Matthew Chapter 3

THIRTY years have gone since all Jerusalem was in trouble at the rumour of Messiah’s birth. But as nothing has been heard of Him since, the excitement has passed away. Those who were troubled about it are aging or old or dead; so no one thinks or speaks of it now. There have been several political changes since, mostly for the worse. Judea is now a province of Rome, governed by procurators, of whom the sixth, called Pontius Pilate, has just entered on his office. Society is much the same as before-the same worldliness and luxurious living after the manner of the Greek, the same formalism and. bigotry after the manner of the Scribe. There is no sign, in Jerusalem at least, of any change for the better.

The only new thing stirring is a rumour in the street. People are telling one another that a new prophet has arisen. “In the Palace?”-“No.” “In the Temple?”-“No.” “Surely somewhere in the city?”-“No.” He is in the wilderness, clad in roughest garb, subsisting on poorest fare-a living protest against the luxury of the time. He makes no pretence to learning, draws no fine distinctions, gives no curious interpretations, and yet, with only a simple message, -which, however, he delivers as coming straight from God Himself, -is drawing crowds to hear him from all the country side. So the rumour spreads throughout the town, and great numbers go out to see what it is all about; some perhaps from curiosity, some in hope that it may be the dawn of a brighter day for Israel, all of them no doubt more or less stirred with the excitement of the thought that, after so many silent centuries, a veritable prophet has come, like those of old. For it must be remembered that even in gay Jerusalem the deep-rooted feelings of national pride and patriotism had been only overlaid, not superseded, by the veneer of Greek and Roman civilisation, which only seemed for the moment to satisfy the people.  (Expositors)

Mat 3:1 KJV  In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

In those days — It was the time of the greatest missionary effort that had ever been made by the Jews. As Jesus said, “Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte.” (Mat_23:15)

John the Baptist — Six months older than our Lord, he began his ministry that much sooner. The last of the prophets, and none of them was his superior. “There hath not arisen a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” (Mat_11:11) John was the first one to use baptism.

Of Judea — At the time, Judaism was in a more flourishing condition than ever before. Idolatry in its cruder forms was unknown, and Pharisaism was the controlling influence. (Russell)

There were in Joshua’s time six cities in this wilderness, namely Betharabah, Middin, and Secacah, and Nibshan, and the city of Salt, and Engedi, Jos_15:61.

The Jews have an observation (q) of many things coming from the wilderness;”the law, they say, came from the wilderness; the tabernacle from the wilderness; the sanhedrim from the wilderness; the priesthood from the wilderness; the office of the Levites from the wilderness; the kingdom from the wilderness; and all the good gifts which God gave to Israel were from the wilderness.”  

So John came preaching here, and Christ was tempted here. The time of his appearance and preaching was in those days: … but when John was about thirty years of age, and Christ was near unto it, Luk_3:23 an age in which ecclesiastical persons entered into service, Num_4:3. It was indeed, as Luke says, Luk_3:1 in the “fifteenth” year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea; and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee; and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea; and of the region of Trachonitis; and Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene; Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.  (Gill)

Mat 3:2 KJV  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Repent: John’s message was a call to repentance. Some people think that repentance is mostly about feelings, especially feeling sorry for your sin. It is wonderful to feel sorry about your sin, but repent isn’t a “feelings” word. It is an action word. Jesus told us to make a change of the mind, not merely to feel sorry for what we have done. Repentance speaks of a change of direction, not a sorrow in the heart.

Is repentance something we must do before we can come to God? Yes and no; repentance does not describe something we must do before we come to God, it describes what coming to God is like. If you are in New York, and I tell you to come to Los Angeles, I don’t really need to say “Leave New York and come to Los Angeles.” To come to Los Angeles is to leave New York, and if I haven’t left New York, I certainly haven’t come to Los Angeles. We can’t come to the kingdom of heaven unless we leave our sin and the self-life.

For the kingdom of heaven is at hand: John wanted people to know that the kingdom of heaven was near – as close as your hand. It wasn’t as distant or as dreamy as they had imagined. This is why John was so urgent in his call to repentance. If the kingdom of heaven is at hand, then we must get ready now. (Guzik)

Repent ye — Reform (Diaglott). “Change your minds”–(See Young’s Concordance). Saying, in substance, Examine your life. If you are living according to a lower standard than the best of which you are capable, you are guilty. John had given them more definite instruction, and with increase of knowledge there should be a corresponding change of mind.

The words of this verse have been the message of the Christ in the flesh down through the centuries.

Kingdom of heaven — John’s mission was to announce that Kingdom, but it was not his privilege to become a member of it. The Lord commenced his ministry with the same announcement exactly (Mat_4:17); and the apostles were sent forth to preach the same message. (Mat_10:7; Luk_9:2)

This message was expected to arouse all the “Israelites indeed” and point them to Jesus the King

Is at hand — The royal heir was then present, though unknown. The great feast of fat things for Israel, which God has so long promised, is ready. Now true in the sense in which he declared it was yet to come at that time (Joh_18:36-37)–“in power and great glory.” (Russell)

Mat 3:3 KJV  For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Matthew uses this passage from Isa_40:3 to identify John the Baptist as the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. In this role, John’s purpose was to prepare hearts for the Messiah, and to bring an awareness of sin among Israel so they could received the salvation from sin offered by the Messiah (Mat_1:12).

The idea of preparing the way of the Lord is a word picture, because the real preparation must take place in our hearts. Building a road is very much like the preparation God must do in our hearts. They are both expensive, they both must deal with many different problems and environments, and they both take an expert engineer.

Jesus was the coming Messiah and King, and John the Baptist was the one crying in the wilderness, and through his message of repentance, he worked to prepare the way of the Lord. We often fail to appreciate how important the preparing work of the Lord is. Any great work of God begins with great preparation. (Guzik)

The voice of one — John the Baptist was an antitype of Elijah. Directly announcing the Savior. God chose a strong, rugged character to bear his message.

Prepare ye — John’s work and baptism were merely preparatory. The way of the Lord — To arouse the people of Israel to the fact that Messiah had come.

Make his paths straight — As a forerunner was sent to fleshly Israel to prepare them for the first advent, so a greater forerunner would precede the second advent. This greater Elijah will be equally unsuccessful with that of the lesser antitype of Elijah, John the Baptist. The Church in the flesh has not succeeded in making straight the paths of the Lord for a triumphal entry to his Kingdom on earth.

Messiah’s Kingdom will straighten every crooked path, level up the path of righteousness, and make of it “a highway.” (Isa_35:8) By the end of the Millennial age this great messenger will have prepared all the arrangements, all the affairs, for the establishment of the everlasting reign of the Kingdom. (Russell)

Mat 3:4 KJV  And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

In his personality and ministry, John the Baptist was patterned after the bold Elijah (2Ki_1:8), who fearlessly called Israel to repentance.

In the spirit of today’s age, John’s ministry would have been very different. He wouldn’t start in the wilderness. He wouldn’t dress funny. He wouldn’t preach such a straightforward message. He would use marketing surveys and focus groups to hone his message and presentation. John wasn’t motivated by the spirit of today’s age, but by the Spirit of God. (Guzik)

Raiment of camel’s hair — His peculiar raiment and food enabled him to be independent of all sectarian bondage and parties, gave him a freedom of utterance and made his message more striking to the minds of the people.

And wild honey — John’s course indicated that his entire life was devoted to the special service of the Lord; that he had nothing, wanted nothing and needed nothing.  (Russell)

Mat 3:5 KJV  Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

John’s ministry met with wonderful response. There were many people who recognized their sinfulness, their need to get ready for the Messiah, and were willing to do something about it.

John’s main message wasn’t “You’re a sinner, you need to repent.” John’s main message was “The Messiah is coming.” The call to repentance was the response to the news that the Messiah was coming. (Guzik)

The uncommon appearance of this person, the oddness of his dress, the austerity of his life, together with the awfulness and importance of his doctrine, and the novelty of the ordinance of baptism he administered, and the Jews having had no prophet for some hundreds of years, and imagining he might be the Messiah, quickly drew large numbers of people to him. (Gill)

Mat 3:6 KJV  And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

Baptism simply means to “immerse or overwhelm.” John didn’t sprinkle when he came baptizing. As was the custom in some other Jewish ceremonial washings, John completely immersed those he baptized. “Naturally, therefore, the baptism was not a mere sprinkling with water, but a bath in which his whole body was bathed.” (Barclay)

Baptism was practiced in the Jewish community already in the form of ceremonial immersions; but typically, it was only among Gentiles who wished to become Jews. For a Jew in John’s day to submit to baptism was essentially to say, “I confess that I am as far away from God as a Gentile and I need to get right with Him.” This was a real work of the Holy Spirit.
John’s baptism might have been related to the Jewish practice of baptizing Gentile converts, or to some of the ceremonial washings practiced by the Jews of that day. Though it may have some links, at the same time is was unique – so unique that John simply became known as “the Baptizer.” If there were a lot of people doing that, it wouldn’t be a unique title.
Is Christian baptism – the baptism we do today – just like John’s? Christian baptism is like John’s in the sense that it demonstrates repentance, but it is also more. It is being baptized into Christ, that is, into His death and resurrection (Rom_6:3). (Guzik)

Baptized — John’s baptism was not Christian baptism, though it would amount to Christian baptism for the Jews who observed it; they would thus be transferred into Christ after Pentecost. “The baptism of John” was to the Jews only and was wholly different from the baptism appointed for those called from amongst the Gentiles. Not an actual cleansing from guilt. Only the blood of Jesus could actually take away sin.

Confessing their sins — What sins? All things against the Mosaic covenant, against the law covenant, all the outward transgressions they had committed that they could have avoided. (Russell)

Mat 3:7 KJV  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?

John accuses them of wanting to appear anxious for the Messiah, but not truly repenting and preparing their hearts; John will demand fruits worthy of repentance. (Guzik)

Pharisees — Today a synonym of hypocrite and impostor; but, at the time, the professedly most pious class in Israel, professing consecration, studying the Law diligently, zealous in prayer and the propagation of the Jewish religion.  

Sadducees — Practically unbelievers; of the wealthier, more respectable class. Professed holiness of life, though denying much of the Scripture; practically the “higher critics” in religious matters among the Jews of that city.

To his baptism — John would not baptize these until they showed by outward conduct a change of life, a change of heart, and not merely a changed profession.

Of vipers — Thus implying that their religion was one of outward forms and ceremony merely, and not of the heart; similarly today, many have “a form of godliness” and outward devotion to Sectarianism and its propagation.

Who hath warned you — Exercising the same godly boldness as Elijah in denouncing popular and respected sin and sinners.  

Wrath to come — Not torments after death; but a wrath of God about to come upon that nation because of its hypocritical formalism and failure to live up to the light and privileges it enjoyed.

Mat 3:8 KJV  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

Real repentance will show itself in life. It has to be a matter of living repentance, not just talking repentance. (Guzik)

fruits meet for repentance are the same as “works meet for repentance”, Act_26:20 and as a tree is known by its fruit, so repentance is known by good works; these are the fruits and effects of repentance, and which are proofs with men of the sincerity of it. Those which follow upon evangelical repentance are such as are mentioned in 2Co_7:11. Now let it be observed, that John insisted upon repentance, and a good conversation, attesting the truth of it as necessary prerequisites to the ordinance of baptism; and so Peter first urged repentance; and then proposed baptism, Act_2:38 from whence one should think it may be rationally and strongly concluded, that none but truly repenting sinners, and such who have given proofs that they are so, are to be admitted to this ordinance. (Gill)

Mat 3:9 KJV  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.

John warns them to stop trusting in their Jewish heritage because they must truly repent, not simply trust in Abraham’s merits.

It was widely taught in that day that Abraham’s merits were plenty for any Jew’s salvation… John points out that these Pharisees and Scribes are of a different family; they are a brood of vipers – meaning a family associated with serpents! (Guzik)

Think not to say — Although God had elected or chosen them as a people in the past, that was no proof that they would always be the people of his special favor.

Within yourselves — As nominal Christendom says to itself. Arrogant, haughty and self-confident.

We have Abraham — They were his natural children without having his faith.

To our father — We are nominally God’s people. Concluding that God must keep his promise to Abraham and that they, being his children, must sooner or later be the Kingdom to bless the world.

Of these stones — Of some that you consider as far beneath you as the stones under your feet. As a matter of fact, after the wheat had been separated from the chaff of that nation, the Lord sought others from among the Gentiles to complete the elect number of Israelites indeed, the true seed of Abraham.

Raise up children — Neither will God destroy the wills of the unwilling and make them mere machines; rather than have such children, he could and would create men out of stone. (Russell)

Mat 3:10 KJV  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.

The axe — Of divine judgment. The same axe of Gospel requirement, reckoning the intention for the act (see Mat_5:22-28), still lies at the root of the trees–there must be an utter destruction of the flesh.

Is laid to the root — Pruning would no longer do.

True again today. It is no longer a question of being a citizen of favored Christendom, nor of being a member of its various sects; but it is an individual test.

Every tree — It would thenceforth be an individual matter and not a national question as to who shall be the children of Abraham in whom would be found the good fruitage of righteousness.

Good fruit — The fruitage of righteousness. Only such as bore good fruit in their characters and lives would any longer be recognized of the Lord as Israelites and identified with the Kingdom.

Is hewn down — Nominal fleshly Israel was thus cast off from divine favor.

Cast into the fire — The time of trouble in AD 69-70.

Unquenchable fire – Fire that shall not be extinguished, that will utterly consume it. By the floor, here, is represented the Jewish people. By the wheat, the righteous, or the people of God. By the chaff, the wicked. They are often represented as being driven away like chaff before the wind, Job_21:18; Psa_1:4; Isa_17:13; Hos_13:13. They are also represented as chaff which the fire consumes, Isa_5:24. This image is often used to express judgments, Isa_41:15; “Thou shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” (Barnes)

Mat 3:11 KJV  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:

John’s baptism was one of repentance. In this regard, it was not identical to Christian baptism or baptism into Christ (Rom_6:3), which includes a demonstration of repentance and cleansing, but also recognizes the believer’s identification with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (Rom_6:3-4).

Whose sandals I am not worthy to carry: John recognizes his own place before Jesus. He is one not worthy to carry the sandals of Jesus, and he does not consider himself far above those whom he is calling to repentance, and he knows where he stands in relation to Jesus (instead of getting a big head because of the crowds he is drawing).

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor: John warns them to prepare for the Messiah’s coming, because He is coming with judgment.
i. Baptize you with the Holy Spirit: This is the promised out-pouring of the Holy Spirit promised with the New Covenant (Eze_37:14).

ii. And fire: To baptize with fire means to bring the fires of judgment, which will purify the pure, but destroy the wicked like chaff. Chaff is the worthless residue of a wheat stalk after the kernel of grain has been removed. These proud and unrepentant leaders are just as useless to God.

iii. The Jewish leaders thought that the Messiah would come with judgment, but only against Israel’s enemies. They were blind in their self-righteous confidence that only others needed to get right with God.

I indeed baptize you — The three baptisms of this verse (of water, of Spirit and of fire) correspond to the three activities of verse 12: separation of wheat and chaff, gathering of wheat, and burning of chaff.

Unto repentance — See comments on Mat_3:6. He that cometh after me — John recognized that his work was merely a reformatory and preparatory work, and that the one who was to do the testing was mightier than himself–the Messiah.

Not worthy to bear — As his most menial servant.

With the Holy Ghost — At Pentecost, upon the Israelites indeed.

And with fire — The fire of God’s anger, wrath to the uttermost. The fire of trouble upon all others during the 37 years following their rejection of Messiah. Culminating in the destruction of the Jewish polity in the year AD 70. The baptism of fire is not a blessing, nor is it intelligently that Christian people sometimes pray for it.

As there was a baptism of fire in the end of the Jewish age upon the chaff of that nation, so there will be, in the end of this age, upon the tare class of Christendom. Not to be confused with the fire-likeness of the tongues on the Day of Pentecost. (Russell)

Mat 3:12 KJV  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.

Whose fan is in his hand — As a winnower, he separated the wheat of the Jewish people from the chaff.

Throughly — In order that every grain of wheat might be found and separated from the chaff.  

Purge his floor — Cleanse his threshing floor. The purification of the sons of Levi (Mal_3:3); the household of faith.  

Gather his wheat — The true Israelites indeed. The harvesting of the Jewish age began with our Lord’s first advent and ended forty years later at the destruction of Jerusalem.  

Into the garner — The Christian Church. The Gospel dispensation. By begetting them of the holy Spirit at Pentecost and onward.

Burn up the chaff — The balance of the nation, the refuse. As the closing of the Jewish age included the burning of the chaff, so the closing of the Gospel age includes the burning of the tares. (Mat_13:40)

Unquenchable — The Jews were powerless to avert the catastrophe. In the sense that it was the divine intention that the nation should be consumed, and it was not in the power of the ablest of the statesmen and rulers to prevent this. “Wrath is come upon this people to the uttermost.” (1Th_2:16)  

Fire — Not literal, but symbolic fire. The great fire of religious and political contention which destroyed the Jewish nation. (Russell)

Mat 3:13 KJV  Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

Then cometh Jesus — He was thirty years of age, the legal age at which a priest could offer sacrifice.

To Jordan — Meaning “judged down,” “condemned”; typifying the curse, the sentence against our race, which has rested for 6000 years.

Unto John — His second-cousin.  Baptism is valid even though the baptizer be a believer not of the Kingdom or Church class.

To be baptized — Symbolizing his death. This was a cross, a humiliation; for the masses, as well as John, thought of it as a washing away of sin instead of a symbol of death. (Russell)

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized: This is a significant emergence of Jesus from his many years of obscurity. These first works in His public ministry carry great meaning in understanding the rest of His ministry.
b. Jesus came: No one compelled Jesus to be baptized. He came to John of His own accord. (Guzik)

Mat 3:14 KJV  But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? John recognized the inherent irony in this situation. Jesus had nothing to repent of, and it would be more appropriate for Jesus to baptize John! (Guzik)

John forbad him — Our Lord Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners (Heb_7:26); hence it would have been wrong for him to have been baptized for the remission of sins–John’s only understanding of baptism.

I have need — We have no record that John was ever immersed himself; nor would we need to have, since he was evidently a godly man, living up to the standard of the Law Covenant to the best of his ability. If either of the two needed to confess sin and profess a washing away of sin, it would be John himself rather than the Master.

To be baptized of thee — But Jesus did not baptize John and he did not explain to John the philosophy of it all. (Russell)

Mat 3:15 KJV  And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? The words it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness imply that it was necessary for the plan of God, but why?
The purpose was for Jesus to completely identify Himself with sinful man. This is exactly what He did in His birth, His upbringing, and His death. So here, as John allowed Him to be, here is Jesus, standing again in the place of sinful man. (Guzik)

Suffer it to be so — Thus intimating that he was not following John’s baptism to wash away sins, but that His baptism had another special meaning. “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” (Luk_12:50)

He did not dispute John’s argument, but insisted upon being baptized. Jesus did not stop to argue the matter with John because John could not have understood; it was not due time for John to understand; he was not of those begotten of the holy Spirit. It was not then due time to explain Christian baptism because the new baptism belonged to the new dispensation which did not begin until Pentecost.  

Thus it becometh us — I have a reason for so desiring it, and it is proper that I should do it in the fulfillment of certain things which I recognize to be right.

Fulfil all righteousness — The righteousness of God’s law which could by no means clear the guilty without a satisfaction of the claims of justice by the sacrifice of a life for a life, which he was about to fulfill by the sacrifice of himself. It is merely a question of knowledge and obedience, both as respects the real baptism of the will, and also respecting the outward, symbolic baptism in water. R2167:1

This act was doubtless foreshadowed by the high priest washing himself with water and putting on the holy linen garments (Lev_16:4). Clean linen is the symbol of righteousness. (Rev_19:8)

Mat 3:16 KJV  And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

And Jesus — At 30 years of age, manhood according to the Law, the right time to consecrate himself as a man.  

When he was baptized — Symbolizing the full consecration of his life, even unto death. He was laying down a foundation for a new order of things.  Our Lord’s baptism in water was not his real baptism, but merely a symbol or picture of it. His real baptism was unto death, and his real raising up was his resurrection. Not as a sinner, but as a sin-offering.

As Jesus’ baptism signified his death sacrificially for sins, so the baptism of Christians symbolizes their participation with the Lord in his sacrifice. Symbolizing the laying down, burial, of “the man Christ Jesus, a ransom for all” (1Ti_2:5-6). It was a symbol, not a type.  

Out of the water — His raising up from the water symbolized his resurrection from death on the third day after Calvary.

The heavens — The word heavens in both the Greek and Hebrew signifies “higher things.” In this case, spiritual truths, the higher things that he had not seen before. Opened unto him — Connecting his experiences as a man with his prehuman experiences with the Father. That very moment marked the time of our Lord’s spirit begetting, and we believe that he then received special knowledge of heavenly things. No matter how perfect a man may be he cannot receive spiritual things. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” (1Co_2:14)  

And he saw — John alone, probably, saw the dove. John was granted the privilege of seeing the dove and hearing the voice to the intent that he might bear witness to the fact.

The Spirit of God — A manifestation representing the invisible. Jesus could receive the spirit without measure, whereas all imperfect members of his Church may have a measure of the spirit only.

Like a dove — An outward representation of God’s power coming on Jesus. Emblem of peace and purity, representing the fullness of Jehovah’s spirit of love in Jesus. A dove was a favorite figure with the Jews as an emblem of peace and salvation. It represented fittingly the meek and quiet spirit of all those who possess the spirit of holiness unto the Lord.

Lighting upon him — Anointing him. Jesus was not the Messiah, the Christ, until this anointing took place.

Mat 3:17 KJV  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

And lo a voice — Such a voice was heard on three different occasions: (1) on this occasion, (2) on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mar_9:7) and (3) at the close of our Lord’s ministry (Joh_12:28).

My beloved Son — Jesus was the first Son of God after Adam.

I am well pleased — At his baptism our Lord was at the mark of character which merited the promised reward of the Father.  Because he was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners and knew no sin. (Heb_7:26; 1Jo_3:5)