James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,Matthew 3:1-4:11
PREPARATION FOR PUBLIC MINISTRY
BAPTIZED BY JOHN (Matthew 3)
For the earlier history of John the Baptist compare Luke 1. In Matthew 3:1-6 of the present lesson, however, we have the place and theme of his ministry, a statement of his official relationship to the Messiah, his description, and an account of the interest awakened by his mission.
“The Kingdom of heaven” or “the heavens” (Matthew 3:2) means the earthly kingdom promised to Israel in the Old Testament, over which the Messiah was to reign. It is “the Kingdom of the heavens” in that it is the rule of the heavens over the earth (Matthew 6:10). Compare Daniel 2:34-36; Daniel 2:44. The rejection of the Messiah caused the postponement of this Kingdom until His coming again.
In Matthew 3:7-12 we have a reference to the religious leaders of the nation at this time, and a warning of judgment awaiting them. We met with “scribes” in the preceding chapter, and here we have Pharisees and Sadducees. The scribes made copies of the sacred Scriptures, and classified and taught them (2 Samuel 8:17; Jeremiah 8:8), but by and by, they added to this other things not so necessary or lawful, and compelled the people to accept them or be charged with heterodoxy. This was the charge brought against our Lord Himself because He confined His teaching to the Scripture. Among the things they added were Hebrew legends (Gemara), and rabbinical rules on questions of ritual (Mishna), the two forming the Talmud of later times.
“Pharisee” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separate,” and identifies a sect whose origin dated from the return from Babylon. At first its object was to keep alive a reverence for the law of God, but later it degenerated into a traditionalism corresponding to the teaching of the scribes. Pharisees were zealous but self-righteous, and became the fiercest enemies of Jesus Christ. Sadducees some think were named after their founder Zadok. They were skeptics who denied the immortality of the soul. They also denied the oral tradition on which Pharisaic teaching was largely based. They were the rich and worldly people of Judea in our Lord’s time. These definitions explain the hard names and the warnings applied to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7). Their hypocrisy is seen in Matthew 3:8, their pride of race, Matthew 3:9, their speedy judgment, Matthew 3:10.
Baptism with water (Matthew 3:11) had been practiced among the Jews in connection with the proselytism of the verses, and was the outward sign by which the latter signified the change of mind and purpose supposed to have taken place within, and which is really the meaning of “repentance.” This baptism of John, however, is not identical with Christian baptism as will be seen later.
The last clause of Matthew 3:11 refers to Christ, who baptized His disciples with the Holy Ghost, after His ascension, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12:13); and will baptize Israel with fire when He comes again in judgment (Matthew 3:12). This is an illustration of the law of double reference of which we learned in the Old Testament.
Matthew 3:13-17 are the most important. The sinless one coming to a sinner to be baptized with sinners, how strange! No wonder John forbade Him. But it was not John’s baptism He sought, although John baptized Him. John’s baptism was the sign and seal of repentance, to escape wrath, but Jesus had no need of repentance and no fear of wrath. His baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). In other words, the Father had made a covenant of redemption with the Son, in which the Son, as God Incarnate, worked out, through atoning sufferings and obedience, a perfect righteousness for sinful men. His baptism by John was the sign and seal of this covenant. It was His seal of consecration to His chosen work, and the Father’s seal of faithfulness to the sufferer, the latter being proven by the open heavens, the descending dove and the paternal voice. Thus was He inaugurated into His great office.
TEMPTED BY SATAN (Matthew 4:1-11)
It is the Holy Spirit who is referred to in Matthew 4:1, and indeed, after His anointing by the Spirit, almost everything Jesus is said to have done, was accomplished, not in the power of His own natural spirit, but the Holy Spirit. It would have been wrong for Him to have entered into this temptation on His own account. The “Devil” of the same verse we became acquainted with as a personal being, in the Old Testament. But although he possesses personality, a word synonymous with self-consciousness, that is not to say that he appeared to Jesus in human form. The form he assumed is not revealed, although the temptation was objective in character, as was that of the first Adam in Eden, with which it stands in contrast.
The temptation was three-fold, the appeal being directed to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), which is all the devil has to offer. The Father had just testified to His Sonship, but He is tempted to doubt it because He is hungry (Matthew 3:3). He has just declared His confidence in the Word of God (Matthew 3:4), and He is tempted to presume upon it (Matthew 3:5-7). He had been promised the Kingdom through the Cross, and He is tempted to obtain it in another way (Matthew 3:8-10). As Scofield says, “Satan’s one object was to induce Christ to act from Himself and independently of His Father,” and Christ defeated him “by a means open to His humblest follower, the intelligent use of the Word of God.”
This victory of Christ takes on great significance when we realize that as the second Adam He took the place of the first. What we lost in the first, we, who believe, have restored to us in the second (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
1. Where do we learn the earlier history of John the Baptist?
2. Define “the Kingdom of heaven.”
3. Define “scribes,” “Pharisees,” “Sadducees.”
4. Give the history of the Jewish “Talmud.”
5. What illustration of the law of double reference is found in this lesson?
6. What meaning is attached to Jesus’ baptism?
7. What is the meaning of “personality”?
8. What was Satan’s one object in the temptation of Christ?
9. What gives the temptation its great significance for us?