In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.’”
4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” ~ Matthew 3:1-12.
John the Baptist preaches repentance in the wilderness of Judea, in preparing the way for his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
People from Jerusalem, Judea and the region around the Jordan go out to him as he preaches and baptizes in the Jordan.
John insists that true repentance will result in the fruit of changed lives. He confronts the religious hypocrites — the Pharisees and Sadducees — and magnifies the coming Saviour and His convicting work through the Holy Spirit. He says that Christ will also exercise final judgement.
“John the Baptist” (v.1) — John who baptized (immersed). Preached in the wilderness of Judea.
“The voice of one … straight” (v.3) – This is a quote from Isaiah 40:3.
“Clothed in camel’s hair … wild honey” (v.4) – clothing and lifestyle of John.
Verses 5-7 show the great hunger for God of the first century Jews. Even the religious leaders came. They communicate the religious fervor which John caused.
“bear fruits worthy of repentance” (v.8) — Their lives must show their new relationship with God.
“We have Abraham as our father” (v.9) – The Jews believed that the merit of Abraham’s faith was applied to them. However, Malachi 3:2 and 4:1 show that judgment would come upon the Jews for their violations of the Covenant (Matthew 8:11-12). Lifestyle faith, not lineage, is the way to recognize a true child of Abraham (cf. Romans 2:28-29).
“the axe is laid to the root of the trees” (v.10) — This judgment theme is similar to Malachi’s. A parallel can be seen in Isaiah 10:33-34.
“whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (v.11) — This was a colloquial statement of John’s understanding of the superiority of Jesus. Not even the students of rabbis were asked to perform this task.
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” — Only one preposition and one article in the Greek text link the Holy Spirit and fire, implying that they are parallel (see Isaiah 4:4). However, as in Luke 3:17, fire may refer to judgment, while the Holy Spirit refers to cleansing or to purity.
“He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (v.12) — The metaphor Jesus used to describe the eternal judgment of God (see Isaiah 66:24) was Gehenna (contraction of “the valley of the sons of Hinnom”), the garbage dump located south of Jerusalem (see Mark 9:48; Matthew 18:8; 24:41; Jude 7). A Canaanite fire and fertility god had been worshiped (an activity known as molech) at Gehenna in Israel’s past by sacrificing of children (see Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 21:6; 23:10). This aspect of eternal judgment is shocking to modern readers, but it was evident (rabbinical teaching) and expressive to first century Jews. Jesus did not come as judge, but all who reject Him will be judged (see Luke 3:16-17, John 3:17-21).