AncientPath.net - The Ancient Path, Matthew Chapter 1, Gaebelein Intro

The Gospel according to Matthew
CHAPTER 3:1-17
"The Preaching of John The Baptist"

 

Jim Deering - AncientPath.net


Chapter Summary

Before we get to Matthew Chapter 3 we need to step alongside with the writings of Luke as John the Baptist, the Herald of the King, is now introduced.

Luke 1:5-25 Tells us of his angelic announcement of his birth and mission.

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

Luke's introduction to the parents of John the Baptist is very telling about the choices God makes on His most important decisions. Both John's mom and dad are of the historic Levite tribe. The Original High Priest, Moses, was the mediator (administrator) of the Old Covenant. God elected the generations of Moses and Aaron, his brother, to be the families through which God would administer His covenant with the people of Israel (Jacob).

 

The people of Israel, and especially the priesthood, often fell victim to Idolatry and Self-Indulgence as they walked away from their God. This became blatantly obvious during the years of the Kings (Israel then Judah) and the result was God casting all of them into 400 years of captivity by some of the most cruel governments of all time.

 

As the Israelites integrated into the cultures of these civilizations they, largely, lost their culture, their language, and their faith. Through inter-marriage many would have their genealogical heritage completely erased as they moved through being Hebrews, then Assyrians, then Babylonians, then Persians, and then Romans.

 

And yet... we find ourselves in this passage at the end of that 400 years with an husband and wife who not only love God, but follow His every desire for them. Zacharias, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth are both direct descendants in the Levitical priesthood.

8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

During the calendar of the Hebrew year is divided up into feasts and various Holy days. There are many priests and events and so the priesthood is also divided up into task oriented groups that are overseen by high ranking members of the priesthood (much like an army). The division of Abijah (the 8th division of the Priesthood, 1 Chr. 24:10)[1] is especially important in this year as its task would be the care of the Holy Place - that first inner room of the tabernacle within the Temple. It would be Abijah's division that would go into the Holy Place and administer the blood of animals upon the Golden Lampstand, the Alter of the People (showbread), and finally the Altar of Incense.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.

Much like we see in the Israeli and Arab cultures today, the whole nation of Israel would pause at a certain time for corporate prayer when the priest was scheduled to be at the Alter of Incense. There in that Holy Place the symbolism of the rising aromatic smoke of the incense burning "before the Lord" would represent the prayers of God's people rising before Him. God would "smell the pleasing aroma" of their prayers and be please with them for their willingness to humble themselves and do this for Him.

11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

Zacharias would have entered the Holy Place through the front curtain, first gone to the Golden Lampstand, trimmed the wicks, refreshed the pots of oil, sprinkled the animal blood upon it and prayed concerning the seven ministries of the Holy Spirit of God. He would then cross the room, walking in front of the Altar of Incense, to the Table of the People (Showbread). There he would remove the old loaves and replace them with new, sprinkle the blood upon those loaves of bread that represented the 12 tribes of God's people, and then He would pray specifically for God's watchfulness over them.

 

And finally he would cross back to the middle of the room and come before the Altar of Incense. He would clear away the burned ash, add the day's supply of fresh incense, sprinkle the blood upon that altar, and then pray concerning his people, God's people, their sin, and then plead for their forgiveness. The text will indicate (vs.12) that Zacharias apparently also prayed for himself and his wife - seeking for the blessing of children. We should note that we will also see there that it is perfectly acceptable to pray for personal things even when praying the most intimate Holy and spiritual prayers in the very presence of God.

It is then that He looks up from his prayer and "Behold" an Angel of God (Gabriel) is standing beside him, observing Zacharias' faithfulness and righteous "circumcised heart."

12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

It is a wonderful thing to know that God hears your prayers and always answers them. We might not get the answers WE were looking for, but God always answers prayer. "Don't be afraid" is the message, "I'm here to answer your prayer."

 

Take note of verse :14 for the Angel reveals to Zacharias that He will have "joy and gladness" as the result of this answered prayer, however, only "many" will rejoice at John's birth - for "the rest" will find no comfort in John's call to repentance - for their "King" is "at hand."

15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.

John's "greatness" will be found because of His faith that will lead to the sacrifice of his life - for God's Son's sake. We must not lose track of the reasons that John the Baptist is held in such high regard by God. It would be so easy to see the words concerning what he DID in being obedient to his OFFICE as the reason for his greatness. God's promise that John would not consume wine or alcohol was God's plan for John - not John's position or "work" for God. Other verses clearly point out that for the times of total dedication to the WORK of God it is the Holy Spirit of God that is to be "Filling" or controlling you and not alcohol or other such influences. If it is time for you to be totally effective ... then you need to be totally under the control and influence of God's Holy Spirit.

 

John was so blessed by God that His Holy Spirit would be ever-present with him, even from before birth.

 

16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

John's appointed ministry was to bring "many," again the same many that would be blessed by His life and ministry, back to the Lord their God. Luke is not talking about salvation, he is telling us that - as the end of verse :17 says, "to turn the hearts of ... the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous." The meaning of the text is that those who are disobedient would have an understanding of righteousness - like the righteous have - in order that they would be "prepared for the Lord." This is a very loaded statement. Looking back on the ministry of Jesus it is clear that the test He would require of the Nation of Israel would result in their REJECTION of Jesus as their Messianic King. Who would be ultimately responsible for that choice? Those who had the proper understanding of righteousness and reject the righteous One. So, who was John preparing? ... Those who would eventually reject The Lord Jesus.

 

We'll see in our study of Matthew's gospel that God had "prepared" "many" who would recognize Jesus as Messiah and Lord, but that is not the ministry of John. John's ministry is to make the path that Jesus must walk to the Cross - as short, as efficient, as God willed.

 

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

 

There is nothing in these words that tell us of Zacharias' heart. This seems like a perfectly acceptable question, however, the Angel knows that it was said in sarcasm. "Yah, how's God going to do this if we're both already old and nearly dead anyway?"

 

19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God,

 

We don't know a great deal about the Angels, but we do know of our lowly created estate. We are as filthy rages, worse than worms, and totally depraved. Gabriel, who is found in only 5 passages of the Scriptures, stands in the very presence of God Almighty, COMPREHENDS Him, and chooses to be absolutely subservient and obedient to Him and Him alone. What a marvelous creature of God! God chose him to bring this message to Zacharias (ministering there in the Holy Place). It is also Gabriel who brings the "glad tidings" of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.

 

and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

 

It is here that we find the content of Zacharias' heart in this matter. After all these years of praying - even to this day that he is in the Tabernacle of the Temple praying for a son ... that he is revealed as not really believing that God can do it.

 

What about your prayers? Do you pray as ritual, day after day, year after year, only to come to the conclusion that God cannot do this - even though you keep praying?

 

Remember... God answered Zacharias' prayer even when Zacharias no longer believed that God could accomplish it. Don't lose heart; God can and often does answer our prayers - just as we have desired.

 

It will be thirty years before Zacharias' son will be a man of note. How Zacharias' heart must have burned - John's childhood, all his misadventures, and his perilous teen years. Then only to see his son go off into the wilderness, dress funny, and eat bugs. But God fulfills His promises and at thirty years of age he emerges as John The Baptist, the forerunner of the Son of God, readying the Plan of God for the Salvation of man and the fulfillment of all God's promises.

 

As Gabriel finishes with Zacharias he strikes him mute (speechless). This is a two fold action. One to teach Zacharias a lesson in humility and faith, and One to provide a sign to the people of God that Zacharias has met with the messenger of God - while he was in that Holy Place. The Priests of the Temple would be in total awe - as no one except the High Priest (and few of them, and only when they came once a year to the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement) ever received a message from God while in the Holy Place. This would have caused a great stir among the leadership of Israel.

 

21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.

 

The scene moves to outside the temple where his family, and others, congregated - waiting for Zacharias, probably to congratulate him on being chosen for service in the Holy Place. They recognized right away that his lack of speech was the result of a vision. Their time and their culture was open to this. Apparently Zacharias had more days to serve in the temple, and when he was done he simply went back home.

 

24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”

 

Lovely Elizabeth, faithful from the start, became pregnant by Zacharias, and followed Hebrew traditions. All the while praising the Lord - for "This is the way," an answer to my heartfelt prayers, that the Lord chooses to bless me at this time - by removing the disgrace that was upon her because she was unable to bear children up to that point.

 

He is predicted in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 40:3-5

3 A voice is calling,

“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;

Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

4 “Let every valley be lifted up,

And every mountain and hill be made low;

And let the rough ground become a plain,

And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

And all flesh will see it together;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

and Malachi 3:1a

3 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.

He appeared like Elijah the Prophet (2 Kings 1:8)

8 They answered him, “He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

  But He was not Elijah.

 

Matthew 17:12.

12 but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished.  And before the King comes the second time there will be once more a forerunner.  Malachi 4:5-6 will then be fulfilled.  John knew his mission (John 1:23).  His testimony as reported by Matthew concerns the nation.  In the Gospel of John we find the record of another testimony given by the forerunner.  He knew the King also as the Lamb of God.

 

John the Baptist calls the nation to repentance, because the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

 

John the Baptist's message, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," was an announcement of the messianic kingdom (Millennial Kingdom) as foretold by O.T. prophets to be set up on the earth over which David's son and Lord is to reign. It was "at hand" from the commencement of John's announcement here to the rejection of the King (Matthew 12:1-45), and the announcement of a new brotherhood (Matthew 12:46-50).

 

It is the "kingdom of heaven (the heavens)" because it is the administration of the heavens upon the earth (Matthew 6:10), being a term derived from Daniel (Daniel 2:34-35, 44; 7:23-27).

John the Baptist knew of the sacrificial nature of Jesus' baptism as He called Jesus "The Lamb of God.


Matthew Chapter 3 - The Study

 

Matthew 3:1-2
Now in those days John the Baptizer came (making his public appearance) preaching (in such a manner as to be obeyed) in the Judean desert, saying,
3:2 "Repent (turn around in your ways, be having a change of mind), for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand (has arrived)."

 

"John's message was soul-searching, and frightening. He was a preacher of imminent doom (see verses 7 and 10), a catastrophe that could be avoided only by a radical turnabout of mind and heart" (Hendriksen).

The Nation of Israel had spurned God throughout the O.T. since Sinai. By the time of the Prophets Israel was warned constantly that the Nation was in jeopardy of being taken captive by other governments. God continually asked them to repent of their idolatrous and rebellious ways - which they did not heed.

 

As Israel comes out of the captivities and begins to re-form in the land given to them in the Old Covenant they do so as a secular nation who's hopes and desires are to be rid of oppression by other nations. Their hope is in their Nation and their desire is for a great leader to come forth and deliver them from the Romans. Their spiritual condition was bankrupt.

 

John's message to Israel was for them to turn away from their selfishness (self reliance) and from their idolatrous hearts, and turn their hearts to God. John is making God's final appeal to Israel. The promise of The King and The Kingdom is real -- but it is contingent upon their full willing return to Jehovah as their God and to keep and follow His ways.


 

(Now would be a good time see Appendix 007:  "The Call to Repentance")

 


 

3:3
For this is the one referred to through Isaiah, the prophet, saying,

"The voice of one crying (shouting out) in the wilderness,
Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!"
(Isaiah 40:3)

(Parallel verses: Luke 3:1-18 and Mark 1:1-8)

 

John the Baptist comes much like those men who wear or hold a sign stating that "The End Is Near!" with the exception that John was the Real Thing.

 

John the Baptist had come to the nation of Israel, much like Jonah had come to the city of Nineveh. He was preaching "in the wilderness." This image was both real (he did preach in the wilderness areas outside Jerusalem) and symbolic (he was preaching in a spiritually dry place, a place where there was no visible life). But much like a real wilderness or desert there is much life that is hidden. There are creatures whose activities are not evident, and there are plants and seeds that are just waiting for the smallest drop of water so they can come to life and blossom. That is to say that many would hear John's message and turn to God, however the vast majority would not and it becomes evident that the leadership will not receive their Messiah - "Anything - but God, anyone - but Jesus."

 

John brought a message of repentance to the Covenant people of Israel. A Message that was to warn them of God's impending visit to them. A warning to return to His ways, and to His word. A message of a nation returning to their God. John brought this message to the nation as a whole. The Covenant was brought about for a Nation of People, not single individuals. If the Nation, as a whole, did not receive John's words and message then the Covenant was not at that time effective. We will see in a later chapter that because the NATION rejected their COVENANT relationship with Almighty God, then He would have to set the NATION aside (not discarding them) as His people and make a NEW COVENANT that was inclusive of all humanity. This New Covenant was foretold in the O.T. (examples: Jeremiah 31:27-40; Isaiah 61:1-11).

(Repent - if you are going in one direction and then turn 180 degrees and walk back - you have done the very thing that the word Repent represents. For the Nation of Israel, who had left her God, John, and then Jesus, call the Nation to turn 180 degrees and RETURN to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - and the life of Righteousness that this action would bring about.)

 

The New covenant was the plan since eternity past. The Old covenant was a shadow, symbol, or type, of the New covenant that was to come. Jesus' death at the Cross, and His delivery to the Mercy Seat of God - to effect the salvation of those elect - was the plan from the very beginning. His work at the cross made Atonement and Salvation effective and efficient regardless of the time frame in history - it was worked out in Eternity. Daniel spoke of God's timetable for the Nation of Israel - and the Gentiles - hundreds of years before the actual fact of the Cross.

Daniel 9:24-27

24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

 

As you may remember the Abrahamic Covenant (between God and the Nation of Israel) had no aspect of individual or national SALVATION. The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were:

·                     1. "I will make of thee a great nation,"

·                     2. "And I will bless thee,"

·                     3. "And make thy name great,"

·                     4. "And thou shalt be a blessing,"

·                     5. "And I will bless them that bless thee,"

·                     6. "And curse him that curseth thee,"

·                     7. "And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)

 

All these, certainly, were great blessings, but there was no mention of SALVATION either national or individual. That was just the nature of that covenant (SALVATION has always been based upon the NEW COVENANT, that is, based upon the effective finished work of Jesus Christ through his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

 

The NEW COVENANT is, as the Bible puts it, based upon His BLOOD. Salvation is always based upon the mercy and grace of God made possible through His Son's death on the cross).

 

The Old Covenant was truly based upon the finalized New Covenant. It pictured the New Covenant but was only symbolic of the New Covenant. Both covenants were written by God for the Nation of Israel. Israel's final destination as a "saved" nation - going into the Millennial Kingdom is made possible through the work of the Blood of Christ at the cross. As it is for believing Israel it is for all who believe -- Salvation is the work of Christ - by Grace, through Faith.

 

The point being, without (I hope) beating the proverbial dead horse, is that John's message and his appeal to the people of Israel is not a message for personal salvation (i.e., these are NOT Salvation verses).

And now, John was telling them to get their things in order for "THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND." And quite literally it was at hand. They did not know, except as they heard and received John's words, that God had become flesh and was dwelling upon the earth WITH THEM. That He (God) had been walking with them, talking with them, and observing them for the past thirty years. And He was about to make Himself known to them.

 

We should also clarify "The Kingdom of Heaven." A kingdom is the domain of a king. Jesus, as the King of Heaven, oversees the "Kingdom of Heaven" because He is its King. By definition the kingdom is WHERE THE KING IS. As Jesus takes on His humanity (being born upon the Earth) He does so as "The King of Heaven" who moves His residence to the Earth. As He does so all those who are under the Covenant had their King at hand. Thus John tells them, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

 

Also in John's meaning is the possibility that if the people of Israel REPENT AS A NATION their King will establish His Kingdom here on Earth. The Prophets revealed that a great day was coming when God would establish His covenant kingdom and the Nation would be blessed through it.

 

John is saying to the Hebrew Nation: "The King is here, He is about to establish His physical Kingdom here on the Earth - as promised. If you want to be a part of that Kingdom, you had better repent of your Idols and hardened hearts."

 

As an aside to keep John's message and the content of the Gospels in balance, we should remember that Daniel, under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, foretold that this King who was coming would be rejected and "cut-off" in the midst of His arrival this first time. We should not be surprised when this happens, it was foretold long ago.

 

3:4
Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

 

Such a garment may be symbolic of the prophet's office and was similar to that which Elijah wore. The main point is that by means of his simple mode of life, evident with respect to both food and clothing, he was a living protest against all selfishness and self-indulgence, hence also against that frivolousness, carelessness, and false security with which many people were rushing toward their doom, and were doing this with the judgment so near at hand (as it was in Elijah's day).

3:5
Then Jerusalem was going out to him (in a steady stream), and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan;

 

Evidently the Holy Spirit was extremely active in the lives of those who heard John's message. The season was at its peak, and the hearts and minds of God's people were selectively readied for repentance. The words indicate that John had many converts. The reception of John's message (National repentance) did not guarantee salvation for either the nation or for the individual. That would take a change of heart (a heart for God). It would seem that God had prepared many as witnesses to the waywardness of the Nation of Israel. There were many, perhaps many thousands, who's hearts had been touched toward repentance and a returning to The Almighty's ways, precepts, laws, and word (but not necessarily faith). But still, as we will see, even with the message of John and the testimony of his witnesses, when they are presented with the claims of Jesus Christ, when they are presented with GOD AMONG US, they will absolutely and without hesitancy REJECT HIM as their Messiah and Lord, and shout for His death by crucifixion instead. They wanted their kingdom but not THIS King.

 

3:6
and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they (publicly) confessed their sins.

 

John's baptism was a Jewish baptism, not a Christian baptism (cf. Acts 19:1-7). It did not signify the washing away of sin, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ or the power of the Holy Spirit to wash over them in conviction towards salvation, but, instead, an outward act of washing signifying the repentance of the candidate and identification with John's message (national repentance to the principles of the Abrahamic Covenant). Baptism, no matter what form it takes, has long been the standard practice of the people of Israel when a change of heart (of spiritual or great importance) has taken place and the candidate wants to make that change public (i.e., The Priests were required, on a regular basis, to undergo ceremonial, symbolic, public washing before they were allowed to perform their ministries).

 

It should be stressed that although John attached considerable importance to baptism, baptized many, and was therefore called "the Baptist," or "Baptizer" he did not consider this rite to have any saving significance apart from the fundamental change of life indicated by repentance (change of mind, not Salvation). It is on the latter, fundamental change of life (putting God at the top), that he placed the greatest emphasis. His desires were to create public witnesses to God's desire to return the nation of Israel to the Abrahamic Covenant and the blessings therein foretold.

 

For the Jew, or anyone else for that matter, following the Law - to the letter - did not bring anyone salvation. Only those, like Abraham, believing in God's promises and having a heart for Him... ever brings salvation, and that salvation is always based upon the finished work of Christ.

 

We have perhaps said it before and will say it again... in the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, salvation was a matter of the individual loving Jehovah above all else. When that happened the Jews referred to it as "a Circumcised Heart." That meant that the heart of the individual had been "cut away" from the sinful man/woman and "set aside" (devoted, consecrated) to God. When that happened the individual was proclaimed by God to be a child of His. This is the very same process that those who become "born again," or "saved" enter into in our age. We are presented with the claims of Christ, under the power of the Holy Spirit we come to God with a heart that fully desires Him (circumcised/cut-away), and we call upon the Name of Jesus as the one who makes salvation possible. When we do this, we enter into His mercy and grace with our hearts "cut away" and "set aside" to Him, and we become saved. It is the HEART that God looks upon not our person or our works. The difference between then and now is that their "Circumcised Heart" brought them salvation and they belonged to "The Kingdom of God" which was expressly the destination of a believing Israel. Since the Cross those who love Jesus with all their heart (i.e., a Circumcised Heart) enter into the new and mystical Body of Christ (the Church) and will be part of this body for all of eternity.

 


This would be a good time to go to Addendum 008 and get some background on Baptism.


 

PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES
The Preparation for Rejection
Making the Way Straight for the Savior

The exact manner in which, and the exact date when, these religious/political parties rose is obscure. There is reason to believe, however, that the Pharisees were like lawyers (interpreting the details of the Law) and were the successors of early "Hasidim," i.e., the Pious or Saints (but only "pious" in the way they displayed themselves in public). The later were those Jews who, during and even prior to the Maccabean revolt, had opposed the adoption of Greek culture and customs (Hellenism). It is understandable that as long as the Maccabeans in their heroic struggle were chiefly motivated by religious principles they would have the full support of the "Hasidim." The Pharisees, meaning Separatists, may well have been, in their origin, the reformed or reorganized "Hasidim." They separated themselves not only from the heathen, from publicans, and from sinners, but even in general, from the indifferent Jewish multitudes, whom they derisively dubbed "the people who do not know the law" (you will notice that the phrase is not "the people who do not know God" (John 7:49). They tried hard not to become contaminated or defiled by associating with anyone or anything that would render them ceremonially unclean according to The Law. They spent their lives following the "Interpreted Law," not the Law as revealed by God in the Scriptures as recorded by Moses. This form of Law interpretation came to be referred to as "Rabbinism," much later in history. By the 6th century A.D. it developed into a system based upon oral tradition, and the Babylonian Talmud. This interpretation system became the "authoritative interpretation" replacing the Scriptures alone (sola scriptura).

 

The Sadducees were in many ways the very opposites of the Pharisees. They were the compromisers, the men who, though ostensibly still clinging to the law of God, were not really hostile to the spread of Hellenism. They were the sacerdotal (Priestly) party, the party to which the high priest generally belonged. You may remember from Old Testament History that the priesthood were often the first to advocate idolatry and pagan celebrations. They were the judges, lawyers, police, and secular politicians of their day. The Old Covenant had called upon the Levites to be the administrators (enforcers) of that covenant.

The Sadducees said that there is no resurrection of angels or spirits, but the Pharisees accepted them all. From Josephus we learn that the Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul along with the resurrection of the body. They held that the soul perished when the body died (annihilationist).

 

Another point on which the two went in opposite directions had to do with the canon. The Pharisees recognized two criteria or standards for doctrine and discipline: the written Old Testament and the oral traditions. They made so much of these oral traditions that often, by means of their emphasis upon them, they "made the word of God of no effect" (Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:13). This means that they contorted the meaning of the Law so that it worked in their favor. Similar to the historical Roman church they made these writings of greater value than the Scriptures themselves. They re-wrote the Law so that they could be excused from sin and its penalty. The Sadducees, on the contrary, accepted nothing but Scripture. They esteemed the Pentateuch above the prophets, etc. They held to the Law of Moses at any cost to the individual (except for themselves), much like we see of some Muslim sects and their Sharia Law (an eye for an eye, the loss of a hand for a slice of bread, one's head for immorality) -- Law without grace.


 

3:7
But when he
(John) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism (of repentance), he said to them, "You brood (offspring) of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

They must have received their warning from other's already baptized, intimation is that they did not know because "they knew the Scriptures," they knew because someone told them. The reference to being "Offspring of Vipers" is to the young of Satan himself.

 

3:8
Therefore bring forth fruit in worthy of your repentance;
(Produce therefore fruit weighing as much as the repentance you profess)

"Since I don't believe you are here for any reason except to take advantage of a public event, you're just here to identify with a popular movement, now show me your changed lives and works. If little, show me little, if much show me much, if NONE ...".

 


 

THE SIN OF PRESUMPTION (Israel's Presumption upon the Lord)

3:9
and do not suppose that you can PRESUME to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father;' for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

 

The Hebrew leadership was presuming upon God. They assumed that the spoke and acted for God because they were Jews. Jesus states that being a Hebrew (Jew) is of no advantage without faith. God can make Hebrew children out of the dust of the earth (like he did with Adam) if He so desired. This was a grand "put-down" of these leaders. Their keeping of the Law as Hebrews was of no value to Jesus. Jesus is saying God can raise up dead stones and make spiritually dead "Children of Abraham" - like they are.

 

Historical Note: Hebrews and the name "Jews:"
At the beginning of the times of the Kings, the Hebrew people had split into two different nations - Israel, a secular nation steeped in Idolatry, went North and had their capital as Samaria. Israel was made up of all the tribes who would not remain faithful to God - all the tribes except Judah and Benjamin.

 

Because of their desire to continue with God, Judah and Benjamin gathered together an became the Nation of Judea. Judea remained faithful longer than Israel so that Israel went into captivity to Assyria long before Judea went to Babylon - long enough so that Babylon had already forced Assyria itself into captivity to them.

 

When Nehemiah - from Judah - went before the King of Persia to plea for the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple, those who went back to Jerusalem were from the nation of Judah (Judah and Benjamites). The secular Persians referred to them as Jews, a shortening of Judeans. Most of the nation of Israel (North) remained in the lands of their captivities and were absorbed into those cultures (as did many Judeans as well).


 

THE RESULTS OF PRESUMPTION

Judgment will follow Rejection

 

3:10
And the axe is already placed at the root of the trees (and lies there ready for use); every tree therefore that is not producing good fruit is being cut down, and is being thrown into the fire (which never can be put out).

 

John is telling the Pharisees and the Sadducees that they are about to be cut off. Their fruit has long ago stopped being good fruit. Those who are responsible for the nation going away from her God and becoming "as the Gentiles are" are receiving their notice that God is about to send them into God's hell forever for leading an entire people away from their God. This is the destination of the wicked leadership who led the Nation of Israel against Jesus - The Son of God.

 

The Jews boasted in Abraham (their Father) and David (their King). We'll see in Chapters 9-27 the itemization of the tests of His Messiahship and we'll se His revelation and then His rejection.

 

By the end of chapter 27 the leadership will clearly reject Jesus - not just as Messiah - but as the one they will receive as both Messiah and King.

 

The leadership will completely reject the Kingdom which He offers. At Jesus' trial - the multitudes will call for His crucifixion.

 

3:11
As for myself, I indeed baptize you in water because of your repentance; but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even worthy to bear His sandals; He himself will baptize you with (in the sphere of and by means of) the Holy Spirit and by fire.

 

3:12
And His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing-floor; and He will gather His wheat into the granary, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

 

The "you" spoken of in Verse 3:11 is the Pharisees who have come with insincere repentance - "I'll baptize you, but it will be with water, which has no particular effectiveness - it's just a ritual, but there is one coming that will SUBMIT you to the Spirit and fire of God.

 

A "New" baptism is foretold where those who have their mind changed about this new issue of Jesus Christ, will be washed and made public by The Holy Spirit of God, not just water. They will also have their lives thoroughly changed by the conviction and repentance work of the Holy Spirit. They will be changed by Fire. The good will be skimmed off and the Chaff, the dross, will be burned away. God's Holy Spirit will come into their lives like He has never been in the lives of human beings before. He will come to STAY, not just to visit as in the Old Testament. He will come and SEAL the believer and in so will become God's PLEDGE that will keep the believer until God's plan of salvation is absolutely complete. There is also a reference here (verse :12) to the second advent of The Lord Jesus Christ. When He shall Judge the nation of Israel and those found worthy will be kept in His Kingdom, and those who are not found worthy will be sent into everlasting fire.


 

3:13
Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him.

 

3:14
But John tried to hinder Him, saying, "as for myself, I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?"

 

3:15
But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." then he permitted Him.

 

Please remember that John had prior knowledge of his cousin Jesus and a growing awareness of just who this Jesus was. Don't be confused with the meaning of Jesus coming for baptism. He was not seeking the Baptism of Repentance, whereby he had changed His mind about the nation of Israel in its covenant relationship with God the Father. He was instead receiving the Baptism of a Priest upon His coming of age for service. As a side study you may wish to explore The High Priesthood of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews, especially Chapters 8-10.

 

Let me place here words from the Friends of Israel "Israel My Glory" magazine[2], on the Priesthood. The key to understanding the Baptism of Jesus, by John the Baptist is in the Law

 

The Priest:
Consecrated for service.
by David Levy

"A hush fell over the congregation of Israel as they gathered before the Tabernacle. One could sense the unspoken excitement which pounded deep in the heart of each Israelite as he anticipated the events which were about to unfold. Patiently they waited for the emergence of the man whom God had called to represent them as high priest. Muffled sounds of excitement were heard as Aaron appeared for the first time clothed in the beautiful garments of the high priest. Unlike the hidden rites of the pagan religions surrounding Israel, Moses would consecrate Aaron and his sons to the priesthood in full view of all to witness (Leviticus 8:3-5).

 

Cleansed for Service
The consecration began with Moses thoroughly washing Aaron and his sons at the door of the Tabernacle (Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 8:6). This would be the only time that the priest was washed by another, henceforth he washed himself in preparation for daily service (Exodus 30:19-20).

 

"Why should the Sinless One insist on a ceremony that signified confession of sin and repentance? The answer was, 'to fulfill all righteousness,' i.e., the righteousness requirements of the Mosaic law. Since Jesus was here being consecrated to His public ministry of King, Prophet and Priest, the essence of which was to center in His priestly work of redemption, it is His setting apart to His work as Priest that here comes into clearest focus. The Levitical law required that all priests be consecrated when they "began to be about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23; cf. Numbers 4:3) by washing, then anointing (Exodus 29:4-7; Leviticus 8:6-36). Aaron shared in the washing, being a sinner and needing it, and thus furnishes the type of the baptism of Christ, who not being a sinner Himself and not needing it nevertheless identified Himself with sinners and fulfilled the Aaronic type. Jesus' baptism (washing), was followed by His anointing, when the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came upon Him, the Father's voice sealing His threefold ministry. This was the priestly anointing (cf. Exodus 29:5-7), where the anointing followed the washing) of Him who was thus divinely consecrated for the work of redemption (Acts 4:27; 10:38), as well as that of King and Prophet[2].

 

3:16
And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove (would descend), and coming upon Him;

 

3:17
and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My Son, the beloved one, in whom I take pleasure (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1)."

The Trinity seen at the Baptism of Jesus Christ


Verses :16 & :17 The Trinity of God
By the Trinity of God we mean His tri-personal existence as Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- Three distinct persons, one God. It has often been said that the relationship of the Three to the One should be thought of in terms of Tri-Unity, rather than Trinity. It is too bad that the expression has never caught on, for it more aptly describes the relationship.

 

(1.) God is recognized as Father, (1 Peter 1:2) and is all the fullness of the Godhead invisible (John 1:14). Man will never be able to comprehend the fullness of God the Father. No matter how much we grow spiritually, of even when we acquire our new bodies in the heavens, we will still never be God and there will always be more of Him to learn of and love.

 

(2.) God is recognized as The Son, (Hebrews 1:8) and is all the fullness of the Godhead manifested in human flesh (John 1:14). Jesus, the Christ, is God to us, God with us. When we reach eternity it will be Jesus Christ that we can see and touch and know. He will be our head and we will be His body, His bride forever.

 

(3.) God is recognized as The Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3, 4) and is all the fullness of the Godhead acting upon man, convicting him of sin (John 16:7-11) and guiding the believer into all truth (John 16:12-15).

The doctrine of the Trinity is not explicit in the Old Testament, but is rather implied, "And God said, Let US make man... " (Genesis 1:26).

 

The doctrine of the Trinity is revealed in the New Testament. In the above Scripture (Matthew 3:16, 17) we have Christ being baptized in water, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending. We are to baptize in the "name (not names) of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).


[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/priestly_divisions, Priestly Divisions, The priestly divisions or sacerdotal courses (Hebrew: mishmar (מִשְׁמָר)) are ritual work groups in Judaism originally formed during the reign of King David in the 10th century BCE as documented in the biblical passage of 1 Chronicles 24. These priests were all descendants of Aaron, known also as Aaronites. Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. However, Nadab and Abihu died before Aaron and only Eleazar and Ithamar had sons. One priest, Zadok, from Eleazar's descendants and another priest, Ahimelech, from Ithamar's descendants, were designated by King David to help create the various priestly work groups. Sixteen of Eleazar's descendants were selected to head priestly orders while only eight of Ithamar's descendants were so chosen. The passage states that this was done because of the greater number of leaders among Eleazar's descendants. Lots were drawn to designate the order of ministering for the heads of the priestly orders when they entered the temple in Jerusalem. Each order was responsible for ministering during a different week and shabbat, and were stationed as a watch at the Tabernacle. All of the orders were present during biblical festivals. See also Kohen. Their duties involved offering the daily and Jewish holy day sacrifices (korbanot in Hebrew), and blessing the people in a ceremony known as nesiat kapayim ("raising of the hands"), the ceremony of the Priestly Blessing.

[2] Question and Answer column, Israel My Glory, Published by the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Bellmawr, NJ


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