Matthew Chapter 3
1) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
a. The wilderness of Judea would have been the area between Judea and Galilee. Galilee was in the north of Judea was central to Israel with Jerusalem as the capital. In between was Samaria. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews. They practiced a form of Judaism that had mixed Jewish practice with the practice of other religions while maintaining a claim that they were the practitioners of the one Jewish religion. In John chapter 4 we see Jesus making a trip from Judea back to Galilee passing through the city of Sychar, a Samaritan city, where he encounters the woman at the well.
i. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. John 4:7-9
b. Jesus affirms that the religion of the Samaritans is inferior.
i. The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
c. This is why the parable of the good Samaritan is so powerful to the listeners.
2) 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:‘Prepare the way of the Lord;Make His paths straight.’ ”
a. Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven” interchangeably with the term “kingdom of God” because his audience was primarily Jewish and the Jews were very sensitive about using the word God. If you missed episode number 58 beginning the study of Matthew there is a more expanded discussion of this in that episode.
b. The Jews were expecting someone to come announcing the arrival of the Messiah. You are also expecting the return of Elijah the prophet.
c. Jesus says in Matthew 11:14 when speaking of John the Baptist “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come”
3) 4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
a. Clothing made of camel’s hair was rough clothing. We see people dressing in sackcloth as a sign of mourning or other repentance since it was scratchy and uncomfortable. Clothing made of camel’s hair was similar. John wore a leather belt, which was uncommon. Most people wore a sash made of cloth. But the prophet Elijah also wore a leather belt.
b. He ate locusts and wild honey which is a way of saying that he lived off the land. Most insects were considered unclean to the Jews. The exception were insects whose hind legs protruded above their bodies. Grasshoppers and crickets were not considered unclean. John’s diet required protein like anyone else’s.
c. Notice that John, as far as we know, did not hunt animals for his food. Whether this was supposed to be some kind of sign of his purity peaceful nonviolent nature we don’t know. Some have speculated this is the case.
4) 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
a. Somehow John had become quite famous. People all around knew of his fame. How he got started doing this is something we don’t really know. Perhaps he began stopping travelers as they came to get water at the Jordan. The prophecy in Isaiah says that he would be a “voice crying in the wilderness”. Perhaps he was the equivalent of our modern-day Street preachers. As people were passing by between regions he may have been preaching repentance and offering his baptism of repentance.
b. We know that he was baptizing in the Jordan and that routes of travel often followed the routes of rivers. It was likely that a great number of people would’ve come across John in transit and shared their experiences with other travelers they encountered as well as people at their destinations.
c. A quick word about the word “all”. Often biblical literalists like Norman Geisler say “all means all and that’s all all means”. “All” is used in Scripture as hyperbole quite often. You can imagine that not everyone in these regions had gone out to John to be baptized. A great many did, sufficient that Matthew uses the word “all” in telling the story. Hyperbole is when we use an expansive word to describe something. For example if someone says to you: “you should’ve come to the party, everyone was there” there indicating two things the first of which is that a lot of people the party the second of which is that it really wasn’t “everyone” since you didn’t go. So when you see the word “all” or other terms that could be considered hyperbole in Scripture be careful of being a biblical literalist.
5) 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
a. The Sadducees and Pharisees were competing denominations within Judaism. The Pharisees believed in the supernatural. Pharisees believed in angels and demons and the resurrection as well as the power of God in daily life. The Sadducees believed in none of this. The old joke goes that since the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, they were sad you see. This is an easy way to remember the difference between the two groups. The Pharisees tended to represent the working people and gave more weight to oral traditions. The Sadducees because of their lack of belief in the supernatural or more focused on politics and power than religion. Most of the Jewish leadership including the high priests were Sadducees. The Pharisees resisted the idea of the society adopting Greek and Roman ways while the Sadducees welcomed these things. In the end the one thing they seem to get along on was their opposition to Jesus.
b. A viper is a poisonous snake. It’s deadly in nature. I believe that John was saying that the religion of the Sadducees and Pharisees was deadly.
c. The wrath to come was the destruction of the temple and with-it Judaism.
i. In 70 A.D. the Roman armies came in and decimated Jerusalem. The slaughtered people in the streets and destroyed as much as they could of Judaism including the destruction of the temple.
ii. Many people think that Judaism is still practiced today, but it is not. Judaism requires a temple and temple sacrifices. The temple was the dwelling place of the spirit of God in the holy of holies. Judaism requires animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins on a continual basis. Christianity superseded this need and made the old covenant obsolete. Now we have a single sacrifice, that of Jesus and no more need of the spilling of animal blood since we have the spilt blood of Jesus himself.
iii. What is practiced today is Talmudism. Talmudism is a religion maintaining some of the ceremonial vestiges of Judaism. Jews who practice Talmudism today have no sacrifices for sins. Many Christians are confused thinking that those who practice Talmudism today are somehow honoring God or favored by God. The exact opposite is the case. In denying Jesus those who practice Talmudism are being disobedient to God in the same fashion as every other pagan religion. Muslims claim to follow the God of the Bible as well. Muslims even claim that Jesus is a prophet a claim that modern-day Jews don’t agree with. The Baha’i faith claims to be also honoring the God of the Bible in addition to other gods. Islam, the Baha’i, in modern-day Judaism are all religions that move Jesus down the ladder into some other position besides that of Savior. All of these religions deny the value of the sacrifice on the cross. Therefore all of these religions, including Judaism, are not only non-Christian, they are in fact anti-Christian.
iv. The wrath to come that John is speaking of is the wrath of God upon the Jewish leadership of the day for not recognizing Jesus as Messiah and for not following him. We will see when we get to Matthew 24 Jesus present predicting the destruction of the temple to happen within a generation. A generation in the Bible is 40 years. It was somewhere around 37 years after the crucifixion that the temple was finally destroyed. God in his forbearance allowed Judaism to continue as the call went out to the Jews first to repent and follow Jesus.
6) 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
a. John is telling them here that their ethnic Judaism makes no difference at all. We continue to see this theme developed throughout the Gospels and the balance of the New Testament especially Romans and Galatians both of which focus on how little value there is in being an ethnic Jew.
b. To be considered a son of Abraham one needed to come from a Jewish womb, from the 12 tribes of Israel. John is pointing out that God can raise up children of Israel from anything. This presages the argument that Paul makes in the latter part of Romans that the Israel of God has nothing to do with ethnicity but with being in Christ.
c. These verses also are predictive of the content of Hebrews indicating that the old covenant has passed away and is made obsolete by the new covenant.
d. So here John the Baptist is saying to the Pharisees and Sadducees that neither their ethnicity nor their Jewish practice would save them from the wrath to come. He was right, it didn’t
7) 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
a. Jesus also uses the example of good trees, of the vine. Paul uses the example of branches being cut off and thrown into the fire as well. The bearing of good fruit is the bearing of the gospel. As we find in James where he says James 2:17-18 “Thus also faith by itself, it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”. Those who are believers in Jesus are the bearers of good fruit.
b. Colossians 1:9-10 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
8) 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
a. John is still speaking here to the Pharisees and Sadducees letting them know that he himself was no big deal when compared to Jesus. His role was entirely preparatory.
9) 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
a. Grain was processed by putting it onto a floor made for this purpose and it would be scooped up with this winnowing fan which was less of a fan and more like a woven scoop. In lifting grain and tossing it in the air and back onto the pile the heads of grain would rub against each other rubbing the husks off of the heads of grain. These husks were called chaff and were discarded and burnt. This noun chaff is related to the verb chafe which is to rub together in a fashion that removes some material from the object of the chafing. John is saying that Jesus will come and gather what is valuable, his people but those who are not his people will be discarded. The words unquenchable fire here are used by the eternal conscious torment crowd as a proof text for the idea that hell is a permanent burning. They may be right in this. For a more expanded discussion of the three views of hell that have been held by the church check out episodes 50 from July 2023. For those of you on Facebook, you won’t find it there, Facebook removed it without explanation. It is available on the YouTube channel, on Rumble, on Gettr and in the audio podcast.
10) 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
a. It’s highly likely that John already knew Jesus at least from when they were boys although we can’t be sure of this. They were relatives as their mothers were cousins. Whether their mother mothers were first or second cousins or even third cousins isn’t exactly clear. It’s also likely that John hadn’t seen Jesus in years. They were related but their families didn’t live close together.
b. What we see here in this scene is that John recognized him as the Messiah. We also don’t have any clarity when John recognized this about Jesus. Whether it was from a young age or is revealed to him later by God.
c. In John chapter 1 and verse 31 we see John the Baptist saying this “I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” From this some argue that John didn’t know Jesus at all. My own belief is that he knew Jesus but that he did not know that he was the Messiah until the point at which God called him to be that voice crying in the wilderness. It’s even possible that John didn’t realize Jesus was the Messiah until the very moment he showed up to be baptized. The Bible doesn’t tell us at what point John learned who Jesus really was.
d. We also see here John the Baptist in a submissive posture. Again in John 3:30 we see him saying “He must increase, but I must decrease”.
11) 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
a. A natural question that arises is since baptism is for the remission of sins and Jesus was without sin, why would he be baptized?
b. One possible reason is that John’s ministry had become quite famous. John had disciples.
i. There is a group called the Mandaeans sometimes call the Sabians who are a modern day group that primarily existed in Iraq up until the US invasion. They’ve now been scattered with groups in Iran and the largest groups in Sweden. In the United States they have congregations in San Antonio, New York, Austin, Chicago and other metro areas. The Mandaeans believe John the Baptist to be the final prophet.
ii. It’s possible that Jesus allowed himself to be baptized by John so as to indicate that they weren’t in competition but in cooperation in this may also be the reason for John’s statements elevating Jesus so that his own followers will also follow Jesus.
c. We also see Jesus repeatedly saying that his miracles were performed through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the same way that a Christian receives the power of the Holy Spirit upon conversion, Jesus may have received the Holy Spirit at this point in his human experience. While he didn’t need to convert, or repent of his sins and be cleansed from them, His ministry did require the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that the human part of Jesus while being part of the Trinity had “emptied himself” Phil 2:7. I believe that was at baptism that Jesus became full of the Holy Spirit in the same way the Christians become full of the Holy Spirit upon conversion.
d. Another possible reason is that baptism is a metaphor for death and resurrection and this was Jesus’s message and being baptized
e. This is also the first time we see the concept of Jesus being declared the son of God in public. This declaration is that of God himself. It’s entirely possible and it seems likely from the story that the Pharisees and Sadducees were there to witness all of this making their refusal to see Jesus as the Messiah even more serious.