|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-6 After Malachi there was no prophet until John the Baptist came. He appeared first in the wilderness of Judea. This was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not thickly peopled, nor much enclosed. No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of Divine grace. The doctrine he preached was repentance; Repent ye. The word here used, implies a total alteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition, and affections, another and a better bias of the soul. Consider your ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; think again, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other, than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of the way. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon and forgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us to repent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your repentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, through Christ, return unto you in the way of mercy. It is still as necessary to repent and humble ourselves, to prepare the way of the Lord, as it then was. There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, and nothing is more needful than the discovery of sin, and a conviction that we cannot be saved by our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; but to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight, Heb 12:13. Those whose business it is to call others to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves to live a serious life, a life of self-denial, and contempt of the world. By giving others this example, John made way for Christ. Many came to John's baptism, but few kept to the profession they made. There may be many forward hearers, where there are few true believers. Curiosity, and love for novelty and variety, may bring many to attend on good preaching, and to be affected for a while, who never are subject to the power of it. Those who received John's doctrine, testified their repentance by confessing their sins. Those only are ready to receive Jesus Christ as their righteousness, who are brought with sorrow and shame to own their guilt. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven, now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. John washed them with water, in token that God would cleanse them from all their iniquities, thereby intimating, that by nature and practice all were polluted, and could not be admitted among the people of God, unless washed from their sins in the fountain Christ was to open, Zec 13:1.
Verses 1-12. - THE HERALD. (Parallel passages: Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18.) His public appearance and proclamation (vers. 1, 2), as foretold by Scripture (ver. 3). His Elijah-like dress (ver. 4). He is listened to by multitudes (vers. 5, 6). His faithful warning to typical Jews, and his pointing not to himself, but to the Coming One (vers. 7-12). The date at which he appeared is stated, in Luke 3:1, to have been "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; i.e. between August, A.D. 28, and August, A.D. 29" (Schurer, I. 2, p. 31). Verse 1. - In those days; and in those days (Revised Version). Probably merely contrasting those past days of the beginning of the gospel with the present, when the evangelist wrote (cf. Matthew 24:19, 22, where the days yet future are contrasted with those present). In Mark 1:9 the expression is used directly of the Lord's baptism. And (Revised Version); δέ; Hebrew usage taking up the narrative (cf. Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; Ruth 1:1; Esther 1:1). Came; cometh (Revised Version); historic present (cf. Matthew 2:19); παραγίνεται, here equivalent to "come forward publicly," make one's public appearance (cf. especially Luke 12:51; Hebrews 9:11; also especially 1 Macc. 4:46; also infra, ver. 13 and Matthew 2:1). John; Johanan. The name occurs first as that of a high priest in, apparently, the days of Rehoboam (1 Chronicles 6:9, 10, Authorized Version). "The Lord is gracious" was a fitting title for one born by the special grace of God, and sent to be the herald of his grace to all men (Titus 2:11). The Baptist.
(1) The Jews were far from having attained the simplicity of our present system, by which each person has both a family and a Christian name, and is thus designated with sufficient exactness for all the ordinary purposes of life. Their custom of name-giving was, and still largely is, as follows:
(a) A Hebrew name is given to the child at circumcision. This is the holy name, and is used at all strictly religious ceremonies; e.g. when called to read the Law in the synagogue.
(b) Each person has a name whereby he is known among the Gentiles. This is, at the present time, the name used for business and social purposes, and may be either Hebrew or of some ether language. It is usually connected, either in sound or meaning, with the holy name. So Paul and Saul, Didymus and Thomas (for numerous examples, cf. Hamburger, 'Real-Encycl.,' vol. 2. pp. 831-836. Lowe, 'Memorbook of Nurnberg,' pp. 18-28: 1881).
(c) He may have, either as well as or instead of the last, a name which designates him more exactly
(α) by mentioning his father or some other relation; e.g. Bartimaeus, Barsabbas (probably); (β) by mentioning some physical, mental, moral, or other peculiarity; e.g. James the Little, Simon the Zealot, Barnabas (the son of exhortation), and, from non-biblical authors, James the Just, Rabbi Judah the Holy, Samuel the Astronomer, John the Shoemaker. The title "the Baptist" belongs, of course, to this last class, and must have been given him partly because of the number of persons whom he baptized, and still more because baptism was the visible and external aim and result of his preaching.
(2) What was there new in John's baptism? In considering this it must be remembered that
(a) dipping in water had been commanded in the Law as a religious rite to priests (Exodus 30:20; Exodus 40:12; cf. Leviticus 8:6) on their first consecration to their office, and on each occasion that they fulfilled the holiest parts of their duties (cf. the sprinklings of the Levites on their consecration, Numbers 8:5-22); and to all Israelites in cases of ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 19:13).
(b) It was very frequent among the Essenes (cf. especially the quotations from Josephus in Bishop Lightfoot, 'Colossians,' p. 171, edit. 1875).
(c) It was, we can hardly doubt, already customary at the admission of proselytes. There are, indeed, no certain allusions in Josephus, Philo, and the older Targumists (cf. Leyrer, in Cremer, s.v. βαπτίζω) to the baptism of proselytes properly so called; but (α) it is distinctly mentioned in the Mishna, and in such a way as to imply that it was an ancient custom, for the schools of both Shammai and Hillel assume it as a matter of course ('Pes,' 8:8); (β) as with books, so with customs, acceptance in two bodies originally one, as the Jewish and Christian Churches were, throws back the book or custom before the date of the separation. In other words, it is most improbable that Jews would only have begun to practise baptism at the admission of proselytes after it had been practised by a body which had separated from them. Jews would not be likely to adopt the distinguishing rite of Christians.
(d) Thus already, before John's time, baptism was largely practised as a symbol of purification from sin and of entrance on a new and holier life. Wherein, then, lay the distinguishing feature of John's baptism? Apparently in its being extended to all Israelites, without their having any personal ceremonial hindrance, and more particularly in the special aim and purpose to which it now referred. It signified the entrance upon a new life of expectation of Messiah. As of old, the nation had accepted the offer of God's kingdom, and, having washed their garments (Exodus 19:10, 14), had been sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:8), so now, when this kingdom, was about to be more fully manifested, not the nation, indeed, considered as a whole, but (in harmony with the individualization of the gospel) those persons who responded to the invitation, came forward and publicly renounced their sins and professed their expectation of the kingdom (Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1:274). It is thus easy to account for the deep and widespread impression made by John the Baptist (cf. Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3), and for the important position that he holds in summaries of the origins of Christianity. John's baptism was treated by our Lord himself as the first stage in his earthly ministry, which culminated in the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), and naturally by the apostles as the historical introduction to the teaching and work of Messiah. Josephus's account of John the Baptist is well known, but too interesting to be omitted. "Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army [by Aretas] came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John that was called the Baptist. For Herod had had him put to death, though he was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for baptism would be acceptable to God, if they made use of it, not in order to expiate some sins, but for the purification of the body, provided that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, as many flocked to him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, fearing that the great influence John had over the people might lead to some rebellion (for the people seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it far best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of his leniency when it should he too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, in consequence of Herod's suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. So the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and was a mark of God's displeasure against him" ('Ant,' 18:5. 2, Shilleto's Whiston). Observe that
(1) Josephus confirms the Gospel account of the extent of John's influence over his countrymen; but
(2) attributes his imprisonment and death to a political, not a moral, cause. It is quite possible, on the one hand, that political reasons were not altogether wanting; and, on the other, that Josephus was ignorant of the more personal and stronger motive of Herod's action. Preaching (κηρύσσων). Unlike εὐαγγελίζομαι this word refers, not to the matter, but to the manner, the openness, of the proclamation. In contrast to the esoteric methods alike of heathen philosophers and of Jewish teachers, whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. The herald proclaims as a herald; cf. Isaiah 40:9 (the original context of our ver. 3); Genesis 41:43 (LXX.). In the wilderness. By this term is not necessarily meant absolute desert, but "des lieux pen habites ou non cultives" (Neubauer, 'Geogr. du Talm.,' p. 52: 1868). The very place in which John preached was part of the symbolism of his whole life. The expectation of Messiah must lead to separation, but separation deeper than that of those who called themselves the "separated" (Pharisees). Of Judea. The exact expression comes elsewhere only in the title of Psalm 63, and in Judges 1:16, where it is defined as "in the south of Arad." It seems that, while different parts of the rugged district from Jericho southwards (Joshua 16:1), immediately on the west and north of the Dead Sea, had their distinctive titles - the wilderness of Siph (1 Samuel 23:14, 15), of Maon (1 Samuel 23:24), of Engedi (1 Samuel 24:1), of Jeruel (2 Chronicles 20:16), of Tekoa (2 Chronicles 20:20) - the whole district was, as belonging to the tribe and even more certainly to the kingdom and province of Judah, known by the name of "the wilderness of Judaea." According to tradition, John was now preaching near Jericho. We find him soon after this at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28), and later still at tenon, near Salim, in, or on the borders of, Samaria (John 3:23)."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
In those days came John the Baptist,.... The Evangelist having given an account of the genealogy and birth of Christ; of the coming of the wise men from the east to him; of his preservation from Herod's bloody design against him, when all the infants at Bethlehem were slain; of the flight of Joseph with Mary and Jesus into Egypt, and of their return from thence, and settlement in Nazareth, where Christ continued till near the time of his baptism, and entrance on his public ministry; proceeds to give a brief relation of John, the harbinger and forerunner of Christ, and the administrator of baptism to him: and he describes him by his name John, in Hebrew "Jochanan", which signifies "gracious", or "the grace of the Lord", or "the Lord has given grace"; which agrees with him, both as a good man, on whom the Lord had bestowed much grace, and as a preacher, whose business it was to publish the grace of God in Christ, Luke 16:16. This name was given him by an angel before his conception, and by his parents at his birth, contrary to the mind of their relations and neighbours, Luke 1:13. He is called by some of the Jewish writers (m), John the "high priest"; his father Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abia, and he might succeed him therein, and be the head of that course, and for that reason be called a "high" or "chief priest"; as we find such were called, who were the principal among the priests, as were those who were chosen into the sanhedrim, or were the heads of these courses; and therefore we read of many chief priests, Matthew 2:4. From his being the first administrator of the ordinance of baptism, he is called John the Baptist; and this was a well known title and character of him. Josephus (n) calls him "John", who is surnamed , "the Baptist"; and Ben Gorion having spoken of him, says (o), this is that John who , "made", instituted, or practised "baptism"; and which, by the way, shows that this was not in use among the Jews before, but that John was the first practiser this way. He is described by his work and office as a preacher, he "came" or "was preaching" the doctrines of repentance and baptism; he published and declared that the kingdom of the Messiah was at hand, that he would quickly be revealed; and exhorted the people to believe on him, which should come after him. The place where he preached is mentioned,
in the wilderness of Judea; not that he preached to trees and to the wild beasts of the desert; for the wilderness of Judea was an habitable place, and had in it many cities, towns, and villages, in which we must suppose John came preaching, at least to persons which came out from thence. There were in Joshua's time six cities in this wilderness, namely Betharabah, Middin, and Secacah, and Nibshan, and the city of Salt, and Engedi, Joshua 15:61. Mention is made in the Talmud (p) of this wilderness of Judea, as distinct from the land of Israel, when the doctors say, that
"they do not bring up small cattle in the land of Israel, but they bring them up , "in the wilderness which is in Judea".''
The Jews have an observation (q) of many things coming from the wilderness;
"the law, they say, came from the wilderness; the tabernacle from the wilderness; the sanhedrim from the wilderness; the priesthood from the wilderness; the office of the Levites from the wilderness; the kingdom from the wilderness; and all the good gifts which God gave to Israel were from the wilderness.''
So John came preaching here, and Christ was tempted here. The time of his appearance and preaching was in those days: not when Christ was newly born; or when the wise men paid their adoration to him; or when Herod slew the infants; or when he was just dead, and Archelaus reigned in his room; or when Christ first went to Nazareth; though it was whilst he dwelt there as a private person; but when John was about thirty years of age, and Christ was near unto it, Luke 3:23 an age in which ecclesiastical persons entered into service, Numbers 4:3. It was indeed, as Luke says, Luke 3:1 in the "fifteenth" year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea; and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee; and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea; and of the region of Trachonitis; and Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene; Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.
(m) Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 2. Chronicon Regum, fol. 54. 4. (n) Antiq. l. 18. c. 7. (o) L. 5. c. 45. (p) T. Bab. Bava Kama, fol, 79. 9. 2.((q) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 13. 3.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Mt 3:1-12. Preaching and Ministry of John. ( = Mr 1:1-8; Lu 3:1-18).
For the proper introduction to this section, we must go to Lu 3:1, 2. Here, as Bengel well observes, the curtain of the New Testament is, as it were, drawn up, and the greatest of all epochs of the Church commences. Even our Lord's own age is determined by it (Lu 3:23). No such elaborate chronological precision is to be found elsewhere in the New Testament, and it comes fitly from him who claims it as the peculiar recommendation of his Gospel, that "he had traced down all things with precision from the very first" (Mt 1:3). Here evidently commences his proper narrative.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar—not the fifteenth from his full accession on the death of Augustus, but from the period when he was associated with him in the government of the empire, three years earlier, about the end of the year of Rome 779, or about four years before the usual reckoning.
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea—His proper title was procurator, but with more than the usual powers of that office. After holding it for about ten years, he was summoned to Rome to answer to charges brought against him; but ere he arrived, Tiberius died (A.D. 35), and soon after miserable Pilate committed suicide.
And Herod being tetrarch of Galilee—(See on Mr 6:14).
and his brother Philip—a very different and very superior Philip to the one whose name was Herod Philip, and whose wife, Herodias, went to live with Herod Antipas (see on Mr 6:17).
tetrarch of Ituræa—lying to the northeast of Palestine, and so called from Itur or Jetur, Ishmael's son (1Ch 1:31), and anciently belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh.
and of the region of Trachonitis—lying farther to the northeast, between Iturea and Damascus; a rocky district infested by robbers, and committed by Augustus to Herod the Great to keep in order.
and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene—still more to the northeast; so called, says Robinson, from Abila, eighteen miles from Damascus.
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests—The former, though deposed, retained much of his influence, and, probably, as sagan or deputy, exercised much of the power of the high priesthood along with Caiaphas, his son-in-law (Joh 18:13; Ac 4:6). In David's time both Zadok and Abiathar acted as high priests (2Sa 15:35), and it seems to have been the fixed practice to have two (2Ki 25:18).
the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness—Such a way of speaking is never once used when speaking of Jesus, because He was Himself The Living Word; whereas to all merely creature-messengers of God, the word they spoke was a foreign element. See on Joh 3:31. We are now prepared for the opening words of Matthew.
1. In those days—of Christ's secluded life at Nazareth, where the last chapter left Him.
came John the Baptist, preaching—about six months before his Master.
in the wilderness of Judea—the desert valley of the Jordan, thinly peopled and bare in pasture, a little north of Jerusalem.
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