Vincent's Word Studies
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
In those days
The phrase is indefinite, but always points back to a preceding date; in this case to the date of the settlement of the family at Nazareth. "In those days," i.e., some time during the nearly thirty years since that settlement.
Hebrew, meaning God has dealt graciously. Compare the German Gotthold.
Rev., cometh. The verb is used in what is called the historical present, giving vividness to the narrative, as Carlyle ("French Revolution"). "But now also the National Deputies from all ends of France are in Paris with their commissions." "In those days appears John the Baptist."
See on 2 Peter 2:5.
Wilderness (τῇ ἐήμω)
Not suggesting absolute barrenness but unappropriated territory affording free range for shepherds and their flocks. Hepworth Dixon ("The Holy Land") says, "Even in the wilderness nature is not so stern as man. Here and there, in clefts and basins, and on the hillsides, grade on grade, you observe a patch of corn, a clump of olives, a single palm."
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
A word compounded of the preposition μετά, after, with; and the verb νοέω, to perceive, and to think, as the result of perceiving or observing. In this compound the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by after and different; so that the whole compound means to think differently after. Μετάνοια (repentance) is therefore, primarily, an after-thought, different from the former thought; then, a change of mind which issues in regret and in change of conduct. These latter ideas, however, have been imported into the word by scriptural usage, and do not lie in it etymologically nor by primary usage. Repentance, then, has been rightly defined as "Such a virtuous alteration of the mind and purpose as begets a like virtuous change in the life and practice." Sorrow is not, as is popularly conceived, the primary nor the prominent notion of the word. Paul distinguishes between sorrow (λύπη) and repentance (μετάνοια), and puts the one as the outcome of the other. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The kingdom of heaven
Lit., the kingdom of the heavens (ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν). An expression peculiar to Matthew. The more usual one is the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of heaven because its origin, its end, its king, the character and destiny of its subjects, its laws, institutions, and privileges - all are heavenly. In the teaching of Christ and in the apostolic writings the kingdom of the Messiah is the actual consummation of the prophetic idea of the rule of God, without any national limitation, so that participation therein rests only on faith in Jesus Christ, and on the moral renewal which is conditioned by the same. It is the combination of all rights of Christian citizenship in this world, and eternal blessedness in the next. All its senses are only different sides of the same great idea - the subjection of all things to God in Christ.
John's personality is thrown into shadow behind Christ. "What would be the duty of a merely human teacher of the highest moral aim, entrusted with a great spiritual mission and lesson for the benefit of mankind? The example of St. John Baptist is an answer to this iniquity. Such a teacher would represent himself as a mere 'voice,' crying aloud in the moral wilderness around him, and anxious, beyond aught else, to shroud his own insignificant person beneath the majesty of his message" (Liddoll, "Our Lord's Divinity").
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Were baptized (ἐβαπτίζοντο)
See on Mark 7:4.
Confessing their sins (ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν)
The words imply: 1. That confession was connected with baptism. They were baptized while in the act of confessing. 2. An open confession, not a private one to John (ἐξ, compare Acts 19:18; James 5:16). 3. An individual confession; possibly a specific one. (See Luke 3:10-15.)
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Pointing, as he spoke, to the pebbles on the beach of the Jordan.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Is laid (καῖται)
Not, is applied, as "She layeth her hands to the spindle" (Proverbs 31:19), but is lying.
Is hewn down and east
The present tense is graphic, denoting what is to happen at once and certainly.
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Compare to unloose, Mark 1:7. John puts himself in the position of the meanest of servants. To bear the sandals of their masters, that is, to bring and take them away, as well as to fasten or to take them off, was, among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, the business of slaves of the lowest rank.
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Fan, floor (Wyc. has corn-floor)
The picture is of a farmer at his threshing-floor, the area of hard-beaten earth on which the sheaves are spread and the grain trodden out by animals. His fan, that is his winnowing-shovel or fork, is in his hand, and with it he throws up the mingled wheat and chaff against the wind in order to separate the grain.
Throughly cleanse (διακαθαριεῖ)
Throughly (retained by Rev.) obsolete form of thoroughly, is the force of the preposition διά (through). In that preposition lies the picture of the farmer beginning at one side of the floor, and working through to the other, cleansing as he goes.
The whole metaphor represents the Messiah as separating the evil from the good, according to the tests of his kingdom and Gospel, receiving the worthy into his kingdom and consigning the unworthy to destruction (compare Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:39-43, Matthew 13:48-50).
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
The A. V., following Wyc. and Tynd., misses the meaning of the verb. As in so many instances, it overlooks the force of the imperfect tense, which expresses past action, either in progress or in process of conception, in the agent's mind. John did not forbid Jesus, but had it in mind to prevent him: was for hindering him. Hence Rev., properly, would have hindered him. Again, the preposition (διά) intensifies the verb, and represents strong feeling on John's part. He was moved to strenuous protest against Jesus' baptism by him.
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
As a dove (ὡσεί περιστερὰν)
In the form of a dove, and not, as some interpret, referring merely to the manner of the descent - swiftly and gently as a dove (compare Luke 3:22 "In a bodily form, as a dove"). The dove was an ancient symbol of purity and innocence, adopted by our Lord in Matthew 10:16. It was the only bird allowed to be offered in sacrifice by the Levitical law. In Christian art it is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and that in his Old Testament manifestations as well as in those of the New Testament. From a very early date the dove brooding over the waters was the type of the opening words of Genesis. An odd fresco on the choir-walls of the Cathedral of Monreale, near Palermo, represents a waste of waters, and Christ above, leaning forward from the circle of heaven with extended arms. From beneath him issues the divine ray along which the dove is descending upon the waters. So Milton:
"Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss
And mad'st it pregnant."
In art, the double-headed dove is the peculiar attribute of the prophet Elisha. A window in Lincoln College, Oxford, represents him with the double-headed dove perched upon his shoulder. The symbol is explained by Elisha's prayer that a double portion of Elijah's spirit might rest upon him.
It has been asserted that, among the Jews, the Holy Spirit was presented under the symbol of a dove, and a passage is cited from the Talmud; "The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters like a dove." Dr. Edersheim ("Life and Times of Jesus the Messia") vigorously contradicts this, and says that the passage treats of the supposed distance between the upper and the lower waters, which was only three finger-breadths. This is proved by Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit of God is said to brood over the face of the waters, "just as a dove broodeth over her young without touching them." "Thus the comparison is not between the Spirit and the dove, but between the closeness with which a dove broods over her young without touching them, and the supposed proximity of the Spirit to the lower waters without touching them." He goes on to say that the dove was not the symbol of the Holy Spirit, but of Israel. "If, therefore, rabbinic illustration of' the descent of the Holy Spirit with the visible appearance of a dove must be sought for, it would lie in the acknowledgment of Jesus as the ideal typical Israelite, the representative of his people."
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.