Matthew 3:1-17 Comments by Stephen Ricker
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John the Baptist and Jesus' Baptism
Comments for Study 5

Matthew 3:1-17
Memory Verse: 2


I. A Voice in the Desert (1-12)

>1. Where did John the Baptist begin to preach? What did the quotation from Isaiah tell us about his person and ministry? (3) What was his lifestyle like? (4) Why did he live like this?

Matthew 3:1 "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea"

* "In those days" -Luke is more specific when John began his ministry. He was around thirty. Luke 3:1 says, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene--" The fifteenth year of his reign is 26 A.D.

* Jesus was physically born six months after John (Luke 1-3). John's ministry was before Jesus'. Around six months after John's ministry started Jesus started his ministry when he was baptised by John.

* "John the Baptist" -John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. John's parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth, of the priestly line of Levi. Before he was born the angle told them what John's mission would be. While John was still young he went into the desert to prepare for this mission by prayer and Bible study. His parents told him what little they knew but as John himself witnessed, God sent him to baptize and be a witness. John was a common name in Judea at the time. Baptist was one of his main functions of his ministry. All four gospel accounts tell of John's ministry with John's Gospel having many quotes from John. The book of Acts also mentions John the Baptist. (Acts 1:22, 19:3-4)

* "Baptism" -the Apostle Paul defines John's baptism in the following account, "Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all." (Acts 19:1-7)

* John's baptism is similar to but should never be confused with the Jewish rights. At some point close to the time of Jesus, Judaism began a heavy emphasis on ritual washings to cleanse from impurity. This goes back to priestly baths prior to offering sacrifices (Lev. 16:4,24). Probably shortly prior to the time of Jesus or contemporary with Him, Jews began baptizing Gentile converts, though circumcision still remained the primary entrance rite into Judaism. (from Holman Bible Dictionary)

* "preaching" -John's main purpose was to prepare the people for Jesus' coming. His main mode to do this was not baptism as some say. His main work to prepare people was to preach. Baptism was for Jews who accepted his message of repentance.

* "Desert of Judea" -Just north west of the Dead Sea on the Jordan River, east and south of Jerusalem, including the lower Jordan valley. Qumran was a days walk from John's location. Qumram to the south of John's location was the location of the temple treasury and the Essenes and/or the asylum for supporters of the traditional priestly family of the Zadokites against the Hasmonean priests assigned by Herod and Rome to serve in the temple in Jerusalem.

John the Baptist

* See an actor rendering John the Baptist clothes to the right.

>2. What was John's message? (2) What did he mean by, "the kingdom of heaven is near"? What does it mean "to repent"? What is the significance of his message in regard to preparing the way for the Lord? In regard to the coming of the kingdom of heaven?

Matthew 3:2 "and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.""

* "Repent" -J. Vernon McGee writes in his Thru the Bible commentary, "Repent is an expression that always has been given to God's people as a challenge to turn around. Repent in the original Greek is "metanoia", meaning "to change your mind". You are going in one direction; turn around and go in another direction. Repentance is primarily for saved people, that is, for God's people in any age. They are the ones who, when they become cold and indifferent, are to turn. That was the message to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3, and it was the message of the Lord Jesus Himself... Non-believers are to believe in Jesus which is part of repenting."

* H.A. Ironside wrote, "Such a ministry is needed greatly today when men have lost, in large measure, the sense of the sinfulness of sin. It is useless to preach the gospel of the grace of God to men who have no realization of their need of that grace. Only when the soul is awakened to see its uncleanness and unrighteousness in the eyes of a holy God will there be the cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner." (From H. A. Ironside Commentary –Matthew.)

* "the kingdom of heaven is near" -Concerning this verse John Calvin writes, "When John says, that the kingdom of God is at hand, his meaning is, that men, who were alienated from the righteousness of God, and banished from the kingdom of heaven, must be again gathered to God, and live under his guidance. This is accomplished by a free adoption and the forgiveness of sins, by which he reconciles to himself those who were unworthy. In a word, the kingdom of heaven is nothing else than newness of life,” (Romans 6:4,) by which God restores us to the hope of a blessed immortality. Having rescued us from the bondage of sin and death, he claims us as his own; that, even while our pilgrimage on earth continues, we may enjoy the heavenly life by faith." (Calvin's Commentaries)

* The definition of the Kingdom of God is simple and complex. The simplicity of it is that any kingdom is where a king has complete and unquestionable control and authority. Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Still, those of us under modern day governments cannot have a complete understanding of this type of kingship. Most modern day governments allow its citizens to have freedom to own land and a home and freedom to choose where we will live and what we will do. This is not so with kingdoms of the past and even some kingdoms today.

The complexity of the definition of the Kingdom of God is because of two basic differences between Jesus’ kingdom and man’s kingdoms. First, the kingdoms of men and women are limited by the fact that their kings could not be one in satisfying love with the souls and spirits of their citizens. Jesus on the other hand is bound to his bride in spirit. Paul wrote, “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:29-32)

Second, the complexity of the definition of the Kingdom of God for us also exists because the kingdoms of men have always been ruled by sinful people whose love, protection, and control are limited and constantly flexed in and out of existence. Thus, kingdoms of men eventually have had their citizens rebel and break away from what became an unjust rule. For example England’s King George III’s rule became unjust in his thirteen North American colonies so his citizens in those colonies broke away from his rule and formed a new nation. The same happened in India and other areas of the kingdom of England. Thus, the shortcoming of man’s kingdoms is that they are ruled by sinful people whose love, protection, and control are limited.

Matthew 3:3 "This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

* Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3. The last book of the Old Testament also foretells of John's coming. Malachi 4:5-6 says, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

* "A voice" -John was a voice in the wilderness to all who came to him. He was a eye witness of Jesus being the Messiah and Son of God. (Luke 1:8, Luke 3:2-3; Matt. 3:4-6)

* "A voice"-this is an abstract meaning, declare the message; be an instrument. No self identity. Delivered a message then disappeared. A voice once spoken slowly fades until it can no longer be heard.

* "in the desert" -John mission field was to be in the desert. Also, in the desert of man's empty heart.

* "Prepare the way for the Lord" -John's mission was to prepare the way for the LORD, Israelis' God.

* "make straight paths" -no longer going everywhere for help and comfort.

* John had a one-tracked-mind. He didn't want to think or talk about himself only Christ, his mission, and purpose. John lived for Christ. He was great in the eyes of God. (Matt. 11:11)

* John knew his position and mission. He prophesied about God and Christ. He was commissioned by God.

Matthew 3:4 "John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey."

* John lived was a humble simple life. He had just what he needed.

* He was different than his father who was a priest and therefore was paid for his work for God. John's salary was only locus and wild honey.

* John kept to the prophecy which said he would be in a desert. In a desert there is not much. So he made do with what he had.

* In this way he could identify with many who were suffering because of the Roman occupation and Herod's oppression.

* Prophets aren't spelled with an "f". They aren't suppose to get gain from it.

>3. How did the people respond to John and his message? (5-6) What does their response tell us about those times? About the people?

Matthew 3:5-6 "People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River."

* "from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan"-they were looking for the truth, but could not find it elsewhere, even in Jerusalem, where the religious teachers were.

* "confessing their sins" -In confessing our sins to a spiritual elder, we are also confessing to God. God already knows of our sins before we confess them. He does not need to hear it. We need to acknowledge them.

* People never heard the message of repentance before; not the way John and later Jesus taught it.

* They wanted to hear the message of repentance when they realized what blessings it brought.

* They were thirsty for the word of God and had so few places to hear it. They had to travel great distances to hear it.

* The people were far from God. They needed a messenger like John, before they could accept Jesus.

* Most people didn't know and/or accept and/or confess that they were sinners until John preached to them.

* Jesus later would tell his disciples that John was a light.

* Where there are true and good messengers, God will send people to hear.

* To teach repentance we need God's calling.

* Those who give the message of repentance, their life should show it as well.

New Testament Jewish Sects

>4. Who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees? (7a) Why did they go where John was baptising? Why did John rebuke them so severely? (7b-10) What direction did he give them?

Matthew 3:7-8 "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

* "Pharisees and Sadducees" -Jewish religious leaders came to John; the high priests who were Levis, the Pharisees who were teachers, and Sadducees who served in the temple.

* John's gospel also records the confrontations between John and the religious leaders, most from Jerusalem.

* "You brood of vipers!" -John spoke plainly about people's sins. He did not water it down. Snakes killed the Israelites when they wondered in the desert before they entered the promised land. John equated them with these snakes and thus also needed to repent in the heart, not just be baptised and cleansed outwardly. This offended the proud leaders. Whereas the humble common people accepted John's message of repentance.

* "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" -God will judge all the world for the actions they do and do not do in this life. John Calvin writes concerning this, "To flee from the wrath of God, is here taken in a good sense, that is, to seek the means of appeasing God, that he may no longer be angry with us. For a good part of men, in order to escape the wrath of God, withdraw themselves from his guidance and authority. But all that the sinner gains by fleeing from God, is to provoke more and more the wrath of God against him." (Calvin's Commentaries)

* "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" -turning away from sinful activities and turning to God is a change of life. H.A. Ironside writes, "John demanded evidence of repentance before he was willing to administer the sacred rite of baptism. While good works have no value so far as procuring salvation is concerned, the truly repentant one shows by a new life the reality of his profession by turning to God and away from his iniquities."

* John knew these men well. His parents were Levites who served in the temple in Jerusalem. John grew up with these self righteous leaders all around him. He knew his audience. Although all are sinners, before a preacher says, "Repent" he should understand his audience. Jesus taught repentance too; yet not to everyone in the same way.

>5. How did they justify themselves and avoid true repentance? What does it mean that God can raise up children for Abraham out of stones? (9) What does verse 10 mean?

Matthew 3:9 "And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham."

* John 1:12-13 states, "Yet to all who received him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."

* "out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham" -John's prophecy came true when Gentiles received Jesus as Lord and Savior by faith. Gentiles gained faith as Abraham did and thus became spiritual children of faith.

Matthew 3:10 "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

* Producing fruit is taught over and over again in the New Testament. Many of Jesus' parables speak of it. Here at the beginning of Matthew's gospel we should be eager to learn what Jesus is going to teach about producing fruit later in the book.

>6. How did John introduce Jesus (11-12) How does Jesus baptise people? What can Jesus do that John cannot? What does verse 12 mean? What does this tell us about the urgency of repentence?

Matthew 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."

* "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" -The Holy Spirit came on the apostles after Jesus ascended into heaven on Pentecost day. Fire baptism is yet to come.

* The chief part of his statement is, that he represents Christ as the author of spiritual baptism, and himself as only the minister of outward baptism... We must therefore hold by what I have already said, that John merely distinguishes, in this passage, between himself and the other ministers of baptism, on the one hand, and the power of Christ, on the other, and maintains the superiority of the master over the servants. And hence we deduce the general doctrine, as to what is done in baptism by men, and what is accomplished in it by the Son of God. To men has been committed nothing more than the administration of an outward and visible sign: the reality dwells with Christ alone. (Calvin's Commentaries)

Matthew 3:12 "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

* "His winnowing fork" -Jesus' preaching of the Gospel is the winnowing fork. A winnowing fork is used to harvest wheat and barley.

* "threshing floor" -A flat hard area, usually a rock that wheat stalks are beat against to knock the grain from the stalk.

* "gather his wheat into the barn" -not only to bring people to his safety while he was on this earth, but Jesus will instruct his angles to harvest all the believers both dead and living to meet him in the clouds as he descends. The church calls this the rapture.

* "burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" -hell. Jesus also uses this phrase when speaking of hell, the eternal punishment, the second death.

II. The Baptism of Jesus (13-17)

Jesus' Early Travels

>7. Why did Jesus come to be baptized by John? Why did John try to deter him from doing this? What does this tell us about John?

Matthew 3:13 "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John."

* "from Galilee" -As Matthew states earlier, Jesus grew up in Galilee. Now Jesus is going to start his ministry. He was around thirty years old.

* "to be baptized by John" -Not for repentance of sin, but as an anointing of ministry. All prophets needed a witness to confirm their ministry. Jesus ministry was confirmed by John.

Matthew 3:14 "But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

* John knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Luke's gospel tells us that Jesus' mother, Mary was a niece to John's mother, Elizabeth. They knew each other very well. Mary told Elizabeth about Jesus' miraculous conception and that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Elizabeth had been told by John's father, Zechariah that their son was to be the Messiah's forerunner. They must have taught John that Jesus, his second cousin was the Messiah.

>8. How did Jesus reply? What did he mean by, "to fulfill all righteousness"?

Matthew 3:15 "Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented."

* "Let it be so now" -Jesus was saying John should baptize him now with water and later Jesus would bless him in heaven.

* "to fulfill all righteousness" -John had to baptize Jesus to fulfill prophecy and to use so that people would understand who Jesus is.

* J. Vernon McGee writes, "Baptism means identification, and I belive identification was the primary purpose for the baptism of the Lord Jesus. Again, the reason Jesus was baptized was not to set an example for us. It was not a pattern for us to follow. Christ was holy - harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. He was baptized to completely identify Himself with humanity. There is a second reason Jesus was baptized. Water baptism is symbolic of death. His death was a baptism. You remember that He said to James and John when they wanted to be seated on His right hand and on His left hand in the kingdom, "You know not what you are saying. Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Matt. 20:22) You see Christ's death was a baptism. He entered into death for you and for me. There is a third reason... at this time He was set aside for His office of priest."

* H.A. Ironside writes, "It was our Lord's public dedication to the work of the cross for which He had come into the world. It is a very shallow interpretation indeed that makes the act of baptism the fulfilling of righteousness. In other words, it was not in order that He might set us a good example that Jesus was baptized, but rather that He might identify Himself with sinners."

* Peter said, "You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:37-38)

* H.A. Ironside writes, "He was anointed as prophet, priest, and king, and sealed by the same Spirit as the holy One of God, who alone could meet the need of a dying world.Here in Matthew's Gospel it is His anointing as the King to which our attention is directed particularly. Mark emphasized His prophetic office, and John presented Him as our great high priest, but this was after finishing the work the Father gave Him to do.

* Jesus referred to this baptism as God's seal of approval. (John 6:27)

John Baptises Jesus

* See a wood engraving by Gustave Dore (1832-1883) to the right. Dore's drawings were in Bibles that are now in public domain. This one was scanned in by

>9. What happened when John baptized Jesus? What does this event teach us about Jesus? Why was God pleased with Jesus' baptism?

Matthew 3:16-17 "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.""

* The trinity is seen here; the Father's voice, the Spirit of God descending, and the Son in the water.

* "heavens were opened" -even science has admitted that there are multiple realities, one on top of the other, all around us. We can not see them. They are there all the same.

* John had only heard from his parents that Jesus was the Messiah. He believed and obeyed them and the prophecies about him. Now his obedience was rewarded by hearing from God himself that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.