Matthew 3 – John the Baptist & Baptism in the Ancient World

The Roman’s were not Jesus’ main enemies; they were Pharisees and the Sadducees.  I had mentioned them both Thursday, but tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at…

Matthew 3
John the Baptist

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

Many famous artists have depicted John. This is by Leonardo da Vinci.
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure in Christianity.
He was the forerunner for Jesus.

“John the Baptist” – Jesus cousin and His forerunner.

“Wilderness of Judea” – an area that stretched some 20 miles from the Jerusalem-Bethlehem plateau down to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, perhaps the same region where John lived.  The people of Qumran (often associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls) lived in this area too.

2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Elijah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

“A man living in the wilderness didn’t hesitate to eat insects, and locusts were among the clean foods (Lev 11:21-22).  John’s simple food, clothing and life-style were a visual protest against self-indulgence.  Elijah dressed and ate just like John the Baptist.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

The Jordan River Today

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees [i.e., Catholic Pope/Priests] come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

“Pharisees and Sadducees” – the Pharisees were a legalist and separatistic group who strictly, but often hypocritically, kept the law of Moses and the unwritten “tradition of the elders” (15:2).

The Sadducees were more worldly and politically minded, and were theologically unorthodox – among other things denying the resurrection, angels and spirits (Acts 23:8).

For an example, the Catholic church is like the Pharisees and Congress is like the Sadducees.

8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

“We have Abraham to our father” – Salvation doesn’t come as a birthright (even for the Jews) but through faith in Jesus (Rom 2:28-29; Gal 3:7, 9, 29).

“Children unto Abraham” – the true people of God are not limited to the physical descendants of Abraham.

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (Jn 14:15-17).

“The axe is laid unto the root of the trees” – judgment is near.

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

“With the Holy Ghost and…fire” – demonstrated in a dramatic way at Pentecost (Acts 1:5, 8, 2:1-13, 11:16), though here “fire” may refer to judgment to come.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all God’s people was promised in Joel 2:28-29.  But you can get to know Him better.

12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

“Fan” – or “winnowing fork” for the process of winnowing.  Here it is figurative for the day of judgment at Christ’s second coming.

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

Tomb of St. John the Baptist at a Coptic monastery in Lower Egypt. The bones of St. John the Baptist were said to have been found here.

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

15 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.

16 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:

3:16-17 – all three persons of the Trinity are clearly seen here.  This alone is not a proof of the Trinity, but an intimation of it.  We prove the Trinity by showing there are three eternal Persons, each of whom has the attributes of deity, yet there is only one God (1 Jn 5:7)

“Spirit of God” – the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, not to overcome sin because He was sinless, but to equip Him for His work as the divine-human Messiah.

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Baptism in the Ancient World

People have turned baptism into a pagan event.  When a person is baptized with water all he or she is doing is professing their faith in Jesus Christ.  It does not forgive you of your sins, only God can do that.

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one (Job 14:4).

“And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cher; thy sins be forgiven thee.

And behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins…” (Matt 9:2-6).

Just like a wedding ring, wearing one does not make you married, it only symbolizes the marriage.  

When Jesus was here he either told us what we needed to do, for example, confess out sins to God.  Or He gave us an example, such as being immersed in water during baptism.

Modern Baptism in a Catholic Church

If a piece of clothing is filthy you are unable to dab the filth away, you wash it thoroughly to make it clean.  When we are baptized and immerse ourselves in water we are saying, “Jesus, I believe in You, please take away my filthy sins.”

The Catholics have truly abused the meaning of baptism.  For example, baptizing a child means nothing because that child is not old enough to even know Jesus, let alone claim their faith in Him.

 Ritual immersion in water, or baptism, represented a powerful and frequently used religious symbol in ancient Judaism. This sacramental ceremony was enacted to symbolize purification and the removal of sin or was sometimes used as an initiation rite to consecrate a change of status or a conversion.

In the Old Testament, rites of immersion were associated with maintaining ritual purity, especially for priests (Lev 15; 16:4, 24).

Known as “The Devil’s Door”
Many church buildings in England have these doors, they are normally located on the north side and has a 12th century tympanum carved with a wingless griffin and a lion facing at the top.

In the early Catholic Church, those adults bringing children to baptism would face the rear of the church, away from the Sun, the sponsors renounced the Devil, then they turned, facing the rising Sun in the East, made their covenant with Christ and the priest then held the baptismal ceremony and exorcism of the child.

Henry VIII of England had just one legitimate son, Prince Edward, born 1537. Edward was brought up as a protestant. He became king in 1547. During his reign, he used the baptismal formula taken from Bishop Burnet. The formula whilst borrowed from the Catholics, which was taken from the pagan system

Roman Catholicism, far from being founded upon Biblical truth, is deeply rooted in and derived from heathen practices instigated by the Babylonian religion. Almost every part of Roman Catholic practice, worship (of Mary, saints), ritual, teachings and leadership finds its counterpart in the mystery religions of Babylon or heathenism. Such as from there found itself in the denominations.

During the New Testament period, water itself and immersion in water functioned as the primary means by which ritual impurity was removed within Pharisaic Judaism (Mt 15:2; Jn 2:6).

Baptism was practiced by the Essene community at Qumran as a symbolic act by which one was “made holy by the waters of repentance.” 

During the 1st century A.D. certain groups within Judaism began to practice proselyte baptism, a rite that required converts, in addition to male circumcision, to undergo immersion in a ritual bath prior to their full reception into the community.

Purification through immersion in ritual baths was required for all Jews in order to preserve that state of purity without which they could neither enter the temple nor participate in its services during major festivals (Num 9:10; Jn 11:55; Acts 21:24—27; Josephus, Wars, 1.11.6).

A number of Jewish ritual baths, or miqvaot (singular miqveh), have been excavated in Jerusalem, Jericho and elsewhere. By rabbinical law these had to hold at least 60 gallons of water and be deep enough to complete immersehe body.

Within emerging Christianity the rite of baptism acquired fundamental importance.  Baptism in water defined the central symbolic act required by John the Baptist in the course of his preparatory preaching in the wilderness (Matt 3; Mk 1:4).

It is precisely this act for which he was divinely commissioned and later received the epithet “the Baptist” (Matt 3:1; Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5.2).  John summoned his hearers to be baptized in light of the imminent advent of God’s judgment upon the earth (Matt 3:5-6; Lk 3:17).

His baptism thus evoked prophetic images of cleansing with water for forgiveness, purification and the repentance that would characterize the Messianic age (Jer 31; Eze 36:25; Zec 13:1).

This is how and why the Catholics tell their tale that their priests can forgive sin, when everyone knows that only God can forgive sin.

“Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mk 2:7).

The Gospels present the baptism of John as a necessary precursor to the public ministry of Jesus, who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11).  The risen Jesus sanctioned this sacramental act as a sign showing others that they love Jesus.

…the Pharisees.