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Craig Blomberg: Matthew abruptly jumps from the events surrounding Jesus’ birth to the time of his adult life. Apart from the one episode of Jesus teaching in the temple at age twelve (Luke 2:41-52), none of the canonical Gospels describes anything about his intervening years. Apparently, they provided few clues to his true identity or coming mission. In striking contrast, the apocryphal gospels fill Jesus’ “hidden years” with all kinds of miraculous exploits, esoteric teaching, and exotic travels.

E. Michael Green: In all the Gospels the ministry of Jesus is prefaced by that of John. There is a very good reason, in addition to the obvious historical one: the central message of John is repentance, and without repentance there is no way in which a person can respond to the good news and become a member of the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is the inescapable beginning.

Walter Wilson: Before the public ministry of the Messiah to Israel can commence, both the Messiah and the people must be prepared. The narratives in chapter 3 concern John the Baptist, whose role as forerunner Matthew elaborates by likening him to the prophet Elijah. John’s ministry paves the way for that of Jesus through its emphasis on certain key themes, including the need for national repentance, warnings of eschatological judgment, and the advent of God’s heavenly reign. Both John’s message and his location (in the wilderness) are expressed as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy concerning the return of the exiled community to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem (and indeed all Judea) respond to this message by going out to the wilderness, confessing their sins, and submitting to baptism by John in the river Jordan. Whereas Luke has John respond to questions from tax collectors and soldiers about what sort of conduct accords with repentance, Matthew has him reprove Jesus’s future opponents (the Pharisees and Sadducees) for their failure to bear fruit worthy of repentance. While the ensuing speech underscores the reality of divine punishment, it also promises the outpouring of the Spirit, a sign of God’s restored presence.

S. Lewis Johnson: The importance of John the Baptist in the ministry of the New Testament may be gleaned from one particular statement that the Lord Jesus made concerning him. In the 11th chapter of this same Gospel of Matthew, in reference to John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” It’s evident from this statement that the importance of John the Baptist is forever settled in holy Scripture.

And not only this, but in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the writer of that gospel relates the ministry of John the Baptist to the beginning of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. In other words, the ministry of John the Baptist is extremely important for the gospel itself. And then, as you well know, there are two passages in the Old Testament in which the ministry of this last of the Old Testament prophets is prophesied, and significant words are said concerning it.

John was a rugged, stern John Knox kind of character, who thundered out the way of the Lord to a stiff-necked generation. I do not think that any true preacher of the word of God would have relished the task that John the Baptist was given. And yet John, although his message was not yet geared for the times – he surely was not a relevant preacher – had a tremendous influence on his contemporaries. Campbell Morgan, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, has said that the ministry of John the Baptist was attractive because all of Jerusalem and Judea and the region round about the Jordan went out to him. His ministry was convictive because they were baptized by him and confessed their sins as they were baptized, and it was invective because he did not hesitative to say to that generation of Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned thee to flee from the wrath to come?”



A.  (:1-2) Pointing People to the Kingdom of Heaven

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Craig Blomberg: Matthew introduces John as he came to be known—as one who baptized people. He calls him a preacher or, more literally, one who speaks as a herald. John proclaimed God’s message as a prophetic spokesman in the desert of Judea, the wilderness area to the south of Jerusalem. Reminiscent perhaps of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness prior to their entry into the promised land, John too prepared the way for One who would reconstitute God’s people. Jesus himself would also have his time in the wilderness shortly (4:1-11).

D. A. Carson: He began his preaching in the “Desert of Judea,” a vaguely defined area including the lower Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea and the country immediately west of the Dead Sea. It is hot and, apart from the Jordan itself, largely arid, though not unpopulated. It was used for pasturage (Ps 65:12; Joel 2:22; Lk 15:4) and had Essene communities.

Charles Swindoll: The word translated “repent” is the Greek term metanoeō [3340], which means to “change one’s mind,” resulting in a change of allegiances, lifestyle, or trajectory.  It doesn’t mean “change your ways.” True repentance doesn’t start with external actions or mere behavior modifications. We’ve all seen outwardly compliant children do what’s right while harboring rebellion in their hearts. The kind of repentance John preached was a change of mind that was followed by a change of lifestyle.

The urgency for John’s call to repentance was the imminent coming of the kingdom of heaven. John’s original Jewish audience —as well as Matthew’s Jewish readers —would most likely have understood the coming kingdom of God as the messianic kingdom described in such passages as Daniel 2:44: “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.” Daniel’s dramatic vision itself hearkens back to other messianic prophecies, such as Isaiah 9:7: “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

So, the “kingdom of heaven,” Matthew’s expression for the “kingdom of God” (see Mark 1:15), is the long-anticipated kingdom that would come with the arrival of the Messiah. With the kingdom would come righteousness, peace, justice, deliverance, and blessing for God’s people. The coming of the kingdom would also bring judgment and wrath upon unbelievers, the wicked, and those who rejected God and His Messiah. This is why repentance was necessary. “John’s message . . . was that a change of mind and heart (metanoeite, ‘repent’) was necessary before they could qualify for the kingdom. They did not realize how far they had drifted from God’s Law and the requirements laid down by the prophets (e.g., Mal. 3:7-12).”

Grant Osborne: Kingdom of Heaven

Five ideas emerge in the prophetic and intertestamental periods:

  1. the regathering of Israel (4 Ezra 13:39–41),
  2. the destruction of the nations (Dan 2:44; 7:26; 2 Bar. 36–40),
  3. the reign of God’s people (Dan 7:27; Wis 3:8; T. Jud. 25:1–2; Matt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2; Rev 20:4),
  4. the harvest of judgment (Dan 12:2; 4 Ezra 4:30; 2 Bar. 72–74; Matt 3:12; 13:30, 40),
  5. and the transformation of this world into a new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 1 En. 45:3–5; 2 Bar. 32:1–7; Matt 19:28; Rev 21:1).

By the time of Christ, virtually all the attention was given to the destruction of Rome, and this is why Jesus’ twelve disciples never understood that he came to suffer and die—they had no basis for understanding this, for they thought only of a conquering Messiah. . .

the kingdom of God has come and is coming, and the people of God live between the ages, feeling the tension between the already and the not yet. In the Messiah the kingdom has arrived, yet the events have only been inaugurated, and the final stage is in the future.

S. Lewis Johnson: John’s message is that that kingdom of the heaven is at hand, because the King has come. There are two aspects of this kingdom: the aspect of the ministry of the Lord Jesus at his first coming, in which he lays the foundation for the kingdom in the shedding of his precious blood, for it is the blood that he shed that inaugurates the New Covenant which is the foundation of that kingdom; and then there is the ministry of the king at his second advent, at which he destroys the enemies of the program of God and brings that kingdom to pass upon the earth. So then we have a public manifestation of the king. He comes as the hidden king in his first coming. He comes as the magnificent king of glory in his second coming. .

You’ll notice John does not know anything about this interval between the first coming and the second coming. As a prophet who resided in the Old Testament prophecy primarily, he looks forward to the great events of the New Covenant period, and he sees mountain peaks, but he does not see the valleys that lie between the peaks. And so he sees the first coming mingled with the second coming. And as history unfolds, we have learned that there is now 1900 years plus between the first advent and the second advent, but John puts them together, for his vision is not yet clarified by the unfolding of the revelation of God. The future, in a sense, is fore-shortened for John, but the truths that he proclaims are truths.

John Nolland: Because the mention of the wilderness location is geared to evoking the tradition of wilderness renewal, the reader is given no help in imagining how John, at least in the early stages, could have gained any audience for his message in an unpopulated wilderness area. John is being thought of as a prophet, but where the prophets characteristically take their message from God to the people, here the people must trek out into the wilderness to receive the message.  This is presumably because the commerce with God which John is calling for is deemed to have its natural setting in the wilderness (as the place to initiate eschatological renewal).

B.  (:3) Preparing People to Respond to the King

For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying,

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness,

Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’

Craig Blomberg: Verse 3 presents John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Isa 40:3. The quotation reproduces the LXX almost verbatim. In Isaiah the speaker remains unidentified. He could be viewed individually as a specific prophet or corporately as all of the people of Israel (so Qumran; cf. 1QS 8:14). The larger context of Isa 40-66 discloses that the prophecy depicts part of Israel’s end-time restoration. The messianic era, the millennial kingdom, and eventually the new heavens and the new earth often blend together in characteristic prophetic foreshortening. John is thus heralding the beginning of the full restoration and blessing of God’s people. Just as roads were often repaired in the ancient world in preparation for royalty traveling on them, so John calls his listeners to rebuild highways of holiness (cf. Isa 35:8), i.e., to return to moral living in preparation for God’s coming in Jesus.

E. Michael Green: But we are bound to notice how he comes: preaching (:1). ‘Who are you, John?’ we ask. ‘A voice,’ he replies (:3). Just that. He was actually a very great prophet, with a radical message of repentance to deliver. He lived a simple lifestyle which powerfully challenged the religious leaders of the day, who lived in considerable luxury. His message shook the state. His courage was phenomenal. And yet with striking humility he sees himself as nothing more or less than the voice through which God was addressing his nation. He takes no credit for his ministry. He is simply his Master’s voice. What an example to preachers!

Leon Morris: Prepare may be used of making a thing ready or keeping it ready. Here the imagery is of a road that needs to be repaired so that it may be ready for the Lord to travel over it smoothly. Way may be used in the literal sense of a road; here the imagery is that of the road over which a king will approach. In antiquity when it was known that the sovereign was coming, every effort would be made to ensure that the road was as smooth as it could be. The great one must be able to travel easily and quickly. “The Lord” refers in Isaiah to Yahweh, but the Baptist is applying the passage to Jesus. When Matthew records this use of Scripture he is revealing something of his Christology. To ascribe to Jesus words that in Holy Scripture applied to God shows that for the writer Jesus occupies the highest of places. The use of the same prophecy in the other Synoptists indicates that this was an accepted practice among the Christians, not something peculiar to Matthew. Make his paths straight continues the metaphor, but it is not quite clear whether straightening the path means eliminating bends or removing bumps. It is perhaps more likely to be making the path level (cf. Moffatt, “level the paths”) than altering it to have fewer bends. All is to be made ready for the coming of God’s chosen one. John’s announcement of the coming of the kingdom and his call to repentance were ways of preparing the path for the coming of Jesus.

John MacArthur:  He is presented as the forerunner of Jesus.  He prepared the way for Jesus’ arrival.  The whole passage emphasizes this.  In ancient times, it was common when a king was coming to a city to send ahead of him certain servants, certain heralds, and they had two functions.  One of the functions was to announce the king was coming.  The other function was to prepare the road so that the travel would be easy.  So usually the herald would go ahead with the idea of verbalizing the arrival of the king, and also with a coterie of servants who could fix the road.  And since roads in those days were subject to all kinds of pitfalls and hazards and, and broken places, and so forth and so on, this was very important that the king not be delayed, that the king not be injured as he traveled because something was not foreseen.  And so a herald went to proclaim and to prepare, to announce the king is coming, and to get the road ready for when the king came by. . .

Now, you can see from what I’m trying to show you, this is a significant man.  He came to get the people ready for the King.  Now you know what happened.  He came to get ’em ready for the King.  The King came to offer them the kingdom.  They didn’t want the forerunner.  They beheaded him.  They didn’t want the King.  They crucified Him.  The whole thing fell apart.  Israel was set aside, and it’s all gotta be redone in the future, right?  And the kingdom was postponed, and there’s gotta be another forerunner to get Israel ready again for the coming kingdom.

C.  (:4) Peculiar in His Dress and Diet

  1. Peculiar in His Dress

Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair,

and a leather belt about his waist;

  1. Peculiar in His Diet

and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Craig Blomberg: Matthew describes John’s dress as much like that of the prophet Elijah of old (2 Kgs 1:8). His diet resembles that of desert dwellers of the day. Both clothing and food point to an austerity and asceticism appropriate to his stern calls for repentance.

Grant Osborne: Locusts (including grasshoppers) and wild honey (probably taken by John himself from beehives) were the food of the poor, especially those living in the desert.

Leon Morris: The picture we get is of a man who lived simply. His clothing was far from splendid or elaborate, and his food such as could be obtained in the wild.


A.  (:5-6) Invitation to the Masses — Popular Appeal

  1. (:5)  Widespread Response

Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea,

and all the district around the Jordan;

  1. (:6)  Wholehearted Submission — Baptism and Confession of Sins

and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River,

as they confessed their sins.

Craig Blomberg: John is apparently a charismatic figure who attracts crowds from many nearby places. His welcome reception provides a striking contrast with 2:3, though hostilities will resume in v. 7, confirming that it is primarily the official Jewish leaders who reject God’s new revelation. The crowds who come and repent make public their change of heart by acknowledging their failure to meet God’s standards and by resolving to change their ways. They visibly demonstrate the seriousness of their pledge with the rite of water baptism. The Greek imperfect tense (literally, were being baptized) suggests that John’s ministry lasts for a significant period of time. . .

Baptizing in the river suggests that the people were either immersed or had water poured over them. The best historical evidence suggests immersion was more likely. The most common meaning of the verbs bapt and baptiz points in this direction as well, though there are instances in which the terms also refer to a more superficial dipping (e.g., Rev 19:13). In general the New Testament evidence concerning baptism strongly supports immersion for believers, even if the history of the church is littered with sad examples of individuals and movements that have proved overly divisive on this issue.

Warren Wiersbe: The Jews baptized Gentile converts, but John was baptizing Jews! His baptism was authorized from heaven (Matt. 21:23–27); it was not something John devised or borrowed. It was a baptism of repentance, looking forward to the Messiah’s coming (Acts 19:1–7). His baptism fulfilled two purposes: It prepared the nation for Christ, and it presented Christ to the nation (John 1:31).

Charles Swindoll: When John the Baptizer took up the rite of immersion, he “infused into the ritual act of initiation and purification an ethical quality that baptism had not had before. His was a moral community of penitent souls seeking personal righteousness, and he associated with the act of baptism the imperative necessity for a thorough change in the condition of the soul.”  Or, as one commentator states, “Baptism for John was a symbol of repentance, a symbol of cleansing from sin and turning away from the old life to a new life.”  So, like proselyte baptism, John’s baptism was an outward symbol of inward devotion to God, submission to His will, and identity with the true people of God. And it was more than just a mark of repentance from sin; it was also a consecration to a life of loving service to God and to holiness. Take note, however, that the audience of John’s address was not morally and spiritually “filthy” Gentiles, but Jews! He was saying, in effect, “Because of your sin, you are outside of Abraham’s covenant with God —unclean! You must repent like a Gentile and come to God as if for the first time.”

B.  (:7-9) Invective against Self Righteous Hypocrites – Powerful Confrontation

  1. (:7) Targeting Jewish Religious Leaders

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’

Craig Blomberg: By calling them “vipers,” John refers to their shrewdness and to the danger they pose to others. Possibly an indirect allusion to the evil caused by the original serpent (Gen 3) appears as well. The last line of v. 7 therefore oozes with sarcasm. John knows full well that the Jewish leaders are not fleeing from the coming wrath. This wrath forms part of the full arrival of the kingdom, which will lead to judgment of God’s enemies as well as blessing for his followers. God’s wrath does not reflect “the emotion of anger but that part of his divine holiness that actively repudiates that which is unholy in his creatures.”

R. T. France: As the two main ideological groups in the Sanhedrin both Sadducees (the “politically” dominant group from whom the priestly and temple hierarchy were drawn) and the Pharisees (a self-conscious “party” grouping committed to rigorous observance of the law) represented key elements in the Jerusalem establishment, and the mention of them together probably suggests a sort of “cross-party delegation” who had come out to examine this disturbing new religious phenomenon down by the Jordan. The description of them as “coming to his baptism” rather than “being baptized” like the crowds in v. 6 suggests such a surveillance role, and the reception they received from John (vv. 7–10) makes it unlikely that any of them actually were baptized.

  1. (:8-9) Trumpeting Required Corrective Action

a.  (:8)  Proper Response = Genuine Repentance Demonstrated by Fruit

Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance;

Warren Wiersbe: John’s preaching centered on repentance and the kingdom of heaven. The word repent means “to change one’s mind and act on that change.” John was not satisfied with regret or remorse; he wanted “fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). There had to be evidence of a changed mind and a changed life.

b.  (:9)  Improper Response = False Security

and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves,

‘We have Abraham for our father’;

for I say to you, that God is able from these stones

to raise up children to Abraham.

Craig Blomberg: In v. 9 John again reminds his listeners that they dare not trust in their ancestral credentials or believe that they alone are legitimate candidates for inclusion in the people of God. Matthew’s two-pronged emphasis, introduced in chaps. 1-2, thus continues: the messianic age brings new people into God’s kingdom and excludes others who thought themselves secure. The Messiah is the true Son of Abraham (1:1-2); apart from him there is no salvation. The reference to “these stones” probably reflects an original Aramaic wordplay between children (b nayy ) and stones ( abnayy ) and was no doubt inspired by the characteristically rocky ground that covers Israel.


Grant Osborne: The Jewish people are not automatically secure on the basis of their heritage.  There may be an echo of Isa 51:1–2, “Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father,” interestingly in a context of comfort and promise. As Davies and Allison say, “From Abraham, a lifeless rock (cf. Gen 17:17; 18:10–14; Rom 4:17), God had miraculously caused to be born Isaac and descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven.”  God could do so again, so the people dare not fail to obey him and develop lives in keeping with their covenant privileges.

E. Michael Green: Religious observance and religious pedigree are not enough. The Pharisees and Sadducees had that and to spare. Orthodoxy is not enough. To be Abraham’s seed is not enough. If there is no heartfelt repentance, there will be no spiritual life for you in the kingdom of the Messiah.

C.  (:10) Prophetic Warning of Imminent Judgment

And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees;

every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Craig Blomberg: v. 10 again predicts imminent judgment for those who reject John’s call to repentance. The fire, as v. 12 makes clear, stands for eternal punishment. One must not think of any lesser judgment as in view. A “fruitless” Christian is no Christian at all (cf. Jas 2:14-26). Christians in every age must heed John’s warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Too often in the history of the church, people have trusted in living in a “Christian” country, being raised in a Christian family, holding membership or even office in a local church, and even in verbal claims to have repented and to have trusted in Christ. Yet without the evidence of a changed life and perseverance in belief, all such grounds of trust prove futile.

Grant Osborne: Certainly final judgment is primarily in view (the present tenses are prophetic, emphasizing the certainty of it), though the destruction of Jerusalem should probably be included as well. The fact that the ax is ready to cut down the “root” is important; the goal is not pruning (John 15:2) but total destruction. When woodsmen cut down trees, they normally cut at the trunk, from which they want another tree to grow; but when the root is cut, the tree is gone forever.


A.  (:11) Because of His Superior Baptism

  1. Baptism of John

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance,

  1. Benchmark Comparison

but He who is coming after me is mightier than I,

and I am not fit to remove His sandals;

  1. Baptism of Christ

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Craig Blomberg: The expression baptism “with/in the Holy Spirit” appears six other times in the New Testament. Five of these texts refer to this very saying of John (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). Acts 1-2 demonstrates that John’s prediction was fulfilled at Pentecost. The sixth reference appears in 1 Cor 12:13, where it is clear that all Christians receive Spirit-baptism. The phrase therefore refers to a ritual that depicts a believer’s initiation into the body of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who never departs following true conversion and regeneration. Baptism of the Spirit must not be confused with the “filling of the Spirit,” which recurs repeatedly to empower believers to proclaim God’s word boldly (Acts 2:4; 4:8,31; 9:17; 13:9).   Here is further reason why one cannot be a Christian without having a changed life; the indwelling Spirit guarantees that the process of sanctification will begin (cf. Rom 6-8).

Warren Wiersbe: But John mentioned two other baptisms: a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11). The baptism of the Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 1:5, and note that Jesus said nothing about fire). Today, whenever a sinner trusts Christ, he is born again and immediately baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, the church (1 Cor. 12:12–13). In contrast, the baptism of fire refers to the future judgment, as Matthew explains (Matt. 3:12).

Grant Osborne: The mention of “and fire” has caused some controversy. Some think them antithetical, with the Spirit coming on the faithful and the fire of judgment on the unfaithful.  This would certainly fit the context of judgment. More and more, however, the two are being seen as a hendiadys (“spirit-fire”—note that one preposition introduces both, indicating they are a unity). Still, there is a question whether the “Spirit-fire” refers to judgment or the refining fire of the Spirit.  But this disjunction is unnecessary. It is best to see both nuances: those who accept the message of the kingdom are purified by the Spirit while those who reject it face judgment.  Both nuances fit the OT background as well as the Judaism of Jesus’ day (e.g., Qumran; cf. 1QS 4:20–21).

Leon Morris: Baptizing with the Holy Spirit goes along with baptizing with fire, which here stands for purification. Some interpreters understand fire to refer to judgment (as it often does; Ridderbos, e.g., accepts this view here), but the link with the Holy Spirit makes it more likely that the same people are referred to and that they are purified as well as indwelt (fire was linked with the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:3).

John MacArthur: It’s best in my view to see this as a separate judgment of fire.  I think it refers to immersing men in fiery divine judgment.  When He comes, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Now, we’ve already seen – now, note this – that in Scripture, fire speaks of God’s judgment.  It can be used in a refining sense, but it speaks most dominantly of God’s judgment and wrath.  These are distinct baptisms.  The former, of the Holy Spirit, belongs to all believers; the latter, to all unbelievers.  The former, to those with true repentance; and the latter, to those with no repentance.  And this, I think, beloved, fits the contextual use of fire in the passage.  If fire means judgment – fire in verse 10; and fire means judgment – fire in verse 12; it would be really stretching the point for fire to mean something else in the verse in between without the Holy Spirit making a comment on it to show us that it meant something else.  It fits the context.  You have three parallel sentences in verses 10, 11, and 12.  Every one of them ends in fire.  And in each case the fire would be the same.  There would be no reason to make any difference – fire of judgment.

B.  (:12) Because of His Severe Judgment

  1. Function of Ultimate Judgment

And His winnowing fork is in His hand,

and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor;

Charles Swindoll: This image refers to workers during the grain harvest who would use a tool called a winnowing fork —like a rake or pitchfork —to separate grain kernels from their husks. Workers would toss the grain stalks into the air, and the heavy seeds would fall to the ground while the chaff would blow away in the wind.

  1. Fate of Ultimate Judgment

a.  Fate of the Wheat = God’s Precious People

and He will gather His wheat into the barn,

b.  Fate of the Chaff = Worthless Wicked

but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”