1: In those days - that is, while Jesus dwelt there. In the
wilderness of Judea - This was a wilderness properly so called, a
wild, barren, desolate place as was that also where our Lord was
tempted. But, generally speaking, a wilderness in the New
Testament means only a common, or less cultivated place, in
opposition to pasture and arable land.(Mk 1:1,Lu 3:1).
2: The kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of God, are but two
phrases for the same thing. They mean, not barely a future
happy state, in heaven, but a state to be enjoyed on earth:
the proper disposition for the glory of heaven, rather than the
possession of it. Is at hand - As if he had said, God is about to
erect that kingdom, spoken of by Daniel (Da 2:44,7:13,14);
the kingdom of the God of heaven. It properly signifies here,
the Gospel dispensation, in which subjects were to be gathered
to God by his Son, and a society to be formed, which was to
subsist first on earth, and afterward with God in glory. In
some places of Scripture, the phrase more particularly denotes
the state of it on earth: in ,others, it signifies only the state
of glory: but it generally includes both. The Jews understood
it of a temporal kingdom, the seat of which they supposed would
be Jerusalem; and the expected sovereign of this kingdom they
learned from Daniel to call the Son of man.
Both John the Baptist and Christ took up that phrase, the
kingdom of heaven, as they found it, and gradually taught the
Jews (though greatly unwilling to learn) to understand it right.
The very demand of repentance, as previous to it, showed it was
a spiritual kingdom, and that no wicked man, how politic, brave,
or learned soever, could possibly be a subject of it.
3: The way of the Lord - Of Christ. Make his paths straight - By
removing every thing which might prove a hinderance to his
gracious appearance. (Isa 40:3).
4: John had his raiment of camels' hair - Coarse and rough, suiting
his character and doctrine. A leathern girdle - Like Elijah, in
whose spirit and power he came. His food was locusts and wild
honey - Locusts are ranked among clean meats,(Le 11:22). But these were not always to be had.
So in default of those, he fed on wild honey.
6: Confessing their sins - Of their own accord; freely and openly.
Such prodigious numbers could hardly be baptized by immerging
their whole bodies under water: nor can we think they were
provided with change of raiment for it, which was scarcely
practicable for such vast multitudes. And yet they could not
be immerged naked with modesty, nor in their wearing apparel
with safety. It seems, therefore, that they stood in ranks on
the edge of the river, and that John, passing along before them,
cast water on their heads or faces, by which means he might
baptize many thousands in a day. And this way most naturally
signified Christ's baptizing them with the Holy Ghost and with
fire, which John spoke of, as prefigured by his baptizing with
water, and which was eminently fulfilled, when the Holy Ghost
sat upon the disciples in the appearance of tongues, or flames
7: The Pharisees were a very ancient sect among the Jews. They
took their name from a Hebrew word, which signifies to separate,
because they separated themselves from all other men. They were
outwardly strict observers of the law, fasted often, made long
prayers, rigorously kept the Sabbath, and paid all tithe, even of
mint, anise, and cummin. Hence they were in high esteem among
the people. But inwardly, they were full of pride and hypocrisy.
The Sadducees were another sect among the Jews, only not so
considerable as the Pharisees. They denied the existence of
angels, and the immortality of the soul, and by consequence the
resurrection of the dead. Ye brood of vipers - In like manner, the
crafty Herod is styled a fox, and persons of insidious, ravenous,
profane, or sensual dispositions, are named respectively by him
who saw their hearts, serpents, dogs, wolves, and swine; terms
which are not the random language of passion, but a judicious
designation of the persons meant by them. For it was fitting
such men should be marked out, either for a caution to others,
or a warning to themselves.
8: Repentance is of two sorts; that which is termed legal, and
that which is styled evangelical repentance. The former (which
is the same that is spoken of here) is a thorough conviction of
sin. The latter is a change of heart (and consequently of life)
from all sin to all holiness.
9: And say not confidently - The word in the original, vulgarly
rendered, Think not, seems here, and in many places, not to
diminish, but rather add to the force of the word with which
it is joined. We have Abraham to our father - It is almost
incredible, how great the presumption of the Jews was on this
their relation to Abraham. One of their famous sayings was,
"Abraham sits near the gates of hell, and suffers no Israelite
to go down into it." I say unto you - This preface always denotes
the importance of what follows. Of these stones - Probably
pointing to those which lay before them.
10: But the axe also already lieth - That is, there is no room
for such idle pretences. Speedy execution is determined against
all that do not repent. The comparison seems to be taken from
a woodman that has laid down his axe to put off his coat, and
then immediately goes to work to cut down the tree. This refers
to the wrath to come in verse 7, (Mt 3:7).
Is hewn down - Instantly, without farther delay.
11: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire - He
shall fill you with the Holy Ghost, inflaming your hearts with
that fire of love, which many waters cannot quench. And this
was done, even with a visible appearance as of fire, on the
day of pentecost.
12: Whose fan - That is, the word of the Gospel. His floor - That
is, his Church, which is now covered with a mixture of wheat and
chaff. He will gather the wheat into the garner - Will lay up
those who are truly good in heaven.
15: It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness - It becometh
every messenger of God to observe all his righteous ordinances.
But the particular meaning of our Lord seems to be, that it
becometh us to do (me to receive baptism, and you to administer
it) in order to fulfil, that is, that I may fully perform every
part of the righteous law of God, and the commission he hath
16: And Jesus being baptized - Let our Lord's submitting to baptism
teach us a holy exactness in the observance of those institutions
which owe their obligation merely to a Divine command. Surely
thus it becometh all his followers to fulfil all righteousness.
Jesus had no sin to wash away. And yet he was baptized. And
God owned his ordinance, so as to make it the season of pouring
forth the Holy Spirit upon him. And where can we expect
this sacred effusion, but in an humble attendance on Divine
appointments? Lo, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit
of God - St. Luke adds, in a bodily form - Probably in a glorious
appearance of fire, perhaps in the shape of a dove, descending
with a hovering motion, till it rested upon him. This was a
visible token of those secret operations of the blessed Spirit,
by which he was anointed in a peculiar manner; and abundantly
fitted for his public work.
17: And lo, a voice - We have here a glorious manifestation of the
ever - blessed Trinity: the Father speaking from heaven, the Son
spoken to, the Holy Ghost descending upon him. In whom I delight
- What an encomium is this! How poor to this are all other kinds
of praise! To he the pleasure, the delight of God, this is praise
indeed: this is true glory: this is the highest, the brightest
light, that virtue can appear in.