Main point summary
Despite John the baptiser's strong message of repentance, many flock to him. Yet when he sees the leaders, he points them to mightier baptiser and judge.
h In those days i John the Baptist came preaching in j the wilderness of Judea,
In those days John the Baptist came into the wilderness 1 of Judea proclaiming,
“Repent, 2 for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
for l the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah
For he is the one about whom Isaiah the prophet had spoken: 3 “ The voice 4 of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘ Prepare the way for the Lord, make 5 his paths straight . ’” 6
when he said,
m “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
n ‘Prepare 1 the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore o a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist,
Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. 7
and his food was p locusts and q wild honey.
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,
Then people from Jerusalem, 8 as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him,
and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan,
and he was baptizing them 9 in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
r confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of s the Pharisees and t Sadducees coming to his baptism,
But when he saw many Pharisees 10 and Sadducees 11 coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
he said to them,
u “You brood of v vipers! Who warned you to flee from w the wrath to come?
Bear fruit x in keeping with repentance.
Therefore produce fruit 12 that proves your 13 repentance,
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!
y ‘We have Abraham as our father,’
for I tell you,
God is able from z these stones
to raise up children for Abraham.
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.
Even now the ax is laid at 14 the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
a Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit
is cut down and thrown into the fire.
b “I baptize you with water c for repentance,
“I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am - I am not worthy 15 to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 16
but d he who is coming after me is mightier than I,
whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.
He will baptize you e with the Holy Spirit and f fire.
His g winnowing fork is in his hand,
His winnowing fork 17 is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, 18 but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” 19
and he will clear his threshing floor
and h gather his wheat into the barn,
i but the chaff he will burn with j unquenchable fire.”
“As Jesus’ forerunner, John foreshadows in his person and work the person and work of Jesus. Both John and Jesus are the agents of God sent by God (11:10; 10:40). Both belong to the time of fulfillment (3:3; 1:23). Both have the same message to proclaim (3:2; 4:17). Both enter into conflict with Israel: in the case of the crowds, a favorable reception ultimately gives way to repudiation; in the case of the leaders, the opposition is implacable from the outset (3:7-10; 9:3). Both John and Jesus are ‘delivered up’ to their enemies (4:12; 10:4). And both are made to die violently and shamefully (14:3-12; 27:37).” Kingsbury, p49
Perhaps allusions to pre-creation and the Exodus?
What did John come preaching about? When he preaches about repentance, what is he implying? What is repentance? Why should one repent? Why do you think this idea of repentance would be radical for descendants of Israel? What is the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven? What does John say about this kingdom? What does this mean, esp. in light of the prophecy quoted in ver 3? Compare 3:2 with 1:21. What does it tell us about the kingdom of God? Why does 3:3 start with 'for'? See Is 40:1-8. What does this tell us about God? Why is it important for us to know that God keeps his word? Who is the 'Lord' being spoken of in Isaiah 40:3? What does that imply about Jesus? How is he different from any other Davidic King? If John is here, what does that mean? See Is 40:5 and Jn 1:14 Why does Matthew include details of John's clothing and food? What does this tell us about the king and his kingdom? Silent years and 'Elijah' like appearance Faithfulness to God's word while preaching, without fear of man What might this tell us about what we have to preach? Why does ver 5 start with 'then'? Who all flocked to John? Why?
...the NT usage has been influenced by the Hebrew verbs nāḥam (“to be sorry for one’s actions,” GK 5714) and šûb (“to turn around to new actions,” GK 8740). The latter is common in the prophets’ call to the people to return to the covenant with Yahweh (cf. NIDNTT 1:357–59; Turner, Christian Words, 374–77). What is meant is not a merely intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance (see Notes), but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overtones of grief, which results in “fruit in keeping with repentance” (v.8). Of course, all this assumes that human actions are fundamentally off course and need radical change. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 248). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
The primary idea around the 'kingdom' is 'reign', more than a territory. The contrast is plain in that this kingdom is one of heaven, yet the message and its nearness is to the earth. This is about heavenly reign on the earth and among men. And this clearly is more than God's providential reign. YHWH is King 1Sa 12:12, Pss 10, 22:28, 24:10; Isa 33:22; Zeph 3:15; Zech 14:16-17 YHWH rules over Israel (seen through the rule of the Messiah who reigns over Israel) Ex 15:18; Nu 23:21; Dt 33:5; Isa 43:15 YHWH reigns over the earth and all creation 2Ki 19:15; Isa 6:5; Jer 46:18; Pss 29:10; 47:2; 93; 96:10; 145:11-13 YHWH possesses a royal throne Pss 9:4; 45:6; 47:8; Isa 6:1; 661: Eze 1:26 The Davidic King is seen to sit on YHWH's throne, cf. 2 Chronicles 9:8 Hence, in the light of the exile, there was the hope of a re-establishment of the throne of David, through which all the earth is subdued (Nebuchadnezzar's vision of a statue) This is through the Covenant with David, and the hope was that the promises of the covenant would be fulfilled, with all other earthly kingdoms subdued Nonetheless, when the Judah went into captivity, there was a hope for the fullness of an eschatological kingdom, of which David's and Solomon's kingdom was just a glimpse YHWH’s reign is ongoing Pss 10:16; 146:10; Isa 24:23 The Expectations:
OT Hope: YHWH's visitation Establishment of justice and the vindication of Israel Crushing of opposition (and, thus, powers of darkness) A renewal of the cosmos All of this hope was based on the promises to the seed of David and often seen as the 'Day of YHWH' - a day of judgement and great rejoicing tied together with the coming of a new heaven and a new earth ruled by Messiah accessible through the radically transformative New Covenant which included a regathering of Israel back into their land. See 2Sa 7:13–14; Isa 1:24–28; 9:6–7; 11:1–10; 64–66; Jer 23:5–6; 31:31–34; Eze 37:24; Da 2:44; 7:13–14; Zep 3:14–20
The ambiguous “is near” ( 3:2 ; 4:17 ), coupled with the dynamic sense of “kingdom,” prepares us for a constant theme: The kingdom came with Jesus and his preaching and miracles, it came with his death and resurrection, and it will come at the end of the age. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 250). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition. Cf. 12:28, where Jesus explicitly says that the kingdom has come, and ties it to the Spirit of God (see Eze 36-37)
cf. Jn 1:23
In Isaiah 40:3, the way of Yahweh is being “made straight” (a metaphor using road building to refer to repentance); in Matthew 3:3 it is the way of Jesus. This sort of identification of Jesus with Yahweh is common in the NT (e.g., Ex 13:21 and 1Co 10:1; Ex 17:6 and 1Co 10:4; Isa 6:1 and Jn 12:41; Ps 68:18 and Eph 4:8; Ps 102:25–27 and Heb 1:10–12) and confirms the kingdom as being equally the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Jesus. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 251). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Jdg 14:8–9 1Sa 14:25–29 Ps 81:16
2Ki 1:8 Mal 3:1, 4:5 Mt. 11:8-14; 17:10-11 Zech 13:4
What does John say to the Pharisees and Sadducees? What does he imply? What is coming? What does that mean about the kingdom of God? God's reign demands repentance (3:2) or judgement What antidote does John prescribe to them? What presumptions does he address? How does he address them? How is this a matter of hope? As a leader within the local church context, how different am I from the Pharisee/Sadducee, a leader of Israel? What presumptions do we make? What do these presumptions indicate about our view of God? What happens to trees that bear bad fruit? What happens to trees that bear no fruit? What does that tell us about repentance? What does this tell us about the dawn of the kingdom? What contrast does John make? What new information does he give about the one who is coming? What does this tell us of John's baptism? What does the Holy Spirit and fire remind us of? What fearful reality underlies the King's separation of wheat and chaff? What does this passage tell us about the steadfast love, grace and slowness of God to anger? What does this tell us of Messiah?
Both Elijah and John had stern ministries in which austere garb and diet confirmed their message and condemned the idolatry of physical and spiritual softness. “Even the food and dress of John preached” Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 252). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Baptism represented purification to the Jews. Ceremonial washings were part of the Mosaic system of worship (Exod. 19; Lev. 15; Num. 19). When a Gentile became a proselyte to Judaism, he or she underwent baptism. But John baptized Jews. John’s baptism carried these connotations of cleansing with it, but it was different. In the other types of ceremonial cleansing, the person washed himself or herself. John, on the other hand, baptized other people. He probably received the name “John the Baptist” or “Baptizer” for this reason. John’s baptism did not make a person a member of the church, the body of Christ, since the church had not yet come into existence (16:18). It simply gave public testimony to that Jewish person’s repentance and commitment to live a holy life. Constable's Notes
cf. Jn 1:19-24
Either they came with great pomp to showcase their readiness for the Messiah or they came as the Sanhedrin to examine what John was upto.
The question with which the Baptist confronted them has this sense: “Who suggested to you that you would escape the coming wrath?” Thus John’s rhetorical question takes on a sarcastic nuance: “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath and come for baptism—when, in fact, you show no signs of repentance?” Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 253). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
John the Baptist stands squarely in the prophetic tradition—a tradition in which the Day of the Lord points much more to darkness than to light for those who think they have no sin (Am 2:4–8; 6:1–7). “You brood of vipers!” also belongs to the prophetic tradition (cf. Isa 14:29; 30:6; cf. CD 19:22); in Mt 12:34, Jesus uses these terms to excoriate the Pharisees. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 253). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Isa 10:33–34 Jer 46:22
Eze 36:25–27; 39:29; Joel 2:28
Ps 1:4 Isa 5:24 Da 2:35 Hos 13:3
Isa 34:10; 66:24 Jer 7:20 cf. Mt. 5:29
THE FAITHFUL FORERUNNER (3:1-12, cf. Mk 1:1-11, Lk 3:1-20 & Jn 1:19-34) 3:1 Matthew dives straight into the ministry of John the baptiser, without going into the details of John’s background (Lk 1:5–25, 39–45, 57–80) or Jesus’ youth (Lk 2:41-52). And in the light of the 400 years of silence, God was speaking anew through a herald in the wilderness (perhaps alluding to creation & the Exodus). 3:2 John’s message consisted of a command and it’s basis: The command: Repent, radically turning away from sin and turning to ‘bearing fruit’ (3:8,10) to God Why repent? Because the Kingdom of Heaven had drawn near. The king had already come (2:2), and the consummation was not yet but close at hand. This nearness of the kingdom included many aspects. From the verse at hand, it most explicitly was tied to repentance from sin (see 1:21). YHWH's visitation The establishment of justice and the vindication of Israel Crushing of opposition (and, thus, powers of darkness) A renewal of the cosmos All of this hope was based on the promises to the seed of David and often seen as the 'Day of YHWH' - a day of judgement and great rejoicing tied together with the coming of a new heaven and a new earth ruled by Messiah accessible through the radically transformative New Covenant which included a regathering of Israel back into their land. See 2Sa 7:13–14; Isa 1:24–28; 9:6–7; 11:1–10; 64–66; Jer 23:5–6; 31:31–34; Eze 37:24; Da 2:44; 7:13–14; Zep 3:14–20 3:3 Matthew records that John was the one of whom Isaiah spoke in Is 40:1-8, which proved the endurance of God’s word (Is 40:8), while its thrust was that the Lord was coming. The Lord is YHWH, and here, in the person of Jesus. And this was the basis (‘For’) for John’s preaching. He was preaching repentance and it was this repentance that would ‘make straight’ YHWH’s way. 3:4-6 Matthew bothers to describe John’s garb and diet and draws parallels to the austerity of Elijah (2Ki 1:8, Mal 4:5) especially in the light of the several centuries of silence. ‘Then’ all the people around flocked to him. In simplicity and faithful preaching came the great King’s forerunner. And this simple faithfulness had huge impacts —the many that came confessed their sins and were baptised in the Jordan. With the backdrop of OT cleansing rituals and a practice of baptising Jewish proselytes, this familiar cleansing took new ‘kingdom’ significance. 3:7 Israel’s ‘shepherds’ (the Pharisees and Sadducees, cf. 2:4-6) show up again, this time coming to John the baptiser. They either come for baptism or examination (cf. Jn 1:19-24). But John calls them a brood of vipers, pointing to their hostile hearts, and not unlike the prophets of old (Is 14:29; 30:6). And then, with sarcasm, rhetorically asks them who suggested that they would escape the coming wrath —after all, they showed no sign of repentance and had much presumption, as the following verses suggest. The visitation of the Lord often had judgement and salvation in view, but the judgement was most pronounced against those who presumed that they had no sin (see Am 2:4–8; 6:1–7). 3:8-10 To remain a tree in the kingdom orchard demands the fruit of repentance. The only alternative available is judgement. So John calls the leaders to ‘bear fruit’ in line with repentance instead of presuming on their Abrahamic bloodline, because God is more than capable of bringing children of Abraham from stones. The real children of Abraham, then, are those who are characterised by good fruit. Anything less is cut down thrown into the fire. The urgency is palpable —‘now/already’, with the dawning of the kingdom, the axe is laid at the root of the fraudulent trees (Isa 10:33–34; Jer 46:22). Fruits, not roots, are what matter. 3:11-12 John immediately points to the antidote —the one who is “mightier than I”. This one who is coming is going to baptise people not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire, reminding the readers of Eze 36 and 39 and the dawning of Messiah’s rule. John is the first person recorded who explicitly states that the one bestowing the Holy Spirit will be the Messiah. In comparison to him, John is less than the most menial of slaves —unworthy even to do the most undignified of tasks for Messiah. Yet John reiterates, that Messiah is coming prepared to separate the grain from the chaff and burn the chaff with terrifying judgement —unquenchable fire (cf. Ps 1:4; Isa 5:24; Da 2:35; Hos 13:3 and Isa 34:10; 66:24; Jer 7:20). So with the king comes hope against the backdrop of judgement. John offers his listeners, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, this hope, accessible through a life of repentance. APPLICATION How is your life characterised by repentance? What fruit do you bear? How do you preach the good news? How does God’s faithfulness to his promises strengthen your faith? What presumptions about our standing with God do we carry? What is the appropriate antidote that we need to apply? As a leader within the local church context, how different am I from the Pharisee/Sadducee, a leader of Israel? Read 1 John 3:2-3. How real is Christ’s coming to you? How are you purifying your life? Compare yourself with Jesus, not others. What about this passage leads you to worship God?
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 4 “ Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, 5 3 the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘ Prepare the way for the Lord, make 6 his paths straight. ’” 7 4 In the wilderness 8 John the baptizer 9 began preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 10 5 People 11 from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem 12 were going out to him, and he was baptizing them 13 in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 14 7 He proclaimed, 15 “One more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy 16 to bend down and untie the strap 17 of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
3 He 10 went into all the region around the Jordan River, 11 preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 12 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice 13 of one shouting in the wilderness: 14 ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make 15 his paths straight . 5 Every valley will be filled, 16 and every mountain and hill will be brought low, and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough ways will be made smooth, 6 and all humanity 17 will see the salvation of God.’” 18 7 So John 19 said to the crowds 20 that came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers! 21 Who warned you to flee 22 from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce 23 fruit 24 that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say 25 to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ 26 For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 27 9 Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, 28 and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be 29 cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 So 30 the crowds were asking 31 him, “What then should we do?” 11 John 32 answered them, 33 “The person who has two tunics 34 must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors 35 also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Collect no more 36 than you are required to.” 37 14 Then some soldiers 38 also asked him, “And as for us - what should we do?” 39 He told them, “Take money from no one by violence 40 or by false accusation, 41 and be content with your pay.” 15 While the people were filled with anticipation 42 and they all wondered 43 whether perhaps John 44 could be the Christ, 45 16 John answered them all, 46 “I baptize you with water, 47 but one more powerful than I am is coming - I am not worthy 48 to untie the strap 49 of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 50 17 His winnowing fork 51 is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, 52 but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” 53 18 And in this way, 54 with many other exhortations, John 55 proclaimed good news to the people.
23 John 62 said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight 63 the way for the Lord,’ 64 as Isaiah the prophet said.”