3:1 And in those days1 cometh John2 the Baptist3, preaching4 in the wilderness of Judaea5, saying, JOHN THE BAPTIST'S PERSON AND PREACHING. (In the wilderness of Judea, and on the banks of the Jordan, occupying several months, probably A.D. 25 or 26.) Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18
In those days. Some take this expression as referring to the years
when Jesus dwelt at Nazareth. But it is better to regard it as a Hebraism
equivalent to "that age" or "that era" (Exodus
2:11). It contrasts the era when the Baptist lived with the era when
Matthew wrote his Gospel, just as we say "in these days of
enlightenment" when we wish to contrast the present time with the days
of the American Revolution.
John. He was cousin to Jesus.
The Baptist. So called because God first gave through him the
ordinance of baptism. It has been erroneously thought by some that John
borrowed this ordinance from the Jewish practice of proselyte baptism. This
could not be, for John baptized his converts, but Jewish proselytes baptized
themselves. The law required such self-baptism of all persons who were
8:7). More than twenty distinct cases are specified in which the law
required bathing or self-baptism, and it is to these Paul refers when he
states that the law consisted in part of "various washings" (Hebrews
9:10). But the law did not require this of proselytes, and proselyte
baptism was a human appendage to the divinely given Jewish ritual, just as
infant baptism is to the true Christian ritual. Proselyte baptism is not
mentioned in history till the third century of the Christian era. Neither
Josephus, nor Philo, nor the Apocrypha, nor the Targums say anything about
it, though they all mention proselytes. In fact, the oldest mention of it in
Jewish writings is in the Babylonian Gemara, which was completed about 500
years after Christ. The New Testament implies the non-existence of proselyte
1:25,33). John could hardly have been called the "Baptist" had
he used an old- time rite in the accustomed manner. The Baptist was a link
between the Old and New Testament. Belonging to the Old, he announced the
Preaching. Not sermonizing, but crying out a message as a king's
herald making a proclamation, or a policeman crying "Fire!" in a
slumbering time. His discourse was brief and unembellished. Its force lay in
the importance of the truth announced. It promised to the Hebrew the
fulfillment of two thousand years of longing. It demanded repentance, but
for a new reason. The old call to repentance had wooed with the promise of
earthly blessings, and warned with the threat of earthly judgments; but
John's repentance had to do with the kingdom of heaven and things eternal.
It suggested the Holy Spirit as a reward, and unquenchable fire as
In the wilderness of Judaea. That part of the wilderness which John
chose for the scene of his ministry is a desert plain, lying along the
western bank of the Jordan, between Jericho and the Dead Sea.
3:2 Repent ye1;
kingdom of heaven3 is at hand.
Repent ye. To repent is to change the "will" in reference
to "sin", resolving to sin no more.
For. John sets forth the motive for repentance. Repentance is the
duty, and the approach of the kingdom is the motive inciting to it. Only by
repentance could the people be prepared for the kingdom. Those who are
indifferent to the obligations of an old revelation would be ill-prepared to
receive a new one.
The kingdom of heaven. See Daniel
2:44. The phrase "kingdom of heaven" is peculiar to Matthew,
who uses it 32 times in 31 verses. He also joins with the other evangelists
in calling it the "kingdom of God" (Matthew
21:31,43). We know not why he preferred the expression, "kingdom of
3:3 For this is he that was spoken of
through Isaiah the prophet, saying, The voice1
of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, make his
The voice, etc. See Mark
3:4 Now John
himself1 had his raiment2
of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins;
and his food was locusts and wild honey3.
Now John himself. "Himself" indicates that John's manner
of life differed from that of his disciples. He did not oblige them to
practice the full measure of his abstinence.
Had his raiment. John's dress and food preached in harmony with his
voice. His clothing and fare rendered him independent of the rich and great,
so that he could more freely and plainly rebuke their sins. Calling others
to repentance, he himself set an example of austere self-denial. So much so
that the Pharisees said he had a demon (Matthew
Of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his food
was locusts and wild honey. See Mark
3:5 Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all
Judaea1, and all the region round
about the Jordan2;
All Judaea. See Mark
All the region round about the Jordan. The last phrase includes the
entire river valley. On both sides of the river between the lake of Galilee
and Jericho, there were many important cities, any one of which would be
more apt to send its citizens to John's baptism than the proud capital of
3:6 and they were
baptized of him1 in the river Jordan, confessing their
And they were baptized of him, etc. See Mark
3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees2
and Sadducees31 coming to his baptism, he
said unto them4, Ye offspring of
vipers5, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Pharisees and Sadducees. Josephus tells us that these two leading
sects of the Jews started about the same time in the days of Jonathan, the
high priest, or B.C. 159-144. But the sentiments which at that time divided
the people into two rival parties entered the minds and hearts of the Jews
immediately after the return from the Babylonian captivity. These returned
Jews differed as to the attitude and policy which Israel should manifest
toward the neighboring heathen.
Pharisees. Some contended for a strict separation between the Jews
and all pagan peoples. These eventually formed the Pharisee party, and the
name Pharisee means "the separate". Originally these men were
genuine patriots and reformers, but afterwards the majority of them became
more formalists. As theologians the Pharisees represented the orthodox
party, and were followed by the vast majority of the people. They believed
(1) in the resurrection of the dead; (2) a future state with rewards and
punishments; (3) angels and spirits; and (4) a special providence of God
carried out by angels and spirits. As a sect they are said to have numbered
six thousand at the time of Herod's death. They were the patriotic party,
and the zealots were their extreme section. They covered an extremely
selfish spirit with a pious formalism, and by parading their virtues they
obtained an almost unbounded influence over the people. By exposing their
hypocrisy, Jesus sought to destroy their power over the multitude, and
incurred that bitter enmity with which they pursued him in death.
Sadducees. But certain other of the captives who returned from
Babylon desired a freer intercourse with the pagans, and sought to break
away from every restraint which debarred therefrom. These became Sadducees.
They consented to no other restraint than the Scriptures themselves imposed,
and they interpreted these as laxly as possible. Some take their name to
means "the party of righteousness", but more think it comes from
their founder, Zadok, and is a corruption of the word Zadokite. Zadok
flourished 260 B.C. His teacher, Antigonus Sochaeus, taught him to serve God
disinterestedly--that is, without hope of reward or punishment. From his
teaching Zadok inferred that there was no future state of rewards or
punishment, and on this belief founded his sect. From this fundamental
doctrine sprang the other tenets of the Sadducees. They denied all the four
points held by the Pharisees, asserting that there was no resurrection; no
rewards and punishments hereafter; no angels, no spirits. They believed
there was a God, but denied that he had any special supervision of human
23:8). They were the materialists of that day. Considering all God's
promises as referring to this world, they looked upon poverty and distress
as evidence of God's curse. Hence to relieve the poor was to sin against God
in interfering with his mode of government. Far fewer than the Pharisees,
they were their rivals in power; for they were the aristocratic party, and
held the high-priesthood, with all its glories. Their high political
position, their great wealth, and the Roman favor which they courted by
consenting to foreign rule and pagan customs, made them a body to be
respected and feared.
He said unto them, etc. John spoke principally to the leaders, but
his denunciation indirectly included the multitude who followed their
Ye offspring of vipers, etc. See Luke
3:8 Bring forth
therefore fruit worthy of repentance1:
Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance. John had demanded
3:2), he now demands the fruit of it. By "fruit" or
"fruits", as Luke has it (Luke
3:8), he means the manner of life which shows a real repentance.
3:9 and think not1
to say within yourselves2, We
have Abraham to our father3: for I say unto you, that God
is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham4.
And think not. John nips their self-excuse in the bud.
To say within yourselves. Speaking to your conscience to quiet it.
We have Abraham to our father. The Jews thought that Messiah would
rule over them as a nation, and that all Jews would, therefore, be by
birthright citizens of his kingdom. They thought that descent from Abraham
was all that would be necessary to bring them into that kingdom. John's
words must have been very surprising to them. The Talmud is full of
expressions showing the extravagant value which Jews of a later age attached
to Abrahamic descent. It says,
"Abraham sits next the gates of hell, and doth not permit any wicked
Israelite to go down into it."
Again, it represents God as saying to Abraham,
"If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones, thy
merit would avail for them."
"A single Israelite is worth more before God than all the people who
have been or shall be."
"The world was made for their [Israel's] sake."
The pride was the more inexcusable because the Jews were clearly warned
by their prophets that their privileges were not exclusive, and that they
would by no means escape just punishment for their sins (Jeremiah
48:2). John repeated this message, and Jesus reiterated it (Matthew
16:23). We should note that in this preparation for the gospel a blow
was struck at confidence and trust in carnal descent. Birth gives no man any
privileges in the kingdom of God, for all are born outside of it, and all
must be born again into it (John
3:3); yet many still claim peculiar rights from Christian parentage, and
infant baptism rests on this false conception. The New Testament teaches us
that we are children of Abraham by faith, and not by blood; by spiritual and
not carnal descent (Romans
8:39). It had been better for the Jews never to have heard of Abraham,
than to have thus falsely viewed the rights which they inherited from him.
God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. John
meant that their being children of Abraham by natural descent gave them no
more merit than children of Abraham made out of stone would have. He pointed
to the stones along the bank of Jordan as he spoke.
3:10 And even now
the axe lieth at the root of the trees1: every tree
therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and
cast into the fire2.
And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees, etc. The
threatened cutting down means the end of the probation of each hearer, when,
if found fruitless, he would be cast into the fire mentioned below.
And cast into the fire. Used as fuel.
3:11 I indeed
baptize you in water unto repentance1: but
he that cometh after me2 is mightier than I, whose shoes I
am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you3
in the Holy Spirit and [in] fire4:
I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance. That is, unto the
completion of your repentance. Repentance had to begin before the baptism
was administered. After the sinner repented, baptism consummated his
repentance, being the symbolic washing away of that from which he had
repented and the bringing of the candidate into the blessings granted to the
But he that cometh after me, etc. See Mark
He shall baptize you, etc. See Mark
And [in] fire. Many learned commentators regard the expression
"in fire" as a mere amplification of the spiritual baptism added
to express the purging and purifying effects of that baptism, but the
context forbids this, for, in Matthew
3:9 casting the unfruitful trees into the fire represents the punishment
of the wicked, and, in Matthew
3:17 the burning of the chaff with fire does the same, and consequently
the baptizing in fire of the intervening verse must, according to the force
of the context have the same reference. True, the expression "he will
baptize 'you' in the Holy Spirit and with fire", does not separate the
persons addressed into two parties, and, if the context is disregarded, must
be understood as meaning that the same persons were to be baptized in both;
yet the context must not be disregarded, and it clearly separates them.
3:12 whose fan1
is in his hand2, and he
will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor3; and
he will gather his wheat into the garner4, but
the chaff5 he will burn up6
with unquenchable fire7.
Whose fan. Winnowing shovel. In the days of John the Baptist, and
in that country at the present day, wheat and other grain was not threshed
by machinery. It was beaten out by flails, or trodden out by oxen on some
smooth, hard plot of ground called the threshing-floor. These
threshing-floors were usually on elevations where the wind blew freely. When
the grain was trodden out, it was winnowed or separated from the chaff by
being tossed into the air with a fan or winnowing shovel. When so tossed,
the wind blew the chaff away, and the clean grain fell upon the
Is in his hand. Ready for immediate work. Both John and Malachi,
who foretold John, are disposed to picture Jesus as the judge (Malachi
3:2-5). Of all the pictures of God which the Bible gives, that of a
judge is the most common and frequent.
He will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor. Removing the chaff
is called purging the floor. Humanity is a mixture of good and bad, and to
separate this mixture, save the good and destroy the bad, is the work of
Christ. He partially purges the floor in this present time by gathering his
saints into the church and leaving the unrepentant in the world. But
hereafter on the day of judgment he will make a complete and final
separation between the just and the unjust by sending the evil from his
presence and gathering his own into the garner of heaven (Matthew
25:32,33). He will also winnow our individual characters, and remove all
evil from us (Matthew
And he will gather his wheat into the garner. Eastern garners or
granaries were usually subterranean vaults or caves. Garnered grain rested
in safety. It was removed from peril of birds, storms, blight, and mildew.
Christians are now on God's threshing-floor; hereafter they will be gathered
into the security of his garner.
But the chaff. When the Bible wishes to show the worthlessness and
the doom of the ungodly, chaff is one of its favorite figures (Job
He will burn up. To prevent chaff from being blown back and mixed
again with the wheat, it was burned up. All the chaff in the church shall be
consumed on the day of judgment (1 Corinthians
3:12,13), and there shall be no mixing of good and bad after death (Luke
With unquenchable fire. In this and in other places (2 Thessalonians
25:41), the future suffering of the wicked is taught in the Bible. He
shows no kindness to his neighbor, no friendship toward mankind, who
conceals the terrors of the Lord. These terrors are set forth in no
uncertain terms. Many believe that God will restore the wicked and
eventually save all the human race. Others hold that God will annihilate the
wicked, and thus end their torment. This passage and the one cited in Mark
would be hard to reconcile with either of these views; they indicate that
there will be no arrest of judgment nor stay of punishment when once God
begins to execute his condemnation. God purged the world with water at the
time of the flood; he will again purge it with fire on the day of judgment (2 Peter
3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the
Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him2.
JESUS BAPTIZED BY JOHN IN THE JORDAN. (Jordan east of Jericho, Spring of A.D.
The cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan. Tradition fixes upon a
ford of Jordan east of Jericho as the place where Jesus was baptized. It is
the same section of the river which opened for the passage of Israel under
Joshua, and later for Elijah and Elisha. This ford is seventy or eighty
miles from Nazareth.
Unto John, to be baptized of him. He set out from Nazareth,
intending to be baptized. Such was his intention before he heard John
preach, and he was therefore not persuaded to do it by the preaching. His
righteousness was not the result of human persuasion.
3:14 But John
would have hindered him1, saying,
I have need to be baptized of thee2, and
comest thou to me3?
But John would have hindered him. It seemed to John too great an
honor for him to baptize Jesus, and too great a humiliation for Jesus to be
baptized. There is some dispute as to how John came to know this
righteousness of Christ, which prompted his protest. The one natural
explanation is that the intimacy of the two families indicated at the
beginning of Luke's account had been given kept up, and John knew the
history of his kinsman.
Saying, I have need to be baptized of thee. Those are most fit to
administer an ordinance who have themselves deeply experienced the need of
And comest thou to me? John felt that he needed Jesus' baptism, but
could not think that Jesus needed his. The words "I",
"thee", and "me", show that John contrasted the
baptizers as well as the baptisms. As a human being he marveled that the Son
of God should come to him to be immersed. The comings of Jesus and the
purposes for which he comes are still the greatest marvels which confront
the minds of men. Moreover, it should be noted that this protest of John's
needed to be made, for it saved Jesus from being baptized without
explanation, as if he were a sinner. Baptism without such explanation might
have compromised our Lord's claim as the sinless one.
3:15 But Jesus
answering said unto him, Suffer [it] now1: for thus it
becometh us to fulfil all righteousness3.
Then he suffereth him5.
But Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it] now. Permit me for
this moment to appear as your inferior. The future will make plain and clear
the difference between us, both as to our missions and our natures. The
words show a Messianic consciousness on the part of Jesus.
For thus it becometh us us. Some take the word "us" as
referring to Jesus and John, the clause "to fulfil all
righteousness" shows that "us" refers to Jesus, and he uses
the plural to show that it also becometh all of us.
To fulfil all righteousness. Jesus came not only to fulfill all the
requirements of the law, but also all that wider ranger of righteousness of
which the law was only a part. (1) Though John's baptism was no part of the
Mosaic ritual, it was, nevertheless, a precept of God, given by his prophet
1:33). Had Jesus neglected or refused to obey this precept he would have
lacked a portion of the full armor of righteousness, and the Pharisees would
have hastened to strike him at this loose joint of his harness (
Mt 21:23-27). (2) It was the divinely appointed method by which the
Messiahship of Jesus was to be revealed to the witness John (John
1:33,34). We should note here that those who fail to obey God's
ordinance of baptism fail (1) to follow the example of Jesus in fulfilling
the divine will and precepts (2) to obey one of the positive commands of
almighty God spoken by his own Son.
Then he suffereth him. John's humility caused him to shrink from
this duty, but did not make him willfully persist in declining it. Humility
ceases to be a virtue when it keeps us from performing our allotted tasks.
3:16 And Jesus
when he was baptized1, went up
straightway from the water2: and lo, the heavens were
opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming
And Jesus when he was baptized. See Mark
1:9 and see Luke
Went up straightway from the water, etc. See Mark
3:17 and lo, a voice out of the heavens,
saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
A voice from heaven, etc. See Mark