The interval between the last verse of the second chapter and the first verse
of this chapter measures the period of the life of Christ stretching from His
earliest childhood to His entrance on His public ministry, or close
thereupon. Meantime we are here brought to the time when appeared one
of the most distinctly marked, most honored, characters of all history.
John the Baptist, son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, was the child of prophecy.
He was one of the noblest expressions, if not the very noblest, of the true
prophet in his character and work. And as he sealed the testimony of his
life with his life’s blood, it was given him to win the brilliant crown that
awaits the prophet and martyr united in one. This is not the place for
anything resembling a dissertation on the prophetic character in general,
nor on the life and character of John the Baptist in particular. This only is
proposed here, to give expression to what may seem the leading
suggestions of this chapter as to “one called as was” John the Baptist,
prophet and herald of the Teacher, the Example, the Saviour of the world.
The Herald (vs. 1-12)
Parallel passages are found in Mark 1:1-8 and Luke 3:1-18. In reference to John
Ø His public appearance and proclamation (vs. 1-2),
Ø as foretold by Scripture (v. 3).
Ø His Elijah-like dress (v. 4).
Ø He is listened to by multitudes (vs. 5, 6).
Ø His faithful warning to typical Jews, and his pointing not to
himself, but to the Coming One (vs. 7-12).
The date at which he appeared is stated, in Luke 3:1, to have been in the fifteenth
year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; i.e. between August, A.D. 28, and August,
1 “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of
merely contrasting those past days of the beginning of the gospel with the
present, when the evangelist wrote (ch. 24:19, 22, where the days yet future
are contrasted with those present). In Mark 1:9 the expression is used
directly of the Lord’s baptism. And (Revised Version); δέ - de - those;
Hebrew usage taking up the narrative (compare Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1;
Ruth 1:1; Esther 1:1). Came; cometh (Revised Version); historic present (compare
ch. 2:19); παραγίνεται – paraginetai – came, is coming along, here equivalent to
“come forward publicly,” make one’s public appearance (compare especially
Luke 12:51; Hebrews 9:11; also especially I Maccabees 4:46; also infra,
v. 13 and here, ch. 2:1). John; Johanan. The name occurs first as that
of a high priest in, apparently, the days of Rehoboam (I Chronicles 6:9-10,
Authorized Version). “The Lord is gracious” was a fitting title for
one born by the special grace of God, and sent to be the herald of His grace
to all men (Titus 2:11). The Baptist:
(1) The Jews were far from having attained the simplicity of our present
system, by which each person has both a family and a Christian name, and
is thus designated with sufficient exactness for all the ordinary purposes of
life. Their custom of name-giving was, and still largely is, as follows:
(a) A Hebrew name is given to the child at circumcision. This is the holy
name, and is used at all strictly religious ceremonies; e.g. when called to
read the Law in the synagogue.
(b) Each person has a name whereby he is known among the Gentiles. This
is, at the present time, the name used for business and social purposes, and
may be either Hebrew or of some ether language. It is usually connected,
either in sound or meaning, with the holy name. So Paul and Saul,
Didymus and Thomas.
(c) He may have, either as well as or instead of the last, a name which
designates him more exactly
ü by mentioning his father or some other relation; e.g.
Bartimaeus, Barsabbas (probably);
ü by mentioning some physical, mental, moral, or other
peculiarity; e.g. James the Little, Simon the Zealot,
Barnabas (the son of exhortation), and, from non-biblical
James the Just, Rabbi
Astronomer, John the Shoemaker.
The title “the Baptist” belongs, of course, to this last class, and must have been
given him partly because of the number of persons whom he baptized, and still
more because baptism was the visible and external aim and result of his preaching.
(2) What was there new in John’s baptism? In considering this it must be
(a) dipping in water had been commanded in the Law as a religious rite to
priests (Exodus 30:20; 40:12; Leviticus 8:6) on their first
consecration to their office, and on each occasion that they fulfilled the
holiest parts of their duties (cf. the sprinklings of the Levites on their
consecration, Numbers 8:5-22); and to all Israelites in cases of
ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 19:13).
(b) It was very frequent among the Essenes
(c) It was, we can hardly doubt, already customary at the admission of
proselytes. There are, indeed, no certain allusions in Josephus, Philo, and
the older Targumists, to the baptism of proselytes properly so called; but:
ü it is distinctly mentioned in the Mishna, and in such a way
as to imply that it was an ancient custom, for the schools of
both Shammai and Hillel assume it as a matter of course;
ü as with books, so with customs, acceptance in two bodies
originally one, as the Jewish and Christian Churches were,
throws back the book or custom before the date of the
separation. In other words, it is most improbable that Jews
would only have begun to practice baptism at the
admission of proselytes after it had been practiced by a body
which had separated from them. Jews would not be likely to
adopt the distinguishing rite of Christians.
(d) Thus already, before John’s time, baptism was largely practiced as a
symbol of purification from sin and of entrance on a new and holier life.
Wherein, then, lay the distinguishing feature of John’s baptism? Apparently
in its being extended to all Israelites, without their having any personal
ceremonial hindrance, and more particularly in the special aim and purpose
to which it now referred. It signified the entrance upon a new life of
expectation of Messiah. As of old, the nation had accepted the offer of
God’s kingdom, and, having washed their garments (Exodus 19:10,14),
had been sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:8), so now, when this
kingdom, was about to be more fully manifested, not the nation, indeed,
considered as a whole, but (in harmony with the individualization of the
gospel) those persons who responded to the invitation, came forward and
publicly renounced their sins and professed their expectation of the
kingdom. It is thus easy to account for the deep and widespread
impression made by John the Baptist (compare Acts 18:25; 19:3),
and for the important position that he holds in summaries of the origins
of Christianity. John’s baptism was treated by our Lord Himself
as the first stage in His earthly ministry, which culminated in the gift of
the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), and naturally by the apostles as the historical
introduction to the teaching and work of Messiah. Josephus’s account of
John the Baptist is well known, but too interesting to be omitted. “Now,
some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army [by Aretas]
came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did
against John that was called the Baptist. For Herod had had him put to
death, though he was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise
virtue both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards
God, and so to come to baptism; for baptism would be acceptable to God,
if they made use of it, not in order to expiate some sins, but for the
purification of the body, provided that the soul was thoroughly purified
beforehand by righteousness. Now, as many flocked to him, for they were
greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, fearing that the great influence
John had over the people might lead to some rebellion (for the people
seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it far best, by
putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring
himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of his
leniency when it should be too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, in
consequence of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I
before mentioned, and was there put to death. So the Jews had an opinion
that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and
was a mark of God’s displeasure against him” (‘Ant,’ 18:5. 2, Shilleto’s
Whiston). Observe that:
(1) Josephus confirms the Gospel account of the extent of John’s influence
over his countrymen; but
(2) attributes his imprisonment and death to a political, not a moral, cause.
It is quite possible, on the one hand, that political reasons were not
altogether wanting; and, on the other, that Josephus was ignorant of the
more personal and stronger motive of Herod’s action. Preaching (κηρύσσων –
kaerusson – preaching; heralding; proclaiming). Unlike εὐαγγελίζομαι –
euaggelizomai – good news; glad tidings - this word refers, not to the matter,
but to the manner, the openness, of the proclamation. In contrast to the
esoteric methods alike of heathen philosophers and of Jewish teachers,
whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. The herald proclaims as a
herald; compare Isaiah 40:9 (the original context of our v. 3); Genesis 41:43
(Septuagint). In the wilderness. By this term is not necessarily meant
absolute desert, but “des lieux pen habites ou non cultives” (Neubauer,
‘Geogr. du Talm.,’ p. 52: 1868). The very place in which John preached
was part of the symbolism of his whole life. The expectation of Messiah
must lead to separation, but separation deeper than that of those who
called themselves the “separated’’ (Pharisees). Of
expression comes elsewhere only in the title of Psalm 63, and in Judges 1:16,
where it is defined as “in
the south of
different parts of the rugged district from
immediately on the west and north of the
distinctive titles — the wilderness of Siph (I Samuel 23:14-15), of Maon
(ibid. v, 24), of Engedi (ibid. ch.24:1), of Jeruel (II Chronicles 20:16),
of Tekoa ( ibid. v. 20) — the whole district was, as belonging to the tribe and
even more certainly to the kingdom and
of “the wilderness of
and later still at Aenon, near Salim, in, or on the
“Preaching in the wilderness of
was precisely a preacher, in the first and proper sense of that word.
Everywhere in the New Testament it implies proclaiming after the manner
of a herald. It is the term used in the Old Testament of the witnessing work
of the prophets (see Nehemiah 6:7; Isaiah 61:1; Jonah 3:2, etc.).
There is a distinct place for the preacher and for the teacher. They may be
combined in one man, and the processes of preaching and teaching may go
on together; but usually, if a man has the one gift, he has not the other; and
we are constantly making the mistake of expecting a man to have the one
gift because we see plainly that he has the other. Two things are gathered
up in the term “preaching.”
the agency, or medium, by means of which a message is conveyed. So John
calls himself a “voice,” because what he said was the all-important thing.
This is the idea of the prophet, who was the medium through which a
message of God was carried into the minds of men. It is essential to every
preacher that he should have something to proclaim; therefore what
Christian preachers preach is called the “gospel,” or “good news.”
Ø But the preacher must be sure of his message. Compare the expression
used by prophets, “The word of God came to me.” A preacher
proclaims, not what he thinks, but what he knows; what he grips as
THE TRUTH OF GOD given him to declare. The “accent of
conviction” is the test of the true preacher.
Ø And they who hear must feel convinced of the authority of the
messenger. Not an authority arising out of his office, but out of the
evidence that he holds a commission, and has a message. In what
sense can preachers nowadays be said to have their messages direct
MESSAGE. This brings to view the personal force of the preacher. To be
a herald HE NEED TO BE BUT A VOICE! To be a persuader he must
be a voice with a tone in it; and that tone is the personal element. See, then,
the kind of preachers that become men of power. They are men who “tell
the truth;” but they are much more than this — they are men who, like John
the Baptist, can “make the truth tell.”
2 “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
And (omitted by the Revised Version) saying. The parallel
passages give the substance of John’s preaching — the baptism of
repentance. St. Matthew takes, as it seems, a sentence that actually fell
from his lips, and presents it as the kernel of his message (“preaching…
saying”). This is the more interesting as nowhere else are we told any
words uttered by him in this the first stage of his ministry before crowds
flocked to hear him. Repent ye… at hand; said word for word by our
Lord (ch. 4:17, note). Repent ye (μετανοεῖτε – metanoeite – be ye repenting) . The
word expresses the central thought of true repentance, in speaking, as it does, of
a change of mind. Contrast μεταμέλεσθαι – metamelesthai – regretting - (ch.27:3;
II Corinthians 7:8-10). As such it goes deeper than the Old Testament
summons “Turn ye” (שובו), or the rabbinic תשובה, for it points out in
what part of man the alteration must be. (On your meaning more than the
mere thinking power, and including also the willing faculty. It is noticeable that
the Septuagint never, as it seems, translate שוב by μετανοῖν – metanoin - ,, but often
נחם (of man only in Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19; and possibly Joel 2:14; compare I Samuel
15:29), which refers to repentance as a matter of feeling. As Messiah was coming,
it was only natural that John should urge repentance. Similarly, we find late Jewish
writers expounding Genesis 1:2, “‘And the Spirit of God was moving [on the face of
the waters].’ This is the Spirit of King Messiah, like that which is said in Isaiah 11:2,
‘And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.’ By what kind of merit does it
draw near and come? It says, ‘upon the face of the waters.’ By the merit of
repentance, which is compared to water, as it is written (Lamentations 2:19), ‘Pour
out thy heart like water’. . But, unfortunately, they assign far too legal a meaning
to the word, and their phrase, “do repentance” (עשה תשובה), becomes almost
identical with the “do penance” (poenitentiam agite, Vulgate) of the Roman
Catholics (cf. Talm. Dab., ‘Sanh.,’ 97 b).
The Plea by Which Repentance is Urged. (v. 2)
“For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There seems to be evidence that
Ceremonial religion took the place of practical righteousness, rabbinical
rules covered personal indulgence and iniquity, luxury enervated the
wealthy, and restlessness led to crime among the masses. It was a time
when a moral reformation was needed, and John was, first of all, a national
reformer. What John sought was the national repentance — the change of
mind of the nation (compare Jonah’s preaching to
individuals, not in relation to their private concerns, but as representatives
of the nation; so we find that he convicts of the sins of classes, not of
personal sins. From this point of view John’s work can be effectively
compared with that of the ancient prophets (e.g. Elijah), who were
essentially national reformers. Those old prophets had demanded national
repentance as a preparation for some special manifestation of the delivering
or restoring power of God. The revelation of grace could not come unless
men were morally prepared to receive it. So John pleads that the Messianic
manifestation is close at hand, is at the doors; and there should be
readiness to receive it. Illustrate by the Eastern custom of demanding that
the roads should be repaired when an Eastern king proposed to visit a
o the sinfulness of sin,
o the certain consequences of sin,
o the future judgment on sins.
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade
men.” This is right for the individual. Partly right. But even for the
individual it may be doubted whether the revelation of Divine grace is not a
more truly humbling force. “A sense of blood-bought pardon soon
dissolves a heart of stone.”
The “kingdom of heaven” is the manifestation of God’s delivering grace
and power, the fulfillment of the national hope. He says, because God is
gracious, therefore repent. The apostle ventures to declare that the
“goodness of God” should “lead to repentance.” And that is true to human
nature, though doctrinal theologies have tended to obscure the truth. Love
is the great melting, humbling power. God’s redemption is the true
convicter of sin.
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.” For. The reason for John’s appearance and proclamation lies in
prophecy. This is he that was spoken of (οῦτος γὰρ ἐστιν ὁ ῤηθείς – outos gar estin
ho rhaetheis – for this is the one being declared). In John 1:23 the following quotation
is uttered by the Baptist himself, and some commentators have supposed this to be
the case also here. But
(1) this is against the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.
(2) The form of the expression in John arises directly from the context.
(3) In the Baptist’s mouth the neuter (τοῦτο... τὸ ῤηθέν – touto…..to rhaethen –
that…one ) rather than the masculine would have been more natural.
The expression is doubtless that of the evangelist, suggested to him by John’s own
utterance, the “is” (ἐστιν – estin - is) expressing John’s permanent character. Contrast
εϊχεν η΅ν - eichen aen - had the, (v. 4) of his clothing and food. [He that was] spoken
of. The expression means, not a mere reference found in Isaiah, but the absolute
content of the prophet’s words. The utterance of God by means of the prophet is —
John the:Baptist. The Prophet Esaias; Isaiah the prophet (Revised Version);
the commoner Greek order (but compare Luke 4:17). The voice, etc. (except
“His” for “our God,” from the Septuagint of Isaiah 40:8). The Hebrew
probably joins “in the wilderness” with “prepare ye,” but St. Matthew with
“crying” (compare v. 1, “preaching in the wilderness,” as probably the Septuagint)
In Isaiah the original meaning of the passage was probably, “prepare for the
process in semi-civilized countries of repairing roads before a great
personage comes along them. Zacharias had; years before, applied the
similar expression in Malachi 3:1 to his son (Luke 1:76; compare Mark 1:2). (For a
metaphor like in kind, but with contrasted meaning, compare Galatians 5:7,
ἐνέκοψεν – enekopsen – hinders - from ἐγκόπτω – enkopto – to cut into - was
used of "impeding" persons by breaking up the road, or by placing an obstacle
sharply in the path; hence, metaphorically, of "detaining" a person unnecessarily;
(Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words); breaking up a road to
render it impassable.) Paths (τρίβους – tribous - highways). According to Philo,
the word is equivalent to “a carriage-road” (ἱππήλατος καὶ ἁμαξήλατος ὁδός vide in
Wetstein). It is thus equivalent to the Hebrew (m’ sillah, “a highway,” “a
made road”). Possibly the plural was employed by the Septuagint rather than the
singular of the original, from their interpreting the passage, not of the
return of the Lord to
Preparation for Christ (vs. 1-3)
It was no accident that brought about the conjunction of the mission of
John the Baptist with the advent of our Lord. A Divine providence, the
purpose of which was declared in an ancient prophecy, connected the two
events. The conjunction is shown by that prophecy not to be like one of
binary stars. The work of Christ is not associated with that of John. The
Baptist is but the forerunner — the pioneer opening up the way for the
receive their Messiah; they needed the preliminary work of the prophet of
the wilderness to make them rightly susceptible to the new influences of
the kingdom. The world will not welcome its Saviour till the way has been
made ready for His approach. Individual men and women are far from the
kingdom of heaven, and the intervening district is wild and impassable till
God makes a providential path across it. The ploughman must precede the
sower. It is the work of John the Baptists to break up the fallow ground.
Sometimes the messenger comes in the form of a great sorrow. Men are
arrested and aroused, made to feel their helplessness and their need. Then,
but not till then, they may receive the kingdom.
METHOD OF SALVATION. John the Baptist is very different from Jesus
Christ. The one is a recluse, the other a brotherly, sociable Man; the one
lives in a wild, antique fashion, the other quite simply and naturally; the one
speaks in thunder, the other in the still, small voice of sympathy and “sweet
reasonableness.” Nevertheless, John prepares for Jesus. The furnace that
melts out the ore is harsh and fierce, yet it is making the metal ready for the
goldsmith to work up into his beautiful design. Most un-Christlike
experiences may bring us near to Christ.
CHRIST IS REPENTANCE. The burden of the Baptist’s message was
“Repent!” It is not to be supposed that he only preached the word. He
must have labored to produce the thing; he must have made it his aim to
lead his hearers to a deep sense of their sin. Until a man owns his guilt he
will not seek pardon. The reason of this is obvious directly it is perceived
that salvation is just deliverance from sin; for who would wish for such a
salvation while still clinging to his evil habits? To such a person Christ
would appear not at all as a deliverer, but rather as an invader, as a robber
who came to steal the choice treasures of the heart.
Baptist urges his hearers to lose no time in making themselves ready for it.
The vision of the better life reveals the shame and horror of the life of sin.
If there were no hope there would be no repentance; in such a state the
awakened conscience could only plunge the soul into remorse — which is
hell. Therefore the message of the Baptist must be twofold. It is not right
or wise to preach of sin by itself, nor to try to induce repentance chiefly by
painting the guilt of the past in the blackest colors. The anticipation of
Christ is the best inducement to REPENTANCE.
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.”
With this verse we begin to meet with matter peculiar to Matthew and Mark.
And the same John (αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάνης – autos de ho Ioanaes – he yet the John).
(For the phrase, compare Mark 6:17; Luke 3:23.)
(1) If the Revised Version “Now John himself,” holds good, the phrase
seems to mean that not only did Isaiah speak of him in terms that implied
that he was the forerunner of Messiah, the true Elijah (Mark 1:2), but
also he himself had his very food and dress consistent with his office.
(2) But it is safer to take αὐτός as merely recalling the person before mentioned.
“Now he, whom I spoke of, John” (compare II Chronicles 32:30). Had; during all
that time (εϊχεν – eichen - had). His habitual dress, etc., was as follows. Of (ἀπό -
apo – of). camel’s hair. Not, as Dgr Old Lat. a in the parallel passage in Mark,
δέῥῤην – derraen – pellem, “a camel’s hide,” but coarse cloth made from the hair.
So probably, “hairy man” (II Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4). And a leathern girdle.
Probably of sheep or goatskin, worn over the garment. Mentioned because
a. it formed another point of similarity to Elijah;
b. girdles were frequently very costly (cf. Smith’s ‘Dict. of Bible,’ 1:701).
Every part of John the Baptist’s dress was for use, not ornament. And his meat; food
(Revised Version); τροφή - trophae – meat - not βρῶμα – broma - food. He cared not
what he ate, but what nourished and supported him. Was. The right order of the
words (ἡ δὲ τροφὴ η΅ν αὐτοῦ - hae de trophae aen autou – the yet nourishment of him)
lays slightly more stress on the continuance of this mode of life. Locusts. Used for
food in the East from he remotest times until now. Four kinds are permitted in
Leviticus 11:22. “The wings and legs are torn off, and the remainder is sprinkled
with salt, and either boiled or eaten roasted” (Meyer). They are mentioned
in Talm. Bab., ‘Ab. Zar.,’ 4:0 b, as being sold after preservation in wine.
The word ἀκρίδες – akrides – locusts - identification of these locusts with the pods
of the carob, or locust tree, such as the prodigal son would fain have eaten.
It seems that Jewish Christians of Essene and therefore vegetarian
tendencies read ἐγκρίδες – enkrides - cakes) here. Such at least is the most natural
meaning, accepted by Epiphanius, of a quotation which he gives from the
Ebionite Gospel according to the Hebrews (vide Tischendorf, in loc.) (On
the theory that John the Baptist was an Essene, cf. Bishop Lightfoot,
‘Colossians,’ p, 161, edit. 1875.) And wild honey. This apparently simple
phrase is, notwithstanding, of doubtful interpretation.
(1) Probably the honey of wild bees. This is still to be found in trees and
rocks, and must have been much more common before the greater part of
the timber was cut down (compare Judges 14:8; I Samuel 14:25;
Psalm 81:16). Bee-keeping was a favorite pursuit of the Essenes
(Philo, 2. p. 633), and the Talmud has frequent notices of hives and the
methods of taking bees, etc. (vide Hamburger, ‘Real-Encyc,’ 1. s.v.
“Biene”). Hence the need for the addition of some such epithet as “wild,”
although there seems to be no independent parallel instance of the exact
word used (ἄγριον – agrion - wild); cf. Pliny’s “mel silvestre.”
(2) Possibly “tree-honey” (so Weiss, ‘Marc.,’ p. 44; ‘Life,’ 1:308), a sweet
vegetable juice obtained from dates (vide Josephus, infra) and grapes (as
probably in Genesis 43:11; Ezekiel 27:17), and perhaps directly from wild
trees, such as the manna ash and the tamarisk. So distinctly Suidas (A.D.
1100). “The forerunner ate locusts and wild honey, which is gathered
together from the trees, and is commonly called manna.” Diodorus Siculus
(B.C. 8) seems to use the epithet “wild” (ἄγριον) to distinguish this
vegetable honey from that commonly in use (cf. Nicholson, ‘Gosp.
Hebrews,’ p. 35). Josephus (‘
watered by the fountain of
watered by it, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of
them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey not much inferior
to other honey. This country withal produces honey from bees.” But the
former interpretation seems the more probable.
The Herald (vs. 1-4)
“In those days,”
viz. while Jesus dwelt at
and reproach, “came John the Baptist,” viz. to herald Him. Man’s order is
to champion that which is popular, God’s order is to herald TRUTH!
Ø In this quality he was predicted.
o Gabriel stood at the right side of the altar of incense, evidently
in response to the prayer of Zacharias which had ascended with
the incense. Gabriel promised Zacharias that he should have a
son in his old age, gave directions for the ordering of the child,
adding, “And he shall go before the face of the Lord in the
spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the heart of the fathers to
the children,” etc. (Luke 1:11-17).
o Gabriel’s words clearly allude to those of Malachi, “Behold, I
will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great
and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of
the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to
their fathers,” etc. (Malachi 4:5-6).
o “Elijah,” in these passages, comes in two senses, and on the
same principle it is evident that the place in Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-3),
in the text applied to John, is in its ultimate sense also applicable
to the Tishbite.
Ø John accordingly behaved like Elijah.
o His dwelling was in the wilderness. There he was brought up
(Luke 1:80). There he exercised his ministry. Note: We get
our moral strength for the rough work of life by retirement
o John applied to himself the words of Isaiah, “I am the voice,” etc.
(see John 1:23). Note:
§ John was simply the “voice,” Jesus is the “Word.”
§ This voice arose out of silence. Zacharias was dumb until
he pronounced the name of “John.” So we, until visited
by the pledges of His mercy and grace, are dumb before
o His diet was the wild food of nature. “Locusts” were “clean”
(Leviticus 11:22). Our conversation should be pure. “Wild honey,”
whether from the rock in which the bee had swarmed, or the
saccharine exudation from the palm, date, or olive trees (see
Deuteronomy 32:13; I Samuel 14:26). Note: Men of heavenly
tempers are not epicures in earthly food.
o He wore a rough garment. This appears to have been the usual
dress of the prophets (see Isaiah 20:2; Hebrews 11:37). Therefore
psuedo-prophets assumed it (Zechariah 13:4). John’s garb
particularly resembled that of Elijah (II Kings 1:8). The girdle
of dried skin, rough and strong, denoted the wearer to be a
man of resolution, like his prototype (Luke 12:35; I Peter 1:13).
Note: If John’s dress was plain in the sight of men, he was
himself “great in the sight of God” (Luke 1:15). Let us not
plume ourselves upon our clothes, or value our fellows by
Ø Yet is John distinguished from that prophet.
o He distinguished himself. When priests and Levites demanded if
he were Elijah, he said, “I am not” (John 1:21).
o Jesus also distinguished him. “If ye are willing to receive it, this is
Elijah which is to come.” So after John’s death He said, “Elijah
indeed cometh first and restoreth all things” (ch.11:14; Mark
9:12). John Baptist did not “restore all things.”
o It is evident that in these prophecies there is a double sense.
They point to two advents of Jesus. In the first He came to
set up a spiritual kingdom, and was heralded by Elijah in
“spirit and power.” In the second He will come to establish
a visible kingdom, and will be heralded by Elijah in person.
Ø His testimony was unequivocal.
o The “Lord” whom he proclaimed is styled “Jehovah” in Isaiah.
John pointed out Jesus of Nazareth as that very personage (see
John 1:15, 29).
o Herein was John the greatest of all the prophets (ch.11:9-11).
o Other prophets gave marks and tokens by which Christ
o might be known. John pointed Him out IN PERSON!
The greatest triumph of prophecy is to bring men to the
personal Jesus, in their very soul to see Him as the
Ø His qualifications were unimpeachable.
o John was indicated as a prophet of the Lord in the extraordinary
circumstances of his birth (Luke 1:5-25). In these he resembled
Samson and Jeremiah (Judges 13.; Jeremiah 1:5).
o He had his commission immediately from heaven (Luke 3:2).
o The Jews acknowledged him. Multitudes of them came to
his baptism (v. 6). No one disputed his claims (ch.21:26;
Mark 11:32 Luke 20:6).
o The testimony of John to Jesus is therefore most valuable. The
marks by which John identified Jesus as the Christ were Divine
and inimitable (John 1:32-34). It is difficult to conceive how
the unbelieving Jews can dispose of John’s testimony.
Ø He heralded it as the kingdom of the heavens.
o The Christian discipleship is a kingdom.
§ It has subjects.
§ It has a King.
§ It has laws.
o It is called the kingdom of the heavens.
§ Its principles are those of heaven.
§ In the heavens its principles are made eternal.
§ It prepares its subjects for translation to the heavens.
o It is in “spirit and power” the “kingdom of the God of heaven”
described by Daniel (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14). In the other Gospels
is called the “
o John, though a priest, never officiated in the temple. But he
introduced the Lord of the temple (Malachi 3:1). Was there
not here an intimation that the priesthood of Aaron was now
to give place to that of Melchizedek?
Ø He proclaimed its near approach.
o The coming of the kingdom in “spirit and power” dates from
the ascension of Christ (compare Psalm 110:1-2; Luke 19:12-14).
That event was indeed “at hand,” but not the coming of the
kingdom in visible glory.
o The spiritual kingdom is entered by faith. Believers do not pass
out of it at death. In that “article” Jesus, however, comes in
Person, though invisibly, to receive them to Himself (John 14:1-3).
Ø He therefore preached repentance.
o “The voice,” etc. The imagery here is borrowed from the practice
of Eastern monarchs, who on taking a journey or going on a
military expedition, used to send persons to “form the road.”
So repentance must:
§ Bring down the eminences of pride, presumption,
§ Fill up the hollows of inattention, apathy, despondency.
§ Straighten the crooked places of prejudice, censoriousness,
§ Smooth the rough places of sabbath-breaking,
drunkenness, profanity, immorality, instability.
o John’s garb and mode of living preached. His habits were in
keeping with his doctrine. Sweet is the harmony between the
lip and life. (Our lips do not promise that which our hearts
cannot keep! CY – 2015)
o The time of his preaching was opportune. Jewish writers admit
that their nation was then fearfully degenerated. They soon
filled up the measure of their iniquity. No preaching was more
needed than that of the Baptist.
o The place also was opportune. The mind of every man, whether
Jew or Gentile, is like the wilderness in which John preached,
and needs his stirring words.
5 “Then went out to him
consequential, “thereupon”; so also v. 15; ch. 2:7, 16. John’s preaching and manner
of life were not without effect. Went out; ἐξεπορεύετο – exeporeueto – went out
(similar in the parallels). Our Lord, when referring to this (ch. 11:7-9), uses
the commoner ἐξήλθατε – exaelthate – ye came out, merely indicating
the crowds leaving for a while their present surroundings. The synoptists
here point rather to the trouble involved and the distance traversed (compare
Mark 6:11 with 12). The singular is used (as often in the Hebrew)
because the writer’s first thought was of
added as an afterthought. All (compare ch. 8:34); i.e. from all parts and
in large numbers.
part of the next expression, but the reference here is especially to the hill
country. And all the region round about Jordan; i.e. the inhabitants of
the Ghor, the
river. “Strabo, concerning
the plain bordering on
It is a place of an hundred furlongs, all well watered, and full of
dwellings” (John Lightfoot, ‘Her. Heb.’).
There was a fascination about John the Baptist which drew all classes. The very
sight of an old prophet of the extinct type was worth a day’s journey to the
wilderness. It became the fashion to see John and be baptized. The authorities
paid him a compliment they can have paid to very few — they sent a deputation
to ask him if he was the Messiah. (John 1:19-24) But a public character or a
preacher may be very popular, and yet the impression he makes may be superficial
and transitory. Some were guided to Jesus by John, but it is difficult to say how
far he succeeded in his object.
6 “And were baptized
of him in
And (they, Revised Version) were baptized. The Revised
Version probably desires to call attention to the change in the verb from
singular to plural. In
manuscripts). So also parallel passage in Mark. By him; i.e. their baptism was
not self-imposed, but an act of submission to his teaching, and of acceptance
of his message. The forerunner saw results, not merely in crowds of listeners,
but in external actions. By him (contrast John 4:2). Confessing their sins;
i.e. in at least some
detail; cf. Josephus, ‘
and their transgressions of the laws of their country” also Acts 19:18,
“confessing and declaring their deeds” (compare James 5:16).
The faithful warning (vs. 7-12) (Parallel passage: Luke 3:7-9, 16-17.)
Observe that this is before the baptism of our Lord, while the witness
in John 1:19-27 is after.
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?” But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The
typical Jews, considered as one class (τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων – ton
Pharisaion kai Saddoukaion – of the Pharisees and Sadducees), in contrast to the
multitudes. Pharisees. Their characteristic is shown in their name, “Separatists;” i.e.
from anything that would hinder exact obedience to the Mosaic Law. Hence they
are the strict adherents of tradition. They ultimately gained the ascendancy, and, in
consequence, the standard Jewish books represent the result of their
teaching, They belonged almost entirely to the middle classes. Sadducees.
They were chiefly of the noblest, especially the high-priestly, families.
Hence their first thought was political quiet, and with this they not
unnaturally combined the love of Greek culture. They set the plain meaning
of the Law far above all tradition, even that of the Prophets and the
Hagiographa. Come (Obtains, Revised Version) to his baptism;
ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα – erchomenous epi to baptisma – comin on the
baptism (omit αὐτοῦ - autou – of him).They were apparently not
merely coming to see what took place, but with the purpose of receiving
his baptism - Luke 23:48. The marginal reading, however, proposed by the
American Revisers “for baptism,” does not do justice to the article. The Gospel
according to the Hebrews (Resch, ‘Agrapha.’ p. 343) says that they were
in fact baptized, but we can hardly suppose this to have been the case after
John’s words to them. Observe that the Pharisees, with their self-conscious
sanctity, were hardly likely to come to confess their sins, or the Sadducees
to even listen to so ascetic a teacher. He said unto them; i.e. to the
Pharisees and Sadducees; Luke, less exactly, “to the multitudes that went
out to be baptized of him.” There is, indeed, nothing, save the opening
sentence, which refers solely to the Pharisees and Sadducees; but this fact
does not show that the words were really spoken to all, and that
Matthew’s expression is wrong. John doubtless addressed the Pharisees
and Sadducees primarily; but as, after all, they only formed the apex of
ordinary Jewish thought, what he said to them fitted also the majority of
his listeners. O generation (ye offspring, Revised Version) of vipers! The
simile not only expresses the thought that, behind their smooth exterior, the
outward legal strictness of the Pharisees, and the worldly decorum of the
Sadducees, lay hidden malice and venom, but also that this is due to their
very nature. It may have directly implied that they belonged in a true sense
to the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); of our Lord’s words
(Matthew 12:34; 23:33). Who hath (omitted by the Revised Version)
warned you? The verb (ὑπέδειξεν – hupedeixen – warns; intimates) has
elsewhere in the New Testament (St. Luke’s writings only) no thought of
warning, nor of secrecy, but of teaching, of placing the matter under the eyes
of others (compare especially Acts 9:16; 20:35; Luke 6:47). John is making no
inquiry for information, but only utters surprise at seeing them (compare ch.23:33,
πῶς φύγητε – pos phugaete – how ye may be fleeing). Whoever can have told you
of your danger? He might have saved himself the trouble, you being what you are!
Yet the very violence of his expression was such as to call their attention to the
depth of their sinfulness, and after all to lead them perhaps to repentance. For this
reason he adds, “Bring forth therefore.” To flee; aorist, not exactly indicating the
activity as momentary, setting forth the point of time when the wrath
breaks forth, in which the flight also is realized, but the flight as
one single action, without any reference to the time of the breaking forth of
the wrath. From. The wrath is pictured as coming on them from without.
In I Thessalonians 1:10 Paul says that Jesus delivers out of (ἐκ - ek) it,
implying that he himself and all men are naturally in and under it (but see
ch.6:13, note). The wrath to come. Perhaps connected in John’s mind with
the wrath of the Messianic age (Isaiah 63:3-6). If so, it would find its primary
fulfilment in the destruction of
manifestation of the wrath at the last judgment — (Acts 24:25; compare Romans
2:5; 5:9; Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18). Wrath. Not merely punishment. The thought
is of the feeling of anger against sin in him who punishes it (compare ch.18:34; 22:7;
8 “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:” Bring forth therefore
(vide supra) fruits; fruit (Revised Version). The plural is due to a false reading
taken from the parallel passage of Luke — it regards the various graces of a good
life as so many different fruits (ch. 21:43); the singular, as one product from one
source (Galatians 5:22). The term used here (ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν – poiaesate oun
karpon – produce ye fruits), and frequently, lays more stress on the effort involved
than ἐδίδου καρπόν – edidou karpon – gave; brought forth fruit - simple “yielding”
(ch. 13:8), or φέρειν – pherein - bearing in the course of nature (ch.7:18; Mark 4:8;
John 15:4-5, 8, 16). The preacher requires a repentance which produces results. Meet for
(oompare Acts 26:20). Though strictly meaning “suitable to” (“answering to,”
Authorized Version margin; cf. Tyndale, ‘belonging to”), the phrase
might today be understood as “suitable to produce.” John really means
that true repentance has fruit which belongs to its proper nature, and which
is alone “worthy of” it (Revised Version). Repentance (τῆς μετανοίας – taes
metanoias – of repentance). The article is either generic (Authorized Version
and Revised Version; compare Acts 11:18 and probably 26:20); or equivalent to
“your” (Revised Version margin). If the latter, the following sentence shows that it
is still said in good faith. (For repentance, compare v. 1, note.)
The Fruit of Repentance (v. 8)
John sees a great danger. His preaching is immensely popular. Even the
insincere are drawn under the spell of his oratory, and his rousing
eloquence is enjoyed on its own account by many who refuse to obey its
ideas. He is the lion of the season, and society runs after him as after the
latest fashion. To one in dead earnest, as John was, this must have been
perfectly abhorrent. Then no doubt there were sentimental, superficial
hearers who were really impressed by his preaching for the time, but on
whom the effect of it was merely emotional. Such people needed to see
that they must have a repentance deeper than the tears of a day.
EMOTIONS. It is easy to feel sorry for the wrong one has done; yet this
feeling may not carry with it any determination not to repeat the wrong. A
wave of emotion may sweep over the soul, and during its passage all love
of sin may be buried, and only the most becoming ideas appear on the
surface. But they will be but froth and foam melting into nothing, and they
will vanish with the retreating wave, leaving the hard rock beneath quite
unmoved. There is no real repentance until the will is touched, until the
penitent resolves to abandon his sin and to seek a better life. He may well
see that he cannot do this himself; his sin is too strong for him, and the
better life is above his reach. Repentance is not regeneration, but it is a
sincere desire for a new life, an honest determination to seek it.
has its fruits. No one can be really turning round from sin and setting his
face towards the light without some results appearing in his behavior. He
will not immediately step on to the pedestal of the saint. He will be still
down in the darkness, feeble, depressed, guilty, and conscious of guilt. But
every action will show that he is trying to reach after better things, even
though they may be still far beyond his grasp. Lorenzo di Medici on his
death-bed sends for Savanarola and, in terror of the torments of hell, begs
to be assured of the Divine forgiveness. The stern reformer bids the dying
man return their possessions to those whom he has robbed, and set his
imprisoned enemies free, and he consents. Then Savonarola makes a third
demand, that the tyrant will restore their liberties to the Florentines. This is
too much for him; he turns away in silent refusal and dies unrepentant —
and therefore unshriven.
OF REPENTANCE. People sometimes distress themselves with the fear
that they have not repented sufficiently to receive the pardon of God. But
they make a mistake if they suppose that the exciting of deeper feelings of
compunction or the shedding of more tears is what God requires. Let them
leave their emotions to take care of themselves, and set their attention on
their conduct. (better, the Word of God – we base our faith on what God
tells us -
thought and effort. Yet the very fact that repentance must bear fruit shows
that it is more than a work of man’s production. Therefore it is necessary to
seek the “grace” of repentance, to pray for the Spirit of God to make the
true fruits appear. Lastly, let it be remembered when they do appear they are
not all we need; they are only the signs of a right state of mind fur receiving
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
feeling of security based on natural privileges. As this feeling was common to all
Jews, the reference to the larger audience (v. 7, note) was probably begun here.
Think not to say. Not do not think, consider, with a view to saying; but do
not think it right to say, do not be of opinion you may say (Luke 3:8,
“Begin not to say”). St. Luke deprecates the commencement of such an
utterance in their heart; St. Matthew denies its justice. Within yourselves;
compare Esther 4:13 (Hebrew). We have Abraham to our father. As it was
recognized on all hands that the promise of blessing was made to Abraham
and his seed, it is no wonder that many Jews presumed upon their descent
from him, “supposing,”, as Justin Martyr says (‘Trypho,’ § 140.), that the
everlasting kingdom will assuredly be given to those who are of the seed of
Abraham according to the flesh, although they be sinners and unbelieving
and disobedient towards God.” In later times, when the doctrine of merit
was more fully established, God could be represented as saying to
Abraham, “If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones,
thy merit would avail for them” (‘Ber. Rabb.,’ on Genesis 15:11). In John’s
words, on the contrary, we have the germ of the doctrine afterwards brought out
by faith, leads to inheriting the promises. The argument in John 8:39, etc., is closely
akin to that presented here. In both passages the Jews lay stress on their origin
from Abraham; in both the answer is that morally they are sprung from a
very different source (supra, v. 7, note). But in John 8. the Jews are
thinking chiefly of their present state, of not being as sinful as Jesus makes
them out to be, while here they are thinking more of the future, that they
have no need to take trouble, because promises for the future belong to
them. Hence, perhaps, the exact expression (contrast John 8:33), “We
have Abraham as father,” which brings out the protecting influence of
Abraham as still available. For I say unto you (λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν – lego gar humin).
The solemnity of the phrase (ch.6:25, 29; 8:11; 11:9) lies in the self-consciousness
which it implies. The absence of the ἐγώ - ego – I) shows that the speaker has no
desire to bring out his own personality (contrast ch.5:22, etc.), but the message only.
That God. Not “the LORD,” because
(1) the thought is of power rather than of covenant relationship;
(2) he is about to speak of others than members of the covenant nation.
Is able of these stones. These; apodeictic (ch.4:3). Some have
thought that by these stones John directly means certain Gentiles who were
standing near; but it is much mere likely that he points to the literal stones
at his feet, and with strong hyperbole says that he who once raised up
offspring as the stars for multitude from persons as good as dead
(Romans 4:19), and who had originally made man of the dust of the
earth, can (δύναται – dunatai – is able), with both physical power and moral right,
raise out of the very rawest material a new
1:28, “the things that are not”). Raise up. The verb employed (ἐγείρω – egeiro –
to raise; to rouse) is, as it seems, not used in the Septuagint. with reference to natural
generation, but ἀνίστημι - anistaemi – to make to stand up (compare Genesis 38:8,
ἐξανίστημι – exanistaemi – to raise up - Genesis 4:25; 19:32; compare also here,
ch.22:24). It is, however, very suitable here, for while ἀνίστημι regards future worth,
ἐγείρω specially contrasts a later with an earlier state (e.g. sleep) — in this case the
nature of children with the insensibility of stones. Children. The new
possess, not merely Abraham’s privileges, but his nature and character (τέκνα – tekna –
children), in which you to whom I now speak are so deficient.
The Subtlety of Self-Deception (v. 9)
The Jews always were, and still are, remarkable for their pride of race; for
their confidence of acceptance with God on the simple ground of their
Abrahamic relations. And there was a certain amount of reasonable ground
for such pride. The Abrahamic was a privileged race; it did stand in a
special covenant with God. But, in a subtle way, this merely outward
relationship had come to be used as an excuse for neglecting personal
piety. Their relation to God was secure for this life and any other, and
therefore all anxiety was removed, personal religious concern came to be
regarded as a work of supererogation. Illustrate by the deceptive influence
of antinomian tenets. How easily they take on a garb of supreme piety, and
yet hide out of sight negligences, and even permitted moral evil! In many
subtle ways men try to deceive themselves into the idea that race-relations,
formal connections, will suffice to secure their eternal safety. In so many
forms men say, “We have Abraham to our father;” all is well. Men are glad
to get away from the searching spiritual, from that personal Word of God
which is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” They can do
with general and official relations with God; they cannot do with personal
relations. There is a thrill of fear if prophets abruptly say, “Prepare to meet
thy God.” So they are willing to be deceived. This deception, which John
Baptist deals with so scornfully, put on a semblance of piety. Who could
take exception to it? And yet the relationship was not necessarily a spiritual
one. They are the true children of Abraham who inherit Abraham’s faith.
This the classes John reproved did not care to see. Spiritual relationships
are the only important relationships. Work out two thoughts.
PLACE OF GOD’S. Ministries of helpfulness man may provide; “dominion
over faith” even the great apostle steadfastly refused to claim.
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.”
And now also; Revised Version, and even now. “And” (δὲ - de - and),
slightly adversative. In contrast to the delay supposed in v. 9a,
preparations have already been made for your destruction. The axe is laid;
Revised Version, is the axe laid; bringing out more emphatically its present
position. The American Revisers propose, “the axe lieth at,” avoiding the
suggestion of an agent; but κεῖμαι – keimai – is lying - often implies one, being
used of vessels set ready for use; e.g. John 2:6; 19:29 (compare Revelation 4:2).
Unto (πρὸς – pros - toward); brought near to. Therefore. The axe is lying
there, therefore every useless tree is sure to be cut down (cf. Winer, 40:2, a).
Every tree, etc.; even the noblest. However good the tree ought to be, from the
character of its original stock (you claim to be Abraham’s children, v. 9), yet, if it
does not bear good fruit, it is cut down (ch.7:19, note). Into the fire (εἰς πῦρ – eis pur).
Not into a fire prepared with a definite purpose, nor into any one fire pictured as
burning (ch.17:15; compare τὸ πῦρ – to pur - the fire - John 15:6), but into fire
generally, which may be in many different places. Worthless trees are only for
burning. (For thought, compare Hebrews 6:8.)
The Axe at the Root (vs. 9-10)
Here we have an insight into the method of John the Baptist. We see how
he led his hearers to repentance. He found them too often soothing their
consciences in a false security, and quite blind to the danger that threatened
them. So he set to work first to destroy the false security and then to reveal
the imminent danger.
Ø Its excuse. The Jews prided themselves in their pedigree. They were
Abraham’s children, and they expected to be favored on account of
their great ancestor. Glorious promises had been made to Abraham
and his seed; the Jews were the seed of Abraham; therefore they
concluded that the promises were for them, and that no final harm
could come near them. The same delusion is found in those people
who comfort themselves with the thought that they belong to a
Christian Church, that they are members of a Christian family, that
in some way they are included in a Christian covenant, although there
is nothing Christian in their character and conduct.
Ø Its mistake. There is no such thing as hereditary salvation. The children
of a saint will suffer the doom of sinners if they are sinners, quite as
much as the children of a sinner; nay, even a worse doom, because
their advantages are greater. It is true that great promises are laid up
for the children of Abraham; but only they are his true children
who have their ancestor’s faith. The Jews could not but admit that
the Arabs were children of Abraham, yet they did not extend to
them the hope of Abraham’s blessings. It might have been urged
that the Israelites cannot perish because, if they were lost, God
would not have a people on whom He could fulfill His great
promises to Abraham. This would be to limit the power of God,
to forget His resources. If He wanted other children He could raise
them from the very stones of the wilderness. He did raise them
from the Gentile peoples. We are none of us necessary to God.
not a subject for quiet speculation only. Soon the futility of the theory of
the Jews with which they quiet their fears will be apparent. The axe is
already lying by the root of the tree. The Roman power that is destined to
cut down the Jewish state is close at hand.
Ø Its unsuspected presence.
o The tree is still standing — a great tree, with massive trunk and
spreading branches. An imposing presence suggests strength
o The tree is vigorous. Its stem is not rotten. But it is bearing
no good fruit, and it is cumbering the ground; in these facts
is its danger.
o The axe is unseen. It lies at the root — perhaps hidden among
the grasses. Yet the place where it lies suggests utter destruction.
We do not see dangers lurking at our feet.
Ø Its fatal power. That cold gleam of steel at the root of the tree — how
frightfully suggestive it is! It is a small thing by the side of the giant
of the forest. Nevertheless how soon can it bring the proud tree
crashing to the ground! No one can escape from the keen blows
of the axe of GOD’S JUDGMENT!
Ø Its merciful warning. Why is the axe laid at the root of the tree? why is
it not used at once? Here is mercy in the midst of judgment. The Baptist
points to the axe that he may drive his hearers to repentance. Our
attention is drawn to it that we may escape — though at the eleventh hour.
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:”
(Compare especially John 1:27; Acts 13:25; also 19:4.) After
our v. 10
repentance ought to produce, suggested by the questions of different
portions of the Baptist’s audience; and then, with an explanatory note that
John’s words were due to a misconception having arisen that he was
himself the Messiah, he adds what we have in vs. 11-12. But even if
vs. 10-12 were, in fact, not said consecutively, yet their juxtaposition here
may be defended by the real connection between the statements. In v. 10
John has spoken of the present danger of his audience; he therefore now
urges repentance, and that in view of the coming of One who will sift them
to the uttermost. With water; in, Revised Version margin (ἐν - en - in), and so in
the second part of the verse. The thought is not of the instrument by which
the baptism is effected, but of the element in which it takes place. “In”
suggests more complete submergence of the personality. But he that
cometh after me. The expression would recall the thought of “the Coming
One” — a common designation of Messiah (ch.11:3; 21:9). Is
mightier than I. Not in authority (the next clause), nor in honor
(John 1:30), but in inherent strength and power. Whose shoes. Though
shoes or boots were usual in the winter, at all events later, and probably
also now, yet sandals are doubtless meant. “In the Septuagint and Josephus
σανδάλιον – sandalion - sandals (Mark 6:9; Acts 12:8) and ὑπόδημα – hupodaema –
shoes; sandals - [here] are used indiscriminately. Worthy. In moral sufficiency
(ἱκανός – hikanos – worthy; competent; sufficient) , and so in the parallels, but
(ἄξιος – axios - worthily) in moral desert in John 1:27. To bear; complementary
to “loosen” in the parallel passages. The duty of slaves of the lowest rank.
The distance of superiority here attributed by John to “Him that cometh after me,”
must be reckoned even greater than it usually is; for most of the slaves then held
by Jewish masters would not be Jews, but Gentiles. The thought is, “I am further
removed from my successor than the meanest Gentile slave is from his
Jewish master.” Some have seen in this expression a reference to the
practice of disciples carrying the shoes of their teachers, but this can hardly
have been general so early. He. The emphasis is made the more evident by the
absence of any connecting particle. Shall baptize you. “The transference of the image
of baptism to the impartment of the Holy Spirit was prepared by such passages as
Joel 2:28 (Acts 2:17)” (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:33); compare also Ezekiel 36:25-27,
where the symbol of cleansing by water and the gift of the Holy Spirit are closely
connected. With the Holy Ghost, and with fire (ἐν Πνεύματιυ Ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί -
en Pneumato Hagio kai puri – in the Holy Spirit and fire. To the visible John
contrasts the invisible, nto the symbol of water the reality of the Spirit; adding
(here and in the parallel passage in Luke) to this, which forms the main point of the
contrast (compare Mark 1:8; John 1:33), the thought of Malachi 3:2, purification
as by fire; and, by not placing it under the government of another preposition
(which would have necessitated the conception of it as a distinct element) implying
that it is only another aspect of one and the same baptism. It has been questioned,
indeed, whether “fire” here refers to the purification of the godly who truly accept
the baptism of the Spirit, or to the destruction of the wicked, as in vs. 10, 12. But the
thought is one. The Divine presence will in fact, as is recognized by Isaiah (Isaiah
33:14; 31:9), be twofold in its working, according as it is yielded to or the
reverse. It burns away sin out of the godly, and it consumes the ungodly if
they cleave to their sin.
The Twofold Baptism (v. 11)
The author of ‘Ecce Homo’ suggests the distinction between the baptism
of John and the baptism of Jesus, which John himself puts in such strong
contrast. “Christ was to baptize with a Holy Spirit’ and with fire. John felt
his own baptism to have something cold and negative about it. It was a
renouncing of definite bad practices. The soldier bound himself to refrain
from violence; the tax-gatherer, from extortion. But more than this was
wanting. It was necessary that an enthusiasm should be kindled. The
phrase, ‘baptize with fire,’ seems at first sight to contain a mixture of
metaphors. Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can
warmth cleanse? The answer is that moral warmth does cleanse. No heart
is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic. And
such an enthusiastic virtue Christ was to introduce.” This suggestion helps
us to a more precise view of the distinction between the two baptisms, and
the relation of one to the other.
ACTS OF SIN. Attention should be fixed on the ministry of water. It
washes off; it cleanses surfaces. “The result of John’s baptism, even for
those who received it faithfully, did not go beyond the change of character
and life implied in repentance.” Illustrate by the advice given to the
different classes who came to John. They were to cease their wrong-doing,
to put away their characteristic faults, to wash off their particular sins from
the record of their lives. In a similar way Isaiah pleads, “Wash you, make
you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to
do evil” (Isaiah 1:16). This is the proper beginning of moral reformation;
but it is only a beginning.
SIN, THE LOVE OF SIN. Fire is a cleanser; it is, indeed, the supreme
cleanser, because it searches into the very substance of a thing. So fire is
applied to metals. The fire is to “try every man’s work, of what sort it is.”
(I Corinthians 3:13) Christ is to deal with that spiritual condition out of
which the acts of sin come. To put the matter sharply, John only dealt with
actions and opinions. Christ deals with feelings, and will; cleansing the
very thoughts of the heart.
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. The pronged winnowing-fork which throws
up the grain against the wind. The Coming One is to put an end to the present
mixture of chaff and corn. He will thoroughly purge the threshing-floor of this
world, gathering the good into one safe place, and destroying the evil. The figure
of winnowing comes not unseldom in the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 15:7; 51:2),
but generally with the sole idea of destruction of the ungodly, not with that
of separating so as to also preserve the godly (yet compare Psalm 139:3,
margin - winnowest; Amos 9:9). Is in His hand. The figure is stronger than that in
v. 10, where the instrument was only lying ready to be taken up. But that
was an instrument of destruction alone. And He will throughly purge;
cleanse (Revised Version); permundo (Vulgate); διακαθαριεῖ - diakathariei – he
shall be scouring – the preposition is intensive, not local. His. Observe the threefold
αὐτοῦ - autou – of Him - referring to hand, flour, corn — personal agency, sphere,
ownership. In the
but this is, perhaps, introduced from the parallel in Luke. Floor; threshing-floor
(Revised Version). Not the barn that English-men think of, but an open and
level space (for the figure, compare especially Micah 4:12). Here the
threshing-floor is equivalent to the scene of the Lord’s operations, i.e. the
world, or rather the universe. The present mixture of good and evil shall be brought
to an end. And gather together, from different parts of the threshing-floor, or from
intimate association with the chaff, into one heap. All true believers shall
finally be brought to perfect unity (compare ch. 13:30). His wheat. The
term is adopted by Ignatius (‘Ram.,’ §4): “I am the wheat of God, and I am
ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread [of
Christ].” Into the garner. The final home of the saints, hidden away and
safe from all marauders. Garners in the East are generally subterranean
vaults or eaves (but compare Luke 12:18). But will burn up. Utterly
consuming it (contrast Exodus 3:2), as the tares (ch.13:30, 40) and the books
of magic (Acts 19:19). The chaff. For, as Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 23:28) when
comparing a mere dream with a message from the Lord, “What is the chaff to the
wheat?” The Targum even interprets Jeremiah’s words of the wicked and the
righteous. The chaff in Jeremiah includes the straw, for in the East everything
except the actual grain is generally burnt, and is sometimes used for heating
fireplaces (Mishna, ‘Sabb.,’ 3:1; ‘Parah,’ 4:3). With unquenchable fire.
“Unquenchable” shows that John is here thinking not of the figure of chaff
but of the persons figured by it. But what does the word mean? In itself it
might mean that the fire cannot be overcome by the greatness or the nature
of the mass that it has to consume; i.e., to drop the figure, by either the
number or the character of the wicked. But from its usage it seems rather
to be equivalent to not being overcome by the lapse of time. It is used, e.g.,
of the perpetual fire of Vesta, of the fire of the Magi, of the fire upon the
Jewish altar (vide references in Thayer). The whole expression in itself says
nothing about the everlasting duration of the punishment; i.e. it does not
decide for “everlasting punishment” or for “annihilation,” but seems rather
to exclude the possibility of amelioration under it (compare Isaiah 1:31).
The Forerunner (vs. 1-12)
Ø His sudden appearance. It is the first mention of John the Baptist in
Matthew’s Gospel. He flashes upon us suddenly, like his prototype
Elijah in the Old Testament. Luke tells us of his birth, of his solitary
in the deserts till the day of his showing unto
Now the time was come. “In those days,” St. Matthew says, while
Lord was still at
sisters — the children, in all probability, of Joseph by a former marriage,
taking His share in the family duties, laboring with His hands to support;
in those days, while the Lord was still unknown, unrecognized, in the
world that was made by Him, comes John the Baptist.
Ø His preaching.
(1) “Repentance.” The word means properly a change of mind, an inner,
spiritual change. It is the first note of warning in the New Testament, the
first practical exhortation addressed generally to all men — the first
sermon in the First Gospel. John, indeed, belonged rather to the Law
than to the gospel. He was the embodiment of the Old Testament, as
Christ is the embodiment of the New. But he was preparing the way
of the Lord, announcing the kingdom that was coming; therefore he
preached repentance. A mighty change must come over all who are
to be true citizens of that kingdom, fellow-citizens with the saints.
All needed that great change. The Sadducees must lay aside their
false doctrine, their worldliness, their indifference; the Pharisees
must be set free from their formalism, their hypocrisy, their self-
righteousness. All who would receive the Christ, who would come to
Him for peace and for salvation, must alike repent. Old things must
pass away; all things must become new:
a. indifference must make way for devotion,
b. selfishness for self-sacrifice,
c. the love of the world for the holy love of God,.
This is the blessed change of repentance, the great need of every
(2) The kingdom of heaven. The Hebrew nation had been the kingdom
of God, the theocracy. But Daniel had prophesied a kingdom that
should fill the whole earth, that should never be destroyed an
everlasting dominion that should not pass away. That kingdom
came from heaven; its government, its laws, its modes of life and
thought and worship, are those of heaven; the great commonwealth
of which the saints are citizens is now (ὑπάρχει – huparchei –
to exist, which always involves a pre- existent state, prior to the fact
referred to, and a continuance of the state after the fact – this is one
of the hardest Greek words I have had to try to decipher and is
worthy of individual scrutiny to try to absorb the meaning – CY –
2015) centered in heaven (Philippians 3:20); it looks to heaven as
its home, its proper country; it shall be established there when the
kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our
and of His Christ. It is the great
congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole
world. It was at hand, not yet come, but very near. Those who
would be true citizens of that heavenly kingdom:
a. must repent;
b. they must die unto sin,
c. they must receive the consecration of a new
and higher life.
It is true still as it was then, “Except ye be converted,… ye shall not
enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Ø His description.
(1) By the prophet. He was a voice. John himself applied that description
to himself (John 1:23). Be was not the Christ, he said, not Elias, not
that prophet; he was but a voice. Humility was one of his most striking
characteristics. It was scarcely to be looked for in a man of his stern,
severe character. In such a one you would expect unworldliness,
self-sacrifice, austere self-control; but scarcely that deep, sincere
humility which marked the holy Baptist. The power of God’s Spirit
can unite in one personality graces which seem almost incompatible.
“He must increase, but I must decrease,” he said afterwards. He
had been famous while Christ was still unknown. He was willing
to be forgotten so that Christ should be glorified; nay, in his utter
self-forgetfulness, he rejoiced with joy in the overshadowing glory
of the greater Prophet. He is an example to all Christian preachers.
He was only a voice — the voice of one crying. His preaching was
powerful, aggressive, energetic; the voice was loud and strong.
His self-forgetfulness, the intensity of his conviction, gave strength
to his preaching. It was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, not
in great cities, not in the crowded haunts of men. God sets His
ministers sometimes in what seems to them a wilderness; they must
work there, where he has placed them; each must do his best in that
station to which God has called him. The voice must sound everywhere –
in the quiet country and in the great city, in the cottage and in the palace.
God sends His ministers where it pleases Him; they must accept the
leadings of His providence. “Here am I; send me,” is the trustful
answer of the obedient Christian. But what was the cry? “Prepare ye
the way of the Lord.” Isaiah’s words, it may be, referred in their
primary sense to the return from the Captivity. The Lord of hosts
was about to lead His people back; He goeth before them. A highway
through the desert must be made for the great King; every valley must
be exalted, every mountain and hill made low. But they had a deeper
meaning, a more august fulfillment. THE LORD, THE INCARNATE
GOD WAS COMING NOW! The proud heart must be abased; the
hands that hang down, the feeble knees, must be lifted up; the path
must be made straight; there must be no wavering, no inconsistency,
no crooked designs, but a simple, straightforward, decided readiness
to receive the coming Saviour. He was at hand; soon He would knock
at the door; the gates must be lifted up; the hearts of men must be
prepared to welcome and to admit the Lord of glory. (Psalm 24:7-10)
(2) By the evangelist. He was an ascetic; he wore the rough garment of
the prophet; like Elijah, he was a hairy man. He was a Nazarite; his
unshorn locks waved rough and long in the wind; he drank neither
wine nor strong drink; his food was of the commonest, that which
the desert supplied — locusts and wild honey, the food of the very
poor. He was a very high saint of God, but a saint of the Old
Testament type rather than of the New; suited for the times, as
Elijah had been; greater than any who had preceded Him. But,
our Lord has told us, “he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is
greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)
Ø The multitudes. There was great excitement. It was a time of eager
expectation. John’s character, his asceticism, his strange, solitary life,
his stern, awful, heart-stirring preaching, commanded attention.
went out to listen to him — “
all the region round about
no more; it was filled with thronging crowds. There was an attraction
not to be resisted in his preaching. Men could not but come; they
could not but listen. Alas! they did not, most of them, repent. To the
many he was what Ezekiel had been in his time, “a very lovely song
of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument”
(Ezekiel 33:32); for they heard his words, but they did them not.
They were baptized of him in
repentance for the remission of sins. John baptized with water; Christ,
with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John’s baptism was a preparatory
rite; Christ’s baptism was a sacrament of regeneration, the one baptism
(Ephesians 4:5). John’s baptism was unto repentance; Christ’s baptism
was into Christ. John’s baptism was incomplete; it was not baptism
with the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13); it did not remove the
necessity of Christian baptism (Acts 19:5). But it was a holy rite,
performed in accordance with the Divine command (John 1:33),
symbolical, like the purifications under the Law, of that spiritual
cleansing which the sinful heart needs, and consecrated at last by
the example of the Lord Jesus Himself.
Ø Their confession. The Greek word seems to imply that the confession
was complete, not a mere general acknowledgment of sinfulness, but a
special confession of definite sins. John’s baptism was unto repentance;
confession was the preliminary, the pledge of that repentance without
which the baptism was an empty sign. God requires confession of us,
not necessarily to man, but to Himself. There is no word of Holy
Scripture more precious than that gracious promise, “If we confess
our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to
cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
Ø They came to his baptism. It was strange — the Pharisees came with
their intense sectarianism, their hollow formalism; the Sadducees with
their indifference, their unbelief. But they came; the power of John’s
preaching, the attraction of his character and ascetic life, the widespread
excitement, drew them with the multitudes who flocked to the banks of
alas! often their hearts are not touched. They listen, but they are not
converted. Did they seek to be baptized? We might have thought that
they were drawn to John only by curiosity, but the Greek preposition
seems to imply that they sought baptism at his hands. We cannot tell
their motive. Perhaps it was simply the strong current of public opinion;
they came because others came; as, alas! many come to church
nowadays. Perhaps it was the desire to stand well in the sight of the
people, who all regarded John as a prophet. Certainly it was not the
right motive. John was unwilling to receive them; they were unfit for
his baptism; they wanted the baptism only, not the repentance; the
putting away of the filth of the flesh, not the inquiry of a good
conscience after God; they did not feel the need of that change of
heart which was the necessary preparation for the coming kingdom.
Probably John refused to receive them. St. Luke tells us (Luke 7:30)
that the Pharisees generally were not baptized of him.
Ø His address.
(1) He rebukes them. Mark his unsparing severity. He was no flatterer.
The high places in the Church were then in the hands of the Sadducees.
The Pharisees had great influence; men revered them for their supposed
sanctity; they were the recognized guides of public opinion. But John
had no soft words for them. It is painful to Christians to speak sternly;
but sometimes holy sternness is necessary, sometimes it is a bounden
duty. It is never more necessary than in the case of those who have
deluded themselves into the belief that they are righteous men, while
their religion is mere formalism, hypocrisy, outside pretence. John
called them a generation of vipers, offspring of vipers; our Lord used
the same strong words afterwards. They were like the serpent in
Genesis-cunning, deceitful; dangerous; all the more so, because they
hid their venom under the appearance of godliness. The Baptist
distrusted them: “Who hath warned you?” he said. He had not
expected that such as they would seek his baptism. He knew the
hardness of their hearts, the hollowness of the formalism to which
they had enslaved themselves, their pride and confidence in their
exclusive privileges. Nothing short of a miracle, he thought, could
arouse them. They knew, indeed, that THERE WAS WRATH TO
COME but they supposed it was reserved for the Gentiles, and that
they, the seed of Abraham, were safe. Could it be that God’s Holy Spirit
had touched even those proud zealots, and softened even those stony
hearts? NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD! If He bears with
hardened sinners, His ministers may well bear with them. Therefore:
(2) He counsels them. They must show the sincerity of their repentance
by bringing forth the fruit of a holy life — fruit worthy of the repentance
which they professed. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.
Repentance is a change of heart and thought; such a change must
manifest itself in a renewed, a consecrated life. They must not trust in
their descent from Abraham. God could raise up children to Abraham
the very pebbles that lay in the bed of
Gentile believers in crowds into His Church. They would become heirs
of the faith of Abraham, true children of that father of many nations,
in whose seed all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. We must
always be on our guard against putting our trust in external privileges.
Those privileges may be very great, very precious helps; but they are
only helps toward the spiritual life; they are not the life itself. We must
not dare to despise others who seem destitute of our privileges, but
rather strive always to show, by increasing holiness of life, that we
value and use the blessings which have been conferred upon us. And:
(3) He warns them. Judgment was coming. Only holiness of heart and
life could endure the searching eye of God. His baptism would not help
them unless they brought forth fruit worthy of repentance. The Judge
was already in the world. John was nothing in comparison with Him —
not worthy to do Him the most menial service. And as John was
inferior to the coming Saviour, so was his baptism inferior to the Lord’s
baptism. John baptized with water; Christ would baptize with the
Holy Ghost, and with fire. The baptism which Christ afterwards
ordained was a baptism of water, but not of water only; it was a
laver of regeneration, a new birth of water and of the Spirit,
a baptism into Christ by the one Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13).
And he was to baptize with fire. The prophecy was literally fulfilled
on the great Day of Pentecost; but its meaning is not exhausted in
`that first fulfillment. Christ baptized with fire not only then; He
baptizes with the Holy Ghost, not only in the sacrament which He
ordained. There is a more precious baptism yet; the perpetual baptism
of the blessed Spirit’s presence, a true baptism with fire — the fire
of holy love and sacred energy, which spring from that Divine
indwelling. This is the baptism which we must seek and pray for
with all the power of our spirit, the only baptism which can help us
in the great day, the baptism which distinguishes the saved from
the lost, the wheat from the chaff. We must seek it all the more
earnestly because He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost is also
the Judge, the awful Judge of QUICK and DEAD! He will gather the
wheat into His garner; He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Religious Revival (vs. 5-12)
When the Baptist opened his commission the Jewish nation was in a woeful state of
degeneracy. In connection with his ministry there was a remarkable revival of religion.
This may be viewed as a specimen of revivals of religion in general.
Ø Christ was prominent in the sermon.
o “Make ye ready the way of the Lord!” was the “cry” of the
“voice” in the wilderness. “He that cometh” was the grand
theme — the Promise of prophecy, the Hope and Expectation
of the world.
o The sermon set forth Christ in His dignity. “The Lord,”
equivalent to “Jehovah” in the Hebrew of Isaiah. If amongst
men there had not arisen a greater than the Baptist, then who
must that Person be whose shoes John was not worthy to bear?
Maimonides says, “All services which a servant does for his
master a disciple does for his teacher, excepting unloosing his
shoes” (compare John 8:58).
o It set forth Christ in His power. “Mightier than I.” “God is able
of these stones,” etc., viz. as He raised up Adam from the dust.
“These stones.” John was now baptizing in
(John 1:28), the House
of passage, where the children of
passed over; and there were the twelve stones, one for each tribe,
which Joshua set up for a memorial (Joshua 4:20). It is not unlikely
that he pointed to those stones, which God could make to be, more
in representation, the twelve tribes of
o It set forth Christ also in His official distinction. “He shall baptize
you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” John, though a priest,
did not presume to wield the fire of the sanctuary. That was a
Divine prerogative (compare Luke 24:49; John 15:26). Apostles
presumed not to claim it. Sacraments have no efficacy from those
who minister them (compare II Kings 4:31; I Corinthians 3:6).
Ø It insisted upon essential things.
o John preached repentance in order to remission of sins. He
insisted that true repentance will have meet fruit. Shakespeare
well describes it as
And a clear life ensuing.”
Those are not true penitents who say they are sorry for sin, and
persist in sinning.
o John also preached faith in Jesus as the Christ. In the text he
spoke of Him as coming. Afterwards he pointed Him out in
Person (John 1:29). That is grand preaching which brings the
sinner into personal relationship to his Saviour.
o John also preached holiness. His baptism was a ceremonial
purification, of which the baptism conferred by Jesus is the
spiritual complement. John’s baptism was “with water,” viz.
which washes the surface; Christ’s, “with fire,” viz. which
purges the substance:
§ The regeneration of water is outward and ceremonial,
§ that of the Holy Ghost is inward and spiritual.
Ø Its lessons were closely applied.
o With encouragement. This was in the forefront. John’s
ministry was “the beginning of the gospel [or,’ good news’]
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
o With entreaty. He besought the people to repent of their sins.
o With admonition.
§ The lineage of goodness is no substitute for repentance.
The Talmud says that “Abraham sits next the gates of hell,
and does not permit any Israelite, however wicked, to go
down there.” John preached a different doctrine. Visible
Church-membership will not save.
§ “Think not to say within yourselves,” etc. Do not attempt
secretly to justify impenitence by things that you have not
the courage to announce. Hide no lie that will ruin you.
§ God is not restricted to any law of succession in His Church.
“Of these stones” — Gentiles, apparently without any
covenant life, in opposition to fruitless “trees,” He could
“raise up children unto Abraham” (compare Romans
4:16-18; Galatians 3:22-29).
Ø With reproof. The Pharisees and Sadducees, who claimed to be
children of Abraham, are described as a brood of vipers — the seed of
the old serpent. They are also described as “trees” with leaves (of
profession), but without fruit of performance. They are described as
the “chaff” — light, hollow, hypocritical, having only the semblance
Ø With warning.
o The “axe” of judgment lay at the root of the trees (compare
Isaiah 10:33-34; Daniel 4:11, 20, 23; Luke 13:7-9).
o The “fan” to separate the chaff from the wheat was in Messiah’s
hand (compare Psalm 1:4; Daniel 2:35; ch. 13:30, 49).
o The “wrath to come,” or predicted destruction of Messiah’s
enemies (Malachi 4:6), was set before them.
o The “unquenchable fire” of hell was shadowed in the
horrors of the judgments of God upon the city. The lost’s
torment makes them sin, and their sin feeds their torment,
one being fuel for the other.”
o “He that cometh” and “the wrath to come” are nearly
associated (see I Thessalonians 1:10). It is evermore
“wrath to come.”
o The danger is imminent. “Even now,” etc. Fools only can
make a mock of sin.
Ø Multitudes were deeply moved. This fact is clearly set forth in the text
(see also Luke 3:7).
o Here was a great honor put upon John. He was a man of
retirement. God often confers the greater honor on those who
court it least.
o These multitudes were not moved solely by John’s eloquence.
They were “a people prepared of the Lord” (Luke 1:17). The
same Holy Spirit who called and qualified John moved the
people to wait upon his ministry.
o The prayers of the faithful had much to do with it.
§ Like his prototype Elijah, John himself was a man of
prayer. This was the moral of his retirement in the
§ There were also those who “looked for redemption in
from the temple, worshipping with fastings and
supplications night and day” (Luke 2:37-38).
§ Who can say to what extent blessings come upon
the Church and upon the world in response to the
prayers of saints dwelling in obscurity (compare
Ø Notorious sinners were moved.
o Such there would naturally be amongst the multitudes.
o “Publicans and harlots” appear to have been baptized by
John (see ch. 21:32). None are too wicked to be saved
but those who are TOO WICKED TO REPENT!
Ø Unlikely sinners were moved.
o Of this number were the Pharisees.
§ They were orthodox Jews, who believed in Church
doctrines and traditions.
§ They were formalists, strict in life, and who prided
themselves upon their righteousness. What need could
such persons feel for repentance?
§ Yet many of them, their righteousness notwithstanding,
had the viper’s venom in their hearts. Formalism may
consist with heart-malice.
o Of this number also were the Sadducees. They were the opposite
of the Pharisees. They rejected Church traditions. They interpreted
the Scriptures in the rationalistic spirit. They denied the
immortality of the soul and the existence of the angels. They were
materialists and deists. Of what use would repentance be to such?
o John was astonished to see these coming. He noticed how they \
came in company. So he treated them alike. Extremes meet.
Ø The results of the movement were various.
o Some came under true religious conviction. They confessed
their sins, i.e. took them home to themselves. With these there
was no attempt to throw the blame, in whole or part, upon
either God or man (see I John 1:8). Those who thus received
the baptism of John were prepared to become disciples of Jesus
o Some came ‘because their neighbors came. (I highly recommend
John 1 – Spurgeon Sermon – Two Loving Invitations – this
website – CY – 2015) Note here the power of:
Men, like sheep, are gregarious. Of these some became true
disciples. Others went back when the excitement subsided
(compare Ezekiel 33:31-33; John 5:35). Many come to
ordinances the power of which they never feel.
o Some came from selfish policy. Forming conceptions of the
coming kingdom suited to their gross affections, they thought
it might offer them advantages of civil distinction. Upon
discovering the spiritual nature of the kingdom, they were
offended. Such were the majority of the Pharisees and
lawyers (compare ch.21:25; Luke 7:27-30). There are still
those who join Churches for worldly ends.
Christ’ s Unquenchable Fire (v. 12)
It is not possible to think that John could have referred to what we call
“hell-fire” — the punishment-fires of the next life. And we need have no
definite opinions concerning the nature of that fire in order to understand
John’s figure here. Speaking of Messiah’s actual present work in souls, he
calls it a “baptism of fire,” and he further remarks on its severity and
continuity. His baptism of water was but of a temporary and symbolical
character. Christ’s baptism of fire would be permanent and spiritually real
— a fire that would go on burning until all the world’s evil was burned up.
As illustration, note that “every year all effete substances that have served
their purpose in the old form are burnt up in the autumn fire of nature, and
only what has promise of life and usefulness passes scatheless through the
ordeal. This flaming besom of nature’s fire sweeps from sight in the most
obscure nooks, as well as in the most open places, the impurities of death
and decay, in order to prepare the stage for fresh life and new growth.”
be more arresting and severe; but really it does not prove to be so. There is
all the difference between “washing off” and “burning out.” The very
forces themselves, “water,” “fire,” suggest the distinction. Repentance
seems severe; the after-time resolute dealing with sin and rooting it out is
much more severe. Christian keeping on is much more stern than Christian
beginning. Illustrate by the Book of Revelation. The living Christ is
actually present in His Churches, and at work, making them altogether
white; and all the forces, famine, war, commotions, disease, etc., are the
fires in which He is burning away the dross, and making the silver shine
perfectly white. He were no true friend of sinners if He withheld necessary
thought is, that nothing will check or stop the Divine fire-cleansing. That
it will stop when its work is done is assumed. The fire will keep on
consuming as long as there is anything to consume, but no one conceives
evil to be eternal. Christ will burn on until His burning work is needed no
The Baptism of Jesus. (vs. 13-17)
(Parallel passages: Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22.)
13 “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to
baptized of him.” Then; temporal (v. 5, note). When John was preaching and
(v. 1, note). From
thereby implying that our Lord had lived in
In contrast to the representative teachers from
from there and from the
leaves the Authorized Version unaltered in v. 5. To be baptized (τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι –
tou baptisthaenai – to be baptized); ch.2:13, note. By him; and no other. Not mere
baptism, but baptism at the hands of John, was our Lord’s motive for coming.
He would link His own work on to that of John (vide infra) .
14 “But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee,
and comest thou to me?” Vs. 14 and 15 are peculiar to St. Matthew. But John. In
John 1:31, 33 the Baptist says that he knew Him not till the descent of
the Holy Spirit; i.e. knew Him not in His full Messianic character. Here,
either by an involuntary and miraculous impression, psychologically due to
the previous revelation he had received; or, as is on the whole more probable, from
his previous knowledge, direct or indirect, of Jesus, he recognizes His superior sanctity.
John’s inmost thoughts must therefore have been somewhat as follows. “I have come
to announce the advent of Messiah; here is One who is much holier than I; it may be
that He is Messiah, but I have no certainty till the sign promised has been
vouchsafed.” Forbade; would have hindered (Revised Version), for
διεκώλυεν – diekoluen – forbade; prohibited, does not in itself imply speech.
(For a similar imperfect of that which was not fully carried out, compare Luke 1:59.)
It is noticeable, though doubtless merely as a coincidence, that the strong compound
word διακωλύω – diakoluo - prevent and βαπτίζομαι – baptizomai - washed - also
occur together in Judith 12:7. I have need to be baptized of thee. Many see here a
reference to the baptism of the Spirit and fire, mentioned in v. 11. But the following
clause, “and dost thou come to me?” implies that the baptisms are identical, viz.
baptism by water. The sentence is equivalent to “I John, who myself administer the
baptism of repentance, need to profess repentance myself, and ought rather, therefore,
to receive such a baptism at thy hands, who art so far holier than I”.
15 “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus
it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.”
Suffer it to be so now; suffer it now (Revised Version); “suffer me now”
(Revised Version margin); ἄφες ἄρτι – aphes arti – suffer now; let you at present –
only here (apparently) in the New Testament quite absolutely, but ch.7:4
slightly favors the Revised Version margin. Now; at this special season
(ἄρτι - arti); in contrast to the more permanent relation which shall be
recognized later. Our Lord thus slightly removes the trial to John’s faith,
which a mere refusal might have aggravated. Observe the implied
consciousness of His Messiah-ship, even before the baptism. Several of the
Fathers infer from these words that John was afterwards baptized by Jesus;
but this is to completely miss the point of the expression. For thus. Not exactly
“by this baptism,” but” by the spirit of submission in us both, which in this case will
issue in my baptism.” It becometh (πρέπον ἐστὶν – prepon estin – it is behooving).
Not a matter of absolute necessity (δεῖ - dei – must; it is binding - ch.16:21; 26:54),
nor of absolute duty (ὀφείλω – opheilo – ought; are owing - John 13:14), but of
moral fitness (Hebrews 2:10). It befits us, in our respective characters, to
perform this symbolical act. Compare Melchizedek and Abraham; the
representative of the older blesses the representative of the coming age
(Luke 16:16). Us; thee and me. To fulfill; here only with “righteousness” (compare
ch.5:17). All righteousness (πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην – pasan dikaiosunaen). Not the whole
circle of righteousness (πᾶσαν τὴν δικαιοσύνην – pasan taen dikaiosunaen), but every
part of righteousness, as each is presented to us (similarly, Acts 13:10). “Let me be
baptized by thee now,” our Lord says to John, “for it is fitting for us, in this spirit
of submission, to fill up every part of righteousness.” Our Lord thus pleads for the
absolute submission of John and Himself to every portion of righteousness as it may
be proposed to them by God to perform; His words thus somewhat resembling those
to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8). Thy
duty is to baptize, mine to be baptized. It has generally been thought that in
this verse our Lord implies that His baptism was to constitute His own
formal recognition and acceptance of His distinctly Messianic duties — an
act which involved the complete leaving of His past life and the giving
Himself up to a new and public life.
What was the meaning of Jesus’ baptism? John did not recognize its meaning. He
was taken aback when Jesus presented Himself for baptism. This was a difficulty
he had not foreseen. He had foreseen trouble with scrupulous consciences;
that he would be abused, perhaps endangered; that he would be the
repository of disagreeable secrets — a nation’s confessor. But this he had
not foreseen. How could he baptize One who had no sin? John’s refusal a
strong testimony to the sinlessness of Jesus. He might not yet know he was
the Messiah; it was His personal character and private conduct which had
impressed him. He was abashed in His presence, and would have changed
places with Him. But Jesus demanded the performance of the rite, because,
as one with a guilty race,He felt that baptism was for Him. He was so truly
one with us that He felt ashamed of our sins, grieved because of them, felt
as if they were His. The father hangs his head, sickens and dies when the
son is disgraced. The wife cannot persuade herself she need not be
ashamed when the husband commits a fraud. Our Lord could not claim
separation from those whom He more intensely loved than human heart has
ever loved; nor could He help feeling a truer sorrow and a deeper shame for
sin than the holiest of sinners or the most despairing has ever felt. The
baptism may also be looked upon as an anticipation of his death; or, again,
as the anointing of the King.
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, when he was baptized. Combining the statements
of the synoptists, we may conclude that Jesus went up from the water at
once, praying as He went, and that, while He was going up and praying, the
heavens opened. Out of; from ‘(Revised Version); ἀπό - apo – from - for, as it
seems, He had not gone fully out of the water. The heavens were opened unto Him.
So also the Revised Version, but the Revised Version margin, rightly omits
“unto Him.” The words were inserted because it was thought that Jesus alone saw
the manifestation, as indeed we should have supposed if we had had only the
account of St. Mark, who reads, “He saw” before “the heavens being rent asunder”
(but compare John 1:32-34). To our Lord and to the Baptist the appearance was as
though the sky really opened (compare Ezekiel 1:1; Acts 7:56). The Spirit of God;
recalling Genesis 1:2. Messiah now enters on His public office, and for
that receives, as true Man, the appropriate gifts. The Spirit by whom men
are subjectively united to God descends upon the Word made Flesh, by
whom objectively God is revealed to men (see John 1:32). . Like; as (Revised
Version). The comparison is hardly to the gentleness of the descent of a dove,
but to a visible appearance in bodily form, as a dove (see parallel passage in Luke).
Not, of course, that the Holy Spirit was thus at all incarnate, but that either the
appearance of a dove was seen by John’s eyes only, or, a dove flew down
and lighted on the Lord (Luke), and that this, to outsiders merely
a curious incident (compare John 12:29), was to our Lord and the Baptist a sign
of spiritual blessing. A dove (περιστερά - peristera - dove); any member of the pigeon
tribe; chosen because a symbol of deliverance (Genesis 8:8), of purity (Leviticus 5:7),
of harmlessness (ch.10:16), and of endearment (Song of Solomon 6:9). There
is no evidence that the dove was at this period interpreted by Jews as a symbol
of the Holy Spirit. The Targum on Song of Solomon 2:12 paraphrasing “the voice
of the turtle-dove ‘ by “the voice of the Holy Spirit,” dates in its present form from
the eighth to the tenth century. The dove mentioned (though probably by
interpolation) in the account of Polycarp’s death, appears to be a symbol of the
soul. No kingdom in the world has a lamb or a dove as emblems on its
escutcheon.” And; omit, with manuscripts. Lighting; coming (Revised
Version), because it is needless to translate a common Greek (ἐρχόμενον –
erchomenon - coming) by a rare English word. Observe that it refers to the
Holy Spirit, not to the dove as such. Upon Him (so Luke and John 1:32- 33;
Mark more vaguely, “unto Him”).
The Dove-Spirit on Christ (v. 16)
“Descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.” Comparing the accounts
given by the evangelists, it still remains uncertain whether what was seen
by John actually had the form of a dove, or hovered or brooded as a
descending bird does. But for our fixed associations, and the familiar
comments, we should be more willing to see that the brooding, resting,
abiding of the Spirit on Jesus, is the thing intended to be set prominently
before us by the figure. It will be safer, perhaps, to fix attention on both the
supernatural power and wisdom brought with it also the perfection of the
tenderness, the purity, the gentleness, of which the dove was the
acknowledged symbol” (see ch. 10:16). “Harmless as doves;” and
compare the Baptist’s figures, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Seeley says,
“There settled on his head a dove, in which the Baptist saw a visible
incarnation of that Holy Spirit with which he declared that Christ should
baptize.” “According to the symbolism of the Bible, certain mental
characters appear expressed m several animals, as in the lion, the lamb, the
eagle, and the ox. In this system of natural hieroglyphics the dove denotes
purity and sincerity, and hence the Spirit of purity may be most fittingly
compared with the dove. The coming of the Spirit like a dove denotes,
consequently, that the fullness of the Spirit of purity and sincerity was
imparted to Jesus, whereby He became the Purifier of mankind.”
impression to be made both on John and Jesus was of THE ABIDING,
permanent endowment of Christ with the precise spiritual power needed
for His Messianic mission. We are to distinguish carefully between the
Divine nature of Christ, which was unaffected by this brooding Spirit, and
the precise gift needed for the Messiahship. The Spirit dwelt in Him.
17 “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in
whom I am well pleased.” Lo; peculiar to St. Matthew — a reminiscence of
Aramaic diction. A voice. Similarly in ch.17:5 (Transfiguration, compare
II Peter 1:17-18); John 12:28 (like thunder); [possibly Acts 2:6, Pentecost];
9:4 (Paul’s conversion); 10:13, 15 (Peter). Talmudic and rabbinic writings often
mention the Bath-Qol as speaking from heaven. The character of the occasions
on which the voice is heard in the New Testament on the one hand, and in the
Jewish writings on the other, shows the complete difference in the moral aspect
of the two voices. The latter is at best little more than a parody of the former.
From heaven; out of the heavens (Revised Version), pointing to
the phrase in v. 16. Saying. Western authorities add, “unto Him,” mostly
reading the following words in the second person (compare Mark and Luke).
This is my beloved Son. Very similar if not identical words were spoken
at the Transfiguration (ch.17:5), Matthew giving precisely the
same, Mark and Luke only omitting “in whom I am well pleased,” and
Luke also reading “chosen” instead of “beloved.” It would seem more
natural to suppose that the words spoken on the two occasions were really
slightly different, and that therefore Matthew is the less accurate. My ....
Son (compare Psalm 2:7). My beloved Son. The expression is probably based on
Isaiah 42:1 (compare ch.12:18, note); but this does not necessitate the punctuation
of the Revised Version margin, “My Son; my beloved in whom,” etc. (For the
expression, compare Mark 12:6) (not in the parallel passage, ch.21:37); Ephesians 1:6.)
In whom I am well pleased; rather, in whom I have delight (compare Isaiah 62:4,
Authorized Version). The tense (εὐδόκησα – eudokaesa – I delight) is equivalent to
“my delight” fell on Him, He became the object of my love. The Spirit came, the
Father bore witness. Thus the Baptist receives through a revelation the certainty
of the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus the reader learns that the Son of David,
who through His birth (ch. 1.) and the fortunes of His childhood (ch. 2.) was
certified as the Messiah, now also is announced to the last of the prophets
as the Son of God, to whom Jehovah, in Psalm 2:7, etc., had promised
the Messianic dominion of the world. There are two other matters connected
with our Lord’s baptism recorded by tradition, additional words spoken, and an
additional sign given. The words spoken are found in “Western” authorities of
Luke 3:22, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” evidently with a
desire to emphasize the application of the second psalm. The additional sign is the
light or fire. The simplest form of this is (Tatian’s ‘Diatessaron,’ edit. Zahn), “A
light rose upon the waters;” and in the Ebionite Gospel apud Epiph., “Immediately
a great light shone round about the place;” more fully in Justin Martyr
(‘Trypho,’ § 88), “When Jesus had gone down into the water, fire was
kindled in the
baptized, fire was seen upon the water;” and in the Cod. Vercellensis of the
Old Latin, “When He was being baptized, an immense light shone round
from the water, so that all who had come thither were afraid.” Although
there is no intrinsic objection to this symbol having taken place, it is very
improbable that in this case the evangelists would not have recorded it. The
legend may have arisen from v. 11, or, and more probably, from an
endeavor to make the baptism parallel to the Transfiguration
(Matthew 17:2); cf. Ephraem, in Resch (‘Agrapha,’ p. 358), “John
drew near and worshipped the Son, whose form an unwonted lustre
The sign from heaven was given, no doubt mainly in order that John might be
able to identify Jesus as the Messiah, but to Christ Himself The Spirit is given
to without measure, in a bodily form. The Father makes Him Heir of all His
treasure, and takes no account of all He takes. There is no gauge, no metre.
(John 3:34) The more that is used the better. This fullness He received as Man
and for us. The head being anointed, refreshment is felt to the very skirts of the
garments — to the least and last and lowest of the members of Christ’s body.
Claiming to be our King, it is this He claims — to give us His Spirit. That very
Spirit which enabled Him to be what He was and to do what He did, He gives
to us. Had Jesus lacked anything which He needed for His office, had He found
Himself helpless to heal the sick, bewildered by the arguments of clever men,
outwearied by the wretched blindness of sinners, unmanned by danger and
the approach of death, this could only have arisen from His being abandoned
by the Spirit; and when we fail and stop short, when we are overcome by
outward difficulties or inward weakness, it is because we are trying to live
without the Spirit. The finishing of His work is the guarantee that ours shall be
finished. And the indwelling of the Spirit in Christ in a bodily completeness
is the guarantee that we shall enjoy, not merely one, but all of His
influences, and that in every part of our life HE WILL BE SUFFICIENT
FOR ALL OUR OCCASIONS!
Christ the Beloved Son of God (v. 17)
This declaration at the baptism of Christ was repeated later on in His ministry at the
Transfiguration (ch.17:5). Thus God owns His Son and bears witness to Him. Let us
consider what the heavenly voice teaches us about Him.
of God. He is not one of God’s sons as we may be through Him, as in a
natural sense we all are because “we are also His offspring” (Acts 17:28).
He is the Son of God in a supreme and unique sense. Now, this is not merely
a sublime truth of theology. It has important bearings on religion.
Ø To know the Son is to know the Father, of whom He is the Image
Ø If the Son is our Friend, the Father cannot be our Enemy; for they
are “One” (John 10:30). Therefore our fellowship with Christ carries
with it our reconciliation to God.
Ø Christ is able to save the world. The Divinity of Christ implies His
unlimited power. So great a Saviour is equal to the tremendous task
of redeeming a whole fallen world.
Ø He is God’s beloved Son. This truth seems to belong to the very nature
of Christ. It throws light on His permanent relations with God. God is
love, and Christ is good and worthy of love. Through all eternity the
love of the Father is directed to the Son. But now we see Christ on
earth, incarnate, a Man, and in lowly estate. Yet God does not fail
to own or cease to love Him. He is known to His Father, though He
may be despised by men. Surely this must have been a cheering and
sustaining influence for Christ in the midst of His hard and toilsome
life. In a lower way may not the same be true of us? God recognizes
His human family; He owns all His earthly children. The shame of
outward conditions does not blind His eye. Rejected by men,
His children are still owned and loved by God; and it is better to
be loved by God than to be praised by the world.
Ø God is well pleased with Him. This further truth seems to refer to
the immediate condition, to the recent action, of Christ. Jesus has
just been baptized; He had persevered in spite of the flattering
resistance of the Baptist; He had felt that He must fulfill all
righteousness; He had consecrated Himself to His great work.
God is well pleased with Christ for this.
o The obedience of the Son pleases the Father. If, like Christ,
we delight to do God’s will, He will delight in us.
o The good pleasure of God signifies His approval of Christ s
work. This mission of saving the world that Christ has just
consecrated Himself to is well-pleasing to God. Thus God
accepts the redeeming work from the first. Now the sacrifice
of Christ, being acceptable to God, must be efficacious
The Baptism of Jesus (vs. 13-17)
Ø He was made sin for us, though He was without sin. He came to be
baptized; it was the purpose of His coming He would not have come
long journey from Galilee to
had been some grave reason, some necessity, some deep meaning in
His baptism. It was the baptism of repentance; He needed no repentance.
It was accompanied with confession of sin; He could not confess, for He
had no sin to confess. But God had sent His own Son in the likeness of
sinful flesh; in some deep, mysterious sense “he was made sin for us.”
He bore the sin that was not His own. Therefore, as He submitted in
His infancy to the rite of circumcision; as His mother, after the birth
of the sinless Child, went through the ordinary purification; so now
when He was about to begin His ministry, THE MOST HOLY ONE
came to the baptism of repentance. It seemed to John strange,
unsuitable. He felt his own unworthiness in the presence of
the Saviour. He himself, he knew, needed the baptism of the
Holy Ghost; the Lord needed not the baptism of repentance.
And so he would have hindered Him. He had hindered, it seems
most probable, the Pharisees and Sadducees. The reasons were very
different. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not fit for his baptism;
his baptism was not fit for Jesus. But the Lord who, in His ineffable
condescension, had taken upon Him the form of a servant, in that
same condescension submitted to the rites which told of sin and
uncleanness. (Philippians 2:7-8). He was baptized, not that He might
be cleansed by the baptism of repentance, but rather, as Ignatius says
in his ‘Epistle to the Ephesians’ (sect. 18), that he might by his baptism
cleanse water and sanctify it to the mystical washing away of sin.
Ø It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. God had sent John to baptize
with water (John 1:33). The Son of God, now in the form of man,
comes to the baptism which God had commanded. It is an example to
us. It is our duty to fulfill all righteousness, all God’s ordinances alike.
We may not dare to neglect things external, things which some men
call unimportant. If God has commanded them, that commandment
gives them at once a deep and real importance; it makes them
duties of righteousness. The principle of obedience is no less
involved in things that seem to some small and trivial, than in the
highest duties of religion. The Lord Jesus came to the baptism of
John; no Christian man may dare to neglect the baptism of Jesus.
For these reasons the Lord offered Himself to be baptized. John
knew Him not at first. He must have heard of Him from His parents;
must have known something of the wondrous birth at
and of his own destination to go before the face of the Lord in the
spirit and power of Elijah. But the two cousins had been long separated
from each other; they had grown up far apart; John had lived a solitary
in the wilderness of
the quiet town of
felt the power of His presence. Holy himself, he reverenced that majesty
of unearthly holiness which beamed from the calm, sad, gracious eyes of
the Saviour of the world. His heart told him that it was a most sacred
Person who sought His baptism — a sinless, a Divine Presence that
stood before him. His hopes were kindled, his soul filled with intense,
eager anticipations. Surely it must be He that should come, the long-
expected One. The descent of the Holy Ghost revealed the Messiah
(John 1:33). But now a strange feeling of unworthiness came over him.
A deep instinct prompted him to say, like Peter, “Depart from me;
for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” It is ever so with His saints. The
nearer we draw to Christ, the more fully the Lord manifests
Himself to us, the more we feel our own utter sinfulness and
weakness. But the Lord, who in His gracious lowliness came to
John the Baptist, comes to His people still. John shrank from His
awful purity at first; he suffered Him when he heard his reassuring
words. It is a parable of the experience of many an awakened soul.
He seems so awful in His majesty, in His spotless holiness, and we
so feeble, defiled with so many sins; but He allures us with
His tender pity, He speaks comfortably to our souls, till we
welcome the Lord into our heart, seeking henceforth to live
always in that blessed fellowship which is with the Father and
with His Son Jesus Christ.
Ø He went up straightway out of the water. There seems to be meaning in
these words. His baptism was a consecration for His great and blessed
office. Son of God though He was, He had, in the mysterious union of
the human and Divine, increased in wisdom from childhood to manhood;
and now, it may be, the full consciousness of His Divine mission, the
full, clear knowledge of the awful, the most blessed, work which lay
before Him, dawned upon His holy human soul. He went up straightway;
immediately, as He emerged from the baptismal waters, He went up
prepared for His work; immediately He arose in the strength of holy
purpose and self-sacrificing love. He had lived hitherto in the quiet life
of lowly obedience; now He was manifested as THE GREAT HIGH
PRIEST, THE MESSIAH, THE ANOINTED ONE! Priests under
the Law received at their consecration the baptismal purification and
the anointing of the holy oil. The Lord Jesus, now about to
enter upon His three years’ ministry, submitted to the baptism of
repentance, and was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power.
The heavens were opened.
to Christ. The sin of Adam closed the way to
obedience of the incarnate Son opens heaven to all who follow Him.
As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. “He hath made
us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;” “Our citizenship is
in heaven.” Our treasure must be there, our heart must be in that heaven
which wan opened at the baptism of Jesus to all His true disciples.
Heaven was opened over Him at His baptism. It is opened over those
who are baptized by His commandment into the Name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For holy baptism admits us
into covenant with God: “In one Spirit were we all baptized into one
body” — the mystical body of Christ. The members of that body are
bound by their baptism to obey the laws of the kingdom of heaven,
and to live as citizens of the heavenly commonwealth. “If a man
abide not in me, He is cast forth.” They who, by His grace, abide
in spiritual union with Christ shall one day, like the holy martyr
Stephen, see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on
the right hand of God.
Ø The descent of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was conceived by the Holy
Ghost. The Holy Ghost was with Him always; for in the indissoluble
union of the Divine Persons, the Holy Three are One. But this was a
consecration of the incarnate Son, God and Man, to His sacred office -
a grand and heavenly anointing, visible to Himself and to the Baptist.
“I saw the Spirit,” said John, “descending from heaven like a dove,
and it abode upon Him.” God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost
(Acts 10:38). God the Father consecrated His incarnate Son by this
Divine anointing. Now He was revealed as the Priest for ever after
the order of Melchizedek; the King to whom the Lord God would
give the throne of his father David; the Prophet who would declare
to the faithful all that we need to know, all that we can know while
we are in the flesh, of that God whom no man hath seen at any
time. “The Spirit descended like a dove;” it descended on Him who
was dove-like, holy, harmless, undefiled. It found a resting-place in
the holy heart of Jesus. Still the blessed Spirit is brooding, dove-like,
over the face of the world; still He descends, another Comforter,
sent by the Father at the prayer of Him on whom He now descended,
on those who are learning of the Lord Christ to be themselves pure
in heart, gentle, harmless, holy. With such He abides for ever,
a gracious, willing Guest. Such men He consecrates with a holy
priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by
Ø The voice from heaven. The Father’s voice was heard: “This is my
beloved Son.” How the heart of John the Baptist must have thrilled at
the sound of the awful, holy words! It was the Christ indeed, the Only
Begotten of the Father. John stood in the presence of the Most Holy One.
So doth the Christian heart thrill now when the Lord Jesus Christ is
revealed to the soul; when the believer feels that he is in the presence of
God, alone with God — solus cure solo; when the heavenly voice is borne
in upon his heart; when he knows that his Redeemer liveth. “This is my
beloved Son,” whom God the Father had loved before the beginning
of the world, whom He loved now, always, with an eternal love; in
whom He loves all those to whom the beloved Son hath given power
to become the sons of God. (John 1:12) In that beloved Son God was
well pleased — well pleased always, well pleased now in the mysterious
self-sacrifice of His incarnation, of His perfect obedience. Those who
trust that they, too, being led by the Spirit of God, are in a true, though
infinitely lower sense, the sons of God, must try to please Him; it must
be their highest ambition, whether present or absent, to be well-pleasing
in His sight. As they draw nearer to Him, serving Him with a holier,
humbler, obedience, the heavenly voice will grow clearer, more distinct,
owning them to be His sons and daughters, THE CHILDREN OF
Ø The revelation of the blessed Trinity. At the baptism of Jesus by the
hand of John, the Holy Three were present:
o God the Son manifest in the flesh;
o God the Holy Ghost descending in a dove-like form;
o God the Father speaking from heaven,
recognizing in Jesus, God and Man, the only begotten Son of His love.
It was a manifestation of the eternal mystery — the mystery before
which we bow in the lowliest adoration of loving faith. In Christian
baptism, the sacrament which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself ordained,
the Name of the blessed Three is by the Lord’s commandment
pronounced over the new disciple: “Baptizing them into the Name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” THE NAME IS
ONE, the Persons are Three! The doctrine of the blessed Trinity is
enshrined in holy baptism.
Ø Imitate the Lord Jesus; use all the means of grace; observe all the
ordinances of religion. It becometh us to do as He did.
Ø Heaven is opened to the eye of faith; it was opened to the dying
Stephen. Steadfastly look up to heaven. See God in all His
Ø Pray earnestly for fuller gifts of the Holy Ghost. The dove-like
Spirit is given to the dove-like heart.
Seek earnestly to be well-pleasing to God in all things.
The Heavenly Attestation of the Sonship of Jesus (vs. 16-17)
The singular and thrilling event recorded in these verses is recorded also by Mark
(Mark 1:9-11) and by Luke (Luke 3:21-22) in an equally full manner, while it is
distinctly alluded to by John (John 1:32-33). It is remarkable that, though nothing is
said either way, we are left to conclude that the vision was confined to the two only –
Jesus Himself and John the Baptist. From that time John, who had personally long
known Jesus, knew Him for certain as the Messiah; and not only heralded the Christ,
but could point to him as the Christ (John 1:29-30). Notice:
OCCURRED. The first profound act of public, spontaneous self-humiliation
is alighted upon by the visit of a supernatural glorification. Immediately the
act of baptism was over, the heavens opened, the Dove sped down, the voice
of the Majesty Himself of all the universe uttered itself forth, and glory was
poured on Jesus.
Ø The “heavens opened.” We are certainly entitled by Scripture warrant,
to say the least, in order to help our weaker understanding and thought,
to consider heaven as a place, that place being the abode of God. These
helps to human imaginings of the Unknown will not discredit our faith
in the Divine omnipresence and in the fact that He is perfect Spirit; but
they are needful to our present limitations of apprehension of the dim,
Ø The Spirit descended, and in the form of a dove. No doubt it was now
that an enormous accession of the Spirit was made to the human nature
of Jesus Christ, And the “bodily form” of the dove was to betoken
alike the soft flight and that tenderest gentleness of the Spirit, and
the peace and love of Him who was now more fully replenished
with the Spirit.
Ø A voice from heaven speaks. It is here said “a” voice. But the words
spoken prove that it was none less than the voice of Heaven, the
voice of the majesty of the Father, of the Glory — GOD HIMSELF!
o Great is the impression of voice.
o Great may be the absolute charm of voice.
o Great beside all else is the fixed, distinct certainty of voice, as
e.g. compared with vision or with imagination.
God speaks in all creation with ten thousand voices, it is true.
But when He speaks with that voice which utters words, the
ear hears as in its own right. The words uttered by the voice of
o the Sonship of Jesus;
o that He is the object of the Father’s unqualified complacence;
o because that might be the complacence of feeling chiefly, by
the analogy of human relationship, the voice asserts the
Father’s perfect approbation as well.
have been vouchsafed for the absolute warranting of the faith of John the
Baptist. The simplicity, and what should seem in some light the
narrowness, of this object invest it to a very large extent with its greatness.
Ø What a testimony of condescending graciousness to that one man!
He is to live for Christ, to work for Christ, to die for Christ. And
to furnish him with exactly the enough satisfaction of evidence,
faith, growing into knowledge, all the grandest apparatus of
Heaven is brought into use!
Ø What a testimony of real consideration to the world! Is a great trust
committed to earthly vessels? Is it a trust of critical and tremendous
responsibility? Are men, not angels, the ministers of truth, of life, of
salvation to their fellow-men, in the name of Christ? Then alike it is
mercy for those who are to be blessed, as for those who are to bless,
that into these latter, though they should stand but one by one, and
follow one another in narrowest line of succession, the whole force
of absolute conviction should be thrown by Heaven’s and God’s
own most approved methods. On this occasion we cannot doubt
Jesus Himself was refreshed with the vision of open heaven,
with the alighting on Him of the holy Dove, with the voice of the
Father, and the words that voice spoke. But, in that John was the
witness, and presumably the only witness hereof, the significance
can be but one; and it is plain and most striking.
The Baptism of Jesus by the Holy Ghost (vs. 16-17)
After receiving John’s baptism, Jesus “went up straightway from the
water.” He did not remain to make confession of sin, and for the obvious
reason that He had none. He went up “from the water,” or ascended the
outer hank of the
within the double bank of that river. Then “lo, the heavens were opened
unto Him,” etc. An interval is here clearly marked between the baptism of
John and that of the Holy Ghost, to show that the baptisms are distinct.
The latter was the true baptism of Jesus.
The scene manifested the Holy Trinity. Jesus is declared to be the Son of God
by the voice of the Father. This is a Messianic title (see Psalm 2:7; also II Samuel
7:14, cited in Hebrews 1:5; and Luke 1:35. John, when speaking of the pre-existence,
uses the title “Word;” but when he comes to treat of the Incarnation, then he uses
this title (John 1:1-14). Nevertheless, as a title of the Incarnation, it expresses the
Divinity of Christ. It sets forth Messiah as of the same nature with the Father
(see ch. 26:63-65; John 1:18; 5:18; 10:36; 19:7; Romans 1:3-4; Hebrews1.).
This voice was probably like thunder (compare John 12:29; also Job
40:9; 37:4-5; Psalm 18:13; 29:3-4). Yet was it distinct from thunder, for
it came in articulate phrase. It was therefore supernatural. It resembled the
voice in which the Lord spake to Moses or answered the high priests who
consulted Him by the Urim and Thummim.
The Spirit of the Father rests upon the Son. It came from the cloven heavens —
from the “excellent glory.” It was “the Spirit of glory and of God.”
“It abode upon Him” (John 1:32-34). The gift of the Spirit as a
Spirit of wisdom and power is to be distinguished from the indwelling of
the same Spirit as a Spirit of holiness. The apostles are repeatedly said to
be “filled with the Holy Ghost;” but of Jesus it is said once for all that He
was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1). Out of His fullness we receive
the measures of grace (John 1:16; 3:34-35).
The Spirit of God came upon Him. This is the indispensable
qualification. When He descends upon the preacher, the light of heaven
comes into his soul. Without the Spirit of God there can be no effective
spiritual teaching. The Spirit came upon Him as a dove. The Holy Spirit
came upon the apostles in tongues or flames, of fire. There was something
to be purged in them. Christ had nothing that needed cleansing. The dove
is the emblem of innocence, purity, and meekness (see Isaiah 42:1-2). These
qualities should be sought and cultivated by all preachers (compare ch.10:16).
Christ’s baptism was the first act in the consecration of Him to His priesthood.
In the complete consecration the baptisms are three.
to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation and “washed them with
anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him to sanctify him.”
of the ram of consecration, “and put it upon Aaron’s right ear, and upon
the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.”
These baptisms had their counterpart severally in the consecration of
Ø on the Mount of Transfiguration; and
in Gethsemane and
We are here concerned with the first of these.
Ø As Moses the Levite washed Aaron with water; so John, also a Levite,
washed Jesus with water, to mark Him as the Antitype of Aaron.
But the baptism which really inaugurated Jesus was that of the Holy
Ghost, which followed the baptism of John. “It is the Spirit that beareth
witness” in this case, not the “water” (compare I John 5:6, 8-9).
Ø The attesting voice comes now with fresh meaning. “My beloved Son,
in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus came to do the will and fulfill the
pleasure of God, which the Law failed to do or fulfill (compare
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