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Word Pictures in the New Testament
(Matthew: Chapter 3)

3:1 {And in those days cometh John the Baptist} (\en de tais
hēmerais paraginetai Iōanēs ho Baptistēs\)
. Here the synoptic
narrative begins with the baptism of John (Mt. 3:1; Mr 1:2; Lu
as given by Peter in Ac 1:22, "from the baptism of John,
unto the day that he was received up from us" (cf. also Ac
10:37-43, Peter's summary to Cornelius very much like the
outline of Mark's Gospel)
. Matthew does not indicate the date
when John appeared as Luke does in ch. 3 (the fifteenth year of
Tiberius's reign)
. It was some thirty years after the birth of
John, precisely how long after the return of Joseph and Mary to
Nazareth we do not know. Moffatt translates the verb
(\paraginetai\) "came on the scene," but it is the historical
present and calls for a vivid imagination on the part of the
reader. There he is as he comes forward, makes his appearance.
His name John means "Gift of Jehovah" (cf. German _Gotthold_) and
is a shortened form of Johanan. He is described as "the Baptist,"
"the Baptizer" for that is the rite that distinguishes him. The
Jews probably had proselyte baptism as I. Abrahams shows
(_Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels_, p. 37). But this rite
was meant for the Gentiles who accepted Judaism. John is treating
the Jews as Gentiles in demanding baptism at their hands on the
basis of repentance.

{Preaching in the wilderness of Judea} (\Kērussōn en tēi erēmōi
tēs Ioudaias\)
. It was the rough region in the hills toward the
Jordan and the Dead Sea. There were some people scattered over
the barren cliffs. Here John came in close touch with the rocks,
the trees, the goats, the sheep, and the shepherds, the snakes
that slipped before the burning grass over the rocks. He was the
Baptizer, but he was also the Preacher, heralding his message out
in the barren hills at first where few people were, but soon his
startling message drew crowds from far and near. Some preachers
start with crowds and drive them away.

3:2 {Repent} (\metanoeite\). Broadus used to say that this is the
worst translation in the New Testament. The trouble is that the
English word "repent" means "to be sorry again" from the Latin
_repoenitet_ (impersonal). John did not call on the people to be
sorry, but to change (think afterwards) their mental attitudes
(\metanoeite\) and conduct. The Vulgate has it "do penance" and
Wycliff has followed that. The Old Syriac has it better: "Turn
ye." The French (Geneva) has it "Amendez vous." This is John's
great word (Bruce) and it has been hopelessly mistranslated. The
tragedy of it is that we have no one English word that reproduces
exactly the meaning and atmosphere of the Greek word. The Greek
has a word meaning to be sorry (\metamelomai\) which is exactly
our English word repent and it is used of Judas (Mt 27:3). John
was a new prophet with the call of the old prophets: "Turn ye"
(Joe 2:12; Isa. 55:7; Eze 33:11,15).

{For the kingdom of heaven is at hand} (\ēggiken gar hē Basileia
tōn ouranōn\)
. Note the position of the verb and the present
perfect tense. It was a startling word that John thundered over
the hills and it re-echoed throughout the land. The Old Testament
prophets had said that it would come some day in God's own time.
John proclaims as the herald of the new day that it has come, has
drawn near. How near he does not say, but he evidently means very
near, so near that one could see the signs and the proof. The
words "the kingdom of heaven" he does not explain. The other
Gospels use "the kingdom of God" as Matthew does a few times, but
he has "the kingdom of heaven" over thirty times. He means "the
reign of God," not the political or ecclesiastical organization
which the Pharisees expected. His words would be understood
differently by different groups as is always true of popular
preachers. The current Jewish apocalypses had numerous
eschatological ideas connected with the kingdom of heaven. It is
not clear what sympathy John had with these eschatological
features. He employs vivid language at times, but we do not have
to confine John's intellectual and theological horizon to that of
the rabbis of his day. He has been an original student of the Old
Testament in his wilderness environment without any necessary
contact with the Essenes who dwelt there. His voice is a new one
that strikes terror to the perfunctory theologians of the temple
and of the synagogue. It is the fashion of some critics to deny
to John any conception of the spiritual content of his words, a
wholly gratuitous criticism.

{For this is he that was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet}
(\houtos gar estin ho rhētheis dia Esaiou tou prophētou\). This
is Matthew's way of interpreting the mission and message of the
Baptist. He quotes Isa 40:3 where "the prophet refers to the
return of Israel from the exile, accompanied by their God"
(McNeile). He applies it to the work of John as "a voice crying
in the wilderness" for the people to make ready the way of the
Lord who is now near. He was only a voice, but what a voice he
was. He can be heard yet across the centuries.

3:4 {Now John himself} (\autos de ho Iōanēs\). Matthew thus
introduces the man himself and draws a vivid sketch of his dress
(note \eichen\, imperfect tense), his habit, and his food. Would
such an uncouth figure be welcome today in any pulpit in our
cities? In the wilderness it did not matter. It was probably a
matter of necessity with him, not an affectation, though it was
the garb of the original Elijah (2Ki 1:8), rough sackcloth
woven from the hair of camels. Plummer holds that "John
consciously took Elijah as a model."

3:6 {And they were baptized} (\kai ebaptizonto\). It is the
imperfect tense to show the repetition of the act as the crowds
from Judea and the surrounding country kept going out to him
(\exeporeueto\), imperfect again, a regular stream of folks going
forth. Moffatt takes it as causative middle, "got baptized,"
which is possible. "The movement of course was gradual. It began
on a small scale and steadily grew till it reached colossal
proportions" (Bruce). It is a pity that baptism is now such a
matter of controversy. Let Plummer, the great Church of England
commentator on Matthew, speak here of John's baptising these
people who came in throngs: "It is his office to bind them to a
new life, symbolized by immersion in water." That is correct,
symbolized, not caused or obtained. The word "river" is in the
correct text, "river Jordan." They came "confessing their sins"
(\exomologoumenoi\), probably each one confessing just before he
was baptized, "making open confession" (Weymouth). Note \ex\. It
was a never to be forgotten scene here in the Jordan. John was
calling a nation to a new life. They came from all over Judea and
even from the other side of El Ghor (the Jordan Gorge), Perea.
Mark adds that finally all Jerusalem came.

3:7 {The Pharisees and Sadducees} (\tōn Pharisaiōn kai
. These two rival parties do not often unite in
common action, but do again in Mt 16:1. "Here a strong
attraction, there a strong repulsion, made them for the moment
forget their differences" (McNeile). John saw these rival
ecclesiastics "coming for baptism" (\erchomenous epi to
. Alford speaks of "the Pharisees representing
hypocritical superstition; the Sadducees carnal unbelief." One
cannot properly understand the theological atmosphere of
Palestine at this time without an adequate knowledge of both
Pharisees and Sadducees. The books are numerous besides articles
in the Bible dictionaries. I have pictured the Pharisees in my
first (1916) Stone Lectures, _The Pharisees and Jesus_. John
clearly grasped the significance of this movement on the part of
the Pharisees and Sadducees who had followed the crowds to the
Jordan. He had welcomed the multitudes, but right in the presence
of the crowds he exposes the hypocrisy of the ecclesiastics. {Ye
offspring of vipers}
(\gennēmata echidnōn\). Jesus (Mt 12:34;
will use the same language to the Pharisees. Broods of
snakes were often seen by John in the rocks and when a fire broke
out they would scurry (\phugein\) to their holes for safety. "The
coming wrath" was not just for Gentiles as the Jews supposed, but
for all who were not prepared for the kingdom of heaven (1Th
. No doubt the Pharisees and Sadducees winced under the
sting of this powerful indictment.

3:8 {Fruit worthy of repentance} (\Karpon axion tēs metanoias\).
John demands proof from these men of the new life before he
administers baptism to them. "The fruit is not the change of
heart, but the acts which result from it" (McNeile). It was a
bold deed for John thus to challenge as unworthy the very ones
who posed as lights and leaders of the Jewish people. "Any one
can do (\poiēsate, vide\ Ge 1:11) acts externally good but only
a good man can grow a crop of right acts and habits" (Bruce).

3:9 {And think not to say within yourselves} (\kai mē doxēte
legein en heautois\)
. John touched the tender spot, their
ecclesiastical pride. They felt that the "merits of the fathers,"
especially of Abraham, were enough for all Israelites. At once
John made clear that, reformer as he was, a breach existed
between him and the religious leaders of the time. {Of these
(\ek tōn lithōn toutōn\). "Pointing, as he spoke to the
pebbles on the beach of the Jordan" (Vincent).

3:10 {Is the axe laid} (\hē axinē keitai\). This verb \keitai\ is
used as the perfect passive of \tithēmi\. But the idea really is,
"the axe lies at (\pros\, before) the root of the trees." It is
there ready for business. The prophetic present occurs also with
"is hewn down" and "cast."

3:11 {Mightier than I} (\ischuroteros mou\). Ablative after the
comparative adjective. His baptism is water baptism, but the
Coming One "will baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire." "Life in
the coming age is in the sphere of the Spirit. Spirit and fire
are coupled with one preposition as a double baptism" (McNeile).
Broadus takes "fire" in the sense of separation like the use of
the fan. As the humblest of servants John felt unworthy to take
off the sandals of the Coming One. About \bastazō\ see on ¯Mt

3:12 {Will burn up with unquenchable fire} (\katakausei puri
. Note perfective use of \kata\. The threshing floor,
the fan, the wheat, the garner, the chaff (\achuron\, chaff,
straw, stubble)
, the fire furnish a life-like picture. The "fire"
here is probably judgment by and at the coming of the Messiah
just as in verse 11. The Messiah "will thoroughly cleanse"
(\diakathariei\, Attic future of \-izō\ and note \dia-\). He will
sweep from side to side to make it clean.

3:13 {Then cometh Jesus} (\tote paraginetai ho Iēsous\). The same
historical present used in 3:1. He comes all the way from
Galilee to Jordan "to be baptized by him" (\tou baptisthēnai hupo
. The genitive articular infinitive of purpose, a very
common idiom. The fame of John had reached Nazareth and the hour
has come for which Jesus has waited.

3:14 {Would have hindered} (\diekōluen\). Rather "tried to
prevent" as Moffatt has it. It is the conative imperfect. The two
men of destiny are face to face for the first time apparently.
The Coming One stands before John and he recognizes him before
the promised sign is given.

3:15 {To fulfil all righteousness} (\plērōsai pāsan
. The explanation of Jesus satisfies John and he
baptizes the Messiah though he has no sins to confess. It was
proper (\prepon\) to do so else the Messiah would seem to hold
aloof from the Forerunner. Thus the ministries of the two are
linked together.

3:16 {The Spirit of God descending as a dove} (\pneuma theou
katabainon hōsei peristeran\)
. It is not certain whether Matthew
means that the Spirit of God took the form of a dove or came upon
Jesus as a dove comes down. Either makes sense, but Luke (Lu
has it "in bodily form as a dove" and that is probably the
idea here. The dove in Christian art has been considered the
symbol of the Holy Spirit.

3:17 {A voice out of the heavens} (\phōnē ek tōn ouranōn\). This
was the voice of the Father to the Son whom he identifies as His
Son, "my beloved Son." Thus each person of the Trinity is
represented (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) at this formal entrance of
Jesus upon his Messianic ministry. John heard the voice, of
course, and saw the dove. It was a momentous occasion for John
and for Jesus and for the whole world. The words are similar to
Ps 2:7 and the voice at the Transfiguration (Mt 17:5). The
good pleasure of the Father is expressed by the timeless aorist

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Word Pictures in the New Testament
(Matthew: Chapter 3)