New Defender's Study Bible Notes
3:1 John the Baptist. John the Baptist, Jesus said, was the greatest man ever born up to His day (Matthew 11:11). Yet, for some strange reason, John is almost ignored by modern believers. In a very real sense, he was the first Christian, the first Christian witness, the first Christian preacher, the first Christian prophet, and, finally, the first Christian martyr. He was the first to baptize converts, and could even have started the first local church, since the disciples of Christ were already largely organized and ministering together under John before they were instructed to follow Christ (John 1:35-37; Acts 1:15-26; etc.).
3:2 kingdom of heaven. This is the first of thirty-two occurrences of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” all found only in Matthew. The same statement is found in Mark 1:15, except that “the kingdom of heaven” is there called “the kingdom of God.” The two phrases often are used synonymously (e.g., Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21), so there seems no adequate reason to try to distinguish between them. Often it is called “the kingdom of the Father” or simply “the kingdom.” It has a spiritual aspect, a present physical aspect, and a future eternal aspect, depending on context, but always refers to God’s reign over His created and redeemed world and its believing inhabitants.
3:3 the prophet Esaias. See Isaiah 40:3-5. Also note Malachi 3:1. The prophets Isaiah and Malachi both predicted the coming of John, just as they did that of Christ. The angel announced John’s imminent coming, as He did that of Jesus (Luke 1:13, 30-31).
3:6 baptized. The Greek word is baptizo, which means “dip” or “immerse,” although all English translations, old or new, seem to prefer to transliterate it rather than to translate its actual meaning. Even though its full symbolic meaning (death, burial and resurrection, as in Romans 6:5) could not yet be fully understood, since Christ had not yet died and risen, it should be considered genuine Christian baptism. The disciples of John, baptized by him in Jordan, were not re-baptized, either when John told them to follow Christ, or when they later received the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Instead they themselves baptized those who came to Christ, whether before or after Pentecost (John 3:22-30; 4:1-2; Acts 2:37-41). However, see notes on Acts 19:1-7 for an apparent (but not real) exception.
3:7 generation of vipers. This exceptionally harsh language was later used by Christ Himself (Matthew 12:34; 23:33). The sect of the Pharisees had become, in many cases, legalistic hypocrites, and the Sadducees were rationalists, denying the supernatural, especially the resurrection. Yet many of the priests were Sadducees. Presumably, both John and Christ would regard modern legalistic and rationalistic religionists with similar severity.
3:8 fruits meet for repentance. John’s baptism was conditioned on repentance—that is, a genuine change of mind and attitude toward God. It symbolized a washing away of fleshly sins, as well as a new life following death to the old life. Peter’s exhortation after Pentecost was very similar (Acts 2:38). In both cases, true repentance, as well as faith in God and His promises, are assumed as conditions for forgiveness of sins. Without these, the baptism was meaningless.
3:11 Holy Ghost. This is the first promise of the Holy Spirit and His baptism. Thus, John did preach this doctrine, although John’s professed disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5) somehow had not heard it.
3:15 fulfil all righteousness. Jesus had no need for repentance or forgiveness, but was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” That is, it was right for men to be baptized, and Jesus would leave us “an example, that ye should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21). Furthermore, although He “knew no sin,” He knew He would be made sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21), and thus would have to die, be buried and then rise again; His baptism would testify to this at the very beginning of his ministry.
3:16 out of the water. The wording here shows clearly that Jesus was immersed in the waters of the river, going up “out of the water,” not out of the river.
3:16 like a dove. The dove is only a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of course, but it was vital that the people should get some confirmation here at the start of Christ’s public ministry, that John’s promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit would surely be fulfilled. The voice from heaven would provide this assurance from God Himself.
3:17 a voice from heaven. With the Father’s voice from heaven testifying of the Son, and the Spirit testifying through the dove, all three Persons of the Trinity were present at Jesus’ baptism.
3:17 my beloved Son. Jesus here was proclaimed as the Son of God for the benefit of the world in which He had come to dwell for a time. He did not become the Son at His baptism, however, as some have assumed, for the Father had loved the Son “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). This heavenly testimony reflected that of Psalm 2:7: “The LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son.” Similarly, His anointing by the Spirit reflected the testimony of Isaiah 42:1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold;…I have put my spirit upon Him.” He had eternally been the beloved Son, but had now come to be also the suffering Servant.