For the proper introduction to this section, we must go to
Lu 3:1, 2.
Here, as BENGEL well observes, the curtain of the
New Testament is, as it were, drawn up, and the greatest of all epochs
of the Church commences. Even our Lord's own age is determined by it
No such elaborate chronological precision is to be found elsewhere in
the New Testament, and it comes fitly from him who claims it as the
peculiar recommendation of his Gospel, that "he had traced down all
things with precision from the very first"
Here evidently commences his proper narrative.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius
Cæsar--not the fifteenth from his full accession on the
death of Augustus, but from the period when he was associated with him
in the government of the empire, three years earlier, about the end of
the year of Rome 779, or about four years before the usual reckoning.
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea--His proper title
was procurator, but with more than the usual powers of that
office. After holding it for about ten years, he was summoned to Rome
to answer to charges brought against him; but ere he arrived, Tiberius
died (A.D. 35), and soon after miserable Pilate
And Herod being tetrarch of Galilee--(See on
and his brother Philip--a very different and very
superior Philip to the one whose name was Herod Philip, and
whose wife, Herodias, went to live with Herod Antipas (see on
tetrarch of Ituræa--lying to the northeast of
Palestine, and so called from Itur or Jetur, Ishmael's
and anciently belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh.
and of the region of Trachonitis--lying farther to the northeast,
between Iturea and Damascus; a rocky district infested by robbers, and
committed by Augustus to Herod the Great to keep in order.
and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene--still more to the northeast;
so called, says ROBINSON,
from Abila, eighteen miles from Damascus.
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests--The former, though
deposed, retained much of his influence, and, probably, as sagan or
deputy, exercised much of the power of the high priesthood along with
Caiaphas, his son-in-law
In David's time both Zadok and Abiathar acted as high priests
and it seems to have been the fixed practice to have two
the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the
wilderness--Such a way of speaking is never once used when
speaking of Jesus, because He was Himself The Living Word;
whereas to all merely creature-messengers of God, the word they spoke
was a foreign element. See on
We are now prepared for the opening words of Matthew.
1. In those days--of Christ's secluded life at Nazareth, where the last
chapter left Him.
came John the Baptist, preaching--about six months before his Master.
in the wilderness of Judea--the desert valley of the Jordan, thinly
peopled and bare in pasture, a little north of Jerusalem.
2. And saying, Repent ye--Though the word strictly denotes a
change of mind, it has respect here (and wherever it is used in
connection with salvation) primarily to that sense of sin which
leads the sinner to flee from the wrath to come, to look for relief only
from above, and eagerly to fall in with the provided remedy.
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand--This sublime phrase, used in
none of the other Gospels, occurs in this peculiarly Jewish Gospel
nearly thirty times; and being suggested by Daniel's grand vision of the
Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days, to
receive His investiture in a world-wide kingdom
(Da 7:13, 14),
it was fitted at once both to meet the national expectations and to
turn them into the right channel. A kingdom for which repentance
was the proper preparation behooved to be essentially spiritual.
Deliverance from sin, the great blessing of Christ's kingdom
can be valued by those only to whom sin is a burden
John's great work, accordingly, was to awaken this feeling and hold out
the hope of a speedy and precious remedy.
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying--
The voice of one crying in the wilderness--(See on
the scene of his ministry corresponding to its rough nature.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight--This
prediction is quoted in all the four Gospels, showing that it was
regarded as a great outstanding one, and the predicted forerunner as the
connecting link between the old and the new economies. Like the great
ones of the earth, the Prince of peace was to have His immediate
approach proclaimed and His way prepared; and the call here--taking it
generally--is a call to put out of the way whatever would obstruct His
progress and hinder His complete triumph, whether those hindrances were
public or personal, outward or inward. In Luke
(Lu 3:5, 6)
the quotation is thus continued: "Every valley shall be filled, and
every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be
made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh
shall see the salvation of God." Levelling and smoothing are here the
obvious figures whose sense is conveyed in the first words of the
proclamation--"Prepare ye the way of the Lord." The idea is that
every obstruction shall be so removed as to reveal to the whole world
the salvation of God in Him whose name is the "Saviour." (Compare
Isa 11:10; 49:6; 52:10;
Lu 2:31, 32;
4. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair--woven of it.
and a leathern girdle about his loins--the prophetic dress of Elijah
and his meat was locusts--the great, well-known Eastern locust, a food
of the poor
and wild honey--made by wild bees
(1Sa 14:25, 26).
This dress and diet, with the shrill cry in the wilderness, would
recall the stern days of Elijah.
5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region
round about Jordan--From the metropolitan center to the extremities of
the Judean province the cry of this great preacher of repentance and
herald of the approaching Messiah brought trooping penitents and eager
6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins--probably
confessing aloud. This baptism was at once a public seal of their felt
need of deliverance from sin, of their expectation of the coming
Deliverer, and of their readiness to welcome Him when He appeared. The
baptism itself startled, and was intended to startle, them. They were
familiar enough with the baptism of proselytes from heathenism; but
this baptism of Jews themselves was quite new and strange to them.
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his
baptism, he said unto them--astonished at such a spectacle.
O generation of vipers--"Viper brood," expressing the deadly influence
of both sects alike upon the community. Mutually and entirely
antagonistic as were their religious principles and spirit, the stern
prophet charges both alike with being the poisoners of the nation's
religious principles. In
Mt 12:34; 23:33,
this strong language of the Baptist is anew applied by the faithful and
true Witness to the Pharisees specifically--the only party that had
zeal enough actively to diffuse this poison.
who hath warned you--given you the hint, as the idea is.
to flee from the wrath to come?--"What can have brought you
hither?" John more than suspected it was not so much their own spiritual
anxieties as the popularity of his movement that had drawn them thither.
What an expression is this, "The wrath to come!" God's "wrath," in
Scripture, is His righteous displeasure against sin, and consequently
against all in whose skirts sin is found, arising out of the essential
and eternal opposition of His nature to all moral evil. This is called
"the coming wrath," not as being wholly future--for as a merited
sentence it lies on the sinner already, and its effects, both inward and
outward, are to some extent experienced even now--but because the
impenitent sinner will not, until "the judgment of the great day," be
concluded under it, will not have sentence publicly and irrevocably
passed upon him, will not have it discharged upon him and experience its
effects without mixture and without hope. In this view of it, it is a
wrath wholly to come, as is implied in the noticeably different form
of the expression employed by the apostle in
Not that even true penitents came to John's baptism with all these
views of "the wrath to come." But what he says is that this was the
real import of the step itself. In this view of it, how striking
is the word he employs to express that step--fleeing from it--as
of one who, beholding a tide of fiery wrath rolling rapidly towards
him, sees in instant flight his only escape!
8. Bring forth therefore fruits--the true reading clearly is "fruit";
meet for repentance--that is, such fruit as befits a true penitent.
John now being gifted with a knowledge of the human heart, like a true
minister of righteousness and lover of souls here directs them how to
evidence and carry out their repentance, supposing it genuine; and in
the following verses warns them of their danger in case it were not.
9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our
father--that pillow on which the nation so fatally reposed, that
rock on which at length it split.
for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up
children unto Abraham--that is, "Flatter not yourselves with the
fond delusion that God stands in need of you, to make good His promise
of a seed to Abraham; for I tell you that, though you were all to
perish, God is as able to raise up a seed to Abraham out of those stones
as He was to take Abraham himself out of the rock whence he was hewn,
out of the hole of the pit whence he was digged"
Though the stern speaker may have pointed as he spoke to the pebbles of
the bare clay hills that lay around (so STANLEY'S
Sinai and Palestine), it was clearly the calling of the
Gentiles--at that time stone-dead in their sins, and quite as
unconscious of it--into the room of unbelieving and disinherited Israel
that he meant thus to indicate (see
Ro 11:20, 30).
10. And now also--And even already.
the axe is laid unto--"lieth at."
the root of the trees--as it were ready to strike: an expressive
figure of impending judgment, only to be averted in the way next
therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down,
and cast into the fire--Language so personal and individual as this
can scarcely be understood of any national judgment like the approaching
destruction of Jerusalem, with the breaking up of the Jewish polity and
the extrusion of the chosen people from their peculiar privileges which
followed it; though this would serve as the dark shadow, cast before, of
a more terrible retribution to come. The "fire," which in another verse
is called "unquenchable," can be no other than that future "torment" of
the impenitent whose "smoke ascendeth up for ever and ever," and which
by the Judge Himself is styled "everlasting punishment"
What a strength, too, of just indignation is in that word "cast" or
"flung into the fire!"
The third Gospel here adds the following important particulars in
And the people--the multitudes.
asked him, saying, What shall we do then?--that is, to show the
sincerity of our repentance.
He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him
impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat--provisions,
let him do likewise--This is directed against the reigning avarice
and selfishness. (Compare the corresponding precepts of the Sermon on
Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him,
what shall we do?--In what special way is the genuineness