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Matthew 3:1-17
Introduction to Messiah
Last Updated 3/19/00


In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 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. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 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. 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. 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: 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. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 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. 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: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

3:1 John the Baptist

John = Yo-chanan,  meaning, "YHVH was gracious, showed favor."

John is referred to as being "in the wilderness," an area near the Dead Sea which was inhabited by a number of people, including certain religious groups seeking to get away from the established authority in Jerusalem. One group, the Essenes broke away from the Pharisees and Saducees (see 3:7 below) and established themselves in the wilderness, forming their own system of sacrifices (due to corruption of Saducees), somewhere between 200 BCE and 100 BCE.  John the Baptist was probably an Essene who eventually broke away from the main group and formed his own.

Discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls (also called the Qumran documents/scrolls) have shown a very Messianic-oriented community that had certain ways of communicating. For the purpose of this study, we agree with the scholars who believe these people included Essenes. A later group that broke away from the Essenes, were the Ebionites. They were very much isolated after the destruction of Temple.

Suffice it to say, the Wilderness was a very spiritual place – perhaps more so than Jerusalem at that time. We also know from Scripture that John the Baptist was raised in the Wilderness area and had a following of his own. (Matthew chapter 3 & chapter 11, Acts 18:25; 19:3) Extra-Biblical writings say that John was saved from the slaughter of the innocents (Matt 2:16) by hiding in the wilderness. We also know that Yeshua and John were cousins and were aware of each other.


The root meaning of "baptize" is to immerse so that what is dipped takes on the qualities of what it has been dipped in. Ritual purity was important in many instances and is mentioned through the Tenakh. What we call "baptism" was a mikveh (ritual bath) and is still used today.

A highly recommended book that explains some of the deeper spiritual dimensions of the Mikvah is, Waters of Eden - The Mystery of the Mikvah, by Aryeh Kaplan.

3:2 Repent

Repent = "T’shuvah," (teh-SHOO-vah) and means turning from sin and returning to God. God "grants repentance" but it still requires "action" on our part (See Lamentations 5:21). Biblical repentance and turning from sin involves turning toward God. As we are all easily decieved, how do we know we are in fact turned "toward God?" What revelation has He given us as a guideline? He has given His Torah for this purpose (see 3:6 below).

3:2 Kingdom of Heaven

The term "Kingdom of Heaven" is used in place of "God" by Matthew in 32 of 36 places. It refers not to a time or place but a condition in which God’s promises of a restored universe are fulfilled. (Hebrew = Tikun Olam) For followers of Messiah, the Kingdom is both present and to come. This is similar to our salvation. We may be "saved" now, but our full salvation is yet to come. (See also comments on "the Gospel" in the next section.)

3:2 The Kingdom "is near" or "is at hand"

A more appropriate translation would be, "the Kingdom of Heaven is offered to come." (1) The Kingdom of heaven was actually being "offered" by God at this time, similar to how it was offered at Mount Sinai. At that time, the sin of the golden calf caused the offer to be "withdrawn" by God, and the opportunity to usher in the Messianic era was bumped into the future, at a time predicted by the prophet Daniel. The next opportunity arrived some 1300 years later, when John the Baptist announced the arrival of the Messiah Himself. Although a large minority of the Jews at that time accepted John's message about Yeshua, the greater majority did not, and again the offer of the Kingdom was withdrawn.

Click here to read a detailed article on the "Kingdom Offer."

3:3 ... in the wilderness

Yeshua challenges the crowd of onlookers by saying, "What did you go out in the Wilderness to see?" (Matt 11:9) Why were these people going out to the Wilderness? The answer lies with a commonly mistranslated verse, John 1:23, which usually reads:

"The voice of one crying in the Wilderness: 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'"

The problem lies with the punctuation, which is shown to be different in the Masoretic text, which reads:

"The voice of one crying: 'In the Wilderness make straight the way of the Lord.'"

The Hebrew shows that the message is being cried out to the people who are in the Wilderness. Why are they there? Because there was an understanding based on Scripture that the Messiah would first come there – which He did. The "crier" may or may not be in the desert - but the Messiah definitely is. Yeshua appeared to this community (Essenes?), was baptized by John, and only then came to Jerusalem. For anyone wondering where Yeshua was between the ages of 13-30, this might offers some insight.

An excellent new book on the Messianic view of the Qumran community is, The First Messiah, by Michael O. Wise.

3:4 John's appearance

John did not dress as a typical Essene, who were known to wear white garments. His appearance is a direct association with the poor, and an association with Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). He ate locusts, some of which are kosher (Leviticus 11:21,22), and were the poor man’s food in Yeshua’s day. John lived outside the normal framework of the society so he could perform his task.

3:6 Confessing their sins

"Confessing sins" is saying the same thing about them as God says. Sin is defined as a violation of God's Torah, typically translated as, "transgressing the Law"  (1 John 3:4). Unfortunately, "Law" is an incorrect translation of "Torah," yet is used in all Christian Bibles. A correct translation of Torah is "revelation" or "instruction" from God. Yeshua Himself said that none of the Torah is done away with (Matthew 5:17-21) as does Paul (Romans 3:31). We will cover this in detail in an upcoming section. Scripture also tells us that Yeshua and the Father's will are both one, that God does not change, and that Yeshua is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

If our trust is in God's provision for sin (Yeshua), then our sins are forgiven and the "curse of the Torah" is removed - it is "nailed to the cross" with Him. (This is what Paul talks about in several of his epistles - Our Romans study will cover this in detail.) The Torah's condemnation of us and its role as a "tutor" (or "guardian") comes to an end once we come to faith. However, the Torah (all of it) remains as our guideline to determine what sin is, and if we are "living right" with God. We shall discuss this as we go along in this study.

3:7 Pharisees and Saducees

There were two main religious factions in Israel. The Saducees, who held to strictly literal, Torah-only view, became the temple power, became corrupt. The Pharisees, who were the Heirs of Ezra, fathers of Rabbinic Judaism, believed in extrapolating from Torah according to the Oral tradition which was believed to also have been given to Moses at Sinai. These oral teachings, many predating Yeshua, were finally put into print in the form of the Talmud between the 2nd and 5th centuries.

As shown earlier in this study, Yeshua Himself quoted from the Talmud regularly. (If you click on this link, use the BACK button to return to this page.)

Also see notes on 2:4 in previous section.

3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

The phrase "to bring forth fruit" in a Hebraic spiritual context, means more than simply "doing good deeds." It refers to spiritual insight and teachings.

3:17 My beloved son

Adam also was God’s son (Luke 3:23). In 1 Corinthians, Yeshua is compared to Adam.

1. As found in the DuTillet Hebrew Matthew. The same is true for Matthew 4:17 and 10:7.