Setting

Matthew does not tell us anything about Jesus’ childhood or youth. When the Lord came to the Jordan to be baptized, he was about 30 years old. By this time, John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, had paved the way for Jesus’ ministry by preaching repentance and baptizing the people. We can read about John’s birth in Luke. His mission was to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk 1:17).

Key Verse

(3:11)

Did You Know...?

  1. John the Baptist (3:1): In the Scriptures several men were named John, but only one had the distinguishing name John the Baptist, that is, the Baptizer. While self-imposed proselyte baptism was known to the Jews, John’s baptism was unusual for he was the first person who came baptizing others. [ref]
  2. Wilderness of Judea (3:1): An area that stretched some 20 miles from the Jerusalem-Bethlehem plateau down to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, perhaps the same region where John lived (cf. Lk 1:80). The people of Qumran (often associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls) lived in this area too. [ref]
  3. Clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist (4): Clothes of camel’s hair and a leather belt (v. 4, the latter to bind up the loose outer garment) were not only the clothes of poor people but establish links with Elijah (2 Kings 1:8; cf. Mal 4:5). [ref]
  4. Locusts and wild honey (3:4): “Locusts” (akrides) are large grasshoppers, still eaten in the East, not the fruit of the “locust tree” (BAGD, s.v.). Wild honey is what it purports to be, not gum from a tree (cf. Judg 14:8-9; 1Sam 14:25-29; Ps 81:16). Both suggest a poor man used to wilderness living, and this suggests a connection with the prophets (cf. 3:1; 11:8-9). [ref]
  5. Baptize (3:6): The verb “baptize” (baptizo-, intensive form of bapto-, “to dip”) means “to immerse, submerge.” [ref]
  6. Jordan River (3:6): The principal river in Palestine, beginning in the snows of Mount Hermon and ending in the Dead Sea. Its closest point to Jerusalem is about 20 miles. [ref]
  7. Pharisees (3:7): The Pharisees…were a legalistic and separatistic group who strictly, but often hypocritically, kept the law of Moses and the unwritten “tradition of the elders” (15:2). [ref] They were held in high regard by the people.
  8. Sadducees (3:7): A Jewish party that represented the wealthy and sophisticated classes. They were located largely in Jerusalem and made the temple and its administration their primary interest. Though they were small in number, in Jesus’ time they exerted powerful political and religious influence. [ref]
  9. Winnowing (3:12): done by tossing the grain into the air with winnowing forks (Jer 15:7) so that the wind, which usually came up for a few hours in the afternoon, blew away the straw and chaff (Ps 1:4), leaving the grain at the winnower’s feet. [ref]
  10. Chaff (3:12): …the refuse of winnowed grain, consisting of husks and broken straw. In the East it was the custom to burn chaff, in case, with the changing wind, it might be blown again among the grain (Job 21:18; Pss. 1:4, 35:5; Isa. 17:13, 29:5, 41:15; Hos. 13:3; Zeph. 2:2). [ref]
  11. Jesus had to travel at least 18 miles (30 kilometers) to be baptized (from Nazareth to River Jordan (v. 9).
  12. Spirit of God descending like a dove (3:17): In the baptisms of the True Jesus Church, we have witnessed that some members received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues immediately after coming out of the water.

Outline

  • Preparation by John the Baptist
  • Appearance of John and his ministry
    (1-6)
  • Warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees
    (7-10)
  • Pointing to Christ and His ministry
    (11-12)
  • The Baptism of Jesus
  • John’s deterrence
    (13-14)
  • Jesus’ answer and John’s consent
    (15)
  • The baptism and God’s approval
    (16-17)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Summarize the words of each of the following people John Isaiah Jesus Heavenly Father

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  • 2.

    What symbolic images or actions can we find in this passage? (e.g. brood of vipers)

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    Ax, trees, fruit, carrying of sandals, winnowing fork, threshing floor, wheat and chaff, gathering into the barn, unquenchable fire.

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Segment Analysis

  • 3:1-12

    1.

    Describe John the Baptist. What does this description tell you about his life?

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    The descriptions of John are very similar to those of Elijah (2Kgs 1:8). He was in fact the Elijah that was to come to restore all things (Mt 17:11- 13; Mk 9:11-13; Lk 1:16, 17). His attire and diet reflected his simple and harsh lifestyle (Mt 11:8, 18). His life and actions conformed to his message of repentance.

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  • 2.

    List the ways in which John fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. How did John prepare the way for Jesus?

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    He was the voice because he proclaimed repentance. He was in the desert—the Desert of Judea. He was a forerunner who prepared the way for Jesus. He prepared the way by making the people’s hearts ready to accept Jesus and His message. Through true repentance and baptism, the people turned from their sins to God’s righteousness. John foretold of the coming of the one who was greater as well as the nature of Jesus’ ministry. John’s baptizing of Jesus also served as an announcement to the people that Jesus was the one they ought to accept and believe. He even directed his disciples to their new master (Jn 1:35, 36).

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  • 3.

    On what basis did the Pharisees and Sadducees build their confidence? According to John, why was such a basis unreliable?

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    Many people took pride in their heritage as the children of Abraham (Jn 8:39a). But John told them that God could choose to raise up children for Abraham from the stones. In other words, if they were unrepentant, they would be rejected by God despite their physical lineage.

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  • 4.

    What is the meaning of John’s words, “the kingdom of heaven is near”?

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    The kingdom of heaven is not a physical establishment. It is an eternal kingdom for God’s people which Jesus Christ inaugurated by His teachings, works, and redemption. The kingdom of heaven is found in the heart of men (Lk 17:20, 21). The coming of God’s kingdom refers to God’s rule in people’s hearts. Those who accept and obey the gospel message will be in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven was near in the sense that God’s kingdom was coming to the people through Jesus’ ministry and saving works.

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  • 5.

    What can we learn from the fact that John was called “a voice in the wilderness”? What can we learn from his attitude towards his ministry and towards Jesus?

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    A voice has no form or identity. John clearly knew his role as a forerunner. He did not want to vie for any authority or glory. He faithfully announced the coming of the one who was greater than him and directed everyone’s attention to Jesus (Jn 3:25-30). A voice in the wilderness reflects the insignificance of its presence. Instead of being spread in the city squares, it echoed in a desolate place. But the unmistakable voice in the wild drew people out of the cares of their busy environments into the lonely desert where they could focus on their need for repentance.

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  • 3:1-17

    6.

    Why did John call the Pharisees and Sadducees “brood of vipers”? Why were his words so harsh?

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    The hypocritical actions and lifestyle of the Pharisees and Sadducees were as deadly as vipers’ poison. They misled the people, killed the prophets, and placed on people heavy burdens that God did not require. Jesus’ words to them were just as harsh. He called them the brood of vipers and descendants of those who murdered the prophets (23:31-32). True repentance is demonstrated in accepting admonition with humility, regardless of how harsh the rebuke might be. If these candidates for baptism were able to accept John’s words and change their ways, that would show that they were truly repentant.

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  • 7.

    What do the gathering of wheat and burning of chaff refer to?

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    Palestinian farmers used winnowing forks to separate the wheat from the unwanted chaff. This process is used to refer to the judgment, when God will separate the righteous from the wicked (see 13:37-43). In the same way, Jesus’ ministry will separate the true believers from the unbelievers (21:42-44; Rom 9:30-33; 1 Pet 2:7, 8). Believers will be gathered into God’s kingdom. Unbelievers will be rejected.

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  • 8.

    What is the meaning of repentance? How does it demonstrate itself in our hearts and actions? How is repentance related to the kingdom of heaven?

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    The Greek word for “repentance” literally means “change of heart.” Repentance consists of sincere sorrow over sin (2Cor 7:10, 11), confession (Ps 32:5), and change of action (3:8; Acts 26:20). Repentance is an expression of faith in God and obedience to His commands. According to the Lord Jesus, the kingdom of God will be taken from the unrepentant and given to those who will produce its fruit (21:43); and it is those who obey and conform to God’s righteousness who will be worthy of God’s kingdom (21:28-32). Therefore, repentance is a necessary step in entering the kingdom of heaven.

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  • 9.

    How would Jesus baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire?

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    The baptism of the Holy Spirit points to the giving of the promised Holy Spirit starting with Pentecost (Acts 1:5, 11:15, 16). The Holy Spirit is also the spirit of judgment and spirit of burning that cleanses the people of God (Isa 4:3, 4). According to John 16:8-11, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. God’s word is also like fire, testing men’s hearts (Jer 23:29). When Jesus comes, He will be like a refiner’s fire (Mal 3:2). Jesus’ ministry will test the hearts of men to see whether they were worthy of God’s kingdom. Whoever accepts Christ and pays the cost of being a disciple will be able to come into His kingdom.

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  • 3:13-17

    10a.

    Why did Jesus have to be baptized?

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    In addition to being an announcement of Jesus as the Messiah, the baptism of Jesus was to fulfill all righteousness. “Righteousness” refers to meeting God’s requirements. God’s requirement that Jesus be baptized may be a fulfillment of the requirement for priests, who were to be washed before their service (Ex 29:4). It could also be an example for all believers, to show that we must be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit to become the children of God (Gal 3:26, 27; Rom 8:16).

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  • 10b.

    What did Jesus mean by “fulfill all righteousness”?

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    Jesus dedicated His entire life to fulfilling God’s righteous requirements. He ultimately fulfilled all righteousness by offering Himself as a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. Incidentally, by consenting to Jesus’ request, John also fulfilled God’s righteousness.

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  • 3:1-17

    11a.

    What events took place after Jesus was baptized?

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  • 11b.

    What is the significance of the events following Jesus’ baptism?

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    The opening of the heavens may be symbolic of the reconciliation between God and men which was made possible through Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was a sign that God had sent Jesus to the ministry (Lk 4:18). The descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven served as seal of approval that Jesus was “the beloved Son.”

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  • 12.

    What can we learn from Jesus’ actions and words in this passage?

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    Humility: Although He was greater than John, He asked John to baptize Him. Gentleness: He did not rebuke John for hesitating to baptize Him. He spoke with grace and reason. Sometimes, we tend to rebuke others harshly when we think that we are in the right. We ought to learn to be as gentle as Jesus and invite others to see and obey God’s will with us. Submission: He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and therefore received God’s approval. We also need to fulfill all of God’s commands to be His beloved children.

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