Matthew 3

Jesus Inaugurates His Ministry as Savior

Chapter 3

John the Baptist Preaches and Baptizes.[a]1 In those days, John the Baptist[b] appeared in the desert of Judea, preaching: 2 “Repent,[c] for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” This was the man of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said:

3 “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”[d]

4 John’s clothing was made of camel’s hair, with a leather loincloth around his waist, and his food consisted of locusts and wild honey.[e] 5 The people of Jerusalem and the whole of Judea and the entire region along the Jordan went out to him, 6 and as they confessed their sins they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7 [f]But when he observed many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Produce good fruit as proof of your repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves: ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 10 Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 [g]“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”[h]

13 Jesus Is Baptized.[i] Then Jesus arrived from Galilee and came to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 John tried to dissuade him, saying, “Why do you come to me? I am the one who needs to be baptized by you.” 15 But Jesus said to him in reply, “For the present, let it be thus. It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all that righteousness demands.”[j] Then he acquiesced.

16 After Jesus had been baptized, as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened and he beheld the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”[k]


  1. Matthew 3:1 This account is concerned with the person and prophetic message of John (vv. 1-6), his baptism (v. 6), his criticism of the Pharisees and Sadducees (vv. 7-10), his teaching about Jesus (vv. 11-12), and his baptism of Jesus (vv. 15-17).
  2. Matthew 3:1 John the Baptist: the cousin and precursor of Jesus (see Lk 1:5-80). Desert of Judea: a twenty-mile barren region from the Jerusalem-Bethlehem plateau to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.
  3. Matthew 3:2 Repent: a change of heart and conduct—a return to keeping the Mosaic Law. Kingdom of heaven: a phrase found only in Matthew (33 times); in Mark and Luke it is “kingdom of God.” The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God, both as present reality and as future hope. The kingdom is a central part of Jesus’ message.
  4. Matthew 3:3 All four Gospels quote Isa 40:3 and apply it to John the Baptist. Make his paths straight: a phrase that is equivalent to “Prepare the way for the Lord” in Lk 3:4. In ancient times, when the king was to travel to a distant land, the roads were improved. Similarly, the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Messiah was made by John in calling for repentance and the remission of sins and announcing the need for a Savior.
  5. Matthew 3:4 John’s simple food, clothing, and lifestyle were reminiscent of Elijah (see 2 Ki 17), and Jesus later declares that John was the Elijah who had already come (see Mt 17:10ff; see also Mal 3:23).
  6. Matthew 3:7 John heavily criticizes members of two religious sects of the Jews who come to receive his baptism. The Pharisees were a legalistic and separatist group who strictly kept the Law of Moses as well as the unwritten “tradition of the elders” (Mt 15:2). The Sadducees were more worldly and politically minded, closely connected with the high priests, and they accepted only the first five Books of the Old Testament as their Scriptures. They also rejected belief in the resurrection after death.
  7. Matthew 3:11 I am not worthy to carry his sandals: bearing sandals was one of the duties of a slave. The baptism of John prepares for the purifying action with the Holy Spirit and fire that Jesus will effect (see Isa 1:25; Zec 13:9; Mal 3:2) and that was seen very dramatically at Pentecost (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-16). Refusal of this Baptism instituted by Christ leads to final condemnation in imperishable fire (see Isa 34:8ff; Jer 7:20).
  8. Matthew 3:12 The separation of the good and the bad that will take place at Christ’s Second Coming is compared to the way farmers separated wheat from chaff. After trampling out the grain, they used a large fork to pitch the grain and the chaff into the air. The kernels of wheat fell to the ground while the light chaff was borne away by the wind, then gathered up and burned.
  9. Matthew 3:13 The theophanies of the Old Testament were meant to convey something of the ineffable transcendence of God (Ex 3); the theophany that here begins the New Testament reveals something of the inner life of God: God is three persons. The dove perhaps suggests the Creator Spirit (Gen 1:2), but may also symbolize the divine goodwill that was restored after the flood (Gen 8:8-12), or the very People of God (Hos 7:11; 11:11; Isa 60:8), the formation of which is the work of the Spirit.
  10. Matthew 3:15 All that righteousness demands: i.e., all observances, everything that is part of God’s plan. Jesus obeys the Father’s will in everything (Phil 2:8).
  11. Matthew 3:17 This heavenly pronouncement intermingles language from Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1, prophetic terminology that was well known to those with Messianic expectations (see Mt 17:5; Mk 1:11; 9:7; Lk 3:22; 9:35).

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