruit of repentance in their life. You don't see any really signs of repentance. Now repentance means really to change, and if a person doesn't really make real changes in his life, then there is reason to doubt the sincerity of that person's repentance.
And so John is laying into these Pharisees and Scribes, calling them a generation of vipers. And he said, let's see you bring forth some fruit to show that you've really repented. You see the other people were repenting and being baptized, turning away from their sin. These fellows came along too and he said, oh no, I'm not going to baptize you. Let's see some fruit of your repentance.
I've had people tell me that they were sorry for what they have done, but they didn't change. I had a man rip me off of several thousands of dollars. He came and said, oh, forgive me, I am so sorry, but he didn't return a cent. And I felt like John the Baptist, well, let's see some fruit of your repentance. If you're really sorry, let's see some fruit. If you want me to, really let's see some fruit of your repentance. Bring forth fruit that is in agreement, that's meet, or in agreement with your repentance, conformation.
And don't think to say within yourselves, Well we're the sons of Abraham ( Matthew 3:9 ).
And that was their great boast, well, we're the sons of Abraham. They thought that that naturally constituted salvation. Just like so many people in the United States think that to be an American is to be a Christian, but it naturally constitutes well, are you saved? Well, of course. I am an American. I pledge allegiance to the flag. And in that don't we say, under God? Do you think I'm a pagan or something? And so the Jew had that same attitude, I am a son of Abraham. He said don't think that is any big deal, "God can turn these stones into sons of Abraham".
And now also the axe is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is going to be cut down, and cast into the fire ( Matthew 3:10 ).
Now Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of John talks about the vine and the branches. "Every branch in me that does not bring forth fruit shall be cut off and men gather them and throw them into the fire and they are burned. The time has come." Jesus said, "By their fruit ye shall know them." ( Matthew 7:16 ) John says, " Bring forth fruit."
Now Jesus, you remember, when He was with His disciples, was hungry, saw a fig tree, they came to it and there was no fruit. He cursed the fig tree, and the next day as they were coming back to the Mount of Olives along the path there, the disciples looked at the tree that Jesus had cursed the day before, and the thing had withered and died overnight. They said, Lord, look at that tree that you cursed yesterday. Man, the thing is withered and dead already. The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. The Lord was looking that the nation Israel would bring forth fruit. Here John the Baptist is saying, "the time the axe is going to be laid to the root", that is to Israel itself. The tree that doesn't bring forth good fruit is going to be cut down.
Paul the apostle tells us in Romans 11 , that God cut off the natural branches, that He might graft in the branches contrary to nature; the Gentile believers that they might partake of the fatness and all of the tree. So the nation of Israel rejected because of their rejection. God gave them their Messiah. He gave them their opportunity; they rejected it. And so the gospel brought to the Gentiles and the Jew alike, so that no matter who you are Gentile or Jew, there is only one way and that's through Jesus Christ.
I indeed do baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to untie: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire ( Matthew 3:11 ):
The forerunner, not bearing witness of himself, but bearing witness of the one who was to follow him; even Jesus Christ. The voice in the wilderness saying, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, the kingdom of heaven is at hand" ( Matthew 3:3 ). He was preparing the hearts of the people for the coming of Jesus Christ; that was his ministry. John's gospel amplifies the ministry of John the Baptist. So when we get into John's gospel we will get a further insight into this interesting person, John the Baptist.
Now speaking of Jesus he declares,
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, [cleanse it] and gather his wheat into the garner ( Matthew 3:12 );
You come into the threshing floor with a fan and you fan the threshing floor to blow out all the chaff, in order that just the wheat might remain there on the floor. So they would come in with these fans and just whip the fans across the threshing floors to blow out the chaff. So the picture is, the fan in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor, and will gather His wheat into the garner,
but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Then came Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized by him. But John forbid Him, and he said, I have need to be baptized by you, and your coming to me? And Jesus answered and said unto him, Allow it to be now: for it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. So he allowed him and he baptized him ( Matthew 3:12-15 ).
John objected, but Jesus set aside his objections, declaring that it was necessary that He set an example.
Now Peter said, "For Christ has set an example for us, that we should follow in His steps" ( 1 Peter 2:21 ). Because He had nothing to repent, John hesitated, but Jesus was doing it actually as an example to set before us that example and it declares. What does baptism declare? Remember I told you a couple of weeks ago. Baptism declares the superiority of the spiritual over the material: The life of the Spirit over the life of the flesh. That's the proclamation that Jesus had to make and that's why the world got angry with Him, because they were living after the flesh and after the desires of the flesh, but Jesus was declaring that the spiritual life is superior to the fleshly life. That is the message of the Word of God all the way through: the superiority of the spiritual life over the fleshly life.
That is what baptism does represent; the death of the fleshly life, the old life, the old nature, the old ambitions, the old desires: dead, buried. And the new life coming up out of the water, the life of the Spirit. It is superior to the life of the flesh.
So when Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water: the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him ( Matthew 3:16 ):
As He came up out of the waters that Holy Spirit coming upon and anointing His life.
And a voice from heaven declared, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased ( Matthew 3:17 ).
The proud Father couldn't hold back His delight in His Son and spoke saying, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Jesus said, " I do always those things that please the Father." ( John 8:29 ). Thus He lived the perfect life, a life of total fulfillment.
In Revelation 4:11 ,as the elders are ascribing glory to God there before the throne of God, as the Cherubim are declaring, verse eight, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which is, which was, and which is to come:", the four and twenty elders take their little golden vials full of odors, cast them before the crystal sea and fall on their faces and declare, "Thou art worthy to receive glory and honor: for thou hast created all things, and for thy good pleasure they are and were created." There is the explanation why God created you: for His good pleasure.
You say, "I don't like that." That's tough. You can't change it. That is the way it is. And if you fight it, you're just going to live a life of frustration. If you become obedient and in harmony to it, you're going to live a life of glorious fulfillment. When a person can say as Jesus, "I do always those things that please the Father," I will tell you, you have got the perfect life.
So God is testifying,
This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ( Matthew 3:17 ).
Notice, Jesus is being baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him and the voice of the Father speaks from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son." There you have the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/matthew-3.html. 2014.
The Dedication of the King
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
Matthew leaves us in the previous chapter with young Jesus at home in Nazareth. Now thirty years have passed. Jesus is grown and is about to begin his public ministry. With the exception of Luke’s brief account, the events between the youth of Jesus and His ministry are without record. Luke’s comment that "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men" stands as sufficient testimony to His early years (2:52). What happens in this intervening time is unnecessary to know. Legends of Jesus’ traveling to the Far East where he encounters and is influenced by Eastern mysticism are devoid of merit
In those days: Matthew’s absence of detail as to the date of John’s ministry is supplemented by Luke. Luke records that these events take place in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Annas and Caiaphas being high priests (3:1-2). Tiberius begins to co-reign with Augustus c. A.D. 11. He becomes sole ruler c. A.D. 14. Luke’s reference to the fifteenth year is probably counted from Tiberius’ co-regency. This time frame brings John’s appearance to around the year of 26 A.D. Pilate is governor of Judea from 26-36 A.D.
came John the Baptist: Like Jesus’ birth, the account of John’s is filled with interest. John is born to Elizabeth and Zacharias (Luke 1-3). Elizabeth is a relative of Mary (Luke 1:36), perhaps a cousin, making Jesus and John kinsmen. Both Mary and Elizabeth are with child at the same time and John’s birth occurs six months before Jesus’.
John, who plays a vital role in the mission of Jesus, possessed God’s full divine authority in his preaching and baptizing (Mark 11:30). His baptism, however, is temporary, being only valid before the cross (Acts 18:25; 19:3). He is a righteous man who warns Israel of her sins (Matthew 3:6), teaches his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1), fasts often (Matthew 9:14), shuns the comforts of society (Luke 1:80), and manifests a complete self-effacing quality (Luke 3:16; John 1:19). Jesus describes him as the last of the great prophets (Luke 11:11, 13) and the promised "Elijah" (Matthew 17:11-13).
Malachi prophesies that God will send Elijah to restore the hearts of the people before the day of the Lord (4:5; Matthew 11:14). The Jews anxiously wait the ushering in of the great Messianic age. Even today, though mistaken in their understanding of the Old Testament prophecy, orthodox Jews reserve a cup and a place at the Passover table to symbolize his expected return. Like many great men of God, John’s preaching results in his imprisonment and untimely death (Matthew 4:12, 11:2-4; Mark 6:14).
By virtue that John is called "the Baptizer," we understand his mission and action. McGarvey says this title is given to John because he is the originator under God of this ordinance (33). There is some disagreement among scholars as to the role, if any, that baptism plays in the Jewish community of that time. Some, like Albert Barnes, maintain that baptism is commonly administered at that time to Jewish proselytes (Barnes 21). Boles indicates, however, that no one is directed by God to administer such a baptism before John the Baptist. While the Law of Moses requires the ritual washing of vessels, bathing of priests, cleansing of the unclean (Leviticus 14:9, Numbers 19:19), such is never referred to as a baptism per se (Boles 65). Paul’s words in Hebrews 9:10 about "divers baptisms" has reference to the twenty some provisions under which the old law requires these washings. The question of proselyte baptism has no bearing on the baptism of John. Even if such is commonly practiced, its meaning is significantly different from that of John’s. One major difference seems to be that while John baptizes his converts, Jewish proselytes baptize themselves. In any case John’s baptism is sanctioned by God and is not a mere human appendage to the Law (Luke 7:29).
The word Baptism is often misunderstood today. Because the English equivalent is a transliteration rather than a true translation of the Greek (baptizo—to baptize) much confusion has arisen as to mode. Literally speaking, the word may be said to conceptualize a dipping or a complete submersion. Vine says the process consists of immersion, submersion, and emergence (Vine 96). The modern practice of sprinkling or pouring water over one’s head is a violation of the biblical definition and must be rejected in the salvation process. True baptism is submersion (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).
John’s baptism, while required by God during his ministry and while holding some similarity to Christian baptism, is yet different from that practiced after Jesus death. John’s baptism calls for the recipient to hear the good news and believe on the One who is yet to come. Christian baptism requires One to hear the good news and believe on the One who has already come. John’s baptism requires one to confess his sins (Mark 1:4-5). Christian baptism requires us to confess the lordship of Jesus. John’s baptism is not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:1) and is valid only before the cross (Acts 19:1-6). Christian baptism is valid from the cross onward. John’s baptism precedes Jesus, but Christian baptism represents His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6).
preaching in the wilderness of Judaea: The wilderness of Judea is the rough region of barren hills east of Jerusalem toward the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Here John spends his nomadic life as he grows accustomed to the rigors of outdoor living (Luke 1:80). No doubt he comes to understand intimately the barren austerity of the land, the bedouin herdsmen with their sheep and goats, and the wild animals and snakes that make their home here. This is an unlikely place for a "king’s herald." One might expect that a king will send his forerunner to the best hotels, that he will eat the best of foods, and that he will wear the best of clothes so as to give the best impression of the royal one to come. But just as God has brought Jesus into the world in a manger, so John’s surroundings portray the mission of the Messiah. His is not a worldly mission of comfort, and His is not a worldly kingdom. His is spiritual.
Some suggest that John is actually an Essene, a group of ascetic religious separatists whose monastic colonies are located near the northern end of the Dead Sea and around Engedi. This group, while perhaps holding selected similarities to John, is much unlike him. Fowler reveals several major differences, including the following: John eats locusts while the Essenes abstain from animal food; their doctrine of God’s absolute preordination of everything conflicts with John’s doctrine of personal responsibility; John is intensely evangelistic whereas the Essenes are monastic in nature; John prepares the way for the Messiah whereas the Essene community, despite its messianic fervor, never recognizes the Messiah when He comes (Fowler 92-93).
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/matthew-3.html. 1993-2022.
John appeared "in those days" (Matthew 3:1). This phrase is a general term that says little about specific time but identifies what follows as historical. It is a common transitional statement in Matthew’s narrative. [Note: Robertson, p. 708.] John’s ministry, as Matthew described it here, occurred just before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, approximately 30 years after the events of chapter 2.
"John" became a popular name among the Jews following the heroic career of John Hyrcanus (died 106 B.C.). There are four or five Johns in the New Testament. This one received the surname "the Baptist" because of his practice of baptizing repentant Jews (Matthew 3:6).
John was a herald with a message to proclaim. He appears on the scene suddenly and mysteriously, much like Elijah, whose ministry John mirrored (cf. 1 Kings 17:1). [Note: See Edersheim, 2:706-9, on rabbinic traditions about Elijah.] "Preaching" is literally heralding (Gr. kerysso).
"In the New Testament the verb does not mean ’to give an informative or hortatory or edifying discourse expressed in beautifully arranged words with a melodious voice; it means to proclaim an event’ . . ." [Note: A. M. Hunter, The Message of the New Testament, p. 24.]
The event John proclaimed was the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom.
The scene of John’s ministry was the wilderness of Judea. This loosely defined area lay mainly to the west and somewhat north of the Dead Sea. John evidently conducted his ministry there because of its rough conditions that were suitable to his appeal for repentance. In Israel’s history the wilderness forever reminded the Jews of their 40-year sojourn under extreme conditions and God giving them the Law of Moses. They associated it with a place of separation unto God, testing for refinement, and new beginnings. In John’s day the wilderness spawned many movements that challenged Israel’s leadership. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:13:4-5.] This may explain why John chose to minister there.
John called the people to repent (Matthew 3:2).
"Contrary to popular thinking, repent does not mean to be sorry. The Greek word metanoeo means ’. . . to change one’s mind or purpose . . .’ [Note: Footnote 74: G. A. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 287.] In the New Testament it ’. . . indicates a complete change of attitude, spiritual and moral, towards God.’ [Note: Footnote 75: J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, p. 403.] The primary meaning involves a turning to God which may indeed make a person sorry for his sins, but that sorrow is a by-product and not the repentance itself. . . . In a word, John’s command to the people of Israel was for them to turn from their sins to God in anticipation of their Messiah." [Note: Toussaint, pp. 60-61.]
The Jews needed to change their thinking because most of them believed that they would enter the Messiah’s kingdom simply because they were the children of Abraham (Matthew 3:9). John was attacking established religious concepts of his day and those who taught them. He demanded evidence of genuine repentance instead of mere complacency, hypocrisy, and superficiality (cf. Matthew 3:8).
John also announced that the kingdom of heaven (lit. the heavens) was at hand. What was this kingdom? Students of this question have offered three basic answers.
First, some believe that the kingdom began with Jesus’ ministry and will continue until His second coming, which will mean the end of the world, in their view. They view the kingdom as spiritual, namely, as God’s rule over the hearts and lives of believers in Jesus. This kingdom is spiritual in contrast to physical and earthly. Advocates do not believe Jesus will return to earth to set up an earthly, physical kingdom that will resume the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament. They believe that the promises in the Old Testament of Israel’s restoration under Messiah are being fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the experience of Christians. For example, promises of Israel’s return to her land will find fulfillment in the church’s entrance into heaven. Most advocates of this view believe that the church has replaced Israel and that God has no special future for Israel as Israel. The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated, they believe, is already present. This is the typical amillennial (no millennium) understanding of the kingdom.
Second, some believe that the kingdom that Jesus preached will be entirely earthly. They hold that it is the resumption of the Davidic kingdom, which ended with the Babylonian exile and will resume when Jesus returns to earth at His second coming. Then He will establish this kingdom, which will continue for 1,000 years (the millennium). The present inter-advent age is not the kingdom, nor is the kingdom the church age. There is no present form of this kingdom, according to this view. The kingdom Jesus preached is not yet from our perspective in history. This is the view of some premillennialists, mainly some dispensationalists.
Many who hold this second view acknowledge that though the kingdom Jesus announced will be an earthly kingdom, there is another kingdom that has existed throughout history. It is God’s sovereign rule over all. Since He has ruled, is ruling, and will forever reign over all, we can speak of this universal rule as His kingdom. However, it is not the restored Davidic kingdom that Jesus announced as being at hand.
Third, some interpreters have concluded that the kingdom Jesus announced was both already present in one form and not yet present in another form. They believe there is a present spiritual form of the kingdom now (as in view one above) and a future physical form of the kingdom (as in view two above). Some advocates of this view believe that God has a future for Israel as Israel (the physical descendants of Jacob). The church has not replaced Israel in God’s plans. This is the view of "progressive dispensationalists." Other advocates of this view believe that the church does replace Israel. God’s promises to Israel will find fulfillment in the church. These are mainly "historic premillennialists." This group believes in a physical, earthly kingdom but for the church, not Israel.
Many dispensationalists are uncomfortable with the idea that the kingdom is already and not yet, in view of how they interpret kingdom passages. Specifically, they are uncomfortable with the idea that the church is the "already" stage of the kingdom. They prefer to view the church as an entity distinct from the kingdom, an intercalation or something inserted in the divine timeline between the Old Testament kingdom of David and the messianic kingdom. They make much of the terminology used to distinguish the church and the kingdom. Most in this group of interpreters see some form of God’s kingdom in existence now, however, whether the universal rule of God or a mystery form of the coming kingdom.
Among dispensationalists, some hold that there were two kingdoms that Jesus preached: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. [Note: Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5:316; 7:223-24; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 171; idem, "The Kingdom of Heaven," Bibliotheca Sacra 124:495 (July-September 1967):203; C. I. Scofield, ed., The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1003.] The former term, they say, refers to a smaller kingdom that includes only genuine believers and is cosmic and universal in scope. The latter term, they say, refers to a larger kingdom that includes all who profess to be believers and is limited to the earth. This distinction has been shown to be invalid. One cannot make this distinction on the basis of how the New Testament writers used these terms.
"Most recent advocates of a distinction acknowledge that the two expressions are ’often used synonymously,’ yet are to be distinguished in certain contexts. [Note: Footnote 20: The New Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 994, 1002.] Others who would generally be identified with dispensationalism agree with most non-dispensationalists that no distinction between these expressions is intended by the biblical writers. [Note: Footnote 21: Eric Sauer, The Triumph of the Crucified, p. 23; Toussaint, pp. 65-68.] Matthew’s use of ’the kingdom of heaven’ is to be explained as a Semitic idiom probably resulting from the Jewish reverence for the name of God and the tendency to use ’heaven’ or ’heavens’ as a substitute. [Note: Footnote 22: Dalman, pp. 91-93. See also Edersheim, 1:267.] So, although some dispensationalists still distinguish the two terms in some passages, we agree with Ryrie that this issue is not a determinative feature of dispensationalism. [Note: Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, p. 19. His reference to Ryrie is from Dispensationalism Today, pp. 170-71.]
Dispensationalists who are not "progressives" believe that the kingdom that John, Jesus (Matthew 4:17), and His disciples (Matthew 10:7) announced and offered the Jews was exactly the same kingdom that the Old Testament prophets predicted. Because the Jews rejected their King and His kingdom, God "postponed" the kingdom until a future time when Israel will accept her Messiah, namely, at His second advent (cf. Zechariah 12:10-14). The word "postponed" does not imply that Jewish rejection of the Messiah took God by surprise. It views the coming of the kingdom from man’s perspective. This view, I believe, best harmonizes the normal meaning of the Old Testament kingdom prophecies and Jesus’ teachings. [Note: See Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, An Inductive Study of the Kingdom of God, pp. 274-76.] Similarly because the generation of Jews that left Egypt in the Exodus refused to trust and obey God at Kadesh Barnea, God postponed the nation’s entrance into the Promised Land for 38 years. As God postponed Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land because of Jewish unbelief, so He postponed Israel’s entrance into the messianic kingdom because of Jewish unbelief.
There is good evidence that the kingdom that John and Jesus spoke about was the earthly eschatological kingdom that the Old Testament prophets foretold. First, the fact that John, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples did not explain what it was but simply announced that it was near indicates that they referred to a kingdom known to their hearers. [Note: George N. D. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus, the Christ, as Covenanted in the Old Testament and Presented in the New Testament, 1:195.] Second, Jesus restricted the proclamation about the kingdom to Jews (Matthew 10:5-6). If the kingdom was spiritual, why was this necessary? Moreover the inauguration of the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament depended on the Jews receiving it (Zechariah 12:1-14; Zechariah 13:7-9; Malachi 4:5-6). Third, Jesus’ disciples expected the beginning of an earthly kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21; Acts 1:6). They did so after they had listened to Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom for a long time. Fourth, this kingdom cannot be the church since God had not yet revealed the existence of the church let alone established it (Matthew 16:18). It cannot be God’s universal reign over the hearts of mankind since that had existed since creation.
". . . if the Kingdom, announced as ’at hand’ by the Lord, had been exclusively a ’spiritual kingdom,’ or as some have defined it, ’the rule of God in the heart,’ such an announcement would have had no special significance whatever to Israel, for such a rule of God had always been recognized among the people of God [cf. Psalms 37:31; Psalms 103:19]." [Note: McClain, p. 303.]
Therefore we conclude that when John spoke of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:2) he meant the earthly kingdom over which Messiah would rule, which the Old Testament prophets predicted.
"Only the premillennial interpretation of the concept of the kingdom allows a literal interpretation of both Old Testament and New Testament prophecies relating to the future kingdom" [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 31.]
It is particularly important to distinguish the church from the kingdom. The kingdom, whether described as "of heaven" or "of God," always refers to the earthly reign of Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament. The church will play a part in the kingdom, but they are separate entities. Progressive dispensationalists argue that the church is the first phase of the messianic kingdom, the "already" phase, in contrast to the eschatological, "not yet," phase. Matthew maintained the distinction between the kingdom and the church throughout his Gospel, as did the other New Testament writers.
What did John mean when he announced that the kingdom was "at hand" (Matthew 3:2)? The Greek verb eggizo means "to draw near," not "to be here" (cf. Matthew 21:1). [Note: William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark, p. 65, n. 93; A. J. Mattill Jr., Luke and the Last Things: A Perspective for the Understanding of Lukan Thought, pp. 70-77.] All that was necessary for the kingdom to be there was Israel’s acceptance of her King (Matthew 11:14). The kingdom was near because the King was present. Amillennialists, historic premillennialists, and progressive dispensationalists believe John meant that the kingdom was about to begin, which, they say, it did when Jesus began to minister.
"If Israel had accepted its Messiah, the earthly kingdom would have been inaugurated by the King." [Note: Toussaint, p. 63. ]
This statement may seem to some to render Christ’s work on the cross unnecessary, but this is incorrect. Had the Jews accepted their Messiah when He offered the kingdom to them He still would have died on the cross and experienced resurrection and ascension. He could not have been the Messiah without doing so in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies (Psalms 22; Isaiah 53; Daniel 9; Zechariah 13). Then the prophecies concerning the seven years of Jacob’s trouble would have been fulfilled (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; Daniel 9:26-27). Next Messiah would have returned to set up His kingdom (Isaiah 60:1-3; Isaiah 66:18; Habakkuk 2:14; cf. Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:6).
Since the Jews rejected Jesus’ offer of the kingdom was His offer genuine? Had God not already determined that Israel would reject her Messiah? Jesus’ offer of the kingdom was just as genuine as any gospel offer of salvation to someone who rejects it.
"Those who cavil at the idea of an offer which is certain to be rejected betray an ignorance, not only of Biblical history (cf. Isaiah 6:8-10 and Ezekiel 2:3-7), but also of the important place of the legal proffer in the realm of jurisprudence." [Note: McClain, p. 344.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-3.html. 2012.
1. Jesus’ forerunner 3:1-12 (cf. Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:3-18)
It was common when Jesus lived for forerunners to precede important individuals to prepare the way for their arrival. For example, when a king would visit a town in his realm his emissaries would go before him to announce his visit. They would make sure the town was in good condition to receive him. Sometimes his servants even had to do minor roadwork to smooth the highway the king would take as he approached his destination. [Note: Walvoord, p. 29.] John not only prepared the way for Jesus but also announced Him as an important person and implied His royalty. John preceded Jesus in His birth, in His public appearance, and in His death.
"As Jesus’ forerunner, John foreshadows in his person and work the person and work of Jesus. Both John and Jesus are the agents of God sent by God (Matthew 11:10; Matthew 10:40). Both belong to the time of fulfillment (Matthew 3:3; Matthew 1:23). Both have the same message to proclaim (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17). Both enter into conflict with Israel: in the case of the crowds, a favorable reception ultimately gives way to repudiation; in the case of the leaders, the opposition is implacable from the outset (Matthew 3:7-10; Matthew 9:3). Both John and Jesus are ’delivered up’ to their enemies (Matthew 4:12; Matthew 10:4). And both are made to die violently and shamefully (Matthew 14:3-12; Matthew 27:37)." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 49.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-3.html. 2012.
THE EMERGENCE OF JOHN THE BAPTIZER ( Matthew 3:1-6 )
3:1-6 In those days John the Baptizer arrived on the scene, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea. "Repent," he said, "for the Kingdom of the Heavens has come near." It was this man who was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Make ready the road by which the Lord is coming, and make straight the paths which he must travel!"' John himself wore a garment made from camel's hair, and he had a leathern belt round his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan, went out to him. They were baptized in the river Jordan, and, as they were baptized, they confessed their sins.
The emergence of John was like the sudden sounding of the voice of God. At this time the Jews were sadly conscious that the voice of the prophets spoke no more. They said that for four hundred years there had been no prophet. Throughout long centuries the voice of prophecy had been silent. As they put it themselves, "There was no voice, nor any that answered." But in John the prophetic voice spoke again. What then were the characteristics of John and his message?
(i) He fearlessly denounced evil wherever he might find it. If Herod the king sinned by contracting an evil and unlawful marriage, John rebuked him. If the Sadducees and Pharisees, the leaders of orthodox religion, the churchmen of their day, were sunk in ritualistic formalism, John never hesitated to say so. If the ordinary people were living lives which were unaware of God, John would tell them so.
Wherever John saw evil--in the state, in the Church, in the crowd--he fearlessly rebuked it. He was like a light which lit up the dark places; he was like wind which swept from God throughout the country. It was said of a famous journalist who was great, but who never quite fulfilled the work he might have done, "He was perhaps not easily enough disturbed." There is still a place in the Christian message for warning and denunciation. "The truth," said Diogenes, "is like the light to sore eyes." "He who never offended anyone," he said, "never did anyone any good."
It may be that there have been times when the Church was too careful not to offend. There come occasions when the time for smooth politeness has gone, and the time for blunt rebuke has come.
(ii) He urgently summoned men to righteousness. John's message was not a mere negative denunciation; it was a positive erecting of the moral standards of God. He not only denounced men for what they had done; he summoned them to what they ought to do. He not only condemned men for what they were; he challenged them to be what they could be. He was like a voice calling men to higher things. He not only rebuked evil, he also set before men the good.
It may well be that there have been times when the Church was too occupied in telling men what not to do; and too little occupied in setting before them the height of the Christian ideal.
(iii) John came from God. He came out of the desert. He came to men only after he had undergone years of lonely preparation by God. As Alexander Maclaren said, "John leapt, as it were, into the arena full-grown and full-armed." He came, not with some opinion of his own, but with a message from God. Before he spoke to men, he had companied long with God.
The preacher, the teacher with the prophetic voice, must always come into the presence of men out of the presence of God.
(iv) John pointed beyond himself. The man was not only a light to illumine evil, a voice to rebuke sin, he was also a signpost to God. It was not himself he wished men to see; he wished to prepare them for the one who was to come.
It was the Jewish belief that Elijah would return before the Messiah came, and that he would t)e the herald of the coming King. "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" ( Malachi 4:5). John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leathern belt around his waist. That is the very description of the raiment which Elijah had worn ( 2 Kings 1:8).
Matthew connects him with a prophecy from Isaiah ( Isaiah 40:3). In ancient times in the East the roads were bad. There was an eastern proverb which said, "There are three states of misery--sickness, fasting and travel." Before a traveller set out upon a journey he was advised "to pay all debts, provide for dependents, give parting gifts, return all articles under trust, take money and good-temper for the journey; then bid farewell to all." The ordinary roads were no better than tracks. They were not surfaced at all because the soil of Palestine is hard and will bear the traffic of mules and asses and oxen and carts. A journey along such a road was an adventure, and indeed an undertaking to be avoided.
There were some few surfaced and artificially made roads. Josephus, for instance, tells us that Solomon laid a causeway of black basalt stone along the roads that lead to Jerusalem to make them easier for the pilgrims, and "to manifest the grandeur of his riches and government." All such surfaced and artificially-made roads were originally built by the king and for the use of the king. They were called "the king's highway." They were kept in repair only as the king needed them for any journey that he might make. Before the king was due to arrive in any area, a message was sent out to the people to get the king's roads in order for the king's journey.
John was preparing the way for the king. The preacher, the teacher with the prophetic voice, points not at himself, but at God. His aim is not to focus men's eyes on his own cleverness, but on the majesty of God. The true preacher is obliterated in his message.
Men recognized John as a prophet, even after years when no prophetic voice had spoken, because he was a light to light up evil things, a voice to summon men to righteousness, a signpost to point men to God, and because he had in him that unanswerable authority which clings to the man who comes into the presence of men out of the presence of God.
THE MESSAGE OF JOHN--THE THREAT ( Matthew 3:7-12 )
3:7-12 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who put it into your minds to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit to fit repentance. Do not think that you can say to yourselves. 'We have Abraham as a father.' For I tell you that God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. The axe is already applied to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not produce good fruit is on the point of being cut down, and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water that you may repent. He who is coming after me is stronger than I. I am not fit to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather the corn into his storehouse, but he will burn the chaff with a fire that no man can quench."
In John's message there is both a threat and a promise. This whole passage is full of vivid pictures.
John calls the Pharisees and the Sadducees a brood of vipers, and asks them who has suggested to them to flee from the coming wrath. There may be one of two pictures there.
John knew the desert. The desert had in places thin, short, dried-up grass, and stunted thorn bushes, brittle for want of moisture. Sometimes a desert fire would break out. When that happened the fire swept like a river of flame across the grass and the bushes, for they were as dry as tinder. And in front of the fire there would come scurrying and hurrying the snakes and the scorpions, and the living creatures who found their shelter in the grass and in the bushes. They were driven from their lairs by this river of flame, and they ran for their lives before it.
But it may be that there is another picture here. There are many little creatures in a standing field of corn--the field mice, the rats, the rabbits, the birds. But when the reaper comes they are driven from their nests and their shelters, and as the field is laid bare they have to flee for their lives.
It is in terms of these pictures that John is thinking. If the Pharisees and Sadducees are really coming for baptism, they are like the animals scurrying for life before a desert fire or in front of the sickle of the harvester.
He warns them that it will avail them nothing to plead that Abraham is their father. To the orthodox Jew that was an incredible statement. To the Jew Abraham was unique. So unique was he in his goodness and in his favour with God, that his merits sufficed not only for himself but for all his descendants also. He had built up a treasury of merit which not all the claims and needs of his descendants could exhaust. So the Jews believed that a Jew simply because he was a Jew, and not for any merits of his own, was safe in the life to come. They said, "All Israelites have a portion in the world to come." They talked about "the delivering merits of the fathers." They said that Abraham sat at the gates of Gehenna to turn back any Israelite who might by chance have been consigned to its terrors. They said that it was the merits of Abraham which enabled the ships to sail safely on the seas; that it was because of the merits of Abraham that the rain descended on the earth; that it was the merits of Abraham which enabled Moses to enter into heaven and to receive the Law; that it was because of the merits of Abraham that David was heard. Even for the wicked these merits sufficed." If thy children," they said of Abraham, "were mere dead bodies, without blood vessels or bones, thy merits would avail for them!"
It is that spirit which John is rebuking. Maybe the Jews carried it to an unparalleled distance, but there is always need of a warning that we cannot live on the spiritual capital of the past. A degenerate age cannot hope to claim salvation for the sake of an heroic past; and an evil son cannot hope to plead the merits of a saintly father.
Then, once again, John returns to his harvest picture. At the end of the season the keeper of the vineyards and the fig trees would look at his vines and his trees; and those which were fruitless and useless would be rooted out. They only cumbered the ground. Uselessness always invites disaster. The man who is useless to God and to his fellow-men is in grave peril, and is under condemnation.
THE MESSAGE OF JOHN--THE PROMISE ( Matthew 3:7-12 continued)
But after John's threat there came the promise--which had also a threat within it. As we have said, John pointed beyond himself to the one who was to come. At the moment he was enjoying a vast reputation, and he was wielding a most powerful influence. Yet he said that he was not fit to carry the sandals of the one who was to come-and to carry sandals was the duty of a slave. John's whole attitude was self-obliteration, not self-importance. His only importance was, as he saw it, as a signpost pointing to the one who was to come.
He said that the one who was to come would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
All through their history the Jews had looked for the time when the Spirit would come. Ezekiel heard God say, "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.... And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and be careful to observe my ordinances" ( Ezekiel 36:26-27). "And I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live" ( Ezekiel 37:14). "And I will not hide my face any more from them; when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God" ( Ezekiel 39:29). "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring" ( Isaiah 44:3). "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh" ( Joel 2:28).
What then is the gift and work of this Spirit of God? When we try to answer that question, we must remember to answer it in Hebrew terms. John was a Jew, and it was to Jews that he was speaking. He is thinking and speaking, not in terms of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but in terms of the Jewish doctrine of the Spirit.
(i) The word for spirit is ruwach ( H7307) , and ruwach, like pneuma ( G4151) in Greek, means not only spirit; it also means breath. Breath is life; and therefore the promise of the Spirit is the promise of life. The Spirit of God breathes God's life into a man. When the Spirit of God enters us, the tired, lack-lustre, weary defeatedness of life is gone, and a surge of new life enters us.
(ii) This word ruwach ( H7307) not only means breath; it also means wind. It is the word for the storm wind, the mighty rushing wind that once Elijah heard. Wind means power. The gale of wind sweeps the ship before it and uproots the tree. The wind has an irresistible power. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of power. When the Spirit of God enters into a man, his weakness is clad with the power of God. He is enabled to do the undoable, and to face the unfaceable, and to bear the unbearable. Frustration is banished; victory arrives.
(iii) The Spirit of God is connected with the work of creation. It was the Spirit of God who moved upon the face of the waters and made the chaos into a cosmos, turned disorder into order, and made a world out of the uncreated mists. The Spirit of God can re-create us. When the Spirit of God enters into a man the disorder of human nature becomes the order of God; our dishevelled, disorderly, uncontrolled lives are moulded by the Spirit into the harmony of God.
(iv) To the Spirit the Jews assigned special functions. The Spirit brought God's truth to men. Every new discovery in every realm of thought is the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit enters into a man's mind and turns his human guesses into divine certainty, and changes his human ignorance into divine knowledge.
(v) The Spirit enables men to recognize God's truth when they see It. When the Spirit enters our hearts, our eyes are opened. The prejudices which blinded us are taken away. The self-will which darkened us is removed. The spirit enables a man to see.
Such are the gifts of the Spirit, and, as John saw it, such were the gifts the one who was to come would bring.
THE MESSAGE OF JOHN--THE PROMISE AND THE THREAT ( Matthew 3:7-12 continued.)
There is a word and a picture in John's message which combine both promise and threat.
John says that the baptism of the one who is to come will be with fire. In the thought of a baptism with fire there are three ideas.
(i) There is the idea of illumination. The blaze of a flame sends a light through the night and illuminates the darkest corners. The flame of the beacon guides the sailor to the harbour and the traveller to his goal. In fire there is light and guidance. Jesus is the beacon light to lead men into truth and to guide them home to God.
(ii) There is the idea of warmth. A great and a kindly man was described as one who lit fires in cold rooms. When Jesus comes into a man's life, he kindles his heart with the warmth of love towards God and towards his fellow men. Christianity is always the religion of the kindled heart.
(iii) There is the idea of purification. In this sense purification involves destruction; for the purifying flame burns away the false and leaves the true. The flame tempers and strengthens and purifies the metal. When Christ comes into a man's heart, the evil dross is purged away. Sometimes that has to happen through painful experiences, but, if a man throughout all the experiences of life believes that God is working together all things for good, he will emerge from them with a character which is cleansed and purified, until, being pure in heart, he can see God.
So, then, the word fire has in it the illumination, the warmth and the purification of the entry of Jesus Christ into the heart of a man.
But there is also a picture which has in it a promise and a threat--the picture of the threshing floor. The fan was the great wooden winnowing shovel. With it the grain was lifted from the threshing floor and tossed into the air. When that was done the heavy grain fell to the ground, but the light chaff was blown away by the wind. The grain was then collected and stored in the barns, while any chaff which remained was used as fuel for the fire.
The coming of Christ necessarily involves a separation. Men either accept him or reject him. When they are confronted with him, they are confronted with a choice which cannot be avoided. They are either for or against. And it is precisely that choice which settles destiny. Men are separated by their reaction to Jesus Christ.
In Christianity there is no escape from the eternal choice. On the village green in Bedford, John Bunyan heard the voice which drew him up all of a sudden and left him looking at eternity: "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell?" In the last analysis that is the choice which no man can evade.
THE MESSAGE OF JOHN--THE DEMAND ( Matthew 3:7-12 continued)
In all John's preaching there was one basic demand--and that basic demand was: "Repent!" ( Matthew 3:2). That was also the basic demand of Jesus himself, for Jesus came saying, "Repent, and believe in the gospel" ( Mark 1:15). We will do well to seek to understand what this repentance is, and what this basic demand of the King and his herald means.
It is to be noted that both Jesus and John use the word repent without any explanation of its meaning. They use it as a word which they were sure their hearers would know and understand.
Let us then look at the Jewish teaching about repentance.
To the Jew repentance was central to all religious faith and to all relationship with God. G. F. Moore writes, "Repentance is the sole, but inexorable, condition of God's forgiveness and the restoration of his favour, and the divine forgiveness and favour are never refused to genuine repentance." He writes, "That God fully and freely remits the sins of the penitent is a cardinal doctrine of Judaism." The Rabbis said, "Great is repentance for it brings healing upon the world. Great is repentance for it reaches to the throne of glory." C. G. Montefiore wrote, "Repentance is the great mediatorial bond between God and man."
The Law was created two thousand years before creation, but, the Rabbis taught, repentance was one of the things created even before the Law; the six things are repentance, paradise, hell, the glorious throne of God, the celestial temple, and the name of the Messiah. "A man" they said, "can shoot an arrow for a few furlongs, but repentance reaches even to the throne of God."
There is a famous rabbinic passage which sets repentance in the first of all places: "Who is like God a teacher of sinners that they may repent?" They asked Wisdom, "What shall be the punishment of the sinner?" Wisdom answered: "Misfortune pursues sinners" ( Proverbs 13:21). They asked Prophecy. It replied: "The soul that sins shall die" ( Ezekiel 18:4). They asked the Law. It replied: "Let him bring a sacrifice" ( Leviticus 1:4), they asked God, and he replied: "Let him repent and obtain his atonement. My children, what do I ask of you? Seek me and live." So, then, to the Jew the one gateway back to God is the gateway of repentance.
The Jewish word commonly used for repentance is itself interesting. It is the word teshubah ( H8666) which is the noun for the verb shuwb ( H7725) which means to turn. Repentance is a turning away from evil and a turning towards God. G. F. Moore writes, "The transparent primary meaning of repentance in Judaism is always a change in man's attitude towards God, and in the conduct of life, a religious and moral reformation of the people or the individual." C. G. Montefiore writes, "To the Rabbis the essence of repentance lay in such a thorough change of mind that it issues in a change of life and a change of conduct." Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar, defines repentance thus: "What is repentance? Repentance is that the sinner forsakes his sin and puts it away out of his thoughts and fully resolves in his mind that he will not do it again; as it is written, 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and the bad man his plans.'"
G. F. Moore very interestingly and very truly points out that, with the single exception of the two words in brackets, the Westminster Confession definition of repentance would be entirely acceptable to a Jew: "Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God (in Christ), doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of and endeavour after, new obedience." Again and again the Bible speaks of this turning away from sin, and this turning towards God. Ezekiel had it: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel" ( Ezekiel 33:11). Jeremiah had it: "Bring me back that I may be restored, for thou art the Lord my God" ( Jeremiah 31:18). Hosea had it: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord thy God.... Take with you words and return to the Lord" ( Hosea 14:1-2).
From all this it is quite clear that in Judaism repentance has in it an ethical demand. It is a turn from evil to God, with a corresponding change in action. John was fully within the tradition of his people when he demanded that his hearers should bring forth fruit meet for repentance. There is a beautiful synagogue prayer which runs, "Cause us to return, O Father, unto thy law; draw us near, O King, unto thy service; bring us back in perfect repentance unto thy presence. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who delightest in repentance." But that repentance had to be shown in a real change of life.
A Rabbi, commenting on Jonah 3:10, wrote, "My brethren, it is not said of the Ninevites that God saw their sackcloth and their fasting, but that God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." The Rabbis said, "Be not like fools, who, when they sin, bring a sacrifice but do not repent. If a man says, 'I will sin and repent, I will sin and repent,' he is not allowed to repent." Five unforgivable sinners are listed, and the list includes "Those who sin in order to repent, and those who repent much and always sin afresh." They said: "If a man has an unclean thing in his hands, he may wash them in all the seas of the world, and he will never be clean; but if he throws the unclean thing away, a little water will suffice." The Jewish teachers spoke of what they called "the nine norms of repentance," the nine necessities of real repentance. They found them in the series of commandments in Isaiah 1:16: "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow." The son of Sirach writes in Ecclesiasticus: "Say not, I sinned, and what happened to me? For the Lord is long-suffering. Do not become rashly confident about expiation, and go on adding sin to sins; and do not say, his compassion is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath are with him, and upon sinners his anger will rest. Delay not to turn to the Lord, and do not put it off from day to day" ( Sir_5:4-7 ). He writes again, "A man who bathes to purify himself from contact with a dead body and touches it again, what profit was there in his bath? So a man who fasts for his sins and goes again and does the same things--who will listen to his prayer, and what profit was there in his afflicting himself." ( Sir_34:25-26 ).
The Jew held that true repentance issues, not merely in a sentimental sorrow, but in a real change in life--and so does the Christian. The Jew had a holy horror of seeking to trade on the mercy of God--and so has the Christian. The Jew held that true repentance brings forth fruits which demonstrate the reality of the repentance--and so does the Christian.
But the Jews had still more things to say about repentance and we must go on to look at them.
THE MESSAGE OF JOHN--THE DEMAND ( Matthew 3:7-12 continued)
There is an almost terrifying note in the ethical demand of the Jewish idea of repentance, but there are other comforting things.
Repentance is always available. "Repentance." they said, "is like the sea--a man can bathe in it at any hour." There may be times when even the gates of prayer are shut; but the gates of repentance are never closed.
Repentance is completely essential. There is a story of a kind of argument that Abraham had with God. Abraham said to God, "Thou canst not lay hold of the cord at both ends at once. If Thou desirest strict justice the world cannot endure. If Thou desirest the preservation of the world. strict justice cannot endure." The world cannot continue to exist without the mercy of God, and the gateway of repentance. If there was nothing but the justice of God, it would be the end of all men and of all things. So essential is repentance that in order to make it possible God cancels his own demands: "Beloved is repentance before God, for he cancels his own words for its sake." The threat of the destruction of the sinner is cancelled by the acceptance of repentance for the sinner's sins.
Repentance lasts as long as life. So long as life remains, there remains the possibility of repentance. "God's hand is stretched out under the wings of the heavenly chariot to snatch the penitent from the grasp of justice." Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai said, "If a man has been completely righteous all his days, and rebels at the end, he destroys it all, for it is said, 'The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses' ( Ezekiel 33:12); if a man has been completely wicked all his days, and repents at the end, God receives him, for it is said, 'And as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness'" ( Ezekiel 33:12). "Many," they said, "can go into the world to come only after years and years; while another gains it in an hour." As the poet said of the man who gained the mercy of God in the instant of death:
Between the saddle and the ground,
I mercy sought, and mercy found."
Such is the mercy of God that he will receive even secret repentance. Rabbi Eleazar said, "It is the way of the world, when a man has insulted his fellow in public, and after a time seeks to be reconciled to him, that the other says, 'You insult me publicly, and now you would be reconciled to me between us two alone! Go bring the men in whose presence you insulted me, and I will be reconciled to you.' But God is not so. A man may stand and rail and blaspheme in the market place, and the Holy One says, 'Repent between us two alone, and I will receive you.'" God's mercy is open to the man who is so ashamed that he can tell his shame to no one except God.
There is no forgetfulness in God, because he is God, but such is the mercy of God that he not only forgives, but, incredible as it may sound, he even forgets the sin of the penitent: "Who is a God like thee pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?"" ( Micah 7:18). "Thou didst forgive the iniquity of thy people; thou didst pardon all their sin" ( Psalms 85:2).
Loveliest of all, God comes halfway and more to meet the penitent: "Return so far as you can, and I will come to you the rest of the way." The Rabbis at their highest had a glimpse of the Father who in his love ran to meet the prodigal son.
Yet, even remembering all this mercy, it remains the case that in true repentance reparation is necessary in so far as it can be made. The Rabbis said, "Injury must be repaired, and pardon sought and forgiven. The true penitent is he who has the opportunity to do the same sin again, in the same circumstances, and who does not do it." The Rabbis stressed again and again the importance of human relationships, and of setting them right.
There is one curious rabbinic passage. (A tsaddiyq ( H6662) is a righteous man.) "He who is good towards heaven and towards his fellow men is a good tsaddiyq. He who is good towards heaven and not towards his fellow men, is a bad tsaddiyq ( H6662) . He who is wicked against heaven and wicked against his fellow men, is a bad sinner. He who is wicked against heaven, but not wicked against his fellow men is not a bad sinner."
It is because reparation is so necessary that he who teaches others to sin is the worst of sinners; for he cannot make reparation because he can never tell how far his sin has gone out and how many it has gone on to influence.
Not only is reparation necessary for true repentance; confession is equally necessary. Again and again we find that demand within the Bible itself." When a man or woman commits any of the sins that men commit ... he shall confess his sin which he has committed" ( Numbers 5:6-7). "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" ( Proverbs 28:13). "I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin" ( Psalms 32:5). It is the man who says that he is innocent and who refuses to admit that he has sinned who is condemned ( Jeremiah 2:35). Maimonides gives the formula which a man may use to confess his sin: "O God, I have sinned, I have done iniquity, I have transgressed before thee, and have done thus and so. I am sorry and ashamed for my deed, and I will never do it again." True repentance necessitates the humility to admit and to confess our sin.
No case is hopeless for repentance, and no man is beyond repentance. The Rabbis said, "Let not a man say, 'Because I have sinned, no repair is possible for me,' but let him trust in God and repent, and God will receive him." The classical example of a seemingly impossible reformation was the case of Manasseh. He worshipped the Baals, he brought strange gods into Jerusalem; he even sacrificed children to Moloch in the valley of Hinnom. Then he was taken away captive to Assyria, and there in fetters he lay upon the thorns. Then he prayed to God in his distress, and God heard his supplication and brought him again to Jerusalem. "Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God" ( 2 Chronicles 33:13). Sometimes it takes God's threat and God's discipline to do it, but none is beyond the power of God to bring him home.
There is one last Jewish belief about repentance, and it is a belief which must have been in John's mind. Certain, at least, of the Jewish teachers taught that if Israel could repent perfectly for even one day the Messiah would come. It was only the hardness of the hearts of men which delayed the sending of God's Redeemer into the world.
Repentance was the very centre of the Jewish faith as it is the very centre of the Christian faith, for repentance is the turning away from sin and the turning towards God, and towards the life that God means us to live.
JESUS AND HIS BAPTISM ( Matthew 3:13-17 )
3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent him. "It is I," he said, "who need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?" Jesus answered him, "Let it be just now, for so it befits us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he allowed Jesus to be baptized. After Jesus had been baptized he came up immediately from the water and, lo, the heavens were opened for John, and he saw the Spirit of God descending, like a dove, and coming upon him. And, lo, there came a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved One, in whom I am well pleased."
When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John was startled and unwilling to baptize him. It was John's conviction that it was he who needed what Jesus could give, not Jesus who needed what he could give.
Ever since men began to think about the gospel story at all, they have found the baptism of Jesus difficult to understand. In John's baptism there was a summons to repentance, and the offer of a way to the forgiveness of sins. But, if Jesus is who we believe him to be, he did not stand in need of repentance, and did not need forgiveness from God. John's baptism was for sinners conscious of their sin, and therefore it does not seem applicable to Jesus at all.
A very early writer suggested that Jesus came to be baptized only to please his mother and his brothers, and that it was in answer to their entreaties that he was almost compelled to let this thing be done. The Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is one of the gospels which failed to be included in the New Testament, has a passage like this: "Behold the mother of the Lord and his brethren said to him, 'John the Baptist baptizeth for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him.' But he said to them, 'What sin have I committed, that I should go and be baptized by him? Except perchance this very thing that I have said is ignorance.'"
From the earliest times thinkers were puzzled by the fact that Jesus submitted to be baptized. But there were reasons, and good reasons, why he did.
(i) For thirty years Jesus had waited in Nazareth, faithfully performing the simple duties of the home and of the carpenter's shop. All the time he knew that a world was waiting for him. All the time he grew increasingly conscious of his waiting task. The success of any undertaking is determined by the wisdom with which the moment to embark upon it is chosen. Jesus must have waited for the hour to strike, for the moment to come, for the summons to sound. And when John emerged Jesus knew that the time had arrived.
(ii) Why should that be so? There was one very simple and very vital reason. It is the fact that never in all history before this had any Jew submitted to being baptized. The Jews knew and used baptism, but only for proselytes who came into Judaism from some other faith. It was natural that the sin-stained, polluted proselyte should be baptized, but no Jew had ever conceived that he, a member of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God's salvation, could ever need baptism. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew ever conceived of himself as a sinner shut out from God. Now for the first time in their national history the Jews realized their own sin and their own clamant need of God. Never before had there been such a unique national movement of penitence and of search for God.
This was the very moment for which Jesus had been waiting. Men were conscious of their sin and conscious of their need of God as never before. This was his opportunity, and in his baptism he identified himself with the men he came to save, in the hour of their new consciousness of their sin, and of their search for God.
The voice which Jesus heard at the baptism is of supreme importance." This is my beloved Son," it said, "with whom I am well pleased." That sentence is composed of two quotations. "This is my beloved Son," is a quotation from Psalms 2:7. Every Jew accepted that Psalm as a description of the Messiah, the mighty King of God who was to come. "With whom I am well pleased" is a quotation from Isaiah 42:1, which is a description of the Suffering Servant, a description which culminates in Isaiah 53:1-12.
So in the baptism there came to Jesus two certainties--the certainty that he was indeed the chosen One of God, and the certainty that the way in front of him was the way of the Cross. in that moment he knew that he was chosen to be King, but he also knew that his throne must be a Cross. In that moment he knew that he was destined to be a conqueror, but that his conquest must have as its only weapon the power of suffering love. In that moment there was set before Jesus both his task and the only way to the fulfilling of it.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/matthew-3.html. 1956-1959.
Matthew 3:1 --
In those days -- Matthew intended his narrative to embrace the whole time of Jesus’ life, and the meaning of “in those days" references while Jesus still dwelt at Nazareth.
John the Baptist -- Or John the baptizer, so called from his call for people to repent and be baptized. Baptism was the immersion of candidates upon their submission to his message.
John the Baptist came preaching -- It is not probable that John began to baptize or preach long before the Saviour entered on his ministry; and, consequently, from the time that is mentioned in the close of the second chapter to that mentioned in the beginning of the third, an interval of twenty-five years or more elapsed.
preaching ... Mark 1:14-15; The word rendered “preach” means to proclaim in the manner of a public crier; to make proclamation. The discourses recorded in the New Testament are mostly brief, sometimes consisting only of a single sentence, but they may have just been an outline, or an abbreviation of the full message. They were public proclamations of some great truth. Such appear to have been the discourses of John, calling people to repentance.
in the wilderness of Judea -- This country was situated along the Jordan and the Dead Sea, to the east of Jerusalem. It was a dry mountainous, rough, and thinly settled country, and better suited for pasture than for tilling.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/matthew-3.html. 2021.
In those days came John the Baptist,.... The Evangelist having given an account of the genealogy and birth of Christ; of the coming of the wise men from the east to him; of his preservation from Herod's bloody design against him, when all the infants at Bethlehem were slain; of the flight of Joseph with Mary and Jesus into Egypt, and of their return from thence, and settlement in Nazareth, where Christ continued till near the time of his baptism, and entrance on his public ministry; proceeds to give a brief relation of John, the harbinger and forerunner of Christ, and the administrator of baptism to him: and he describes him by his name John, in Hebrew יוחנן, "Jochanan", which signifies "gracious", or "the grace of the Lord", or "the Lord has given grace"; which agrees with him, both as a good man, on whom the Lord had bestowed much grace, and as a preacher, whose business it was to publish the grace of God in Christ, Luke 16:16. This name was given him by an angel before his conception, and by his parents at his birth, contrary to the mind of their relations and neighbours, Luke 1:13. He is called by some of the Jewish writers m, John the "high priest"; his father Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abia, and he might succeed him therein, and be the head of that course, and for that reason be called a "high" or "chief priest"; as we find such were called, who were the principal among the priests, as were those who were chosen into the sanhedrim, or were the heads of these courses; and therefore we read of many chief priests, Matthew 2:4. From his being the first administrator of the ordinance of baptism, he is called John the Baptist; and this was a well known title and character of him. Josephus n calls him "John", who is surnamed ο βαπτιστης, "the Baptist"; and Ben Gorion having spoken of him, says o, this is that John who עשה טבילה, "made", instituted, or practised "baptism"; and which, by the way, shows that this was not in use among the Jews before, but that John was the first practiser this way. He is described by his work and office as a preacher, he "came" or "was preaching" the doctrines of repentance and baptism; he published and declared that the kingdom of the Messiah was at hand, that he would quickly be revealed; and exhorted the people to believe on him, which should come after him. The place where he preached is mentioned,
in the wilderness of Judea; not that he preached to trees and to the wild beasts of the desert; for the wilderness of Judea was an habitable place, and had in it many cities, towns, and villages, in which we must suppose John came preaching, at least to persons which came out from thence. There were in Joshua's time six cities in this wilderness, namely Betharabah, Middin, and Secacah, and Nibshan, and the city of Salt, and Engedi, Joshua 15:61. Mention is made in the Talmud p of this wilderness of Judea, as distinct from the land of Israel, when the doctors say, that
"they do not bring up small cattle in the land of Israel, but they bring them up במדבר שביהודה, "in the wilderness which is in Judea".''
The Jews have an observation q of many things coming from the wilderness;
"the law, they say, came from the wilderness; the tabernacle from the wilderness; the sanhedrim from the wilderness; the priesthood from the wilderness; the office of the Levites from the wilderness; the kingdom from the wilderness; and all the good gifts which God gave to Israel were from the wilderness.''
So John came preaching here, and Christ was tempted here. The time of his appearance and preaching was in those days: not when Christ was newly born; or when the wise men paid their adoration to him; or when Herod slew the infants; or when he was just dead, and Archelaus reigned in his room; or when Christ first went to Nazareth; though it was whilst he dwelt there as a private person; but when John was about thirty years of age, and Christ was near unto it, Luke 3:23 an age in which ecclesiastical persons entered into service, Numbers 4:3. It was indeed, as Luke says, Luke 3:1 in the "fifteenth" year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea; and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee; and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea; and of the region of Trachonitis; and Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene; Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.
m Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 2. Chronicon Regum, fol. 54. 4. n Antiq. l. 18. c. 7. o L. 5. c. 45. p T. Bab. Bava Kama, fol, 79. 9. 2. q Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 13. 3.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-3.html. 1999.
|The Preaching of John the Baptist.|
1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
We have here an account of the preaching and baptism of John, which were the dawning of the gospel-day. Observe,
I. The time when he appeared. In those days (Matthew 3:1; Matthew 3:1), or, after those days, long after what was recorded in the foregoing chapter, which left the child Jesus in his infancy. In those days, in the time appointed of the Father for the beginning of the gospel, when the fulness of time was come, which was often thus spoken of in the Old Testament, In those days. Now the last of Daniel's weeks began, or rather, the latter half of the week, when the Messiah was to confirm the covenant with many,Daniel 9:27. Christ's appearances are all in their season. Glorious things were spoken both of John and Jesus, at and before their births, which would have given occasion to expect some extraordinary appearances of a divine presence and power with them when they were very young; but it is quite otherwise. Except Christ's disputing with the doctors at twelve years old, nothing appears remarkable concerning either of them, till they were about thirty years old. Nothing is recorded of their childhood and youth, but the greatest part of their life is tempos, adelon--wrapt up in darkness and obscurity: these children differ little in outward appearance from other children, as the heir, while he is under age, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. And this was to show, 1. That even when God is acting as the God of Israel, the Saviour, yet verily he is a God that hideth himself (Isaiah 45:15). The Lord is in this place and I knew it not,Genesis 28:16. Our beloved stands behind the wall long before he looks forth at the windows,Song of Solomon 2:9. 2. That our faith must principally have an eye to Christ in his office and undertaking, for there is the display of his power; but in his person is the hiding of his power. All this while, Christ was god-man; yet we are not told what he said or did, till he appeared as a prophet; and then, Hear ye him. 3. That young men, though well qualified, should not be forward to put forth themselves in public service, but be humble, and modest, and self-diffident, swift to hear, and slow to speak.
Matthew says nothing of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, which is largely related by St. Luke, but finds him at full age, as if dropt from the clouds to preach in the wilderness. For above three hundred years the church had been without prophets; those lights had been long put out, that he might be the more desired, who was to be the great prophet. After Malachi there was no prophet, nor any pretender to prophecy, till John the Baptist, to whom therefore the prophet Malachi points more directly than any of the Old Testament prophets had done (Malachi 3:1); I send my messenger.
II. The place where he appeared first. In the wilderness of Judea. It was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not so thickly peopled, nor so much enclosed into fields and vineyards, as other parts were; it was such a wilderness as had six cities and their villages in it, which are named, Joshua 15:61; Joshua 15:62. In these cities and villages John preached, for thereabouts he had hitherto lived, being born hard by, in Hebron; the scenes of his action began there, where he had long spent his time in contemplation; and even when he showed himself to Israel, he showed how well he loved retirement, as far as would consist with his business. The word of the Lord found John here in a wilderness. Note, No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of divine grace; nay, commonly the sweetest intercourse the saints have with Heaven, is when they are withdrawn furthest from the noise of this world. It was in this wilderness of Judah that David penned the Psalms 63:1-11, which speaks so much of the sweet communion he then had with God, Hosea 2:14. In a wilderness the law was given; and as the Old Testament, so the New Testament Israel was first found in the desert land, and there God led him about and instructed him,Deuteronomy 32:10. John Baptist was a priest of the order of Aaron, yet we find him preaching in a wilderness, and never officiating in the temple; but Christ, who was not a son of Aaron, is yet often found in the temple, and sitting there as one having authority; so it was foretold, Malachi 3:1. The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple; not the messenger that was to prepare his way. This intimated that the priesthood of Christ was to thrust out that of Aaron, and drive it into a wilderness.
The beginning of the gospel in a wilderness, speaks comfort to the deserts of the Gentile world. Now must the prophecies be fulfilled, I will plant in the wilderness the cedar,Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 41:19. The wilderness shall be a fruitful field,Isaiah 32:15. And the desert shall rejoice,Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 35:2. The Septuagint reads, the deserts of Jordan, the very wilderness in which John preached. In the Romish church there are those who call themselves hermits, and pretend to follow John; but when they say of Christ, Behold, he is in the desert, go not forth,Matthew 24:26; Matthew 24:26. There was a seducer that led his followers into the wilderness,Acts 21:38.
III. His preaching. This he made his business. He came, not fighting, nor disputing, but preaching (Matthew 3:1; Matthew 3:1); for by the foolishness of preaching, Christ's kingdom must be set up.
1. The doctrine he preached was that of repentance (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 3:2); Repent ye. He preached this in Judea, among those that were called Jews, and made a profession of religion; for even they needed repentance. He preached it, not in Jerusalem, but in the wilderness of Judea, among the plain country people; for even those who think themselves most out of the way of temptation, and furthest from the vanities and vices of the town, cannot wash their hands in innocency, but must do it in repentance. John Baptist's business was to call men to repent of their sins; Metanoeite--Bethink yourselves; "Admit a second thought, to correct the errors of the first--an afterthought. Consider your ways, change your minds; you have thought amiss; think again, and think aright." Note, True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, and sin and holiness, and this world and the other, than they have had, and stand otherwise affected toward them. The change of the mind produces a change of the way. Those who are truly sorry for what they have done amiss, will be careful to do so no more. This repentance is a necessary duty, in obedience to the command of God (Acts 17:30); and a necessary preparative and qualification for the comforts of the gospel of Christ. If the heart of man had continued upright and unstained, divine consolations might have been received without this painful operation preceding; but, being sinful, it must be first pained before it can be laid at ease, must labour before it can be at rest. The sore must be searched, or it cannot be cured. I wound and I heal.
2. The argument he used to enforce this call was, For the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The prophets of the Old Testament called people to repent, for the obtaining and securing of temporal national mercies, and for the preventing and removing of temporal national judgments: but now, though the duty pressed is the same, the reason is new, and purely evangelical. Men are now considered in their personal capacity, and not so much as then in a social and political one. Now repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; the gospel dispensation of the covenant of grace, the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a kingdom of which Christ is the Sovereign, and we must be the willing, loyal subjects of it. It is a kingdom of heaven, not of this world, a spiritual kingdom: its original from heaven, its tendency to heaven. John preached this as at hand; then it was at the door; to us it is come, by the pouring out of the Spirit, and the full exhibition of the riches of gospel-grace. Now, (1.) This is a great inducement to us to repent. There is nothing like the consideration of divine grace to break the heart, both for sin and from sin. That is evangelical repentance, that flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and the hopes of pardon and forgiveness through him. Kindness is conquering; abused kindness, humbling and melting. What a wretch was I to sin against such grace, against the law and love of such a kingdom! (2.) It is a great encouragement to us to repent; "Repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your repentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, through Christ, return to you in a way of mercy." The proclamation of pardon discovers, and fetches in, the malefactor who before fled and absconded. Thus we are drawn to it with the cords of man, and the bands of love.
IV. The prophecy that was fulfilled in him, Matthew 3:3; Matthew 3:3. This is he that was spoken of in the beginning of that part of the prophecy of Esaias, which is mostly evangelical, and which points at gospel-times and gospel-grace; see Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 40:4. John is here spoken of,
1. As the voice of one crying in the wilderness. John owned it himself (John 1:23); I am the voice, and that is all, God is the Speaker, who makes known his mind by John, as a man does by his voice. The word of God must be received as such (1 Thessalonians 2:13); what else is Paul, and what is Apollos, but the voice! John is called the voice, phone boontos--the voice of one crying aloud, which is startling and awakening. Christ is called the Word, which, being distinct and articulate, is more instructive. John as the voice, roused men, and then Christ, as the Word, taught them; as we find, Revelation 14:2. The voice of many waters, and of a great thunder, made way for the melodious voice of harpers and the new song,Matthew 3:3; Matthew 3:3. Some observe that, as Samson's mother must drink no strong drink, yet he was designed to be a strong man; so John Baptist's father was struck dumb, and yet he was designed to be the voice of one crying. When the crier's voice is begotten of a dumb father, it shows the excellency of the power to be of God, and not of man.
2. As one whose business it was to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight; so it was said of him before he was born, that he should make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17), as Christ's harbinger and forerunner: he was such a one as intimated the nature of Christ's kingdom, for he came not in the gaudy dress of a herald at arms, but in the homely one of a hermit. Officers were sent before great men to clear the way; so John prepares the way of the Lord. (1.) He himself did so among the men of that generation. In the Jewish church and nation, at that time, all was out of course; there was a great decay of piety, the vitals of religion were corrupted and eaten out by the traditions and injunctions of the elders. The Scribes and Pharisees, that is, the greatest hypocrites in the world, had the key of knowledge, and the key of government, at their girdle. The people were, generally, extremely proud of their privileges, confident of justification by their own righteousness, insensible of sin; and, though now under the most humbling providences, being lately made a province of the Roman Empire, yet they were unhumbled; they were much in the same temper as they were in Malachi's time, insolent and haughty, and ready to contradict the word of God: now John was sent to level these mountains, to take down their high opinion of themselves, and to show them their sins, that the doctrine of Christ might be the more acceptable and effectual. (2.) His doctrine of repentance and humiliation is still as necessary as it was then to prepare the way of the Lord. Note, There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, to bow the heart for the reception of the Son of David (2 Samuel 19:14); and nothing is more needful, in order to this, than the discovery of sin, and a conviction of the insufficiency of our own righteousness. That which lets will let, until it be taken out of the way; prejudices must be removed, high thoughts brought down, and captivated to the obedience of Christ. Gates of brass must be broken, and bars of iron cut asunder, ere the everlasting doors be opened for the King of glory to come in. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight,Hebrews 12:13.
V. The garb in which he appeared, the figure he made, and the manner of his life, Matthew 3:4; Matthew 3:4. They, who expected the Messiah as a temporal prince, would think that his forerunner must come in great pomp and splendour, that his equipage should be very magnificent and gay; but it proves quite contrary; he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, but mean in the eyes of the world; and, as Christ himself, having no form or comeliness; to intimate betimes, that the glory of Christ's kingdom was to be spiritual, and the subjects of it such as ordinarily were either found by it, or made by it, poor and despised, who derived their honours, pleasures, and riches, from another world.
1. His dress was plain. This same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; he did not go in long clothing, as the scribes, or soft clothing, as the courtiers, but in the clothing of a country husbandman; for he lived in a country place, and suited his habit to his habitation. Note, It is good for us to accommodate ourselves to the place and condition which God, in his providence, has put us in. John appeared in this dress, (1.) To show that, like Jacob, he was a plain man, and mortified to this world, and the delights and gaieties of it. Behold an Israelite indeed! Those that are lowly in heart should show it by a holy negligence and indifference in their attire; and not make the putting on of apparel their adorning, nor value others by their attire. (2.) To show that he was a prophet, for prophets wore rough garments, as mortified men (Zechariah 13:4); and, especially, to show that he was the Elias promised; for particular notice is taken of Elias, that he was a hairy man (which, some think, is meant of the hairy garments he wore), and that he was girt with a girdle of leather about his loins,2 Kings 1:8. John Baptist appears no way inferior to him in mortification; this therefore is that Elias that was to come. (3.) To show that he was a man of resolution; his girdle was not fine, such as were then commonly worn, but it was strong, it was a leathern girdle; and blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he comes, finds with his loins girt,Luke 12:35; 1 Peter 1:13.
2. His diet was plain; his meat was locusts and wild honey; not as if he never ate any thing else; but these he frequently fed upon, and made many meals of them, when he retired into solitary places, and continued long there for contemplation. Locusts were a sort of flying insect, very good for food, and allowed as clean (Leviticus 11:22); they required little dressing, and were light, and easy of digestion, whence it is reckoned among the infirmities of old age, that the grasshopper, or locust, is then a burden to the stomach, Ecclesiastes 12:5. Wild honey was that which Canaan flowed with, 1 Samuel 14:26. Either it was gathered immediately, as it fell in the dew, or rather, as it was found in the hollows of trees and rocks, where bees built, that were not, like those in hives, under the care and inspection of men. This intimates that he ate sparingly, a little served his turn; a man would be long ere he filled his belly with locusts and wild honey: John Baptist came neither eating nor drinking (Matthew 11:18; Matthew 11:18)-- not with the curiosity, formality, and familiarity that other people do. He was so entirely taken up with spiritual things, that he could seldom find time for a set meal. Now, (1.) This agreed with the doctrine he preached of repentance, and fruits meet for repentance. Note, Those whose business it is to call others to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves to live a serious life, a life of self-denial, mortification, and contempt of the world. John Baptist thus showed the deep sense he had of the badness of the time and place he lived in, which made the preaching of repentance needful; every day was a fast-day with him. (2.) This agreed with his office as Christ's forerunner; by this practice he showed that he knew what the kingdom of heaven was, and had experienced the powers of it. Note, Those that are acquainted with divine and spiritual pleasures, cannot but look upon all the delights and ornaments of sense with a holy indifference; they know better things. By giving others this example he made way for Christ. Note, A conviction of the vanity of the world, and everything in it, is the best preparative for the entertainment of the kingdom of heaven in the heart. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
VI. The people who attended upon him, and flocked after him (Matthew 3:5; Matthew 3:5); Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea. Great multitudes came to him from the city, and from all parts of the country; some of all sorts, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, Pharisees and publicans; they went out to him, as soon as they heard his preaching the kingdom of heaven, that they might hear what they heard so much of. Now, 1. This was a great honour put upon John, that so many attended him, and with so much respect. Note, Frequently those have most real honour done them, who least court the shadow of it. Those who live a mortified life, who are humble and self-denying, and dead to the world, command respect; and men have a secret value and reverence for them, more than they would imagine. 2. This gave John a great opportunity of doing good, and was an evidence that God was with him. Now people began to crowd and press into the kingdom of heaven (Luke 16:16); and a blessed sight it was, to see the dew of the youth dropping from the womb of the gospel-morning (Psalms 110:3), to see the net cast where there were so many fish. 3. This was an evidence, that it was now a time of great expectation; it was generally thought that the kingdom of God would presently appear (Luke 19:11), and therefore, when John showed himself to Israel, lived and preached at this rate, so very different from the Scribes and Pharisees, they were ready to say of him, that he was the Christ (Luke 3:15); and this occasioned such a confluence of people about him. 4. Those who would have the benefit of John's ministry must go out to him in the wilderness, sharing in his reproach. Note, They who truly desire the sincere milk of the word, it if be not brought to them, will seek out for it: and they who would learn the doctrine of repentance must go out from the hurry of this world, and be still. 5. It appears by the issue, that of the many who came to John's Baptism, there were but few that adhered to it; witness the cold reception Christ had in Judea, and about Jerusalem. Note, There may be a multitude of forward hearers, where there are but a few true believers. Curiosity, and affectation of novelty and variety, may bring many to attend upon good preaching, and to be affected with it for a while, who yet are never subject to the power of it, Ezekiel 33:31; Ezekiel 33:32.
VII. The rite, or ceremony, by which he admitted disciples, Matthew 3:6; Matthew 3:6. Those who received his doctrine, and submitted to his discipline, were baptized of him in Jordan, thereby professing their repentance, and their belief that the kingdom of the Messiah was at hand. 1. They testified their repentance by confessing their sins; a general confession, it is probable, they made to John that they were sinners, that they were polluted by sin, and needed cleansing; but to God they made a confession of particular sins, for he is the party offended. The Jews had been taught to justify themselves; but John teaches them to accuse themselves, and not to rest, as they used to do, in the general confession of sin made for all Israel, once a year, upon the day of atonement; but to make a particular acknowledgment, every one, of the plague of his own heart. Note, A penitent confession of sin is required in order to peace and pardon; and those only are ready to receive Jesus Christ as their Righteousness, who are brought with sorrow and shame to their own guilt, 1 John 1:9. 2. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven, now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. He washed them with water, in token of this--that from all their iniquities God would cleanse them. It was usual with the Jews to baptize those whom they admitted proselytes to their religion, especially those who were only Proselytes of the gate, and were not circumcised, as the Proselytes of righteousness were. Some think it was likewise a custom for persons of eminent religion, who set up for leaders, by baptism to admit pupils and disciples. Christ's question concerning John's Baptism, Was it from heaven, or of men? implied, that there were baptisms of men, who pretended not to a divine mission; with this usage John complied, but his was from heaven, and was distinguished from all others by this character, It was the baptism of repentance,Acts 19:4. All Israel were baptized unto Moses, 1 Corinthians 10:2. The ceremonial law consisted in divers washings or baptisms (Hebrews 9:10); but John's baptism refers to the remedial law, the law of repentance and faith. He is said to baptize them in Jordan, that river which was famous for Israel's passage through it, and Naaman's cure; yet it is probable that John did not baptize in that river at first, but that afterward, when the people who came to his baptism were numerous, he removed Jordan. By baptism he obliged them to live a holy life, according to the profession they took upon themselves. Note, Confession of sin must always be accompanied with holy resolutions, in the strength of divine grace, not to return to it again.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Matthew 3:1". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/matthew-3.html. 1706.
God has been pleased, in the separate accounts He has given us of our Lord Jesus, to display not only His own grace and wisdom, but the infinite excellency of His Son. It is our wisdom to seek to profit by all the light He has afforded us; and, in order to this, both to receive implicitly, as the simple Christian surely does, whatever God has written for our instruction in these different gospels, and also by comparing them, and comparing them according to the special point of view which God has communicated in each gospel, to see concentrated the varying lines of everlasting truth which there meet in Christ. Now, I shall proceed with all simplicity, the Lord helping me, first taking up the gospel before us, in order to point out, as far as I am enabled to do, the great distinguishing features, as well as the chief contents, that the Holy Ghost has here been pleased to communicate. It is well to bear in mind, that in this gospel, as in all the rest, God has in nowise undertaken to present everything, but only some chosen discourses and facts; and this is the more remarkable, inasmuch as in some cases the very same miracles, etc., are given in several, and even in all, the gospels. The gospels are short; the materials used are not numerous; but what shall we say of the depths of grace that are there disclosed? What of the immeasurable glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, which everywhere shines out in them?
The undeniable certainty that God has been pleased to confine Himself to a small portion of the circumstances of the life of Jesus, and, even so, to repeat the same discourse. miracle, or whatever other fact is brought before us, only brings out, to my mind, more distinctly the manifest design of God to give expression to the glory of the Son in each gospel according to a special point of view. Now, looking at the gospel of Matthew as a whole, and taking the most enlarged view of it before we enter into details, the question arises, what is the main idea before the Holy Ghost? It is surely the lesson of simplicity to learn this from God, and, once learnt, to apply it steadily as a help of the most manifest kind; full of interest, as well as of the weightiest instruction, in examining all the incidents as they come before us. What, then, is that which, not merely in a few facts in particular chapters, but throughout, comes before us in the gospel of Matthew? It matters not where we look, whether at the beginning, the middle, or at the end, the same evident character proclaims itself. The prefatory words introduce it. Is it not the Lord Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham Messiah? But, then, it is not simply the anointed of Jehovah, but One who proves Himself, and is declared of God, to be Jehovah-Messiah No such testimony appears elsewhere. I say not that there is no evidence in the other gospels to demonstrate that He is really Jehovah and Emmanuel too, but that nowhere else have we the same fulness of proof, and the same manifest design, from the very starting point of the gospel, to proclaim the Lord Jesus as being thus a divine Messiah God with us.
The practical object is equally obvious. The common notion, that the Jews are in view, is quite correct, as far as it goes. The gospel of Matthew bears internal proof that God specially provides for the instruction of His own among those that had been Jews. It was written more particularly for leading Jewish Christians into a truer understanding of the glory of the Lord Jesus. Hence, every testimony that could convince and satisfy a Jew, that could correct or enlarge his thoughts, is found most fully here; hence the precision of the quotations from the Old Testament; hence the converging of prophecy on the Messiah; hence, too, the manner in which the miracles of Christ, or the incidents of His life, are here grouped together. To Jewish difficulties all this pointed with peculiar fitness. Miracles we have elsewhere, no doubt, and prophecies occasionally; but where is there such a profusion of them as in Matthew? Where, in the mind of the Spirit of God, such a continual, conspicuous point of quoting and applying Scripture in all places and seasons to the Lord Jesus? To me, I confess, it seems impossible for a simple mind to resist the conclusion.
But this is not all to be noticed here. Not only does God deign to meet the Jew with these proofs from prophecy, miracle, life, and doctrine, but He begins with what a Jew would and must demand the question of genealogy. But even then the answer of Matthew is after a divine sort. "The book," he says, "of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." These are the two principal landmarks to which a Jew turns:- royalty given by the grace of God in the one, and the original depository of the promise in the other.
Moreover, not only does God condescend to notice the line of fathers, but, if He turns aside for a moment now and then for aught else, what instruction, both in man's sin and need, and in His own grace, does thus spring up before us from the mere course of His genealogical tree! He names in certain cases the mother, and not the father only; but never without a divine reason. There are four women alluded to. They are not such as any of us, or perhaps any man, would beforehand have thought of introducing, and into such a genealogy, of all others. But God had His own sufficient motive; and His was one not only of wisdom, but of mercy; also, of special instruction to the Jew, as we shall see in a moment. First of all, who but God would have thought it necessary to remind us that Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar? I need not enlarge; these names in divine history must speak for themselves. Man would have hidden all this assuredly; he would have preferred to put forth either some flaming account of ancient and august ancestry, or to concentrate all the honour and glory in one, the lustre of whose genius eclipsed all antecedents. But God's thoughts are not our thoughts; neither are our ways His ways. Again, the allusion to such persons thus introduced is the more remarkable because others, worthy ones, are not named. There is no mention of Sarah, no hint of Rebecca, no notice whatever of so many holy and illustrious names in the female line of our Lord Jesus. But Thamar does appear thus early (v. 3); and so manifest is the reason, that one has no need to explain further. I am persuaded that the name one is sufficient intimation to any Christian heart and conscience. But how significant to the Jew! What were his thoughts of the Messiah? Would he have put forward the name of Thamar in such a connection? Never. He might not have been able to deny the fact; but as to bringing it out thus, and drawing special attention to it, the Jew was the last man to have done it. Nevertheless, the grace of God in this is exceeding good and wise.
But there is more than this. Lower down we have another. There is the name of Rachab, a Gentile, and a Gentile bringing no honourable reputation along with her. Men may seek to pare it down, but it is impossible either to cloak her shame, or to fritter away the grace of God. It is not to be well or wisely got rid of, who and what Rachab publicly was; yet is she the woman that the Holy Ghost singles out for the next place in the ancestry of Jesus.
Ruth, too, appears Ruth, of all these women most sweet and blameless, no doubt, by the working of the divine grace in her, but still a daughter of Moab, whom the Lord forbade to enter His congregation to the tenth generation for ever.
And what of Solomon himself, begotten by David, the king, of her that had been the wife of Uriah? How humiliating to those who stood on human righteousness! How thwarting to mere Jewish expectations of the Messiah! He was the Messiah, but such He was after God's heart, not man's. He was the Messiah that somehow would and could have relations with sinners, first and last; whose grace would reach and bless Gentiles a Moabite anybody. Room was left for intimations of such compass in Matthew's scheme of His ancestry. Deny it they might as to doctrine and fact now; they could not alter or efface the real features from the genealogy of the true Messiah; for in no other line but David's, through Solomon, could Messiah be. And God has deemed it meet to recount even this to us, so that we may know and enter into His own delight in His rich grace as He speaks of the ancestors of the Messiah. It is thus, then, we come down to the birth of Christ.
Nor was it less worthy of God that He should make most plain the truth of another remarkable conjuncture of predicted circumstances, seemingly beyond reconcilement, in His entrance into the world.
There were two conditions absolutely requisite for the Messiah: one was, that He should be truly born of a rather of the Virgin; the other was, that He should inherit the royal rights of the Solomon-branch of David's house, according to promise. There was a third too, we may add, that He who was the real son of His virgin-mother, the legal son of His Solomon-sprung father, should be, in the truest and highest sense, the Jehovah of Israel, Emmanuel God with us. All this is crowded into the brief account next given us in Matthew's gospel, and by Matthew alone. Accordingly, "the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." This latter truth, that is, of the Holy Ghost's action as to it, we shall find, has a still deeper and wider import assigned to it in the gospel of Luke, whose office is to show us the Man Christ Jesus. I therefore reserve any observations that this larger scope might and ought, indeed, to give rise to, till we have to consider the third gospel
But here the great thing is the relationship of Joseph to the Messiah, and hence he is the one to whom the angel appears. In the gospel of Luke it is not to Joseph, but to Mary. Are we to think that this variety of account is a mere accidental circumstance? or that if God has thus been pleased to draw out two distinct lines of truth, we are not to gather up the divine principle of each and all? It is impossible that God could do what even we should be ashamed of. If we act and speak, or forbear to do either, we ought to have a sufficient reason for one or other. And if no man of sense doubts that this should be so in our own case, has not God always had His own perfect mind in the various accounts He has given us of Christ? Both are true, but with distinct design. It is with divine wisdom that Matthew mentions the angel's visit to Joseph; with no less direction from on high does Luke relate Gabriel's visit to Mary (as before to Zacharias); and the reason is plain. In Matthew, while he not in the least degree weakens, but proves the fact that Mary was the real mother of our Lord, the point was, that He inherited the rights of Joseph.
And no wonder; for no matter how truly our Lord had been the Son of Mary, He had not thereby an indisputable legal right to the throne of David. This never could be in virtue of His descent from Mary, unless He had also inherited the title of the royal stem. As Joseph belonged to the Solomon-branch, he would have barred the right of our Lord to the throne, looking at it as a mere question now of His being the Son of David; and we are entitled so to take it. His being God, or Jehovah, was in no way of itself the ground of Davidical claim, though otherwise of infinitely deeper moment. The question was to make good, along with His eternal glory, a Messianic title that could not be set aside, a title that no Jew on his own ground could impeach. It was His grace so to stoop; it was His own all-sufficient wisdom that knew how to reconcile conditions so above man to put together. God speaks, and it is done.
Accordingly, in the gospel of Matthew, the Spirit of God fixes our attention upon these facts. Joseph was the descendant of David, the king, through Solomon: the Messiah must therefore, somehow or other, be the son of Joseph; yet had He really been the son of Joseph, all would have been lost. Thus the contradictions looked hopeless; for it seemed, that in order to be the Messiah, He must, and yet He must not, be Joseph's son. But what are difficulties to God? With Him all things are possible; and faith receives all with assurance. He was not only the son of Joseph, so that no Jew could deny it, and yet not so, but that He could be in the fullest manner the Son of Mary, the Seed of the woman, and not literally of the man. God, therefore, takes particular pains, in this Jewish gospel, to give all importance to His being strictly, in the eye of the law, the son of Joseph; and so, according to the flesh, inheriting the rights of the regal branch; yet here He takes particular care to prove that He was not, in the reality of His birth as man, Joseph's son. Before husband and wife came together, the espoused Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Such was the character of the conception. Besides, He was Jehovah. This comes out in His very name. The Virgin's Son was to be called "Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." He shall not be a mere man, no matter how miraculously born; Jehovah's people, Israel, are His; He shall save His people from their sins.
This is yet more revealed to us by the prophecy of Isaiah cited next, and particularly by the application of that name found nowhere else but in Matthew: "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Verses 22, 23.)
This, then, is the introduction and the great foundation in fact. The genealogy is, no doubt, formed peculiarly according to the Jewish manner; but this very shape serves rather as a confirmation, I will not say to the Jewish mind alone, but to every honest man of intelligence. The spiritual mind, of course, has no difficulty can have none by the very fact that it is spiritual, because its confidence is in God. Now there is nothing that so summarily banishes a doubt, and silences every question of the natural man, as the simple but happy assurance that what God says must be true, and is the only right thing. No doubt God has been pleased in this genealogy to do that which men in modern times have cavilled at; but not even the darkest and most hostile Jews raised such objections in former days. Assuredly they were the persons, above all, to have exposed the character of the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, if vulnerable. But no; this was reserved for Gentiles. They have made the notable discovery that there is an omission! Now in such lists an omission is perfectly in analogy with the manner of the Old Testament. All that was demanded in such a genealogy was to give adequate landmarks so as to make the descent clear and unquestionable.
Thus, if you take Ezra, for instance, giving his own genealogy as a priest, you find that he omits not three links only in a chain, but seven. Doubtless there may have been a special reason for the omission; but whatever may be our judgment of the true solution of the difficulty, it is evident that a priest who was giving his own genealogy would not put it forward in a defective form. If in one who was of that sacerdotal succession where the proofs were rigorously required, where a defect in it would destroy his right to the exercise of spiritual functions if in such a case there might legitimately be an omission, clearly there might be the same in regard to the Lord's genealogy; and the more, as this omission was not in the part of which the Scripture speaks nothing, but in the centre of its historical records, whence the merest child could supply the missing links at once. Evidently, therefore, the omission was not careless or ignorant, but intentional. I doubt not myself that the design was thereby to intimate the solemn sentence of God on the connection with Athaliah of the wicked house of Ahab, the wife of Joram. (Compare verse 8 with2 Chronicles 22:1-12; 2 Chronicles 22:1-12; 2 Chronicles 23:1-21; 2 Chronicles 24:1-27; 2 Chronicles 25:1-28; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23.) Ahaziah vanishes, and Joash, and Amaziah, when the line once more reappears here in Uzziah. These generations God blots out along with that wicked woman.
There was literally another reason lying on the surface, that required certain names to drop out. The Spirit of God was pleased to give, in each of the three divisions of the Messiah's genealogy, fourteen generations, as from Abraham down to David, from David to the captivity, and from the captivity to Christ. Now, it is evident, that if there were in fact more links in each chain of generation than these fourteen, all above that number must be omitted. Then, as we have just seen, the omission is not haphazard, but made of special moral force. Thus, if there was a necessity because the Spirit of God limited Himself to a certain number of generations, there was also divine reason, as there always is in the word of God, for the choice of the names which had to be omitted,
However this may be, we have in this chapter, besides the genealogical line, the person of the long-expected son of David; we have Him introduced precisely, officially, and fully as the Messiah; we have His deeper glory, not merely that which He took but who He was and is. He might be styled, as indeed He was, "the son of David, the son of Abraham;" but He was, He is, He could not but be, Jehovah-Emmanuel. How all-important this was for a Jew to believe and confess, one need hardly stop to expound: it is enough to mention it by the way. Evidently Jewish unbelief, even where there was an acknowledgment of the Messiah, turned upon this, that the Jew looked upon the Messiah purely according to what He deigns to become as the great King. They saw not any deeper glory than His Messianic throne, not more than an offshoot, though no doubt one of extraordinary vigour, from the root of David. Here, at the very starting-point, the Holy Ghost points out the divine and eternal glory of Him who deigns to come as the Messiah. Surely, too, if Jehovah condescended to be Messiah, and in order to this to be born of the Virgin, there must be some most worthy aims infinitely deeper than the intention, however great, to sit upon the throne of David. Evidently, therefore, the simple perception of the glory of His person overturns all conclusions of Jewish unbelief; shows us that He whose glory was so bright must have a work commensurate with that glory; that He whose personal dignity was beyond all time and even thought, who thus stoops to enter the ranks of Israel as Son of David, must have had some ends in coming, and, above all, to die, suitable to such glory. All this, it is plain, was of the deepest possible moment for Israel to apprehend. It was precisely what the believing Israelite did learn; even as it was just the rock of offence on which unbelieving Israel fell and was dashed to pieces.
The next chapter (Matthew 2:1-23) shows us another characteristic fact in reference to this gospel; for if the aim of the first chapter was to give us proofs of the true glory and character of the Messiah, in contrast with mere Jewish limitation and unbelief about Him, the second chapter shows us what reception Messiah would find, in contrast with the wise men from the East, from Jerusalem, from the king and the people, and in the land of Israel. If His descent be sure as the royal son of David, if His glory be above all human lineage, what was the place that He found, in fact, in His land and people? Indefeasible was His title: what were the circumstances that met Him when He was found at length in Israel? The answer is, from the very first He was the rejected Messiah. He was rejected, and most emphatically, by those whose responsibility it was most of all to receive Him. It was not the ignorant; it was not those that were besotted in gross habits; it was Jerusalem it was the scribes and Pharisees. The people, too, were all moved at the very thought of Messiah's birth.
What brought out the unbelief of Israel so distressingly was this God would have a due testimony to such a Messiah; and if the Jews were unready, He would gather from the very ends of the earth some hearts to welcome Jesus Jesus-Jehovah, the Messiah of Israel. Hence it is that Gentiles are seen coming forth from the East, led by the star which had a voice for their hearts. There had ever rested traditionally among Oriental nations, though not confined to them, the general bearing of Balaam's prophecy, that a star should arise, a star connected with Jacob. I doubt not that God was pleased in His goodness to give a seal to that prophecy, after a literal sort, not to speak of its true symbolic force. In His condescending love, He would lead hearts that were prepared of Him to desire the Messiah, and come from the ends of the earth to welcome Him. And so it was. They saw the star; they set forth to seek the Messiah's kingdom. It was not that the star moved along the way; it roused them and set them going. They recognized the phenomenon as looking for the star of Jacob; they instinctively, I may say, certainly by the good hand of God, connected the two together. From their distant home they made for Jerusalem; for even the universal expectation of men at the time pointed to that city. But when they reached it, where were faithful souls awaiting the Messiah? They found active minds not a few that could tell them clearly where the Messiah was to be born: for this God made them dependent upon His word. When they came to Jerusalem, it was not any longer an outward sign to guide. They learnt the scriptures as to it. They learnt from those that cared neither for it nor for Him it concerned, but who, nevertheless, knew the letter more or less. On the road to Bethlehem, to their exceeding joy, the star re-appears, confirming what they had received, till it rested over where the young child was. And there, in the presence of the father and the mother, they, Easterns though they were, and accustomed to no small homage, proved how truly they were guided of God; for neither father nor mother received the smallest of their worship: all was reserved for Jesus all poured out at the feet of the infant Messiah. Oh, what a withering refutation of the foolish men of the West! Oh, what a lesson, even from these dark Gentiles, to self-complacent Christendom in East or West! Spite of what men might look down upon in these proud days, their hearts in their simplicity were true. It was but for Jesus they came; it was on Jesus that their worship was spent; and so, spite of the parents being there, spite of what nature would prompt them to do, in sharing, at least, something of the worship on the father and mother with the Babe, they produced their treasures and worshipped the young child alone.
This is the more remarkable, because in the gospel of Luke we have another scene, where we see that same Jesus, truly an infant of days, in the hands of an aged one with far more divine intelligence than these Eastern sages could boast. Now we know what would have been the prompting of affection and of godly desires in the presence of a babe; but the aged Simeon never pretends to bless Him. Nothing would have been more simple and natural, had not that Babe differed from all others, had He not been what He was, and had Simeon not known who He was. But he did know it. He saw in Him the salvation of God; and so, though he could rejoice in God, and bless God, though he could in another sense bless the parents, he never presumes so to bless the Babe. It was indeed the blessing that he had got from that Babe which enabled him to bless both God and His parents; but he blesses not the Babe even when he blesses the parents. It was God Himself, even the Son of the Highest that was there, and his soul bowed before God. We have here, then, the Eastems worshipping the Babe, not the parents; as in the other case we have the blessed man of God blessing the patents, but not the Babe: a most striking token of the remarkable difference which the Holy Ghost had in view when inditing these histories of the Lord Jesus.
Further, to these Easterns intimation is given of God, and they returned another way, thus defeating the design of the treacherous heart and cruel head of the Edomite king, notwithstanding the slaughter of the innocents.
Next comes a remarkable prophecy of Christ, of which we must say a word the prophecy of Hosea. Our Lord is carried outside the reach of the storm into Egypt. Such indeed was the history of His life; it was continual pain, one course of suffering and shame. There was no mere heroism in the Lord Jesus, but the very reverse. Nevertheless, it was God shrouding His Majesty; it was God in the person of man, in the Child that takes the lowliest place in the haughty world. Therefore, we find no more a cloud that covers Him, no pillar of fire that shields Him. Apparently the most exposed, He bows before the storm, retires, carried by His parents into the ancient furnace of affliction for His people. Thus even from the very first our Lord Jesus, as a babe, tastes the hate of the world what it is to be thoroughly humbled, even as a child. The prophecy, therefore, was accomplished, and in its deepest meaning. It was not merely Israel that God called out, but His Son out of Egypt. Here was the true, Israel; Jesus was the genuine stock before God. He goes through, in His own person, Israel's history. He goes into Egypt, and is called out of it.
Returning, in due time, to the land of Israel at the death of him that reigned after Herod the Great, His parents are instructed as we are told, and turn aside into the parts of Galilee. This is another important truth; for thus was to be fulfilled the word, not of one prophet, but of all "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." It was the name of man's scorn; for Nazareth was the most despised place in that despised land of Galilee. Such, in the providence of God, was the place for Jesus. This gave an accomplishment to the general voice of the prophets, who declared Him despised and rejected of men. So He was. It was true even of the place in which He lived, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."
We enter now upon the announcement of John the Baptist. (Matthew 3:1-17) The Spirit of God carries us over a long interval, and the voice of John is heard proclaiming, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Here we have an expression which must not be passed over all-important as it is for the understanding of the gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist preached the nearness of this kingdom in the wilderness of Judaea. It was clearly gathered from the Old Testament prophecy, particularly from Daniel, that. the God of heaven would set up a kingdom; and more than this, that the Son of man was the person to administer the kingdom. "And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Such was the kingdom of heaven. It was not a mere kingdom of the earth, neither was it in heaven, but it was heaven governing the earth for ever.
It would appear that, in John the Baptist's preaching it, we have no ground for supposing that either he believed at this time, or that any other men till afterwards were led into the understanding of the form which it was to assume through Christ's rejection and going on high as now. This our Lord divulged more particularly inMatthew 13:1-58; Matthew 13:1-58. I understand, then, by this expression, what might be gathered justly from Old Testament prophecies; and that John, at this time, had no other thought but that the kingdom was about to be introduced according to expectations thus formed. They had long looked for the time when the earth should no longer be left to itself, but heaven should be the governing power; when the Son of man should control the earth; when the power of hell should be banished from the world; when the earth should be put into association with the heavens, and the heavens, of course, therefore, be changed, so as to govern the earth directly through the Son of man, who should be also King of restored Israel. This, substantially, I think, was in the mind of the Baptist.
But then he proclaims repentance; not here in view of deeper things, as in the gospel of Luke, but as a spiritual preparation for Messiah and the kingdom of heaven. That is, he calls man to confess his own ruin in view of the introduction of that kingdom. Accordingly, his own life was the witness of what he felt morally of Israel's then state. He retires into the wilderness, and applies to himself the ancient oracle of Isaiah "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." The reality was coming: as for him, he was merely one to announce the advent of the King. All Jerusalem was moved, and multitudes were baptized by him in Jordan. This gives occasion to his stern sentence upon their condition in the sight of God.
But among the crowd of those who came to him was Jesus. Strange sight! He, even He, Emmanuel, Jehovah, if He took the place of Messiah, would take that place in lowliness on the earth. For all things were out of course; and He must prove by His whole life, as we shall find by-and-by He did, what the condition of His people was. But, indeed, it is but another step of the same infinite grace, and more than that, of the same moral judgment on Israel; but along with it the added and most sweet feature His association with an in Israel who felt and owned their condition in the sight of God. It is what no saint can afford lightly to pass over; it is what, if a saint recognize not, he will understand the Scripture most imperfectly; nay, I believe he must grievously misunderstand the ways of God. But Jesus looked at those who came to the waters of Jordan, and saw their hearts touched, if ever so little, with a sense of their state before God; and His heart was truly with them. It is not now taking the people out of Israel, and bringing them into a position with Himself that we shall find by-and-by; but it is the Saviour identifying Himself with the godly-feeling remnant. Wherever there was the least action of the Holy Spirit of God in grace in the hearts of Israel, He joined Himself. John was astonished; John the Baptist himself would have refused, but, "Thus," said the Saviour, "it becometh us" including, as I apprehend, John with Himself. "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness."
It is not here a question of law; it was too late for this ever a ruinous thing for the sinner. It was a question of another sort of righteousness. It might be the feeblest recognition of God and man; it might be but a remnant of Israelites; but, at least, they owned the truth about themselves; and Jesus was with them in owning the ruin fully, and felt it all. No need was in Himself not a particle; but it is precisely when the heart is thus perfectly free, and infinitely above ruin, that it can most of all descend and take up what is of God in the hearts of any. So Jesus ever did, and did it thus publicly, joining Himself with whatever was excellent on the earth. He was baptized in Jordan an act most inexplicable for those who then or now might hold to His glory without entering into His heart of grace. To what painful feelings it might give rise! Had He anything to confess? Without a single flaw of His own He bent down to confess what was in others; He owned in all its extent, in its reality as none did, the state of Israel, before God and man; He joined Himself with those who felt it. But at once, as the answer to any and every unholy misapprehension that could be formed, heaven is opened, and a twofold testimony is rendered to Jesus. The Father's voice pronounces the Son's relationship, and His own complacency; while the Holy Ghost anoints Him as man. Thus, in His full personality, God's answer is given to all who might otherwise have slighted either Himself or His baptism.
The Lord Jesus thence goes forth into another scene the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; and this, mark, now that He is thus publicly owned by the Father, and the Holy Ghost had descended on Him. It is indeed, I might say, when souls are thus blessed that Satan's temptations are apt to come. Grace provokes the enemy. Only in a measure, of course, can we thus speak of any other than Jesus; but of Him who was full of grace and truth, in whom, too, the fulness of the Godhead dwelt even so, of Him it was fully true. The principle, at least, applies in every case. He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be there tried of the devil. The Holy Spirit has given the temptation to us in Matthew, according to the order in which it occurred. But here, as elsewhere, the aim is dispensational, not historical, as far as intention goes, though really so in point of fact; and I apprehend, specially with this in view, that it is only at the last temptation our Lord says, "Get thee hence, Satan." We shall see by and by why this disappears in the gospel of Luke. There is thus the lesson of wisdom and patience even before the enemy; the excellent, matchless grace of patience in trial; for what more likely to exclude it than the apprehension that it was Satan all the while? But yet our Saviour was so perfect in it, that He never uttered the word "Satan" until the last daring, shameless effort to tempt Him to render to the evil one the very worship of God Himself Not till then does our Lord say, "Get thee hence, Satan."
We shall dwell a little more upon the three temptations, if the Lord will, as to their intrinsic moral import, when we come to the consideration of Luke. I content myself now with giving what appears to me the true reason why the Spirit of God here adheres to the order of the facts. It is well, however, to remark, that the departure from such an order is precisely what indicates the consummate hand of God, and for a simple reason. To one who knew the facts in a human way, nothing would he more natural than to put them down just as they occurred. To depart from the historical order, more particularly when one had previously given them that order, is what never would be thought of, unless there were some mighty preponderant reason in the mind of him who did so. But this is no uncommon thing. There are cases where an author necessarily departs from the mere order in which the facts took place. Supposing you are describing a certain character; you put together striking traits from the whole course of his life; you do not restrain yourself to the bare dates at which they occurred. If you were only chronicling the events of a year, you keep to the order in which they happened; but whenever you rise to the higher task of bringing out moral features, you may be frequently obliged to abandon the consecutive order of events as they occurred.
It is precisely this reason that accounts for the change in Luke; who, as we shall find when we come to look at his gospel more carefully, is especially the moralist. That is to say, Luke characteristically looks upon things in their springs as well as effects. It is not his province to regard the person of Christ peculiarly, i.e., His divine glory; neither does he occupy himself with the testimony or service of Jesus here below, of which we all know Mark is the exponent. Neither is it true, that the reason why Matthew occasionally gives the order of time, is because such is always his rule. On the contrary, there is no one of the Gospel writers who departs from that order, when his subject demands it, more freely than he, as I hope to prove to the satisfaction of those open to conviction, before we close. If this be so, assuredly there must be some key to these phenomena, some reason sufficient to explain why sometimes Matthew adheres to the order of events, why he departs from it elsewhere.
I believe the real state of the facts to be this:- first of all, God has been pleased, by one of the evangelists (Mark), to give us the exact historical order of our Lord's eventful ministry. This alone would have been very insufficient to set forth Christ. Hence, besides that order, which is the most elementary, however important in its own place, other presentations of His life were due, according to various spiritual grounds, as divine wisdom saw fit, and as even we are capable of appreciating in our measure. Accordingly, I think it was owing to special considerations of this sort that Matthew was led to reserve for us the great lesson, that our Lord had passed through the entire temptation not only the forty days, but even that which crowned them at the close; and that only when an open blow was struck at the divine glory did His soul at once resent it with the words, "Get thee hence, Satan." Luke, on the contrary, inasmuch as he, for perfectly good and divinely given reason, changes the order, necessarily omits these words. Of course, I do not deny that similar words appear in your common English Bibles (in Luke 4:8); but no scholar needs to be informed that all such words are left out of the third gospel by the best authorities, followed by almost every critic of note, save the testy Matthaei, though scarce one of them seems to have understood the true reason why. Nevertheless, they are omitted by Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists; by High Church, and Low Church; by Evangelicals, Tractarians, and Rationalists. It does not matter who they are, or what their system of thought may be: all those who go upon the ground of external testimony alone are obliged to leave out the words in Luke. Besides, there is the clearest and the strongest evidence internally for the omission of these words in Luke, contrary to the prejudices of the copyists, which thus furnishes a very cogent illustration of the action of the Holy Spirit in inspiration. The ground of omitting the words lies in the fact, that the last temptation occupies the second place in Luke. If the words be retained, Satan seems to hold his ground, and renew the temptation after the Lord had told him to retire. Again, it is evident that, as the text stands in the received Greek text and our common English Bible, "Get thee behind me, Satan," is another mistake. InMatthew 4:10; Matthew 4:10, it is, rightly, "Get thee hence." Remember, I am not imputing a shade of error to the Word of God. The mistake spoken of lies only in blundering scribes, critics, or translators, who have failed in doing justice to that particular place. "Get thee hence, Satan," was the real language of the Lord to Satan, and is so given in closing the literally last temptation by Matthew.
When it was a question, at a later day, of His servant Peter, who, prompted by Satan, had fallen into human thoughts, and would have dissuaded his Master from the cross, He does say, "Get thee behind me." For certainly Christ did not want Peter to go away from Him and be lost, which would have been its effect. "Get thee [not hence, but] behind me," He says. He rebuked His follower, yea, was ashamed of him; and He desired that Peter should be ashamed of himself. "Get thee behind me, Satan," was thus appropriate language then. Satan was the source of the thought couched in Peter's words.
But when Jesus speaks to him whose last trial thoroughly betrays the adversary of God and man, i.e., the literal Satan, His answer is not merely, "Get thee behind me," but, "Get thee hence, Satan." Nor is this the only mistake, as we have seen, in the passage as given in the authorised version; for the whole clause should disappear from the account in Luke, according to the weightiest testimony. Besides, the reason is manifest. As it stands now, the passage wears this most awkward appearance, that Satan, though commanded to depart, lingers on. For in Luke we have another temptation after this; and of course, therefore, Satan must be presented as abiding, not as gone away.
The truth of the matter, then, is, that with matchless wisdom Luke was inspired of God to put the second temptation last, and the third temptation in the second place. Hence (inasmuch as these words of the third trial would be wholly incongruous in such an inversion of the historic order), they are omitted by him, but preserved by Matthew, who here held to that order. I dwell upon this, because it exemplifies, in a simple but striking manner, the finger and mind of God; as it shows us, also, how the copyists of the scriptures fell into error, through proceeding on the principle of the harmonists, whose great idea is to make all the four gospels practically one Gospel. that is, to fuse them together into one mass, and make them give out only, as it were, a single voice in the praise of Jesus. Not so; there are four distinct voices blending in the truest harmony, and surely God Himself in each one, and equally in all, but, withal, showing out fully and distinctively the excellencies of His Son. It is the disposition to blot out these differences, which has wrought such exceeding mischief, not merely in copyists, but in our own careless reading of the gospels. What we need is, to gather up all, for all is worthy; to delight ourselves in every thought that the Spirit of God has treasured up every fragrance, so to speak, that He has preserved for us of the ways of Jesus.
Turning, then, from the temptation (which we may hope to resume in another point of view, when the gospel of Luke comes before us and we shall have the different temptations on the moral side, with their changed order), I may in passing notice, that a very characteristic difference in the gospel of Matthew meets us in what follows. Our Lord enters upon His public ministry as a minister of the circumcision, and calls disciples to follow Him. It was not His first acquaintance with Simon, Andrew, and the rest, as we know from the gospel of John. They had before known Jesus, and, I apprehend, savingly. They are now called to be His companions in Israel, formed according to His heart as His servants here below; but before this we have a remarkable Scripture applied to our Lord. He changes his place of sojourn from Nazareth to Capernaum. And this is the more observable, because, in the Gospel of Luke, the first opening of His ministry is expressly at Nazareth; while the point of emphasis in Matthew is, that He leaves Nazareth, and comes and dwells in Capernaum. Of course, both are equally true; but who can say that they are the same thing? or that the Spirit of God had not His own blessed reasons for giving prominency to both facts? Nor is the reason obscure. His going to Capernaum was the accomplishment of the word of Isaiah 9:1-21, specifically mentioned for the instruction of the Jew, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, "The land of Zebulun, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up." That quarter of the land was regarded as the scene of darkness; yet was it just there that God suddenly caused light to arise. Nazareth was in lower, as Capernaum was in upper Galilee. But more than this, it was the seat, above all others in the land, frequented by Gentiles Galilee ("the circuit") of the Gentiles. Now, we shall find throughout this gospel that which may be well stated here, and will be abundantly confirmed everywhere that the object of our gospel is not merely to prove what the Messiah was, both according to the flesh and according to His own divine intrinsic nature, for Israel; but also, when rejected by Israel, what the consequences of that rejection would be for the Gentiles, and this in a double aspect whether as introducing the kingdom of heaven in a new form, or as giving occasion for Christ's building His Church. These were the two main consequences of the rejection of the Messiah by Israel.
Accordingly, as in chapter it we found Gentiles from the East coming up to own the born King of the Jews, when His people were buried in bondage and Rabbinic tradition in heartless heedlessness, too, while boasting of their privileges; so here our Lord, at the beginning of His public ministry, as recorded in Matthew, is seen taking up His abode in these despised districts of the north, the way of the sea, where especially Gentiles had long dwelt, and on which the Jews looked down as a rude and dark spot, far from the centre of religious sanctity. There, according to prophecy, light was to spring up; and how brightly was it now accomplished? Next, we have the call of the disciples, as we have seen. At the end of the chapter is a general summary of the Messiah's ministry, and of its effects, given in these words: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan." This I read, in order to show that it is the purpose of the Spirit, in this part of our gospel, to gather a quantity of facts together under one head, entirely regardless of the question of time. It is evident, that what is here described in a few verses must have demanded a considerable space for its accomplishment. The Holy Ghost gives it all to us as a connected whole.
The self-same principle applies to the so-called sermon on the mount, on which I am about to say a few words. It is quite a misapprehension to suppose that Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29 was given all in a single, unbroken discourse. For the wisest purposes, I have no doubt, the Spirit of God has arranged and conveyed it to us as one whole, without notice of the interruptions, occasions, etc.; but it is an unwarrantable conclusion for any to draw, that our Lord Jesus delivered it simply and solely as it stands in Matthew's gospel. What proves the fact is, that in the gospel of Luke we have certain portions of it clearly pertaining to this very sermon (not merely similar, or the same truth preached at other times, but this identical discourse), with the particular circumstances which drew them out. Take the prayer, for instance, that was here set before the disciples. (Matthew 6:1-34) As to this, we know from Luke 11:1-54 there was a request preferred by the disciples which led to it. As to other instruction, there were facts or questions, found in Luke, which drew out the remarks of the Lord, common to him and Matthew, if not Mark.
If it be certain that the Holy Ghost has been pleased to give us in Matthew this discourse and others as a whole, leaving out the originating circumstances found elsewhere, it is a fair and interesting inquiry why such a method of grouping with such omissions is adopted. The answer I conceive to be this, that the Spirit in Matthew loves to present Christ as the One like unto Moses, whom they were to hear. He presents Jesus not merely as a legislating prophet-king like Moses, but greater by far; for it is never forgotten that the Nazarene was the Lord God. Therefore it is that, in this discourse on the mountain, we have throughout the tone of One who was consciously God with men. If Jehovah called Moses up to the top of one mount) He who then spake the ten words sat now upon another mount, and taught His disciples the character of the kingdom of heaven, and its principles introduced as a whole, just answering to what we have seen of the facts and effects of His ministry, entirely passing by all intervals or connecting circumstances. As we had His miracles all put together, as I may say, in the gross, so with His discourses. We have thus in either case the same principle. The substantial truth is given to us without noticing the immediate occasion in particular facts, appeals, etc. What was uttered by the Lord, according to Matthew, is thus presented as a whole. The effect, therefore, is, that it is much more solemn, because unbroken, carrying its own majesty along with it. The Spirit of God imprints on it purposely this character here, as I have no doubt there was an intention that it should be so reproduced for the instruction of His own people.
The Lord, in short, was here accomplishing one of the parts of His mission according toIsaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 53:1-12, where the work of Christ is twofold. It is not, as the authorized version has it, "By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;" for it is unquestionable that justification is not by His knowledge. Justification is by faith of Christ, we know; and as far as the efficacious work on which it depends is concerned, it is clearly in virtue of what Christ has suffered for sin and sins before God. But I apprehend that the real force of the passage is, "By His knowledge shall my righteous servant in struct many in righteousness." It is not "justify" in the ordinary forensic sense of the word, but rather instructing in righteousness, as the context here requires, and as the usage of the word elsewhere, as in Daniel 12:1-13, leaves open. This seems to be what is meant of our Lord here.
In the teaching on the mount He was, in fact, instructing the disciples in righteousness: hence, too, one reason why we have not a word about redemption. There is not the slightest reference to His suffering on the cross; no intimation of His blood, death, or resurrection: He is instructing though not merely in righteousness. To the heirs of the kingdom the Lord is unfolding the principles of that kingdom most blessed and rich instruction, but instruction in righteousness. No doubt there is also the declaration of the Father's name, as far as could be then; but, still, the form taken is that of "instructing in righteousness." Let me add, as to the passage of Isaiah 53:1-12, that the remainder of the verse also accords with this: not " for," but, "and He shall bear their iniquities." Such is the true force of it. The one was in His life, when He taught His own; the other was in His death, when He bore the iniquities of many.
Into the details of the discourse on the mount I cannot enter particularly now, but would just say a few words before I conclude tonight. In its preface we have a method often adopted by the Spirit of God, and not unworthy of our study. There is no child of God that cannot glean blessing from it, even through a scanty glance; but when we look into it a little more closely, the instruction deepens immensely. First of all He pronounces certain classes blessed. These blessednesses divide into two classes. The earlier character of blessedness savours particularly of righteousness, the later of mercy, which are the two great topics of the Psalms. These are both taken up here: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." In the fourth case righteousness comes in expressly, and closes that part of the subject; but it is plain enough that all these four classes consist in substance of such as the Lord pronounces blessed, because they are righteous in one form or another. The next three are founded upon mercy. Hence we read as the very first "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Of course, it would be impossible to attempt more than a sketch at this time. Here, then, occurs the number usual in all these systematic partitions of Scripture; there is the customary and complete seven of Scripture. The two supplementary blessednesses at the end rather confirm the case, though at first sight they might appear to offer an exception. But it is not so really. The exception proves the rule convincingly; for in verse 10 you have, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake;" which answers to the first four. Then, in verses 11 and 12, you have, "Blessed are ye . . . . . for my sake;" which answers to the higher mercy of the last three. "Blessed are ye, [there is thus a change. It is made a direct personal address] when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake." Thus it is the very consummation of suffering in grace, because it is for Christ's sake.
Hence the twofold persecutions (10-12) bring in the double character we find in the epistles suffering for righteousness' sake, and suffering for Christ's sake. These are two perfectly distinct things; because, where it is a question of righteousness, it is simply a person brought to a point. If I do not stand and suffer here, my conscience will be defiled; but this is in no way suffering for Christ's sake. In short, conscience enters where righteousness is the question; but suffering for Christ's sake is not a question of plain sin, but of His grace and its claims on my heart. Desire for His truth, desire for His glory, carries me out into a certain path that exposes me to suffering. I might merely do my duty in the place in which I am put; but grace is never satisfied with the bare performance of one's duty. Fully is it admitted that there is nothing like grace to meet duty; and doing one's duty is a good thing for a Christian. But God forbid that we should be merely shut up to duty, and not be free for the flowing over of grace which carries out the heart alone, with it. In the one case, the believer stops dead short: if he did not stand, there would be sin. In the other case, there would be a lack of testimony for Christ, and grace makes one rejoice to be counted worthy of suffering for His name: but righteousness is not in question.
Such, then, are the two distinct classes or groups of blessedness. First, there are the blessednesses of righteousness, to which the persecution for righteousness' sake pertains; next, the blessednesses of mercy or grace. Christ instructs in righteousness according to prophecy, but He does not confine Himself to righteousness. This never could be consistent with the glory of the person who was there. Accordingly, therefore, while there is the doctrine of righteousness, there is the introduction of what is above it and mightier than it, with the corresponding blessedness of being persecuted for Christ's sake. All here is grace, and indicates manifest progress.
The same thing is true of what follows: "Ye are the salt of the earth" it is that which keeps pure what is pure. Salt will not communicate purity to what is impure, but it is used as the preservative power according to righteousness. But light is another thing Hence we hear, in the 14th verse, "Ye are the light of the world." Light is not that which simply preserves what is good, but is an active power, which casts its bright shining into what is obscure, and dispels the darkness from before it. Thus it is evident that in this further word of the Lord we have answers to the differences already hinted at.
Much of the deepest interest might be found in the discourse; only this is not the occasion for entering into particulars. We have, as usual, righteousness developed according to Christ, which deals with man's wickedness under the heads of violence and corruption; next come other new principles of grace infinitely deepening what had been given under law. (Matthew 5:1-48) Thus, in the former of these, a word detects, as it were, the thirst of blood, as corruption lies in a look or desire. For it is no longer a question of mere acts, but of the soul's condition. Such is the scope of the fifth chapter. As earlier (verses 17, 18) the law is fully maintained in all its authority, we have later on (verses 21-48) superior principles of grace, and deeper truths, mainly founded upon the revelation of the Father's name the Father which is in heaven. Consequently it is not merely the question between man and man, but the Evil One on one side, and God Himself on the other; and God Himself, as a Father, disclosing, and proving the selfish condition of fallen man upon the earth.
In the second of these chapters (Matthew 6:1-34) composing the discourse, two main parts appear. The first is again righteousness. "Take heed [He says] that you do not your righteousness before men." Here it is not "alms," but "righteousness," as you may see in the margin. Then the righteousness spoken of branches out into three parts: alms, which is one part of it; prayer, another part; and fasting, a part of it not to be despised. This is our righteousness, the especial point of which is, that it should be not a matter of ostentation, but before our Father who sees in secret. It is one of the salient features of Christianity. In the latter part of the chapter, we have entire confidence in our Father's goodness to us, counting upon His mercy, certain that He regards us as of infinite value, and that, therefore, we need not be careful as the Gentiles are, because our Father knows what we have need of. It is enough for us to seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness: our Father's love cares for all the rest.
The last chapter (Matthew 7:1-29) presses on us the motives of heart in our intercourse with men and brethren, as well as with God, who, however good, loves that we should ask Him, and earnestly too, as to each need; the adequate consideration of what is due to others, and the energy that becomes ourselves; for the gate is strait, and narrow the way that leads to life; warnings against the devil and the suggestions of his agents, the false prophets, who betray themselves by their fruits; and, lastly, the all-importance of remembering that it is not a thing of knowledge, or of miraculous power even, but of doing God's will, of a heart obedient to Christ's sayings. Here, again, if I be not mistaken, righteousness and grace are found alternating; for the exhortation against a censorious spirit is grounded on the certainty of retribution from others, and paves the way for an urgent call to self-judgment, which in us precedes all genuine exercise of grace. (verses Matthew 7:1-4.) Further, the caution against a lavishing of what was holy and beautiful on the profane is followed by rich and repeated encouragements to count on our Father's grace. (verses Matthew 7:5-11.)
Here, however, I must for the present pause, though one can only and deeply regret being obliged to pass so very cursorily over the ground; but I have sought in this first lecture to give thus far as simple, and at the same time as complete, a view of this portion of Matthew as I well could. I am perfectly aware that there has not been time for comparing it much with the others; but occasions will, I trust, offer for bringing into strong contrast the different aspects of the various gospels. However, my aim is also that we should have before us our Lord, His person, His teaching, His way, in every gospel.
I pray the Lord that what has been put, however scantily, before souls may at least stir up enquiry on the part of God's children, and lead them to have perfect, absolute confidence in that word which is of His grace indeed. We may thus look for deep profit. For, although to enter upon the gospels before the soul has been founded upon the grace of God will not leave us without a blessing, yet I am persuaded that the blessing is in every respect greater, when, having been attracted by the grace of Christ, we have at the same time been established in Him with all simplicity and assurance, in virtue of the accomplished work of redemption. Then, set free and at rest in our souls, we return to learn of Him, to look upon Him, to follow Him, to hear His word, to delight ourselves in His ways. The Lord grant that thus it may be, as we pursue our path through these different gospels which our God has vouchsafed to us.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Matthew 3:1". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/matthew-3.html. 1860-1890.
the Fifth Week after Easter