The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 3

Mat 3:1

IN THOSE DAYS: An echo of Exo 2:11,23: when Moses went out to look upon the burdens of his brothers.

"The 'messianic spirit', forged white-hot in the press of almost endless persecution, reacted with Roman domination to produce dynamic tension and the constant threat of insurrection and rebellion. Then into this crucible, in the third decade AD, was injected a fiery catalyst -- the preaching of John the Baptist" (Stokes).

JOHN: "A piece of granite carved out of the escarpment of Gilead" (JMn).

JOHN... CAME, PREACHING: Cp Joh 1:6: John, "a man sent". First principles in John's preaching: See Lesson, John the Baptist, gospel of.

Elijah was last seen at the river Jordan (2Ki 2:11); John the Baptist first appeared to Israel at the same place (v 6).

DESERT: A wilderness, both natural and spiritual.

Mat 3:2

"In what way had the kingdom come near? To the eastern mind a kingdom is not a kind of constitutional pyramid with a king at its decorative apex; the kingdom emanates from the king, it is the extension of his kingly power" (SMk 21).

Mat 3:3

PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE LORD: How? By preaching (v 1), by baptizing (v 15), and by being taken out of the way (Mat 4:12).

LORD: "Yahweh" of Isa 40:3 becomes "Kyrios" here.

Mat 3:4

A man of the wilderness, bold, uncivilized, fearless. "This is Elijah" (cp 1Ki 17:1-7). Sudden appearance. Note vivid denunciations: Mat 3:7,10-12; Luke 3:7-9. John Bapt was of a priestly family, but he lived and acted very much unlike a priest. he dressed differently, ate differently, dwelt in wilderness, not in temple. John Bapt typified the Law and prophets, preparing to pass away.

CAMEL'S HAIR: Garments of grief (Gen 37:34; Jer 4:8; Mat 11:21). Worn by a priest, despite being unclean (Lev 11:4).

LOCUSTS: The food of the very poor, but despised by the wealthy (LB 419).

Mat 3:5

JERUSALEM... JUDEA... JORDAN: Sig a steady progress northward, along Jordan Valley, toward Galilee (cp v 13).

Mat 3:6

THE JORDAN: Elijah was last seen here (2Ki 2:8). John Bapt was first seen here.

Mat 3:7

THE COMING WRATH: A wildfire driving all snakes and crawling creatures before it (HistGeo 64).

Mat 3:8

FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE: That is, works to demonstrate faith (Gal 5:22,23), esp the work of confession and forsaking sin (1Jo 1:9; Joh 8:11).

Mat 3:9

STONES... CHILDREN: In Heb, abanim/banim.

THESE STONES: The stones of Jos 4 were 12 great stones placed in river, and 12 more stones taken from river. Sym baptism to new life. (In Heb and Aramaic, the words for "stones" and "children" are almost identical.) Joshua's great memorial of God's deliverance -- as are all "stones/children" of God!

Mat 3:10

THE AX... AT THE ROOT OF THE TREES: Marking them out for future destruction. Ax = the word of God, brought in the preaching of John -- by which the status of every "tree" was made evident.

Mat 3:11

Vv 11,12: John's last public words. Cp Christ's last public words (Mat 25:46).

First water, then spirit. First natural, then spiritual. First cleansing, then forgiveness. First purifying, then raising to new life.

Mat 3:12

WINNOWING FORK: The winnowing fork (RSV): a fan or shovel, used by Syrians (ISBE): cp Isa 30:24; Jer 15:7.

HIS THRESHING FLOOR: The Temple of Solomon was built on a threshing floor: 2Ki 24:16,24.

Winnowing = judgment in Mat 3:12n; Dan 2:35; Isa 5:24; 41:15,16; Mal 3:2,3; Jer 23:28,29.

Mat 3:13

Why was Jesus baptized (Mat 3:13-17; Mar 1:8-11; Luk 3:21-23)? The most obvious answer is the Scriptural one: in the words of Jesus himself, "to fulfill all righteousness". This calls to mind Mat 5:17: "I am not come to destroy [the law], but to fulfill." The work of Jesus, in all its aspects, was to fulfill, or complete, the righteousness of the law of Moses. The law of Moses was a "shadow" (Heb 10:1), pointing forward to the substance, the reality, which was Jesus. As Moses washed Aaron (Exo 30:20,21; 40:12), to sanctify and cleanse him for his mediatorial work, so John washed Jesus. If Aaron had entered the Most Holy without washing, he would have failed; if Jesus had offered himself as a sacrifice with no public baptism (signifying the denial of the flesh), he would likewise have failed. Jesus was absolutely without personal sin. The necessity of his baptism shows how far even sinful flesh alone separates man from God.

Vv 13-17: The anointing of the King. Apparently, the only meeting between John and Jesus. "He had no life of sin to leave behind in the waters of Jordan, but there he did bring to an end the home life of Nazareth, the quiet, peaceful years of preparation, and did accept as the 'righteous will of God' the storm and strain and sacrifice of the work which he had come to do" (Mt, Erdman, 36).

GALILEE: A great light out of a despised land: "But in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan -- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death [ Or land of darkness ] a light has dawned" (Isa 9:1,2).

Mat 3:14

I NEED TO BE BAPTIZED BY YOU: Perhaps John had not been baptized as yet, and so they baptized one another!

Mat 3:15

John sym the Law (Mat 11:13; Luk 7:28), speaking to Christ, the lamb of God (Joh 1:29), who came to fulfill the Law (Mat 5:17,18; Rom 10:4) -- so that the righteousness of the Law be fulfilled in us (Rom 8:3,4). Both John and Christ ("us") fulfilled Law's righteous requirements: John by convicting Israel of sin and leading them to repentance, and Christ by a sinless life and a sacrificial death (Tes 50:232; 51:101).

US: Not necessarily Jesus and John but rather Jesus and others. Jesus thus associated himself with the sinners he came to save (cp Isa 53:12).

Mat 3:16

THE SPIRIT OF GOD DESCENDING... LIGHTING: The Spirit "brooding" on the surface of the waters (Gen 1:2). "The beginning of the new creation!"

DOVE: Only sacrificial animal to be feathered (Luk 2:24; Lev 1:14,15; 5:7). The dove, with keen eyesight, returned to the safety of Noah's ark, in peace, bringing an olive branch of new creation. The dove is gentle (Mat 10:16), clean (Song 6:9), particular in its choice of food (Gen 8), swift (Psa 55:6), beautiful (Psa 68:13), constant in love (Song 5:12).

Mat 3:17

A VOICE FROM HEAVEN: Sounding, perhaps, like thunder to the bystanders (Joh 12:29). Understood only by Jesus and John. The voice from heaven identifies Jesus as the "prophet like unto Moses" (Deu 18:15-19).

WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED: "On whom my pleasure rests." Cp Isa 42:1: "From this day on Jesus walked in the shadow of the cross" (WGos 66).

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