Matthew 3:1-12

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Text:   Matthew 3:1-12




We are in the process of studying the introduction to the Gospel of Matthew. It extends from Matthew 1:1-4:11 .


In chapters 1-2 Matthew has revealed to us the greatness of Jesus Christ as the true Son of God, the Messiah, and the One whom even the wise men from the east worshipped. We have seen that He is the virgin-born Son concerning whom Isaiah had prophesied that He would save His people from their sins, that He was God, that He is the King of the Jews, and that He was divinely protected from the murderous plots of Herod.


It is proper that a king, especially such a king as Jesus, have a herald to proclaim His approach.


When an oriental king was planning to visit a particular region, he would send messengers in advance to require that a graded road be prepared for his travel. It just wouldn’t do for a king to have to travel the rough and rocky road that the normal people had to travel every day.


Now Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly one, and it was fitting that His herald prepare the way spiritually for His coming. This herald, of course, was John the Baptist.


In Matthew 3:1-12 we see the ministry of John the Baptist as he introduced Jesus as the Messiah.


Let’s take note, first of all of some things which Jewish readers would most likely already know, some things which Matthew does not record, but which Luke, who is writing for Gentile readers, makes known to us. Note that God prepared John the Baptist for the ministry to which God had appointed him.


We note that –

            1.   John the Baptist’s birth and future ministry were announced to his father Zechariah by an angel of the Lord – Luke 1:5-25 .


Luke 1:5-255 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias [i.e. Elijah], to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season [i.e. in their proper time, at the right time]. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration [i.e. the days of his priestly service] were accomplished [i.e. were completed], he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.


Next, we note that –

            2.   John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb when Mary greeted Elizabeth – Luke 1:39-45


Luke 1:39-4539 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country [i.e. She went from Nazareth in Galilee to a city south and west of Jerusalem in Judea] with haste [i.e. quickly], into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation [i.e. the greeting] of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation [i.e. your greeting] sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.


We also note that –

            3.   John the Baptist’s father prophesied following John’s birth – Luke 1:57-79


Luke 1:57-7957 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad [i.e. talked about, discussed] throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us [i.e. the horns of an animal symbolized its power. Thus the Messiah would be strong and would deliver Israel from their enemies.] in the house of his servant David [someone who was a descendant of David]; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways [Jesus is referred to as the Lord, and John the Baptist will be the forerunner to prepare His way]; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high [i.e. the Sunrise. Spiritually speaking, dawn was about to come. It would come in the Person of Christ.] hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [As the Sunrise, Christ would shine on the Gentiles who were in spiritual darkness. Death is pictured as casting its shadow on the Gentiles.], to guide our [i.e. to guide Israel’s] feet into the way [i.e. path] of peace.



In addition, we note that –

            4.   John the Baptist grew, and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the time of His appointed ministry – Luke 1:80


Luke 1:80 And the child grew, and waxed [i.e. became] strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing [i.e. of his manifestation, of his public appearance] unto Israel.


Then, we note that –

            5.   John the Baptist, unexpectedly and unannounced, burst onto the scene in the wilderness of Judea, just as Elijah had done in the days of Ahab, king of Israel.


Finally, we note that –

            6.   Jesus commented on John the Baptist’s ministry – Matthew 11:2-19


Matthew 11:2-192 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, 3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? 4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. 7 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? 8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment [i.e. dressed in soft clothing, clothed in soft garments]? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee [Jesus identified John the Baptist not only as a prophet but also as the one and only forerunner of the Messiah.]. 11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [It means that he has a “greater privilege” than John had. “To be a citizen of the kingdom is a greater privilege than to announce its arrival. John’s privilege was great in preparing the way for the Lord, but he did not live to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).]. 12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force [Not only did the enemies of the kingdom do their best to destroy it, but “those who were ready for the King’s coming responded vigorously to the announcement and strained every muscle to enter” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).]. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John [i.e. All the prophets up to John prophesied of the coming of the Messiah. John’s role was unique in that it announced the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming (Believer’s Bible Commentary).]. 14 And if ye will receive it [i.e. the kingdom of heaven], this is Elias [i.e. Elijah], which was for to come [This refers to Malachi 4:5-65 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.].


Back to Matthew 11

Matthew 11:15-19

15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. 16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, 17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented [They were like these children in the markets in that nothing pleased them.]. 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. 19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans [i.e. tax collectors] and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children [“The Lord Jesus . . . is Wisdom personified. Though unbelieving men might slander Him, He is vindicated in His works and in the lives of His followers. Though the mass of the Jews might refuse to acknowledge Him as Messiah-King, His claims were completely verified by His miracles and by the spiritual transformation of His devoted disciples. (Believer’s Bible Commentary)].

In Matthew 3:1-2 we see –



Matthew 3:1-21 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching [i.e. proclaiming] in the wilderness [i.e. in the desert, in the uninhabited area, in the wasteland] of Judaea [i.e. the wilderness of Judea was a wasteland extending east from the hill country of Judea to the Dead Sea], 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


Repent suggests change your minds; and as a result of a thorough changing of your minds, it implies change your ways.


The Kingdom of heaven is an expression that is used by Matthew, referring to the rule of the heavens, i.e. to the rule of the God of heaven over the earth. It comes from Daniel 2:44 .


Daniel 2:44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.


Again, the kingdom of heaven refers to the rule of God over the earth.


Daniel 4:25 That they shall drive thee [i.e. King Nebuchadnezzar] from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.


Daniel 4:32 And they shall drive thee [i.e. Nebuchadnezzar] from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.


The kingdom of heaven is similar in many respects to the kingdom of God and is often used synonymously with it. It includes only human beings on earth. It is the earthly sphere of profession as shown by the inclusion of those designated as wheat and tares. The tares are cast out of the kingdom (Matthew 13:41 ). The kingdom of heaven is also compared to a net containing both the good and bad fish which are later separated (Matthew 13:47 ).


The kingdom of heaven is revealed in three aspects in Matthew:


(1) It is at hand; it was offered to the Jews in the Person of the King, of whom John the Baptist was the forerunner; but it was rejected by the Jews.


(2) The kingdom of heaven is fulfilled in the present age; it is presented in seven mysteries in Matthew 13 , which reveal the character of the rule of heaven over the earth between the first and second comings of Christ.


(3) The kingdom of heaven is fulfilled after the second coming of Christ; it will be realized in the future millennial kingdom as predicted by Daniel and covenanted to David. This millennial form of the kingdom of heaven is completely future and will be set up after the second coming of Christ.




Matthew 3:3 For this [i.e. this one, meaning John the Baptist] is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [i.e. by the prophet Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way [i.e. the road] of the Lord [i.e. of the coming Messiah], make his paths straight.


Make his paths straight implies that curves are to be straightened out, hills are to be lowered, valleys are to be filled in, and the road is to be smoothed out to make His approach as swift and easy as possible. In the context it means that people were to prepare their hearts for the Messiah’s coming by confessing and forsaking their sins.


John the Baptist’s ministry was foretold in Isaiah 40:1-7 .


Isaiah 40:1-5 – (1) Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. (2) Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (3) The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (4) Every valley shall be exalted [i.e. made higher], and every mountain and hill shall be made low [i.e. cut down]: and the crooked [i.e. crooked places] shall be made straight, and the rough places plain [i.e. smoothed out]: (5) And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.


Now, it should not take a genius to figure something out. If John the Baptist was the Scriptural fulfillment of the forerunner of the Messiah [and he was], then the Messiah should not be far behind. Just as a herald would go before a king to proclaim his coming, John’s ministry as the Messiah’s forerunner means that the Messiah’s coming was imminent.




Matthew 3:4 a – And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair [i.e. he was wearing his clothing from camel’s hair], and a leathern girdle about his loins [i.e. he had a leather belt around his waist]. . . .


John’s clothing is reminiscent of Elijah’s clothing.


II Kings 1:8 And they [i.e. the servants of King Ahaziah, King of Israel] answered him [i.e. King Ahaziah], He [referring to Elijah] was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins [i.e. he wore a leather belt around his waist]. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite.


Matthew 11:7-9 – (7) And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? (8) But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. (9) But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet [i.e. John the Baptist was indeed a prophet, but he was the only prophet who had the privilege of being the forerunner of Jesus].





Matthew 3:4 b – . . . And his meat [i.e. John’s food] was locusts and wild honey.




Matthew 3:5-65 Then went out [i.e. were going out] to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan [i.e. people from Jerusalem, from all Judea, and from near the Jordan River were going out to see and hear John the Baptist.], 6 And were baptized of him [i.e. were baptized by him] in Jordan [i.e. in the Jordan River], confessing [i.e. admitting, acknowledging] their sins.




Matthew 3:7 7 But when he [i.e. John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come [i.e. coming] to his baptism [i.e. coming for his baptism, i.e. coming for the purpose of being baptized by him], he said unto them, O generation of vipers [i.e. O children (or offspring) of snakes], who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come [i.e. to be escaping from the coming wrath, which suggests to be escaping from God’s future judgment]?


John the Baptist realized that the Pharisees and Sadducees were not genuinely repentant of their sins. The Pharisees and Sadducees thought that, since they were descended from Abraham, they needed no repentance or admission of sin to prepare for the Messiah’s coming and kingdom.


Matthew 3:8 8 Bring forth [i.e. produce, yield] therefore fruits [i.e. results] meet for repentance [i.e. fruits in keeping with your repentance i.e. fruits that show that you have turned from your sinful ways or fruits that are consistent with repentance]:


Herein lies a reason not to rush people through the baptistry and into the membership of the local church. Make sure they are really saved before you baptize them.


Matthew 3:9 9 And think not [i.e. don’t begin to think (don’t begin to suppose or don’t begin to consider)] to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father [i.e. We have Abraham as (our) father. The implication of this statement is that since they are physically descended from Abraham, they are in a right relationship with God and, therefore, have no need for repentance.]: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham [It suggests that the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ physical descent from Abraham is not particularly important. It would be no problem for God to get Gentiles to follow and obey Him.].


Verse 10 indicates that judgment is coming –

Matthew 3:10 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees [i.e. at the root of the trees. The picture is of someone who has already placed the sharp edge of the ax against the spot on the tree he intends to cut, that he is ready to raise the ax, and then to swing the ax with all his might and cut the root of the tree at that very spot, thereby causing the tree to fall down. It pictures God ready to judge Israel if Israel does not repent.]: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down [i.e. cut down], and cast into the fire [i.e. Is being cut down and is being cast into (the) fire. It is what normally happens to trees which do not bear fruit. They end up being burned. Similarly, people who do not bring forth good fruit will be judged by God and will spend eternity in the lake of fire. Their not bearing fruit evidences their unsaved condition.].


Matthew 3:11 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance [because of repentance. John baptized them because they had repented.]: but he that cometh after me [i.e. a reference to Christ] is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear [i.e. I am not good enough to carry away (or to remove) His shoes.]: he [i.e. Jesus] shall baptize you [where You refers to the people John is addressing, including the Pharisees and Sadducees] with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:


Acts 1:1-81 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion [i.e. after His crucifixion] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence [i.e. Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.]. 6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 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 Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.


Back to Matthew 3

Matthew 3:12 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.


Verse 12 indicates that the Messiah is ready to separate the wheat from the chaff and to burn up the chaff.


In whose fan is in his hand, whose and his refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Who is coming after John the Baptist. He is the One Who will baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and unbelievers in the lake of fire.


Fan is winnowing shovel. It was a fork-like shovel, with which the threshed grain was thrown into the wind, thus separating (the) chaff from (the) grain. the chaff would blow away, and the grain would fall to the threshing floor where it would be scooped up and put into the barn.


Is in his hand suggests that the winnowing shovel is already in Christ’s hand and that He is ready to use it in the winnowing process.


And he (i.e. Christ) will throughly purge (i.e. clean out) his floor suggests that no grain or chaff will remain on the threshing floor.


And gather his wheat into the garner indicates that He (i.e. Jesus) will gather up His grain (which speaks of believers) into the barn (or storehouse). It speaks of believers spending eternity in heaven.


But introduces a statement in mild contrast to (He will) gather his wheat into the garner: he (i.e. Christ) will burn up the chaff (i.e. will consume the chaff) with unquenchable fire (i.e. with inextinguishable fire). It speaks of the fire in the lake of fire.



John the Baptist was a man specially prepared by God for the purpose of being the forerunner of the Messiah, the one divinely sent to introduce the Messiah to the nation of Israel. We can learn much from his life and ministry because we, in a very real sense, have likewise been divinely sent to introduce people to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.