Matthew chapter 3 begins with John the Baptist preaching in the Judean wilderness, telling everyone to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – which Jesus Himself will proclaim as well. John’s manner of dress in verse 4 is distinctly similar to that described of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8, and that appearance, as well as the diet described, were common to the desert people, who would also be the poorer people of the land. This new and increasingly well-known prophet was attracting much attention from the people, and the religious community (see John 1:19-38). In verse 7, both Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out to watch his baptisms – no doubt with bad intentions toward him.
The word “Pharisee” means “separated one,” and they were the more popular of the Jewish sects of the times. Many seemed very self-righteous, and imposed strict adherence to teachings and “rules” that were not commanded by God’s word. The term “Sadducees” came from the sons of Zadok, who was the high priest during the days of David and Solomon (1 Kings 1:32-34). They were known as aristocrats and political opportunists; and they had much political power. Baptism had been required of Gentiles converting to Judaism, but now John was preaching and performing baptism (immersing people in the river Jordan) for repentance – a term not only for remorse and confession, but also for “turning” one’s thinking, way of living, and even one’s mind around to different way.
As verse 3 confirms that John is the one prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, he is preparing the way for Jesus to be revealed to Israel (John 1:31). When Jesus comes to have John baptize Him, John is reluctant because he knows He needs no repentance. But Jesus reminds him in verse 15 that it was God who had told John to start baptizing people in the first place, and how he would know that Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:31-34). John gives first person account of that in those verses.
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