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John's Call to Repentance
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came into the wilderness of Judea proclaiming,
Matthew does not record the details of John's birth; in fact it is only Luke who does so. Matthew begins his account of John at the commencement of his ministry. "In those days" is clearly not a reference to the time of the previous chapter, as John was only six months older than Jesus. Barnes suggests that Matthew was referring to the time when Jesus still lived in Nazareth (from 2:23). John took as his pulpit the desert area of Judea to proclaim his message.
3:2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
His message consisted of two headings, repent and the kingdom of heaven is near. The call to repentance is fundamental to the message of salvation. At the time of John's ministry, salvation had not been provided since Christ had not yet died for the sins of the world; nevertheless the people needed to repent. The word “repent” simply means to "think differently" to "reconsider" (Strong's Dictionary); that is, to have a change of heart or direction, to be sorry for our sins against God (2 Cor. 7:10). Indeed it is only against God that we sin (Psalm 51:4), although it is by the action of our sin that we cause others to suffer. But it is not only a turning away from sin but a looking to God as the only one who can save (Isaiah 45:22; Heb. 7:25). The kingdom of heaven does not refer to the kingdom of glory that is in the heavenly places but to the coming of the Messiah into the world. It was near at hand, because Jesus Christ was about to commence his ministry on earth; a ministry that would culminate in his death on the cross as an atonement of sin and thus open the door of the kingdom of heaven for all that believe.
3:3 For he is the one about whom Isaiah the prophet had spoken: "The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight."
The coming of John and the message he proclaimed had been prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:3). John was the forerunner, the herald who went before the Christ to announce that he was on his way. Therefore people had to get themselves ready for his coming.
3:4 Now John wore clothing made from camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.
John was unmistakable; he was distinct from everybody else of his day. The clothes that he wore were woven of course camel hair tied with a leather belt around the waist. His diet consisted of locusts for meat and the honey of the wild bees that made their home in the desert.
3:5 Then people from Jerusalem, as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him,
John had no problem getting the people to come out to hear his message; they came from the city of Jerusalem and from all over Judea to the banks of the River Jordan.
3:6 and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
They not only came and heard the word but responded to it with repentance and were baptized confessing their sins.
3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
There were sceptics who came too: the Pharisees and Sadducees. John knew that they did not come to listen, repent or be baptized; they had come to criticize. John told them plainly that they were a bunch of snakes. Jesus later said the same of them (Matt. 12:34) and that they were of their father the devil (John 8:44). John was fully aware that these people were self-righteous hypocrites who considered themselves to be the elect of God and without sin and therefore rejected his message. So he asked them who had warned them to escape from the wrath of God that was coming.
3:8 Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance,
John appealed to the people to prove that they had repented of their sins and yielded their lives to God by living a godly life (Matt. 7:20).
3:9 and don't think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!
The biggest boast of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees was that they were descended from Abraham and they thought that this guaranteed them acceptance with God. John made it clear to them that since God is able to raise up children from the very stones around them, their natural descent – apart from repentance – is of no worth in his eyes.
3:10 Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Already the hand of God was outstretched in judgment against those to whom he had entrusted his word and whom he had separated to Himself, the people of Israel. Everyone who did not produce the fruits of righteousness would be destroyed.
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