Matthew 3



Matthew 3 highlights the preparatory work of John the Baptist, calling people to repentance and baptizing them in anticipation of the Messiah. The chapter climaxes with the baptism of Jesus, a significant moment signaling the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, affirmed by the divine declaration of his identity as the Son of God.


  1. John the Baptist's Ministry (Matthew 3:1-12): John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, preaching a message of repentance and proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. He baptizes people in the Jordan River as a sign of their repentance and preparation for the coming Messiah. John boldly confronts the religious leaders, calling them to repentance and warning about the judgment to come.

  2. Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17): Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Initially, John hesitates, recognizing Jesus' righteousness, but Jesus insists, saying it is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. As Jesus is baptized, the heavens open, and the Spirit of God descends like a dove, landing on him. A voice from heaven declares, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased." This event marks the public inauguration of Jesus' ministry.


3.1-6 John the Baptist


"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins."


Let's break down these verses:


  1. John the Baptist's Ministry: John the Baptist appears in the wilderness of Judea, heralding the message of repentance. His ministry is characterized by a call to turn away from sin and prepare for the arrival of the kingdom of heaven.

  2. Fulfillment of Prophecy: Matthew notes that John's ministry fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 40:3, emphasizing the continuity between the Old Testament prophetic expectations and the events unfolding in the New Testament.

  3. Preparation for the Lord's Coming: John's message of repentance and the imagery of preparing the way for the Lord underscores the significance of spiritual readiness. It echoes the idea that, before the arrival of the Messiah, people need to turn from sin and make their hearts ready to receive the coming Savior.

  4. John's Lifestyle: The description of John's clothing and diet emphasizes his ascetic lifestyle, which is often associated with prophets in the Old Testament (2 Kings 1:8). His unconventional appearance and choice of food may symbolize a rejection of worldly comforts in favor of a dedicated and focused ministry.

  5. Baptism and Confession of Sins: John's baptism in the Jordan River becomes a central symbol in the Gospels. It represents a symbolic cleansing or purification, and people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the surrounding region come to be baptized by John. This act is linked with confessing their sins, signifying a genuine desire for spiritual renewal and forgiveness.


3.7-10 Rebuke of Pharisees


"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."


John confronts the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who come for baptism. He addresses them with strong language, calling them a "brood of vipers" and questioning their motives. John perceives insincerity in their actions, warning them about the impending judgment or wrath to come. He reiterates the importance of genuine repentance by urging the people to produce tangible evidence of their changed hearts and lives. "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance" implies that a true transformation should be reflected in one's actions and behavior. John also challenges the common assumption among the Jews that their lineage from Abraham guarantees favor with God. He emphasizes that true righteousness is not based on ancestry but on genuine repentance and faith. God's power is not limited by human lineage; He can raise up children for Abraham from even the stones.


John employs a vivid metaphor of a tree and its fruit to illustrate the imminent judgment. The "axe laid to the root of the trees" symbolizes the impending judgment, and trees that do not bear good fruit (representing righteous deeds) will be cut down and discarded, facing the consequences of their unrepentant lives. The "fire" here is best described by Smith's Bible Commentary (Smith, 2014)1:


"Now Jesus, you remember, when He was with His disciples, was hungry, saw a fig tree, they came to it and there was no fruit. He cursed the fig tree, and the next day as they were coming back to the Mount of Olives along the path there, the disciples looked at the tree that Jesus had cursed the day before, and the thing had withered and died overnight. They said, Lord, look at that tree that you cursed yesterday. Man, the thing is withered and dead already. The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. The Lord was looking that the nation Israel would bring forth fruit. Here John the Baptist is saying, "the time the axe is going to be laid to the root", that is to Israel itself. The tree that doesn't bring forth good fruit is going to be cut down."


"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan [winnowing fork] 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."


Pay close attention here to what John is saying. John acknowledges the limitations of his baptism, which uses water as a symbol of repentance. He points to a more powerful figure to come—Jesus Christ. John sees himself as unworthy even to carry the sandals of this greater one. The baptism that Jesus will bring goes beyond water; it involves the impartation of the Holy Spirit and a purifying fire, signifying a deeper, spiritual transformation.


John uses agricultural imagery to depict a separating or sorting process. The "winnowing fork" is a tool used to separate wheat from chaff. In this metaphor, Jesus is portrayed as the one who will separate the righteous (wheat) from the unrighteous (chaff). The wheat will be gathered into the barn (symbolizing salvation), while the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire, signifying eternal judgment (Isaiah 1:31; Jer. 7:20; Lam. 2:4; Ezekiel 20:46-48; Amos 5:4-6; Malachi 4:1-3).


3.13-17 The Baptism of Jesus


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


Jesus comes to the Jordan River from Galilee to be baptized by John. This is a pivotal moment as Jesus, sinless and without the need for repentance, chooses to identify with humanity in this act.


But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?


John, recognizing Jesus' holiness, hesitates to baptize Him and expresses his unworthiness. John feels that it should be the other way around, with Jesus baptizing him.


And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.


Jesus responds by insisting that it is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Though sinless, Jesus participates in baptism to align with God's plan and to symbolize His solidarity with humanity in the redemptive process.


And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.


Note closely that Jesus is baptized by John. As Jesus emerges from the water, a significant manifestation occurs: the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove. This event symbolizes the anointing of Jesus for His public ministry. Verse 16 makes it quite clear that Jesus was fully immersed in the Jordan River in His baptism. This act of immersion diminishes credibility for infant baptism through sprinkling.


Verses 16 and 17 also make a strong case for the triune relationship between the Father speaking to His Son, Christ, with the Holy Spirit descending on Christ 'like a dove'. Now does that infer that Christ didn't have the Holy Spirit in Him until He was baptized? No2. Luke 1:35 makes plain that Jesus was to born of the Holy Spirit through Mary, His earthly mother. John the Baptist, as a child, was also filled with the Holy Spirit from His mother Elizabeth's womb (Luke 1:15). Furthermore, Philippians 2:6-7 reveals that Christ emptied Himself of His divinity to identify with humanity:


"who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men"




1 Smith, Charles Ward. 2014 "Commentary on Matthew   3:10". "Smith's Bible Commentary".