Matthew 3:1-4 John the Baptist comes to Herald the coming Messiah. This is the fulfillment of Mal. 3:1 & 4:5 which is revealed in Matt. 11:10. Matthew also quotes Isa. 40:3. The context of Is. 40 is the return of the Babylonian captives returning. We noted this motif of the Babylonian return in our observation of the quote in Jer. 31:15 about the slaughter of the innocents. John is dressed in the same clothing as Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).
Matthew 3:5-6 Baptism is a Jewish rite established in the Law. (Num. 8:5-22) The purification of Priests was necessary for them to assume their priestly office. This also was necessary for the individual Israelite. (Lev. 14:8). By the time of the appearing of Jesus the Messiah, immersion was necessary for proselytes. It is also mentioned in the Talmud as necessary for returning from idolatry. The Mikveh (Baptism) is still an important part of the Jewish community. This procedure was rooted in the events that occurred when Israel received the Law after being in bondage in Egypt (Ex. 19:10,14). It is also a picture of the Red Sea crossing (1 Cor. 10:1ff.) We also see this in Paul’s comments in Rom. 6:1ff.
Matthew 3:7 Large numbers of people came to John, some with genuine hearts of repentance others just going through religious motions, still others to observe what was happening. The traditional Jewish opinion of salvations was that since they were offspring (seed) of Abraham they were automatically sons of the covenant, but Paul and the New Covenant clarify who really are true sons of the covenant (Rom. 2:28-29, Gal 3:7). It is interesting that many Christian denominations have this concept because of the rite of infant Baptism. John makes clear that genuine repentance is a prerequisite for Biblical Baptism. The reference to a Brood of Vipers harkens back to Gen 3:15 and the offspring of the serpent. Calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers pointed to their religious hypocrisy and because of that they were hindering people from entering and understanding the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23:13). In Matthew 23:33 Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “serpents” as well as a “brood of vipers,” suggesting more directly that their spiritual father was Satan—as He specifically charges in John 8:44 (Rev. 12:9; 20:2).
By the time of Yeshua three groups, or sects, had developed that were distinct. In addition to the Sadducees and Pharisees were the Essenes. Most of the Essenes were unmarried, but they often adopted children from other Jewish families. They were a monastic community who were secretive and mystical looking for the coming of the Messiah. They lived for the most part in isolated communities such as Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. They spent much of their time copying and studying the Scriptures, it is to them that we owe the Dead Sea Scrolls—discovered by accident in 1947 by an Arab shepherd boy. But the Essenes had little contact with or influence in the Jewish society of their own day and are not mentioned in the New Testament.
Matthew 3:8 – An indication of true repentance is fruit. Luke mentions several examples of the kind of fruit John was talking about by sharing one’s resources with those in need (Luke 3:11). To the tax-collectors he said, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to” (v. 13), and to soldiers he said, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages” (v. 14). James tells us “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).
True repentance not only should but will have genuine works, demonstrated in both attitudes and actions. A right relationship with God brings a right relationship to others (Rom. 12:18). Those who claim to know Messiah, who claim to be born again, will demonstrate a new way of living that corresponds to their new birth.
The Pharisees and Sadducees knew a great deal about repentance. That God fully forgives the sins of a truly repentant man was and is a basic truth in Judaism. The rabbis teach, “Great is repentance, for it brings healing upon the world. Great is repentance, for it reaches to the throne of God.” The teaching of the sages of Israel is that the law was created two thousand years before the world, but that repentance was created even before the law. Maimonides said “what is repentance? Repentance is that the sinner forsakes his sin, puts it out of his thoughts, and fully resolves in his mind that he will never do it again.” Repentance always involves a changed life, a renouncing of sin and doing righteousness. The Lord declared through Ezekiel, “when the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice and righteousness, he will live by them” (Ezek. 33:18-19). After Jonah’s reluctantly warned Nineveh to repent, “God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, and God relented concerning His judgment set for them (Jonah 3:10). Nineveh brought forth fruit in keeping with repentance. Faithful rabbis taught that one of the most important passages in Scripture was Isa. 1:16-17.
True repentance has 3 parts to it; 1) understanding and insight, awareness of the need for moral and spiritual cleansing and change. 2) it involves one’s emotions. We come to feel the need that our mind understands. 3) it involves appropriate actions that result from what our mind knows, and our heart sees.
Recognition of personal sin is the important first step. But by itself it is useless, even dangerous, because it tends to make a person think that mere recognition is all that is necessary. Pharaoh admitted his sin (Ex. 9:27), so did King Saul (1 Sam. 15:24). Even Judas (Matt. 27:4) but they all failed to truly repent. They were experiencing what Paul called “the sorrow of the world” that “produces death” instead of the “godly sorrow” that “produces a repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10-11). True repentance involves includes a deep sense wrong against God, like David (Ps. 51:1; Ps. 32:3). Godly sorrow results in a changed life that bears fruit in keeping with repentance. We see this in David (Ps. 51:10, 13).
Matthew 3:9 There is no reason to believe that John the Baptist intended to humiliate the Pharisees and Sadducees or demand some sort of public demonstration of their sincerity. But he insisted that there must be evidence of true repentance and that he would not be party to their using him to promote their own selfish and ungodly purposes. They believed that simply being Abraham’s children did not guarantee their place in heaven. John tells them that belief is not the case. There was a great advantage in knowing and understanding God’s will from knowing Scripture (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5), but without genuine repentance and faith in God that advantage will bring greater condemnation. If Abraham himself was justified only by his faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-3) how could his children expect to be justified in any other way (Rom. 3:21-22)? Abraham’s faithful walk with God brought fruit. The rabbis taught and still teach that “all Israelites have a portion in the world to come.” They base it on the same thing that the Catholic Church believes that their place is secure through the church on the “merits of the fathers.” The religious Jewish worldview generally considered Gentiles to be, spiritually lifeless and dead as far as a right relationship with God was concerned. It may have been that attitude that John is speaking to in v .9. True children of Abraham come to the Lord as Abraham did, by faith (Matt. 8:10-12).
Matthew 3:10 – John believed that God’s ultimate judgment was imminent because the Messiah had arrived. The prophets did not see or understand the age of the church; they thought the Messiah would immediately usher in the Messianic age (1 Pet. 1:10-12). This has been described as the mountain peaks of prophecy they did not see the era of the church in the valley below, the time between the first and second coming of the Messiah. He likens men’s lives to a tree that bear fruit if there is no fruit is cut down. Yeshua speaks of this in (John 15:6) and so did the prophet Isaiah in Is. 5. Fire is often a biblical symbol of God’s punishment and judgment (Gen. 19:24)., God is described as “a consuming fire” (Ex. 24:17; Deut. 4:24; 9:3; Mal. 4:1). Jesus often spoke of the fires of hell (Matt. 5:22, 29; Mark 9:43, 47; Luke 3:17). John was speaking specifically to the self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees, but his message of judgment speaks to us all with his reference to “every tree… that does not bear good fruit” Salvation is not verified by a past act, but by present fruitfulness.
Matthew 3:11-12 Removing sandals was a task so lowly that even Jewish slave owners could not require it of Jewish slaves. John saw himself as unworthy even to perform this task for Jesus. John humbled himself before Jesus because his baptism was far superior to his. John’s baptism was a call to repentance, but Yeshua’s baptism was accompanied by God’s voice declaring His sonship. The baptism that He would bring could change a person’s heart. Matthew’s quotes from Jer. 31:15 in Mt 2:18 pointed to the promised new covenant (Jr 31:31-33). The reference to baptism by the Spirit pointed to the promise referred to in Ezek. 36:24-27. This work of the Spirit was highlighted at Jesus’ baptism (3:16). Jesus would baptize people with fire, a reference to God’s judgment that was coming and to the purifying work of fire. John’s Baptism prepared for the coming of the Messiah (Mal 3:5-6). “Fire” is a Biblical allusion to purification (Is. 1:25, Zech. 13:9, Mal 3:2-3). When Messiah comes, He will purify and separate wheat from chaff (Ps 1:4, Dan. 2:35, Jer. 23:28). The unquenchable fire is a refers to eternal judgment which was taught by the prophets (Is. 34:10, 66:24, Jer. 7:20).
Matthew 13:13-15 Why did Jesus came to John to be baptized? John knew Jesus’ human identity but also His divine identity. The apostle John tells us that John the Baptist “saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” (John 1:29). John knew that this was God’s Messiah, who had come to fulfill God’s redemptive purpose. John’s baptism was a call for a life of repentance and righteousness. Jesus did not need to repent since He is perfectly righteous. For God’s plan to be perfectly fulfilled, it was necessary for Jesus to be baptized and to be baptized specifically by John. One reason Jesus submitted to baptism was to be an example of obedience to His followers. Jesus in his earthly life modeled obedience. In baptism Yeshua acknowledged that John’s baptism was valid and affirmed it as the will of God to which all men are called to. He also is the second Israel, and just as Israel was baptized into Moses and the Red Sea so Jesus came to be an example of what it was to walk in God’s Torah. He also came into the world to identify with all mankind and their sin. Isaiah said that the Messiah “was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).
This was his first act of ministry in the redemptive plan that He came to fulfill. In this act He took His place among Israel and all the sinners of the world. He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Isa. 53:11). This was the way to fulfill God’s righteousness.
Jesus’ baptism was both a symbol of His identity with sinners but also a picture of His death and resurrection which what believer’s baptism pictures. Jesus made two references to baptism related to His death. “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). The other was a response to James and John that they be given the top positions in His kingdom. “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). This speaks of the call all of His disciples have to die to our own will and to live for God (Rom. 12:1-2).
Matthew 3:16-17 Three signs at Jesus’ baptism are mentioned by Matthew. The heavens were opened. When Ezekiel saw the heavens opened, he saw the four living creatures, the chariot, and the wheels (Ezek. 1:1–19). Stephen saw “the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), and John the apostle had several heavenly visions (Rev. 4:1; 11:19; 19:11). Paul’s experience was so wonderful that he said it was “inexpressible” (2 Cor. 12:2–4). When the heavens opened for John here, he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Yeshua.
The second sign was the Spirit descending like a dove. The sign of a dove is the only time that the Holy Spirit was ever represented in this way. The Holy Spirit came upon Yeshua in His humanity to be anointed for service and given strength for his ministry. It was the dove of Noah that was a token of God’s peace upon the earth and Noah and his family. The Spirit anointed Him for His service, as Isaiah had predicted: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners” (Isa. 61:1). The Spirit of God came upon Jesus in His humanness in a special way to empower Him to cast out demons (Matt. 12:28), to do miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 2:22), and to preach (cf. Acts 10:38). Like every human, Jesus became tired, hungry and sleepy. His humanness needed strengthening, and that strength was given by the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:14).
The third sign was the confirmation by the Father. The Trinity was present in the baptism of Jesus. The Son confirmed His kingship by saying, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”, and the Spirit confirmed His right of messiahship by resting on Him (v. 16). The final aspect of Jesus’ coronation was the Father’s confirming word, “this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”. No sacrifice had ever been truly pleasing to God. The blood of the sacrifices in the Temple were only symbolic, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). But the sacrifice Jesus on the cross was “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah” (1 Pet. 1:19). Thus, God was well-pleased with the perfect offering of His Son. He is described as beloved, describing the Father’s great love for His Son, because of Him it is also used of His God’s love for believers (Rom. 1:7). We too are a delight to the Father, because we are in His Son.