John the Baptist prepares the way and calls people to repentance and to show deeds in keeping with repentance. He calls the Pharisees and Sadducees offspring of vipers. Jesus is baptized by John, and the heavenly Father proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased and delighted.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
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The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
The Ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-12)
1 In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 saying, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying:
A voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the road of the Lord,
Make straight his paths!” [Is. 40:3]
4 John himself had his clothes of camel hair and leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around Jordan went out to him; 6 and confessing their sins, they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 Then, seeing many Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 So then produce fruit in keeping with repentance! 9 And do not think to say among yourselves, ‘We have Father Abraham.’ For I tell you that God is able from these rocks to raise up children to Abraham! 10 Already the axe is being plied to the root of the tree! Therefore, every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and tossed into fire! 11 On the one hand, I baptize you with water for repentance; in contrast, the one coming after me is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry! He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire! 12 The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his wheat in the storehouse, and he will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire!”
Jesus was and is the Son of God, so his status was and is much higher than John’s, but their prophetic message was similar.
|Topic / Message||John||Jesus|
|Brood of Vipers escaping judgment||3:7||23:22; see also 12:34|
|Produce Fruit Worthy of Repentance||3:8, 10||7:16-20; 12:33; 21:41, 43|
|True Children of Abraham||3:9||8:11-12|
|Fruitless Tree Cut Down||3:10b||7:19|
|Judgment by Fire||3:11-12||5:22; 13:40-42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41|
|Grain Gathered in Granary||3:12||13:30|
|Source: France, p. 98, slightly edited.|
Jesus proclaimed and ushered in the kingdom of God with great power and miracles, while John was Jesus’s forerunner and was silent (as far as we know) about the kingdom and did not work miracles.
“in those days”: it is deliberately vague, but Turner (and others) estimate around A.D. 27-29.
Prof. Blomberg lays out the historical data:
Matthew first introduces what John was about and shows how he fulfilled Scripture. “In those days” (v. 1) refers to the days of Christ’s life; otherwise there is approximately a thirty-year gap from the preceding chapter. The exact date depends on establishing the year of the crucifixion (probably A.D. 30, though A.D. 33 is also possible) and then subtracting the three to four years of Jesus’ ministry that preceded his death (cf. references to annual Passovers in John 2:13; [5:1?]; 6:4; 13:1). Jesus’ age at the start of his ministry (“about thirty years,” Luke 3:23) fits better with the earlier date for his death. That it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius’s reign (Luke 3:1) fits somewhat better with the later date, though without ruling out the earlier one. The forty-six years since the beginning of the rebuilding of the temple (John 2:20) might point very precisely to A.D. 28, in which case John’s preparation for Jesus’ ministry probably began in the preceding year. (comment on 3:1-3)
John’s ministry was centered in the southern half of greater Israel. Some scholars say that around a million people were baptized by him, if they came from beyond those areas listed in v. 4.
“Baptist”: it is the personal noun of baptize, and its basic meaning is to immerse or dip. John could have been called John the Dipper or John the Immerser. See v. 6 for more explanation.
“repent”: it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “to change (your) mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life. It is giving one’s whole life to God in obedient discipleship (Turner).
Keener: “Yet John’s call is more radical; ‘his repentance’ refers not to a regular turning from sin after a specific act, but to a once-and-for-all repentance, the kind of turning from an old way of life to a new that Judaism associated with Gentiles converting to Judaism … here in view of the impending day of judgment (cf. 4:17; 11:20; 12:41; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 2:4)” (p. 120). Even the descendants of Abraham must enter the kingdom by repentance and baptism just as Gentiles had to do (pp. 121-22, referring to F. F. Bruce’s comments).
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
“has drawn near”: this is in the perfect tense, indicating a present reality has now come on the scene. The reality is embodied in Jesus. Note also that Jesus never says the kingdom” by itself, without a qualifier like “of God” or “of heaven” or “your kingdom.” This kingdom belongs to God.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s active power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
One of Matthew’s main theme is the fulfillment of Scripture. It is difficult to find a chapter without a quotation in it. Here he quotes from Isaiah 40:3. An alternative translation can be: “A voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths!’” “way” is just the standard word for “road”; in modern Greece, you will see street signs all over the place with “OD” on them for something like “Such and Such Street.” The OD is short for hodos (and the “h” is just an apostrophe in Greek). But fulfillment is more than quoted verses. Jesus fulfills the patterns and themes and principles of Scripture. Examples: He is the new temple. He is the once-and-for-all sacrifice. He fulfills the Davidic kingdom and launches a higher and better one.
So Jesus’s fulfillment of the Old comes in many shapes and sizes.
Messianic Prophecies (table of quoted verses)
John was an austere man, and his clothing and diet prove it. Believe it or not, the locust was a ceremonially clean animal, which means it could be eaten (Lev. 11:20-23). They were roasted or broiled and seasoned with salt (as we like our prawns or shrimp), or they were dried in the sun and coated with honey and vinegar or powdered and mixed wheat flour and served as pancakes (France p. 106). Great source of protein (apparently)!
As noted in v. 1, his ministry was centered in the southern half of greater Israel. If everyone there and in the northern parts (like Nazareth and the larger towns in the north) went out to be baptized by John, then maybe over a million people were touched by his ministry. Now that’s a revival!
It is remarkable that they were confessing their sins. That means they went in the water, spelling out their sins in front of John and possibly the audience. In Judaism at the time, people went into water and self-baptized. Here John baptized them. I wonder what would happen if we confessed our sins at our public baptism! It may prove embarrassing! But it is part and parcel of revival.
“sins”: it comes from the noun hamartia (pronounced hah-mar-tee-ah). A deep study reveals that it means a “departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness” (BDAG, p. 50). It can also mean a “destructive evil power” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, sin has a life of its own. Be careful! In the older Greek of the classical world, it originally meant to “miss the mark” or target. Sin destroys, and that’s why God hates it, and so should we. The good news: God promises us forgiveness when we repent.
“baptized”: it is the verb baptizō (pronounced bahp-tee-zoh), and it means “to dip in or under water”; it can refer to being “soaked in wine.” It is related to the briefer verb baptō, which means “to dip in water”; it is related to the Latin verb immergere or immerse. One can dip cloth in dye or a bucket in the well to draw water—those illustrate baptō. It can even be used of a ship that sank (Liddell and Scott). The OT refers to water as a cleansing agent and as a picture of forgiveness, spiritual purity, and eschatological blessing (Turner): Ps. 51:6-9; Isa. 4:4; 44:3; Jer. 4:11-14; Ezek. 36:24-27; Zech. 13:1)
See this post for more about them (in alphabetical order):
Both groups were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
“offspring of vipers!” John used harsh language to the crowds. The fact that they claimed Abraham as their father was no guarantee of God’s favor.
Be cautious about using such harsh language one-on-one in private conversations! I saw someone on youtube standing up in a large church and rebuking a pastor who was not known for preaching Scripture as a fiery Baptist or Pentecostal would do. That so-called “prophet” was completely out of order. Prophetic words must be done decently and orderly and in a community context of other people who can judge the prophecy or revelation (1 Cor. 15:40).
John the Baptist was speaking to a crowd of people and now a subset of them (Pharisees and Sadducees) who came to his ministry. The crowd flow went to him. He did not break into a synagogue and interrupt and shout and piously hold up a Torah scroll.
“warned”: the verb is hupodeiknumi (pronounced hoo-poh-dake-noo-mee). In some contexts, it means “show, prove, set forth.” The basic stem deik– means “to show.” “Who showed you to flee from the coming wrath?” In this context, however, it means “warn.”
The wrath of God is coming. Wrath means “judicial reckoning.” God does not fly off the handle and lose his temper. No, picture him as an English judge with a white wig on. Let’s learn a lesson. It took hundreds of years before God judged his people, the ancient Israelites. He sent numerous prophets to warn them about the coming judgment. But they refused to repent, except a remnant. His judgment-wrath came by deporting them, but he allowed a remnant to return to the land of Israel, seventy years later.
God’s wrath is judicial, implemented after he slooooowly evaluates all of the facts and thoughts and actions.
It is not like this:
But like this:
That is a picture of God in judgment. That is his wrath. He does not look like he is filled with uncontrollable rage.
That is a picture of God in judgment.
In this case, John is warning of the judgment of God, if God’s people reject their Messiah. They did—at least national Israel did in their leaders—and God placed them and Judaism (temple) under judgment (Luke 19:41-45; 21:20-24; 23:26-31; Matt. 21:33-45), though numerous individual priests (Acts 6:7) and thousands of Jews of Jerusalem and Judea converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20). God loves people, but he is not enamored with systems. Now the gospel has been handed over to the Gentiles (and some Messianic Jews) to spread the gospel around the globe, well beyond the tiny nation of Israel. The church—not Israel—is the main focus of God’s strategy to reach the planet with the gospel. Judaism and Israel (today) are not equipped to do this.
“fruit”: in so many cases with humans in Scripture, the noun means observable behavior. Repentance, as noted in v. 3, must be a 180-degree turn around. Please do not believe the foolishness that says God does not require a change of heart that does not work out into righteous behavior. God requires righteous behavior. All the old things must drop off like dead leaves, and new and spring leaves must grow. It can take time in some lives, but change must come. Over time, the new leaves, new life, push out the dead leaves. Producing fruit as a sign of repentance is used in Matthew’s Gospel elsewhere: 3:10; 7:16-20; 12:33; 13:8, 23, 26; 21:19, 33-44 (Turner).
“in keeping” it could be translated as “worthy.” Produce fruit worthy of the reality of repentance or God’s work in your life. He wants to work in you to look more like Christ (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:24; Phil. 3:10). Paul in Acts 26:20: “I have announced repentance and turning to God and doing works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20, my translation).
You can claim a spiritual heritage, but you must repent of your own sins. As the old saying goes, “God has no grandchildren. He has only children.”
“stones”: I know nothing of Aramaic, but France points out this pun: banim (sons) ebanim (stones) (p. 111). This pun puts down the pride of these specific religious leaders because they are not worthier to be called sons than these stones. Ouch. Only the truly repentant qualify to be Abraham’s children. Jesus argues that not all those descended from Abraham are his true children (John 8:39-44), and so does Paul (Rom. 9:6-8). Gentiles also share in the blessing or heritage of Abraham and are equal children of Abraham (Rom. 4:11-18; Gal. 3:6-9, 14).
Keener points out that being sprung from a stone or oak may be a Mediterranean idiom for being low born (p. 124). So one does not need to come from a functional or high-class family to become members in God’s community. One only has to repent.
Abraham was the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4-6). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus is about to commission his disciples to go in all the nations (28:19). But we are not there yet in Matthew’s story. For now, Jesus is called to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:24). After his resurrection, he will go global. He will welcome many people into Abraham’s newly reconfigured, remade global family, Jew and Gentile,
Don’t rest on your chosen status. Back in the Neo-charismatic days, young people walked around with T-shirts saying “the Chosen Generation.” Maybe, but it came across as arrogant, because generations come and go, and one is no better than the other, in God’s eternal perspective. Yes, the Jews could claim they had Abraham as their father—and claim the Scriptures from Moses throughout all the devotional Psalms and the rest of the Wisdom Literature and histories, so they were enlightened with the true God’s truths. But God does not care one bit about the past when people get sloppy and lazy about their lives now. “My ancestry has five generation of preachers!” But if you don’t live righteously in the present, so what? God can raise up many preachers from the stones around you.
“I tell you”: Jesus also used this clause very often. It usually introduces a startling and authoritative statement purposed to make the listener think and be uncomfortable.
Picture yourself as a tree. If you don’t produce good fruit, then it has to be cut down. Luke repeats this sobering truth in Luke 6:43-45 and 13:6-9. Pray that God would pluck the bad fruit from your tree and cause good fruit to grow in your life.
“fire”: see my comments for v. 12.
“When God’s people become fruitless, divine judgment is imminent. This is as true today as it was in the first century. The idea of fiery judgment is prominent in Matthew (Matt. 3:12; 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 13:42, 50; 18:9; 23:15, 33; 25:41). The emphasis is that all people will be judged on the basis of their fruit / works” … (Osborne on 3:10).
John was not worthy to carry Jesus’s sandals. “The dirt on the feet was unclean, and only non-Hebrew slaves took off or ‘carried’ the master’s sandals. Disciples acted virtually as slaves in most aspects, but they were not required to take off the master’s sandals …. Therefore, John is saying, ‘I’m not even worthy to be his slave’” (Osborne, on. 3:11).
Baptism is occasioned by repentance (not the other way). Repentance comes first, then baptism.
Blomberg is right:
The phrase “for repentance” could suggest that one must be baptized to be saved, but this interpretation flounders on New Testament teaching elsewhere (e.g., Acts 3:19; Rom 3:23–24; Eph 2:8–9). Interestingly, even Josephus [first-century Jewish historian] recognizes this (Ant. 18.5.2) when he writes that John taught that his followers “must not employ [baptism] to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed.” (comments on 3:11-12)
Matthew introduces a powerful contrast in the Greek transitional particles men … de (pronounced “mehn” and “deh”). So I translated it as “one the one hand … in contrast.” The translation is awkward, but Matthew intends to contrast John and Jesus in the clearest terms.
John: baptized in water;
Jesus: (still) baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire.
“fire”: it means that God purges his people and puts his word in them, so they have to share it. Here is Jeremiah’s testimonial: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore of his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 29:9). Also see Is. 4:4, Zech. 13:9, and Mal. 3:2-4 for more images of burning and purging.
Holy Spirit and fire may be a concept that goes together as a unit, so it’s the Holy Spirit-fire or the Holy-Spirit-and-fire.
“Spirit”: He is the third person of the Trinity. After Pentecost, he is sent into the hearts of everyone who repents and confesses Jesus was Lord. He causes these repentant people to be born again. They can also have a subsequent infilling of the Spirit (Acts 2:4, 4:8, 31; Eph. 5:17).
Here are some of my posts on a more formal doctrine of the Spirit (systematic theology):
Here are some of my posts on a more formal doctrine of the Spirit (systematic theology):
Here is Jesus baptizing disciples with the Spirit and fire:
1 And when the Feast of Pentecost had fully come, all of them were together in that one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there was a sound like the rush of an extra-strong wind. The whole house was filled where they were sitting, 3 and tongues as fire were seen by them, were distributed among them, and settled on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them inspiration to speak and declare. (Acts 2:1-4, my tentative translation)
These OT passages speak of an eschatological outpouring of the Spirit:
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. (Is. 32:15, ESV)
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants. (Is. 44:3, ESV)
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:26-27, ESV)
And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God. (Ezek. 39:29, ESV)
“And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29, ESV)
In the previous three passages, the promise was given to Israel. In Joel’s prophecy, the Spirit is poured out in all flesh or all of humanity. Each of those above passages speak of obeying the law of God and living righteously. Now this obedience comes from the inside out and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Don’t let any teacher tell you that you don’t have to worry about living righteously. You absolutely do. So does right believing always lead to right living? Maybe, but anyone who believes right could also live wrong. True, right living is done by the overflow and outflow of the Spirit in conformity to Scripture.
“fit”: it is the adjective hikanos (pronounced hee-kah-noss), and it can mean, depending on the context, “sufficient, adequate, large enough … fit, appropriate, competent, able, worthy.” I could have translated it as “not qualified” or “not sufficient enough,” or “big enough.” You can go with any of them, if you want to.
The grain has been gathered from the fields. Jesus is about to toss it up in the air. The chaff is lighter and will be blown away, while the wheat grains are heavier and will fall straight down. Yet the chaff will accumulate off to the side, and it has to be cleaned up from the threshing floor. It can be used for fuel in the fire. The wheat is the righteous, while the chaff is the wicked. This is a strong image with forceful, sobering words.
“Unquenchable”: it is often used in Scripture to describe, not eternal fire in the afterlife, but temporal judgment on wicked nations (e.g. Jer. 4:4; 7:20; 17:27; 21:12; Ezek. 20:47, 48; see Is. 1:31; Amos 5:6). Further, “unquenchable” is the adjective asbestos (pronounced as-behs-toss, and we clearly get our word asbestos from it), and it can also be translated as “inextinguishable.” However, the -able suffix is not there in Greek. So it could also be translated “unquenching” or “inextinguishing.” In any case, the metaphorical fire says humans can’t put it out. Only God can. So “unquenchable” does not mean eternal, but that no human can extinguish it (see Steve Gregg, pp. 86-100).
Note that it is his threshing floor and his wheat. The chaff is not his. The metaphor of throwing away chaff or stubble is found in the OT, particularly when the OT was produced over the centuries in an agrarian society: Ps. 1:4; 35:5; Is. 41:15-16; and so on. The stubble is burned up: Mal. 4:1.
“fire”: other verses speak of outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). So some ask: how can the fire, which produces light, coexist with farthest or outer darkness? They cannot. Therefore, some interpreters conclude that punishment in the afterlife takes on different dimensions: fire in one place, and darkness in another. Still another interpretation is possible. Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian minister J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism) (see the three links, below in a three-part series.
If you want to take the images of darkness and fire literally, you may certainly do so. It’s up to you. It should be noted that Jesus says nothing about the fire lasting for eternity here.
Please read a three-part series, each of which has plenty of Scriptural support:
Each theory teaches punishment in the afterlife, but the debate is over the duration of punishment. It may be surprising to many traditional Christians, but the latter two theories have plenty of Scriptural support. But whichever theory you decide on, please don’t call the other theories heretical or unorthodox, particularly if you believe in eternal, conscious torment. The theory of eternal, conscious torment did not gain momentum until Augustine’s time in the fifth century. Until then, church leaders easily believed in the other theories of annihilation or restoration.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories. You can still have fellowship with them.
GrowApp for Matt. 3:1-12
A.. John baptized in water, Jesus with the Holy Spirit and fire. Have you experienced water baptism? What about Spirit baptism?
The Baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17)
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan in order to be baptized by him. 14 But John was preventing him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” 15 But in reply, Jesus said to him, “Permit it now, for in this way it is appropriate for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John permitted him. 16 And after being baptized, Jesus instantly got up out of the water, and look! Heaven opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and coming upon him. 17 And listen! A voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight!”
This whole scene is a nice “family photo” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. See v. 17 for more comments on the Trinity and some links.
In v. 1, John “appeared.” Here in this verse Jesus appeared. It is the same verb.
“baptized”: see v. 6 for more discussion.
John had just announced that he baptized in water and people came to confess their sins. Jesus, on the other hand, was about to baptize people with the Holy Spirit and fire. There is a qualitative difference between the people and the one conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not need to confess his sins, and nor is he shown doing this.
So what does it mean to fulfill righteousness. “(1) There is the salvation-historical thrust as Jesus identifies with his people Isa. 53:12 in preparing for the saving activity of God (his saving work is the will of God = righteousness). (2) Jesus obeys his Father’s will = all righteousness) by assuming the role of suffering Servant (Isa. 53:11) and so endorses John’s ministry” (Osborne on 3:15).
“To fulfill all righteousness” means to complete everything that forms part of a relationship of obedience to God. In so doing, Jesus identifies with and endorses John’s ministry as divinely ordained and his message as one to be heeded. (comment 3:15, emphasis original)
Jesus so identified with the people that while they were being baptized, so was he. Was he baptized for forgiveness of sins, when he was proclaimed to be sinless (John 8:45-46; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:21-22; 1 John 3:5)?
Not for the forgiveness of sins, as the voice from heaven confirms. Rather, his baptism accomplished these truths:
First, this was his ministry launch. The Messiah was here for those who had eyes to see and ears hear. Second, his baptism was a public consecration by God, and a public declaration of God’s love and acceptance and delight in his Son. The crowds did not get that declaration, so his declaration was unique. Consecration means to be set apart from the unclean and common. Third, however, Jesus also identified with the crowds, as noted. He was about to become the people’s sacrificial offering (2 Cor. 5:21), so he had to get down in the water to show he too was a human. Fourth, he put his stamp of approval on John’s ministry (BTSB).
But there’s a fifth reason, which is relational.
Peter was Jesus’s lead apostle, and no doubt he observed this principle operating in his Lord’s life:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.” [Prov. 3:34]
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Pet. 5:5-6, NIV)
James was Jesus’s (half-)brother and he too saw the same virtue being lived out in his Lord’s life:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (Jas. 4:10)
I believe that to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus had to temporarily submit and humble himself before John and his ministry of the baptism of repentance, before Jesus’s own ministry could be launched. He may have followed John for longer than we think, just reading Matthew’s Gospel. Recall that Phil. 1:5 says: “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” John proclaimed that the one coming after was mightier than he was, and so he was surprised when his superior cousin came down into the water.
To “fulfill all righteousness” (emphasis added), Jesus had to be baptized by John, in order first to humble himself and second in order to be exalted. Yes, Jesus was fully righteous, but he had to pass the humility test, just as he had to pass the temptation that Satan was about to throw at him in the wilderness. Jesus passed both tests. Then at the end of his life he had to pass the trial by death. Phil. 1:6 says: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” He passed this test too. Therefore his Father resurrected him, and at his Son’s ascension the Father was about to exalt him to the highest heavens, next to his own throne, where he is now seated.
Finally, Phil. 2:9-11 affirms:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
It all began with Jesus humbling himself before his cousin in water baptism, whose ministry would not be as long-lasting and far-reaching as Jesus’s ministry. Now Jesus was exalted to the highest heaven, all because he humbled himself first.
This humility could be reflected in Is. 53:11, where the Servant of the Lord, who is to suffer for his people, is righteous and will make many righteous. To make many righteous and to fulfill all righteousness, he had to humble himself. One translation translates “righteousness” as “requirement” since to live righteously is to obey the requirements of the law (France). Jesus was fulfilling the law.
See my post on cleanliness in Leviticus, which includes washing:
It is not a far leap to see water as cleansing the soul, as well, though, but as noted, that was not the purpose in Jesus’s case. But it is interesting that all sorts of ritual bathing places have been found in Israel, existing up to Jesus’s days. And no, Jesus did not have to be ceremoniously cleansed, either.
Turner adds in his comment on v. 15: “In baptism, Jesus, as the Suffering Servant, proclaims and exemplifies the righteousness envisioned by the prophets. Fulfilling all righteousness implies that Jesus’s baptism is a key event in unfolding everything that will eventually be entailed in rightly relating the world to God. … Additionally Jesus identifies in baptism with the repentant remnant within the nation of Israel (cf. Matt. 5-6).” Then Turner goes in the direction I went: baptism anticipates his humility. This humility will be tested by Satan who will offer him all the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:1-11).
“baptized”: see v. 6 for more discussion.
Jesus came up out of the water. Baptism is immersion. Once again, see my post on baptism:
“opened”: it is the standard verb for opened up, but the reality is different: heaven itself was opened. God opened it. Heaven is coming down to honor the Son, who came from heaven.
“came upon”: this is the standard verb and adverb “come” and “upon.” The Spirit is often said to “fall on” and “come upon” people.
Luke’s version uses more nuanced language: “bodily” “in the appearance.” Matthew just goes for the straightforward description. The Spirit of God came down like a dove.
“listen!” It is my translation of the standard “behold!” Behold is a seeing verb, but in this context I made it into a hearing verb. So I’m not a total literalist. It simply means to pay attention or notice an unexpected turn of events. Catch what is happening in the story. However, if you wish to go for “behold,” then that is your choice.
Alternative translation: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I have been delighted!”
“beloved”: it is the adjective agapētos (pronounced ah-gah-pay-tohss), and it means “beloved” or “dear.” It can be used of children, friends, fellow-Christians (1 Cor. 4:17; Col. 4:14; 3 John 2, 5, 11). Of the Messiah it has the strong connotation of “only beloved” (Matt. 3:17; Luke 3:22). I believe the Shorter Lexicon is a little off on the latter meaning and right on about the former one. That is, the adjective can mean that we too have God’s love. We too are well-pleasing to God after we repent and receive the baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. Are we well pleasing and beloved of God before our repentance? No, not in the same way. Yes, God loves people before they are born again (John 3:16), but God’s judicial wrath also remains on them until they repent and ask for his forgiveness (John 3:36).
“Son of God”: Let’s look into some more systematic theology. Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
The OT background is Isa. 42:1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit on him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (ESV). “So Jesus at one and the same time is the Spirit-filled Davidic Messiah, Son of God, and Servant. This explains Jesus’ self-understanding that he fulfills the Servant concept (cf. Matt. 5:3-6; 11:2-6; 12:18-21; Luke 4:18-19) and the special Son” (Osborne, comment on 3:17).
Let’s discuss even a little more systematic theology: the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant. Look at it this way: a human father and son are equal in their essence. Both have a soul and spirit. But in their roles and family relationship, the Father is over the Son.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
The announcement about the Son refers to Ps. 2:7: “You are my Son, and today I have begotten you.” No, Jesus was not begotten at his baptism, but it refers to the relationship between the Father and Son. The Psalm is an anointing psalm for the king. “Begotten” in this context means a new beginning as king, a coronation. Also, as noted, Is. 42:1 says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Turner prefers Is. 42:1 over Ps. 2:7 because the Spirit is put on the Servant in Is. 42:1. Fair enough.
“delight”: it comes from the Greek verb eudokeō (pronounced yew-doh-keh-oh), and the prefix eu– means “good” or “well,” and the stem dok– can mean “to think, believe, suppose, consider.” How do we combine the prefix and the stem? First, in some contexts it means, “consider good, consent, resolve” (Luke 12:12; Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 5:8; Col. 1:19; 1 Thess. 2:8). Further, in other contexts it means “be well pleased, take delight (Matt. 3:17; 12:18; Luke 3:22; 1 Cor. 10:5; 2 Pet. 12:17); or “delight in, approve, like” (2 Cor. 12:10; 2 Thess. 2:12; Heb. 10:6, 8). So God thought well of his Son Jesus. The Father loved and liked his Son. The Father took delight in and approved of his Son. See Ps. 2:7 and Is. 42:1 for further study.
A word on the verb tense of “delight.” It is in the aorist (past), but it may be so general that it does not refer to a past event (Olmstead p. 55). But if you think it does refer to the past, then you may read it as “In whom I have delighted” or “in whom I have been pleased.”
In any case, if we remain in Christ, then Father God delights in us and likes and loves us.
GrowApp for Matt. 3:13-17
A.. The Father delights in his Son. When you are in Christ, the Father also delights in you. Do you believe this? Why or why not?
Summary and Conclusion
Matthew’s Gospel presents these theological truths.
First, repentance is necessary, and the Messiah demands it. Some have said repentance is a minor idea. (I even foolishly said this, in the past.) Yes, Heb. 6:1-3 says it is an elementary teaching, but it is foundational. In the large crowd or a small one on Sunday morning or night, it needs to be preached. Baptism is important in the process of salvation.
Second, Baptism is necessary for Christians. Jesus showed us this example. If he did so, when he did not need it because he was sinless, then how more do we need it because we are sinful!
Third, judgment is coming. John was preaching both the final judgment, but he was also—surely—referring to the judgment on Jerusalem. He was a prophet, after all. He could perceive judgment happening.
Fourth, we need to be baptized in the Spirit-fire. Acts 2:1-4 describes this experience, and in v. 39 Luke writes that it is for those who are afar off. Fire purifies. The Spirit empowers. It is necessary for service. Jesus was also empowered by the Spirit for ministry.
Fifth, Jesus identified with us and humanity generally when he got baptized. He expects us to fulfill righteousness by living righteously.
Sixth, we have a nice “family photo” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This image is a perfect representation of the Trinity. Please see my post Trinity mean to me
Seventh, Jesus received the announcement from the Father that the Father delights in him. By being in Christ, he delights in us too.
Osborne, pp. 116-19; 126-27
These commentaries are excellent, but often too technical. I trust I have simplified matters.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew. The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).