|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.
Verse 2. - And (omitted by the Revised Version) saying. The parallel passages give the substance of John's preaching - the baptism of repentance. St. Matthew takes, as it seems, a sentence that actually fell from his lips, and presents it as the kernel of his message ("preaching... saying"). This is the more interesting as nowhere else are we told any words uttered by him in this the first stage of his ministry before crowds flocked to hear him. Repent ye... at hand; said word for word by our Lord (Matthew 4:17, note). Repent ye (μετανοεῖτε) . The word expresses the central thought of true repentance, in speaking, as it does, of a change of mind. Contrast μεταμέλεσθαι (Matthew 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10). As such it goes deeper than the Old Testament summons "Turn ye" (שובו), or the rabbinic תשובה, for it points out in what part of man the alteration must be. (On your meaning more than the mere thinking power, and including also the willing faculty, cf. especially Delitzsch, 'Psych.,' p. 211, etc., Eng. trans., 1875.) It is noticeable that the LXX. never, as it seems, translate שוב by μετανοῖν, but often נחם (of man only in Jeremiah 8:6; Jeremiah 31:19; and possibly Joel 2:14; cf. 1 Samuel 15:29), which refers to repentance as a matter of feeling. As Messiah was coming, it was only natural that John should urge repentance. Similarly, we find late Jewish writers expounding Genesis 1:2, "'And the Spirit of God was moving [on the face of the waters].' This is the Spirit of King Messiah, like that which is said in Isaiah 11:2, 'And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.' By what kind of merit does it draw near and come? It says, 'upon the face of the waters.' By the merit of repentance, which is compared to water, as it is written (Lain. 2:19), 'Pour out thy heart like water'" ('Bresh. R.,' § 2). But, unfortunately, they assign far too legal a meaning to the word, and their phrase, "do repentance" (עשה תשובה), becomes almost identical with the "do penance" (poeni-tentiam agite, Vulgate) of the Roman Catholics (cf. Talm. Dab., 'Sanh.,' 97 b). For the kingdom of heaven (see Introduction, p. 22.).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And saying, repent ye,.... The doctrine which John preached was the doctrine of repentance; which may be understood either of amendment of life and manners; for the state of the Jews was then very corrupt, all sorts of men were grown very wicked; and though there was a generation among them, who were righteous in their own eyes, and needed no repentance; yet John calls upon them all, without any distinction, to repent; and hereby tacitly strikes at the doctrine of justification by works, which they had embraced, to which the doctrine of repentance is directly opposite: or rather, this is meant, as the word here used signifies, of a change of mind, and principles. The Jews had imbibed many bad notions. The Pharisees held the traditions of the elders, and the doctrine of justification by the works of the law; and the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead; and it was a prevailing opinion among them all, and seems to be what is particularly struck at by John, that the Messiah would be a temporal king, and set up an earthly kingdom in this world. Wherefore he exhorts them to change their minds, to relinquish this notion; assuring them, that though he would be a king, and would have a kingdom, which was near at hand, yet it would be a heavenly, and not an earthly one. Hence the manner in which John enforces his doctrine, or the reason and argument he uses to prevail upon them to regard it, is by saying,
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: by which is meant not the kingdom of glory to be expected in another world; or the kingdom of grace, that is internal grace, which only believers are partakers of in this; but the kingdom of the Messiah, which was "at hand", just ready to appear, when he would be made manifest in Israel and enter upon his work and office: it is the Gospel dispensation which was about to take place, and is so called; because of the wise and orderly management of it under Christ, the king and head of his church by the ministration of the word, and administration of ordinances; whereby, as means, spiritual and internal grace would be communicated to many, in whose hearts it would reign and make them meet for the kingdom of glory; and because the whole economy of the Gospel, the doctrines and ordinances of it are from heaven. This phrase, "the kingdom of heaven" is often to be met with in Jewish writings; and sometimes it stands opposed to the "kingdom of the earth" (r); by it is often meant the worship, service, fear, and love of God, and faith in him: thus in one of their books (s) having mentioned those words, "serve the Lord with fear": it is asked, what means this phrase, "with fear?" It is answered, the same as it is written, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"; and this is "the kingdom of heaven". And elsewhere they (t) ask, "what is the kingdom of heaven?" To which is answered, "the Lord our God is one Lord". Yea, the Lord God himself is so called (u), and sometimes the sanctuary; and sometimes they intend by it the times of the Messiah, as the Baptist here does; for so they paraphrase (w) those words,
"the time of the singing of birds, or of pruning, is come; the time for Israel to be redeemed is come; the time for the uncircumcision to be cut off is come; the time that the kingdom of the Cuthites (Samaritans or Heathens) shall be consumed is come; and the time that "the kingdom of heaven shall be revealed" is come, as it is written, "and the Lord shall be king over all, the earth."''
Very pertinently does John make use of this argument to engage to repentance; since there cannot be a greater motive to it, whether it regard sorrow for sin, and confession of it, or a change of principles and practice, than the grace of God through Christ, which is exhibited in the Gospel dispensation: and very appropriately does he urge repentance previous to the kingdom of heaven; because without that there can be no true and cordial embracing or entering into the Gospel dispensation, or kingdom of heaven; that is, no real and hearty receiving the doctrines, and submitting to the ordinances of it. Nor ought the Jews above all people to object to John's method of preaching; since they make repentance absolutely necessary to the revelation of the Messiah and his kingdom, and redemption by him; for they say (x) in so many words, that
"if Israel do not repent, they will never be redeemed; but as soon as they repent, they will be redeemed; yea, if they repent but one day, immediately the son of David will come.''
(r) Bereshit Rabba, fol. 7. 4. (s) Zohar in Exod. fol 39. 2.((t) Debarim Rabba, fol. 237. 2.((u) Zohar in Gen. fol. 112. 3.((w) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 11. 4. (x) T. Hieros. Taanith, fol. 63. 4. & 64. 1. & Bab. Sanhed. fol. 97. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. And saying, Repent ye—Though the word strictly denotes a change of mind, it has respect here (and wherever it is used in connection with salvation) primarily to that sense of sin which leads the sinner to flee from the wrath to come, to look for relief only from above, and eagerly to fall in with the provided remedy.
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand—This sublime phrase, used in none of the other Gospels, occurs in this peculiarly Jewish Gospel nearly thirty times; and being suggested by Daniel's grand vision of the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days, to receive His investiture in a world-wide kingdom (Da 7:13, 14), it was fitted at once both to meet the national expectations and to turn them into the right channel. A kingdom for which repentance was the proper preparation behooved to be essentially spiritual. Deliverance from sin, the great blessing of Christ's kingdom (Mt 1:21), can be valued by those only to whom sin is a burden (Mt 9:12). John's great work, accordingly, was to awaken this feeling and hold out the hope of a speedy and precious remedy.
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