Matthew 3


‘In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Matthew 3:1-3

John The Baptist Prepares The Way

The events written here are some twenty-nine years after what is recorded in the first two chapters of Matthew, Mark 1:1-8 / Luke 3:1-18.

John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, the son of the priest, Zacharias and his mother was Elizabeth, 1 Chronicles 24:10 / Mark 1:2-8 / Luke 1:5.

Zacharias and Elizabeth were both very old, and Elizabeth was unable to conceive, Luke 1:7. John’s birth was nothing less than miraculous. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, Judges 1:16 / Joshua 15:61 / Luke 1:80 / Luke 3:2.

Referring to the coming of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah had also said, ‘the Lord, who you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple’, Isaiah 40:3. And look who it is who’s coming, is to be announced!

400 years had passed since Malachi made that prediction, Malachi 3:1. 400 years during which the Jews had been waiting for and looked for the coming of the Messiah. But there had been 400 years of silence.

It was even longer because it was 700 years since Isaiah had spoken about the coming of ‘The Messenger’, Isaiah 40:3, but the time had now come.

John is preaching the kingdom of God, what does that mean? By the way, unless you look closely at Malachi’s prophecy you will miss something which is most important, Malachi 3:1. The prophecy speaks of someone called ‘my messenger’ that is, God’s Messenger.

It also speaks of ‘the messenger of the covenant’, Malachi 3:1. That’s two people. One is the messenger who prepares the way, that is, John. In Matthew 11:14 Jesus tells us that ‘HE (John) is Elijah who was to come!’ The other is the messenger for whom the way is prepared is the bearer of the New Covenant? It is Jesus.

Matthew sums up the mission of John in one word, the word ‘repent’, Luke 3:3 / Luke 13:3 / Acts 3:19 / 2 Corinthians 7:10. John has a message concerning the kingdom of God, Isaiah 2:2-3 / Daniel 2:44 / Daniel 7:13-14 / Matthew 11:11 / Matthew 19:23.

John came to ‘prepare’ a people but not for the purpose that the people imagined! For centuries, they had prayed for His coming, they believed that when the Messiah came, he would drive out the unclean Gentile Romans who were walking the holy streets of Jerusalem.

They believed that the Messiah would establish a Kingdom that would bring back the glorious days of Solomon. The result was that when Jesus came, they failed to recognise Him and they rejected Him, John 10:22-42.

I know this shocks us, but perhaps we should not be too shocked because, after all, John himself did not recognise Jesus at first! Only at His baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus did John realise who it was whom he had baptised! Matthew 3:13-17 / Luke 3:21-22.

And even then, when he was in prison, he expresses a troublesome doubt when he sends two messengers to Jesus with a question, ‘are you truly the one who was to come, or should we look for someone else?’ Luke 7:20.

‘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. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.’ Matthew 3:4-6

John’s clothing and the food he ate, Leviticus 11:22, demonstrated humility, self-sacrifice and self-denial, 2 Kings 1:8 / Matthew 3:4 / Matthew 17:9-13.

People would come from all around to hear him preach and after being convicted of their sinfulness, they would confess their sins and be baptised in the Jordan River, John 3:23.

John’s baptism, though it required repentance, Acts 19:4, looked forward to the coming of the One for whom John was a forerunner, that is, Jesus.

Jesus had not yet died when John baptized people and so, John’s baptism of preparation was looking forward to Jesus’ death, Matthew 3:3 / John 19:30. This shows that John’s baptism cannot be the baptism which Jesus commanded people to receive under the Gospel, Mark 16:15-16 / Matthew 28:18-20.

‘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. 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. The ax 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. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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.”’ Matthew 3:7-12

We should understand that Matthew’s record is a very abbreviated account of John’s ongoing ministry. Vast multitudes were pursuing John as he preached in ‘the wilderness of Judea,’ Matthew 3:1 / Matthew 3:5.

Some in the crowd were sincere, they confessed their sins and were immersed by John in the Jordan, Matthew 3:6. Others, quite obviously, were caught up in the emotionalism of the occasion.

Among these were Sadducees, those who didn’t believe in angels or the resurrection of the dead, Matthew 22:23-34 / Acts 4:1-2 / Acts 23:6-8. The Pharisees, were those who were obsessed with traditions, Matthew 15:1-9 / Matthew 23 / Mark 7:1-9 / Mark 8:11-15 / Luke 11:52 / Luke 18:9-15.

John characterised these Jews as ‘a brood of vipers,’ who would be advised to ‘flee from the wrath that is to come’, Matthew 3:7. This possibly has a more immediate reference to the destruction of Jerusalem.

The reference to ‘even now the axe lies at the root of the trees,’ Matthew 3:10, may possibly be speaking about the final day of human reckoning, Matthew 3:12.

They didn’t produce any fruit worthy of repentance, Acts 26:20 / Luke 17:4, and because they claimed that Abraham was their father, they thought this gave them special privileges, as God’s children, Genesis 12:1-3 / John 8:33 / John 8:39.

They didn’t understand that a real Jew, a son of Abraham was by faith, not genealogies, Matthew 8:11-12 / John 8:31-41 / Romans 2:28-29 / Romans 8:28-29 / Romans 4:1-5 / Romans 9:6-11 / Galatians 3:26-29.

The promise, ‘he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire,’ has reference to the apostles. The Saviour’s testimony in Acts 1 establishes this, ‘For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,’ Acts 1:5.

It will hardly be denied that there is a connection between Acts 1:5 and Matthew 3:11. The promise was fulfilled on Pentecost when the apostles received an ‘overwhelming’ measure of the Spirit’s power, Acts 2:1ff.

But what is the significance of the ‘fire’ in John’s statement? The immediate context would suggest that it is an allusion to the final fate of the wicked. Notice that ‘every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire,’ Matthew 3:10.

At the conclusion of Matthew 3:12, John continues, concerning Jesus, and says, ‘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.’

Why should the ‘fire’ of Matthew 3:11, be viewed as something different from that referenced in Matthew 3:10 and Matthew 3:12, without some sort of compelling justification?

John’s message focused on two themes that will help us get ready to receive Christ.

1. He preached about repentance.

To repent means to decide to change, to reconsider, Luke 3:3 / Luke 13:3 / Acts 3:19 / 2 Corinthians 7:10. John was telling his hearers that they had to reverse their life’s direction to get ready for Christ. Those who are unwilling to change could not come to Him.

2. John declared the greatness of Jesus.

He said Jesus was so great that he himself was ‘not even worthy to stoop down and untie His shoes’, Mark 1:1-8. This was an amazing declaration because one does not have to have much worth to untie somebody’s shoes.

In fact, in John’s day, untying shoes was considered to be a slave’s lowest duty. John wasn’t worthy to be Jesus’ humblest slave! So, for us to be ready to receive Jesus, we must repent, change our lives, and recognise His awesome greatness.

The Baptism Of Jesus

‘Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptised, 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 alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Matthew 3:13-17

The Lord’s baptism was an important event in His life. We need to understand that it wasn’t something that He accepted casually. On the contrary, it was an act about which He had clearly given deep thought. How do we know this?

We know this because He made a special journey in order to be baptised. The Lord travelled ‘from Galilee to Jordan’ to John, for a specific purpose, namely, ‘to be baptised by him’.

This means that His baptism was an event which He obviously regarded as of deep significance. Indeed, it isn’t too much to say that His baptism was only equalled in its importance by His later Transfiguration.

Matthew reveals, when Jesus took Peter, James and John ‘apart’ to the high mountain, this, too, was a deliberate and purposeful act. He had chosen these three apostles to become the witnesses of a very special event, as He was ‘transfigured before them’, Matthew 17:2.

They were meant to hear the Voice which said, ‘this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him’ and, as we know, this was the Voice which, at His baptism, had said, ‘this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,’ Matthew 13:17 / Matthew 17:5 / John 12:28-30.

The timing of the Lord’s baptism was deliberate. Luke tells us that it was after ‘all the people’ had been baptised that Jesus came to John to be baptised, Luke 3:21. John had come as the ‘forerunner’ of the Messiah, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, Malachi 3:1.

His task was ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’, and the baptism of Jesus marked the culmination of John’s own ministry, and he was able to say, ‘this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, and I must decrease,’ John 3:30.

It was a special message to John the baptiser but in a lesser sense, the baptism of Jesus also carried a more personal significance for John the Baptiser because it was the manner in which the identity of the Messiah was revealed to him, John 1:33.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to John, he already knew Jesus as a relative because of the relationship that existed between their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, Luke 1:36 / Luke 1:39-45, and he was aware of the sinless character of Jesus.

How otherwise, when Jesus asked to be baptised by John, could John tried to deter him and say, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Matthew 3:14. This surely indicates prior acquaintance.

My own view is that statement from John, wasn’t so much a question but more of an exclamation of surprise, of amazement! The one whom he knew to be so holy should request to be baptised by him.

But, although John knew Jesus, he didn’t know Him as the Messiah, until the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism, Luke 3:22 / John 1:32-34.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

1. The dove was a ‘clean’ creature under the ceremonial laws of the Jews.

2. It was used in their religious sacrifices, two, in fact, being offered upon the presentation of our Lord in the temple, Luke 2:24.

3. It is a monogamous creature! Stayed with the same partner all its life.

4. It is a symbol of peace.

5. It is a marvel of gentleness, love, and affection.

6. It is a messenger, the homing pigeon is a dove.

7. The dove has no gall, suggesting that there is no bitterness in the service of God.

Why Was Jesus Baptised?

To answer the question as to why Jesus was baptised, we fist need to ask, what is meant by ‘to fulfil all righteousness’? Although He lived as a Jew, faithful to the Mosaic law and all its requirements, Jesus wasn’t baptised ‘to fulfil the Law’, because baptism wasn’t commanded by the Law of Moses.

When John issued the call to his fellow Jews to ‘repent and be baptised’ Matthew 3:2 / Mark 1:4, this message was unique in Jewish history.

It was this new message that brought about the confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests and elders, Matthew 21:24-27. This passage tells us that Jesus challenged the religious leaders to say where John’s baptism originated.

Was it from heaven, or from men? But, of course, had there been a prior provision in the Law of Moses for such a baptism as John’s, the discussion would not even have taken place. It was this very uniqueness of John’s baptism that was the cause of the debate.

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t accept John’s baptism because it wasn’t a requirement imposed by the Mosaic Law and, therefore, they refused to submit to it. They were probably intolerant of those who were influenced by John and regarded them as ignorant and foolish.

As for it being ‘from God’, the religious leaders couldn’t accept the baptism commanded by John as a new revelation from God, because it hadn’t come through themselves. After all, they were the authorities who determined what was permissible in Judaism! They were the arbiters of true and false revelations!

And, again, these priests, scribes and Pharisees would have argued that they, as ‘children of Abraham’ and members of a nation that was in a covenant relationship with God, didn’t need baptism, Matthew 3:7-9.

They believed in the ritual washing of both their persons and their possession, as Mark explains, Mark 7:3-4. They saw baptism as a rite intended only for non-Jews who wished to become proselytes of their religion.

The strict rule was that any male Gentile who wished to embrace the Jewish faith must undergo first circumcision, then be baptised and then offer a sacrifice, whilst the law for a female declared that she must first be baptised and then offer a sacrifice.

This is because the act of baptism was regarded as the means of cleansing from the old, ‘heathen’ life and its sins, and the beginning of a new life in the Jewish faith. The converts were then said to be received, ‘under the wings of the Divine Presence’, the expression that was used to describe proselytism.

These rules meant that no devout Jew would have considered himself as a subject for repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, Luke 3:1-6. For this reason, John’s message fell on the ears of the people as both utterly new and startling.

In the light of the discussion between Jesus and the Jews on the subject of John’s baptism, we have to say that ‘to fulfil all righteousness’, means ‘to do everything commanded by God’, because the Lord made it clear that John’s baptism was commanded by God, John 1:29-34.

Why was Jesus baptised?

This is an interesting question because many people have come up with all kinds of theories and explanations over the years to try and explain why Jesus was baptised.

Jesus was baptised to please his mother!

Jesus wasn’t baptised to please his mother. There is an ancient document known as ‘the Gospel of the Nazarene’, sometimes called ‘The Gospel of the Hebrews’, but never regarded by the early Christians as divinely inspired.

This document claims that Mary and His brothers said to Jesus, ‘Behold, John Baptist baptises to the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptised by him. Jesus replied, ‘How have I sinned that I should go and be baptised by him? Perchance this very thing, that I have said is ignorance.’

The story continues to claim that Jesus was compelled, unwillingly, by Mary to go to John to be baptised. Is it any wonder that the early Christians rejected a document, which heard such unlikely tales?

Jesus wasn’t baptised for the forgiveness of sins”

Jesus wasn’t baptised for the forgiveness of sins, 2 Corinthians 5:21. Unlike the multitudes who flocked to John from all quarters, confessing their sins, Jesus had no sins to confess, Hebrews 4:15 / 1 Peter 2:22 .

The Reason For His Baptism

Jesus was baptised not only ‘to fulfil all righteousness’, Matthew 3:15, but also to mark the commencement of his own ministry. As the ministry of John ended, the ministry of Jesus began.

After recording the descent of the Spirit and the message of the heavenly voice, Matthew 3:16-17. Luke 3:23 reveals that after His baptism, at about thirty years of age, Jesus commenced His own public ministry.

As a boy in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus had revealed that He was aware of having a mission to fulfil, Luke 2:46-48, and for many years he waited for the moment to arrive when His work should commence.

The ‘forerunner’ had come as promised by the Scriptures, Malachi 3:1 / Matthew 11:10, with a message which had disturbed, convicted and prepared the people for the coming of the longed-for Messiah. They were ready and Jesus knew that His time had arrived.

When He asked John to baptise Him, John had protested but Jesus had insisted, ‘let it be so now’, Matthew 3:14-15. The ‘now’, is emphatic and it means ‘at this time’.

Therefore, the baptism of Jesus was both an act of identification with the repentant people whom He had come to save, and an act of commitment to the task the Father had laid on Him, John 1:11-12.

Just as Christ received the Holy Spirit to mark the beginning of His ministry, as Christians we too, at our baptism receive the Holy Spirit to mark the beginning of our ministry for Him, Acts 2:38 / Matthew 28:19-20.

Go To Matthew 4