A Moment with the Bible
Since the Father has proclaimed Jesus as “His beloved Son,” Satan immediately challenges that claim. “If you are the Son of God” is his repeated preface. This is not the only time that Jesus will be tempted. He was tempted all His life, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Luke 4:13 states that after this temptation, Satan “departed from Him until an opportune time.” Indeed, that is Satan’s pattern with all men. He is always looking for an opportune time.
This is only the third time in the Bible that we hear Satan speak. He spoke in the Garden when he defamed God to man (Gen. 3:2). He spoke again in Job 1:9 when he defamed man to God. He speaks here in this text when he defames the God-Man to His face. Thus his name “devil” (accuser, slanderer) is justly given.
Satan uses three temptations. These are the same three that he used on Eve. He first tempts Jesus with the lust of the flesh: turn these stones to bread. Then he tempts with the lust of the eye: he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Finally, he tempts with the pride of life: throw Yourself down from the temple and the angels will bear you up. These are the three categories of temptations Satan uses (1 Jn. 2:16). These are all he has, but they have worked against all men. 2 Corinthians 2:11 tells us that we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. If we are not ignorant of them, we should do a better job in overcoming them.
Notice how Jesus uses scripture to defeat Satan’s challenge. Knowing the word of God is the first key to defeating Satan. Satan is a liar and he uses his deception to trick us. The nature of Satan’s temptations is also significant. In each case Satan tries to get Jesus to take a shortcut. Jesus was hungry. No need to wait for the Father to fulfill the need, do it now! Jesus came to rule the world. No need to sacrifice, bow to me and I will give them to you. Jesus came to have all men honor Him. You can have the glory immediately by jumping off the temple and having the angels catch You. Thus, we see the essence of Satan’s temptations. Instead of having our needs fulfilled in the God’s time and in God’s way, we are urged to follow the easy, quick path, the path of sin.
A Moment with the Bible
The baptism of Jesus signals the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The question is, “Why was Jesus baptized?” Mark’s account tells us that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Obviously, Jesus did not have sins. In fact, John seems to recognize this fact immediately by trying to prevent Jesus from being baptized. Therefore, Jesus convinces John to baptize Him on the basis that He needs to “fulfill all righteousness.” Simply put, it was appropriate for Jesus to be baptized in order Him to both do what was right and point the way to righteousness. Jesus could not have very well refused baptism seeing that those who refused baptism were accused of “rejecting the counsel of God against themselves” (Lk. 7:30).
It is significant to note that the baptism of John is connected with the need of the sinner just as the baptism of Christ was later commanded for the salvation of the sinner (Mk. 16:15-16). To see baptism as only “an act of obedience” for a person already saved is to miss the whole point. With both John’s and Christ’s baptism, the sinner is baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4 & Acts 2:38).
It is also important to note that John’s baptism was immersion. The very word in the Greek for baptism means immersion. Our text says that Jesus “came up from the water.” Later, John baptized near Aenon “because there was much water there” (Jn. 3:23).
Notice further that all three individuals in the Godhead are present at the baptism. The “Father’s voice” is heard from heaven, the “Spirit” comes on Jesus in the form of a dove, and Jesus is baptized. For those who believe that “God” is just one person, this text represents a formidable challenge. God is a “family” name representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “One God” refers to one God-family, not one person. Genesis 1:26 tells us that God said, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.” Jesus and the Spirit were both there creating just as the Father (Gen. 1:2; John 1:1-3).
A Moment with the Bible
The text before us is certainly controversial and has been open to a variety of viewpoints. The common mistake is considering verses 11-12 independently of the context. There are a couple of things we must remember. First, John the Baptist began this speech in verse 7 to the Pharisees and Sadducees. John zeroed in on the coming judgment on the Jewish nation because they had not borne the fruit expected of them. Second, we must hear this text in the same way these Jews would have heard John. In other words, we must think “Jewish.” There is a tendency to read the text in a 21st century context instead of a 1st century context. Therefore, how did these Jews hear the words of John concerning One who would come and baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire?
In order to understand verse 11, notice that verse 12 is a commentary on what Jesus would do when He baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. There is a positive and a negative. On one hand He would “gather His wheat into the barn.” This corresponds to the work of baptizing with the Holy Spirit. But He would also “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” This corresponds to His work of baptizing with fire. John had said in verse 10 that every tree that did not bear good fruit would be cut down and thrown into the “fire.” Thus, “fire” in the text is a reference to judgment – in this case, judgment on Israel.
How did these Jews hear the words, “baptize you with the Holy Spirit”? In John 1:33, the Baptist had said, “He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” A studied Jew would have connected these words with prophecies such as Isaiah 32:14-15 and Joel 2:28–3:3 where God promised a renewal of blessings on Israel through the coming kingdom of the Messiah. God would renew His covenant with them and bring a new revelation that would provide a means for their salvation. At the same time, Joel spoke of judgment on the physical nation. These are the same ingredients the Baptist uses in his speech. The Messiah would bring both judgment on the physical nation and blessings on those who repented. Baptism with the Holy Spirit signifies immersing the believer in the blessings of the new kingdom and covenant.
A Moment with the Bible
First, in this section we need to be impressed with John’s baptism. John taught a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4). Here we see the people being baptized and at the same time “confessing their sins.” This confession of sin was unique to John’s baptism and in keeping with its purpose. This was a baptism of repentance and was used to turn the people away from their immoral life. Christ’s baptism, which begins in Acts 2:38, was different from John’s in regard to its purpose as well as different in what one believed and understood (Acts 19:4).
The picture of John’s baptism, that of an immersion in water, was perfect as a transition from Judaism to Christianity. The Jews were accustomed to “washings” that cleansed and prepared them for worship and fellowship with God. So John’s baptism prepared them for fellowship with the Messiah and entrance into the kingdom.
The popularity of John’s baptism is remarkable. Even the Jewish leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees, were making the trek to the Jordan for baptism. But John recognized their insincerity. They apparently were joining in this new fad for appearances sake, but had no intention of changing their lives. Thus, John calls them a pit of poisonous snakes who were fleeing a desert fire. Their doctrines killed anyone who came near. It would do them no good to submit to this baptism if they were not intending to actually change. How many today follow the “fad” of Christianity, but have no intention of living a pure and righteous life?
Verse nine reveals one of the common errors of the Jewish people. They believed that since they had a physical connection to Abraham, they would escape the wrath of God. But God judges without partiality (Rom. 2:6-11). In fact, John says their judgment was near. God was ready to cut down every tree that did not bear good fruit. The judgment on the Israel nation as prophesied in Daniel 9 would happen in 70 A.D. A Jew would say, “How could this be? We are the Lord’s people?” But John’s answer is that God was able to raise up children to Abraham from stones. This is certainly a veiled reference to bringing in the Gentiles. Matthew has now mentioned the Gentiles in a favorable light in each of the first three chapters.
A Moment with the Bible
Each of the Gospel accounts follow the same pattern of first telling us about John the Baptist prior to showing us the work of Jesus. As in the case of any great person, especially a king, Jesus does not appear before He is first announced. John is the herald preparing the way before Him. Luke 1:17 tells us that John was “preparing a people ready for the Lord.” These were evil days in the history of Israel and John came in likeness of Elijah the prophet turning the people back to true righteousness and readying them for the appearance of Jesus.
“Repent” is the first word of the gospel. It is universal because no person can say they have no need of it (Acts 17:30). It is continuous because no person can say they have ceased from sin (1 Jn. 1:8). It is imperative because no person can be saved without it (Lk. 13:3). But change – giving up those sins and practices we love – is the reason most people will be lost eternally. John’s command encourages an urgency – “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The kingdom was about to begin in his day; it has already arrived in our day and the Lord could return at any time. How much more should we heed the urgency?
It is significant that John’s ministry was in the wilderness. The nation of Israel had spiritually become a parched and dry wilderness. Isaiah had pictured these days in his prophecy as days in which Israel had become like a wilderness (Isa. 32:15-16). But in the same prophecy, Isaiah spoke of God turning the wilderness into a fruitful field. As the Lord’s kingdom was nearing, so were the days in which Israel would again be spiritually fruitful.
What is this coming kingdom of which John speaks? “Kingdom,” and specifically the “kingdom of heaven” was the fulfillment of all that the prophets foretold and the greatest hope of Israel. Unfortunately, the common belief of the day was that God’s new kingdom would be a great physical kingdom that would rule over the whole earth. But Matthew introduces to us the kingdom of heaven. It would not be earthly, but spiritual, with its headquarters in heaven. Matthew uses this term 37 times to impress upon his people the spiritual nature of the coming kingdom.