Matthew 3

Matthew 3:1

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,

(a) John the Baptist. The original word for baptist is a verb (baptizō), so a more accurate translation would be John the Baptizer. Although Matthew and Luke referred to John as John the Baptist (e.g., Matt. 3:1, 11:11, 14:2, 8, 16:14, 17:13, Luke 7:20, 33, 9:19), Mark consistently called him John the Baptizer (e.g., Mark 1:4, 6:14, 24-25, 8:28).

(b) Preaching. The original word (kerusso) means to herald as a public crier. This is one of three words that are commonly translated as “preaching” in the New Testament. See entry for Acts 5:42.

Matthew 3:2

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

(a) Repent. To repent means to change your mind. In context, it means changing your mind about Christ and the goodness of God (Rom. 2:4). “Change your unbelieving mind and believe the glad tidings of the kingdom that has come.” See entry for Repentance.

(b) The kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God refers to the reign of God (Matt. 6:10). (Kingdom means king’s domain.) It is the superior reality of heaven in contrast with the fallen realms of this world (John 18:36). The kingdom of heaven is the grace-filled rule of the Lord that releases righteousness, peace and joy (Rom. 14:17). In contrast with earthly kingdoms which wax and wane, the kingdom of the Son starts small, grows and endures forever (Ps. 145:13, Matt. 13:32, Rev. 11:15). We enter the kingdom by repenting (turning to God) and putting our faith in King Jesus.

Since God the Father and the Son are one (John 10:30), the kingdom of God is the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5). In the present age, the kingdom of heaven on earth is synonymous with the Body of Christ or the church.

(c) At hand. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a coming king or kingdom from heaven (Is. 9:6–7, Dan. 2:44, Zech. 9:9). The last of these prophets, John the Baptist, said the kingdom had arrived or was at hand. He was speaking of the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ, the promised King (Dan. 7:13–14). Jesus began his ministry with the same words (Matt. 4:17) and so did the disciples (Matt. 10:7).

Matthew 3:6

and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

Baptized. The original word implies total immersion. See entry for Baptism.

Matthew 3:7

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

(a) The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two rival Jewish sects that controlled the ruling council or Sanhedrin. The Pharisees were recognized as more devout, while the corrupt Sadducees had the wealth and power. Although the two groups differed in their theology (the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection; Acts 23:6–9), they were united in their opposition to Jesus (Matt. 16:1, 6).

(b) Baptism. See entry for Baptism.

(c) You brood of vipers. The image is of snakes escaping the fire.

The Pharisees and Sadducees comprised the two dominant political parties in Israel’s ruling council. Evidently John considered the Sanhedrin to be little more than a nest of snakes.

(d) The wrath to come. Within a generation Jerusalem would be torched by the Romans.

Although the Bible speaks of Judgment Day and the wrath to come (1 Th. 1:10), it also describes the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in terms of wrath (1 Th. 2:16). John is talking about the second kind of wrath here. The prophet John saw a bunch of grubby politicians coming out of the doomed city and he made a joke. “Who warned you crooks to flee?”

Matthew 3:8

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance;

Fruit. The religious leaders made a great show of avoiding sin and keeping the rules, but they didn’t do the one thing that mattered; they didn’t receive God’s Son when he come.

The fruit of repentance is faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Jesus is not looking for moral people or philanthropists; he’s looking for those who will put their trust in him. Jesus spent three years in Israel looking for the fruits of repentance – faith in him – and when he found little he cursed a fruitless fig tree (see entry for Mark 11:13).

Matthew 3:10

“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

(a) The axe is already laid at the root. The law-keeping covenant that Israel had with the Lord is coming to an end.

(b) The root. The self-righteous root of unbelief cannot sustain you. We are meant to be rooted in Christ (Rom. 11:18).

(c) Every tree that does not bear good fruit. The tree is the unbelieving nation of Israel.

This warning is not directed to Christians, but self-righteous religious people such as the Pharisees and Sadducees of verse 7. See also Matt. 23:33.

Further reading: “The axe at the root

(d) Fire. The ungodly and all those things that are opposed to God’s reign will be destroyed by fire (Matt. 13:41, 2 Pet. 2:6, 3:7). Both John the Baptist and Jesus spoke of the fire of divine judgment; see entry for Luke 12:49.

Matthew 3:11

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

(a) Baptize… baptize. The original word implies total immersion. See entry for Baptism.

(b) With the Holy Spirit; see entry for Mark 1:8.

Matthew 3:12

“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

(a) Winnowing fork. A winnowing fork was used to separate the chaff from the grain after threshing. Like many other Jews, John the Baptist expected the Messiah to purge Israel of Gentiles (e.g., Romans) and sinners. When that didn’t happen, John the Baptist began to wonder “Are you the Messiah?” (Matt. 11:2–3)?

Jesus said the kingdom had come, but how could that be so if evil was still present? “The wheat and tares are growing side by side,” said Jesus. The new has come, but the old remains. But one day Jesus will come with a winnowing fork and then the tares will be removed forever (see Matt. 13:40–41).

(b) Unquenchable fire is one of the many phrases and images Jesus uses to describe the ultimate destruction of those things which are opposed to God. See entry for Matt. 5:22.

Matthew 3:13

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him.

Baptized. The original word implies total immersion. See entry for Baptism.

Matthew 3:17

and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Beloved. The original word (agapetos) means dearly loved, esteemed, favorite and worthy of love. It is closely related to a verb (agapao) that means to be well pleased or fond of or contented. God the Father not only loves God the Son, but he is deeply fond of him and well-pleased with him (Matt. 12:18, 17:5, Mark 1:11, 9:7, 12:6, Luke 3:22, 9:35, 20:13, 2 Pet. 1:17).

This word also describes the believer who is in Christ. You are God’s beloved child. Your heavenly Father is fond of you. You are his esteemed favorite and he is well pleased with you.

All the epistle writers referred to believers as the beloved or dearly-loved children of God (see entry for Rom. 1:7).

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