Berean Bible Study

The Gospel of Matthew

John the Baptist

Matthew 3

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Hebrew Calendar (in case you're following Jesus' passion week by the biblical dates)

Lord, please guide this study in my learning and writing – and in the hearing and learning of those who read it.

Chapter 3 is very short, but to do it full justice, even with the limited amount that I currently understand would take us into most of the books of the Bible. Don't worry – I won't get that thorough. This study introduces John the Baptist and the Kingdom of Heaven. And, honestly, a whole bunch of other things that we'll come back to again and again as we work our way through Matthew.



Matthew 3 (NKJV)

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”[a]

4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.[b] 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John Baptizes Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He[c] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 3:3 Isaiah 40:3

  2. Matthew 3:11 M-Text omits and fire.

  3. Matthew 3:16 Or he

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

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

That's how John the Baptist appears in this very first Gospel – the one written to specifically to Jews, to help them recognize their Messiah. Nothing about his conception and birth, as in Luke 1. Here is a quick review of what it says of John the Baptist:

John’s Birth Announced to Zacharias

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, 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 to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’[b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

(then comes the story of Jesus' conception)

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke 1:39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

(then comes the Song of Mary, the Magnificat)

Birth of John the Baptist

Luke 1:57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

Circumcision of John the Baptist

Luke 1:59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zacharias’ Prophecy

Luke 1:67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from 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 you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,

78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited[e] us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests,[a] the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”[
b]

As you can see, Luke has a whole lot more to say about John than Matthew does. But, remember, Luke was written to Gentiles, who did not know the Scriptures. Also, Matthew is focused on the Messiah, and John the Baptist is merely the messenger. If someone comes to you delivering a message, do you pause to ask about the messenger's life story? No. Yet, I believe there's more to this – why so much more is spelled out in Luke than Matthew – than I currently feel remotely competent to say anything about.

So, this guy, was prophesied about, and like Jesus Himself, was named by God. Zachariah was told what to name him.

The name, John, is Iōannēs (ee-o-an'-nace) in Greek and means “Jehovah is a gracious giver.” It comes from the Hebrew Yowchanan (Yoch-ha-NON) "Jehovah has graced". He was related to Jesus and six months older. (you can gather that from the Luke account). He was the son of a priest, and should have spent his childhood in Hebrew school, right? But, look at Luke 1:80 again:

Luke 1:80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

What is that all about? Remember that his parents were both well advanced in years. They probably died while he was still quite young. So, then what? The Bible doesn't say. He apparently, from the time he was pretty young, lived in the deserts of Judea. Let's skip verse 2 for just a bit and go on to the rest there in Matthew:

Matthew 3:3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”[a]

4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

So, John is in the desert, clothed in camel's hair (more on that in a bit), with a leather belt around his waist (or literally, leather girdle about his loins), eating either literally locusts, or else, as some people think, the pods of the locust tree. However, it was permissible to eat locusts, and it does literally say his “meat.”

Leviticus 11:21 “‘But you may eat certain insects that have wings and walk on four feet. You may eat those that have legs with joints above their feet so they can jump. 22 These are the insects you may eat: all kinds of locusts, winged locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers. 23 But all other insects that have wings and walk on four feet you are to hate. 24 Those insects will make you unclean, and anyone who touches the dead body of one of these insects will become unclean until evening. 25 Anyone who picks up one of these dead insects must wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.

Yum, huh? So, he's in the desert, and the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness, and he began to preach and baptize, in the power and spirit of Elijah, as the angel had said:

Luke 1:15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’[b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Elijah sort of just springs up in Scripture, without preamble:

1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

You know Elijah – lots of miracles, including defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, when fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah's water-soaked sacrifice. I love this verse, where the prophets of Baal have been trying to get Baal to answer, and interestingly, it is the New Living Translation that has it most literally:

1 Kings 18:27 (NLT) About noontime Elijah began mocking them. "You'll have to shout louder," he scoffed, "for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!"
(There are a lot of bodily functions in the Bible that we usually miss in the English).

Anyway, Elijah is one of those people in the Bible that are most memorable. Here is a description:

2 Kings 1:6So they said to him, “A man came up to meet us, and said to us, ‘Go, return to the king who sent you, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’”’”

7 Then he said to them, “What kind of man was it who came up to meet you and told you these words?”

8 So they answered him, A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.”

And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

The phrase “a hairy man” is literally, a “lord of hair”, and that's why the NIV translates that as “garment of hair” not “hairy man.” Picture a big, muscular man, and instead of a flowing tunic, he's basically wearing leather with the hair still on it – with a leather belt holding it on. He's from Gilead, an area of mountains:

The Man Elijah

Why is Gilead mentioned? Gilead demonstrates the historical reality of Elijah and throws additional light on Elijah’s background. This gives us more insight into the forces forming the character of the prophet. How should we understand and apply this? It shows us Elijah was not out of the seminary of Samaria. The people of the rocky hill country of Gilead were rough, tough, rugged, and perhaps somewhat solemn and stern. They dwelt close to God’s creation in crude villages as shepherds rather than in the lavish surroundings of the palace. Such surroundings tend to spoil people’s character and make them soft rather than tough and rugged. The people of Gilead were hardened and disciplined by the weather and walking over the mountainous terrain. They possessed great physical strength, and such a life also gave them character. Remember the contrasts between David and Solomon? Elijah was what we could call a mountain man. But he was a mountain man who walked with God.

So, picture John the Baptist looking just like that –


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He looks like Elijah. He's dressed like Elijah. He's in the wilderness like Elijah. Is he Elijah? We're going to come back to this when we get a little further into Matthew, but for right now, let's remember a prophecy about Elijah:

Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

And compare that to Luke:

Luke 1:17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’[b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Sure sounds like the same guy, right? So, then, why do all four Gospels say this?

Matthew 3:3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

Mark 1:2 As it is written in the Prophets:[a]

Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”[b]
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”[c]

If you click on that “a” there, it shows that it was also translated this way (more on that in a bit):

Mark 1:2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”[c]—
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”[d]

Luke 3:3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”[b]

John 1:19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

Are you the Prophet?”

And he answered, “No.”

22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”

23 He said: “I am

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the Lord,”’[g]

as the prophet Isaiah said.”

There aren't that many things that are in all four Gospels. Those that are, we should consider important. This, apparently, is important. Now, back up to the Mark passage, as it is in the King James and New King James:

Mark 1:2 As it is written in the Prophets:[a]

Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”[b]
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”[c]

Unlike the other Gospels, it includes a little more -and not from Isaiah. That does come from Malachi, but not the “Elijah” passage of Malachi 4:5. Instead it is from here:

Malachi 3:1Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord
of hosts.

That same passage is quoted again in Matthew 11, when Jesus Himself talks about John the Baptist:

Matthew 11:9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he of whom it is written:

Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’[b]

I'm not going to go further into this until we get to that chapter. For now, I just want you to notice what is said in all four Gospels, and what is NOT said. There is a reason for every single thing in the Bible – a reason things are in there – and a reason for the things that are not. All four Gospels emphasize that John the Baptist was fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah. NONE of them talk about Malachi 4. Now, if Matthew was written to the Jews, and John the Baptist is really Elijah, why wouldn't he have reminded us of that prophecy? In Matthew we're going to come again and again to a kind of odd dichotomy that you can't just explain away. It means something. For now, we'll leave it at that.

We've kind of gotten through verse 4, but we skipped verse 2:

Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”



Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is the first of that phrase in the New Testament, and it is apparent that whatever it means, it was familiar to John's listeners. There is pretty much no explanation, so this was something expected – something present in the Old Testament. That exact phrase appears 31 times and only in Matthew. The other Gospels, and in fact, the rest of the New Testament uses “The Kingdom of God.” Some people say that it's because Matthew was written to Jews, and they don't like to say “God.” Well, maybe – except that Matthew uses “kingdom of God” five times himself. Interestingly, “Kingdom of God” appears 69 times (in the NKJV), so when you add that to the 31 “kingdom of heaven,” it's exactly 100. Does that mean something? Probably. No idea what, though.

Until God shows me otherwise, I'm going to treat them as meaning the same thing. But, what was that thing that it meant? What were the Jews expecting, and why? It is all through the Old Testament, but here are a few places the kingdom was prophesied:

All of Psalm 72. Here is just a portion:

Psalm 72:1 Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king’s Son.
2 He will judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your poor with justice.
3 The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
4 He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.

5 They shall fear You[a]
As long as the sun and moon endure,
Throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing,
Like showers that water the earth.
7 In His days the righteous shall flourish,
And abundance of peace,
Until the moon is no more.

Isaiah 2:2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord
s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord
from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

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

Truly, it is all through the Old Testament. Here is an article on that:

The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament

But, what, exactly, was it they were expecting? If you simply read the Old Testament prophesies, it would appear that God was going to set up a kingdom that would rule all the earth. There would be peace, and it would last forever. Messiah would rule – and with a rod of iron when necessary. Was it the church? That is the question, isn't it? As you read in the New Testament about the Kingdom of Heaven, it certainly would appear that it is the church. So, that must mean those Old Testament prophesies that sounded like a kingdom on earth must really be about peace with God in the church, right?

Here we're not even through this chapter, and we've already run into another of those seeming contradictions. It's going to come up again and again, but we'll postpone the full discussion for a bit more.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”[a]

4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

I know this ends abruptly. I will fix it when I see how far we actually get on Friday, 4/15/16.



The Berean Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew

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Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

© 2016 This study was written by Jacqui Komschlies and last updated 4/14/16. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.

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