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Matthew 03.13

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January 28, 2007 First Baptist Church, Comanche Series: Studies in Matthew

Text:  Matthew 3:13-18

“This Is Right”


13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, in order to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to hinder him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by you, and yet do you come to me?15But Jesus answered and said to him, “Let it be, for now. For it is fitting for us thus to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted hima16And when Jesus had been baptized, he came up immediatelyb out of the water. And look, the heavens were opened [to him],c and he saw [the] Spirit of Godd descending,e as a dove might, [and]f coming upon him. 17And behold, there was a voice from heaven saying,gThis ish my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.


13 The adverb τότε, “then,” favored by Matthew as a connective at the beginnings of new sections, has no time significance. παραγίνεται, lit. “arrives,” is the same word (in the historical present for vividness) used to introduce John in v 1. Now the main figure of the Gospel comes upon the stage. It is strange that Matthew omits Mark’s reference to Nazareth (Mark 1:9). He may do so because of his mention of it in 2:23; repetition of it here, however, could have strengthened his point. The purpose of Jesus in coming to John, του̂ βαπτισθη̂ναι ὑπʼ αὐτου̂, “to be baptized by him,” is so forcefully stated in this way only by Matthew. This in turn sets the scene for the following discussion between John and Jesus.

14 διεκώλυεν is a conative imperfect, “he tried to hinder,” reflecting John’s (unsuccessful) attempt to avoid baptizing Jesus (see BDF §326). The pronouns ἐγώ, “I,” and καὶ σύ, “and you,” are emphatic and underline John’s protest. The prepositional phrase ὑπὸ σου̂, “by you,” receives emphasis by being placed before the infinitive (contrast βαπτισθη̂ναι ὑπʼ αὐτου̂ in v 13). What causes John’s recognition of his need to be baptized by Jesus and his consequent reluctance to baptize Jesus? The text does not tell us what John concluded about Jesus. The implication, however, is that John recognized Jesus as the one whose way he was preparing. That is certainly the conclusion that Matthew’s church was meant to draw. Probably we are to understand some previous contact (Schlatter suggests a conversation prior to the baptism) between John and Jesus, in contrast to the Fourth Gospel (1:29–34), which seems to assert that John did not know the identity of Jesus until the baptism. This in turn would necessitate Jesus’ own consciousness of his messianic identity, which (despite objections, e.g., by Klostermann) is a natural assumption if the events immediately following the baptism (i.e., the divine voice, the temptations) were to have meaning for Jesus (see Beasley-Murray, Baptisim; Schlatter, 86). The suggestion that John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus is the result of his intuition of a high degree of righteousness in Jesus, rather than the recognition of Jesus’ messianic identity (so Tasker), has little to commend it. It is unlikely that John allowed for exceptions to his call for preparation. That John did recognize Jesus as the Messiah is evident from his question in 11:3, even if that question stems from disenchantment. The present verse fits perfectly with v 11, which stresses John’s comparative unworthiness. How should the one who prepares the way with a baptism of repentance baptize the one for whom preparation is made? Surely the reverse must be true, and John must submit to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. In these terms, the objection is perfectly understandable. The words are precisely what we would expect John to say (pace Schweizer). This passage was hardly constructed as a polemic against the disciples of John who persisted as such during and after the time Matthew wrote (cf. Acts 19:1–7). Its content is of course inconsistent with a continued commitment to John, especially after the crucifixion and resurrection; Matthew does not, however, like the Fourth Gospel, purposely belittle John, but holds him in the highest esteem (see 11:7–15).

15 Jesus’ answer is given with messianic authority: an imperative verb ἄφες, “permit (it),” and an adverb ἄρτι, meaning “at once” or “immediately,” but also in a weaker sense meaning “now.” If we accept the latter meaning, the strange turnabout is to be allowed for the time being, although it will later (when the Son has embarked upon his ministry) have become an impossibility. “It is fitting” (πρέπον ἐστίν) or “right and proper” for this baptism to take place. The rightness of course points to the accomplishment of God’s will, as is apparent from the important clause that follows. The words themselves bear the notion of divine necessity in Hellenistic idiom (cf. Grundmann). Matthew’s church may well have seen itself included in the ἡμι̂ν, “for us” (thus Strecker, Weg, 180–81, 216), it too having been baptized and called to “all righteousness.” Yet the ἡμι̂ν here focuses on John and Jesus, who in this event have a unique function to fulfill, defined in the words πληρω̂σαι πα̂σαν δικαιοσύνην, “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Righteousness is a key concept in Matthew (seven occurrences). It is preeminently the goal of discipleship (5:20; 6:1, 33), that is, the accomplishing of God’s will in its fullness. It is accordingly closely associated with the coming of the kingdom (cf.5:6, 10). Thus John’s appearance to make preparation is described by Jesus as his coming ἐν ὁδῳ̂ δικαιοσύνης, “in the way of righteousness” (21:32; cf.21:25). It is in the latter sense, as a part of the process of salvation-history, that we are probably to understand the present clause.

Matthew’s use of δικαιοσύνη has been the cause of much disagreement. In a full study of the subject (Righteousness in Matthew), B. Przybylski concludes that all seven occurrences involve God’s demand upon human beings, i.e., proper conduct before God. While, however, it does seem incontestable that in some instances (5:20; 6:1; perhaps 5:10; 6:33) ethical conduct is in view, this is not necessarily so in every case. No writer is obligated to use a word consistently; the meaning of a word must be determined from its immediate context and not be imposed upon a text in the name of lexical consistency. If δικαιοσύνη has a range of meanings, there is then no reason why Matthew may not have used the word in different senses (as we shall argue for its occurrence, not only here but in 5:6 and 21:32; see A. Sand, Gesetz, 197–205). In the present instance, several reasons may be offered for accepting a salvation-history understanding of δικαιοσύνη: (1) It is difficult to understand submission to John’s baptism as submitting to God’s demand. There is no divine commandment either in the OT or in the Gospels to submit to John’s baptism. Submission to that baptism then can hardly in itself be thought of as an act of righteousness. And even more difficult is the idea that it can be thought of as fulfilling all righteousness. The attempt of Eissfeldt (213–14) to draw a parallel with the temple tax and the tax paid to Caesar, both of which Jesus accepted responsibility for, though in fact he was not obligated, is not convincing. In the present instance the act is positively described as the fulfilling of all righteousness. (2) Since Matthew, as nearly all admit, has a salvation-historical perspective, there is no reason to exclude the possibility that he can understand δικαιοσύνη here not as moral goodness but as the will of God in the sense of God’s saving activity. That is, by the baptism and its main point—the accompanying anointing by the Spirit—John and Jesus together (“for us”) inaugurate the fulfillment of God’s saving purposes, “the saving activity of God” (see Meier, Law, 79; idem, Matthew, 27; cf. McConnell, Law, 19–22; France, 95; Hagner, “Righteousness in Matthew’s Theology”; see also the note of F. D. Coggan: “Only by His very literal standing-in with His people will they see the saving activity of God completely brought about”; see too the similar view of Ljungman, Gesetz, 104–21).

In this act of baptism, John will obediently bring his preparatory mission to its climax (cf. John 1:31) by accomplishing the transition to the Promised One. The reception of the baptism by Jesus in obedience to the will of his Father, on the other hand, proves to be the occasion of the formal beginning of his ministry. Thus, in his first words in the Gospel, Jesus refers to the fulfilling of God’s will in nothing less than the establishing of the salvation he has promised (hence πληρω̂σαι and πα̂σαν) through what now begins to take shape (cf. G. Barth, in G. Bornkamm, Tradition, 137–41).

But why does Jesus need to be baptized by John at all? Not because he was himself a sinner (Strauss, Life of Jesus; B. Weiss), nor simply to identify with John’s movement (Loisy; Manson, Servant-Messiah). Beasley-Murray (Baptism) correctly argues that Jesus thereby shows his solidarity with his people in their need. The Messiah is a representative person, the embodiment of Israel, whether as King or righteous Servant (cf. Isa 53:11; both concepts emerge in v 17). As such, he identifies with his people fully and, obediently acting out this role, receives the anointing of the Spirit in order to accomplish his mission. That mission and that identification with his people ultimately involve the death of the Servant on behalf of his people (cf. 1:21), but it is nevertheless unlikely that we are to see in this pericope—in the baptism of Jesus—a reference to the sacrificial death of Jesus, as Cullmann argues.

16 When Jesus had been baptized, εὐθὺς ἀνέβη ἀπὸ του̂ ὕδατος, “immediately he came up out of the water.” Matthew probably draws εὐθύς from Mark, where it modifies εἰ̂δεν, “immediately he saw,” functioning as a device to capture the reader’s attention. Since Matthew has his own word, ἰδού, to do this, εὐθύς is pushed earlier to become the modifier of ἀνέβη, “immediately he came up.” Most probably Matthew means that the events next to be described happened immediately after Jesus’ baptism, i.e., in connection with it. The suggestion that here Matthew means literally that Jesus did not stay in the water to confess his sins but came out immediately (Gundry) seems farfetched.

The metaphorical expression ἠνεῴχθησαν οἱ οὐρανοί, “the heavens were opened,” is not uncommon in the OT (Ezek 1:1; Isa 64:1) and refers (as here) to key episodes of revelation and provision (cf. Acts 7:56; 10:11; John 1:51). The verb is a “divine” passive, God being understood as the acting subject. Matthew and Luke have the same verb against Mark’s σχιζομένους, “dividing,” perhaps by the influence of Q or oral tradition (although Matthew and Luke do not agree closely in wording). Only Matthew explicitly writes that Jesus εἰ̂δεν [τὸ] πνευ̂μα [του̂] θεου̂, “saw the Spirit of God,” coming upon him; the other evangelists of course imply this. The Synoptics do not indicate whether the crowds witnessed the event, but the silence is probably to be interpreted as meaning they did not; in the Fourth Gospel, however, John the Baptist is explicitly made a witness (but not in Matthew, contra Grundmann). Matthew’s [τὸ] πνευ̂μα [του̂] θεου̂, “the Spirit of God” (Luke, τὸ πνευ̂μα τὸ ἅγιον, “the Holy Spirit”; Mark, simply τὸ πνευ̂μα, “the Spirit”), with and without the articles, is common in Paul’s epistles and occurs elsewhere in the Gospel (12:28; cf. 10:20). It is essentially interchangeable with τὸ πνευ̂μα του̂ κυρίου, “the Spirit of the Lord” (cf. Acts 5:9; 8:39; cf. BAGD, s.v. πνευ̂μα 5a), and is here very probably intended as an allusion to the anointing of the Servant by the Spirit in Isa 42:1, quoted in the words of v 17 and in the citation of 12:18. (cf. also the anointing of the Son of David by the Spirit of the Lord in Isa 11:2.) The age about to begin is preeminently the age of the Spirit according to the prophets (cf. Isa 61:1), and therefore the one who is to baptize with the Spirit must himself experience the formal anointing of the Spirit. To be sure, Jesus was ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου, “from the Holy Spirit,” from his conception (1:20). The present anointing, however, has to do with the formal inauguration of his ministry, marked by the baptism and its aftermath, which is itself based on the dual pattern of the king’s coronation and the servant’s commission.

The Spirit is described as καταβαι̂νον ὡσεὶ περιστεράν, “descending as a dove.” The participle καταβαι̂νον is accompanied by ἐρχόμενον in Matthew alone, “descending and coming upon him.” The reference to the dove is found in all four Gospels. Here (cf. John 1:32) ὡσεὶ περιστεράν appears to be adverbial: the Spirit descended as a dove might. In Luke 3:22, ὡς περιστεράν is adjectival, and this is emphasized by σωματικῳ̂ εἴδει: the Spirit descended “in bodily form” as a dove. Either way the common burden of the evangelists is to convey that a literal or real descent of the Spirit upon Jesus occurred. The symbolism contained in the reference to the dove is unclear. Most promising are the following two possibilities: (1) since the rabbis likened the Spirit’s brooding over the waters in Gen 1:2 to a bird nestling her young (and in one instance specifically to a dove: b. Ḥag. 15a), the dove here signals the beginning of a new creation (Davies-Allison); (2) parallel to the dove that returned to Noah’s ark (Gen 8:8–12), the dove signifies the end of judgment (cf. John’s message) and the beginning of an age of blessing in the presence of the Promised One. The former seems preferable. (For other possibilities in the symbolism, such as Israel, Divine Wisdom, etc., see Keck and the full discussion in Davies-Allison.) The dove as the symbol of the Holy Spirit occurs only in relatively late rabbinic literature (Tg Cant. 2:12). H. Greeven calls attention to the frequent association of the dove and deity in the ancient world (TDNT 6:68–69).

17 καὶ ἰδού, “and look,” parallels the same words in v 16. With the opening of the heavens comes not only the symbolic outpouring of the Spirit but also a divine revelation of the identity of the one who has thus received the Spirit. The significance of Jesus and the present event is conveyed by means of a vision shared with the readers; this interpretive schema has rabbinic parallels (see Lentzen-Deis, 200–202). The reference to φωνὴ ἐκ τω̂ν οὐρανω̂ν, “a voice from heaven,” means a divine voice. After the exile, when prophecy was regarded as dead in Israel, the rabbis developed the concept of baṯ qôl, “the daughter [or ‘echo’] of the voice,” as a way of accounting for continued revelation from God, but thereby designating it as indirect and not of binding authority. Ordinarily, in the NT period a voice from heaven would be regarded as a baṯ qôl. Here, however (contra Hill), Matthew means something that transcends rabbinic allowances and expectations: with the presence of the Messiah, the Spirit of God is again abundantly active, and God speaks from heaven with directness and authority. The message conveyed by the divine voice is οὑ̂τός ἐστιν υἱός μου ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾡ̂ εὐδόκησα, “this is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” While Mark and Luke have this sentence as a direct statement to Jesus—“You are my son”—Matthew has it in the third person (cf. also John 1:34), thereby objectifying it and making it more suitable as catechetical material for the church. With this alteration, however, Matthew also departs from the wording of the OT passage being cited, Ps 2:7 (υἱός μου εἰ̂ σύ, “you are my son,” LXX). The affirmation of Jesus as God’s Son partakes of messianic associations through the use of Ps 2. Jesus, now anointed with the Spirit (cf. Ps 2:2), is through this ceremony of inauguration (cf. the coronation of the king as the background of Ps 2) about to enter into his ministry whereby the nations shall become his heritage (cf. Ps 2:8). This affirmation has already been anticipated in 2:15 (cf. 1:23); hence we are not to think of adoption here. Jesus is now marked out formally as the Son of God in conjunction with the beginning of his work. The designation is presupposed in the temptation narrative that follows (cf.4:3, 6). The argument of Jeremias (NT Theology, 1:53–55), that υἱός, “son,” here was originally παι̂ς (which can mean “servant” as well as “son”) and that therefore the passage originally in view was not Ps 2 but Isa 42:1 (see next clause), is thus not persuasive.

That the title “Son of God” had clear messianic significance in Judaism prior to the NT period is evident from Qumran (4QFlor 10–14; 4QpsDanAa). ἀγαπητός probably modifies υἱός, “son,” in the sense not merely of “beloved” but of “only beloved” (cf. Gen 22:2 where Isaac is referred to as τὸν ἀγαπητόν; see BAGD 6b; cf. LXX). It can thus clearly be related to Ps 2:7. On the other hand, ἀγαπητός may bear the connotation of “elect” or “chosen” (cf. its occurrence in 12:18 as the translation of בָּחִיר, bāḥɩ̂r, and the substitution of ἐκλελεγμένος for ἀγαπητός in Luke 9:35). In that case it may refer to the following words and Isa 42:1. In fact, the term is suitable for both passages. ἐν ᾡ̂ εὐδόκησα, “in whom I am well pleased,” is an allusion to Isa 42:1, the servant passage that refers to the coming of the Spirit upon the servant enabling him to accomplish his mission. Not all mss of the LXX have εὐδοκει̂ν (Θ does), but evidence that Matthew related this verb to Isa 42 is found in his quotation of vv 1–4 in 12:18–21. It is obvious that Isa 42 is of basic importance to Matthew’s understanding of Jesus. There is evidence that Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1 were linked in Jewish messianic thought (see Lövestam). God is well pleased (cf. Tasker) in his “only beloved” Son, who in obedience takes upon himself the mission of the Servant who brings salvation to the nations (Isa 42:1, 4) and who ultimately in his death bears the iniquity of his people (Isa 53). The aorist tense is probably gnomic, reflecting a Hebrew stative perfect.

Thus in this passage we already encounter the paradoxical nature of the central figure of Matthew’s narrative: he is declared the unique Son, the powerful anointed one (in the analogy of triumphant king) and the humble Servant who obediently accomplishes the will of God, eventually through suffering and death (as the reader of Matthew is to learn in the climax of the narrative). This dual picture is found again later in the Gospel, through the verbatim repetition of the same words (17:5), this time most suitably in conjunction with the transfiguration narrative that immediately follows Jesus’ first announcement (to his disciples) of his imminent suffering and death.


Since Jesus is the one for whom John prepares the way, he cannot remain unrelated to the work of John. But it comes as a great surprise to John, as to the readers of the Gospel, that Jesus will submit himself to John’s baptism. The apparent inappropriateness is obvious: John, like all others, needs the baptism of fulfillment that the Messiah has come to bring, while Jesus himself, as the Holy One of God, needs no baptism of repentance. Nevertheless, when Jesus undergoes the rite, it becomes a matter of great significance both for him and for the Church. It serves as the occasion of the formal beginning of his ministry, wherein he receives the anointing of the Spirit together with the divine attestation of his unique Sonship (the early Church would not have missed the trinitarian associa tions). All of this is in keeping with the will of God, who will now bring salvation to the world. Thus John and Jesus perform their respective roles, fulfilling “all righteousness” as the salvific will of God now receives expression in the inauguration of the kingdom and the arrival of a new and crucial stage of salvation-history. The Agent of the kingdom, the Son of David and the Son of God, holds through his identity a position of strength and authority. Yet paradoxically he is at the same time described as the humble, obedient Servant of the Lord whom we meet in the Servant Songs of Isaiah (chaps. 42–53), the Servant who is instrumental in bringing the kingdom to fruition, not by the exertion of power but through the mystery of his suffering and eventual death. This indeed is the goal of the Gospel narrative, but already we are given a hint of its appropriateness. And here preeminently the meaning of Jesus’ baptism is discovered. In this identification with his people, Jesus shows himself to be one with them in all that they experience. It is as representative of Israel that he gives his life for Israel and so completes the task of the Servant. Matthew’s church may well have seen some parallels between the baptism of Jesus and the baptism they themselves experienced (cf. 28:19), but they would also have been conscious of the uniqueness of this complex of events in the life of Jesus, with all of its undertones for the fulfillment of salvation-history. With this insight into the secret of Jesus, the readers are being prepared to read the narrative of Jesus’ ministry with deeper understanding.[1]

RIGHTEOUSNESS (Heb. sadiq, saddiq, Gr. dikaiosyne). The Lord God always acts in righteousness (Ps 89:14; Jer 9:24). That is, he always has a right relationship with people, and his action is to maintain that relationship. As regards Israel, this involved acting both in judgment (chastisement) and in deliverance (Pss 68; 103:6; Lam 1:18). The latter activity is often therefore equated with salvation (see Isa 46:12-13; 51:5). In passages from the Prophets (e.g., Isa 1:2-9; Jer 2:4-13; Mic 6:1-8) the Lord is presented as the Judge, and Israel as the accused party, with the covenant supplying the terms of reference.    As God acts in righteousness (because he is righteous), so he called Israel to be righteous as his chosen people. They were placed in his covenant, in right relationship with him through faith (Gen 15:6; Hab 2:4), and were expected to live in right relationship with others. The king was called to be in a right relationship with God, his people, and the surrounding nations (Pss 72:1-4; 146:7-9). Righteousness begins as a forensic term but easily becomes an ethical term in the OT. Much the same is found in the NT.

Righteousness means a right relationship with both God and one's fellow human beings (Matt 5:6, 17-20; Luke 18:14). The gospel is effective because, along with the proclamation, a righteousness goes forth (Rom 1:16-17).[2]

b. The baptism of Jesus (3:13-17)

      Comparing the three synoptic accounts of Jesus' baptism (cf. Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22) reveals distinctive features (e.g., only Matthew has 3:14-15). But it is easy to exaggerate differences. As is often pointed out, Luke does not say John baptized Jesus; but in view of Luke 3:1-21, there is no doubt of this. As will be shown, some alleged distinctions among the evangelists are artificial; others highlight valuable theological emphases.

13 "Then" (tote) is vague in Matthew (see on 2:7); each use needs separate handling. Here tote implies that during the time John the Baptist was preaching to the crowds and baptizing them, "then" Jesus came—i.e., it is equivalent to Luke's "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too" (3:21). If so, to say that in Luke baptism is a public testimony to Jesus but a private one in Matthew is artificial. This conclusion is especially important to Kingsbury (Structure, pp. 13-15) because he wants to avoid any public recognition of Jesus till 4:17. Jeremias (NT Theology, p. 51) thinks Luke is closer to historical reality and supposes that Jesus immersed himself along with others in John's presence. Both refinements are too finespun. Any interpretation demanding either privacy or crowds at Jesus' baptism as Matthew or Luke report it reads too much into the texts and probably misses the evangelists' chief points. Jesus came from Galilee (Mark specifies Nazareth) to be baptized by John (though Matthew makes this aim explicit, in Mark and Luke it is implicit), and as a result the Father testified to his Son. This much is common to all three accounts, and it matters little whether only John heard this heavenly witness or whether the crowds heard it as well.

14 Matthew 3:14-15 is peculiar to this Gospel. John tried to deter Jesus (imperfect of attempted action) from his baptism, insisting (the pronouns are emphatic) that he stood in need of baptism by Jesus. Earlier John had difficulty baptizing the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were not worthy of his baptism. Now he has trouble baptizing Jesus because his baptism is not worthy of Jesus.

      There are two possible ways of understanding John's reluctance:

      1. John recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and wants to receive Jesus' Spirit-and-fire baptism. Despite the rising popularity of this view, it entails serious difficulties. The Spirit theme is not important in Matthew; righteousness is, and it is central to Jesus' response (v. 15). Matthew does not present Jesus as bestowing his Spirit-and-fire baptism on anyone: the Cross and Resurrection are focal for him; and, writing after Pentecost (Acts 2), Matthew doubtless believes Jesus' baptism was bestowed on his people later than the time he is writing about. In view of the Baptist's statements about his relation to the Messiah (Mt 3:11), if he had recognized Jesus as the Messiah it is doubtful whether Jesus' rebuttal would have convinced him (v. 15). Moreover this view brings Matthew into needless conflict with the fourth Gospel (John 1:31-34), which says the Baptist did not "know" Jesus—i.e., recognize him as the Messiah—till after his baptism.

      2. But John's baptism did not have purely eschatological significance. It also signified repentance and confession of sin. Whether John knew Jesus well, we do not know. It is, however, inconceivable that his parents had not told him of Mary's visit to Elizabeth some three decades earlier (Luke 1:39-45). At the very least John must have recognized that Jesus, to whom he was related, whose birth was more marvelous than his own, and whose knowledge of Scripture was prodigious even as a child (Luke 2:41-52), outstripped him. John the Baptist was a humble man; conscious of his own sin, he could detect no sin Jesus needed to repent of and confess. So John thought that Jesus should baptize him. Matthew does not tell us when John also perceived that Jesus was the Messiah (though that may be implied by Mt 3:16-17); Matthew focuses on Jesus' sinlessness and the Father's testimony not on John's testimony (unlike the fourth Gospel, where the Baptist's witness to Jesus is very important).

15 John's consent was won because Jesus told him, "It is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness." Here interpretations are legion. They may be summed up as follows:

      1. By undergoing baptism Jesus anticipates his own baptism of death, by which he secures "righteousness" for all. This reads in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:11 ("by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many"). This view, espoused by many, is well defended by O. Cullmann Baptism in the New Testament [London: SCM, 1950], pp. 15ff.). It presupposes that the significance of Christian baptism should be read back into John's baptism and takes no account of its salvation-historical location. Worse, Cullmann reads Paul's use of "righteousness" back into Matthew, who in fact never uses the term that way but always as meaning "conformity to God's will" or the like (cf. Bonnard's discussion and notes, and esp. Przybylski pp. 91-94). Moreover the "us" is not a royal "us"; both Jesus and John must "fulfill all righteousness," which renders doubtful any theory that ties the righteousness too closely to Jesus' death. G. Barth (Bornkamm, Tradition, pp. 140ff.) rejects Cullmann's view but falls into the same weaknesses, holding that Jesus fulfills all righteousness by humbly entering the ranks of sinners and acting for them. The same objections apply.

      2. Others suggest that Jesus must obey ("fulfill") every divine command ("all righteousness"), and baptism is one such command. Put so crassly this view forgets that the baptism relates to repentance and confession of sins, not to righteousness itself. A slight modification of it says that by being baptized Jesus is acknowledging as valid the righteous life preached by John and demanded of those who accept John's baptism, for Jesus acknowledges (21:32) that John came to show the way of righteousness. But this view forces "fulfill" to become "acknowledge" and neglects the fact that John's baptism relates, not to the standards of righteousness John preached, but to repentance.

      3. The strengths of the alternative views may be integrated in a better synthesis. John's baptism, it will be remembered, had two foci: repentance and its eschatological significance. Jesus affirms, in effect, that it is God's will ("all righteousness") that John baptize him; and both John and Jesus "fulfill" that will, that righteousness, by going through with it ("it is proper for us"). The aftermath, as Matthew immediately notes (vv. 16-17), shows that this baptism really did point to Jesus. Within this framework we may recognize other themes. In particular Jesus is indeed seen as the Suffering Servant (Isa 42:1; cf. on 3:17). But the Servant's first mark is obeying God: he "fulfills all righteousness" since he suffers and dies to accomplish redemption in obedience to the will of God. By his baptism Jesus affirms his determination to do his assigned work. Thus the "now" may be significant: Jesus is saying that John's objection (Mt 3:14) is in principle valid. Yet he must "now," at this point in salvation history, baptize Jesus; for at this point Jesus must demonstrate his willingness to take on his servant role, entailing his identification with the people. Contrary to Gundry, "now" does not serve to tell Christian converts they must not delay "this first step on the way of righteousness."

      This interpretation assumes that Jesus knew of his Suffering-Servant role from the beginning of his ministry; cf. further at v. 17. This role was hinted at in 2:23, here it makes its first veiled appearance in Jesus' actions. The immediately following temptation narrative confirms it (4:1-11). There Jesus rejects the devil's temptation to pursue messianic glory and power, choosing instead the servant role of obeying every word that comes from the mouth of God.

16 "As soon as" not only suggests that Jesus left the water immediately after his baptism but that the Spirit's witness was equally prompt. Jesus' baptism and its attestation are of a piece and must be interpreted together. "He saw" most naturally refers to Jesus (cf. Mark 1:10), not John, not so much because Matthew excludes John as because he is not the focus of interest. The presence of John (and possibly others) is probably implied by the third-person address "This is my Son" (Mt 3:17), displacing Mark's "You are my Son" (Mk 1:11).

"Heaven … opened" calls to mind OT visions (e.g., Isa 64:1; Ezek 1:1; cf. Acts 7:56; Rev 4:1; 19:11). "The Spirit of God descending like a dove" simile could mean either that the manner of the Spirit's descent was like a dove's or that the Spirit appeared in a dove's form. Whether or not the latter is visionary, Luke 3:22 specifies it. Because no clear pre-Christian reference links dove and Holy Spirit, some have advanced complex theories: e.g., Mark collected two stories, one mentioning the Holy Spirit's descent and the other the dove's descent, and fused them together (S. Gero, "The Spirit as a Dove at the Baptism of Jesus," NovTest 18 [1976]: 17-35). But to exclude any new metaphor from the Christian revelation is surely rash. The Spirit's descent cannot be adequately considered apart from Mt 3:17; and so resolution of its meaning awaits comment on v. 17.

17 Some see in the "voice from heaven" the batkol (lit., "daughter of a voice"), the category used by rabbinic and other writers to refer to divine communication echoing the Spirit of God after the Spirit and the prophets through whom he spoke had been withdrawn. The point, however, is stronger than that. This voice is God's ("from heaven") and testifies that God himself has broken silence and is again revealing himself to men—a clear sign of the dawning of the Messianic Age (cf. 17:5 and John 12:28). What Heaven says in Mark and Luke is "You are my Son"; here it is "This is my Son." The change not only shows Matthew's concern only for the ipsissima vox (not generally the ipsissima verba; cf. Notes) but also assumes some one besides Jesus heard heaven's witness. There may have been a crowd; if so, that does not interest Matthew. But John needed to hear the Voice confirm his decision (v. 15).

Despite arguments to the contrary (e.g., Hooker, Jesus and the Servant, pp. 70ff.), the utterance reflects Isaiah 42:1: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit upon him"; and this has been modified by Psalm 2:7: "You are my Son" (cf. Gundry, Use of OT, pp. 29-32; and esp. Moo, "Use of OT", pp. 112ff.). The results are extraordinarily important.

      1. These words from heaven link Jesus with the Suffering Servant at the very beginning of his ministry and confirm our interpretation of v. 15.

      2. God here refers to Jesus as "my Son"; implicitly the title "Son of God" is introduced and picked up immediately in the next chapter (4:3, 6). Psalm 2 is Davidic: though it was not regarded in the first century as messianic, the link with David recalls other "son" passages where David or his heir is seen as God's son (e.g., 2Sam 7:13-14; Ps 89:26-29).

      3. Jesus has already been set forth as the true Israel to which actual Israel was pointing and as such God's Son (see on 2:15); now the heavenly witness confirms the link.

      4. At the same time the virginal conception suggests a more than titular or functional sonship: in this context there is the hint of an ontological sonship, made most explicit in the Gospel of John.

      5. Jesus is the "beloved" (agapetos) Son: the term may mean not only affection but also election, reinforced by the aorist tense that follows (lit., "with him I was well pleased"), suggesting a pretemporal election of the Messiah (cf. John 1:34 [Gr. mg.]).

      6. These things are linked in the one utterance: at the very beginning of Jesus' public ministry, his Father presented him, in a veiled way, as at once Davidic Messiah, very Son of God, representative of the people, and Suffering Servant. Matthew has already introduced all these themes and will develop them further. Indeed he definitely cites Isaiah 42:1-4 in 12:18-21, which ends with the assertion (already made clear) that the nations will trust in this Servant.

      "Son of God" has particularly rich associations. Therefore it is hard to nail down its precise force at every occurrence. As it is wrong to see ontological sonship in every use, so is it wrong to exclude it prematurely. (For more adequate discussion, see, in addition to the standard dictionaries, Blair, pp. 60ff.; Cullman, Christology, pp. 270-305; Kingsbury, Structure, pp. 40-83 [though he exaggerates the importance of the theme in Matthew: cf. Hill, "Son and Servant," pp. 2-16]; Ladd, NT Theology, pp. 159-72; and Moule, Christology, pp. 22ff.)

      The Spirit's descent in v. 16 needs to be understood in the light of v. 17. The Spirit is poured out on the servant in Isaiah 42:14, to which Mt 3:17 alludes. This outpouring does not change Jesus' status (he was the Son before this) or assign him new rights. Rather it identifies him as the Promised Servant and Son and marks the beginning of his public ministry and direct confrontation with Satan (4:1), the dawning of the Messianic Age (12:28). [3]

The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)

‘Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? 15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him. 16And 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: 17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’—Matthew 3:13-17.

When Jesus set out from Galilee to seek baptism from John, He took the first step on His path of public work; and it is noteworthy that He took it, apparently, from self-originated impulse, and not, as in the case of the prophets of old, from obedience to a ‘prophetic call.’ ‘The Word of the Lord came to’ them; His Messianic consciousness needed no external stimulus to kindle it into flame. What did He mean by seeking baptism? John recognized the incongruity of His submitting to a rite which professed repentance and promised cleansing. It does not follow that John recognized His Messianic character, but only that he knew His blameless life. The remonstrance witnesses at once to John’s humble consciousness of sin and to Jesus’ acknowledged purity. Christ’s answer has a sound of authority, even in its gentle lowliness, and it confirms the belief in His sinlessness by the absence of any reference to repentance, and by regarding His baptism, not as a token of repented transgression to be washed away, but as an act which completed the perfect circle of righteousness, which His life had hitherto drawn. He submitted to the appointed rite, because He would be one with His brethren in all obedience. So, then, the principle underlying His baptism is the principle underlying His incarnation, His life of obedience and identification of Himself with us, and His death. ‘He also Himself likewise took part of’ whatsoever His brethren were partakers of, and therefore He was ‘numbered with the transgressors’ in that, needing no repentance, He submitted to the baptism of repentance, and cleansed the cleansing water by being plunged in it.

What was the significance of the descent of the Spirit on Him? Matthew’s account implies that the appearance of the descending dove was to Jesus. John 1:32 states that it was also visible to John. The accompanying voice is as if principally directed to John, according to Matthew, while Mark and Luke represent it as addressed to Jesus. Both appearance and voice were the tokens of the Father’s approval, and acceptance of the Son’s consecration of Himself to the Messianic work. The dove descending on Him was the token that henceforward His manhood should be anointed with the unbroken influences of the divine Spirit, and possess the unbroken consciousness of the Father’s good pleasure, lying like sunshine on the stormy sea on which He had launched. How different the conception of the Spirit as a dove, which was Jesus’ experience of it, from the Baptist’s, which was that of fire! Jesus is in this incident, as in all, our pattern and example, teaching us that we too must yield ourselves to do the Father’s will, and must identify ourselves with sinners, if we are to help them and to have the Father’s approval sounding in our hearts, and the dove of God nestling there, and teaching us, too, that gentleness is the divinest and strongest power to win men from evil and for God.[4]

John Baptizes Jesus—Matthew 3:13-1717

The beautiful story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the waters of the Jordan River reveals a God of love, who came to earth as a human being, identifying with humanity. If Jesus was going to offer salvation to sinners, he needed to identify with sinners. He did this by submitting to John’s baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins. Then God miraculously showed his love for the Son. The opened heavens, the dove, and the voice revealed to everyone (and to us as readers of this wonderful story) that Jesus was God’s Son, come to earth as the promised Messiah to fulfill prophecy and to bring salvation to those who believe. Have you believed in Jesus? Have you made him Lord of your life?

Matthew 3:13

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. (nkjv) John had been explaining that Jesus’ baptism would be much greater than his (3:11) when suddenly Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized! Galilee was the name of the northern region of Palestine; the other two regions were Samaria (central) and Judea (southern). At this time, Jesus was probably about thirty years old (Luke 3:23). He traveled the long distance on foot (see map “Jesus Begins His Ministry”), along the dusty roads of Galilee and Samaria and into Judea, to meet John the Baptist and be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:14-15

But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (niv) When Jesus arrived, John balked at his desire to be baptized. John did not think that Jesus needed to be baptized for repentance. John tried to deter Jesus, explaining that he wanted to be baptized by Jesus. There are two main views regarding what John meant. (1) Some scholars suggest that John wanted the Holy-Spirit-and-fire baptism that Jesus would bring (3:11). (2) Others say that John simply knew of Jesus’ superiority, so John wanted Jesus to baptize him.

Jesus explained that he had come to be baptized because it would be the proper way for them to fulfill all righteousness. What did this mean? It could not mean to fulfill the law, because no law required baptism. While “fulfill” generally refers to prophecy, there are no clear connections to baptism in prophecy. Most likely it refers to fulfilling a relationship with God by obeying him in every aspect of life. When Jesus said this, John consented and baptized him.

Why did Jesus ask to be baptized? Jesus saw his baptism as advancing God’s work. While even the greatest prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) had to confess their sinfulness and need for repentance, Jesus didn’t need to admit sin—he was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Although Jesus did not need forgiveness, he was baptized for the following reasons: (1) to confess sin on behalf of the nation, as Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah had done (see Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 1:6; 9:1ff.; Isaiah 6:5); (2) to accomplish God’s mission and advance God’s work in the world; (3) to inaugurate his public ministry to bring the message of salvation to all people; (4) to show support for John’s ministry; (5) to identify with the penitent people of God, thus with humanness and sin; and (6) to give us an example to follow. **

John’s baptism for repentance was different from Christian baptism in the church. When the apostle Paul taught some of John’s followers about Jesus, they were baptized again (see Acts 19:2-5). Jesus, the perfect man, didn’t need baptism for sin, but he accepted baptism in obedient service to the Father, and God showed his approval. Jesus wanted to show that his mission was to take on the sin of humanity, and thus to absolve it. Jesus took the baptism seriously, not merely as an object lesson for observers. He acknowledged God’s holiness, humanity’s sin, and said, “I will take it, and I will clear it.” That is the essence of the Good News.

See map, Jesus Begins His Ministry

Jesus launched his ministry from his childhood home, Nazareth. He was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and tempted by Satan in the wilderness; then he returned to Galilee. Between the temptation and his move to Capernaum (4:12-13), Jesus ministered in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee (see John 1–4).

Let Go of Ego

Put yourself in John’s shoes. Your work is going well; people are taking notice; everything is growing. But you know that the purpose of your work is to prepare the people for Jesus (John 1:35-37). Then Jesus arrives, and his coming tests your integrity. Will you be able to turn your followers over to him? John passed the test by publicly baptizing Jesus. Soon he would say, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 niv). Can you, like John, put your ego and profitable work aside in order to point others to Jesus? Are you willing to lose some of your status so that everyone will benefit?

Matthew 3:16

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. (nrsv) Apparently the action of the Spirit of God descending from heaven like a dove was a sign that Jesus was the Messiah and that the age of the Spirit predicted by the prophets was formally beginning (Isaiah 61:1). John knew that the Messiah would come, but it is uncertain when he knew that his cousin Jesus was the one. By recording this miraculous opening of the heavens, Matthew left no doubt for his readers as to Jesus’ true identity.

The Bible does not tell us that anyone but Jesus saw the heavens … opened. It says they were opened to him. According to the Gospel of John (1:29-34), this event, and the Spirit of God descending like a dove, revealed the Messiah to John. The opening of the heavens presented God’s intervention into humanity in the human presence of God in Jesus Christ. It was as if the heavens rolled back to reveal the invisible throne of God (Isaiah 63:19–64:2).

The second sign, “the Spirit of God descending like a dove,” was probably visible to all the people, for Luke recounts that “4” (Luke 3:22 nrsv). The descent of the Spirit, and the form of the dove itself, represented to Israel God’s mighty workings in the world. At creation, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2 niv). After the great Flood, the dove carried the news to Noah of the receding waters (Genesis 8:8-12). The descending of the Spirit signified God’s workings in the world; therefore the arrival of the Messiah would have been marked by the descending of the Spirit, in this case, in the form of a dove. Later, Jesus would read from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2), “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’” (Luke 4:18-19 niv).

The church uses the dove as a symbol for the Holy Spirit; however, the bird itself was not important. The descent of the Spirit “like” (or “in the form of”) a dove emphasized the way the Holy Spirit related to Jesus. The descending Spirit portrayed a gentle, peaceful, but active presence coming to anoint Jesus. It was not that Jesus needed to be filled with the Spirit (as if there was any lack in him) because he was “from the Holy Spirit” (1:20) since his conception. Rather, this was his royal anointing (see Isaiah 11:2; 42:1).

John the Baptist, and we who study this important event, can learn not only who the Messiah was, but also what kind of Messiah he would be (how his power would be demonstrated and used). His nature was revealed not by a thunderclap or lightning bolt, nor by an eagle or a hawk, but with a gentle dove. Jesus the Messiah would have a different way [method] and a different message than even John expected.

Matthew 3:17

And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (nkjv) The Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus, and a voice came from heaven proclaiming the Father’s approval of Jesus as his divine Son. This voice came from the heavenly realm that had been briefly opened in 3:16. The voice said, This is My beloved Son. In Greek, the literal translation of this is “As for you, you are my Son, the beloved one.” While all believers would eventually be called “sons of God” (or “children of God”), Jesus Christ has a different, unique relationship with God; he is the one unique Son of God. “This is” means that these words were spoken publicly—to Jesus, John, and the crowd.

The phrase “in whom I am well pleased” means that the Father takes great delight, pleasure, and satisfaction in the Son. The verb in Greek conveys that God’s pleasure in the Son is constant. He has always taken pleasure in his Son [John 8:29]. **

The words spoken by the voice from heaven echoed two Old Testament passages.

·        First, Psalm 2:7, “He said to me, ‘You are my Son’” (niv). Psalm 2 is a messianic psalm that describes the coronation of Christ, the eternal King. The rule of Christ described in the psalm would begin after his crucifixion and resurrection and will be fulfilled when he comes to set up his kingdom on earth.

·        Second, Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight” (niv). Isaiah 42:1-17 describes the Servant-Messiah who would suffer and die as he served God and fulfilled his mission of atoning for sin on behalf of humanity.

Thus, in the two phrases spoken, the voice from the throne of heaven described Jesus’ status both as the Servant who would suffer and die and as the King who would reign forever. In the intertestamental period, the Jews believed that God no longer spoke directly (as through the prophets), but indirectly by teachers and rabbis. The voice of God, heard by everyone, was a direct sign of the arrival of the messianic age. **

In 3:16-17, all three persons of the Trinity are present and active. The doctrine of the Trinity, which was developed much later in church history, teaches that God is three persons and yet one in essence. God the Father speaks; God the Son is baptized; God the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. God is one, yet in three persons at the same time. This is one of God’s incomprehensible mysteries. Other Bible references that speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Matthew 28:19; John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; and 1 Peter 1:2.[5]

B.  Jesus' Baptism: What Baptism is All About, 3:13-17See: DS1

(Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:28-34)

1  The startling request of Jesus: To be baptized (v.13)

2  The humbling reaction of John: Humility and need (v.14)

3  The godly purpose of Jesus: To fulfill all righteousness (v.15)

4  The unusual signs of Jesus' baptism (v.16-17)

  a.  The heavens were opened (v.16a)

  b.  The Spirit descended (v.16b)See: DS2

  c.  The voice of God was heard (v.17)

1. (3:13) Jesus Christ, Baptism: the startling request of Jesus—to be baptized.

1.  Note the words "to be baptized of Him [John]." Jesus came specifically to John to be baptized. Jesus was compelled to be baptized, but not just to be baptized. He was compelled to be baptized by John. He was to identify Himself with John's ministry. He was the Messiah, the Lamb of God, being proclaimed by John.

2.  Note why Jesus would seek to be baptized. The very fact that the Son of God would be baptized is startling. He was the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Founder of the movement of Christianity. He was the One who was making baptism possible and effectual (working) for man. John's baptism was a call for men to take a stand and to become identified with a life of repentance and righteousness. Jesus needed no repentance; He was already perfectly righteous. He was the Purchaser of righteousness, the Ideal Man (see Deeper Study #3—Matthew 8:20). His righteousness was the pattern, the very righteousness that could stand for and cover every man. Why then would Jesus be baptized? Very simply, in His own words, "to fulfill all righteousness" (see note, pt.5—Matthew 3:15).

2. (3:14) Humility: the humbling reaction of John—humility and need. John argued against Jesus coming to him for baptism. Why? John simply said, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" He was saying at least two things.

1.  He was not worthy to baptize Christ. Christ's coming to him was too great an honor for him. He did not deserve the privilege of baptizing the Messiah, the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

John's humility was most unusual, for John was the great one in the eyes of the people at this time. Multitudes of people were flocking to him (Luke 3:7): the general public (Luke 3:10), tax collectors (Luke 3:12), soldiers (Luke 3:14), and religionists (Matthew 3:7f). He had reached the summit in the public's eye. He was honored above all by vast numbers of people despite being opposed by religionists and traditionalists (Luke 7:28). Yet when Christ approached him, he lowered himself and acknowledged that he was nothing in comparison.

2.  He personally needed the baptism of Christ. He needed what Christ had. Christ was to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, and John was confessing his need to receive the Holy Spirit and fire from Christ (see Deeper Study #2—Matthew 3:11).

Thought 1. No one is worthy of God's call; no one is worthy to minister to Christ. The fact that God allows any kind of relationship with Himself is beyond comprehension. Yet He has. He calls man to be with Him and to serve Him. This fact is too much for the human heart to contain.

"The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed" (Matthew 8:8).

"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?" (Matthew 25:37).

"When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).

"For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building" (1 Cor. 3:9).

"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead" (2 Cor. 5:14).

"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephes. 3:8).

Thought 2. Everyone needs what John had and what Jesus had. (See note—Matthew 3:14.)

1)  John had humility.

2)  Jesus had the Holy Spirit and fire (see Deeper Study #2—Matthew 3:11).

"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4).

"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).

"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Phil. 2:3-4).

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:10).

Thought 3. It is no disgrace to confess one's need for Christ and for what He offers. John so confessed. How can a person be disgraced by confessing what everyone else already knows?

1)  Man dies and desperately needs God to give him life—eternal life.

2)  Man misbehaves and desperately needs the fulness of the Holy Spirit, that is, love, joy, peace.... (Galatians 5:22-23).

Thought 4. The great (famous, powerful, wealthy) as well as the lowly need what Christ gives: the Holy Spirit and fire.

Thought 5. The believer always needs more and more of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. John had been "filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Now with Christ confronting him face to face, he confessed his need for more of the Spirit of God and of the Lord's fire (see Deeper Study #2—Matthew 3:11).

"Be filled with the Spirit" (Ephes. 5:18).

Thought 6. The closer a person lives with Jesus Christ the clearer he sees his need for more humility and more of God's Spirit. John was already close to God; in fact, he had been "sent from God" (John 1:6). But he saw his need for what Christ had to give. (See Deeper Study #2—Matthew 3:11.)

3. (3:15) Baptism: the godly purpose of Jesus—to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus was baptized primarily "to fulfill all righteousness." He was symbolically predicting what He was going to do for sinful man.

1.  He was going to fulfill every law of God for man. Baptism was one of those laws. Therefore, he had to be baptized. (Cp. Exodus 29:4-7.)

2.  He was going to pay man's penalty for having broken the law—the penalty of death. His immersion was a symbol of His coming immersion into death.

3.  He was demonstrating to the fullest extent His humiliation in becoming a man. He had emptied Himself and "made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7).

4.  He was identifying with those He came to save, and He was insisting that all who follow Him become so identified.

5.  He was pioneering the movement of repentance and righteousness which John was proclaiming. In founding the movement, that is, the life of righteousness, Jesus had to set the Ideal and the Pattern for every man. Every man was to be baptized, so the Son of God pioneered and established the ordinance of baptism.

6.  He was initiating His ministry. John shows this (John 1:31-34). The High Priest had always entered his ministry in such a special ceremony (cp. Exodus 29:4-7).

Thought 1. There are several lessons to learn from Christ's request to be baptized (see note—Matthew 3:13).

1)  Righteousness. Every man must determine to "fulfill all righteousness" just as Christ did. Every commandment of God must be fulfilled in the believer's life (see Deeper Study #5, Righteousness—Matthew 5:6 for discussion).

"And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another" (1 John 3:23).

2)  Sacrifice. Every man should be so willing to give of himself that he would die in order to live for God (see note— Luke 9:23).

"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).

"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:16).

3)  Humility. Every man should demonstrate to the fullest extent his willingness to serve others. He should become one with others and set the example of such before all.

"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

4)  Identifying with others. Every man should become one with all others, excluding no one from his life or service.

"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1).

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body" (Hebrews 13:3).

5)  Pioneering the life of repentance and righteousness. Every man should repent and live the life of righteousness, and every man should pioneer and proclaim such a life to all other men.

"Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee" (Acts 8:22).

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).

"Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (1 Cor. 15:34).

"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11).

"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

6)  Ministry. Every man should minister to others; he should let his willingness to minister be known.

"Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:36-37).

"If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14).

"As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).

Thought 2. Christ calls and insists that a person accept His call, and Christ does not back down. Note four facts.

1)  A person may feel unworthy and lacking in ability, but Christ has both the power and gifts to enable the person to accept His call.

2)  A sense of unworthiness and inability is understood by God, but refusal is not.

3)  Christ accepts only one answer to His call: "Yes, Lord—here am I" (1 Samuel 3:4-6, 8; Isaiah 6:8).

4)  Humility does two contradictory things: it confesses unworthiness and inability, yet it yields and accepts the task or gift.

4. (3:16-17) Jesus Christ, Baptism: the unusual signs of Jesus' baptism. Three signs in particular are mentioned by Matthew.

1.  The heavens were opened. This may be a scene of the clouds being rolled back and the dove descending from the heavens (clouds and sky). Or it may be some special vision given to Jesus and John, revealing that God was opening up heaven for the full approval and manifestation of God's power upon His Son. (Cp. Ephes. 1:1; Acts 7:56.)

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Ephes. 1:3).

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephes. 2:4-6).

2.  The Spirit descended like a dove. The dove was given to John as a special sign that Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:33-34. See note— John 1:32-33; see Deeper Study #2—Matthew 3:16.)

Thought 1. Signs in Jesus' ministry were given to stir belief (John 5:36; John 10:38). Most believers can point to very special signs and circumstances that were given by God to stir their faith and give direction to their lives. (See Deeper Study #1—John 2:23.)

Thought 2. There are very special signs that prove a person has received the Holy Spirit.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

3.  The voice of God was heard. Three significant things are said here.

Þ  My Son: this points to the deity of Christ (Matthew 14:33; Matthew 27:43; Matthew 27:54; Mark 1:1; John 1:34; John 3:18; John 10:36; John 11:4; John 20:31; Acts 8:37; Romans 1:4; Hebrews 4:14; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 4:15; 1 John 5:5, 10, 13, 20).

Þ  Beloved Son: this points to the love within the Godhead (Trinity) (John 3:35; John 10:17; Col. 1:13; cp. Isaiah 42:1).

Þ  Well pleased: this points to the perfect life Jesus lived. He was "yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; cp. 2 Cor. 5:21).

Thought 1. The one thing that a believer should want to hear is what Jesus heard: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

1)  Believers are adopted as children of God (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-6).

2)  Believers can have their lives and service approved by God.

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).

"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

Thought 2. God saw the life and behavior of Christ, and He judged Christ as well pleasing. God sees every man, and shall judge the life and works of every man. Nothing is hid from His eyes.

"For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known" (Luke 12:2).

"Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5).

"For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD" (Jeremiah 2:22).

"For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes" (Jeremiah 16:17).


(3:13-17) Galilee to Jordan: Mark said that Jesus came "from Nazareth of Galilee" (Mark 1:9). Note several things.

1.  The last recorded event of Jesus' childhood was His return to Israel from Egypt. He was only a "young child" at that time (Matthew 2:19-21).

2.  The only other event recorded about Jesus' childhood and early manhood was His sharing with the religious authorities in the temple at age twelve (Luke 2:42f).

3.  Jesus' hometown was Nazareth. He apparently lived there between His return from Egypt until the launch of His ministry when He was about thirty years old.

4.  The distance from Galilee to the Jordan river was a long journey on foot.

5.  Jesus deliberately chose Jordan as the place to launch His ministry. It was in Jordan that His forerunner, John the Baptist, had been preparing the way for Him. Many were now waiting "for the consolation of Israel," that is, the coming of the Messiah (see Deeper Study #2—Matthew 1:18).

 (1:18) Christ— Messiah: the word for "Christ" and "Messiah" is the same word: christos. Messiah is the Hebrew word and Christ is the Greek word. Both words refer to the same Person and mean the same thing: the Anointed One. The Messiah is the Anointed One of God. Matthew says that Jesus "is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16); that is, He is recognized as the Anointed One of God, the Messiah Himself.

In the day of Jesus Christ, people feverishly panted for the coming of the long promised Messiah. The weight of life was harsh, hard, and impoverished. Under the Romans, people felt that God could not wait much longer to fulfill His promise. Such longings for deliverance left the people gullible. Many arose who claimed to be the Messiah and led the gullible followers into rebellion against the Roman State. The insurrectionist, Barabbas, who was set free in the place of Jesus at Jesus' trial, is an example (Mark 15:6f). (See notes—Matthew 1:1; Deeper Study #2—Matthew 3:11; notes—Matthew 11:1-6; note—Matthew 11:2-3; Deeper Study #1—Matthew 11:5; Deeper Study #2—Matthew 11:6; Deeper Study #1—Matthew 12:16; notes— Matthew 22:42; note— Luke 7:21-23.)

The Messiah was thought to be several things:

1.  Nationally, He was to be the leader from David's line who would free the Jewish state and establish it as an independent nation, leading it to be the greatest nation the world had ever known.

2.  Militarily, He was to be a great military leader who would lead Jewish armies victoriously over all the world.

3.  Religiously, He was to be a supernatural figure straight from God who would bring righteousness over all the earth.

4.  Personally, He was to be the One who would bring peace to the whole world.

 Jesus Christ accepted the title of Messiah on three different occasions (Matthew 16:17; Mark 14:61; John 4:26). The name Jesus shows Him to be man. The name Christ shows Him to be God's anointed, God's very own Son. Christ is Jesus' official title. It identifies Him officially as:

Þ  Prophet (Deut. 18:15-19. See note— Luke 3:38 for verses and fulfillment.)

Þ  Priest (Psalm 110:4. See Deeper Study #1—Luke 3:32-38 for verses and fulfillment.)

Þ  King (2 Samuel 7:12-13. See note— Luke 3:24-31 for verses and fulfillment.)

These officials were always anointed with oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit who was to perfectly anoint the Christ, the Messiah (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-33).


(3:16) Spirit of God: this is the first time the Trinity, the three persons of the Godhead, is clearly seen in the New Testament. The Son, Jesus Christ, was being baptized; the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son; and God the Father voiced His approval.[6]

New American Commentary

2. John and Jesus: The Messiah’s Baptism (Matthew 3:13–17)

The paths of the two main characters of chap. 3 now intersect. John will climax his ministry of baptism by baptizing Jesus. Then John’s role will decrease, as Jesus’ ministry gains momentum (cf. John 3:30).

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

3:13–14 In chap. 2 Matthew leaves Jesus as a child in Galilee. Now Jesus has grown up and comes south to Judea. Because baptism implies that a person has repented, John balks at baptizing Jesus. Matthew does not explicitly enunciate the doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness, but he seems to hint at it. In v. 11 John has already disclosed his “inferiority complex” in the presence of the Messiah. He now acknowledges his own sinfulness in comparison with Jesus and how the tables ought rightfully to be turned. Jesus should be baptizing John.

3:15 Jesus’ somewhat ambiguous reply seems to acknowledge the force of John’s logic but nevertheless requests baptism for different reasons. Jesus has not come to confess any sin but “to fulfill all righteousness.” He has previously fulfilled specific prophecies as well as more general scriptural themes. Now he wishes to obey all the moral demands of God’s will.72 “To fulfill all righteousness” means to complete everything that forms part of a relationship of obedience to God. In so doing, Jesus identifies with and endorses John’s ministry as divinely ordained and his message as one to be heeded.

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

3:16–17 Matthew does not describe Jesus’ baptism itself but rather what happens immediately afterwards. As Jesus comes up out of the river, God places his stamp of approval on him in two ways. First, the Holy Spirit descends “like” a dove, which suggests that no actual bird appeared but that some visible manifestation of the Spirit led observers to recognize that God was revealing himself through those attributes regularly associated with a dove—e.g., superintending over creation (cf. Gen 1:2), offering peace (as in Gen 8:10), gentleness in contrast to the judgment of vv. 7–12, or as “the loving character of divine life itself.”73 The second sign of approval is “a voice from heaven.” The heavenly voice is often linked with the Hebrew idea of the bath qol (“daughter of the voice”), the way in which Jews in intertestamental times believed God spoke with them after the cessation of prophecy. More likely the voice is a sign that divine communication with Israel is resuming.74

The heavenly voice cites excerpts of Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1. Both texts were taken as messianic by important segments of pre-Christian Judaism (see 4QFlor 10–14 and Tg. Isa 42:1, respectively). Together they point out Jesus’ role as both divine Son and Suffering Servant, a crucial combination for interpreting Jesus’ self-understanding and mission. An incipient Trinitarianism appears with the conjunction of God, Son, and Spirit in this narrative. Nothing suggests that Jesus began a relationship with the Holy Spirit only at this point. Matthew 2:15 makes clear that Matthew views Jesus as God’s Son at least from infancy, while 1:23 views him as “God with us” from birth. Rather, as in the royal enthronement context of Ps 2, what appears here is a formal installment and commissioning.75 Now one understands better why Jesus’ baptism was “proper” or appropriate (v. 15). God is initiating Jesus into the public phase of his ministry on earth.

Chapter 3 forms the first part of Matthew’s narrative, which is closely paralleled in the other Synoptic Gospels. Only minor differences with Mark and Luke appear in vv. 1–12, but a major addition arises in vv. 13–17 with the inclusion of two unparalleled verses (vv. 14–15). In them Matthew continues to highlight his theme of fulfillment. Jesus is the one in whom the hopes of Israel coalesce, but God’s promises must be appropriated by personal discipleship. If the Jewish leaders reject him, others will respond more positively.[7]

The Baptism of Christ (3:13–17)

We have here the account of our Lord Jesus Christ’s baptism. This was his first step when he entered on his ministry. When the Jewish priests took up their office they were washed with water (Exodus 29:4), and when our great High Priest begins the great work he came into the world to accomplish he is publicly baptized.

1. The Honor of Baptism

First, we should notice in these verses the honor placed on the sacrament of baptism. An ordinance which the Lord Jesus himself took part in is not to be thought of lightly. An ordinance to which the great head of the church submitted should always be held in honor in the eyes of professing Christians.

There are few subjects in religion over which greater mistakes have occurred than baptism. There are few which require so much fencing and guarding. Let us arm our minds with two general cautions.

Let us beware, on the one hand, that we do not attach a superstitious importance to the water of baptism. We must not expect that water to act as a charm. We must not suppose that all baptized people, as a matter of course, receive the grace of God at the moment that they are baptized. To say that all who come to baptism receive the same benefit, and that it does not matter a jot whether they come with faith and prayer or in utter indifference—to say such things appears to contradict the plainest lessons of Scripture.

Let us beware, on the other hand, that we do not dishonor the sacrament of baptism. It is dishonored when it is hastily passed over as a mere form, or thrust out of sight and never publicly noticed in the congregation. A sacrament ordained by Christ himself should not be treated in this way. The admission of every new member into the visible church, whether young or grown up, is an event which ought to excite a keen interest in a Christian congregation. It is an event that ought to call forth the fervent prayers of all praying people. The more deeply we are convinced that baptism and grace are not inseparably tied together, the more we ought to feel bound to join in prayer for a blessing whenever anyone is baptized.

2. The Solemnity of Jesus’ Baptism

Second, we should notice in these verses the particularly solemn circumstances which occurred at the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such a baptism will never happen again as long as the world stands.

We are told about the presence of all three persons of the blessed Trinity. God the Son, revealed in the body, is baptized; God the Spirit descends like a dove, and rests upon him; God the Father speaks from heaven with a voice. In a word, we have the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed. We may regard this as a public announcement that the work of Christ was the result of the eternal wills of all three persons of the blessed Trinity. It was the whole Trinity which, at the beginning of the creation, said, “Let us make man” (Genesis 1:26); it was the whole Trinity again which, at the beginning of the Gospel, seemed to say, “Let us save man.”

We are told of “a voice from heaven” at our Lord’s baptism; “heaven was opened,” and words were heard (verses 16–17). This was a most significant miracle. We read of no voice from heaven before this, except at the giving of the law on Sinai. Both occasions were of particular importance. It therefore seemed good to our Father in heaven to mark both with particular honor. At the introduction both of the Law and Gospel he himself spoke. “God spoke all these words” (Exodus 20:1).

How striking and deeply instructive are the Father’s words: “This is my Son, whom I love” (verse 17). He declares, in these words, that Jesus is the divine Saviour, sealed and appointed from all eternity to carry out the work of redemption. He proclaims that he accepts him as the mediator between God and man. He publishes to the world that he is satisfied with him as the propitiation, the substitute, the ransom-payer for the lost family of Adam, and the head of a redeemed people. In him he sees his holy “law great and glorious” (Isaiah 42:21). Through him he can “be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

Let us carefully ponder these words. They are full of rich food for thought; they are full of peace, joy, comfort, and consolation for all who have fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ and committed their souls to him for salvation. Such people may rejoice in the thought that, though in themselves sinful, yet in God’s sight they are counted righteous. The Father regards them as members of his beloved Son. He sees in them no blemish, and for his Son’s sake is “well pleased” (verse 17; see also Ephesians 1:6).[8]

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 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. 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, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (3:13–17)

Though Matthew does not use the terms, we see in this passage what might be called the divine commissioning, or the coronation, of the King. The gospel writer has given us the King’s ancestry (1:1–17), His arrival (1:18–25), His adoration (2:1–12), His attestation (2:13–23), and His announcement (3:1–12). Now we see His anointing, His coronation.

There is something strikingly majestic about this great event that brings all the preceding events into focus. Here, for the first time, the Lord Jesus Christ comes fully onto the stage of the gospel story. Here is where His ministry and work truly begin. Everything before this, even those events which directly involved the young Jesus, were introductory and preparatory. Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth are all behind. From this day on the Son of Man would call no place His earthly home (Matthew 8:20), but was to move about fulfilling His mission.

After an eternity of glory in heaven and some thirty years of virtual obscurity on earth, the Messiah-King is manifested publicly for the world to see and know. As “the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” John the Baptist had faithfully prepared the way for the King, even as Isaiah had prophesied (3:3; Isa. 40:3). The herald of the King had announced the coming of the King, and now the King Himself appears for His coronation.

One cannot fail to be aware that in these few verses Matthew reports the three central and absolutely critical aspects of Jesus’ coronation as King of kings: the baptism of the Son, the anointing of the Spirit, and the confirmation of the Father. As clearly as in any passage in Scripture we see here the revelation and the working of the Trinity-the Son, the Spirit, and the Father. Because He is no earthly King and His is no earthly kingdom, no men crowned Him-only God, while men watched.

Baptism of the Son

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 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. (3:13–15)

We will first look at some of the details of the baptism and then at its significance.

We are not told the exact time to which the then refers, and Matthew no doubt uses the term simply to show the general sequence of events. We do not know the precise length of John’s ministry, but according to Luke he began preaching “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee … in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (3:1–2). The best assumption is that it occurred in the year a.d. 29, quite a few months, perhaps nearly a year, before Jesus’ baptism. John also continued to preach for a while afterward, causing his ministry to be ending as Jesus’ ministry was beginning.

We know that John was about six months older than Jesus (Luke 1:26) and that Jesus began His ministry when He “was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23). If John began preaching at the same age, he would have been ministering for about six months when Jesus came to him for baptism. But we have no reason to believe that the two began ministering at the same age. And though we know how old Jesus was when He began, we are given no reason as to why He began at that age.

Some scholars suggest that the age of 30 was the generally accepted age for Jewish religious leaders to begin their ministry. According to Numbers 4:30, priests entered the priesthood at that age. But that provision was temporary, because a short while later the age was lowered to 25 (Num. 8:24) and later to 20 (1 Chron. 23:24)-where it continued to be through the reign of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 31:17) and even through the Captivity (Ezra 3:8). We therefore lack clear insight, either biblical or traditional, as to why either John or Jesus began to minister when they did.

We know from the parallel passage in Luke that when Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan, He did not come for a private ceremony: “Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized” (Luke 3:21). Jesus was not to have a private, secret anointing as David first did (1 Sam. 16:13; cf. 2 Sam. 2:4).

Arrived is from paraginomai, which, as we saw in relation to the magi (2:1) and John the Baptist (“came,” 3:1), was often used to indicate an official arrival or public appearance. We learn from Mark 1:9 that Jesus not only came from Galilee, but specifically from Nazareth, when He came to see John. It is clear from all the gospel accounts (cf. Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21; John 1:29) that Jesus came alone. No family members or friends accompanied Him, and He had as yet called no disciples.

We do not know exactly where on the Jordan River John was then baptizing, though it seems likely it was toward the southern end, and therefore near Jericho and the Dead Sea. John tells us that it was near “Bethany beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28), but the precise location of that town is uncertain.

We know from John’s greeting to Jesus that he recognized Him immediately, but we have no idea how well they knew each other at this time. They were cousins, and before their births Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months in the hill country of Judah, where the two women shared with each other their wonderful blessings (Luke 1:39–56). Elizabeth knew before Jesus’ birth that Mary’s child would be the Messiah, because she addressed Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). Surely Elizabeth would often have shared this wonderful news with her son John, the one whom the angel had told her husband would be “the forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17; cf.v. 66). Both boys grew physically and spiritually (Luke 1:80; 2:40), but they did so separately-Jesus in Nazareth and John in the wilderness. It may be, therefore, that they had little, if any, ongoing firsthand acquaintance with one another.

Jesus came to John specifically to be baptized by him, as indicated by the aorist passive infinitive (baptisthēnai), which emphasizes purpose. But the idea of Jesus’ being baptized by him was unthinkable to John. He not only knew Jesus’ human identity but His divine identity. The apostle John tells us that John the Baptist “saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ ” (John 1:29). John knew that this was God’s own anointed Messiah, come to fulfill God’s redemptive purpose. The Baptist’s first reaction to Jesus’ request for baptism was I have need to be baptized by You.

It is not difficult to understand John’s concern. His baptism was for confession of sin and repentance (3:2, 6, 11), of which he himself had need; but Jesus had no sins to confess or be forgiven of. John’s baptism was for those who turned from their sin and thereby became fit for the arrival of the great King. Why, then, would the sinless King Himself want to be baptized?

An ancient apocryphal book called The Gospel According to the Hebrews suggests that Jesus asked for baptism because His mother and brothers wanted Him to: “Behold, the mother of the Lord and His brethren said to Him, ‘John the Baptist baptizeth for the remission of sins, let us go and be baptized by him.’ But He said to them, ‘What sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him, except perchance this very thing that I have said in ignorance?’” The writer of that spurious gospel saw the problem, but his solution was purely speculative and is incongruous with the rest of the New Testament.

For others in the early centuries, Jesus’ coming for baptism seemed to pose no problem at all. Those who were strongly influenced by Gnostic philosophy believed that until His baptism Jesus was just an ordinary man, sinful like every other man. At His baptism he was endowed with deity by the divine logos (Word), the “Christ Spirit.” His baptism was therefore necessary to purify Him and make Him suitable to receive the divine endowment. Like the rest of the Gnostic views, that idea does not square with Scripture. Jesus was born the Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35) and was called “ ‘Immanuel,’ which translated means ‘God with us,’ ” even before His birth (Matt. 1:23).

It was because John the Baptist was fully aware of Jesus’ deity and sinlessness that he tried to prevent Him. The Greek verb is in the imperfect tense (diekōluen) and suggests a continued effort by John-“he kept trying to prevent Him.” The verb is also a compound, whose prepositional prefix (dia) intensifies it. The pronouns in John’s statement are all emphatic, giving evidence of his bewilderment. I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me? He did not directly contradict Jesus, as Peter would do (Matt. 16:22), but he thought that somehow he surely misunderstood what Jesus intended, that He could not possibly mean what He seemed to be saying.

John resisted baptizing Jesus for exactly the opposite reason that he resisted baptizing the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were in great need of repentance but were unwilling to ask for it and gave no evidence of having it. John therefore refused to baptize them, calling them a “brood of vipers” (3:7). Jesus, by contrast, came for baptism, though He alone of all mankind had no need of repentance. John refused to baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were totally unworthy of it. Now he was almost equally reluctant to baptize Jesus, because He was too worthy for it.

John knew that his baptism for repentance from sin was totally inappropriate for Jesus. John acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Why should the One who takes away sin submit Himself to a ceremony that represents confession and repentance of sin?

John’s attempt to prevent Jesus from being baptized is therefore a testimony to Jesus’ sinlessness. This prophet, of whom the Lord Himself said there had “not arisen anyone greater” (Matt. 11:11), knew that he himself was not sinless. I have need to be baptized by You, he told Jesus, and do You come to me? “I am only a prophet of God,” John was saying, “and I am sinful like everyone whom I baptize. But You are the Son of God and sinless. You are not a sinner. Why, then, do you ask me to baptize You?” Among John’s many God-given insights into who Jesus was, what He was like, and what He had come to do, was his knowledge that the One who now stood before Him was without sin. In a less direct but yet definite way, John declared with the writer of Hebrews that Jesus, though “tempted in all things as we are, [is] yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15; cf. Heb 2:14-18). So even in his reluctance to baptize Christ, John was fulfilling the role of a herald and the office of a prophet by proclaiming the perfection of the Savior.

Why did Jesus, who was even more aware of His own sinlessness than John was, want to submit Himself to an act that testified to confession and repentance of sin? Some interpreters suggest that He intended His baptism to be a sort of initiatory rite for His high priesthood, reflecting the ceremony which prepared the Old Testament priests for their ministry. Others suggest that Jesus wanted to identify Himself with the Gentiles, who were initiated into Judaism as proselytes by the act of baptism. Still others take Jesus’ baptism to be His recognition and endorsement of John’s authority, His accrediting of John as a true prophet of God and the genuine forerunner of His own ministry. A fourth view is that the Lord intended to be baptized vicariously for the sins of mankind, making His baptism, along with His atoning death on the cross, a part of His sin-bearing, rederuptive work.

But none of those views is supported by Scripture, and none fits the context of the present passage. Jesus Himself explains to John His reason for wanting to be baptized. In His first recorded words since the age of twelve, when He told His parents, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49), Jesus said, Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. These are words of royalty, dignity and humility. **

Jesus did not deny that He was spiritually superior to John or that He was sinless. Permit it at this time was an idiom meaning that the act of His baptism, though not seemingly appropriate, was indeed appropriate for this special time. Jesus understood John’s reluctance and knew that it came from deep spiritual commitment and sincerity. He gave permission for John to do what, without divine instruction, he would never have been willing to do. He assured the prophet that in this way it is fitting, and went on to explain to John that His baptism was important for both of their ministries, for us to fulfill all righteousness. For God’s plan to be perfectly fulfilled, it was necessary for Jesus to be baptized and to be baptized specifically by John.

It seems that one reason Jesus submitted to baptism was to give an example of obedience to His followers. As the King of kings Jesus recognized that He had no ultimate obligation to pay taxes to a human government. When Peter on one occasion asked about the matter, Jesus replied, “ ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’ And upon his saying, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Consequently the sons are exempt. But, lest we give them offense, … give it [a stater coin] to them for you and Me’ ” (Matt. 17:25–27). As Scripture makes clear in many places, it is proper and right for believers, even though they are sons of God, to honor and pay taxes to human governments, and to submit to every authority that God established (see Rom. 13:1–7; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13–15). In every case, Jesus modeled obedience. In His baptism He acknowledged that John’s standard of righteousness was valid and in action affirmed it as the will of God to which men are to be subject. **

Jesus came into the world to identify with men; and to identify with men is to identify with sin. He could not purchase righteousness for mankind if He did not identify with mankind’s sin. Hundreds of years before Christ’s coming, Isaiah had declared that the Messiah “was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). Jesus’ baptism also represented the willing identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save.

That was the first act of His ministry, the first step in the redemptive plan that He came to fulfill. He who had no sin took His place among those who had no righteousness. He who was without sin submitted to a baptism for sinners. In this act the Savior of the world took His place among the sinners of the world. The sinless Friend of sinners was sent by the Father “in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3); and He “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Isa. 53:11). There was no other way to fulfill all righteousness.

Jesus’ baptism not only was a symbol of His identity with sinners but was also a symbol of His death and resurrection, and therefore a prefigurement of Christian baptism. Jesus made only two other references to personal baptism, and each related to His death. Not long before His final trip to Jerusalem He told His disciples, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). On the other occasion He was responding to the request by James and John that they be given the top positions in His heavenly kingdom. “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). Jesus’ supreme identification with sinners was His taking their sin upon Himself, which He did at Calvary.

Though John, having been given such a brief explanation, could not possibly have comprehended the full meaning of Jesus’ baptism, he accepted His Lord’s word and obeyed. Then he permitted Him.

Anointing of the Spirit

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, and coming upon Him, (Matt 3:16)

John’s baptism, and that of Jesus’ disciples during His earthly ministry (John 4:1–2), represented cleansing, or washing, from sin. Christian baptism represents the believer’s identification with Christ’s life and lordship—His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). In both cases the significance of the act is lost if it does not involve immersion. Sprinkling or pouring does not fit either the symbolism of cleansing or of dying and being raised.

The Greek word itself (baptizō) means literally to immerse an object into water or other liquid, not to have the liquid put on the object. If all the forms of this word in Scripture had been translated (as “immersed”) instead of being simply transliterated (as “baptized”)-first into Latin and then into modern languages-the confusion we now see regarding the mode of baptism would never have arisen. **

In relation to other things the same word is translated-as we see in Luke 16:24, where the rich man in Hades asks that Lazarus might “dip [from baptizō] the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue,” and John 13:26, where Jesus “dipped [also from baptizō] the morsel.” As can be determined from any Greek lexicon, the original word never had a meaning other than dipping or submerging, and no other term is used for baptizing. **

The Christian church knew no form of baptism but immersion until the Middle Ages, when the practice of sprinkling or pouring was introduced by the Roman Catholic church-which itself had previously always baptized by immersion. The great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) said, “In immersion the setting forth of the burial of Christ is more plainly expressed, in which this manner of baptizing is more commendable.” The Catholic church did not recognize other modes until the Council of Ravenna, held in France in 1311. It was from the Catholic church that Lutheran and Reformed churches inherited the form of sprinkling or pouring. The Church of England did not begin the practice of sprinkling until 1645. The Eastern Orthodox church has never permitted any mode but immersion. **

That Jesus went up immediately from the water indicates that He had been all the way into the water. John was baptizing in the Jordan (3:6), and his custom was to baptize where “there was much water” (John 3:23), which would have been pointless if only sprinkling were used (cf. Acts 8:38–39).

At the moment Jesus came out of the river, behold, the heavens were opened. When Ezekiel saw the heavens opened and had the vision of God, he saw such things as the four living creatures, the chariot, and the wheels (Ezek. 1:1–19). Just before he died, Stephen saw “the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), and John the apostle had several heavenly visions (Rev. 4:1; 11:19; 19:11). Paul’s experience of being “caught up to the third heaven” was so wonderful and amazing as to be “inexpressible” (2 Cor. 12:2–4).

As one commentator suggests, “Just as the veil of the Temple was rent in twain to symbolize the perfect access of all men to God, so here the heavens are rent asunder to show how near God is to Jesus, and Jesus is to God.”

When the heavens opened before John the Baptist, he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, just as the Lord had promised (John 1:33). The confirming sign was that of a dove, the only instance in which the Holy Spirit was ever so represented. To the Jewish mind of that day the dove was associated with sacrifice. Bullocks were sacrificed by the rich and lambs by the middle class, but most of the people were poor and could only afford a dove.

Why did the Holy Spirit come upon Jesus? When He became a man, Jesus did not lose His divinity. He was still fully God in every way. In His deity He needed nothing. But in His humanity He was here being anointed for service and granted strength for ministry. The Spirit anointed Him for His kingly service, as Isaiah had predicted: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners” (Isa. 61:1). Among other things, the Spirit of God came upon Jesus in His humanness in a special way (John 3:34) that empowered Him to cast out demons (Matt. 12:28), to do miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 2:22), and to preach (cf. Acts 10:38). Like every human being, Jesus became tired and hungry and sleepy. His humanness needed strengthening, and that needed strength was given by the Holy Spirit (cf.Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:14).

Jesus’ anointing with the Holy Spirit was unique. It was given to empower Him in His humanness, but it was also given as a visible, confirming sign to John the Baptist and to everyone else watching. Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the great King whose coming the Lord had called John to announce and to prepare men for.

Confirmation by the Father

and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (3:17)

All the Trinity participated in Jesus’ baptism. The Son had confirmed His own kingship by saying, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v.15), and the Spirit had confirmed His right of Messiahship by resting on Him (v.16). The final aspect of Jesus’ coronation, or commissioning, was the Father’s confirming word. For a sacrifice to be acceptable to God it must be pure, spotless, without blemish (Ex. 12:5; Lev. 1:3; Deut. 17:1; etc.). Of this One who willingly identified Himself with sinners by His baptism and who was marked by the Holy Spirit as the dove of sacrifice, the Father now said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.

No Old Testament sacrifice, no matter how carefully selected, had ever been truly pleasing to God. It was not possible to find an animal that did not have some blemish, some imperfection. Not only that, but the blood of those animals was at best only symbolic, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4; cf.9:12). But the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross would be “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19). Thus God could say He was well-pleased with the perfection of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 17:5; John 12:28, where God repeats this superlative commendation).

Beloved (agapētos) connotes a deep, rich, and profound relationship. It is used here of the Father’s great love for His Son, but it is also used elsewhere of His love for believers (Rom. 1:7) and for what believers’ love toward each other should be (1 Cor. 4:14). Jesus is the Father’s beloved above all those He loves, the beloved apart from whom no other could ever be beloved (cf. Eph. 1:6). Only in His Son could the Father ever be fully well-pleased (eudokeō). God had examined, as it were, His beloved Son, who would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of those with whom He was willing to identify Himself. No imperfection could be found in Him, and God was delighted.

As believers, we too are a delight to the Father, because we are now in the Son. Because the Father finds no imperfection in His Son, He now by His grace finds no imperfection in those who trust in and are submitted to Him (cf. Rom 3:26; 5:17, 21; Gal. 2:20; 3:27; Eph. 1:3–6; etc.).

The fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is central to the gospel. In no passage is that made more clear than in Hebrews 1:1–8:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says, “Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son He says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”

Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of God, superior to and exalted above everything and everyone else. He is the beginning of all things, Creator; the middle of all things, Sustainer and Purifier; and the end of all things, Heir (see also Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16).

The Son is the manifestation of God, the radiance of God’s personal glory, the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). In Him all deity dwells (Col. 1:15–19; 2:9). Because of His deity, He is superior to the angels who worship Him. (For a fuller explanation of Jesus’ Sonship, see the author’s Hebrews [Chicago: Moody Press, 1983], pp. 27–29.)

Even God’s title as Father is a reference to His essential relationship to Jesus Christ. God is presented in the New Testament many more times as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27; John 5:17–18; 10:29–33; 14:6–11; 17:1–5; Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3, 17; Phil. 2:9–11; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 John 3) than as the Father of believers (Matt. 6:9).

When Jesus called God “Father,” He was not emphasizing primarily submission or generation but sameness of essence-that is, deity. John 5:23 sums it up by demanding “that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” No one can worship God unless he worships Him as the God who is one with King Jesus-“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[9]

1.      Baptism of Christ. 3:13–17.

13–14. All four Gospels relate this event (cf. Jn 1:31–33) with unquestioned historical verification. While this section of Matthew’s gospel centers upon Galilee, Jesus now goes south to the Jordan River to be baptized (vs. 13). The word baptize (Gr baptizo) is an Anglicism. It means to dip or immerse in water, indicating the true form of baptism by immersion. John forbade him (vs. 14) for the obvious reason that Jesus needed no repentance of sin and John felt unworthy of this opportunity. The tense of the Greek verb emphasizes that John tried to hinder him. Thus, this was no casual hesitation on the part of the Baptist.

15. Suffer it to be so means allow it to be or let it happen. Jesus sought this outward identification with John’s ministry to fulfil all righteousness. By identifying Himself with those whom He came to redeem, Jesus inaugurated His public ministry as the Messiah. In regard to the Jewish religious observances, Jesus always met the duties of a faithful Jew: synagogue worship, attendance at feasts, payment of the Temple tax, etc.

16–17. In the process of His baptism, Jesus went up … out of the water, the prepositions indicating that He was completely in the water and came up out from it, again indicating the form of immersion. The descending of the Spirit of God fulfilled the predicted sign to John in order to indicate the true Messiah (cf. Jn 1:33; Isa 11:2). “As the Spirit came upon Old Testament prophets for special guidance at the start of their ministries, so now He came upon Jesus without measure” (Kent, p. 10). The dove was a symbol of innocence and purity (cf. Mt 10:16) and served as an ideal symbolic representation for the Holy Spirit since it is a totally defenseless animal. Jesus made it clear that the ministry of the Holy Spirit was to glorify Christ and not Himself (Jn 16:13–14). The voice from heaven is that of the Father (see also Mt 17:5; Jn 12:28 where He speaks at the transfiguration and just prior to the crucifixion) giving His verbal approval to the ministry of His beloved Son. There can be no doubt that all three persons of the Trinity are actively involved here as distinct persons of the Godhead. The Father speaks, the Spirit descends, the Son is baptized.[10]

13. Then cometh Jesus. Not named by Matthew since he was taken to Nazareth in childhood. From Luke we learn that he was subject to his parents, at twelve years of age astonished the doctors in the temple by his wisdom, and was now thirty years of age. He had worked in Nazareth as a carpenter. Galilee. The northern part of Palestine, containing at this time, according at this time, according to Josephus, 240 towns and villages and an immense population. To be baptized. He came for this purpose. He sought the rite.

14. John forbade him. The objection that John made to the baptism of Christ implies some knowledge of him. Their mothers were cousins, but there is no evidence that Jesus and John had ever met. The Spirit had told John to proclaim the Redeemer and had given him a sign by which he should know him. When Jesus came before him, he perhaps knew, by the Spirit, his purity, and may have believed that he was the Messiah, but as yet he “knew him not” (see John 1:33). He could not be certain until he saw the divine sign. I have need to be baptized of thee. These words were uttered under the conviction, not certainty, that Jesus was the Christ.

15. Suffer it to be so now. The term “now” implies that the relation of Jesus to his work made it proper that now he should be baptized. It is true that baptism was for sinners; Jesus was sinless; but he humbled himself, accepted the burden of human duties, and must set a perfect example to men. He obeyed the Jewish law, and it was needful also that he obey the Divine rite that John had inaugurated. Thus it becometh us. In order to fulfill all righteousness, show forth a perfect obedience, set a perfect example, it became him to submit to the institution of baptism, and it became John to administer it to him. “Us” refers to Jesus and John.

16. And Jesus, when he was baptized. The baptism took place in the river Jordan, and was doubtless by immersion. Dr. Whitby, of the Church of England, on this passage, says: “The observation of the Greek Church is this, that he who ascended out of the water must first descend into it. Baptism is therefore to be performed, not by sprinkling, but by washing the body.” Dr. Schaff, the great Pedo-baptist scholar, says: “While the validity of baptism does not depend on the quantity or quality of water, or the mode of its application, yet immersion and emersion is the primitive and expressive mode to symbolize the idea of entire spiritual purification and renovation.” Dr. Schaff also says: “The Greek word baptize is derived from a root that means ’to dip,’ ’to immerse.’” These views are endorsed by all the great Pedo-baptist scholars. Went up straightway out of the water. The Revision says “from the water,” which is correct, as the preposition is apo; yet Mark uses ek in giving the same account, which the Revision correctly renders “out of.” He went up, praying, as we learn from Luke 3:21. Lo, the heavens were opened unto him. The skies were parted, rolled back, so as to reveal, as it were, the throne of God. Spirit … descending like a dove. In form, and not, as some suppose, in motion merely, which would convey no definite idea. It descended to anoint him to be Christ.

17. A voice from heaven. Three times God speaks from heaven in connection with the ministry of Christ—at his baptism, his transfiguration, and in the temple just before his suffering. Thou art my beloved Son. The very words addressed to the Messiah in Psalm 2:7; and from which the Son of God became one of his standing appellations. Thus the baptism of Christ was the occasion of his public recognition. No reader should fail to observe the significance of the time chosen by God for the acknowledgment of the Son. It is just after he has humbled himself in an act of obedience, in baptism, that the Holy Spirit anoints him as the Christ, and God formally acknowledges him as his Son. No more forcible expression of the estimate set by God on this institution could be given. This example and the New Testament harmonizes in teaching—1. That we must be baptized if we would follow Christ. 2. That it is when we repent and are baptized that we receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). 3. That when we have obeyed the Lord he will recognize us as his children. [11]


Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

—Matthew 3:13–17

The baptism of Jesus has been difficult to interpret. Why did the Son of God need to be baptized? John’s baptism was a call to repentance; it was an introduction to the new kingdom. When Jesus came to the Jordan and asked John to baptize Him, John tried to dissuade Him. John stated that he needed what Jesus could give him rather than that Jesus needed anything from John. However, Jesus responded that it should be done to fulfill all righteousness.”

For thirty years Jesus had lived in Nazareth, awaiting the time when the Father would direct Him to begin His public ministry. His act of being baptized by John was a complete and full identification with the kingdom that John was announcing. Baptism symbolized the turning from the old to the new. Jesus’ baptism was His own symbolic act of identification with the new, of participation in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ use of the word “righteousness” is significant, for righteousness is the word which denotes right relationship. Jesus’ act of being baptized was a witness to the rightness of His relationship in the kingdom and to His right relationship with God, the sovereign of this kingdom. **

A second symbolic happening with Jesus’ baptism was the descending of the Spirit of God upon Him. As John said in his witness, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:32–33). John was granted the visual symbol of the Spirit of God lighting on Jesus in the fashion of a dove alighting—the assurance that this was the King coming in His kingdom. But the Spirit came as a dove, not as a lion upon “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” in power, but with dovelike meekness.

The third certification is the voice from heaven which John heard at the baptism. The voice said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” !! The statement has two phrases, each a quotation from the Old Testament. In Psalm 2:7, a psalm which described the Messiah as the coming King, we read, “You are my Son” (niv). In Isaiah 42:1, the description of the suffering servant, we read, “in whom I delight” (niv). At Jesus’ baptism He is given this divine confirmation from the Father, a word of His being and His behavior, of His acceptance and His approval. The person of the King is now introduced as the Son of God!

A suggested outline for a message on Jesus’ baptism of identification is as follows: (1) the Sign, the act of baptism; (2) the Spirit, the presence of God; and (3) the Sonship, attested by the voice from heaven (3:13–17). He is identified with the kingdom, with the Spirit, and with the Father.[12]

The Pulpit Commentary

Vers. 13–17.—The Baptism of Jesus. (Parallel passages: Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21, 22.)

Ver. 13.—Then; temporal (ver. 5, note). When John was preaching and baptizing. Cometh (ver. 1, note). From Galilee. Mark adds, “from Nazareth of Galilee” (for this is his first historical mention of our Lord), thereby implying that our Lord had lived in Nazareth since our ch. 2:22, etc. In contrast to the representative teachers from Jerusalem, and the crowds both from there and from the Jordan valley (ver. 5), this Stranger came from Galilee. To Jordan. It is hard to see why the Revised Version inserts “the” here and leaves the Authorized Version unaltered in ver. 5. To be baptized (τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι); ch. 2:13, note. By him; and no other. Not mere baptism, but baptism at the hands of John, was our Lord’s motive for coming. He would link his own work on to that of John (vide infra).

Ver. 14.—Vers. 14 and 15 are peculiar to St. Matthew. But John. In John 1:31, 33 the Baptist says that he knew him not till the descent of the Holy Spirit; i.e. knew him not in his full Messianic character. Here, either by an involuntary and miraculous impression, psychologically due to the previous revelation he had received (cf. Meyer); or, as is on the whole more probable, from his previous knowledge, direct of indirect, of Jesus, he recognizes his superior sanctity. John’s inmost thoughts must therefore have been somewhat as follows. “I have come to announce the advent of Messiah; here is One who is much holier than I; it may be that be is Messiah, but I have no certainty till the sign promised has been vouchsafed.” Forbade; would have hindered (Revised Version), for διεκώλυεν does not in itself imply speech. (For a similar imperfect of that which was not fully carried out, cf. Luke 1:59.) It is noticeable, though doubtless merely as a coincidence, that the strong compound word διακωλύω and βαπτίζομαι also occur together in Judith 12:7. I have need to be baptized of thee. Many see here a reference to the baptism of the Spirit and fire, mentioned in ver. 11. But the following clause, “and dost thou come to me?”implies that the baptisms are identical, viz. baptism by water. The sentence is equivalent to “I John, who myself administer the baptism of repentance, need to profess repentance myself, and ought rather, therefore, to receive such a baptism at thy hands, who art so far holier than I” (cf. further Weiss, ‘Life,’ i. 320).

Ver. 15.—Suffer it to be so now; suffer it now (Revised Version); “suffer me now” (Revised Version margin); ἄφες ἄρτι, only here (apparently) in the New Testament quite absolutely, but ch. 7:4 slightly favours the Revised Version margin. Now, at this special season (ἄρτι); in contrast to the more permanent relation which shall be recognized later. Our Lord thus slightly removes the trial to John’s faith, which a mere refusal might have aggravated. Observe the implied consciousness of his Messiahship, even before the baptism. Several of the Fathers (vide Meyer) infer from these words that John was afterwards baptized by Jesus; but this is to completely miss the point of the expression. For thus. Not exactly “by this baptism,” but “by the spirit of submission in us both, which in this case will issue in my baptism.” It becometh (πρέπον ἐστὶν). Not a matter of absolute necessity (δεῖ, ch. 16:21; 26:54), nor of absolute duty (ὀφείλω, John 13:14), but of moral fitness (Heb. 2:10). It befits us, in our respective characters, to perform this symbolical act. Compare Melchizedek and Abraham; the representative of the older blesses the representative of the coming age (Luke 16:16). Us; thee and me. To fulfil; here only with “righteousness” (cf. ch. 5:17). All righteousness (πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην). Not the whole circle of righteousness (πᾶσαν τὴν δικαιοσύνην), but every part of righteousness, as each is presented to us (similarly, Acts 13:10; cf. also δικαιοσύναι in Ecclus. 44:10; Tobit 2:14, where, although Neubauer and Fuller explain it as “alms,” this is improbable after the preceding ἐλεημοσύναι), and that not merely every part of the righteousness included under the Mosaic Law (cf. Afford, “requirements of the Law” and especially Lowe, ‘Pesach. Fragm.,’ p. 100: 1879), but of that wider righteousness of which that was itself only a part and a type. “Let me be baptized by thee now,” our Lord says to John, “for it is fitting for us, in this spirit of submission, to fill up every part of righteousness.” Our Lord thus pleads for the absolute submission of John and himself to every portion of righteousness as it may be proposed to them by God to perform; his words thus somewhat resembling those to St. Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8). Thy duty is to baptize, mine to be baptized. It has generally been thought that in this verse our Lord implies that his baptism was to constitute his own formal recognition and acceptance of his distinctly Messianic duties—an act which involved the complete leaving of his past life and the giving himself up to a new and public life (cf. Weiss, ‘Life,’ i. 322). But have we any evidence that our Lord came to the baptism with this self-consciousness? May he not very well have known that he was to be the Messiah, and yet not have known that his official life was to begin now? May he not have come to the baptism merely as an individual, feeling the deepest interest in this consecration to the cause of the kingdom, notwithstanding the unique position in which he knew himself to stand with regard to that kingdom? But his voluntary consecration of himself for whatever he might be guided to, was the opportunity taken by the Father for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, which had as its immediate consequence the retirement into the wilderness and the decision there come to. May not, in other words, our Lord’s descent into Jordan have been, not the first act of his public life, but the last act of his private life—the former then being the withdrawal into the wilderness, in order there to have uninterrupted communion with his Father, and to meet in his official character his great adversary (cf. especially Edersheim, ‘Life,’ i. 279, etc.)?

Ver. 16.—And Jesus, when he was baptized. Combining the statements of the synoptists, we may conclude that Jesus went up from the water at once, praying as he went, and that, while he was going up and praying, the heavens opened. Out of; from (Revised Version); ἀπό; for, as it seems, he had not gone fully out of the water. The heavens were opened unto him. So also the Revised Version, but the Revised Version margin, with Westcott and Hort, rightly omits “unto him.” The words were inserted because it was thought that Jesus alone saw the manifestation, as indeed we should have supposed if we had had only the account of St. Mark, who reads, “he saw” before “the heavens being rent asunder” (but cf. John 1:32–34). To our Lord and to the Baptist the appearance was as though the sky really opened (cf. Ezek. 1:1; Acts 7:56). The Spirit of God; recalling Gen. 1:2. “Messiah now enters on his public office, and for that receives, as true Man, the appropriate gifts. The Spirit by whom men are subjectively united to God descends upon the Word made Flesh, by whom objectively God is revealed to men” (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:32). Like; as (Revised Version). The comparison is hardly to the gentleness of the descent of a dove, but to a visible appearance “in bodily form, as a dove” (see parallel passage in Luke). Not, of course, that the Holy Spirit was thus at all incarnate, but that either the appearance of a dove was seen by John’s eyes only (cf. especially Theodore of Mopsuestia, in Meyer), or, as is not unlikely (even though the suggestion belongs ultimately to Paulus), a dove really flew down and lighted on the Lord (Luke), and that this, to outsiders merely a curious incident (cf. John 12:29), was to our Lord and the Baptist a sign of spiritual blessing. A dove (περιστερά); any member of the pigeon tribe; chosen because a symbol of deliverance (Gen. 8:8), of purity (Lev. 5:7), of harmlessness (Matt. 10:16), and of endearment (Cant. 6:9). There is no evidence (cf. Edersheim, ‘Life,’ i. 287) that the dove was at this period interpreted by Jews as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Targum on Cant. 2:12 paraphrasing “the voice of the turtle-dove” by “the voice of the Holy Spirit,” dates in its present form from the eighth to the tenth century. The dove mentioned (though probably by interpolation) in the account of Polycarp’s death, appears to be a symbol of the soul (cf. Bishop Lightfoot). Whichelhaus (as quoted by Kübel) says suggestively, “lamb and dove—no kingdom in the world has these emblems on its escutcheon.” And; omit, with manuscripts. Lighting; coming (Revised Version), because it is needless to translate a common Greek (ἐρχόμενον) by a rare English word. Observe that it refers to the Holy Spirit, not to the dove as such. Upon him (so Luke and John 1:32, 33; Mark more vaguely, “unto him”).

Ver. 17.—Lo; peculiar to St. Matthew—a reminiscence of Aramaic diction. A voice. Similarly in ch. 17:5 (Transfiguration, cf. 2 Pet. 1:17, 18); John 12:28 (like thunder); [possibly Acts 2:6, Pentecost]; Acts 9:4 (Paul’s conversion); x. 13, 15 (Peter). Talmudic and rabbinic writings often mention the Bath-Qol as speaking from heaven. The character of the occasions on which the voice is heard in the New Testament on the one hand, and in the Jewish writings on the other, shows the complete difference in the moral aspect of the two voices. The latter is at best little more than a parody of the former. (For the meaning of the expression bath-Qol vide especially Weber. p. 188; Edersheim, ‘Life,’ i. 285.) From heaven; out of the heavens (Revised Version), pointing to the phrase in ver. 16. Saying. Western authorities add, “unto him,” mostly reading the following words in the second person (cf. Mark and Luke). This is my beloved Son. Very similar if not identical words were spoken at the Transfiguration (ch. 17:5), Matthew giving precisely the same, Mark and Luke only omitting “in whom I am well pleased,” and Luke also reading “chosen” instead of “beloved.” It would seem more natural to suppose that the words spoken on the two occasions were really slightly different, and that therefore Matthew is the less accurate. MySon (cf. Ps. 2:7). My beloved Son. The expression is probably based on Isa. 42:1 (cf. infra. ch. 12:18, note); but this does not necessitate the punctuation of the Revised Version margin, and Westcott and Hort margin: “My Son; my beloved in whom,” etc. (For the expression, comp. also Mark 12:6 (not in the parallel passage, Matt. 21:37); Eph. 1:6.) In whom I am well pleased; rather, in whom I have delight (cf. Isa. 62:4, Authorized Version). The tense (εὐδόκησα) is equivalent to “my delight fell on him, he became the object of my love” (Winer, xl. 5, b, 2). The Spirit came, the Father bore witness. “Thus the Baptist receives through a revelation the certainty;he Messiahship of Jesus, and thus the reader learns that the Son of David, who through his birth (ch. 1.) and the fortunes his childhood (ch. 2.) was certified as the Messiah, now also is announced to the last of the prophets as the Son of God; to whom Jehovah, in Ps. 2:7, etc., had premised the Messianic dominion of the world” (Weiss, ‘Matthäus-Evang.’). Yet not only so; the words, probably revealed to the Lord Jesus himself more of his exact relationship to the Father than he had before as Man realized. Such an assurance of his true nature, and of the Father’s delight in him, would be of essential service in strengthening him for his work (cf. ch. 17:5). There are two other matters connected with our Lord’s baptism recorded by tradition (cf. especially Reach, ‘Agrapha,’ pp. 346–367)—additional words spoken, and an additional sign given. The words spoken are found in “Western” authorities of Luke 3:22, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” evidently with a desire to emphasize the application of the second psalm. The additional sign is the light or fire. The simplest form of this is (Tatian’s ‘Diatessaron,’ edit. Zahn), “A light rose upon the waters;” and in the Ebionite Gospel apud Epiph., “Immediately a-great light shone round about the place;” more fully in Justin Marty (‘Trypho,’ § 88), “When Jesus had gone down into the water, fire was kindled in the Jordan;” also in a now lost ‘Pred. Paul,’ “When he was being baptized, fire was seen upon the water;” and in the Cod. Vercellensis of the Old Latin, “When he was being baptized, an immense light shone round from the water, so that all who had come thither were afraid.” Although there is no intrinsic objection to this symbol having taken place, it is very improbable that in this case the evangelists would not have recorded it. The legend may have arisen from ver. 11, or, and more probably, from an endeavour to make the baptism parallel to the Transfiguration (ch. 17:2); cf. Ephraem, in Resch (‘Agrapha,’ p. 358), “John drew near and worshipped the Son, whose form an unwonted lustre surrounded.”

Vers. 13–17.—The Baptism of Jesus. This is a narrative which authenticates itself. No Christian writer of a later generation would have invented a story of the baptism of Jesus by John; nor could any current ideas have started a myth in this form. The very difficulties of the story prove its historicity.

I. Let us inquire what was the meaning of the baptism of Jesus. 1. Note some errors to be avoided. (1) This was not a baptism of repentance. John saw that, and although he did not yet know who Jesus was, the pure and spotless life of his mysterious Relative was evidently not unknown to him. He saw that Jesus did not need the baptism as it was commonly understood. (2) This was not a mere form. Christ continually contended against the hypocrisy of formalism. He could not have begun his public life with a purely formal action. (3) This was not only intended as an example for others. In that case the action of Christ would have been simply a theatrical performance, unworthy of him, not to be countenanced by the serious Baptist. Moreover, the results of the baptism show that it had to do directly with the Person and work of Christ. 2. Consider the truths of the incident. Baptism has a double meaning. It looks forward as well as backward. As a rite in regard to the future it is a dedication, an act of self-consecration. Jesus had no sins of the past to wash out; but there was a great future to which he would dedicate himself in baptism. Then he was a Man, and he was humbling himself to the whole round of human duties. It was not in accordance with his mission that he should abandon the religious duties of his day. On the contrary, it was incumbent on him to “fulfil all righteousness” in connection with them. Thus the method of his self-consecration was an act of lowly obedience in connection with the deepest religious movement of the time.

II. Let us look at the results of the baptism of Jesus. There were a vision and a voice. 1. The vision. (1) The heavens opened. Self-surrender brings us near to God. The heavens open over the head of the utterly unselfish and truly consecrated man. (2) The descending spirit. The Spirit comes to Christ, and is in him without measure (John 3:34). The form was symbolical, but the fact was real. After this Christ displayed powers in miracle-working and teaching which he had never shown before. If Jesus needed this endowment of the Spirit, much more do we need it. (3) The form of the dove. This is very significant. The Spirit takes many forms. On Jesus it appears in love and gentleness. “A bruised reed shall he not break.” This form of the manifestation is peculiarly true to the nature of the Spirit. God is most of all present in “the still, small voice.” By his gentleness he makes us great (Ps. 18:35). 2. The voice. The vision was especially for Christ’s benefit. The evangelist says that “he saw the Spirit of God,” etc., as though the people did not see the dove descending. John also saw the vision (John. 1:32), and probably no one else. But the voice is not thus restricted. The spiritual grace is personal, for Christ himself; the revelation of the Son of God is for all who have ears to hear.—W. F. A.

Ver. 17.—Christ the beloved Son of God. This declaration at the baptism of Christ was repeated later on in his ministry at the Transfiguration (ch. 17:5). Thus God owns his Son and bears witness to him. Let us consider what the heavenly voice teaches us about him.

I. The nature of Christ as the Son of God. It will not profit us much to plunge into the fourth-century speculations concerning the Divine Sonship of Christ in order that we may know him in so far as he has been revealed to us. In metaphysical considerations about the mystery of the being of the Son of God we may lose all living perception of what he is really in his life among us. The broad fact is what is most important to us. Christ is the Son of God. He is not one of God’s sons as we may be through him, as in a natural sense we all are because “we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28). He is the Son of God in a supreme and unique sense. Now, this is not merely a sublime truth of theology. It has important bearings on religion. 1. To know the Son is to know the Father, of whom he is the Image (John 14:7). 2. If the Son is our Friend, the Father cannot be our Enemy; for they are “One” (John 10:30). Therefore our fellowship with Christ carries with it our reconciliation to God. 3. Christ is able to save the world. The Divinity of Christ implies his unlimited power. So great a Saviour is equal to the tremendous task of redeeming a whole fallen world.

II. The happy relations between Christ and his Father. 1. He is God’s beloved Son. This truth seems to belong to the very nature of Christ. It throws light on his permanent relations with God. God is love, and Christ is good and worthy of love. Through all eternity the love of the Father is directed to the Son. But now we see Christ on earth, incarnate, a Man, and in lowly estate. Yet God does not fail to own or cease to love him. He is known to his Father, though he may be despised by men. Surely this must have been a cheering and sustaining influence for Christ in the midst of his hard and toilsome life. In a lower way may not the same be true of us? God recognizes his human family; he owns all his earthly children. The shame of outward conditions does not blind his eye. Rejected by men, his children are still owned and loved by God; and it is better to be loved by God than to be praised by the world. 2. God is well pleased with him. This further truth seems to refer to the immediate condition, to the recent action, of Christ. Jesus had just been baptized; he had persevered in spite of the flattering resistance of the Baptist; he had felt that he must fulfil all righteousness; he had consecrated himself to his great work. God is well pleased with Christ for this. (1) The obedience of the Son pleases the Father. If, like Christ, we delight to do God’s will, he will delight in us. (2) The good pleasure of God signifies his approval of Christ’s work. This mission of saving the world that Christ has just consecrated himself to is well-pleasing to God. Thus God accepts the redeeming work from the first. Now the sacrifice of Christ, being acceptable to God, must be efficacious for man.—W. F. A.[13]

II. Religious self-deceptions put man’s authorities in place of God’s. Ministries of helpfulness man may provide; “dominion over faith” even the great apostle steadfastly refused to claim.—R. T.

Ver. 11.—The twofold baptism. The author of ‘Ecce Homo’ suggests the distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus, which John himself puts in such strong contrast. “Christ was to baptize with a Holy Spirit and with fire. John felt his own baptism to have something cold and negative about it. It was a renouncing of definite bad practices. The soldier bound himself to refrain from violence; the tax-gathering, from extortion. But more than this was wanting. It was necessary that an enthusiasm should be kindled. The phrase, ‘baptize with fire,’ seems at first sight to contain a mixture of metaphors. Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can warmth cleanse? The answer is that moral warmth does cleanse. No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic. And such an enthusiastic virtue Christ was to introduce.” This suggestion helps us to a more precise view of the distinction between the two baptisms, and the relation of one to the other.

I. Water-baptism is the type of putting off surface acts of sin. Attention should be fixed on the ministry of water. It washes off; it cleanses surfaces. “The result of John’s baptism, even for those who received it faithfully, did not go beyond the change of character and life implied in repentance.” Illustrate by the advice given to the different classes who came to John. They were to cease their wrong-doing, to put away their characteristic faults, to wash off their particular sins from the record of their lives. In a similar way Isaiah pleads, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil” (Isa. 1:16). This is the proper beginning of moral reformation; but it is only a beginning.

II. Fire-baptism is the type of burning out the soul of sin, the love of sin. Fire is a cleanser; it is, indeed, the supreme cleanser, because it searches into the very substance of a thing. So fire is applied to metals. The fire is to “try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” Christ is to deal with that spiritual condition out of which the acts of sin come. To put the matter sharply, John only dealt with actions and opinions. Christ deals with feelings, and will; cleansing the very thoughts of the hearts.—R. T.

Ver. 12.—Christ’s unquenchable fire. It is not possible to think that John could have referred to what we call “hell-fire”—the punishment-fires of the next life. And we need have no definite opinions concerning the nature of that fire in order to understand John’s figure here. Speaking of Messiah’s actual present work in souls, he calls it a “baptism of fire,” and he further remarks on its severity and continuity. His baptism of water was but of a temporary and symbolical character. Christ’s baptism of fire would be permanent and spiritually real—a fire that would go on burning until all the world’s evil was burned up. As illustration, note that “every year all effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up in the autumn fire of nature, and only what has promise of life and usefulness passes scatheless through the ordeal. This flaming besom of nature’s fire sweeps from sight in the most obscure nooks, as well as in the most open places, the impurities of death and decay, in order to prepare the stage for fresh life and new growth.”

I. The severity of Christ’s work. Apparently John’s seems to be more arresting and severe; but really it does not prove to be so. There is all the difference between “washing off” and “burning out.” The very forces themselves, “water,” “fire,” suggest the distinction. Repentance seems severe; the after-time resolute dealing, with sin and rooting it out is much more severe. Christian keeping on is much more stern than Christian beginning. Illustrate by the Book of Revelation. The living Christ is actually present in his Churches, and at work, making them altogether white; and all the forces, famine, war, commotions, disease, etc., are the fires in which he is burning away the dross, and making the silver shine perfectly white. He were no true friend of sinners if he withheld necessary severity.

II. The continuity of Christ’s work. What is presented to thought is, that nothing will check or stop the Divine fire-cleansing. That it will stop when its work is done is assumed. The fire will keep on consuming as long as there is anything to consume, but no one conceives evil to be eternal. Christ will burn on until his burning work is needed no more.—R. T.

Ver. 15.—The claims of righteousness. “For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” The term “righteousness” here plainly means the lawful claims of the authority to which, at a given time, we are subject. It may be the Mosaic Law. It may be the Christian law. But the point of our Lord’s answer is really this: “The Messianic law is not yet come in; it is not yet established; I am still under the Mosaic Law; that requires my obedience to the Jehovah-prophets who may be raised up; I have no right to make laws for myself. I must obey the Law I know until that Law is evidently set aside for another.” It is the answer of the truly loyal Jew, of the man who personally feared God, and meant to show his fear by a simple, unquestioning, persistent obedience.

I. The claims of the righteousness we know. Every man must be judged in the light of his response to those claims. A man cannot be judged in the light, of a righteousness that somebody else knows, or that he may get to know some day. He is responsible if he might have known of a higher righteousness, and made no effort to use his opportunity. From a later standpoint it would have been fitter for Jesus to baptize John; but from that standpoint it was the right thing for John to baptize Jesus. What is our idea of right to-day? And what is our conduct regarded as a response to our idea?

II. The claims of the righteousness we may come to know. For the standard of righteousness can improve; it does change. Our Lord distinctly apprehended stages in the conception of righteousness when he said, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” And the old standard ceases to be our standard when we have gained a new and a better. Illustrate by the disciples found who had only reached to John’s baptism. St. Paul instructed them in the more perfect way, and they were baptized in the Name of Christ. So elevation of the standard of righteousness brings serious increase of personal responsibility.—R. T.

Ver. 16.—The dove-Spirit on Christ. “Descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” Comparing the accounts given by the evangelists, it still remains uncertain whether what was seen by John actually had the form of a dove, or hovered or brooded as a descending bird does. But for our fixed associations, and the familiar comments, we should be more willing to see that the brooding, resting, abiding of the Spirit on Jesus, is the thing intended to be set prominently before us by the figure. It will be safer, perhaps, to fix attention on both the explanations.

I. The Spirit on Christ under the dove-figure. “The gift of supernatural power and wisdom brought with it also the perfection of the tenderness, the purity, the gentleness, of which the dove was the acknowledged symbol” (see Matt. 10:16). “Harmless as doves;” and compare the Baptist’s figures, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Seeley says, “There settled on his head a dove, in which the Baptist saw a visible incarnation of that Holy Spirit with which he declared that Christ should baptize.” “According to the symbolism of the Bible, certain mental characters appear expressed in several animals, as in the lion, the lamb, the eagle, and the ox. In this system of natural hieroglyphics the dove denotes purity and sincerity, and hence the Spirit of purity may be most fittingly compared with the dove. The coming of the Spirit like a dove denotes, consequently, that the fulness of the Spirit of purity and sincerity was imparted to Jesus, whereby he became the Purifier of mankind.”

II. The Spirit on Christ under the brooding figure. The impression to be made both on John and Jesus was of the abiding, permanent endowment of Christ with the precise spiritual power needed for his Messianic mission. We are to distinguish carefully between the Divine nature of Christ, which was unaffected by this brooding Spirit, and the precise gift needed for the Messiahship. The Spirit dwelt in him.—R. T.[14]

Teacher’s Commentary



Matthew’s Gospel skips over Jesus’ childhood and adolescence. From the birth story it moves directly to introduce Jesus’ ministry. But Matthew gives two chapters to the theme of preparation.

The first preparation theme focuses on the preparation of the Jewish people for Jesus. Matthew 3 reports the preaching of John the Baptist, who announced the approach of the Messiah, and who baptized with water those who wished to publicly repent.

Matthew 4 tells of the personal preparation of Jesus. Our Lord overcame three temptations, demonstrating His sinlessness and His complete commitment to God. With His humanity and His obedience both established, Jesus is seen to be qualified to teach others how to live in intimate union with God.

è     Repentance. Both John and Jesus called on people to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). “Repent” (in Greek, metanoia) means to change one’s mind and attitude. It is a decision which changes the total direction of one’s life.

è     Baptism. The word is an intensive form of the Greek bapto, and means “to immerse.” In the New Testament it is a technical theological term with different meanings (see Matt. 3:11). This unit looks at “John’s baptism.” For a discussion of the others see my Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Zondervan).


In a.d. 28 one of the Old Testament prophets returned. It had been nearly 400 years, and God had been silent. Malachi, the last of those Old Testament greats, closed his book with a promise—and a warning. “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord. And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5–6, kjv).

Thus, the Jews had been guided to turn their eyes ahead, and look for the day of Messiah’s coming. They were promised a forerunner, someone to warn them and turn their hearts back to God’s ways. Implicit in Malachi’s words was a choice. Unless the hearts of God’s people were turned, the Messiah’s coming would not bring Israel the expected blessing, but would bring a curse.

Later Jesus would tell crowds that John, then executed by Herod (a son of Herod the great), was the greatest of all the prophets and was, in fact, a messenger sent to prepare Messiah’s way. And Jesus added these words: “If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come” (Matt. 11:14). Israel did not accept John’s Elijah-ministry. Their hearts would not turn. The golden opportunity slipped by. The Messiah’s body came to fit a wooden cross rather than an ivory throne, and Israel was destined to know another 2,000 years of scattering, of ghettos, of pogroms, of unrealized hopes. History would now pivot to focus on the second coming of Messiah. The fulfillment of Malachi’s words would await another Elijah.

John: Matthew 3:1–12

John’s background. Luke 1 tells us about John’s birth. He was born into a priestly family. His father, Zechariah, was one of the many politically unimportant men who served the temple two weeks a year, and lived the rest of the time at his own farm in the countryside. Probably John was trained for the priestly ministry as well. The privilege was passed on from father to son, reserved by Old Testament Law for the descendants of Aaron.

Perhaps John, like Habakkuk, was shaken by the ritualism and emptiness of the religion of his day. We do know that from birth John was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, as an adult, John left home to live in the wilderness. He ate wild honey and protein-rich locusts, and wore a scratchy shirt made of camel’s hair. When the time was right, John began to preach beside the Jordan River.

John’s ministry. John’s stern and bold preaching echoed the messages of earlier prophets. They too had condemned sin and called God’s people back to the way of holiness outlined in Old Testament Law. But there were differences.

The content of John’s message was not really new. Luke 3:10–14 gives specific content: to each group or individual who came for guidance, John’s prescription was a return to the righteousness and the love expressed in God’s Law.

But several things about John’s preaching were new. There was its sense of urgency. “Hurry,” John urged the crowds who came out to hear him, or simply to gaze at the spectacle. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2). John focused the attention of his listeners not on some distant future, but on the immediate situation.

Another new focus in John’s ministry was on the personal responsibility of the individual for his own actions. There had always been a thread of teaching on personal responsibility in the prophets’ messages. But now John warned against any hope anchored in relationship to Abraham. “Do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’ ” (v. 9), he cried, and then urged each individual to repent and to show by his changed life his inner, personal commitment to God.

The third new element was baptism, as a sign and symbol of repentance. Baptism had been known in Judaism before. But John transformed baptism, giving it fresh moral and eschatological significance. One who was baptized by John confessed his sins, identified himself with the renewal of the kingdom under the coming Messiah, and committed himself to live a holy life.

There was a final unique aspect to John’s preaching. John recognized himself as the forerunner, sent to prepare the Messiah’s way. Seven times the New Testament records John’s announcement that the One to follow him will be greater than he (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27, 29–30; Acts 13:25). The warning—and the invitation—were both given.

And the crowds came. They listened. Many were baptized. Many, particularly those of the religious elite who were quick to put themselves in the forefront of any popular movement, could see no harm in the rite. But they were withered by John’s angry denunciation of them as a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7).

Soon everyone in the tiny land of Palestine had heard of God’s firebrand in the desert. They gossiped excitedly about whether he might be the Messiah, and they waited to see what would come next!

♥     Link to Life: Youth / Adult

Tape record a dramatic reading of John’s preaching and his interaction with the crowds as found in Luke 3:7–18. Open your group session by playing it, and explaining the “new” elements in John’s preaching.

If you wish, work together to develop a different tape, expressing what John might say if he were to preach to our generation.

Jesus’ Baptism: Matthew 3:13–17

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John” (v. 13).

Here a fascinating confrontation took place. John objected! It would more appropriate for Jesus to baptize John; John was sure that Jesus did not need his repentance-oriented rite.

It is tempting here to think that John recognized Jesus as the Messiah. But the Bible tells us that the day after the baptism John pointed out Jesus as the Messiah to two of his followers, and said, “I would not have known Him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The Man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). All the four Gospels agree that John saw the Holy Spirit in dove form descend on Jesus when our Lord came up from the water after baptism. Clearly then, John did not object to Jesus’ baptism on the grounds of His messiahship.

The mystery may be resolved when we realize that John and Jesus were probably related. Their mothers were very close (cf. Luke 1:36–45). Probably the two young men, both now about 30, had spent much time together, meeting each year as their families came to the three annual feasts in Jerusalem at which all males over 12 were to appear. And they must have exchanged visits during the rest of the year, as relatives and friends do everywhere. No, John’s objection to baptizing Jesus may have been based on a simple fact: John knew that Jesus had no need to repent! John knew that Jesus’ life was in fullest harmony with the laws and the ways of God—in fuller harmony even than his own!

Jesus overcame John’s objection. It is only right, Christ pointed out, to identify oneself with right things (Matt. 3:15). Entering the water with John, Jesus was baptized, thus identifying Himself fully with John’s message as well as with the men and women who flocked to receive that baptism because they did need it so badly.

The baptism of Jesus launched His public ministry. But it did even more than that. It demonstrated how fully Christ as a Man identified Himself with humanity. One of the central doctrines of the Christian faith is that of Incarnation. Isaiah had foretold it: “A virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14, kjv). The name, giving it the emphasis of its Hebrew form, means “With us is God!” God, in the person of the Child of promise, would fully identify Himself as a human being. In every way this promised individual would be God, yet would be God with us.

Both Matthew and Luke report the birth of Jesus and explain how Mary, before her marriage to Joseph was consummated, miraculously conceived through the direct intervention of God. The Child was in a totally unique sense the Son of God—God Himself, come to enter the race of man in the only way in which He could become truly human. Jesus is fully identified with us in our humanity. He is God, and He is Man.

Hebrews 2 points out that it was fitting for Jesus to be like us in every way, including His subjection to human weaknesses and His susceptibility to suffering. “Since the children have flesh and blood,” the writer explained, “He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity” (Heb. 2:14). Dying, Jesus could then deliver us from our lifelong slavery. God’s concern for humanity drove Jesus to “be made like His brothers in every way” (v. 17) and, becoming a faithful High Priest, He offered Himself as the expiation for our sins. The writer to the Hebrews concluded, “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He was able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).

The full humanity of Jesus is a basic teaching of our Bible. It was necessary for Jesus to be truly human for Him to become our sacrifice. It was necessary for Jesus to be truly human for Him not only to free us from lifelong bondage, but also to aid us in our own temptations and sufferings.

No wonder John, meeting his relative Jesus on the Jordan riverbank, protested against baptizing Him. John recognized Jesus as a good and righteous Man. Jesus Christ, as a Person, was so completely identified with humanity, that even one most impressed with His spiritual qualities never dreamed He was the Son of God!

There is a lesson here for each of us. What do we look for when we are seeking evidence of God’s work in our lives, or in another’s? Some startling, miraculous sign? Something that sets the person apart from all other men? Or are we looking for a work of God within: a work of God that produces the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control which God values so highly (cf. Gal. 5:22–23). Are we looking for a person who is different, or for a person who demonstrates the very best of what humanity can be? How strikingly our Lord’s experience with John points it out. The spiritual person is, in fact, the most humane, and human of us all!

Then, once the voice of God had spoken from heaven, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17), John realized the obvious.

Of course Jesus is the Messiah! Of course this most perfect Man had to be the promised Redeemer. The virgin had brought forth a Son, a Son who was the “with us” God. God had identified Himself in every way with humanity. God had come at last, to free us and lift us up to share His throne.

♥     Link to Life: Youth / Adult

There have been several theories advanced to explain Jesus’ baptism. List each, and ask your group to read Matthew 3:13–17 and determine which best seems to fit the facts. After they have discussed, you can introduce the perspective shared in the commentary above, if the group has not seen it. The theories:

(a) Jesus was seeking forgiveness.

(b) Jesus was dedicating Himself to His mission.

(c) Jesus was entering the priestly office.

(d) Jesus at this point became God’s Son, when the Spirit anointed Him.

(e) Jesus was identifying Himself with John’s message and his movement.

♥     Link to Life: Children

Ask your boys and girls: “How do your parents show they are pleased with you?” (Make a list of the ways they suggest.) Then ask: “What do you do that pleases your mom and dad most?” (Again make a list.) Then read or tell the story of Jesus’ baptism, and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, while God said aloud how pleased He was with Jesus. Explain that God sent His Son to be our Saviour, and Jesus was willing to obey His Father.

Young children can trace and color a dove form cut from cardboard. Print “I love Jesus too” to help them remember God’s approval of His Son for His readiness to become our Saviour.[15]

3.15     αὐτόν (2)

Between verses 15 and 16 two Latin manuscripts (ita vgms) describe the baptism of Jesus as follows: Et cum baptizaretur Iesus (om. Iesus ita), lumen magnum fulgebat (lumen ingens circumfulsit ita) de aqua, ira ut timerant omnes qui congregati erant (advenerant ita) (“And when Jesus was being baptized a great light flashed (a tremendous light flashed around) from the water, so that all who had gathered there were afraid”). According to Isho’dad of Merv (ninth century) and Dionysius Barsalibi (twelfth century), Tatian’s Diatessaron also contained a reference to the light. The passage from Isho’dad’s Commentary on the Gospels is as follows:

“And straightway, as the Diatessaron testifies, a great light shown, and the Jordan was surrounded by white clouds, and many troops of spiritual beings were seen singing praises in the air; and the Jordan stood still quietly from its course, its waters not being troubled, and a scent of perfumes was wafted from thence; for the Heavens were opened” (M. D. Gibson’s translation, p. 27).

How much of this extract should be regarded as Tatianic, and how much may have been taken from other sources (perhaps an early hymn), is not known, but it is thought that, in view of Ephraem’s remark about “the shining of the light upon the waters” (Com. iv.5), at least the reference to the light on the Jordan was present in the Diatessaron.

Several other writers refer to the tradition of the light, including Justin Martyr, who says that after Jesus had gone down into the water “a fire was kindled in the Jordan” (πῦρ ἀνήφθη ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ, Dial. c. Tryph. 88), and Epiphanius, after the voice came from heaven, “immediately a great light shone around the place” (εὐθὺς περιέλαμψε τὸν τόπον φῶς μέγα, Panarion haer. xxx, xiii, 7).

3.16     [αὐτῷ] {C}

The joining of א* B, the Old Syriac, and Irenaeuslat in support of the shorter reading makes a very strong combination, which might well be regarded as the original text. On the other hand, however, it is possible that copyists, not understanding the force of αὐτῷ, omitted the word as unnecessary. In order to show this balance of possibilities the Committee enclosed αὐτῷ within square brackets.

3.16     [καὶ] ἐρχόμενον {C}

No transcriptional or dogmatic considerations seem to have been at work here, and the parallels offer no assistance in deciding between the readings with or without καί. On the strength of the diversity of textual groups that support καὶ ἐρχόμενον, the Committee retained the words in the text, but, in order to reflect the possibility that καί, being absent from early representatives of both Alexandrian and Western text-types (א* B ita, b, c, h Irenaeuslat al), may not have been part of the text originally, enclosed it within square brackets.[16]

 Thru the Bible


Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him [Matt. 3:13].

This is remarkable, and we are going to ask the question: “Why was Jesus baptized?” and try to answer it.

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

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 [Matt. 3:14–15].

Why was Jesus baptized? There may be several answers, but the primary reason is stated right here: “For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Jesus is identifying Himself completely with sinful mankind. Isaiah had prophesied that He would be numbered with the transgressors (see Isa. 53:12). Here is a King who identifies Himself with His subjects. Actually, baptism means identification, and I believe identification was the primary purpose for the baptism of the Lord Jesus. Again, the reason Jesus was baptized was not to set an example for us. It was not a pattern for us to follow. Christ was holy—He did not need to repent. You and I do need to repent. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. He was baptized to completely identify Himself with humanity.

There was a second reason Jesus was baptized. Water baptism is symbolic of death. His death was a baptism. You remember that He said to James and John when they wanted to be seated on His right hand and on His left hand in the kingdom, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matt. 20:22). You see, Christ’s death was a baptism. He entered into death for you and for me.

There is a third reason for the baptism of Jesus. At this time He was set aside for His office of priest. The Holy Spirit came upon Him for this priestly ministry. Everything that Jesus did, His every act, was done by the power of the Holy Spirit. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There was sin on Him, but there was no sin in Him. My sin was put on Him, not in Him. That is an important distinction. Therefore, you and I are saved by being identified with Him. He identified Himself with us in baptism. And Peter says that we are saved by baptism (see 1 Pet. 3:21). In what way? By being identified with the Lord Jesus. To be saved is to be in Christ. How do we get into Christ? By the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I believe in water baptism because by it we declare that we are identified with Christ. The Lord Jesus said, “… him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). We must recognize that we have to be identified with Christ, and that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Our water baptism is a testimony to this. One time an old salt said to a young sailor in trying to get him to accept Christ and be baptized, “Young man it is duty or mutiny!” And when you come to Christ, my friend, you are to be baptized because it is a duty. If you are not, it is mutiny.

This subject of baptism needs to be lifted out of the realm of argument to the high and lofty plane of standing for Christ. How we need to come out and stand for Christ!

Let me repeat verse 15: “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him”—that is, John baptized Him.

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 [Matt. 3:16–17].

Here we have a manifestation of the Trinity. As the Lord Jesus is coming out of the water, the Spirit of God descends upon Him like a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven.

The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Lord Jesus is now identified with His people. What a King! Oh, what a King He is![17]

Constable’s Expository Notes

2. Jesus’ baptism 3:13–17 (cf. Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23)

Jesus’ baptism was the occasion at which His Messiahship became obvious publicly. Matthew recorded this event as he did to convince his readers further of Jesus’ messianic qualifications.

3:13–14 John hesitated to baptize Jesus because he believed that Jesus did not need to repent. John evidently suggested that it was more appropriate that Jesus baptize him than that he baptize Jesus, because he knew that Jesus was more righteous than he was. It is unlikely that John meant that he wanted the Spirit and fire baptism of Jesus. John did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until after he had baptized Him (John 1:31–34).

3:15 John agreed to baptize Jesus only after Jesus convinced him that by baptizing Him both of them would “fulfill all righteousness.” What did Jesus mean?

An important prerequisite to understanding Jesus’ words is an understanding of the meaning of “righteousness.” Matthew’s use of this word is different from Paul’s. Paul used it mainly to describe a right standing before God, positional righteousness. Matthew used it to describe conformity to God’s will, ethical righteousness.165 Ethical righteousness is the display of conduct in one’s actions that is right in God’s eyes. It does not deal with getting saved but responding to God’s grace. In Matthew a righteous person is one who lives in harmony with the will of God (cf. Matthew 1:19). Ethical righteousness is a major theme of the Old Testament, and it was a matter that concerned the Jews in Jesus’ day, especially the Pharisees. **

Jesus understood that it was God’s will for John to baptize Him. There is no Old Testament prophecy that states that Messiah would undergo water baptism, but there is prophecy that Messiah would submit Himself to God (Isa. 42:1; 53; et al.). That spirit of submissiveness to God’s will is primarily what John’s baptism identified in those who submitted to it. Consequently it was appropriate for Jesus to undergo John’s baptism, and John consented to baptize Him. In doing so, Jesus authenticated John’s ministry and identified Himself with the godly remnant within Israel.

“The King, because of His baptism, is now bound up with His subjects.”166

“Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan stands as a counterpart of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea at the onset of the Exodus. Thus Jesus transversed the Jordan and then, like Israel, spent a period of time in the wilderness. Jesus, another Moses, on whom the Spirit had been placed (Isa. 63:10–14), would lead the way.”167

“Jesus fulfilled the Scripture by replicating in His own life the patterns of God’s historical relations with Israel and by accomplishing in His own history the predicted events of prophecy.”168

It is significant that Matthew did not describe Jesus’ baptism. His emphasis was on the two revelatory events that followed it (cf. 2:1–23).

3:16–17 The Greek text stresses the fact that Jesus’ departure from the water and God’s attestation of Him as the Messiah occurred at the same time. The NIV translation gives this sense better than the NASB.

The person who saw the Spirit descending was evidently Jesus. Jesus is the person in the immediately preceding context. John the Evangelist recorded that John the Baptist also saw this (John 1:32), but evidently no one but Jesus heard the Father’s voice. The phrase “the heavens were opened” or “heaven was opened” recalls instances of people receiving visions from God. In them they saw things unseen by other mortals (e.g., Isa. 64:1; Ezek. 1:1; cf. Acts 7:56; Rev. 4:1; 19:11). The phrase implies that new revelation will follow to and through Jesus. What Jesus saw was the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, not in a dove-like fashion, descending on Him (cf. Luke 3:22). This is the first explicit identification of the Holy Spirit and a dove in Scripture. It was an appropriate symbol because of its beauty, heavenly origin, freedom, sensitivity, and peaceful nature.

“The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus denotes the divine act whereby God empowers him to accomplish the messianic ministry he is shortly to begin (4:17). Such empowerment, of course, is not to be construed as Jesus’ initial endowment with the Spirit, for he was conceived by the Spirit. Instead, it specifies in what way Jesus proves to be the mightier One John had said he would be (3:11). It also serves as the reference point for understanding the ‘authority’ with which Jesus discharges his public ministry. Empowered by God’s Spirit, Jesus speaks as the mouthpiece of God (7:28–29) and acts as the instrument of God (12:28).”169

In Isaiah 42:1 the prophet predicted that God would put His Spirit on His Servant. That happened at Jesus’ baptism. Matthew’s account shows fulfillment though the writer did not draw attention to it as such here. When God’s Spirit came on individuals in the Old Testament, He empowered them for divine service. That was evidently the purpose of Jesus’ anointing as well (Luke 4:14; 5:17; cf. Luke 24:49). **

An audible revelation followed the visual one (v. 17). The voice from heaven could be none other than God’s. After 400 years without prophetic revelation, God broke the silence. He spoke from heaven to humankind again. Matthew recorded God’s words as a general announcement (cf. 17:5). The other evangelists wrote that God said, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Evidently the accounts in Mark and Luke contain the actual words God used, the ipisissima verba, whereas Matthew gave a free quotation of God’s words, the ipisissima vox. [These Latin terms mean essentially “own words” and “own voice” respectively. As used in New Testament studies, the former phrase indicates a verbatim quotation and the latter a free quotation. The former refers to the words the speaker in the narrative used and the latter to the words of the writer who interpreted the speaker’s words.]170 Matthew did so because he used what happened at Jesus’ baptism as evidence of His messiahship.

“Had the crowds heard the voice from heaven, it is inexplicable why one segment of the public does not at least entertain the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. And had John heard the voice from heaven, it is odd that his question of 11:2–3 contains no hint of this. On the contrary, it reflects the selfsame view of Jesus that John had expressed prior to the baptism, namely, that Jesus is the Coming One (3:11–12).”171

The words God spoke identified Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The term “Son of God” was one that God used of David’s descendant who would follow him on Israel’s throne (2 Sam. 7:13–14; Ps. 2:7; 89:26–29; cf. Matt. 1:20; 2:15; 4:3, 6). God’s commendation also linked Jesus with the Suffering Servant at the commencement of His ministry (Isa. 42:1; 53). The Beloved One is equivalent to the One with whom the Father was “well pleased” (Isa. 42:1). Genesis 22:2 may also be behind this announcement since that verse describes Isaac as Abraham’s beloved only son. Consequently, Son of God is a messianic title.172 Notice the involvement of all three members of the Trinity in Jesus’ baptism. This indicates its importance.

In this one statement at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, God presented Him as the Davidic Messiah, the Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant [cf. Matthew 4:3, 6, 10]. ** Matthew had presented Jesus in all of these roles previously, but now God the Father confirmed His identity.

“. . . God’s baptismal declaration at 3:17 reveals itself to be climactic within the context of 1:1–4:16 because this is the place where God’s understanding of Jesus as his Son ceases to be of the nature of private information available only to the reader and becomes instead an element within the story that henceforth influences the shape of events.”173

“Because Matthew so constructs his story that God’s evaluative point of view is normative, the reader knows that in hearing God enunciate his understanding of Jesus, he or she has heard the normative understanding of Jesus, the one in terms of which all other understandings are to be judged. In Matthew’s story, God himself dictates that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God.”174

“He did not become Son of God at His baptism, as certain heretical teachers in the early Church maintained; but it was then that He was appointed to a work which He alone could perform, because of His unique relationship with His Father.”175

Matthew passed over all the incidents of Jesus’ childhood, including His appearance at the temple (Luke 2:41–50), because his interests were selective and apologetic rather than merely historical. He introduced Jesus as the messianic King of Israel who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and received divine confirmation from God with an audible word from heaven (cf. Ex 20:1).176

In chapter 1 Matthew stressed the glories of Messiah’s person. In chapter 2 he gave a preview of the reception He would receive as Israel’s Messiah. In chapter 3 he introduced the beginning of His ministry with accounts of His earthly forerunner’s heralding and His heavenly Father’s [pleasure] approbation.[18]

Ver. 13. Baptized of him. --

The baptism of our Saviour: --

I. The circumstance of TITLE.

1. Seasonable. Men were at this time being baptized and confessing their sins. People were expecting the Christ (John 1:19). Let man be diminished, but let God arise. The truth is revealed that the servant may not rob the Master of His honour.

2. This adverb of time points to the age of Christ. Mature age. He taught the need of well-seasoned timber to make pillars for the Church of God. As Christ attained perfect age in nature, His servants should be perfect in grace and glory.


1. Upon what ground did John begin this new ceremony: It betokened the end of the old ceremonies. Superstitions turned into a blessing. Heathen used washings. Turned into an immortal laver.

2. The dignity of John's baptism. It was the baptism of repentance. It did not lack grace. But Christ's ministry is better than man's.

Distinctions between the two baptisms.

1. John baptized in the name of the Messiah. Christ bade His disciples use another form.

2. They differ in extent -- John baptized in the regions of Judaea, Christ bade His disciples to except none.

3. Christ's baptism transcends John's in the variety of persons.

4. Christ's baptism is more operative since He has gone to His Father.

5. John's baptism was good, Christ's is necessary to the end of the world. (Hacket.)

1. John was jealous of our Saviour's honour.

2. He confesses his vileness and inferiority. (Hacket.)

Faith is nothing else but a long-continued astonishment, which knows not how to utter itself, because the Lord hath done such marvellous things for us. (Hacket.)

The arithmetic of heaven

The arithmetic of heaven: -- A gentleman, passing a church with Daniel Webster, asked him, "How can you reconcile the doctrine of the Trinity with reason?" The statesman replied by asking, "Do you understand the arithmetic of heaven?" The application is evident.


The heavens are never shut while either of the sacraments is duly administered and received; neither do the heavens ever thus open without the descent of the Holy Ghost.

(Bishop Hall.)

1. The Person that did hear witness.

2. The manner how He testified to the honour of His Son.

3. The authority of that voice from heaven.

4. The Person to whom the witness is borne.

5. What is witnessed of Him in respect of Himself.

6. What is witnessed of Him in respect of our consolation, we the beloved in Him. (Hacket.)

As the Father sent His voice from heaven to earth, let our lips be full of prayers, that we may send our voice from earth to heaven. (Hacket.)[19]

Bible Knowledge Commentary

Introduction: Presentation by Ancestry, by Advent, by an Ambassador, and now through Approval by baptism, next week by temptations.   **

1.     by baptism (3:13-17) (mark 1:9-11; luke 3:21-22).

3:13-14. After years of silence in Nazareth, Jesus appeared among those listening to John’s preaching and presented Himself as a candidate for baptism. Only Matthew recorded John’s opposition to this act: I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me? John recognized Jesus did not fit the requirements for his baptism, since his baptism was for repentance from sin. Of what did Jesus have to repent? He had never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 3:5), so He could not be officially entering into John’s baptism even though He was seeking to be baptized by John. Some feel Jesus was confessing the sins of the nation as Moses, Ezra, and Daniel had done on previous occasions. However, another possibility is suggested in Matthew 3:15.

3:15. Jesus’ response to John was that it was fitting for Him to take part in John’s baptism at this time in order to fulfill all righteousness. What did Jesus mean? The Law included no requirements about baptism, so Jesus could not have had in view anything pertaining to Levitical righteousness. But John’s message was a message of repentance, and those experiencing it were looking forward to a coming Messiah who would be righteous and who would bring in righteousness. If Messiah were to provide righteousness for sinners, He must be identified with sinners. It was therefore in the will of God for Him to be baptized by John in order to be identified (the real meaning of the word “baptized”) with sinners.

3:16-17. The significant thing about the baptism of Jesus was the authentication from heaven. As Jesus came up out of the water . . . the Spirit of God came down on Him in the form of a dove. As One went up, the Other came down. A voice from heaven—the voice of God the Father—said, This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased (cf. Eph. 1:6; Col. 1:13). God repeated these words about Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5). All three Persons of the Godhead were present at this event: the Father who spoke of His Son, the Son who was being baptized, and the Spirit who descended on the Son as a dove. This verified for John that Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:32-34). It was also in keeping with Isaiah’s prophecy that the Spirit would rest on the Messiah (Isa. 11:2). The descent of the Holy Spirit empowered the Son, the Messiah, for His ministry among people.[20]

MATTHEW 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. But John would have hindered him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?"

But Jesus, answering, said to him, "Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed him. Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

You have here the account of our Lord Jesus Christ's baptism. This was His first step, when He entered on His ministry. When the Jewish priests took up their office at the age of thirty, they were washed with water. When our great High Priest begins the great work He came into the world to accomplish, He is publicly baptized.

Let us learn from these verses to regard the sacrament of baptism with reverence. An ordinance of which the Lord Jesus Himself partook, is not to be lightly esteemed. An ordinance to which the great Head of the Church submitted, ought to be ever honorable in the eyes of professing Christians.

There are few subjects in religion on which greater mistakes have arisen than baptism. There are few which require so much fencing and guarding. Let us arm our minds with two general cautions.

Let us beware on the one hand, that we do not attach a SUPERSTITIOUS importance to the water of baptism. We must not expect that water to act as a charm. We must not suppose that all baptized people as a matter of course receive the grace of God, in the moment that they are baptized. To say that all who come to baptism obtain like and equal benefit--and that it matters not a jot whether they come with faith and prayer, or in utter carelessness, to say such things appears to contradict the plainest lessons of Scripture.

Let us beware on the other hand, that we do not DISHONOR the sacrament of baptism. It is dishonored when it is thrust out of sight, and never publicly noticed in the congregation. A sacrament ordained by Christ Himself ought not to be treated in this way. The admission of every new member into the ranks of the visible church, whether young or grown up, is an event which ought to excite a lively interest in a Christian assembly. It is an event that ought to call forth the fervent prayers of all praying people. The more deeply we are convinced that baptism and grace are not inseparably tied together, the more we ought to feel bound to join in prayer for a blessing, whenever any one is baptized.

The baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ was attended by circumstances of peculiar solemnity. Such a baptism never will be again, so long as the world stands.

We are told of the presence of all three people of the blessed Trinity. God the Son, manifest in the flesh, is baptized. God the Spirit descends like a dove, and lights upon Him. God the Father speaks from heaven with a voice. In a word we have the manifested presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Surely we may regard this as a public announcement, that the work of Christ was the result of the eternal counsels of all the Three. It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, "let us make man." It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, "let us save man."

We are told of "a voice from heaven" at our Lord's baptism. This was a circumstance of singular solemnity. We read of no voice from heaven before this, except at the giving of the law on Sinai. Both occasions were of peculiar importance. It therefore seemed good to our Father in heaven to mark both with peculiar honor. At the introduction both of the law and Gospel, He Himself speaks.

How striking and deeply instructive are the Father's words! "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." He declares, in these words, that Jesus is the divine Savior sealed and appointed from all eternity to carry out the work of redemption. He proclaims, that He accepts Him as the Mediator between God and man. He seems to publish to the world, that He is satisfied with Him as the propitiation, the substitute, the ransom-payer for the lost family of Adam, and the Head of a redeemed people. In Him He sees His holy "law magnified and made honorable." Through Him He can "be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly." (Rom. 3:26.)

May we ponder these words well! They are full of rich food for thought. They are full of peace, joy, comfort and consolation, for all who have fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ, and committed their souls to Him for salvation. Such may rejoice in the thought, that though in themselves sinful, yet in God's sight they are counted righteous. The Father regards them as members of His beloved Son. He sees in them no spot, and for His son's sake is "well pleased." (Ephes. 1:6.)[21]


Matthew 3:13-17 Additional Notes13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. 14 But John protested strenuously, having in mind to prevent Him, saying, It is I who have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me? 15 But Jesus replied to him, Permit it just now; for this is the fitting way for [both of] us to fulfill all righteousness [that is, to perform completely whatever is right]. Then he permitted Him. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, He went up at once out of the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he [John] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. 17 And behold, a voice from heaven said, This is My Son, My Beloved, in Whom I delight!  BETHABARA [Beth AB ah ruh] — an unidentified place on the eastern bank of the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized (John 1:28, KJV, NKJV). It is the same as Bethany No. 2.[22][1] 2. A village in Transjordan where John the Baptist was baptizing (John 1:28, NIV; Bethabara, KJV, NKJV).[23][2] TRANSJORDAN [Trans JORE dahn] — a large plateau east of the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the Arabah. The term Transjordan is not used in the NKJV, KJV, or NRSV, but the general area is often called “beyond the Jordan” (Gen. 50:10–11; Deut. 3:20; Judg. 5:17; Is. 9:1; Matt. 4:15; Mark 3:8). The King’s Highway (Num. 20:17; 21:22) crossed the entire length of Transjordan from north to south.Before the time of Joshua, Transjordan was made up of the kingdoms of Ammon; Bashan; Gilead; Moab, and Edom. After the conquest, this area was occupied by the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.[24][3] COMMENTARY§36. Jesus’ Baptism (Matt 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23)Exegesis(Matt 3:13–17)V 13     came = (lit.) arrived.V 15     permit = allow (the same verb as translated ‘allowed’ later in the verse).Fitting = (or) proper.V 16     he saw = this could be John or Jesus; John is identified in John 1:32.Descending = (even) falling.Like a dove = the Greek word order, as in English, suggests that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove descends (I.e., quietly and quickly), and not that the Holy Spirit, looking like a dove, descended. The latter would be at variance with other Scripture, because nowhere else does Scripture report God as taking the form of one of the lower orders of His creation. When He did take on a corporeal body it was always that of a perfect man. Romans 1:23 specifically condemns equating Him with corruptible man, birds, animals, etc.(Luke 3:22)V 22     descended in a bodily form like a dove = exegetes have discussed this verse over the centuries without clear-cut resolution; it is this verse that brings doubt on the above interpretation of Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10, and John 1:32. It can be translated thus, ‘descended upon Him bodily, in appearance (descending) as a dove (descends)’—I.e., swooping down rapidly as though out of nowhere. As this is a viable option, it should be preferred to one that introduces tension between the gospels.I am well pleased = the tense is timeless, denoting, “I was, am, and will be well-pleased” (I.e., on whom My divine approval always rests).PurposeThe purpose of Jesus’ baptism was to inaugurate His ministry as Christ with the clear, public approbation of the Trinity. This baptism is similar to Samuel anointing David king over Israel, though here Jesus is anointed King of Kings by a more miraculously conceived messenger.ExpositionJesus heard about John’s ministry in Nazareth, waited for it to reach its zenith; and then, after all the people had been baptized (Luke 3:21—presumably this means all those who were going to respond to John’s call to baptism), He entered the scene. Can you imagine the air of expectancy which would have built up by then? John’s fervent preaching, multitudes repenting, the whole country hypnotized by his ministry. A goodly proportion of the Jews had indicated their willingness to accept their Messiah. The time was fully ripe. So Jesus laid down His carpenter’s tools, never to take them up again, walked the seventy miles to Bethabara and presented Himself for baptism. He was baptized with Heaven—acclaimed, divine approbation. This event also marks the transition of the ministry of the gospel from John to Jesus. The forerunner had but one task left, and that was to identify the Messiah. By His baptism Jesus both validated John’s ministry and took over from him.Jesus Christ’s baptism was unique as John recognized. John’s was a baptism of repentance; even John himself needed to repent, but the spotless Lamb of God did not. This is why John asked Jesus to baptize him. In Jesus’ case, baptism was a dedicatory rite, for He said it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. The Old Testament stipulated that when something was to be dedicated to God’s use it was sprinkled (baptized) with water, thus signifying it was clean and acceptable to Him. Moreover, this applied to priests too (Exod 29:4), and as they commenced their duties at 30 years of age and the fact that this section particularly draws to our attention that this was Jesus’ age at the time seems to direct us to this explanation. This, then, was the purpose of Jesus Christ’s baptism: a formal dedication to the Father’s service (something He had spoken of eighteen years previously, §30). The Father’s audible voice from Heaven and the Holy Spirit’s visible presence confirmed Jesus’ acceptance.Understood thus, we do not follow Jesus Christ in His baptism, for His baptism was unique and we cannot follow Him in it any more than we can undergo the ‘baptism’ He underwent on the cross (Luke 12:50). We obey Jesus Christ’s command to be baptized; the baptism we practise is believer’s baptism which is both distinct from John’s baptism (see Acts 19:3–5) and the unique baptism of Jesus Christ. On Christ’s baptism, Criswell writes:In His baptism, Christ devotes Himself to the accomplishment of our salvation by His death, burial and resurrection. Herein He dedicates Himself to the great mission and purpose that brought Him into the world. His baptism is His formal entrance upon His official work. As such, He receives in this holy act the seal of divine approval. The Heavenly Father will sustain Him. His voice is heard from heaven. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit will be His inspiration. His coming ministry will have the divine delight and approval in all that He does. This is the meaning of His baptism by John in the Jordan River.There are many profound truths included in these four short verses. It is particularly pertinent that all three persons of the Trinity were present and clearly approved the ministry on which Jesus Christ was about to embark: the Father spoke His approval, the Holy Spirit indicated His approbation by His presence, and the Son demonstrated His willingness by placing Himself in the hands of a man whom He had created. The results of Jesus’ baptism were many: first, He received a special anointing of the Holy Spirit for His messianic office (Acts 10:38). Second, He identified Himself with the believing remnant of Israel, for, by the act of laying on of John’s hands, He was identified as the atonement offering. Third, He identified Himself with sinners (II Cor 5:21) so that He could become a substitute for us even though His act did not, nor could it, make Him a sinner. Fourth, John could positively identify Him to the nation Israel as their Messiah (John 1:34).Before leaving this section let us note very specifically that Jesus’ ministry was initiated with a spectacular announcement by a voice from Heaven to a large gathering of mankind that Jesus is God’s Son, and that all He was about to do met with God’s approval. So the Jewish nation was on notice that its Messiah had at last arrived; indeed, the human race had been served this notice by God Himself—nothing could have been more definite or specific. There was nothing secretive about Jesus’ ministry; it started with a public, supernatural announcement made to a large group of people whom God had ensured were expectantly awaiting just this event. Everyone who heard this announcement knew just Who Jesus is and what His ministry was about. We know we should be able to trace the race’s rapt and joyous response to this magnificent news, but we also know the actual story is one of abject neglect and indifference.One other detail needs to be noted and marveled at, and that is Jesus’ age, for He was about thirty years of age when this event took place. Now, Num 4:3, 23 gives thirty years of age as the divinely stipulated age for the commencement of priestly duties. Notably, both John and Jesus were this age when they commenced their service. God works within His own rules! He never needs exceptions, and this quashed any justifiable nit-picking over petty details![25][4]
Jesus’ Accreditation by GodSee Mark 1:9–11 for further details.3:13–14. John anticipates Jesus’ immediate baptism in the Spirit (see comment on 3:11).3:15. Jesus’ response seems to stress his identification with Israel in obedience to God’s law (cf. 5:17).3:16. Many believed that the Spirit was no longer available in their time; others believed that the Spirit simply did not work as forcefully as in the days of the prophets, until the time of the end. That the Spirit comes on Jesus indicates the inauguration of the messianic era and marks Jesus out as the Spirit-bearer and hence Messiah (3:11).3:17. Many believed that voices from heaven were the closest anyone came to prophecy in their time; Jesus has both kinds of witness: the heavenly voice and John’s prophecy. Matthew intends his more erudite readers to see allusions not only to a royal Messiah in Psalm 2:7, but also to the suffering servant of Isaiah 42:1–4 (see comment on Mt 12:18–21).[26][5]

III.     Jesus Came (3:13–17)

A.     Jesus and John (vv. 13–15).

Why was the sinless Son of God baptized? We suggest several reasons:

1. Obligation—“to fulfill all righteousness” (cf. John 8:29).

2. Consecration—the OT priest was washed, then anointed. Jesus submitted to water baptism, then the Holy Spirit came as a dove. See Ex. 29.

3. Commendation—Jesus gave His approval of John’s ministry and thus obligated the people to listen to John and obey him. Instead, the religious leaders rejected John’s baptism (Matthew 21:23–27).

4. Proclamation—this was John’s official introduction of Jesus to the Jewish nation. See John 1:31.

5. Anticipation—this water baptism looked forward to His baptism of suffering for us on the cross (Luke 12:50). Jesus fulfilled all righteousness through His sacrificial death on Calvary.

6. Identification—Jesus identified Himself with sinful men. Immediately after, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. There may be here a picture of the “scapegoat” that symbolically carried the nation’s sins into the wilderness (Lev. 16:1–10).

7. Application—Go ye and do likewise **

The Gk. word baptizo means “to dip, to immerse,” and John required “much water” for his baptism (John 3:23). All the waves and billows of God’s wrath were experienced by Jesus on the cross.

B.     Jesus and the Spirit (v. 16).

This was the sign God had promised to give John to identify Christ (John 1:31–34). Though Jesus and John were related (Luke 1:36), it is likely they had not seen each other for years. Even if John did know Jesus in the flesh, he would want the divine assurance from heaven. The symbol of the Spirit as a dove is important: the dove is a clean bird; it is faithful to its mate in love; it is peaceful and gentle. Christ was born through the power of the Spirit (Luke 1:34–35) and was also empowered by the Spirit for His life and ministry.

C.     Jesus and the Father (v. 17).

This is the first of three occasions when the Father spoke to the Son from heaven (see Matt. 17:5 and John 12:28). We have the Trinity revealed here: the Son is baptized, the Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven. As He entered His ministry, the Son was approved by the Father; as He approached the cross (17:5), He received that commendation again.[27]

II.     John Ministers to the Messiah (3:13–17)

A.     The agreement by the Baptist (3:13–15)

1.     Johns objection (3:13–14): John at first refuses Christ’s request to be baptized, feeling he is unworthy to do so.

2.     Johns obedience (3:15): After the second request he baptizes the Savior.

B.     The anointing by the Spirit (3:16): The Holy Spirit descends like a dove upon Jesus.

C.     The approval by the Father (3:17): A voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him.”[28]

Matthew 3:13–17

“This is Right”

13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”  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. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

1. The Agreement by the Baptist (3:13–15)

A.  John’s Objection (3:13–14): John at first refuses Christ’s request to be baptized, feeling he is unworthy to do so.

B.  John’s Obedience (3:15): John then baptizes the Savior and Lord.

++  The Greek word baptizo means “to immerse” and pictures death to self, immersion “in Christ,” and raised by the power of God to walk in newness of life.

++        The Greek word dikainosune translated righteousness means “fulfills the claims of díkē, [the designation for the right of established custom] which are God’s claims from His pure, powerful, and perfect Word.[1][1] Righteousness is thus conformity to the claims of higher authority and stands in opposition to lawlessness.[2][2]

2.      The Anointing by the Spirit (3:16): The Holy Spirit descends like a dove upon Jesus.

A.  Heavens Opened

B.  He saw the Spirit

C.  Heard the voice of God

3. The approval by the Father (3:17): A voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him.”

A.  Pleasure

B.  Purpose

C.  Praise [Three times God speaks audibly to Jesus; Matt 17:5; John 12:28] 

Conclusion and Application:  Why was the sinless Son of God baptized?  Why should we follow the Lord’s example?

1.      Obligation—“to fulfill all righteousness” [cf. John 8:29]

2.      Consecration—the OT priest was washed, then anointed. Jesus submitted to water baptism, then the Holy Spirit came as a dove. See Ex. 29.

3.      Commendation—Jesus gave His approval of John’s ministry and thus obligated the people to listen to John and obey him. Instead, the religious leaders rejected John’s baptism [Matt 21:23–27]

4.      Demonstration­­--Jesus was the humble Suffering Servant

5.      Declaration—Jesus was declared by God to be His only begotten Son, and the King of Israel, God’s chosen people

6.      Proclamation—this was John’s official introduction of Jesus to the Jewish nation [cf. John 1:31]

7.      Anticipation—this water baptism looked forward to His baptism of suffering for us on the cross [Luke 12:50]. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness through His sacrificial death on Calvary.

8.      Identification—Jesus identified Himself with sinful men. Immediately after, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. There is here a picture of the “scapegoat” that symbolically carried the nation’s sins into the wilderness [Lev. 16:1–10].  Jesus was also identified as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as Prophet, Priest, and King.

9.      Initiation—following Jesus’ baptism, His earthly ministry is inaugurated, and He is led immediately by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil

10. ApplicationGo ye and do likewise, I.e., be, do, go, and speak as pleasing the Father, as representing Jesus, and as filled with the Spirit


a a. At this point OLmss (a [g1]) add that a great light shone from the water and filled the spectators with fear. Though not in any Gr. mss, the addition is early, being possibly found in the Diatesseron (cf. Ephr), Ju and Epiph (quoting the Gos. Eb.). See TCGNT, 10–11.

b b. A few mss including sys omit εὐθύς, “immediately.”

c c. Important mss (א* B vgmss sys,c sa) do not contain αὐτῳ̂, “to him.” It is possible, however, that the word was originally a part of the text (as in א1 C Ds L W f1, 13 TR lat syp,h mae bo) and was omitted because it was regarded as unnecessary. The brackets reflect the uncertainty. See TCGNT, 11.

d d. The important mssא and B lack definite articles before πνευ̂μα, “spirit,” and θεου̂, “God.” The words do not thereby become indefinite in this instance, and the meaning is not affected.

e e. A few mss (D it vgmss [syh]) have καταβαίνοντα ἐκ του̂ οὐρανου̂, “coming down [the participle is masc. gender] from heaven.”

f f. א* B lat omit καί, “and,” while the majority of mss (א2 C DL W f1, 13 TR vgcl sy) include it.

g g. A few mss (D sys, c add πρὸς αὐτόν, “to him.”

h h. D a sys, c replace οὑ̂τός ἐστιν, “this is,” with σὺ εἰ̂, “you are,” undoubtedly by the influence of the parallel in Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22.

lit. literally

BDF F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and R. W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (University of Chicago/University of Cambridge, 1961)

e.g. exempli gratia, for example

i.e. id est, that is

cf. confer, compare

OT Old Testament

Q “Qumran”, “Qere” Qere (To be “read.” Masoretic suggested pronunciation for vocalized Hebrew text of the OT), or Quelle (“Sayings” source for the Gospels)

BAGD W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ET, ed. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich; 2d ed. rev. F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (University of Chicago, 1979)

s.v. sub verbo, under the word

b. Babylonian Talmud tractate Ḥagiga

TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., tr. G. W. Bromiley Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., ET (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76)

NT New Testament

LXX The Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT

NT Novum Testamentum

4QFlor Florilegium (or Eschatological Midrashim) from Qumran Cave 4

4Q 4QSama

mss manuscript(s)

[1] Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary (55). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[2] NIV Dictionary of the Bible

[3] Expositor’s Bible Commentary


[5] Life Application Bible

[6] POSB

72 Cf. esp. J. P. Meier, Law and History in Matthew’s Gospel (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1976), 76–80.

73 C. H. Talbert, Reading Luke (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 40.

74 L. Sabourin, L’ Évangile selon saint Matthieu et ses principaux parallèles (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978), 39.

Tg. Isa Targum of Isaiah

75 See H. N. Ridderbos (Matthew, BSC [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987], 59–60) for a helpful refutation of the view that this text teaches adoptionism—the idea that Jesus became God’s (adopted) Son only after his baptism.

[7] Blomberg, C. (2001, c1992). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (81). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[8] Ryle, J. C. (1993). Matthew. Originally published: New York : R. Carter, 1860. The Crossway classic commentaries (15). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[9] MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (73). Chicago: Moody Press.

[10] KJV Bible commentary. 1997, c1994 (1877). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[11] Johnson, B. W. (1999). The People's New Testament: With explanatory notes (29). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[12] Augsburger, M. S., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 24: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 24 : Matthew. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (18). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[13] The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew Vol. I. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (74). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[14] The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew Vol. I. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (100). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[15]Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The Teacher's Commentary. Includes index. (531). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

it it Old Latin


ms. nr. a     3
saec. IV
bibliotheca Vercelli, Bibl. Capitolare
cont. e (vac. Mt 25,2-12; Mc 1,22-34; 15,15–16,20; L 11,12-26; 12,37-59)

vg vg Vulgate

ms ms manuscript of an early version, or of a Church Father’s text, when differing from the edited text.

{C} {C} The letter {C} indicates that the Committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.


ms. nr. *א 01
saec. IV
bibliotheca London, Brit. Libr., Add. 43725
cont. eapr

* * The original reading of a manuscript (when the reading ofa manuscript has been corrected); correlative with c.


ms. nr. *B 03
saec. IV
bibliotheca Città del Vaticano, Bibl. Vat., Vat. gr. 1209
cont. eap (vac 1T-Phm; H 9,14-fin.)

Irenaeus Irenaeus (d. II)

lat lat a Latin translation of a work by a Greek Church Father which has not survived entire in its original form.


ms. nr. b     4
saec. V
bibliotheca Verona, Bibl. Capitolare, VI (6)
cont. e (vac. Mt 1,1-11; 15,12-22; 23,18-27; Mc 13,11-16; 13,27–14,24; 14,56–16,20; L 19,26–21,29; J 7,44–8,12)


ms. nr. c     6
saec. XII/XIII
bibliotheca Paris, Bibl. Nat., Lat. 254 (Colbertinus 4051)
cont. e


ms. nr. h     12
saec. V
bibliotheca Roma, Bibl. Vatic., Lat. 7223, fol. 1-66
cont. Mt 3,15–14,33; 18,12–28,20

al alia (other witnesses)

[16] Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (8). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

[17] McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible Commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (4:20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

165 165. Benno Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew and His World of Thought, pp. 91–94.

166 166. Toussaint, p. 73.

167 167. Don B. Garlington, “Jesus, the Unique Son of God: Tested and Faithful,” Bibliotheca Sacra 151:603 (July-September 1994):287. “The thesis of this article is that Jesus’ testing in the wilderness of Judea is one of the most significant indicators of His uniqueness. In fact it may not be stretching the point to say that the very purpose of the temptation narratives is to underscore His uniqueness” (p. 285).

168 168. Craig A. Blaising, “The Fulfillment of the Biblical Covenants,” in Progressive Dispensationalism, p. 195.

169 169. Kingsbury, p. 52.

170 These Latin terms mean essentially “own words” and “own voice” respectively. As used in New Testament studies, the former phrase indicates a verbatim quotation and the latter a free quotation. The former refers to the words the speaker in the narrative used and the latter to the words of the writer who interpreted the speaker’s words.

171 171. Kingsbury, p. 51.

172 172. Allen, p. 29.

173 173. Kingsbury, p. 44. In a footnote to this statement the writer added, “To illustrate this, notice how the words Satan speaks in 4:3, 6 (‘If you are the Son of God . . .’) pick up directly on the declaration God makes in the baptismal pericope (‘This is my beloved Son . . .’).”

174 174. Ibid., p. 52.

175 175. Tasker, p. 50.

176 176. See S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “The Baptism of Christ,” Bibliotheca Sacra 123:491 (July-September 1966):220-29.

[18] Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Mt 3:11). Galaxie Software.

[19] The Biblical Illustrator

cf. confer, compare

[20] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An exposition of the scriptures (2:25). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[21] Ryle, J.C., Commentary on Matthew

[22][1]Youngblood, R. F. (1997, c1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary : An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations (F. Bruce, Ed.) (electronic ed. of the revised ed. of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[23][2]Youngblood, R. F. (1997, c1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary : An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations (F. Bruce, Ed.) (electronic ed. of the revised ed. of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[24][3]Youngblood, R. F. (1997, c1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary : An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations (F. Bruce, Ed.) (electronic ed. of the revised ed. of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[25][4]Mills, M. (1999). The Life of Christ : A study guide to the Gospel record. Three volumes: 1. The Advent of Jesus 2. The Beginning of the Gospel 3. Jesus presents Himself ot Israel. Dallas: 3E Ministries.
[26][5]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Mt 3:12-17). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[27] Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the New Testament (20). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[28] Willmington, H. L. (1999). The Outline Bible (Mt 3:11-12). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

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