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Matthew Chapter Three


Matthew 3

We now begin His actual history. John the Baptist comes to prepare the way of Jehovah before Him, according to the prophecy of Isaiah; proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and calling on the people to repent. It is by these three things that John's ministry to Israel is characterised in this Gospel. First the Lord Jehovah Himself was coming. The Holy Ghost leaves out the words "for our God," at the end of the verse, because Jesus comes as man in humiliation, although acknowledged at the same time to be Jehovah, and Israel could not be thus owned as entitled to say "our." In the second place the kingdom of heaven [1] was at hand-that new dispensation which was to take the place of the one which, properly speaking, belonged to Sinai, where the Lord had spoken on the earth. In this new dispensation "the heavens should reign." They should be the source of, and characterise, God's authority in His Christ. Thirdly, the people, instead of being blessed in their present condition, were called to repentance in view of the approach of this kingdom. John therefore takes his place in the wilderness, departing from the Jews, with whom he could not associate himself because he came in the way of righteousness (chap. 21:32). His food is that which he finds in the wilderness (even his prophetic garments bearing witness to the position which he had taken on the part of God), himself filled with the Holy Ghost.

Thus was he a prophet, for he came from God, and addressed himself to the people of God to call them to repentance, and he proclaimed the blessing of God according to the promises of Jehovah their God; but he was more than a prophet, for he declared as an immediate thing the introduction of a new dispensation, long expected, and the advent of the Lord in Person. At the same time, although coming to Israel, he did not own the people, for they were to be judged; the threshing-floor of Jehovah was to be cleansed, the trees that did not bear good fruit to be cut down. It would be a remnant only that Jehovah would place in the new position in the kingdom that he announced, without its being yet revealed in what manner it was to be established. He proclaimed the judgment of the people.

What a fact of immeasurable greatness was the presence of the Lord God in the midst of His people, in the Person of Him who, although He was doubtless to be the fulfilment of all the promises, was necessarily, though rejected, the Judge of all the evil existing among His people!

And the more we give these passages their true application, that is to say, the more we apply them to Israel, the more we apprehend their real force. [2]

No doubt repentance is an eternal necessity to every soul that approaches God; but what a light is thrown upon this truth, when we see the intervention of the Lord Himself who calls His people to this repentance, setting aside-on their refusal-the whole system of their relationships with Him, and establishing a new dispensation-a kingdom which only belongs to those who hear Him-and causing at length His judgment to break forth against His people and the city which He had so long cherished! "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."

This truth gives room for the exhibition of another and most highly important one, announced here in connection with the sovereign rights of God rather than in its consequences, but which already contained in itself all those consequences. The people from all parts, and as we learn elsewhere especially the ungodly and despised, went out to be baptised, confessing their sins. But those who, in their own eyes, held the chief place among the people, were in the eyes of the prophet who loved the people according to God, the objects of the judgment he announced. Wrath was impending. Who had warned these scornful men to flee from it? Let them humble themselves like the rest; let them take their true place, and prove their change of heart. To boast in the privileges of their nation, or of their fathers, availed nothing before God. He required that which His very nature, His truth, demanded. Moreover He was sovereign; He was able of those stones to raise up children to Abraham. This is what His sovereign grace has done, through Christ, with regard to the Gentiles. There was reality needed. The axe was at the root of the trees, and those that did not bring forth good fruit should be cut down. This is the great moral principle which the judgment was going to put in force. The blow was not yet struck, but the axe was already at the root of the trees. John was come to bring those who received his testimony into a new position, or at least into a new state in which they were prepared for it. On their repentance he would distinguish them from the rest by baptism. But He who was coming after John-He whose shoes John was not worthy to bear-would thoroughly purge His floor, would separate those that were truly His, morally His, from among His people Israel (that was His floor), and would execute judgment on the rest. John on his part opened the door to repentance beforehand; afterwards should come the judgment.

Judgment was not the only work that belonged to Jesus. Two things are however attributed to Him in John's testimony He baptises with fire-this is the judgment proclaimed in verse 12, which consumes all that is evil. But He baptises also with the Holy Ghost-that Spirit which, given to, and acting in divine energy in man, quickened, redeemed, cleansed in the blood of Christ, brings him out fromthe influence of all that acts on the flesh, and sets him in connection and in communion with all that is revealed of God, with the glory into which He brings His creatures in the life which He imparts, destroying morally in us the power of all that is contrary to the enjoyment of these privileges.

Observe here, that the only good fruit recognised by John, as the way of escape, is the sincere confession, through grace, of sin. Those only who make this confession escape the axe. There were really no good trees excepting those which confessed that they were bad.

But what a solemn moment was this for the people beloved of God! What an event was the presence of Jehovah in the midst of the nation with whom He stood in relationship!

Observe that John the Baptist does not here present the Messiah as the Saviour come in grace, but as the Head of the kingdom, as Jehovah, who would execute judgment if the people did not repent. We shall see afterwards the position which He took in grace.

In verse 13 Jesus Himself, who until now has been presented as the Messiah and even as Jehovah, comes to John to be baptised with the baptism of repentance. We must remember that to come to this baptism was the only good fruit which a Jew, in his then condition, could produce. The act proved itself to be the fruit of a work of God-of the effectual work of the Holy Ghost. He who repents confesses that he has previously walked afar from God; so that it is a new movement, the fruit of God's word and work in him, the sign of a new life, of the life of the Spirit in his soul. By the very fact of John's mission, there was no other fruit, no other admissible proof, of life from God, in a Jew. We are not to infer from this, that there were none in whom the Spirit already acted vitally; but, in this condition of the people and according to the call of God by His servant, that was the proof of this life-of the turning of the heart to God. These were the true remnant of the people, those whom God acknowledged as such; and it was thus they were separated from the mass who were ripening for judgment. These were the true saints-the excellent of the earth; although the self-abasement of repentance could be their only true place. It was there they must begin. When God brings in mercy and justice, they avail themselves thankfully of the former, confessing it to be their only resource, and they bow their heart before the latter, as the just consequence of the condition of God's people, but as applying it to themselves.

Now Jesus presents Himself in the midst of those who do this. Although truly the Lord, Jehovah, the righteous Judge of His people, He who was to purge His floor, He nevertheless takes His place among the faithful remnant who humble themselves before this judgment. He takes the place of the lowest of His people before God; as in Psalm 16 He calls Jehovah His Lord, saying unto Him, "My goodness extendeth not to Thee"; and says to the saints, and the excellent in the earth, "all my delight is in them." Perfect testimony of grace-the Saviour identifying Himself, according to this grace, with the first movement of the Spirit in the hearts of His own people, humbling Himself not only in the condescension of grace towards them, but in taking His place as one of them in their true position before God; not merely to comfort their hearts by such kindness, but in order to sympathise with all their sorrows and their difficulties; in order to be the pattern, the source, and the perfect expression of every sentiment suitable to their position.

With wicked unrepentant Israel He could not associate Himself, but with the first living effect of the word and Spirit of God in the poor of the flock, He could and did in grace. He does so now. With the first right step, one really of God, Christ is found.

But there was yet more. He comes to bring those who received Him into relation with God, according to the favour which rested on perfectness like His, and on the love which, by taking up His people's cause, satisfied the heart of the Lord, and, having perfectly glorified God in all that He is, made it possible for Him to satisfy Himself with goodness. We know indeed that in order to do this, the Saviour had to lay down His life, because the condition of the Jew, as that of every man, required this sacrifice before either the one or the other could stand in relation with the God of truth. But even for this the love of Jesus did not fail. Here however He is leading them on to the enjoyment of the blessing expressed in His Person, which should be securely founded on that sacrifice-blessing which they must reach by the path of repentance, into which they entered by John's baptism; which Jesus received with them, that they might go on together towards the possession of all the good things which God has prepared for them that loved Him.

John, feeling the dignity and excellency of the Person of Him who came unto him, opposes the Lord's intention. The Holy Ghost by this brings out the true character of the Lord's action. As to Himself, it was righteousness which brought Him there, and not sin-righteousness which He accomplished in love. He, as well as John the Baptist, fulfilled that which belonged to the place assigned Him by God. With what condescension He links Himself at the same time with John-"It becometh us." He is the lowly and obedient Servant. It was thus He ever behaved Himself on earth. Moreover, as to His position, grace brought Jesus there, where sin brought us, who came in by the door the Lord had opened for His sheep. In confessing sin as it is, in coming before God in the confession of (the opposite of sin morally) our sin, we find ourselves in company with Jesus. [3] Indeed it is in us the fruit of His Spirit. This was the case with the poor sinners who came out to John. Thus it was that Jesus took His place in righteousness and obedience among men, and more exactly among the repentant Jews. It is in this position of a man-righteous, obedient, and fulfilling on earth, in perfect humility, the work for which He had offered Himself in grace, according to Psalm 40, giving Himself up to the accomplishment of all the will of God in complete renunciation-that God His Father fully acknowledged Him, and sealed Him, declaring Him on earth to be His well-beloved Son.

Being baptised-the most striking token of the place He had taken with His people-the heavens are opened unto Him, and He sees the Holy Ghost descending on Him like a dove; and, lo! a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

But these circumstances demand attention.

Never were the heavens opened to the earth, nor to a man on the earth, before the beloved Son was there. [4] God had doubtless, in His longsuffering and in the way of providence, blessed all His creatures; He had also blessed His own people, according to the rules of His government on earth. Besides this, there were the elect, whom He had preserved in faithfulness. Nevertheless until now the heavens had not been opened. A testimony had been sent by God in connection with His government of the earth; but there was no object on the earth upon which the eye of God could rest with complacency, until Jesus, sinless and obedient, His beloved Son, stood there. But what is so precious to us is, that it is as soon as in grace He takes publicly this place of humiliation with Israel-that is, with the faithful remnant, presenting Himself thus before God, fulfilling His will-the heavens open upon an object worthy of their attention. Ever doubtless was He worthy of their adoration, even before the world was. But now He has just taken this place in the dealings of God as a man, and the heavens opened unto Jesus, the object of God's entire affection on the earth. The Holy Ghost descends upon Him visibly. And He, a man on earth, a man taking His place with the meek of the people who repented, is acknowledged as the Son of God. He is not only anointed of God, but, as man, He is conscious of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Him-the seal of the Father set upon Him. Here it is evidently not His divine nature, in the character of the Eternal Son of the Father. The seal would not even be in conformity with that character; and as to His Person it is manifested, and His consciousness of it, at twelve years old in Luke's Gospel. But while He is such, He is also a man, the Son of God on the earth, and is sealed as a man. As a man He has the consciousness of the immediate presence of the Holy Ghost with Him. This presence is in connection with the character of lowliness, meekness, and obedience, in which the Lord appeared down here. It is "like a dove" that the Holy Ghost descends upon Him; just as it was in the form of tongues of fire, that He came down upon the heads of the disciples, for their testimony in power in this world, according to the grace which addressed each and every one in his own language.

Jesus thus creates in His own position as man the place into which He introduces us by redemption (John 20:17). But the glory of His Person is always carefully guarded. There is no object presented to Jesus, as to Saul for instance, and, in a still more analogous case, to Stephen, who, being full of the Spirit, sees also the heavens opened, and looks up into them, and sees Jesus, the Son of man, and is transformed into His image. Jesus has come; He is Himself the object over whom the heavens open; He has no transforming object, as Stephen, or as we ourselves in the Spirit; heaven looks down at Him, the perfect object of delight. It is His relationship with His Father, already existing, which is sealed. [5] Neither does the Holy Ghost create His character (except so far as, with respect to His human nature, He was conceived in the virgin Mary's womb by the power of the Holy Ghost); He had connected Himself with the poor, in the perfection of that character, before He was sealed, and then acts according to the energy and the power of that which He received without measure in His human life here below (compare Acts 10:38, Matthew 12:28, John 3:34).

We find in the word four memorable occasions on which the heavens open. Christ is the object of each of these revelations; each has its especial character. Here the Holy Ghost descends upon Him, and He is acknowledged the Son of God (compare John 1:33, 34). At the end of the same chapter of John, He declares Himself to be the Son of man. There it is the angels of God who ascend and descend upon Him. He is, as Son of man, the object of their ministry. [6] At the end of Acts 7 an entirely new scene is opened. The Jews reject the last testimony that God sends them. Stephen, by whom this testimony is rendered, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and the heavens are opened to him. The earthly system was definitely closed by the rejection of the Holy Ghost's testimony to the glory of the ascended Christ. But this is not merely a testimony. The Christian is filled with the Spirit, heaven is opened to him, the glory of God is manifested to him, and the Son of man appears to him, standing at the right hand of God. This is a different thing from the heavens open over Jesus, the object of God's delight on earth. It is heaven open to the Christian himself, his object being there when rejected on earth. He sees there by the Holy Ghost the heavenly glory of God, and Jesus, the Son of man, the special object of the testimony he renders, in the glory of God. The difference is as remarkable as it is interesting to us; and it exhibits, in a most striking manner, the true position of the Christian as on earth, and the change which the rejection of Jesus by His earthly people has produced. Only, the church, the union of believers in one body with the Lord in heaven, was not yet revealed. Afterwards (Rev. 19) heaven opens, and the Lord Himself comes forth, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Thus we see Jesus, the Son of God on earth, the object of heaven's delight, sealed with the Holy Ghost; Jesus, the Son of man, the object of the ministry of heaven, angels being His servants; Jesus, on high at the right hand of God, and the believer, full of the Spirit, and suffering here for His sake, beholding the glory on high, and the Son of man in the glory; and Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, coming forth to judge and make war against the scornful men who dispute His authority and oppress the earth.

To return: the Father Himself acknowledges Jesus, the obedient man on earth, who enters as the true Shepherd by the door, as His beloved Son in whom is all His delight. Heaven is opened to Him; He sees the Holy Ghost come down to seal Him, the infallible strength and support of the perfection of His human life; and He has the Father's own testimony to the relationship between them. No object on which His faith was to rest is presented to Him as it is to us. It is His own relation to heaven and to His Father which is sealed. His soul enjoys it through the descent of the Holy Ghost and the voice of His Father.

But this passage in Matthew requires some further notice. The blessed Lord, or rather what occurred as to Him, gives the place or model in which He sets believers, be they Jew or Gentile: only of course we are brought there by redemption. "I go to my Father and your Father, my God and your God," is His blessed word after His resurrection. But to us heaven is opened; we are sealed with the Holy Ghost; the Father owns us as sons. Only the divine dignity of Christ's Person is always carefully guarded here in humiliation, as in the transfiguration in glory. Moses and Elias are in the same glory, but disappear when Peter's haste, permitted to be expressed, would put them on a level. The nearer we are to a divine Person, the more we adore and recognise what He is.

But another very remarkable fact is found here. For the first time, when Christ takes this place among men in lowliness, the Trinity is fully revealed. No doubt the Son and Spirit are mentioned in the Old Testament. But there the unity of the Godhead is the great revealed point. Here the Son is owned in man, the Holy Ghost comes down on Him, and the Father owns Him as His Son. What a wonderful connection with man! what a place for man to be in! Through Christ's connection with Him the Godhead is revealed in its own fulness. His being a man draws it out in its display. But He was really a man, but the Man in whom the counsels of God about man were to be fulfilled.

Hence, as He has realised and displayed the place in which man is set with God in His own Person, and in the counsels of grace as to us our relationship with God, so, as we are in conflict with the enemy, He enters into that side of our position also. We have our relationship with God and our Father, and now we have to say to Satan also. He overcomes for us, and shews us how to overcome. Remark too, the relationship with God is first fully settled and brought out, and then, as in that place, the conflict with Satan begins, and so with us. But the first question was, Would the second Adam stand where the first had failed? only, in the wilderness of this world and Satan's power-instead of the blessings of God-for there we had got.

Another point is to be remarked here, fully to bring out the place the Lord takes. The law and the prophets were till John. Then the new thing is announced, the kingdom of heaven. But judgment closes with God's people. The axe is at the root of the trees, the fan is in the hand of the coming One, the wheat is gathered into God's garner, the chaff burnt up. That is, there is a close of the history of God's people in judgment. We come in on the ground of being lost, anticipating the judgment; but man's history as responsible was closed. Hence it is said, "now once in the end of the world he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." It has happened externally and literally to Israel; but it is morally true for us: only we are gathered for heaven, as in result the remnant then, and shall be in heaven. But, Christ rejected, the history of responsibility is over, and we come in in grace as already lost. Consequent on the announcement of this as imminent, Christ comes and, identifying Himself with the remnant who escape on repentance, makes this new place for man on the earth: only we could not be in it till redemption was accomplished. Still He revealed the Father's name to those He had given Him out of it.


[1] This expression is found only in Matthew, as specially occupied with dispensations, and the dealings of God with the Jews. "The kingdom of God" is the generic term. "The kingdom of heaven" is the kingdom of God, but the kingdom of God as specially taking this character of heavenly government; we shall find it (farther on) separated into the kingdom of our Father, and the kingdom of the Son of man.

[2] And we must remember that, besides the special promises to, and calling, of Israel as God's earthly people, that people were just man viewed in his responsibility to God under the fullest culture that God could give him. Up to the flood there was testimony but no dispensational dealings, or institutions of God. After it, in the new world, human government, calling and promise in Abraham, law, Messiah, God come in grace, everything God could do, and that in perfect patience, was done, and in vain as to good in flesh; and now Israel was being set aside as in the flesh, and the flesh judged, the fig-tree cursed as fruitless, and God's man, the second Adam, He in whom blessing was by redemption, introduced into the world. In the first three Gospels, as we have seen, we have Christ presented to man to be received; in John, man is set aside and Israel, and God's sovereign ways in grace and resurrection brought in.

[3] It is the same thing as to the sense of our nothingness. He made Himself nothing, and in the consciousness of our nothingness we find ourselves with Him, and at the same time are filled with His fulness. Even when we fall, it is not until we are brought to know ourselves as we really are that we find Jesus raising us up again.

[4] In the beginning of Ezekiel, it is said indeed that the heavens were opened; but this was only in vision, as the prophet himself explains. In that instance it was the manifestation of God in judgment.

[5] This is true also of us when we are in that relationship by grace.

[6] It is all a mistake to make Christ the ladder. He, as Jacob was, is the object of their service and ministry.

── John DarbySynopsis of Matthew


Matthew 3

Chapter Contents

John the Baptist, His preaching, manner of life, and baptism. (1-6) John reproves the Pharisees and Sadducees. (7-12) The baptism of Jesus. (13-17)

Commentary on Matthew 3:1-6

(Read Matthew 3:1-6)

After Malachi there was no prophet until John the Baptist came. He appeared first in the wilderness of Judea. This was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not thickly peopled, nor much enclosed. No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of Divine grace. The doctrine he preached was repentance; "Repent ye." The word here used, implies a total alteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition, and affections, another and a better bias of the soul. Consider your ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; think again, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other, than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of the way. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon and forgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us to repent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your repentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, through Christ, return unto you in the way of mercy. It is still as necessary to repent and humble ourselves, to prepare the way of the Lord, as it then was. There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, and nothing is more needful than the discovery of sin, and a conviction that we cannot be saved by our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; but to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight, Hebrews 12:13. Those whose business it is to call others to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves to live a serious life, a life of self-denial, and contempt of the world. By giving others this example, John made way for Christ. Many came to John's baptism, but few kept to the profession they made. There may be many forward hearers, where there are few true believers. Curiosity, and love for novelty and variety, may bring many to attend on good preaching, and to be affected for a while, who never are subject to the power of it. Those who received John's doctrine, testified their repentance by confessing their sins. Those only are ready to receive Jesus Christ as their righteousness, who are brought with sorrow and shame to own their guilt. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven, now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. John washed them with water, in token that God would cleanse them from all their iniquities, thereby intimating, that by nature and practice all were polluted, and could not be admitted among the people of God, unless washed from their sins in the fountain Christ was to open, Zechariah 13:1.

Commentary on Matthew 3:7-12

(Read Matthew 3:7-12)

To make application to the souls of the hearers, is the life of preaching; so it was of John's preaching. The Pharisees laid their chief stress on outward observances, neglecting the weightier matters of the moral law, and the spiritual meaning of their legal ceremonies. Others of them were detestable hypocrites, making their pretences to holiness a cloak for iniquity. The Sadducees ran into the opposite extreme, denying the existence of spirits, and a future state. They were the scornful infidels of that time and country. There is a wrath to come. It is the great concern of every one to flee from that wrath. God, who delights not in our ruin, has warned us; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. And those are not worthy of the name of penitents, or their privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, yet persist in them. 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, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others. Here is a word of caution, not to trust in outward privileges. There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt to say within themselves, to put aside the convincing, commanding power of the word of God. Multitudes, by resting in the honours and mere advantages of their being members of an outward church, come short of heaven. Here is a word of terror to the careless and secure. Our corrupt hearts cannot be made to produce good fruit, unless the regenerating Spirit of Christ graft the good word of God upon them. And every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in outward professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down and 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. John shows the design and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were now speedily to expect. No outward forms can make us clean. No ordinances, by whomsoever administered, or after whatever mode, can supply the want of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. The purifying and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit alone can produce that purity of heart, and those holy affections, which accompany salvation. It is Christ who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit sent upon the apostles, Acts 2:4. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, given to those that ask him, Luke 11:13; John 7:38,39; see Acts 11:16. Observe here, the outward church is Christ's floor, Isaiah 21:10. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light and empty, useless and worthless, carried about with every wind; these are mixed, good and bad, in the same outward communion. There is a day coming when the wheat and chaff shall be separated. The last judgment will be the distinguishing day, when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. 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. Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will certainly be the portion and punishment of hypocrites and unbelievers. Here life and death, good and evil, are set before us: according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.

Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17

(Read Matthew 3:13-17)

Christ's gracious condescensions are so surprising, that even the strongest believers at first can hardly believe them; so deep and mysterious, that even those who know his mind well, are apt to start objections against the will of Christ. And those who have much of the Spirit of God while here, see that they need to apply to Christ for more. Christ does not deny that John had need to be baptized of him, yet declares he will now be baptized of John. Christ is now in a state of humiliation. Our Lord Jesus looked upon it as well becoming him to fulfil all righteousness, to own every Divine institution, and to show his readiness to comply with all God's righteous precepts. In and through Christ, the heavens are opened to the children of men. This descent of the Spirit upon Christ, showed that he was endued with his sacred influences without measure. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. At Christ's baptism there was a manifestation of the three Persons in the sacred Trinity. The Father confirming the Son to be Mediator; the Son solemnly entering upon the work; the Holy Spirit descending on him, to be through his mediation communicated to his people. In Him our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable, for He is the altar that sanctifies every gift, 1 Peter 2:5. Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire, but in Christ, a reconciled Father. This is the sum of the gospel, which we must by faith cheerfully embrace.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Matthew


Matthew 3

Verse 2

[2] And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

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 Daniel 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.

Verse 3

[3] 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.

The way of the Lord — Of Christ.

Make his paths straight — By removing every thing which might prove a hinderance to his gracious appearance. Isaiah 40:3.

Verse 4

[4] 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.

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, Leviticus 11:22. But these were not always to be had. So in default of those, he fed on wild honey.

Verse 6

[6] And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

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 of fire.

Verse 7

[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?

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.

Verse 8

[8] Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

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.

Verse 9

[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.

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.

Verse 10

[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.

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, Matthew 3:7.

Is hewn down — Instantly, without farther delay.

Verse 11

[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:

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.

Verse 12

[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.

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.

Verse 13

[13] Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21

Verse 15

[15] 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.

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 given me.

Verse 16

[16] 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 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.

Verse 17

[17] And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

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.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Matthew


Chapter 3. John the Baptist

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Make His Paths Straight

I. The Ministry of John the Baptist

1. John’s Duty

2. John’s Life

3. John’s Message

Il. Three Kinds of Baptism

1. Cleansing of Water

2. Fulfillment of Spirit

3. Judgment of Fire

III. Jesus Humbles Himself to be Baptized

1. Testimony of John

2. Descending of the Holy Spirit

3. Pleasure of God

── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament
Preparing The Way Of The Lord (3:1-12)
1. Prior to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, we read of the
   work of John the Baptist...
   a. Who preached in the wilderness of Judea - Mt 3:1
   b. Who at first had a very successful ministry - Mt 3:5-6
   c. Which was later cut short by his imprisonment - Mt 4:12
2. Though John's work was short-lived, it was clearly important...
   a. Each of the four gospels preface Jesus' ministry with that of
   b. His ministry prepared people for what was to come
[If we seek to understand the message and ministry of Jesus Christ, we
must start with the one who was sent to "prepare the way of the Lord".
In this study we shall begin by observing what we can regarding...]
      1. A call to repentance - Mt 3:1-2
         a. Lit., "a changing of the mind"
         b. Which change prompts one to turn from sin and turn to God
         c. Prompted by sorrow for one's sins, manifested by a zealous
            desire to do what is right - cf. 2 Co 7:10-11
      2. A proclamation of the coming "kingdom of heaven" - Mt 3:2
         a. The term "kingdom" in Jewish thought meant "rule, reign"
         b. The phrase "of heaven" implies the source of such rule; 
            other gospel writers use "of God" - cf. Mk 1:14-15
         c. The rule or reign of God was about to be manifested in a
            special way; it was "at hand" (near)
      1. To fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah - Mt 3:3
         a. Which was to "prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths
            straight" - Isa 40:3
         b. I.e., to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah
      2. To fulfill the prophecy of Malachi - Mt 3:4
         a. Concerning the sending of Elijah - cf. Mal 4:5-6
         b. John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah", not that he
            actually was Elijah - cf. Jn 1:19-23 (cf. Mt 3:4 with
            2 Ki 1:8)
      -- As the angel told Zacharias, his son John was to "make ready a
         people prepared for the Lord" - Lk 1:16-17
      1. People from Jerusalem, all Judea, etc., went to him - Mt 3:5
      2. They were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins
         - Mt 3:6
         a. For he preached a baptism of repentance - Mk 1:4a
         b. A baptism for the remission of sins - Mk 1:4b
      1. When people came to be baptized, he expected to see fruits in
         keeping with true repentance - Mt 3:7-8
         a. He expected compassion for the poor - Lk 3:10-11
         b. He expected honest business dealings - Lk 3:12-13
         c. He expected fair treatment, contentment with one's wages 
            - Lk 3:14
      2. He told them not to trust in their heritage or ancestry 
         - Mt 3:9
         a. It was not enough to be Jews, descendants of Abraham
         b. God could just as easily raise up children to Abraham out
            of stones
      3. He warned them that the time of judgment was near - Mt 3:10
         a. The "ax" (God's judgment) was at the root of the trees
         b. That which did not bear good fruit would be cut off 
            - cf. Ro 11:11-23; Jn 15:1-6
      1. One mightier than he is coming - Mt 3:11
         a. Yes, John did indeed baptize with water with repentance
         b. But one (Jesus) was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit
            and fire!
      2. Whose work would be to separate the wheat from the chaff 
         - Mt 3:12
         a. Using a "winnowing fan" (the Holy Spirit? cf. Jn 16:7-8,
         b. And burn up the chaff with "unquenchable fire" (the 
            Judgment? cf. Mt 13:30)
[We can learn more of the ministry of John the Baptist by studying the
other gospels, but what Matthew records is sufficient to make several
observations about how he was "Preparing The Way Of The Lord"...]
      1. John preached a call to repent - Mt 3:2,8
         a. Jesus did the same during His earthly ministry - Mt 4:17;
            9:13; 11:20; 12:41
         b. Jesus expected the call to repentance to be proclaimed in
            His name to all nations - Lk 24:46-47
         c. And so His apostles proclaimed the need to repent - Ac 2:
            38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:20-21; 26:19-20
         -- Unless we heed to the call to repent, we have not begun to
            understand nor act upon what it means to be true disciples
            of Jesus Christ!
      2. John proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, that it was near
         - Mt 3:2
         a. This was the same message proclaimed by Jesus - Mt 4:17;
            cf. Mk 1:14-15
         b. By His disciples, in the Limited Commission - Mt 10:7
         c. The theme of the kingdom was an important part of the
            gospel following the Great Commission - Ac 8:12; 14:22;
            19:8; 20:25; 28:23
         -- What came to be taught concerning the kingdom, we shall
            consider in another lesson; but it was "at hand" during
            Jesus' earthly ministry, and in existence following His
            ascension to heaven - cf. Co 1:13; 1 Th 2:12; Re 1:9
      1. He spoke of Jesus as One who would baptize with the Holy
         Spirit - Mt 3:11
         a. This did not rule out Jesus baptizing in water, or that His
            disciples would
            1) Indeed, Jesus did baptize in water, via His disciples 
               - Jn 4:1-2
            2) He later commanded water baptism in the Great 
               Commission, which His disciples carried out - Mt 28:
               19-20; Ac 2:38; 8:35-38; 10:47-48
         b. But Jesus would also baptize with the Holy Spirit, as 
            promised - cf. Ac 1:4-5
            1) Which occurred at Pentecost - cf. Ac 2:1-21
            2) The result of which affects all who are saved - Ti 3:5-7
         -- Yes, John "indeed" baptized with water (as would Jesus),
            but John prepared the people for a work Jesus would do that
            went far beyond what he was doing!
      2. He spoke of Jesus as One who would separate the "wheat" from
         the "chaff" - Mt 3:12
         a. Jesus' work would divide the good from the bad - cf. Mt 13:
         b. His work would even cause division within one's family 
            - cf. Mt 10:34-39
         -- From what John said, we can expect that the effect of 
            Jesus' work would sometimes cause division, not peace!
      3. He spoke of Jesus as administering judgment - Mt 3:12
         a  Jesus later depicted Himself as judge - Mt 26:31-46
         b. He spoke of how His words would judge us in the last day 
            - Jn 12:48
         -- It is true that Jesus came the first time to save the 
            world, but He is coming again, this time to judge the 
            world! - 2 Th 1:7-10
1. The ministry of John the Baptist was an important one...
   a. To "prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight"
   b. This he did by preaching the same themes, letting people know
      what to expect
   -- Of course, there was more, as John was to actually identify the
      Messiah to Israel
2. But when Jesus began preaching, people were more likely to:
   a. Repent of their sins
   b. Answer the call to be baptized
   c. Accept the good news concerning the kingdom
   ...for John had been preaching such themes in the wilderness of
3. In a sense, John's message is still needed today...
   a. There are many who turn the message of Jesus Christ into some 
      sort of "easy-believism"
   b. But John reminds us of the need to bear fruits in keeping with
      true repentance
As Jesus would say later, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do
not do the things which I say?" (Lk 6:46).  Are you showing true
acceptance of Jesus as Lord by doing the things He says?


The Baptism Of Jesus (3:13-17)
1. The baptism of Jesus by John served a significant role in both of
   their ministries...
   a. It came at the height of John's ministry, after which his began
      to decline
   b. It served as the beginning of Jesus' ministry, which soon
      overtook the ministry of John
2. The baptism of Jesus naturally raises some questions...
   a. Why was He baptized?
   b. Does it suggest an explanation of the purpose for Christian
[In this study we shall endeavor to answer these questions, first by
reviewing the historical record concerning Jesus' baptism...]
      1. From Galilee to the Jordan River - Mt 3:13a
         a. Jesus had been living in Nazareth, a city of Galilee 
            - Mt 2:23
         b. John had been baptizing in the Jordan River, where there
            was much water - Mt 3:5-6; Jn 3:23
      2. To be baptized by John - Mt 3:13b
      1. John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized - Mt 3:14a
      2. He explains why:  "I need to be baptized by You, and are You
         coming to Me?" - Mt 3:14b
         a. There is a sense of shock in John's words
         b. While John did not fully comprehend who Jesus was until
            later (cf. Jn 1:29-33), he evidently knew enough that he
            was perplexed
      1. Jesus convinces John to permit His baptism - Mt 3:15a
      2. As Jesus explains why:  "It is fitting for us to fulfill all
      3. And so Jesus is baptized by John - Mt 3:15b
      1. The heavens open, and the Spirit of God descends like a dove
         (in bodily form, Lk 3:22) and lights upon Jesus - Mt 3:16
      2. A voice from heaven proclaims:
         a. "This is My beloved Son"
         b. "In whom I am well pleased"
[Without question, the baptism of Jesus was a significant event!  It 
naturally raises several questions which I will try to answer...]
      1. Clearly not for the same reason other people were being 
         baptized by John
         a. Theirs was a baptism of repentance for the remission of
            sins - cf. Mk 1:4
         b. They were confessing their sins - cf. Mk 1:5; Mt 3:6
         -- Jesus was without sin - He 4:15
      2. Jesus said it was "to fulfill all righteousness" - Mt 3:15
         a. It was God's counsel that people be baptized of John 
            - cf. Lk 7:29-30
         b. Jesus was willing to set the right example by doing the
            Father's will, something He delighted to do - Ps 40:7-8;
            Jn 4:34; 8:29
      3. It also served to introduce Him to John and Israel
         a. John had been proclaiming that He was coming - Mt 3:11
         b. John had been told that the Spirit coming upon Jesus would
            be a sign - Jn 1:29-34
      1. Many refer to Jesus' baptism to explain the purpose of 
         Christian baptism
         a. That our baptism has nothing to do with the remission of
         b. That our baptism is but a public profession of one's faith
         c. That our baptism is to publicly identify our relation to
            Christ, just as His baptism publicly introduced Him to
      2. However, there is no Biblical connection made between Jesus'
         baptism and our own
         a. Christian baptism is for the remission of sins - Ac 2:38;
         b. Christian baptism is a union with Christ in His death 
            - Ro 6:3-7
         c. Christian baptism was often administered in relative 
            privacy - Ac 8:35-38; 16:25-34
      -- No Biblical writer suggests that we are baptized for the same
         reason Jesus was!
      1. They certainly bear testimony as to who Jesus is
         a. As the Spirit would do later, via the works Jesus did 
            - Mt 12:28
         b. As the Father would do later, on another occasion - Mt 17:5
      2. They also bear testimony to the nature of the Godhead
         a. I.e., three distinct persons in One God
         b. Though One in substance, there is a distinction to be made
            between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - cf. Mt 28:19
1. With the baptism of Jesus...
   a. He was formerly introduced to John, and by him to Israel - Jn 1:
   b. The Father and the Spirit audibly and visually confirmed Him as
      the Son
   c. Jesus demonstrated His desire to "fulfill all righteousness"
2. The baptism of Jesus is certainly significant to Christians...
   a. Not we were baptized for the same reason as He
   b. But certainly in confirming that He was the Messiah
   c. And displaying the attitude that should be true of all His
      disciples ("I have come to do my Father's will...")
Jesus did not "need" baptism because He was without sin, but was
baptized anyway because it was the Father's will for man at that time.
Should we who are sinners dare hesitate to do the Father's will
regarding baptism today? - Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15-16; Ac 2:38


--《Executable Outlines