Matthew Chapter 3: John the Baptist and Jesus

Matthew Chapter 3 John the Baptist and Jesus

Method: Read through the chapter and make expository comments in context. After that, summarize these doctrines and principles in an organized form.

Outline of Matthew 3.

  • John the Baptist came preaching (Matthew 3.1-6).
  • John speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3.7-10).
  • John speaks of Jesus (Matthew 3.11-12).
  • John baptizes Jesus (Matthew 3.13-17).

John the Baptist heralded Jesus and his ministry.

  • John was born in the line of Levi. His father was Zacharias and his mother was Elizabeth. He was six months older than Jesus (Luke 1).
  • John was the herald predicted by Isaiah in Isaiah 40.3 and Malachi 3.1.
  • Wilderness of Judea was the area west of the Dead Sea.

Matthew 3.1-2, John preached “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus had the same message in Matthew 4.17. John was in the Judean wilderness, which is the harsh desert area west of the Dead Sea, speaking to a Jewish audience. There are two ideas that we need to understand: repentance and the kingdom of heaven.

  • When John called Jews to repentance he called them to return to the national relationship with God for which God had prepared them. The call to repentance was to prepare them to believe in their Messiah. His call was not a call to eternal salvation (Matthew 3.1-3; Luke 3.3, 8-9).
  • Repentance is about harmony and fellowship with God. It means to change one’s mind about God and sin. In summary, the command to repent is a call to harmony and fellowship with God. It is a call for the unbeliever or the believer to change his thinking about God and sin and so turn from one’s sin to God.
    • The verb is metanoevw, metanoeo, BAGD2 512; the noun is metavnoia, metanoia, BAGD2 511.
    • Repentance has a wide scope; on one end it can be a broad call for a nation to return to her heritage and on the other end of the spectrum it can be a precise call for a believer to confess specific sin and return to fellowship with God.
    • Repentance is not a condition of salvation; faith in Christ as Savior is the only condition for salvation (John 3.16; Acts 16.31; Ephesians 2.8-9).
    • Both unbelievers (Matthew 12.41) and believers (Luke 15; Acts 19.18-20; 2 Corinthians 7.7-10; Revelation 3.19) repent. When unbelievers repent, it does not mean that they have become believers. An unbeliever’s repentance may hold off God’s judgment or prepare him to listen more closely to the gospel. In the case of the believer, repentance may prepare for a confession of personal sin and return to fellowship; at times, it includes the confession of sin as illustrated by the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
    • Jesus and John the Baptist told Israel to repent. This was not a call to eternal salvation, but instead a call to return to the national relationship with God for which God had prepared them. The call to repentance was to prepare them to believe in their Messiah (Matthew 3.1-3; Luke 3.3, 8-9).
    • Jesus also told the Jewish people to repent from their rebellious political and religious activities; if they did not repent, temporal judgment, including physical death would result (Luke 13.1-9).
    • In summary, the command to repent is a call to harmony and fellowship with God. It is a call for the unbeliever or the believer to change his thinking about God and sin and so turn from one’s sin to God.
  • When John spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, to what was he referring?
    • The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is found 32 times in the Bible, all in Matthew. It draws from the prophesied kingdom found in the Old Testament, such as Daniel 2:44, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”
    • There are a number of interpretations of the kingdom of heaven found in the commentaries. (See Dr. Tom Constable’s expository notes on Matthew.)
      • Ethical and social ideals of the Old Testament prophet, and those who followed those ideas became part of the kingdom of heaven. Wrong.
      • Jesus adopted the ethical and prophetic teachings of the Old Testament, but changed his message when Israel rejected him. They claim that Jesus’ kingdom was different from the Old Testament prophesied kingdom. Wrong.
      • Jesus used some of the spiritual ideas of the Old Testament and left out or spiritualized the physical parts of the Old Testament prophecies. Wrong.
      • Some say that there are two kingdoms. Jesus set up on earth a spiritual kingdom, made up of all believers, at his first advent and will set up a physical kingdom on earth at his second advent. But, the Old Testament always viewed the kingdom as a physical kingdom.
      • The best way to interpret the Scripture is that there is one earthly kingdom. Jesus, John, and the disciples announced the same kingdom that the Old Testament writers expected. When the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God postponed the kingdom until Jesus’ second coming to earth when the Jews will accept Him.
        • Jesus, John, and the disciples simply announced the kingdom without explanation. This tells us that the listeners knew what they were talking about.
        • They announced it only to Jews and they needed to accept it (Matthew 10.5-6).
        • The disciples expected an earthly kingdom (John 20.20-21; Acts 1.6).
    •  The kingdom of heaven stresses the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the future kingdom while the kingdom of God stresses God’s rule or the kind of kingdom that is in view. For example, Isaiah 1.24-2.4; Isaiah 4.2-6; Isaiah 9.1-7; Isaiah 11.1-11; Jeremiah 31.31-37; and many others. Furthermore,
      • The Jewish nature of the kingdom of heaven would lay stress on the connection to the prophecies of Daniel (Daniel 2.44; Daniel 4.6, 37; and Daniel 7.27).
      • Possibly, due to the Jews hesitancy to use God’s name, heaven may have substituted for God. When Matthew did use “kingdom of God” he stressed God’s rule.

Matthew 3.3, John is the one who heralds the Messiah as Isaiah 40.3 predicted. Note the context and ideas of Isaiah 40.

Matthew 3.4-6, John dressed and ate like an itinerant prophet of the OT times. He attracted large crowds. They heard him, accepted his message, and received John’s baptism.

  • He dressed like Elijah (2 Kings 1.8; Zechariah 13.4).
  • He ate locusts which were a food for the poor (Leviticus 11.21).
  • John’s baptism meant that one believed John’s message that the kingdom promises were about to be fulfilled through Jesus, the promised Messiah (Mark 1.1-8; John 1.19-28).

Matthew 3.7-10, John speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3.7-10). The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted John to baptize them, but they were just covering their bets to escape any divine judgment (Matthew 3:7).

  • The Pharisees were those who associated themselves with the law so they might very closely observe it, but they included the oral law as also binding. They tended toward separatism because they separated from uncleanness, both of Jews and Gentiles.
    • They arose in the second century BC.
    • They were always a minority group, numbering about 6,000 at the time of Herod.
    • They drew from the lower middle class and the better artisan classed, and understood the common man.
    • They stressed individual fulfillment of all parts of the law.
    • Their primary teaching was
      • Absolute insistence of the unity and holiness of God.
      • Election of Israel
      • Authority of the Torah
      • Ethical religion.
    • They believed that the Babylonian captivity was due to failure to keep the Mosaic Law and this keeping the law was an individual and national duty.
    • To the Pharisee the Law was fixed commandments and was adaptable to changing conditions resulting in God’s will for things not expressly stated. This adaptation of the Law was the task of those who made a special study of the Law. The decisions were binding.
      • The studies resulted in
      •  Finding 613 commandments (248 positive and 365 negative).
      • The interpretation and supplementation of the commandments so that there was no possibility of breaking them by accident or ignorance.
      • Commandments were also applied by analogy to situations not directly covered by the Torah.
    • The Pharisees were convinced that they had the correct interpretation of the Torah and they claimed that the “tradition of the elders” of Mark 7.3 came from Moses on Mount Sinai. IBD, 3.1209.
  • The Sadducees were another group of religious rivals to Jesus. Their name goes back to the word for righteous, possibly because they were such sticklers for the written law.
    • The origin of the Sadducees is debated.
    • They were favored by the Hasmonaean rulers until the reign of Salome Alexandra (76-67 BC). This occurred because it was suggested to John Hyrcanus by a member of a Pharisaic deputation that he resign the high-priesthood. Hyrcanus transferred his allegiance therefore to the Sadducees.
    • They were the predominate group in the Sanhedrin under the Herods and Romans.
    • They were drawn from the rich landowners.
    • Almost all Sadducees were priests.
    • The Sadducees held that only the written Pentateuch had permanent validity.
    • The Sadducees believed that the Temple worship was the center and main purpose of the Law.
    • They were rigorous in their interpretation of the Law and tradition, regardless of the consequences.
    • They were more severe in judgment than other Jews; were rude to peers and aliens; held it a virtue to dispute with their teachers; and their following was restricted to the well-to-do.
    • Primary beliefs included:
      • Man has free will regarding good and evil.
      • There is no soul after-life.
      • No resurrection, rewards or punishment.
      • No angels or demons.
    • The Sadducees died out after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. 
      • See Illustrated Bible Dictionary 3.1209f and 1368.
  • Matthew 3.8-10, John challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees. If they really want to repent and obey the spirit and the letter of the law, then the way of life should indicate that. “Bear fruit in keeping (worthy of, or corresponding to, axios) with repentance.”
    • Not referring to eternal salvation.
    • Refers to living under the letter and spirit of the Old Testament.
    • They had the misconception that because they were sons of Abraham they had special access to God and his blessings. Physical relationship did not gain for them eternal life or entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
      • God wanted people to choose him.
      • God could have turned stones into followers of Jesus.
      • God wanted volition to operate in faith.
    • Verse 10 is John’s way of saying the God’s judgment is now coming. Those who do not repent, that is, those who do not heed John’s message that the Messiah is coming and repentance is the preparation to hear him correctly, will experience judgment.
      • The axe is laid by the tree and ready to use. Judgment is ready.
      • Those who do not repent and accept the king will be judged. This has an immediate personal reference to all those who reject the Messiah-king. Compare “fruit” in Matthew 3.8 with “fruit” in Matthew 3.10.
      • This may include a national reference to the coming judgment at AD 70. Jerusalem will be destroyed; the temple will be destroyed; individual Jews will be judged.

John speaks of Jesus (3.11-12). John is just the “hired help.” Jesus is the king, “mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove or carry his sandals.” John’s baptism is for repentance and is with water. Jesus will in the future baptize with something more powerful—the Holy Spirit (Joel 2.28-29) and fire (Malachi 3.2-5).

  • Matthew 3:11, “He” refers to Jesus.
  • The Spirit baptism refers specifically to that which will occur when Israel accepts the Messiah at the beginning of the Millennial kingdom (Isaiah 32.15; 44:3; Joel 2:28-29).
    • The baptism of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Acts 1.5 for the new church,  for Samaritans in Acts 8.12-17, to Gentiles in Acts 10.43-48, and to  Old Testament believers in Acts 19.1-6 was similar to but not the fulfillment of this prophecy.
  • The baptism of fire will. The baptism of fire is a reference to some kind of judgment upon those who reject Christ as Messiah. It will probably occur at the beginning of the Millennial age—when Jesus returns to earth at His second advent. He will separate and judge unbelievers (Matthew 3.10-12; Luke 3.16-17; Mark 1.8 and John 1.33 are parallel passages and omit the baptism of fire because they also omit the judgment material that Matthew and Luke contain).
  • Matthew 3.12 speaks of the coming judgment at the second advent (Matthew 25.31-46).
    • Matthew 3:12, “His” in context refers to the one coming, Jesus.
    • A winnowing fork is like a shovel or pitchfork. The worker scoops the chaff and grain up and throws it in the air and the wind blows the chaff away from the grain. It speaks of separation.

John baptizes Jesus (3.13-17). This is that amazing event that verified for all that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1.11 and Luke 3.22).

  • John acknowledged that Jesus was superior to himself.
  • John acknowledged that Jesus did not need to repent. He had not sinned.
  • Jesus reminded John that He, Jesus, was submissive to the Father’s will and baptism by John was part of that will.
    • Isaiah 42.1 says that God’s servant, the Messiah, will please the Father and the Father will put His Spirit upon His Servant.
    • Jesus reminded John that He, Jesus, needed to be identified with the sinful people and with His Messianic mission.
  • John then agreed to baptize him.
    • The baptism of Jesus by John was a one-time only baptism. This baptism identified Jesus with God the Father’s plan that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the savior of the world, and the king of Israel (Matthew 3.13-17; Luke 3.21-22).
  • Matthew records testimony that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Both the Holy Spirit and God the Father confirm this. We have a demonstration of the trinity working together.
  • The Father is pleased because Jesus is voluntarily and perfectly doing the Father’s will.

Summary of Matthew 3. Matthew has introduced John—the herald, some repentant Jews, the religious rejecters—Pharisees and Sadducees, and Jesus as the authenticated Messiah. John had a specific message about the Old Testament promised kingdom for Israel. The audience response was mixed. When John baptized Jesus, Jesus was submitting to the Father’s will while God the Father and God the Holy Spirit verified who he was and what he was to do.

Key Doctrines in Matthew 3

  • John the Baptist
  • Repentance
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • Pharisees and Sadducees
  • Jesus’ baptism
  • Submission to the Father’s plan
  • Jesus is God’s Son
  • Trinity

Application, or So What?

  • The main application for us is in the form of a question, “What is my response to Jesus?”
  • The next question is “Do I accept John’s announcement of a coming kingdom to earth that will be the fulfillment of the promised Old Testament Jewish kingdom and how should this affect my thinking and my living?”
  • Finally, “Am I like those who honestly accepted John’s message about Jesus, or am I like the Sadducees or Pharisees?”