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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Ax; Minister, Christian; Pharisees; Reproof; Unfaithfulness; Unfruitfulness; Wicked (People); Scofield Reference Index - Holy Spirit; Thompson Chain Reference - Axes; Evil; Fruitfulness-Unfruitfulness; Roots of Evil; Unfruitfulness; The Topic Concordance - Baptism; Bearing Fruit; Harvest; Hell; John the Baptist; Repentance; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Baptism; Trees;
Verse Matthew 3:10. And now also the axe is laid — Or, Even now the axe lieth. As if he had said, There is not a moment to spare - God is about to cut off every impenitent soul - you must therefore either turn to God immediately, or be utterly and finally ruined. It was customary with the prophets to represent the kingdoms, nations, and individuals, whose ruin they predicted, under the notion of forests and trees, doomed to be cut down. See Jeremiah 46:22-23; Ezekiel 31:3, Ezekiel 31:11-12. The Baptist follows the same metaphor: the Jewish nation is the tree, and the Romans the axe, which, by the just judgment of God, was speedily to cut it down. It has been well observed, that there is an allusion here to a woodman, who, having marked a tree for excision, lays his axe at its root, and strips off his outer garment, that he may wield his blows more powerfully, and that his work may be quickly performed. For about sixty years before the coming of Christ, this axe had been lying at the root of the Jewish tree, Judea having been made a province to the Roman empire, from the time that Pompey took the city of Jerusalem, during the contentions of the two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, which was about sixty-three years before the coming of Christ. See Joseph. Antiq. l. xiv. c. 1-5. But as the country might be still considered as in the hands of the Jews, though subject to the Romans, and God had waited on them now nearly ninety years from the above time, expecting them to bring forth fruit, and none was yet produced; he kept the Romans as an axe, lying at the root of this tree, who were ready to cut it down the moment God gave them the commission.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "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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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/matthew-3.html. 2005.
And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Axe ... root of the trees This is a bold metaphor, here directed against the Jewish nation, but applicable with equal force against all sinful and rebellious people who reject God's will. The "axe" is the army of destruction God would send against Jerusalem. "The root of the trees" refers to those great national institutions, the root and springs of Jewish culture, which would be destroyed when Titus razed the temple, prohibited the daily sacrifice, and destroyed the national polity of the Jewish people. "The fire" refers to the sorrows and tribulations through which the people would have to pass. The words "even now" suggest the near approach of the doom of Jerusalem, a theme which Christ himself more fully expounded later in his ministry.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/matthew-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
The axe is laid at the root of the tree - Laying the axe at the root of a tree is intended to denote that the tree is to be cut down. It was not merely to be trimmed, or to be cut about the limbs, but the very tree itself was to be struck. That is, a searching, trying kind of preaching has been commenced. A kingdom of justice is to be set up. Principles and conduct are to be investigated. No art, no dissimulation, will be successful: People are to be tried by their lives, not by birth or profession. They who are not found to bear this test are to be rejected. The very root shall feel the blow, and the fruitless tree shall fall. This is a beautiful and very striking figure of speech, and a very direct threatening of future wrath. John regarded them as making a fair and promising profession, as trees in blossom do. But he told them, also, that they should bear fruit as well as flowers. Their professions of repentance were not enough. They should show, by a holy life, that their profession was genuine.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/matthew-3.html. 1870.
; Luke 3:9. And now also the axe. After having stripped hypocrites of the covering of a vain confidence, John announces the approaching judgment of God. He had formerly said that, though they were rejected, God would not want a people: and he now adds, that God is just about to drive out unworthy persons from the Church, as barren trees are wont to be cut down. His statement amounts to this, that God has already displayed his power for purifying the Church. The grace of God is never manifested for the salvation of the godly, till his judgment first appears for the destruction of the world: and for two reasons; because God then separates his own people from the reprobate, and because his wrath is kindled anew by the ingratitude of the world. So that we have no reason to wonder, if the preaching of the gospel and the coming of Christ laid the axe for cutting down barren trees, or if the same causes (271) daily advance the wrath of God against the wicked.
(271) “ Ces deux choses mesme;” — “these very two things.”
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "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 3:10". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/matthew-3.html. 2014.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: John compares the Jewish nation to trees. He warns that the ax of God’s wrath will not simply prune the trees but will strike at their roots to destroy them. As a farmer, at the end of each season, cuts and burns those trees that do not produce fruit, so God will destroy those Jews whose lives are barren of repentance and works.
therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire: These words seem to be addressed specifically to the Sadducees and Pharisees. Without doubt, however, their application is universal. God has always brought His wrath upon those who disobeyed, both individually and collectively. The nation of Israel has been carried away into captivity twice for her unrepentant attitude. Some 40 years after John, the nation is again razed by the Romans. Without doubt, John’s prophetic words foreshadow this complete collapse of the Jewish economy in A.D. 70. The symbolism of the fall of Jerusalem also prefigures the eternal and final judgment of unquenchable fire found in verse 12.
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 3:10". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/matthew-3.html. 1993-2022.
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 3:10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-3.html. 2012.
This verse contains Matthew’s first reference to the Pharisees ("separate ones") and the Sadducees ("righteous ones"). Significantly, John was antagonistic toward them because they were hypocritical, a trait that marks them throughout the Gospels. Matthew lumped them together here because they were Israel’s leaders.
"After the ministry of the postexilic prophets ceased, godly men called Chasidim (saints) arose who sought to keep alive reverence for the law among the descendants of the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity. This movement degenerated into the Pharisaism of our Lord’s day-a letter-strictness which overlaid the law with traditional interpretations held to have been communicated by the LORD to Moses as oral explanations of equal authority with the law itself (cp. Matthew 15:2-3; Mark 7:8-13; Galatians 1:14). . . .
"The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that denied the existence of angels or other spirits, and all miracles, especially the resurrection of the body. They were the religious rationalists of the time (Mark 12:18-23; Acts 23:8), and were strongly entrenched in the Sanhedrin and priesthood (Acts 4:1-2; Acts 5:17). The Sadducees are identified with no affirmative doctrine, but were mere deniers of the supernatural." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 995.]
"Vipers" is a word Isaiah used to describe God’s enemies (Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6). John’s use of it associates him with the former prophets and reflects his prophetic authority.
"The first major appearance of the religious leaders in Matthew’s story occurs in conjunction with the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7-10). The importance of their appearance here has to do with the fact that John is the forerunner of Jesus. As such, the attitude that John assumes toward the leaders is predictive of the attitude that Jesus will assume toward them." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 117.]
John’s question (Matthew 3:7) amounted to, "Who suggested to you that you would escape the coming wrath?" [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 103.] The behavior of the Pharisees and Sadducees should have demonstrated the genuineness of their professed repentance, but it did not. Fruit is what people produce that other people see that indicates their spiritual condition (Matthew 13:21; cf. Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; John 15:1-6). The fruits of repentance were absent in the case of these leaders. There was no external evidence that they desired to draw near to God in anticipation of Messiah’s appearance.
Many of the Jews in the inter-testamental period believed that if one was a descendant of Abraham he would automatically enter Messiah’s kingdom. [Note: Edersheim, 1:271.] They counted on the patriarch’s righteousness as sufficient for themselves. However, God had often pruned back the unrighteous in Israel and preserved a remnant in its history. As Matthew continued to point out in his Gospel, many of the Jews refused to humble themselves before God and instead trusted in their own righteousness. The Pharisees and Sadducees were doing that here. Josephus placed the origin of both of these groups in the time of Jonathan, the son of Judas Maccabee (160-143 B.C.). [Note: See ibid., 1:96.]
John’s reference to "stones" (Matthew 3:9) was a play on words with "children" in both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. If stones could become God’s children, certainly Gentiles could.
Matthew 3:10 gives the reason the Jews needed to repent. Divine judgment would precede the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom (cf. Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 5:16; Isaiah 13:6-19; Isaiah 42:1; Jeremiah 33:14-16; Daniel 7:26-27). The Jews connected the concepts of repentance and the messianic age closely in their thinking. [Note: C. G. Montefiore, "Rabbinic Conceptions of Repentance," Jewish Quarterly Review 16 (January 1904):211.] John announced that this judgment was imminent (Matthew 3:10-12). Any tree (better than every tree) that does not bear good fruit, regardless of its roots, will suffer destruction. Probably John had individuals and the nation of Israel in mind.
The reference to fire in Matthew 3:10 pictures the judgment and destruction of those who fail to repent (cf. "wrath," Matthew 3:7, and "winnowing fork," Matthew 3:13). For individuals this judgment would involve eternal destruction (Matthew 3:12), assuming there was no later repentance. For the nation it would involve the postponement of the kingdom and its attendant blessings.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "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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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/matthew-3.html. 1956-1959.
And now also the axe is laid,.... These words may be rendered, "for now also", and contain in them a reason why they might expect future wrath; why they should bring forth good fruit; and why they should not trust to nor plead their descent from Abraham, because "the axe is now laid": by which is meant, not the Gospel which now began to be preached by John; though this was like an axe laid to the root of, and which cut down, their pride and vanity, their self-confidence and glorying in their righteousness, holiness, carnal wisdom, and fleshly privileges: but rather; the axe of God's judgment and vengeance is here designed, which, because of the certainty and near approach of it, is said to be "now laid"; and that not to some of the branches only, to lop them off, to take away from the Jews some particular privileges, but "to the root" of all their privileges, civil and ecclesiastical; even the covenant which God had made with that people as a nation, who was now about to write "Lo Ammi" upon them; so that henceforward they would have nothing to expect from their being the seed of Abraham, Israelites, or circumcised persons. The time was just at hand, when the Lord would take his "staff Beauty and cut it asunder, that he might break the covenant he had made with all the people", Zechariah 11:10 in a short time their civil polity and church state would be both at an end. The Romans, who were already among them and over them, would very quickly come upon them, and cut them off root and branch; and utterly destroy their temple, city, and nation: and this ruin and destruction was levelled not at a single tree, a single person, or family only, as Jesse's, or any others, but at the root
of the trees: of all the trees of the whole body of the people; for the covenant which was made with them all being broke, and which was their hedge and fence, they were all exposed to the wild boar of the forest.
Therefore every tree, every individual person, though one of Abraham's children, and made never such a fair show in the
flesh, which bringeth not forth good fruit; does not perform good works from a right principle, to a right end, such as are meet for repentance; particularly, does not believe in the Messiah now ready to be revealed, which is the main and principal work; and does not continue so doing, and thus believing,
is hewn down and cast into the fire. Temporal ruin and destruction shall come upon him; he shall not escape divine vengeance here, and shall be cast into everlasting burnings hereafter; which is quite contrary to a notion of theirs, that בזכותי דאברהם "by the merits of Abraham", the Israelites shall be delivered from the fire of hell d.
d Zohar in Exod. fol. 34. 4.
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.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:10". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-3.html. 1999.
|The Preaching of John the Baptist.|
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
The doctrine John preached was that of repentance, in consideration of the kingdom of heaven being at hand; now here we have the use of that doctrine. Application is the life of preaching, so it was of John's preaching.
Observe, 1. To whom he applied it; to the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to his baptism, Matthew 3:7; Matthew 3:7. To others he thought it enough to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; but when he saw these Pharisees and Sadducees come about him, he found it necessary to explain himself, and deal more closely. These were two of the three noted sects among the Jews at that time, the third was that of the Essenes, whom we never read of in the gospels, for they affected retirement, and declined busying themselves in public affairs. The Pharisees were zealots for the ceremonies, for the power of the church, and the traditions of the elders; the Sadducees ran into the other extreme, and were little better than deists, denying the existence of spirits and a future state. It was strange that they came to John's baptism, but their curiosity brought them to be hearers; and some of them, it is probable, submitted to be baptized, but it is certain that the generality of them did not; for Christ says (Luke 7:29; Luke 7:30), that when the publicans justified God, and were baptized of John, the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. Note, Many come to ordinances, who come not under the power of them. Now to them John here addresses himself with all faithfulness, and what he said to them, he said to the multitude (Luke 3:7), for they were all concerned in what he said. 2. What the application was. It is plain and home, and directed to their consciences; he speaks as one that came not to preach before them, but to preach to them. Though his education was private, he was not bashful when he appeared in public, nor did he fear the face of man, for he was full of the Holy Ghost, and of power.
I. Here is a word of conviction and awakening. He begins harshly, calls them not Rabbi, gives them not the titles, much less the applauses, they had been used to. 1. The title he gives them is, O generation of vipers. Christ gave them the same title; Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:23. They were as vipers; though specious, yet venomous and poisonous, and full of malice and enmity to every thing that was good; they were a viperous brood, the seed and offspring of such as had been of the same spirit; it was bred in the bone with them. They gloried in it, that they were the seed of Abraham; but John showed them that they were the serpent's seed (compare Genesis 3:15); of their father the Devil, John 8:44. They were a viperous gang, they were all alike; though enemies to one another, yet confederate in mischief. Note, A wicked generation is a generation of vipers, and they ought to be told so; it becomes the ministers of Christ to be bold in showing sinners their true character. 2. The alarm he gives them is, Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? This intimates that they were in danger of the wrath to come; and that their case was so nearly desperate, and their hearts so hardened in sin (the Pharisees by their parade of religion, and the Sadducees by their arguments against religion), that it was next to a miracle to effect anything hopeful among them. "What brings you hither? Who thought of seeing you here? What fright have you been put into, that you enquire after the kingdom of heaven?" Note, (1.) There is a wrath to come; besides present wrath, the vials of which are poured out now, there is future wrath, the stores of which are treasured up for hereafter. (2.) It is the great concern of every one of us to flee from this wrath. (3.) It is wonderful mercy that we are fairly warned to flee from this wrath; think--Who has warned us? God has warned us, who delights not in our ruin; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. (4.) These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been very much hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves.
II. Here is a word of exhortation and direction (Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:8); "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. Therefore, because you are warned to flee from the wrath to come, let the terrors of the Lord persuade you to a holy life." Or, "Therefore, because you profess repentance, and attend upon the doctrine and baptism of repentance, evidence that you are true penitents." Repentance is seated in the heart. There it is as a root; but in vain do we pretend to have it there, if we do not bring forth the fruits of it in a universal reformation, forsaking all sin, and cleaving to that which is good; these are fruits, axious tes metanoias--worthy of repentance. Note, Those are not worthy the name of penitents, or their privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, and yet persist in them. They that profess repentance, as all that are baptized do, must be and act as becomes penitents, and never do any thing unbecoming a penitent sinner. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under the greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of sin, and approaches towards it, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others.
III. Here is a word of caution, not to trust to their external privileges, so as with them to shift off these calls to repentance (Matthew 3:9; Matthew 3:9); Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father. Note, There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt to say within themselves, to put by the convincing, commanding power of the word of God, which ministers should labour to meet with and anticipate; vain thoughts which lodge within those who are called to wash their hearts,Jeremiah 4:14. Me doxete--Pretend not, presume not, to say within yourselves; be not of the opinion that this will save you; harbour not such a conceit. "Please not yourselves with saying this" (so some read); "rock not yourselves asleep with this, nor flatter yourselves into a fool's paradise." Note, God takes notice of what we say within ourselves, which we dare not speak out, and is acquainted with all the false rests of the soul, and the fallacies with which it deludes itself, but which it will not discover, lest it should be undeceived. Many hide the lie that ruins them, in their right hand, and roll it under their tongue, because they are ashamed to own it; they keep in the Devil's interest, by keeping the Devil's counsel. Now John shows them,
1. What their pretence was; "We have Abraham to our father; we are not sinners of the Gentiles; it is fit indeed that they should be called to repent; but we are Jews, a holy nation, a peculiar people, what is this to us?" Note, The word does us no good, when we will not take it as it is spoken to us, and belonging to us. "Think not that because you are the seed of Abraham, therefore," (1.) "You need not repent, you have nothing to repent of; your relation to Abraham, and your interest in the covenant made with him, denominate you so holy, that there is no occasion for you to change your mind or way." (2.) "That therefore you shall fare well enough, though you do not repent. Think not that this will bring you off in the judgment, and secure you from the wrath to come; that God will connive at your impenitence, because you are Abraham's seed." Note, It is vain presumption to think that our having good relations will save us, though we be not good ourselves. What though we be descended from pious ancestors; have been blessed with a religious education; have our lot cast in families where the fear of God is uppermost; and have good friends to advise us, and pray for us; what will all this avail us, if we do not repent, and live a life of repentance? We have Abraham to our father, and therefore are entitled to the privileges of the covenant made with him; being his seed, we are sons of the church, the temple of the Lord,Jeremiah 7:4. Note, Multitudes, by resting in the honours and advantages of their visible church-membership, take up short of heaven.
2. How foolish and groundless this pretence was; they thought that being the seed of Abraham, they were the only people God had in the world, and therefore that, if they were cut off, he would be at a loss for a church; but John shows them the folly of this conceit; I say unto you (whatever you say within yourselves), that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. He was now baptizing in Jordan at Bethabara (John 1:28), the house of passage, where the children of Israel passed over; and there were the twelve stones, one for each tribe, which Joshua set up for a memorial, Joshua 4:20. It is not unlikely that he pointed to those stones, which God could raise to be, more than in representation, the twelve tribes of Israel. Or perhaps he refers to Isaiah 51:1, where Abraham is called the rock out of which they were hewn. That God who raised Isaac out of such a rock, can, if there be an occasion, do as much again, for with him nothing is impossible. Some think he pointed to those heathen soldiers that were present, telling the Jews that God would raise up a church for himself among the Gentiles, and entail the blessing of Abraham upon them. Thus when our first parents fell, God could have left them to perish, and out of stones have raised up another Adam and another Eve. Or, take it thus, "Stones themselves shall be owned as Abraham's seed, rather than such hard, dry, barren sinners as you are." Note, As it is lowering to the confidence of the sinners in Zion, so it is encouraging to the hopes of the sons of Zion, that, whatever comes of the present generation, God will never want a church in the world; if the Jews fall off, the Gentiles shall be grafted in, Matthew 21:43; Romans 11:12, c.
IV. Here is a word of terror to the careless and secure Pharisees and Sadducees, and other Jews, that knew not the signs of the times, nor the day of their visitation, Matthew 3:10; Matthew 3:10. "Now look about you, now that the kingdom of God is at hand, and be made sensible."
1. How strict and short your trial is; Now the axe is carried before you, now it is laid to the root of the tree, now you are upon your good behavior, and are to be so but a while; now you are marked for ruin, and cannot avoid it but by a speedy and sincere repentance. Now you must expect that God will make quicker work with you by his judgments than he did formerly, and that they will begin at the house of God: "where God allows more means, he allows less time." Behold, I come quickly. Now they were put upon their last trial; now or never.
2. "How sore and severe your doom will be, if you do not improve this." It is now declared with the axe at the root, to show that God is in earnest in the declaration, that every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in external professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down, disowned as a tree in God's vineyard, unworthy to have room there, and is cast into the fire of God's wrath--the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for? If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel. Probably this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, which was not, as other judgments had been, like the lopping off of the branches, or cutting down of the body of the tree, leaving the root to bud again, but it would be the total, final, and irrecoverable extirpation of that people, in which all those should perish that continued impenitent. Now God would make a full end, wrath was coming on them to the utmost.
V. A word of instruction concerning Jesus Christ, in whom all John's preaching centered. Christ's ministers preach, not themselves, but him. Here is,
1. The dignity and pre-eminence of Christ above John. See how meanly he speaks of himself, that he might magnify Christ (Matthew 3:11; Matthew 3:11); "I indeed baptize you with water, that is the utmost I can do." Note, Sacraments derive not their efficacy from those who administer them; they can only apply the sign; it is Christ's prerogative to give the thing signified, 1 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Kings 4:31. But he that comes after me is mightier than I. Though John had much power, for he came in the spirit and power of Elias, Christ has more; though John was truly great, great in the sight of the Lord (not a greater was born of woman), yet he thinks himself unworthy to be in the meanest place of attendance upon Christ, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He sees, (1.) How mighty Christ is, in comparison with him. Note, It is a great comfort to the faithful ministers, to think that Jesus Christ is mightier than they, can do that for them, and that by them, which they cannot do; his strength is perfected in their weakness. (2.) How mean he is in comparison with Christ, not worthy to carry his shoes after him! Note, Those whom God puts honour upon, are thereby made very humble and low in their own eyes; willing to be abased, so that Christ may be magnified; to be any thing, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.
2. The design and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were now speedily to expect. When it was prophesied that John should be sent as Christ's forerunner (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 3:2), it immediately follows, The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come, and shall sit as a refiner,Matthew 3:3; Matthew 3:3. And after the coming of Elijah, the day comes that shall burn as an oven (Malachi 4:1), to which the Baptist seems here to refer. Christ will come to make a distinction,
(1.) By the powerful working of his grace; He shall baptize you, that is, some of you, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Note, [1.] It is Christ's prerogative to baptize with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit conferred upon the apostles, to which Christ himself applies these words of John, Acts 1:5. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit given to them that ask him, Luke 11:13; John 7:38; John 7:39; See Acts 11:16. [2.] They who are baptized with the Holy Ghost are baptized as with fire; the seven spirits of God appear as seven lamps of fire,Revelation 4:5. Is fire enlightening? So the Spirit is a Spirit of illumination. Is it warming? And do not their hearts burn within them? Is it consuming? And does not the Spirit of judgment, as a Spirit of burning, consume the dross of their corruptions? Does fire make all it seizes like itself? And does it move upwards? So does the Spirit make the soul holy like itself, and its tendency is heaven-ward. Christ says I am come to send fire,Luke 12:49.
(2.) By the final determinations of his judgment (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 3:12); Whose fan is in his hand. His ability to distinguish, as the eternal wisdom of the Father, who sees all by a true light, and his authority to distinguish, as the Person to whom all judgment is committed, is the fan that is in his hand,Jeremiah 15:7. Now he sits as a Refiner. Observe here [1.] The visible church is Christ's floor; O my threshing, and the corn of my floor,Isaiah 21:10. The temple, a type of church, was built upon a threshing-floor. [2.] In this floor there is a mixture of wheat and chaff. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light, and empty, useless and worthless, and carried about with every wind; these are now mixed, good and bad, under the same external profession; and in the same visible communion. [3.] There is a day coming when the floor shall be purged, and the wheat and chaff shall be separated. Something of this kind is often done in this world, when God calls his people out of Babylon, Revelation 18:4. But it is the day of the last judgment that will be the great winnowing, distinguishing day, which will infallibly determine concerning doctrines and works (1 Corinthians 3:13), and concerning persons (Matthew 25:32; Matthew 25:33), when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. [4.] Heaven is the garner into which Jesus Christ will shortly gather all his wheat, and not a grain of it shall be lost: he will gather them as the ripe fruits were gathered in. Death's scythe is made use of to gather them to their people. In heaven the saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff among them. They are not only gathered into the barn (Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:30), but into the garner, where they are thoroughly purified. [5.] Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will burn up the chaff, which will certainly be the portion and punishment, and everlasting destruction, of hypocrites and unbelievers. So that here are life and death, good and evil, set before us; according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.
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 3:10". "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 3:10". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/matthew-3.html. 1860-1890.
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