Survey of the chapter

The chapter has two main themes, the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner, and the baptism of Christ.

Structure of the chapter

(a) Verses 1-12 Beginning of John’s ministry
(b) Verses 13-17 Baptism of Christ


3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3:3 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.

3:4 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.

3:5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

3:6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:7 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?

3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

3:9 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.

3:10 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.

3:11 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:

3:12 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.

(a) Verses 1-12 Beginning of Christ’s ministry

3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

In those days came John the Baptist- the previous chapter ends with Mary and Joseph settling down in Nazareth, and it was while Christ was living there that John’s ministry began. Luke tells us when this was by reference to the political and religious rulers of the time, Luke 3:1,2. He very pointedly says, however, that “the word of the Lord came to John”. God bypassed the princes of this world, whether in palaces or in the temple, to send His word to a man in the wilderness.

As the herald of the king, John arrives on the scene abruptly in Matthew’s gospel. He came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17, and that prophet also arrived on the scene without warning, storming into Ahab’s palace to announce judgement on the land because of the idolatry that was there, 1 Kings 17:1. This “Elijah” does not enter the palace immediately, but he will do so later, and lose his life for denouncing Herod’s immorality.

Mark introduces John the Baptist before he introduces Christ. Mark’s gospel emphasises service, and John serves as a messenger preparing the way before Christ. But after just fifteen verses Mark turns his attention to Christ as the supreme Servant.

Luke’s gospel introduces John in detail, and records the events preceding his birth, and afterwards. But when John’s father gives thanks to God for the birth of his son, the one for whom he and his wife had waited a life-time, he says more about the unborn Christ than his own long-awaited son; and he says it before he mentions his own son. No wonder that son said later on of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease”, John 3:30.

The apostle John’s presentation of John the Baptist is as a man who was the last of God’s manifestations to the world before Christ came. John was the last representative of the Old Testament law and prophets, (“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John”, Matthew 11:13, where the word “until” means, “up to and including”), and the apostle uses him to contrast with the purpose of Christ’s coming, and writes, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”, John 1:17.

He develops that contrast throughout the first chapter of the gospel as follows:

Verses 6-8 John is a lamp, but Christ is the light.

Verse 15 John is the witness, and Christ is the Preferred One.

Verse 23 John is a voice, but Christ is the Word.

Verse 26 John baptizes in water, but Christ in the Spirit.

Verse 29 John is the evangelist, but Christ is the sin-bearer.

Verses 32-34 John bears record, and Christ is the Son of God.

Verses 35-36 John is the son of a priest, but Christ is the sacrifice.

Preaching in the wilderness of Judaea- as the son of a priest, John had the right to officiate in the temple in Jerusalem. Such was the state of that place, however, that he had to separate himself from it and its corruption. But he does not separate himself from Jerusalem so as to be inaccessible, for he preaches nearby in the wilderness of Judea, ready to be of help to any who come out to him with an interest in the kingdom of heaven.

3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

And saying, Repent ye- as both an upholder of the law, and a messenger announcing Christ, he calls the people to repentance. His task was to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”, Luke 1:17. The law condemned their sin, but offered no permanent remedy for it. Christ, however, did, for He would “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”, Hebrews 9:26. In this way John forms a bridge between law and grace.

At the end of the Old Testament canon, Malachi lamented the failure of the priesthood, and in his address to them said, “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth”, Malachi 2:7. (How significant, therefore, that John’s father, a priest, had been struck dumb for unbelief, Luke 1:20. His dumbness was only done away when he said the name “John”, which means “Jehovah is gracious”). So when the chief priests in Christ’s day said, “But this people which knoweth not the law are cursed”, John 7:49, they were condemning themselves for their own failure; they were dumb too, for they did not understand, or teach, that “Jehovah is gracious”.

For the kingdom of heaven is at hand- this is the reason why they needed to repent. If the kingdom of heaven is near at hand, it must mean the King is coming, for Daniel saw the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an image that was smashed by a stone from heaven. He told the king, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed…it shall stand for ever”, Daniel 2:44. Then Daniel had a dream of his own in which he saw that “one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed”, Daniel 7:13,14.

The Lord Jesus referred to this dream when He was before Caiaphas. We read, “And the high priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God”, Matthew 26:63. He was obliged to answer, therefore, as a godly Jew, for it was a trespass against the law to not answer. The command was, “And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity”. By “voice of swearing” is meant “the voice of one who is putting you under oath”.

So it is that the Lord Jesus answered, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven”. The priests are being informed that although they sit in judgement on Him then, in a day to come it will be different. And that He will rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of God, which is the right hand of power, will ensure that this will happen, for as Paul said to the men of Athens, who scoffed at the idea of the resurrection of the dead, (as the Sadducean priests did in Israel), that God “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead”, Acts 17:31.

Christ would do more than ascend to heaven, He would descend from thence in power and great glory, and “every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him”, Revelation 1:7. We see now why the Lord said “ye shall see”, for this pronoun is plural. All the unbelievers in the nation, represented that day by Caiaphas, shall see these things. And the nation as a whole shall see, too, as their Messiah comes to reign.

So the kingdom of heaven is the reign of Christ over the earth, beginning when He comes in power and glory to defeat His enemies. If the nation of Israel had received Him at His first coming, that kingdom would indeed have been near at hand, ready to be set up.

3:3 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.

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying- Matthew is now going to quote from Isaiah 40:2, to show that this man who appears suddenly in the desert has been foretold by God. He is not of the same sort as those Gamaliel mentioned, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, Acts 5:36,37, ringleaders in rebellion against the Romans. The kingdom of heaven is not going to be established by militant action. As we have noticed, in Luke’s gospel the arrival of John is accompanied by historical details as to those who were the princes of this world when he came. Here John’s coming is in reference to the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdoms of men.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness- those who are fit to enter the kingdom are those who have listened to God through His servant. John preaches in the wilderness. That had been his home, and now it becomes his arena. He is not commissioned to stand in the temple courts, but to make his message known in separation. The kingdom will be advanced, not by carnal weapons, but by spiritual ones, even by the powerful voice of God, spoken through John.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord- John did not have to invent his message, for it had already been given him by Isaiah. He simply states what he has been given to state, which is a powerful and needed lesson for all who preach. Note that the one who is coming is the Lord, an Old Testament name for God. And Isaiah had prepared for this idea too, for he went on to say, “Say unto the cities of Juda, Behold your God”. The one who is coming is God manifest in the flesh, 1 Timothy 3:16.
Make His paths straight- it was the practice in ancient times, and to a lesser extent today, to make a special road for a visiting monarch, so that he and his retinue might walk in procession and be welcomed suitably. This was also done in a pagan setting when idols were paraded before the people. Whereas, however, the paths in that situation are physical, in this case it is a question of preparing hearts for the coming of the King. It is a call to repentance. As Luke records, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked places shall be ade straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth”, Luke 3:5. Every valley must be exalted, and recognition given at last to the humble poor who believe in God, but who have been disregarded by the authorities. And every mountain and hill, a metaphor for man in his pride, must be made low in repentance and self-humbling. The crooked ways must be made straight, for the King is coming in righteousness, and the rough places must be made plain, for there must be nothing to hinder Him in His royal progress.

Notice that Matthew does not use Isaiah’s word “highway”, but speaks simply of path. Isaiah has the coming manifestation of the kingdom in view, so it is fitting that the King should have a highway prepared. John is preparing the people for one who, although He is the Lord, yet nonetheless is coming in humility. He will only publicly present Himself to the nation as its King when He rides into Jerusalem to die.

3:4 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.

And the same John- that is, the same one that Isaiah spoke of anonymously as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”, is now discovered to be the one named John by his father. He had been named Zacharias, (meaning “remembrance of Jehovah”), after his father, at first, but then his father indicated that his name was John, (meaning “Jehovah is gracious”). The fact that Zacharias’ prayers had been remembered by the Lord, and the son they so much desired had been born, receded in favour of the idea that God was intervening in grace through His Son. John himself was content to be known only as “the voice”, for when asked who he was, said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness”, John 1:23.
Had his raiment of camel’s hair- Elijah was described as “an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins”, 2 Kings 1:9. The angel of the Lord told Zacharias that his son would go before Christ in the spirit and power of Elias, meaning Elijah, Luke 1:17. And the Lord Jesus said, “Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist”, Matthew 17:13. So the ministry of John the Baptist was a foretaste of the actual coming of Elijah in the last days. It is no surprise therefore, that he dresses like Elijah, for dress is an expression of character.
The camel is said to have a long memory, and if it is upset in some way, will recompense the one who offended it. John’s garment, therefore, was a reminder that the sin that offends God will be recompensed, and thus his very garment was an incentive to the people to repent. Zechariah spoke of false prophets who wore a rough garment to deceive, dressing like a prophet but prophesying falsely. John wore a rough garment to show he was like Elijah, a true prophet who brought the people back from their waywardness.
And a leathern girdle about his loins- his leather girdle was likewise an indication that his service, (a girdle is a symbol of service), was of the unyielding sort, and he would not give way under pressure. The Lord Jesus indicated that John was not one who wore “soft raiment”, nor was he like “a reed shaken by the wind”, Luke 7:24. John refused to compromise or give way, but stood firm even when his life was in danger in Herod’s court.
And his meat was locusts and wild honey- by meat is meant food, and even this had a lesson, for locusts were a symbol in the prophetic writings of God’s agents of judgement. See, for instance, Joel 1:2. John’s ministry was one of condemnation and judgement, for God was angry with the nation. Flying things that creep on all fours were forbidden to the Israelites under their strict dietary code, but there were exceptions, and one of them was the locust, Leviticus 11:20-22. This tells us of a man who was scrupulous as to his adherence to the finer points of the law of Moses, and who knew how to distinguish between clean and unclean.
He must be a brave man who is unafraid of wild bees, and raids their nest to obtain the honey. Jonathan, Saul’s son, was a valiant fighter, but even he only gathered some honey that was overflowing onto the forest floor by dipping the tip of his rod into it. John the Baptist however, fearless and strong, fought off the angry bees to gain the honey he needed to sustain him in the hostile desert.

3:5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judaea- John was in the wilderness of Judea, so had made himself accessible to the capital city. Those who lived there must prepare for the coming of the King, too. Isaiah had said, “Say unto the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God'”, Isaiah 40:9, and John later, after Christ’s baptism, “bare record, that this is the Son of God”, John 1:34.
And all the region round about Jordan- this reminds us that John not only comes to preach, but to baptize. But he does not do it in the pools alongside the temple walls in Jerusalem, which were for the ceremonial purification of the worshippers, but he does it in the Jordan. The waters may be muddy, but the baptism of repentance highlighted the fact that polluted and defiled hearts need to repent.

3:6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

And were baptized of him in Jordan the word baptize has as its root the Greek verb bapto, which means “to cover all over with a fluid”. There is no suggestion of sprinkling in the word; there must be complete immersion. So when the people came to John, he immersed them completely in the water, thus putting themselves out of sight as being unworthy. Of course John brought them out of the water again, but interestingly we are not told this, for John represented the law, and this could only condemn, it could not bring in to better things. But when John baptized Christ He came up out of the water, almost as if He did not need John’s help to emerge from it.

Now baptism is a figure of the death of self, and re-emergence is the figure of a new beginning, and only Christ can bring in that new beginning, hence He is said to come out of the water. Later on the meaning of baptism will be developed, so that Christian baptism is a figure of burial with Christ and resurrection with Him. John could not baptize in this way, which is why the disciples of John that the apostle Paul met in Ephesus were baptized again, Acts 19:1-6. They said they were “baptized unto John’s baptism”, verse 3, but then were baptized again “in the name of the Lord Jesus”, verse 5.

Confessing their sins- John’s baptism was unto repentance, and this was expressed by the people as they came to be put out of sight in the waters of Jordan. They saw themselves as unworthy because of their sins. In this way the “mountains” were “made low”, and the “rough places” were “made plain”. The people were preparing their hearts ready to meet the King when He came.

The word Jordan means “judgement”, and the people were judging themselves and as a consequence repenting of their sins. As they did so, they accepted “the counsel of God against themselves”, which the Pharisees and lawyers refused to do, Luke 7:29. They realised that God’s view of them was hostile, for it was “against themselves”, and they responded appropriately. This is the essential feature of repentance, even the recognition that God is right about our sins, and we are wrong, and therefore need to change our attitude, and renounce those sins.

3:7 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?

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism- we know from John 1:19 that the Jews, (meaning the Jewish authorities), sent priests and Levites unto John to enquire who he claimed to be. He made it very clear that he was not claiming to be the Messiah, but was simply sent to prepare the way before Him. The apostle John tells us that these men were of the Pharisees. The company mentioned by Matthew seem to be different, for they have come to be baptized, but John exposes their hypocrisy, and refuses to baptize them. John was filled with the Spirit and could discern that they were not genuine.
He said unto them, O generation of vipers- John saw them not just as evil men, full of sin, but as the emissaries of the Devil, the Old Serpent himself, Revelation 12:9. The Lord Jesus described those who opposed Him as being of their father the Devil, John 8:44. He has used the literal serpent to do his work in Genesis 3, but ever since he has used men to seek to undermine God’s purpose. John saw that this was an attempt by the enemy of truth to hinder or even bring to an end his work. Satan had sought to prevent Christ being born by attacking the line of the Messiah in the Old Testament; he would seek to prevent Him being put to death in the way foretold in the Old Testament, and here he is seeking to prevent Him being introduced to the nation. The Pharisees and Sadducees were usually in conflict, representing the two extremes of thought in Israel, but here they are united, just as Pilate and Herod were united in opposition to Christ before His crucifixion.
Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? in Luke’s gospel this is spoken to the multitudes, Luke 3:7-9. Matthew emphasises that it was specially relevant to the rulers in the nation. He is presenting Christ as the rightful ruler, and all other candidates for that title must be challenged and exposed. Mark does not mention John’s conversation with the people, whilst the apostle John gives us details of the conversation John the Baptist had with the deputation from Jerusalem, which gave him opportunity to dispel any notion that he was the Messiah.
John sees that these Pharisees and Sadducees had not come to him because they feared the wrath against sin that would be poured out when the Messiah came to set up His kingdom. Zephaniah the prophet wrote, “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly…that day is a day of wrath”, Zephaniah 1:14. When the Lord Jesus read from Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth, He stopped at the words, “to preach the acceptable year of the Lord”, and closed the book; He did not go on to read, “and the day of vengeance of our God”, Luke 4:19; Isaiah 61:2. He will come in wrath one day, but He came in grace the first time.
These men had come out of curiosity perhaps, or to dispute with John, or to pretend they were repentant. They were seeking to infiltrate into John’s followers to undermne his work. But John saw through their pretence, and exposes the fact that they had not come to him for the right reason. If they had been warned of God by John’s call to repentance, and were concerned about coming wrath, then they would not have been met by such a rebuke.

3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance- the word “therefore” shows that John is giving them an opportunity to change; he does not write them off. He is saying, in effect, “If you accept my rebuke, and change your attitude, you will show it by doing the works that are suited, (meet), to a state of repentance”. Luke records how that John gave examples of fruits meet for repentance to certain classes of people who asked him about the matter. “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages”, Luke 3:9-14. Consideration for others is to mark those who are repentant, for they will love their neighbours as themselves, as the law of Moses required.

3:9 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.

And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father- John knows what the response of the Pharisees and Sadducees is likely to be, namely, that descent from Abraham guaranteed them a place in the kingdom of the Messiah. This is why Nicodemus needed to learn that he must be born again, for he thought, as these men did, that their first birth was enough. And even when told he needed the new birth, he still thought in terms of returning to his mother’s womb to have another natural birth of a Jewish mother. The Lord Jesus confronted this attitude later on in His ministry as well, and had to tell the Jews that, far from being the seed of Abraham, they were of their father the Devil. The true seed of Abraham consists of those who have the faith of Abraham, as Romans 4 explains.
For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham- if God was able to make a man out of the dust, Genesis 2:7, then He was also able to make men out of stones. Adam only had life because God gave it to him, and unless the natural seed of Abraham gain life from God through faith, they are just natural men. God could, if He chose, make natural men from stones, but unless He gave them spiritual life, they would be no different to natural children of Abraham who had no life. As far as having a right to the kingdom was concerned, they had no more claim than a stone.
To raise up children means to produce them as a father produces children, but just as God produced Adam without him having a father, so He is able to work like that again. It was indeed a privilege to be a descendant of Abraham, but Abraham was a blessing to others mainly because he is a prime example of faith in God. Unless faith like Abraham’s was in evidence, there was no prospect of being in Messiah’s kingdom.

3:10 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.

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees- notice how John maintains his character as a separate Nazarite in that he only uses illustrations from his environment. He speaks of stones, of trees, or vipers, the surroundings he had known he now uses to illustrate the truth he presents.
A critical time has been reached, for there is a “now”. God’s programme was moving forward after long years of waiting. The age of the law was nearly at an end, and the kingdom of heaven was near. Because of this, radical action was needed, for the Messiah must purge out of the kingdom all things that offend, just as God removed the Canaanite nations from the promised land. The axe is to be laid at the roots, ensuring that the trees could not re-grow.
Therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire- because the crisis-time had come, there is a “therefore”, a consequence. This was no time for half-measures. Either the trees yielded good fruit, the fruits of repentance, or they were the bearers of evil fruit. And as the Lord Jesus said later on, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit”, Matthew 12:33. There was no allowance to be made, for abundant opportunity had been given to these men to show themselves to be believers. The time had come for them to be cut down, for they were not fit to stand.
Not only were they to be cut down from the roots, but no part of the tree, not even a twig, was to be used to propagate a fresh tree, for it was all to be thrown, as useless, into the fire of God’s judgement.

3:11 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:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance- it was true that John baptized in view of the repentance of those who came to him. He did this as “a man sent from God”, John 1:6, the last of the Old Testament prophets, preaching so that men might repent.
But He that cometh after me is mightier than I- important as John’s mission was, there was one coming who had more power to deal with matters than he did.
Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear- it was customary in those times for a slave to carry the shoes of some great personage while he was carried along on his sedan chair. When he alighted his shoes would be ready for him to step into, so he did not soil his feet. John counteracts the “I indeed” of the beginning of the verse with this statement of humility. It is not just the people who must humble themselves before the Great King, but even His chosen herald must take the place of a slave.
In Mark’s gospel and in Luke, John adds, “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose”, Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16. It is the same in John 1:27. So he thinks of himself not only as one unworthy to carry the shoes, but unworthy to undo the laces ready to carry them. Even the humblest task demands self-abasement, in view of the glory of the one who is coming. So not only is the Coming One more powerful, but He is also more worthy. He will combine in Himself the power of the lion of the tribe of Judah, with the moral worth of Joseph.
He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire- whereas John baptized using a physical element, the water of the Jordan, the one who was coming would show His superiority by baptizing in spiritual elements, the Spirit and fire, and these were from heaven. John saw in the fact that at Christ’s baptism the Spirit came upon Him and remained upon Him, the sign from God that He was the baptizer in the Holy Spirit. As a result he “saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God”, John 1:34. As such, He must be greater and more mighty than John.
John’s record of these things is for an entirely different purpose. There is no mention of fan, floor, filled garners, or fire, but the fact that He baptizes with the Holy Ghost because He is the Son of God. And the descent of the Spirit upon Him at His baptism was what convinced John of these things, John 1:31-34.
In Mark, typically, the account is more brief, stating “I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost”, Mark 1:8. Mark is presenting the activity of the Servant of Jehovah as He prepares His people to serve Him. For this they must have power, for the energy of the flesh is of no use in the service of Christ. This power from God He gives when they believe. As the Lord Jesus said just before He ascended to heaven in connection with being baptized with the Holy Ghost, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth”, Acts 1:8.
Mark is simply writing about the genuine servants, and does not mention the fire, or, indeed, the garner. Ideally, the servant will only be satisfied when souls are delivered from the fire; and only concerned about being faithful in the work, and leaving the results, (the garner) to the Lord of the Harvest.
Luke writes to a man who is already a believer, and is in the church. So the baptism in this gospel refers to the incorporation of a believer into the body of Christ the moment he believes. Those already saved on the day of Pentecost were all incorporated at the same time, but Cornelius and his friends had the Spirit poured out on them the moment they believed, Acts 10:44-47.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, are one body: so also is Christ”, 1 Corinthians 12:12. So the human body is one organic whole; it is not an organisation but an organism, a living entity. And the fact that it has many members does not detract from that unity, but rather they combine together to make the unified whole, so also is it with Christ. He has a body too, not just in the normal sense because He is a real man, but also in a metaphorical sense, for He is “the head of the church, which is His body”, Colossians 1:18. And it is into this body that the believer is baptised.
The apostle explains how that came about, in the next verse in 1 Corinthians 12. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit”. The word “for” introduces the explanation as to how the unity between Christ and His people, (which is as close as that between the head and the body), is made. It is by one Spirit, the preposition used here emphasises the character of the action which makes into one; the Spirit gives character to the act, hence the result is “the unity of the Spirit”, Ephesians 4:3. The result is that we, that is, all believers, are all baptized into one body. On the Day of Pentecost not only did the Holy Spirit fill the disciples, but also filled the house where they were sitting, hence they were immersed in the atmosphere of the Spirit, just as when a person is baptized in water, they are immersed in the element, water. And also, just as when a person is baptized they surrender themselves to Jesus Christ, (see Romans 6:3), so on the Day of Pentecost the individuals lost their own identity in favour of their head, Christ. The unity is also formed by the common possession of eternal life, hence the unity of the Godhead governs the unity of the believers, as the Lord jesus said in His prayer, “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Theethat they also may be one in Us”, John 17:21. “Are we all baptized” is in the aorist passive tense, signifying an event complete in itself, (without specifying when that event was), with believers as the passive objects of the action; in other words, they were not responsible for instigating the baptism, in contrast to water baptism, where the believer is responsible to get himself baptized, Acts 22:16, (where “be baptised” is in the Middle voice, indicating that the person wishing to be baptised must initiate the process).
There are those who believe that this is a one-off event, with that which took place at Pentecost credited beforehand to all whom the Lord knew would believe during this present age. It is instructive to notice, however, that when the Spirit came on Cornelius and his household, Peter was reminded, not of what the Lord had said in the Upper Room about the coming of the Spirit, but His words just before He ascended back to heaven. He said to the disciples, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence”, Acts 1:5. But notice that Peter quoted those words as follows, “John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost”, Acts 11:16. In other words, he applied the Lord’s words to what happened to Cornelius, but without the words “not many days hence”, showing that the latter phrase related only to those baptized on the Day of Pentecost, with others baptized at a later date when they believed.
The use of the aorist does not demand that it all happened at Pentecost. The aorist tense is used for an event complete in itself, whenever it happens. The apostle Peter’s baptism in the Spirit was a complete event. The baptism of Cornelius likewise, the baptism of the Corinthians also, when they believed. The point the apostle is making in our chapter that as far as the believers in Corinth were concerned, it was a past event that had been completed. The baptism of Cornelius in the Spirit is also connected to the fact he received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This happens at conversion, therefore so also does the baptism.
This baptism happens “whether we be Jews or Gentiles”, for Divinely-made distinctions have gone; the Jew was separate on the basis of a relationship with Jehovah, now when he believes he is brought into a new unity, that of the body of Christ, which over-rides former things. So too for the Gentiles; his former pagan-temple associations are gone. And also “whether we be bond or free”. These are man-made distinctions, which tend to result in other differences, such as cultural and social. All such things lose their relevance in the body of Christ, where all are equal before God. We see this in Cornelius’ house, where Peter, a Jew, and Cornelius, a Gentile, were found in an equal relationship with God. So also between Cornelius, a freeman, and his household servants, who were possibly bondmen.

To return to Matthew 2.

The people have a choice. They may either believe, and be brought into the good of what the prophet Joel spoke of when he said, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh…for in Mount Zion shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call”, Joel 2:28,32, or they may believe not, and be the objects of the wrath of God. For God is angry with those who do not believe His Son, John 3:36.

3:12 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.

Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor- once the sheaves had been brought in from the harvest-field, the lord of the harvest would lay them out on the threshing-floor, and oxen dragging a heavy log would separate the wheat from the chaff. This was like the ministry of John the Baptist, who was very clear-cut in his assessment of men. They were either repentant sinners or the seed of serpents, and he would entertain no compromise.
Once the mass of wheat and chaff lay on the floor, the lord of the harvest would take his winnowing fan, and throw the mixture into the air. Usually the threshing-floor would be in an exposed spot, and the winnowing would be done in the evening when the breezes blew. Normally the wind would blow the empty, valueless chaff away, and the grains of wheat would fall back onto the floor, so that the floor is now purged of the useless chaff. This would be done throughly, so that no single piece of chaff was left.
By His ministry in the power of the Spirit, (the word for spirit and wind is the same), the Lord Jesus continued the process of separation that was begun by John. It was not so ruthless as John’s ministry, for he had been like the log crushing the ears of corn. His was a ministry of grace, but it was also of truth, with no compromise with evil.
Notice the Lord of the harvest owns it all. The fan is His, the hand that wields it is His, the wheat is His, and so is the garner. All that is not His is the chaff, and the winnowing shows this up.
And gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire- in Matthew the floor is the place where profession is tested, to distinguish between chaff and wheat, and the King will “gather out of His kingdom all things that offend”, Matthew 13:41, and gather His wheat, (true citizens of the kingdom), into the garner, (the security of the kingdom), but will burn up the chaff in the everlasting fire He spoke of in Matthew 25:41. Usually the chaff was left to blow away, but this Lord of the Harvest ensures that it is collected and burnt, for it must not be allowed to blow back and defile the kingdom.
In Luke the words are almost the same as in Matthew, but taking into account the different aspect of things that the two writers present, we may say that Luke, (a companion of the apostle Paul), is not so much concerned with the King and His kingdom, but the Saviour and His church, for He is the Saviour of the body, Ephesians 5:23. So now the floor is the place where Christian profession is tested, the gathering into the garner is the taking of His true people to heaven, and the fire is the fire of the Lake of Fire for those whose profession is not genuine. It is very solemn to read that it is the Lord of the harvest that burns up the chaff. He does not simply allow it to blow away, but retains control over it, and deals with it in judgement. This again shows that He is superior to John, for all judgement has been committed to the Son, John 5:22.
How solemn that the Pharisees and Sadducees do not respond to these statements. Even the mention of unquenchable fire does not seem to move them. Later on, Luke’s comment was that “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him”, Luke 7:30.


3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

3:14 But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?

3:15 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.

3:16 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:

3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Special note on the baptism of Christ

The baptism of Christ marks a very significant stage in the life of Christ. He Himself referred to it as “the beginning”, John 15:27, and those who had been with Him from that time were eligible to be chosen as a substitute apostle to Judas, who fell, Acts 1:21,22, as Peter indicates. To be an effective witness they must have seen Him in the full range of circumstances through which He passed. They must also have seen Him in resurrection, so they could honestly testify that the man they saw in resurrection was the very same man they had been with for nearly four years.

Christ also referred to this event in the words, “Him hath God the Father sealed”, John 6:27. The word “seal” was used of the mark that bakers would impress upon their loaves to show they were prepared to stand by their product. So in John 6 the Lord Jesus claims to be the “Bread of God”, and as such had the Father’s mark upon Him.

Again, in the synagogue in Nazareth He referred to His anointing, which took place at His baptism, as support for His Messiahship, Luke 4:18. To deny that Messiahship was to go against the manifest will of God, expressed by the fact He had anointed Him.

The apostle Peter referred again to this event in the house of Cornelius, who seems to have had some knowledge of the ministry of John the Baptist. “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached”, Acts 10:36,37.

Peter went on to refer to the anointing which took place at Christ’s baptism, when He was “anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power”, with the result that He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the Devil; for God was with Him”, Acts 10:38.
The apostle Paul alluded to Christ’s baptism as he preached in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia. “Of this man’s seed hath God according to His promise raised unto Israel as Saviour, Jesus: when John had first preached before His coming the baptism of repentance to all the children of Israel”, Acts 13:23,24. So the baptism of Christ was His coming, in the sense that He had come within the range of men publicly after long years of obscurity in Nazareth.

The apostle John spoke of this beginning as the point from which the Son of God began to manifest publicly the eternal life that the persons of the Godhead share with one another, and which they desire to share with men, 1 John 1:1-4. Just as the ark of the covenant introduced the people to the land of promise when it crossed the Jordan, so Christ brings His people into blessing through His ministry subsequent to His baptism.

So He is anointed as Sovereign, David’s son, destined to reign. He is anointed as Servant, given the Holy Spirit and power to work for God. He is anointed as Sympathiser, ready to bind up the broken-hearted. (His kingly anointing does not mean He is distant and aloof from His subjects, for He will come where they are to bind up their wounds, Luke 10:33,34). He is anointed and sealed as Son, ready to manifest publicly in the world of men that eternal life He had always enjoyed in the bliss of heaven eternally.

We need to consider the reasons for the baptism of Christ, especially since it was not, for Him, the baptism of repentance. The first thing we may say is that He thereby associates with the repentant remnant of Israel. It is of such that the words were written, “the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all My delight”, Psalm 16:3. Isaiah 57:15 speaks of God as dwelling “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones”, and this is manifest in this incident.

Then His baptism marked the beginning, as we have already noted, of the public manifestation of eternal life in the world. Eternal life being the life of the Eternal God. Of course, all who were in communion with God in old time must have had the life of God, or else they could not have shared Divine things and worshipped God. But the perfect expression of that life by one who is equal with the Father awaited the coming of Christ. It is in Him that the life of God is seen to perfection, without anything of the life of Adam, the life of flesh. The very pointed contrast between these two expressions of life is made by the Lord Jesus Himself in John 17:2,3. He distinguishes very clearly between “all flesh” and “life eternal”, showing that the life of men in the flesh is not the life of God.

That which the apostles saw and heard, they recorded for us, so that we might share with them in the joy of eternal life. John later on writes to the fathers in the family of God, those who were mature in Divine things, and describes them as those who had “known Him that is from the beginning”, 1 John 2:13. This is all the remarkable because he writes of the babes in the family of God that they know the Father, yet the more mature ones know the Son! This is clear testimony to the equality of the Son with the Father, and also to the way in which the Son has manifest in manhood the features of eternal life, so that they can be taken in by the renewed mind, and growth in Divine things can take place.

We have already noticed in connection with the imprisonment of John, that Christ’s baptism represented His commitment to Calvary. How significant the waters of Jordan were to Him. They represented the barrier that confronted the children of Israel as they approached the land of promise. Yet when the feet of those who carried the ark touched the brim of the waters, those waters were cut off, and the people were free to pass over on dry land, Joshua 3;15,16. For them the waters were an obstacle no longer, (the waters were held back some sixty miles upstream, at Zaretan), and the inheritance could be entered. So in the baptism of Christ we may see an illustration of what would happen at Calvary. Did He not speak of His death as a baptism, Luke 12:50? There is a difference, however, for not only did the people in Joshua’s day not have to battle with the waters, the ark did not either, for the waters were driven back from it, see Psalm 114:3,5. Not so with our Saviour, for He felt the full force of the flow of the waters of judgement, (Jordan means “river of judgement), so that we may pass over into our inheritance. It had been the same in Noah’s day, (remember that Peter links baptism with the ark of Noah, 1 Peter 3:20,21), for the ark was pitched within and without with pitch to repel the entrance of the waters, so that those inside never saw the waters of judgement. How different was it for Christ, in one sense, for He could say, in the language of the psalm, “Save Me, O God, for the waters are come in unto My soul”, Psalm 69:1.

The baptism of Christ also gave opportunity to the persons of the Godhead to show that each was fully in harmony with Christ and His mission. The Father is heard, and the Spirit is seen. Never before had the Triune God manifested Himself in such a way. In Old Testament times the unity of the Godhead was in view, especially since the nations were sunk in polytheism, in direct defiance of the Only True God of heaven. The nation of Israel were charged with the duty of upholding the uniqueness and oneness of God amongst the heathen world. As the seed of Abraham, they were to be a blessing to all the nations, and one way they were to do this was to worship the only True God. Sadly they failed in this, and became idolators.

With the coming of Christ another feature of the Godhead comes into prominence, namely its triune nature. Each of the persons of the Godhead may rightly be called God, and may represent God. This change of manifestation came about because the Son came from heaven to reveal and manifest God. So it is that at His formal introduction into public ministry, the three Persons make their presence felt. The Father speaks to the Son; the Spirit descends upon the Son; the Son sees the Spirit descending; the Son prays to the Father.

Another result of the baptism of Christ was that John the Baptist and his baptism were endorsed by heaven. The comment of Luke later in his gospel is that the Pharisees refused to be baptized by John, and thus showed that they rejected the counsel of God against themselves, Luke 7:30. And still later, as His earthly ministry came to a close, Christ Himself challenged the chief priests and elders about their attitude to John the Baptist. He had purged the temple, and they had asked His authority for so doing. It was in fact the same authority that John the Baptist had, for God had sent and commissioned him, Matthew 21:23-27. If they received not John’s testimony, they would not receive Christ’s. It was a form of judgement upon them when Christ refused to answer their demand.

The baptism of Christ was also His entrance into the fold of Israel as the true and good shepherd. The Lord Jesus contrasted Himself with those who had gained position in Israel by climbing up “some other way”, John 10:1. He had come by way of the door, and the porter had opened to Him. If we link this with what Paul said in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, Acts 13:24, we learn that John preached before Christ’s coming, and the word used for coming is “entrance”. He is confirmed as the genuine shepherd as John heralds His arrival and introduces Him to Israel at His baptism.

In Philippians 2 the apostle Paul divides the period of Christ’s manhood before the cross. He was “made in the likeness of men”, signifying His conception and birth, so that He is “found in fashion as a man”, and men have the opportunity to realise that He is a real man as He lived amongst them for thirty years in obscurity, verse 7. Then the apostle declares that “being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself”, verse 8. This marks the point where He deliberately re-affirmed His commitment to the work of the cross, for His self-humbling involves obedience to His Father even the extent and extremity of Calvary. His baptism therefore marks a critical point in His movements down here, as He made His way to the cross.

(b) Verses 13-17 Baptism of Christ

3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John- it will now be indicated in no uncertain way that the Lord Jesus is authorised to baptize with the Spirit and with fire. This indication will be to John, (as recorded by the apostle John), to Christ Himself, (for the word is “Thou art”, in Luke), to the nation, (with the words “This is”). John, although the son of a priest, is not baptising in the laver in the temple courts, nor in the purification pools at the foot of the walls of the Temple, but in the river Jordan. This was the river so despised by Naaman, (for after all, why wash in the dirty water of Jordan when you can wash in the sparkling mountain streams of Damascus?), and is therefore a fitting place for the one who was “despised and rejected of men” to be baptized in. The multitudes were being baptized there because they had learnt to despise themselves, and had repented of their sins. The one who now approaches John for baptism is totally different, however. Nonetheless, He does come when the people come, for Luke tells us “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized”, Luke 3:21. He does not stand aloof and distant, but companies with them, as the Ideal Man amongst men. This is characteristic of Luke’s approach, showing one who, sinless Himself, had come to be the friend of publicans and sinners. It is also important for Him to be baptized publicly, not privately, for He is entering into public ministry in Israel.

3:14 But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?

But John forbad Him- John went through stages in knowing who Christ was. As his mother was a kinswoman of Mary the mother of Jesus, he had some relationship with Him. Then he said at the beginning of his ministry, “I knew Him not”, using the pluperfect tense, meaning he had in the fairly distant past not known Him, but he knew that he had been commissioned to make Him manifest to Israel, John 1:31. Then came the final revelation when he saw the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, and after that point John said, “I saw and bare witness that this is the Son of God”, verse 34. Once he has had this revelation, he will know the extent to which Christ is superior, yet also the reason why he must not forbid Him, for the Son of God should not be resisted.
Saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? John knew enough to make him realise that Christ was much superior to himself. He is about to learn the degree of that superiority. He expresses surprise that Christ should come to be baptized at all. No doubt his parents had told him of the circumstances of Christ’s birth, so he knew Him to be sinless. In that case, why did He need to be baptized in repentance? This is why John was persisting in his refusal, as the imperfect tense of “forbad” shows.

3:15 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 answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now- the Lord asserts His will here, but in such a way as takes account of John’s greatness, and his partial knowledge. John was appointed of God, so the Lord allows for that by asking him to carry it out. He nonetheless insists that it be done “now”, that is, at the time of His choosing, for it was becoming, or appropriate, that it happen then, being the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.
For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness- several things are involved here:

First, it was a righteous thing for John to demand that the people repent of their sin. The Law and the prophets demanded this also, and “all the prophets and the law prophesied until John”, Matthew 11:13.

Second, the ministry of John was of God, and therefore was a righteous ministry. Christ ever supported that which was righteous before God.

Third, His baptism in the Jordan was a preview of Calvary, and Romans 5:18 (margin) calls that “an act of righteousness”. What He did at Calvary in obedience to His Father was in direct contrast to Adam’s single and momentous act of disobeying God by sinning.

Fourth, by His death at Calvary Christ would lay the foundation whereby everlasting righteousness could be brought in and maintained, Daniel 9:24, and a new heavens and a new earth could be established in which righteousness could dwell, 2 Peter 3:13.

Fifth, His baptism was the introduction of the King to His people, and He will reign in righteousness, Isaiah 32:1. His baptism by John was a sign of this. It was followed by His anointing with the Holy Spirit, showing He was God’s Approved one. David had been anointed king in relatively obscure circumstances, and then anointed again when he began to reign, 1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 5:3. So it is with Christ, for He was anointed of the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and will also be hailed as God’s anointed in a day to come, when God introduces Him into this world again, Hebrews 1:9.

Then he suffered Him- John responds to the request to permit Him to be baptized, by permitting the Lord to have His way. In this way the authority of both of them is preserved, but that of Christ is shown to be superior. To force John to baptize Him would undermine John’s authority, and would suggest that Christ was not sure of His claim to Messiahship.

3:16 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:

And Jesus, when He was baptized- if Luke associates Christ with the people with the words, “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized”, Matthew here distinguishes Him from the people, as if to say, “This that I now relate did not happen in the case of any other person that John baptized”.

It is important to notice that the word “baptize” is based on the Greek word “bapto”, which means “to cover all over with fluid”. There is no suggestion in the word that baptism can be carried out by sprinkling a few drops of water on a person. In Romans 6:4 baptism is likened to a burial, and the sprinkling of a handful of earth on a body will not bury it; there has to be a complete covering out of sight.

So it is that John immerses the Lord Jesus into the waters of the Jordan. It is interesting to notice that when John baptized all the others who came to him, no mention is made of them coming up out of the water. They did come out, of course, but it is surely significant that it is not mentioned. John was the last representative of the Law and prophets, and as such could only condemn sinners, for the law was a ministry of condemnation, 2 Corinthians 3:9, not salvation. Christ, however, came to introduce a new era, where grace would reign, and this not only because of His death, but also His resurrection. So it is said of Him alone that He came up out of the water, just as later He would emerge from the grave.

Went up straightway out of the water- Peter was able to tell the nation on the Day of Pentecost that death was not able to keep Christ, “”because it was not possible that He should be holden of it”, Acts 2:24. It was not only that death did not hold Him, but that there was no possibility of that happening, for “the wages of sin is death”, and “in Him is no sin”.

Death holds the bodies even of God’s saints, for their full redemption has not arrived, but with Christ it was not so. Having met every claim that sin and death could make, He rose quickly from the grave, and this was pre-viewed at His baptism. He was “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”, Romans 6:4, for the Father’s glory demanded that such a person be raised from the dead.

The fact that He comes up from the water straightway shows His eagerness to begin His public ministry, and also that He has nothing to fear from the wilderness temptation that will come so soon after He has emerged from the waters of baptism. The Father’s commendation ringing in His ears will be replaced by the jarring sound of the Tempter’s crafty attempts to drive a wedge between Him and His Father, with manifest and total lack of success.

It is also in character for Luke to be the only one to tell us that He came up out of the water praying. Luke’s gospel is the gospel of the Dependant Man, and we are reminded of this now. Here, He is in one of the lowest spots on earth, the Jordan valley. In Luke 9:29 He is on the high mountain, yet is found praying. His baptism is a preview of Calvary, the low spot. His transfiguration is a preview of His kingdom, the high point, see 2 Peter 1:16-19. But whether in suffering or in glory, He acts in complete submission to His Father. No wonder He has not only risen from the grave after His Calvary-baptism, but has ascended up far above all heavens; for He is worthy.

And, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him- whilst the call of Matthew has not yet happened, he must have been present on this occasion, for he was an apostle, and Peter defined such a person as one who had “companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John”, Acts 1:21,22. Something of the surprise of Matthew is seen in his word “Lo”. Matthew bridges the gap between Malachi and his day not only by Christ’s genealogy that spans the two, but also by his many quotations from the Old Testament. The heavens had been silent for four hundred years, and now God is intervening publicly once more, and Matthew expresses his delight.

As He emerges from the water, there is the two-fold attestation of Him from heaven. The Spirit descends and the Father speaks. As we consider the sight of the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ, we remember that His coming into manhood raised questions. Can one who is God really come into manhood without being tainted? Does He remain God, even though become man? In view of these questions, the Spirit needs to move to vindicate Him, and assure us of His integrity. So it is that He is “justified in the Spirit”, 1 Timothy 3:16, as the Holy Spirit descends upon Him. Again, we notice the ways in which the gospel writers present this, each with his own point to make.

And He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove- as one who is ever in touch with heaven, He sees the heaven opened, and He sees the dove descend, as if He followed the Spirit in His descent from the Father in heaven to Himself upon the earth. Heaven and earth are in harmony, and the whole of the Godhead act openly in unison, a characteristic of the whole ministry of the Christ down here. It is as if God is repeating His word through Isaiah, and saying, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold: Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth”, Isaiah 42:1.

He is being marked out as king, but He is not anointed with oil, as David was, but with that of which the oil was a symbol, the Holy Spirit Himself. This is an indication of the superiority of this King, for He is “anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows”, Hebrews 1:9. His fellows in that context being the other kings of Judah.

The Holy Spirit is introduced to us in the second verse of the Bible, where He is said to move upon the face of the waters, Genesis 1:2. That was at the beginning of creation, but now the new creation is being begun, and the Spirit is active again. But whereas before the Spirit moved on the restless waters, now He rests on the very one who produced those waters.

It is appropriate that the dove should come from heaven, and that He should be designated the Spirit of God, for it is not Samuel that is doing the anointing, as with David, or even John the Baptist the Forerunner, but God Himself. Only Divine Persons can direct Divine Persons. As Peter said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power”, Acts 10:36.

One day Christ also will emerge from heaven to take His kingdom. That kingdom, although manifest on the earth in that glorious millenial day, does not derive its authority from men, either by right of succession or popular vote. Rather, as Pilate learned, that kingdom is not of this world at all, or else His servants would use worldly methods to bring it in, as Peter was guilty of trying to do with his sword in Gethsemane, John 18:36.

This is not one of the angels that God makes spirits, Psalm 104:4, but one of the Persons of the Godhead, clearly designated, so there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of His claim to kingship. And He sees the Spirit descend. Many will there be who will doubt His claims, but here at the outset there is the confidence given to Christ by the personal sight of the Spirit descending unto Him from heaven.

Note that the Spirit descends like a dove; He does not swoop like a hawk. How fitting that He should come in this gentle way, for the one upon whom He comes is noted for His meekness and gentleness, Matthew 11:29; 21:5; 2 Corinthians 10:1.

Mark says that He saw the heavens opened. The word he used signifies that the heavens parted asunder, as if the whole of the heavenly host were being invited to see the sight of God’s Son on earth in servant’s form. God had made the angels in order that they might serve Him, but none could serve so well as His Son, and the Father is pleased to show them this supreme example of servant-hood. After all, we have already noted that the baptism of Christ is the point at which He commits Himself to Calvary, and Philippians 2:8 refers to this moment when, having been found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself still further to the death of the Cross. The apostle sees in this the supreme example of obedience on the part of the one who had taken the form of a servant.

Luke adds his own detail to the account. The Spirit came “in bodily form as a dove”. It is as if the Spirit takes a form which suits Christ’s condition and character. The apostle Paul wrote, “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”, Colossians 2:9. Not only did He take a body, but He also gave form and substance to spiritual things, and the Spirit acknowledges these things in the way He came. It is also appropriate that He should come upon Christ as a dove, for the dove is the holy bird, being allowed for sacrifice; is the harmless bird, Matthew 10:16; the undefiled bird, Song of Solomon 5:2; the separate bird, Song of Solomon 2:14; and the one who flies away to be at rest, Psalm 55:6. Fitting bird, therefore, to mark out Christ, “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens”, Hebrews 7:26.

Not only did the Holy Spirit light upon Him in form as a dove, but He also remained on Him. And this was a sign to John, for he said, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him. And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, ‘Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost’. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God”, John 1:32-34. It is said that there were many doves in the Jordan valley, and they could be seen flying to and fro, alighting on the trees and flying off again, but here is a dove that rests content on Christ, (the “tree planted by the rivers of water”, Psalm 1:3), with nothing to disturb Him.

3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

And lo a voice from heaven, saying- centuries before, the word from heaven had been, “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of Hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand”, Malachi 1:10. Who was there to remedy this? Only one from heaven, become man, who could give to God the pleasure from man that He looks for, and eventually give Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour”, Ephesians 5:2. Note that Matthew is not only impressed by the sight of the Spirit descending, but also by the sound of the Father’s voice, for he says “Lo” in response to each. And much later on John will tell us that “what we have seen and heard declare we unto you”, 1 John 1:3. The whole ministry of Christ was marked by Holy Spirit power, and the declaring of the Father’s words to men.

This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased- literally rendered, these words are “This is My Son, the beloved, in whom I have found delight”. This shows that the Father had been deriving pleasure from His Son during the years when He was in relative obscurity. He was growing up before Him as a tender plant, Isaiah 53:2, and as such gave God delight. He was like an oasis in the midst of a barren desert.

It is relevant to Matthew’s presentation of the King to notice that both David and Solomon had a name which meant “beloved”, see 2 Samuel 12:24,25. David was a man after God’s heart, Acts 13:22, (and as such is a faint picture of Him “in whom I am well-pleased”), and Solomon was promised that God would be a father to him, and he would be His son, corresponding to “this is My beloved Son”, and illustrating this relationship in a feeble but instructive way.

Matthew associates the Lord Jesus with the nation of Israel. He has already linked the words “called My son out of Egypt”, (originally spoken to Israel in reference to the Exodus, Hosea 11:1), to the coming back from Egypt after Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with the child Jesus, Matthew 2:15. He has related the sorrow when Herod killed the infants, 2:16-18, to the future day of tribulation foretold in Jeremiah 31:15, and now we find that Matthew describes Him crossing the Jordan, as Israel did. There is a difference, however, for Israel came out of Egypt, were taken into the wilderness to see what was in their heart, Deuteronomy 8:2, and then crossed the Jordan into the land. With Christ the order is different, for He comes out of Egypt, crosses the Jordan, and then is tempted in the wilderness, not so that the Father might dicover what is in His heart, for the word from heaven tells us the Father already knew what was in His heart before He went there. It is, rather, that we might dicover what is in His heart.

Note that the word used is not “only begotten Son”, although He is that; He is more, however, for He is firstborn Son as well, and the expression leaves room for this thought. Room is also left for the fact that Christ is God’s dear Son, Colossians 1:13. Perhaps there is not only a prior notice of His kingdom-rights in these words, but also of His Calvary-rights too, for it was Isaac, just before he was taken to the altar, who was described as Abraham’s son, his only son, whom he loved, Genesis 22:2.

The expression “This is”, in Matthew, is directed to the nation, and to John, so they, and he, may be in no doubt as to His identity and authority, whereas in Mark’s account, the words are more directly to Christ. As the Servant of Jehovah He receives the personal commendation of the One He has come to serve. He has been about His Father’s business during His private years, serving Him in the carpenter’s shop and by attendance at the synagogue and temple, but now He is about to serve publicly, and does so confident of His Father’s approval. This is all the more noteworthy because Mark tells us, not just that He came to Jordan from Galilee, but that He came to Jordan from Nazareth in Galilee. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” asked Nathaniel, John 1:46. He made Himself of no reputation by living in a place of evil reputation, but is now vindicated as being of excellent reputation by His Father.

In Luke the word is even more personal, with the double use of the pronoun. “Thou art…in Thee”. This suits Luke’s approach, for he presents Christ as a real man down here, with feelings and emotions. How needful for Him to be assured as He involves Himself in public service amongst men, that He is indeed loved by His Father, for He will be hated of men. And even those who profess to love Him will prove unreliable at times.

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