Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
For the proper introduction to this section, we must go to
Lu 3:1, 2.
Here, as BENGEL well observes, the curtain of the
New Testament is, as it were, drawn up, and the greatest of all epochs
of the Church commences. Even our Lord's own age is determined by it
No such elaborate chronological precision is to be found elsewhere in
the New Testament, and it comes fitly from him who claims it as the
peculiar recommendation of his Gospel, that "he had traced down all
things with precision from the very first"
Here evidently commences his proper narrative.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius
Cæsar--not the fifteenth from his full accession on the
death of Augustus, but from the period when he was associated with him
in the government of the empire, three years earlier, about the end of
the year of Rome 779, or about four years before the usual reckoning.
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea--His proper title
was procurator, but with more than the usual powers of that
office. After holding it for about ten years, he was summoned to Rome
to answer to charges brought against him; but ere he arrived, Tiberius
died (A.D. 35), and soon after miserable Pilate
And Herod being tetrarch of Galilee--(See on
and his brother Philip--a very different and very
superior Philip to the one whose name was Herod Philip, and
whose wife, Herodias, went to live with Herod Antipas (see on
tetrarch of Ituræa--lying to the northeast of
Palestine, and so called from Itur or Jetur, Ishmael's
and anciently belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh.
and of the region of Trachonitis--lying farther to the northeast,
between Iturea and Damascus; a rocky district infested by robbers, and
committed by Augustus to Herod the Great to keep in order.
and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene--still more to the northeast;
so called, says ROBINSON,
from Abila, eighteen miles from Damascus.
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests--The former, though
deposed, retained much of his influence, and, probably, as sagan or
deputy, exercised much of the power of the high priesthood along with
Caiaphas, his son-in-law
In David's time both Zadok and Abiathar acted as high priests
and it seems to have been the fixed practice to have two
the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the
wilderness--Such a way of speaking is never once used when
speaking of Jesus, because He was Himself The Living Word;
whereas to all merely creature-messengers of God, the word they spoke
was a foreign element. See on
We are now prepared for the opening words of Matthew.
1. In those days--of Christ's secluded life at Nazareth, where the last
chapter left Him.
came John the Baptist, preaching--about six months before his Master.
in the wilderness of Judea--the desert valley of the Jordan, thinly
peopled and bare in pasture, a little north of Jerusalem.
2. And saying, Repent ye--Though the word strictly denotes a
change of mind, it has respect here (and wherever it is used in
connection with salvation) primarily to that sense of sin which
leads the sinner to flee from the wrath to come, to look for relief only
from above, and eagerly to fall in with the provided remedy.
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand--This sublime phrase, used in
none of the other Gospels, occurs in this peculiarly Jewish Gospel
nearly thirty times; and being suggested by Daniel's grand vision of the
Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days, to
receive His investiture in a world-wide kingdom
(Da 7:13, 14),
it was fitted at once both to meet the national expectations and to
turn them into the right channel. A kingdom for which repentance
was the proper preparation behooved to be essentially spiritual.
Deliverance from sin, the great blessing of Christ's kingdom
can be valued by those only to whom sin is a burden
John's great work, accordingly, was to awaken this feeling and hold out
the hope of a speedy and precious remedy.
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying--
The voice of one crying in the wilderness--(See on
the scene of his ministry corresponding to its rough nature.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight--This
prediction is quoted in all the four Gospels, showing that it was
regarded as a great outstanding one, and the predicted forerunner as the
connecting link between the old and the new economies. Like the great
ones of the earth, the Prince of peace was to have His immediate
approach proclaimed and His way prepared; and the call here--taking it
generally--is a call to put out of the way whatever would obstruct His
progress and hinder His complete triumph, whether those hindrances were
public or personal, outward or inward. In Luke
(Lu 3:5, 6)
the quotation is thus continued: "Every valley shall be filled, and
every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be
made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh
shall see the salvation of God." Levelling and smoothing are here the
obvious figures whose sense is conveyed in the first words of the
proclamation--"Prepare ye the way of the Lord." The idea is that
every obstruction shall be so removed as to reveal to the whole world
the salvation of God in Him whose name is the "Saviour." (Compare
Isa 11:10; 49:6; 52:10;
Lu 2:31, 32;
4. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair--woven of it.
and a leathern girdle about his loins--the prophetic dress of Elijah
and his meat was locusts--the great, well-known Eastern locust, a food
of the poor
and wild honey--made by wild bees
(1Sa 14:25, 26).
This dress and diet, with the shrill cry in the wilderness, would
recall the stern days of Elijah.
5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region
round about Jordan--From the metropolitan center to the extremities of
the Judean province the cry of this great preacher of repentance and
herald of the approaching Messiah brought trooping penitents and eager
6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins--probably
confessing aloud. This baptism was at once a public seal of their felt
need of deliverance from sin, of their expectation of the coming
Deliverer, and of their readiness to welcome Him when He appeared. The
baptism itself startled, and was intended to startle, them. They were
familiar enough with the baptism of proselytes from heathenism; but
this baptism of Jews themselves was quite new and strange to them.
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his
baptism, he said unto them--astonished at such a spectacle.
O generation of vipers--"Viper brood," expressing the deadly influence
of both sects alike upon the community. Mutually and entirely
antagonistic as were their religious principles and spirit, the stern
prophet charges both alike with being the poisoners of the nation's
religious principles. In
Mt 12:34; 23:33,
this strong language of the Baptist is anew applied by the faithful and
true Witness to the Pharisees specifically--the only party that had
zeal enough actively to diffuse this poison.
who hath warned you--given you the hint, as the idea is.
to flee from the wrath to come?--"What can have brought you
hither?" John more than suspected it was not so much their own spiritual
anxieties as the popularity of his movement that had drawn them thither.
What an expression is this, "The wrath to come!" God's "wrath," in
Scripture, is His righteous displeasure against sin, and consequently
against all in whose skirts sin is found, arising out of the essential
and eternal opposition of His nature to all moral evil. This is called
"the coming wrath," not as being wholly future--for as a merited
sentence it lies on the sinner already, and its effects, both inward and
outward, are to some extent experienced even now--but because the
impenitent sinner will not, until "the judgment of the great day," be
concluded under it, will not have sentence publicly and irrevocably
passed upon him, will not have it discharged upon him and experience its
effects without mixture and without hope. In this view of it, it is a
wrath wholly to come, as is implied in the noticeably different form
of the expression employed by the apostle in
Not that even true penitents came to John's baptism with all these
views of "the wrath to come." But what he says is that this was the
real import of the step itself. In this view of it, how striking
is the word he employs to express that step--fleeing from it--as
of one who, beholding a tide of fiery wrath rolling rapidly towards
him, sees in instant flight his only escape!
8. Bring forth therefore fruits--the true reading clearly is "fruit";
meet for repentance--that is, such fruit as befits a true penitent.
John now being gifted with a knowledge of the human heart, like a true
minister of righteousness and lover of souls here directs them how to
evidence and carry out their repentance, supposing it genuine; and in
the following verses warns them of their danger in case it were not.
9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our
father--that pillow on which the nation so fatally reposed, that
rock on which at length it split.
for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up
children unto Abraham--that is, "Flatter not yourselves with the
fond delusion that God stands in need of you, to make good His promise
of a seed to Abraham; for I tell you that, though you were all to
perish, God is as able to raise up a seed to Abraham out of those stones
as He was to take Abraham himself out of the rock whence he was hewn,
out of the hole of the pit whence he was digged"
Though the stern speaker may have pointed as he spoke to the pebbles of
the bare clay hills that lay around (so STANLEY'S
Sinai and Palestine), it was clearly the calling of the
Gentiles--at that time stone-dead in their sins, and quite as
unconscious of it--into the room of unbelieving and disinherited Israel
that he meant thus to indicate (see
Ro 11:20, 30).
10. And now also--And even already.
the axe is laid unto--"lieth at."
the root of the trees--as it were ready to strike: an expressive
figure of impending judgment, only to be averted in the way next
therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down,
and cast into the fire--Language so personal and individual as this
can scarcely be understood of any national judgment like the approaching
destruction of Jerusalem, with the breaking up of the Jewish polity and
the extrusion of the chosen people from their peculiar privileges which
followed it; though this would serve as the dark shadow, cast before, of
a more terrible retribution to come. The "fire," which in another verse
is called "unquenchable," can be no other than that future "torment" of
the impenitent whose "smoke ascendeth up for ever and ever," and which
by the Judge Himself is styled "everlasting punishment"
What a strength, too, of just indignation is in that word "cast" or
"flung into the fire!"
The third Gospel here adds the following important particulars in
And the people--the multitudes.
asked him, saying, What shall we do then?--that is, to show the
sincerity of our repentance.
He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him
impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat--provisions,
let him do likewise--This is directed against the reigning avarice
and selfishness. (Compare the corresponding precepts of the Sermon on
Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him,
what shall we do?--In what special way is the genuineness of our
repentance to be manifested?
And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed
you--This is directed against that extortion which made the
publicans a byword. (See on
And the soldiers--rather, "And soldiers"--the word means "soldiers
on active duty."
of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do
violence to no man--Intimidate. The word signifies to "shake
thoroughly," and refers probably to the extorting of money or other
neither accuse any falsely--by acting as informers vexatiously on
frivolous or false pretexts.
and be content with your wages--or "rations." We may take this,
say WEBSTER and
WILKINSON, as a warning against mutiny, which the
officers attempted to suppress by largesses and donations. And thus the
"fruits" which would evidence their repentance were just resistance to
the reigning sins--particularly of the class to which the penitent
belonged--and the manifestation of an opposite spirit.
And as the people were in expectation--in a state of excitement,
looking for something new
and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the
Christ, or not--rather, "whether he himself might be the Christ."
The structure of this clause implies that they could hardly think it,
but yet could not help asking themselves whether it might not be;
showing both how successful he had been in awakening the expectation of
Messiah's immediate appearing, and the high estimation and even
reverence, which his own character commanded.
John answered--either to that deputation from Jerusalem, of which
we read in
&c., or on some other occasion, to remove impressions derogatory to his
blessed Master, which he knew to be taking hold of the popular mind.
saying unto them all--in solemn protestation.
(We now return to the first Gospel.)
11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance--(See on
but he that cometh after me is mightier than I--In Mark and Luke
this is more emphatic--"But there cometh the Mightier than I"
I am not worthy to bear--The sandals were tied and untied, and borne
about by the meanest servants.
he shall baptize you--the emphatic "He": "He it is," to the exclusion
of all others, "that shall baptize you."
with the Holy Ghost--"So far from entertaining such a thought as laying
claim to the honors of Messiahship, the meanest services I can render to
that 'Mightier than I that is coming after me' are too high an honor for
me; I am but the servant, but the Master is coming; I administer but the
outward symbol of purification; His it is, as His sole prerogative, to
dispense the inward reality." Beautiful spirit, distinguishing this
servant of Christ throughout!
and with fire--To take this as a distinct baptism from that of the
Spirit--a baptism of the impenitent with hell-fire--is exceedingly
unnatural. Yet this was the view of ORIGEN
among the Fathers; and among
moderns, of NEANDER,
LANGE. Nor is it much better
to refer it to the fire of the great day, by which the earth and the
works that are therein shall be burned up. Clearly, as we think, it is
but the fiery character of the Spirit's operations upon the
soul--searching, consuming, refining, sublimating--as nearly all good
interpreters understand the words. And thus, in two successive clauses,
the two most familiar emblems--water and fire--are employed to
set forth the same purifying operations of the Holy Ghost upon the soul.
12. Whose fan--winnowing fan.
is in his hand--ready for use. This is no other than the preaching
of the Gospel, even now beginning, the effect of which would be to
separate the solid from the spiritually worthless, as wheat, by the
winnowing fan, from the chaff. (Compare the similar representation in
and he will throughly purge his floor--threshing-floor; that is, the
and gather his wheat--His true-hearted saints; so called for their
solid worth (compare
into the garner--"the kingdom of their Father," as this "garner" or
"barn" is beautifully explained by our Lord in the parable of the wheat
and the tares
(Mt 13:30, 43).
but he will burn up the chaff--empty, worthless professors of religion,
void of all solid religious principle and character (see
with unquenchable fire--Singular is the strength of this apparent
contradiction of figures:--to be burnt up, but with a fire that is
unquenchable; the one expressing the utter destruction of all that
constitutes one's true life, the other the
continued consciousness of existence in that awful condition.
Luke adds the following important particulars
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the
people--showing that we have here but an abstract of his teaching.
Besides what we read in
Joh 1:29, 33, 34; 3:27-36,
the incidental allusion to his having taught his disciples to pray
--of which not a word is said elsewhere--shows how varied his teaching
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his
brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had
done--In this last clause we have an important fact, here only
mentioned, showing how thoroughgoing was the fidelity of the Baptist
to his royal hearer, and how strong must have been the workings of
conscience in that slave of passion when, notwithstanding such
plainness, he "did many things, and heard John gladly"
Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison--This
imprisonment of John, however, did not take place for some time after
this; and it is here recorded merely because the Evangelist did not
intend to recur to his history till he had occasion to relate the
message which he sent to Christ from his prison at Machærus
DESCENT OF THE
Lu 3:21, 22;
Baptism of Christ
13. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized
of him--Moses rashly anticipated the divine call to deliver his
people, and for this was fain to flee the house of bondage, and wait in
obscurity for forty years more
&c.). Not so this greater than Moses. All but thirty years had He now
spent in privacy at Nazareth, gradually ripening for His public work,
and calmly awaiting the time appointed of the Father. Now it had
arrived; and this movement from Galilee to Jordan is the step,
doubtless, of deepest interest to all heaven since that first one which
brought Him into the world. Luke
has this important addition--"Now when all the people were
baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus being baptized,"
&c.--implying that Jesus waited till all other applicants for baptism
that day had been disposed of, ere He stepped forward, that He might
not seem to be merely one of the crowd. Thus, as He rode into Jerusalem
upon an ass "whereon yet never man sat"
and lay in a sepulchre "wherein was never man yet laid"
so in His baptism, too. He would be "separate from sinners."
14. But John forbade him--rather, "was (in the act of) hindering
him," or "attempting to hinder him."
saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to
me?--(How John came to recognize Him, when he says he knew Him not,
John 1. 31-34.)
The emphasis of this most remarkable speech lies all in the pronouns:
"What! Shall the Master come for baptism to the servant--the sinless
Saviour to a sinner?" That thus much is in the Baptist's words will be
clearly seen if it be observed that he evidently regarded Jesus as
Himself needing no purification but rather qualified to
impart it to those who did. And do not all his other testimonies to
Christ fully bear out this sense of the words? But it were a pity if,
in the glory of this testimony to Christ, we should miss the beautiful
spirit in which it was borne--"Lord, must I baptize Thee?
Can I bring myself to do such a thing?"--reminding us of Peter's
exclamation at the supper table, "Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?" while
it has nothing of the false humility and presumption which dictated
Peter's next speech. "Thou shalt never wash my feet"
(Joh 13:6, 8).
15. And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now--"Let
it pass for the present"; that is, "Thou recoilest, and no wonder, for
the seeming incongruity is startling; but in the present case do as thou
for thus it becometh us--"us," not in the sense of "me and
thee," or "men in general," but as in
to fulfil all righteousness--If this be rendered, with SCRIVENER, "every ordinance," or, with CAMPBELL, "every institution," the meaning is obvious
enough; and the same sense is brought out by "all righteousness," or
compliance with everything enjoined, baptism included. Indeed, if this
be the meaning, our version perhaps best brings out the force of the
opening word "Thus." But we incline to think that our Lord meant more
than this. The import of circumcision and of baptism seems to be
radically the same. And if our remarks on the circumcision of our Lord
are well founded, He would seem to have said, "Thus do I impledge
Myself to the whole righteousness of the Law--thus symbolically do
enter on and engage to fulfil it all." Let the thoughtful reader weigh
Then he suffered him--with true humility, yielding to higher authority
than his own impressions of propriety.
Descent of the Spirit upon the Baptized Redeemer
(Mt 3:16, 17).
16. And Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the
water--rather, "from the water." Mark has "out of the water"
"while He was praying"; a grand piece of information. Can there be a
doubt about the burden of that prayer; a prayer sent up, probably,
while yet in the water--His blessed head suffused with the baptismal
element; a prayer continued likely as He stepped out of the stream, and
again stood upon the dry ground; the work before Him, the needed and
expected Spirit to rest upon Him for it, and the glory He would then
put upon the Father that sent Him--would not these fill His breast, and
find silent vent in such form as this?--"Lo, I come; I delight to do
Thy will, O God. Father, glorify Thy name. Show Me a token for good.
Let the Spirit of the Lord God come upon Me, and I will preach the
Gospel to the poor, and heal the broken-hearted, and send forth
judgment unto victory." While He was yet speaking--
lo, the heavens were opened--Mark says, sublimely, "He saw the heavens
and he saw the Spirit of God descending--that is, He only, with the
exception of His honored servant, as he tells us himself
the by-standers apparently seeing nothing.
like a dove, and lighting upon him--Luke says, "in a bodily shape"
that is, the blessed Spirit, assuming the corporeal form of a dove,
descended thus upon His sacred head. But why in this form? The
Scripture use of this emblem will be our best guide here. "My dove,
my undefiled is one," says the Song of Solomon
This is chaste purity. Again, "Be ye harmless as doves," says
This is the same thing, in the form of inoffensiveness towards men. "A
conscience void of offense toward God and toward men"
expresses both. Further, when we read in the Song of Solomon
"O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rocks, in the
secret places of the stairs (see
let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy
voice, and thy countenance is comely"--it is shrinking modesty,
meekness, gentleness, that is thus charmingly depicted. In a word--not
to allude to the historical emblem of the dove that flew back to the
ark, bearing in its mouth the olive leaf of peace
--when we read
"Ye shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her
feathers with yellow gold," it is beauteousness that is thus
held forth. And was not such that "holy, harmless, undefiled One," the
"separate from sinners?" "Thou art fairer than the children of men;
grace is poured into Thy lips; therefore God hath blessed Thee for
ever!" But the fourth Gospel gives us one more piece of information
here, on the authority of one who saw and testified of it: "John bare
record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove,
and IT ABODE UPON HIM." And
lest we should think that this was an accidental thing, he adds that
this last particular was expressly given him as part of the sign by
which he was to recognize and identify Him as the Son of God: "And I
knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said
unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending AND REMAINING ON HIM, the same is
He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record that
this is the Son of God"
And when with this we compare the predicted descent of the Spirit upon
"And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him," we cannot
doubt that it was this permanent and perfect resting of the Holy Ghost
upon the Son of God--now and henceforward in His official
capacity--that was here visibly manifested.
17. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is--Mark and Luke give
it in the direct form, "Thou art."
my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased--The verb is put in the
aorist to express absolute complacency, once and for ever felt towards
Him. The English here, at least to modern ears, is scarcely strong
enough. "I delight" comes the nearest, perhaps, to that ineffable
complacency which is manifestly intended; and this is the rather to
be preferred, as it would immediately carry the thoughts back to that
august Messianic prophecy to which the voice from heaven plainly alluded
"Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, IN
WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTETH." Nor are the words
which follow to be overlooked, "I have put My Spirit upon Him; He shall
bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." (The Septuagint perverts
this, as it does most of the Messianic predictions, interpolating the
word "Jacob," and applying it to the Jews). Was this voice heard by the
by-standers? From Matthew's form of it, one might suppose it so
designed; but it would appear that it was not, and probably John only
heard and saw anything peculiar about that great baptism. Accordingly,
the words, "Hear ye Him," are not added, as at the Transfiguration.