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 Main Index : Commentaries : PNT : PNT Vol. 1 : Matthew : Chapter 3

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John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ.

Bible Version
Cross Reference
Matthew Henry
JFB Commentary
Wesley's Notes
Peoples New Test.
Geneva Study Bible
Darby's Synopsis

SUMMARY.--The Preaching of John. The Kingdom of Heaven. John's Raiment and Food. The Great Multitudes. The Pharisee and Sadducees. Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire. Jesus Comes for Baptism. Jesus Baptized in the Jordan. The Anointing of the Spirit. The Voice from Heaven.

      1. In those days. Many years after the incidents of the last chapter; somewhere from twenty-five to thirty. Came John the Baptist. Called the Baptist or Baptizer because he baptized the people. He came forth as a preacher and reformer. He was the subject of prophecy (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1); his birth was announced by an angel; he was of a priestly family, the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary. He was now about thirty years old. Preaching in the wilderness of Judea. A region thinly inhabited, used mostly for pasture, a rocky tract in the eastern part of Judea and west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea.

      2. Repent ye. The great rite of John was baptism, but the great duty commanded was repentance. Repentance is more than a sorrow for sin; it is a determination to abandon it and live a new life. It means a change of the will, or heart, new purposes, a determination to leave off sinning. Sorrow is not repentance, but "godly sorrow worketh repentance" (2 Cor. 7:10). The kingdom of heaven. The long expected kingdom ruled by the Messiah King, predicted by the prophets, and especially by Daniel (Dan. 2:44). The announcement of this anxiously-waited-for kingdom thrilled all Judea. Is at hand. It is to be noted: 1. That the kingdom to which he referred was in the future, but near. It did not begin with Abraham, or David, or even with John the Baptist. 2. It is the kingdom of heaven, not an earthly kingdom, and hence, must have a King sent from heaven. That King was not yet revealed to the public, but we have seen that one was born at Bethlehem who was to be the King. John was not the founder, but the herald of the coming King. [26]

      3. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. John was called a voice, (1) because the whole man was a sermon; (2) because he would call no attention to himself as a person, but only to the Savior, whose way he had come to prepare. For the prophecy see Isa. 40:3. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. The messengers sent before the eastern kings prepared the way for the chariots and armies of their monarchs. A "king's highway" had to be carried through the open land of the wilderness, valleys filled up, and hills leveled. Interpreted in its spiritual application, the wilderness was the world lying in evil. Make his paths straight. Roads that have not been properly directed at the beginning. So are the ways of men when no preparation has been made for the GREAT KING. When John cried, Make his paths straight, he meant, Stop your crooked ways.

      4. Raiment of camel's hair. See 2 Kings 1:8. Not the camel's skin with hair on it, but a garment made of the shaggier camel's hair, woven in a coarse fabric. It was recognized as a garb of the prophets (Zech. 13:4), and is still worn in the East by the poor. A leathern girdle about his loins. The "leathern girdle" may be seen around the body of the common laborer. It fastens the loose raiment of the East about the waist. His meat. Food. Locusts. Permitted to the Jews as an article of food (Lev. 11:22), and still used by the poorer classes in Arabia, Egypt and Nubia. They are a large, voracious insect, much like the Rocky Mountain grasshopper. Wild honey. Honey deposited by wild swarms of bees in the rocks. So abundant was it that Palestine was described as "flowing with milk and honey." John was no epicure, and used such food as the wilderness provided.

      5. There went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea. These expressions must be taken, not as meaning every individual, but as showing the wonderful impression produced by his preaching. All Judea, and among the rest, the people of Jerusalem came.

      6. And were baptized of him in the Jordan. Note that the baptism took place not at, but in, in the Jordan. Mark says, "in the river Jordan." The Jordan, the principal stream of Palestine, rises in the mountains of Lebanon, runs south into the sea of Galilee, leaves it and descends southward along Galilee, Samaria and Judea, to the Dead Sea. In many places the streams is fordable, and furnishes good facilities for baptizing. Confessing their sins. Baptism itself, a burial in water, a "baptism into death," a symbol of the burial of one who dies to the old life, is a confession of sins. There was, perhaps, also a verbal confession. The acknowledgment of sin, repentance and baptism are prescribed as conditions of pardon.

      7. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The two principal religious sects. The first originated in the time of the Maccabees, and were a kind of Jewish Puritans, but had in the Savior's time degenerated into a set of formalists, who paid far more attention to outward forms than to inner life. They were scrupulous in observing ceremonies, very orthodox, but were filled with spiritual pride. From an early period of Christ's ministry they opposed him. The other principal sect of the Jews, the Sadducees, derived their name from Sadduc, the founder of the sect; were irreligious, sensual and skeptical. They were materialists, and denied "angel, spirit, or the resurrection of the dead." Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests, were Sadducees. Generation of vipers. The guilty, corrupted race had become a generation of vipers; not only poisoned, but poisonous, hateful to God, hating one another. [27] The viper is hateful, full of hate, and dangerous. Who hath warned you? Malachi (3:2; 4:5) had predicted the wrath to come. John's question expresses doubt of their sincerity.

      8. Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance. There is no repentance whatever unless there is a change of life as the result. The change of life is the proof of the change of heart.

      9. Think not to say . . . We have Abraham to our father. They believed that Abraham's race was to be saved, if all else were destroyed. John destroys this refuge of sin. Of these stones. Pointing, perhaps, to the stones of the Jordan. In thus sinking the higher claims of Judaism, John points to the Gentiles, who were to become Abraham's children by faith. (See Gal. 3:29.)

      10. The axe laid at the root of the trees. A sign that the tree is to be cut down. The tree meant is the Jewish nation. Every tree. A fruitless fig-tree was afterward made by our Lord the representative of the whole Jewish nation (Luke 13:6), but here John declares a universal law. What does not bear good fruit shall finally be destroyed. Cast into the fire. When the tree is not fruitful, or bears useless fruit, it is fit for nothing but to be burned.

      11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. His baptism was only a water baptism. The King could send the Holy Spirit, and give a mightier baptism, in addition to the outward baptism. Mightier than I. In that he can perform all that I only promise. Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. The duty of a slave, or one greatly inferior in rank. In the Orient sandals are generally removed on entering a house, and left in charge of a servant, who brings them again when needed. So humble was John, compared with the King, that he was hardly worthy to be his servant. He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit. In order to know what is meant we must refer to the fulfillment. On the day of Pentecost occurred such a baptism, the first so recognized in the New Testament. Then the spirits of the apostles were overwhelmed by the Divine Spirit, so that they spoke as he gave them utterance. It was Christ who "shed forth" the baptism of that occasion. This would be plainer had the Greek en, here rendered "with," has been rendered "in," after the word baptize. Of the 2,600 occurrences of en in the Greek New Testament, it is rendered "in" in the Common Version 2,045 times. The American Committee of Revisers in the Revised Version (see margin) so render it in connection with the word baptize, and are doubtless right. These great scholars, mostly learned Pedo-baptists, would say, "Baptize in water," "Baptize in the Holy Spirit." And with fire. The term fire is used in verse 10, and there means a destroying agency; it is used again in verse 12 in the same sense; it is used in verse 11, also, the intervening verse, and must be used in exactly the same sense as in the other two verses. It cannot mean a curse in verses 10 and 12, and a blessing in verse 11, without a word of explanation. It is strange, therefore, that all commentators should not agree that the baptism of fire is a baptism of trial and suffering. There were two classes before John. Some would repent and be baptized finally in the Holy Spirit; there were others who would remain impenitent, and be baptized in the awful trials that would come upon Israel. The next verse explains this. John says in it that there is the wheat and the chaff; one shall be gathered into the garner and the other burned.

      12. Fan is in his hand. Rather the winnowing shovel, by which the wheat and chaff were tossed [28] together into the air, so that the wind would blow the chaff away. In Palestine grain was threshed on an outdoor threshing floor, either by hand or the treading of cattle, and winnowed by casting it up to the wind. Gather his wheat into the garner. Granary, or grain depository. Unquenchable fire. A reference is here made to the practice of burning the chaff under process of winnowing. The wheat is the righteous, the chaff is the wicked, and Christ is the winnower; the granary is heaven, the unquenchable fire is hell.

      13. Then cometh Jesus. Not named by Matthew since he was taken to Nazareth in childhood. From Luke we learn that he was subject to his parents, at twelve years of age astonished the doctors in the temple by his wisdom, and was now thirty years of age. He had worked in Nazareth as a carpenter. Galilee. The northern part of Palestine, containing at this time, according at this time, according to Josephus, 240 towns and villages and an immense population. To be baptized. He came for this purpose. He sought the rite.

      14. John forbade him. The objection that John made to the baptism of Christ implies some knowledge of him. Their mothers were cousins, but there is no evidence that Jesus and John had ever met. The Spirit had told John to proclaim the Redeemer and had given him a sign by which he should know him. When Jesus came before him, he perhaps knew, by the Spirit, his purity, and may have believed that he was the Messiah, but as yet he "knew him not" (see John 1:33). He could not be certain until he saw the divine sign. I have need to be baptized of thee. These words were uttered under the conviction, not certainty, that Jesus was the Christ.

      15. Suffer it to be so now. The term "now" implies that the relation of Jesus to his work made it proper that now he should be baptized. It is true that baptism was for sinners; Jesus was sinless; but he humbled himself, accepted the burden of human duties, and must set a perfect example to men. He obeyed the Jewish law, and it was needful also that he obey the Divine rite that John had inaugurated. Thus it becometh us. In order to fulfill all righteousness, show forth a perfect obedience, set a perfect example, it became him to submit to the institution of baptism, and it became John to administer it to him. "Us" refers to Jesus and John.

      16. And Jesus, when he was baptized. The baptism took place in the river Jordan, and was doubtless by immersion. Dr. Whitby, of the Church of England, on this passage, says: "The observation of the Greek Church is this, that he who ascended out of the water must first descend into it. Baptism is therefore to be performed, not by sprinkling, but by washing the body." Dr. Schaff, the great Pedo-baptist scholar, says: "While the validity of baptism does not depend on the quantity or quality of water, or the mode of its application, yet immersion and emersion is the primitive and expressive mode to symbolize the idea of entire spiritual purification and renovation." Dr. Schaff also says: "The Greek word baptize is derived from a root that means 'to dip,' 'to immerse.'" These views are endorsed by all the great Pedo-baptist scholars. Went up straightway out of the water. The Revision says "from the water," which is correct, as the preposition is apo; yet Mark uses ek in giving the same account, which the Revision correctly renders "out of." He went up, praying, as we learn from Luke 3:21. Lo, the heavens were opened unto him. The skies were parted, rolled back, so as to reveal, as it were, the throne of God. Spirit . . . descending like a dove. In form, and not, as some suppose, in motion merely, which would convey no definite idea. It descended to anoint him to be Christ.

      17. A voice from heaven. Three times God speaks from heaven in connection with the ministry of Christ--at his baptism, his transfiguration, and in the temple just before his suffering. Thou art my [29] beloved Son. The very words addressed to the Messiah in Psalm 2:7; and from which the Son of God became one of his standing appellations. Thus the baptism of Christ was the occasion of his public recognition. No reader should fail to observe the significance of the time chosen by God for the acknowledgment of the Son. It is just after he has humbled himself in an act of obedience, in baptism, that the Holy Spirit anoints him as the Christ, and God formally acknowledges him as his Son. No more forcible expression of the estimate set by God on this institution could be given. This example and the New Testament harmonizes in teaching--1. That we must be baptized if we would follow Christ. 2. That it is when we repent and are baptized that we receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). 3. That when we have obeyed the Lord he will recognize us as his children.

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