John the Baptist's Person and Preaching.

BEGINNING OF THE MINISTRY OF JOHNTHE BAPTIST, THE FOREUNNER.
2-1. JOHN THE BAPTIST'S PERSON AND PREACHING.
(In the wilderness of Judæa, and on the banks of the Jordan, occupying several months, probably A. D. 25 or 26.)
a MATT. 3:1-12; b MARK 1:1-8; c LUKE 3:1-18.

      b 1 The beginning of the gospel [John begins his Gospel from eternity, where the Word is found coexistent with God. Matthew begins with Jesus, the humanly generated son of Abraham and David, born in the days of Herod the king. Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptist, the Messiah's herald; and Mark begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. While the three other evangelists take a brief survey of the preparation of the gospel, Mark looks particularly to the period when it began to be preached. Gospel means good news, and news is not news until it is proclaimed. The gospel began to be preached or proclaimed with the ministry of John the Baptist ( Luke 16:16 ). His ministry was the dawn of that gospel of which Christ's preaching was the sunrise] of Jesus [Our Lord's name as a human being; it means "Saviour"] Christ [Though this is also sometimes used as a name, it is in reality our Lord's title. It means "the Anointed," and is equivalent to saying that Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King] the Son of God. [This indicates our Lord's eternal nature; it was divine. Mark's gospel was written to establish that fact, which is the foundation of the church ( Matthew 16:18 ). John's Gospel was written for a like purpose ( John 20:31 ). John uses the God" twenty-nine times, and Mark seven times. As these two evangelists wrote chiefly for Gentile readers, they emphasized the divinity of Jesus, and paid less attention to his Jewish ancestry. But Matthew, writing for Hebrews, prefers the title "Son of David," which he applies to Jesus some nine times, that he may identify him as the Messiah promised in the seed of David-- 2 Samuel 7:12 ; Psalms 72:1-17 ; Psalms 89:3 Psalms 89:4 ; Psalms 132:11 Psalms 132:12 .]

  c 1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign [Tiberius Cæsar, stepson of and successor to Augustus, began to reign as joint ruler with Augustus in August, A. U. C. 765 (A. D. 11). On Aug. 19, 767, Augustus died and Tiberius became sole ruler. Luke counts from the beginning of the joint rule, and his fifteen years bring us to 779. In August, 779, Tiberius began his fifteenth year, and about December of that year Jesus would have completed his thirtieth year] of Tiberius Cæsar [He was born B. C. 41, died March 16, A. D. 37. As a citizen he distinguished himself as orator, soldier and public official. But as emperor he was slothful, self-indulgent, indescribably licentious, vindictive and cruel. He was a master of dissimulation and cunning, and was a veritable scourge to his people. But he still found flatterers even in Palestine, Cæsarea Philippi, and the town Tiberias being named for him], Pontius Pilate [see mention of him in account of our Lord's trial] being governor of Judæa [The province of Judæa was subdued by Pompey and brought under Roman control in B. C. 63. Its history from that date till the governorship of Pilate can be found in Josephus], and Herod [Also called Antipas. The ruler who murdered John the Baptist and who assisted at the trial of Jesus] being tetrarch [this word means properly the ruler of a fourth part of a country, but was used loosely for any petty tributary prince] of Galilee [This province lay north of Samaria, and measured about twenty-five miles from north to south, and twenty-seven miles from east to west. It was a rich and fertile country], and his brother [half-brother] Philip [He was distinguished by justice and moderation, the one decent man in who obtained John the Baptist's head for a dance. He built Cæsarea Philippi, and transformed Bethsaida Julius from a village to a city, and died there A. D. 44. After his death his domains became part of the Roman province of Syria] tetrarch of the region of Ituræa [A district thirty miles long by twenty-five broad, lying north of Batanæa, east of Mt. Hermon, west of Trachonitis. It received its name from Jetur, son of Ishmael ( Genesis 25:15 ). Its Ishmaelite inhabitants were conquered by Aristobulus, king of Judæa, B. C. 100, and forced by him to accept the Jewish faith. They were marauders, and famous for the use of the bow] and Trachonitis [A district about twenty-two miles from north to south by fourteen from east to west. Its name means "rough" or "stony," and it amply deserves it. It lies between Ituræa and the desert, and has been infested with robbers from the earliest ages. It is called the Argob in the Old Testament, "an ocean of basaltic rock and boulders, tossed about in the wildest confusion, and intermingled with fissures and crevices in every direction"], and Lysanias [Profane history gives us no account of this man. It tells of a Lysanias, king of Chalcis, under Mt. Lebanon, who was put to death by Mark Antony, B. C. 36, or sixty-odd years before this, and another who was tetrarch of Abilene in the reigns of Caligula and Claudius twenty years after this. He probably was son of the first and father of the second] tetrarch of Abilene [The city of Abila (which comes from the Hebrew word "abel," meaning "meadow") is eighteen miles from Damascus and thirty-eight from Baalbec. The province laying about it is mentioned because it subsequently formed part of the Jewish territory, being given to Herod Agrippa I. by Emperor Claudius about A. D. 41],

  2; in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas [Annas had been high priest 7-14 A. D., when he was deposed by the procurator, Gratus. Caiaphas was son-in-law of and successor to Annas. Luke gives both names, one as the rightful and the other as the acting high priest. Compare Acts 4:6 . Gentile innovations had made sad havoc with the Jewish law as to this office. In the last hundred and seven years of the temple's existence there were no less than twenty-eight high priests. Luke is the only one who fixes the time when Jesus began his ministry. He locates it by emperor and governor, tetrarch and high priest, as an event of world-wide importance, and of concern to all the kingdoms of men. He conceives of it as Paul did-- Acts 26:26 ], the word of God [The divine commission which bade John enter his career as a prophet ( Jeremiah 1:2 ; 6:1 ). Prophets gave temporary and limited manifestations of God's will ( Hebrews 1:1 Hebrews 1:2 ). Jesus is the everlasting and unlimited manifestation of the divine purpose and of the very Godhead-- John 14:9 ; 12:45 ; Colossians 1:15 ; Hebrews 1:3 ; 2 Corinthians 4:6 ] came unto John the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. [The wilderness of Judæa is that almost uninhabitable mass of barren ridges extending the whole length of the Dead Sea, and a few miles further north. It is from five to ten miles wide.]

  a 1 And in those days [Some take this expression as referring to the years when Jesus dwelt at Nazareth. But it is better to regard it as a Hebraism equivalent to "that age" or "that era" ( Exodus 2:11 ). It contrasts the era when the Baptist lived with the era when Matthew wrote his Gospel, just as we say "in these days of enlightenment" when we wish to contrast the present time with the days of the American Revolution] cometh John [he was cousin to Jesus] the Baptist [So called because God first gave through him the ordinance of baptism. It has been erroneously thought by some that John borrowed this ordinance from the Jewish practice of proselyte baptism. This could not be, for John baptized his converts, but Jewish proselytes baptized themselves. The law required such self-baptism of all persons who were unclean ( Leviticus 14:9 ; Numbers 19:19 ; 8:7 ; Leviticus :xvi .). More than twenty distinct cases are specified in which the law required bathing or self-baptism, and it is to these Paul refers when he states that the law consisted in part "of divers baptisms" ( Hebrews 9:10 ). But the law did not require this of proselytes, and proselyte baptism ritual, just as infant baptism is to the true Christian ritual. Proselyte baptism is not mentioned in history till the third century of the Christian era. Neither Josephus, nor Philo, nor the Apocrypha, nor the Targums say anything about it, though they all mention proselytes. In fact, the oldest mention of it in Jewish writings is in the Babylonian Gemara, which was completed about five hundred years years after Christ. The New Testament implies the non-existence of proselyte baptism ( Matthew 21:25 ; John 1:25 John 1:33 ). John could hardly have been called the Baptist, had he used an old-time rite in the accustomed manner. The Baptist was a link between the Old and New Testament. Belonging to the Old, he announced the New], preaching [Not sermonizing, but crying out a message as a king's herald making a proclamation, or a policeman crying "Fire!" in a slumbering town. His discourse was brief and unembellished. Its force lay in the importance of the truth announced. It promised to the Hebrew the fulfillment of two thousand years of longing. It demanded repentance, but for a new reason. The old call to repentance had wooed with the promise of earthly blessings, and warned with the threat of earthly judgments; but John's repentance had to do with the kingdom of heaven and things eternal. It suggested the Holy Spirit as a reward, and unquenchable fire as the punishment] in the wilderness of Judæa [that part of the wilderness which John chose for the scene of his ministry is a desert plain, lying along the western bank of the Jordan, between Jericho and the Dead Sea],

saying,   2 Repent ye [to repent is to change the will in reference to sin, resolving to sin no more] for [John sets forth the motive for repentance. Repentance is the duty, and the approach of the kingdom is the motive inciting to it. Only by repentance could the people be prepared for the kingdom. Those who are indifferent to the obligations of an old revelation would be ill-prepared to receive a new one] the kingdom of heaven is at hand [ Daniel 2:44 . "Kingdom of heaven" is peculiar to Matthew, who uses it thirty-one times. He also joins with the other evangelists in calling he preferred the expression, "kingdom of heaven."]

  3 For this is he that was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet,

  c 3 And he came [he made his public appearance, and, like that of Elijah, it was a sudden one-- 1 Kings 17:1 ] into all the region about the Jordan [The Jordan valley is called in the old Testament the Arabah, and by the modern Arabs the Ghor. It is the deepest valley in the world, its lowest part being about thirteen hundred feet below the level of the ocean] preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins [as a change leading to remission or forgiveness of sins]

b even   c 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet [Isaiah flourished from about 759 to 699 B. C.], a saying, b Behold [The clause beginning with "Behold," and ending with "way," is taken from Malachi 3:1 . The Revised Version makes Mark quote this passage as if it were from Isaiah, the reading being "written in Isaiah the prophet," but the King James' version gives the reading "written in the prophets." Following the reasoning of Canon Cook, we hold that the latter was the original reading--see Speaker's Commentary, note at the end of Mark i.] I send my messenger [John the Baptist was that messenger] before thy face [Malachi says, "my face." "Thy" and "my" are used interchangeably, because of the unity of the Deity-- John 10:30 ], who shall prepare thy way [Mark says little about the prophets, but at the outset of his Gospel he calls attention to the fact that the entire pathway of Jesus was the subject of prophetical prediction];

c The voice [ Isaiah 40:3 Isaiah 40:4 , quoted from the LXX. The words were God's, the voice was John's. So Paul also spake ( 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13 ). It was prophesied before he was born that John should be a preparing messenger for Christ-- Luke 1:17 ] of one crying in the wilderness [This prophecy of Isaiah's could relate to none but John, for no other prophet ever made the wilderness the scene of his preaching. But John always preached there, and instead of going to the people, he compelled the people to come out to him. John was the second Elijah. The claims of all who in these days profess to be reincarnations of may be tested and condemned by this prophecy, for none of them frequent the wilderness], Make ye ready the way [See also Isaiah 35:8-10 . Isaiah's language is highly figurative. It represents a band of engineers and workmen preparing the road for their king through a rough, mountainous district. The figure was familiar to the people of the East, and nearly every generation there witnessed such road-making. The haughty Seriramis leveled the mountains before her. Josephus, describing the march of Vespasian, says that there went before him such as were to make the road even and straight, and if it were anywhere rough and hard, to smooth it over, to plane it, and to cut down woods that hindered the march, that the army might not be tired. Some have thought that Isaiah's prophecy referred primarily to the return of the Jewish captives from Babylon. But it refers far more directly to the ministry of the Baptist; for it is not said that the way was to be prepared for the people, but for Jehovah himself. It is a beautiful figure, but the real preparation was the more beautiful transformation of repentance. By inducing repentance, John was to prepare the people to receive Jesus and his apostles, and to hearken to their preaching] of the Lord, Make his paths straight.

  5 Every valley shall be filled, And every mountain and hill shall be brought low; And the crooked shall become straight, And the rough way smooth [The literal meaning of this passage is expressed at Isaiah 2:12-17 . See also 4:7 . Commentators give detailed application of this prophecy, and, following their example, we may regard the Pharisees and Sadducees as mountains of self-righteousness, needing to be thrown down, and thereby brought to meekness and humility; the outcasts and harlots as valleys of humiliation, needing to be exalted and filled with hope; and the publicans and soldiers as crooked and rough byways, needing to be straightened and smoothed with proper details of righteousness. But the application is general, and not to be limited to such details. However, civil tyranny, and ecclesiastical pride must be leveled, and the rights of the common people must be exalted before for kingdom of enter in];

  6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God [This last clause of the prophecy is added by Luke alone. He loves to dwell upon the universality of Christ's gospel.]

  b 4 John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins. [Pardoning mercy was to be found in Christ, and all rites then looked forward to the cleansing effected by the shedding of his blood, as all rites now look back to it. But in popular estimation John's baptism was no doubt regarded as consummating an immediate forgiveness]

  a 4 Now John himself [Himself indicates that John's manner of life differed from that of his disciples. He did not oblige them to practice the full measure of his abstinence] had his raiment of [John's dress and food preached in harmony with his voice. His clothing and fare rendered him independent of the rich and great, so that he could more freely and plainly rebuke their sins. Calling others to repentance, he himself set an example of austere self-denial. So much so that the Pharisees said he had a demon-- Matthew 11:18 ]

  b 6 And was clothed with a camel's hair [Camels were plentiful in the East. Their finer hair was woven into elegant cloths; but that which was coarser and shaggier was made into a fabric like our druggets, and used for the coats of shepherds and camel-drivers, and for the covering of tents. Prophets often wore such cloth ( 13:4 ), and no doubt it was the habitual garb of John's prototype ( Malachi 4:5 ), the prophet Elijah ( 2 Kings 1:8 ). In Elijah's day there was demand for protest against the sad havoc which Phoenician luxury and licentiousness were making with the purer morals of Israel; and in John's day a like protest was needed against a like contamination wrought by Greek manners and customs. Both prophets, by their austerity, rebuked such apostasy, and Jezebel answered the rebuke by attempting Elijah's life, while Herodias actually took the life of John. As a herald, John was suited to the King whose appearing he was to announce, for Jesus was meek and lowly ( 9:9 ), and had no form nor comeliness that he should be desired-- Isaiah 53:2 ], and a leathern girdle about his loins [The loose skirts worn in the East required a girdle to bind them to the body. This was usually made of linen or silk, but was frequently more costly, being wrought with silver and gold. John's girdle was plain, undressed leather]; And his food was {b and did eat} a locusts [Locusts, like Western grasshoppers, were extremely plentiful ( Joel 1:4 ; Isaiah 33:4 Isaiah 33:5 ). The law declared them clean, and thus permitted the people to eat them for food ( Leviticus 11:22 ). Arabs still eat them, and in some Oriental cities they are found for sale in the market. But they are regarded as fit only for the poor. They are frequently seasoned with camel's milk and honey] and wild honey. [Canaan was promised as a land flowing with milk and honey ( Exodus 2:8-17 ; 13:15 ; 1 Samuel 14:26 ). Many of the trees in the plains of Jericho, such as the palm, fig, manna, ash and tamarisk, exuded sweet gums, which went by the name of tree honey, but there is no need to suppose, as some do, that this was what John ate. The country once abounded in wild bees, and their honey was very plentiful. We have on the record an instance of the speed with which they could fill the place which they selected for their hives ( 14:5-9 ). The diet of the Baptist was very light, and Jesus so speaks of it ( Matthew 11:18 ). He probably had no set time for his meals, and all days were more or less fast-days. Thus John gave himself wholly to his ministry, and became a voice--all voice. John took the wilderness for a church, and filled it. He courted no honors, but no Jew of his time received more of them, and by some he was even regarded as Messiah-- Luke 3:15 .]

b 5 And there   a 5 Then went out unto him b all [A hyperbole common with Hebrew writers and such as we use when we say, "the whole town turned out," "everybody was there," etc. Both Matthew and Luke show that some did not accept John's baptism ( Matthew 21:23-25 ; Luke 7:30 ). But from the language of the evangelist we might infer that, first and last, something like a million people may have attended John's ministry] the country of Judæa, and all they of Jerusalem; the region round about the Jordan [The last phrase includes the entire river valley. On both sides of the river between the lake of Galilee and Jericho, there were many important cities, any one of which would be more apt to send its citizens to John's baptism than the proud capital of Jerusalem];

  6 and they were baptized of him [Literally, immersed by him. In every stage of the Greek language this has been the unquestioned meaning of the verb baptizo, and it still retains this meaning in modern Greek. In accordance with this meaning, the Greek Church, in all its branches, has uniformly practiced immersion from the earliest period to the present time. Greek Christians never speak of other denominations as "baptizing by sprinkling," but they say, "they baptize instead of baptizing." John's baptism was instituted of God ( John 1:33 ), just as Christian baptism was instituted by Christ ( Matthew 28:19 ). The Pharisees recognized John's rite as so important as to require divine authority, and even then they underestimated it, regarding it as a mere purification--Josephus Ant. xviii. 5, 2] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. [As John's baptism was for the remission of sins, it was very proper that it should be preceded by a confession. The context indicates that the confession was public and general. There is no hint of such auricular confession as is practiced by the Catholics. See also Acts 19:18 . John, writing to baptized Christians, bids them to confess their sins, that Jesus may forgive them ( 1 John 1:9 ). Christian baptism is also for the remission of sins ( Acts 2:38 ), the ordinance itself a very potent confession that the one baptized has sins to be remitted, and it seems to be a sufficient pubic expression of confession as to sins; for while John's baptism called for a confession sins, Christian baptism calls only for a confession of faith in Christ-- Acts 22:16 ; Romans 10:9 Romans 10:10 ; Mark 16:16 .]

  7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees [Josephus tells us that these two leading sects of the Jews started about the same time in the days of Jonathan, the high priest, or people into two rival parties entered the minds and hearts of the Jews immediately after the return from the Babylonian captivity. These returned Jews differed as to the attitude and policy which Israel should manifest toward the neighboring heathen. Some contended for a strict separation between the Jews and all pagan peoples. These eventually formed the Pharisee party, and the name Pharisee means "the separate." Originally these men were genuine patriots and reformers, but afterwards the majority of them became mere formalists. As theologians the Pharisees represented the orthodox party, and were followed by the vast majority of the people. They believed (1) in the resurrection of the dead; (2) a future state with rewards and punishments; (3) angels and spirits; and (4) a special providence of God carried out by angels and spirits. As a sect they are said to have numbered six thousand at the time of Herod's death. They were the patriotic party, and the zealots were their extreme section. They covered an extremely selfish spirit with a pious formalism, and by parading their virtues they obtained an almost unbounded influence over the people. By exposing their hypocrisy, Jesus sought to destroy their power over the multitude, and incurred that bitter enmity with which they pursued him to his death. But certain other of the captives who returned from Babylon desired a freer intercourse with the pagans, and sought to break away from every restraint which debarred therefrom. These became Sadducees. They consented to no other restraint than the Scriptures themselves imposed, and they interpreted these as laxly as possible. Some take their name to means "the party of 'righteousness,'" but more think it comes from their founder, Zadok, and is a corruption of the word Zadokite. Zadok flourished 260 B. C. His teacher, Antigonus Sochæus, taught him to serve God disinterestedly--that is, without hope of reward or punishment. From his teaching Zadok inferred that there was no future state of rewards or punishment, and on this belief founded his sect. From this fundamental doctrine sprang the other tenets of the Sadducees. They asserting that there was no resurrection; no rewards and punishments hereafter; no angels, no spirits. They believed there was a God, but denied that he had any special supervision of human affairs ( Matthew 22:23 ; Acts 23:8 ). They were the materialists of that day. Considering all God's promises as referring to this world, they looked upon poverty and distress as evidence of God's curse. Hence to relieve the poor was to sin against God in interfering with his mode of government. Far fewer than the Pharisees, they were their rivals in power; for they were the aristocratic party, and held the high-priesthood, with all its glories. Their high political position, their great wealth, and the Roman favor which they courted by consenting to foreign rule and pagan customs, made them a body to be respected and feared] coming to his baptism, he said {c therefore to the multitudes that went out to be baptized on him} a unto them [John spoke principally to the leaders, but his denunciation indirectly included the multitude who followed their leadership],

Ye offspring of vipers [A metaphor for their likeness to vipers--as like them as if they had been begotten of them. The viper was a species of serpent from two to five feet in length, and about one inch thick. Its head is flat, and its body a yellowish color, speckled with long brown spots. It is extremely poisonous ( Acts 28:6 ). John here uses the word figuratively, and probably borrows the figure from Isaiah 59:5 . It means that the Jewish rulers were full of guile and malice, cunning and venom. With these words John gave them a vigorous shaking, for only thus could he hope to waken their slumbering consciences. But only one who has had a vision of "the King in his beauty," should presume thus to address his fellow-men. The serpent is an emblem of the devil ( Genesis 3:1 ; Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:14 Revelation 12:15 ), and Jesus not only repeated John's words ( Matthew 12:35 ; Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:33 ), but he interpreted the words, and told them plainly that they were "the children of the devil" ( John 8:44 ). The Jewish rulers well deserved this name, for they poisoned the religious principles of the nation, and accomplished the crucifixion of the Son of God], you to flee [John's baptism, like that of Moses at the Red Sea ( 1 Corinthians 10:2 ), was a way of escape from destruction, of rightly used. Christian baptism is also such a way, and whosoever will may enter thereby into the safety of the kingdom of Christ, but baptism can not be used as an easy bit of ritual to charm away evil. It must be accompanied by all the spiritual changes which the ordinance implies] from the wrath to come? [Prophecy foretold that Messiah's times would be accompanied with wrath ( Isaiah 63:3-6 ; Daniel 7:10-26 ); but the Jews were all of the opinion that this wrath would be meted out upon the Gentiles and were not prepared to hear John apply the prophecy to themselves. To all his hearers John preached the coming kingdom; to the impenitent, he preached the coming wrath. Thus he prepared the way for the first coming of the Messiah, and those who would prepare the people for his second coming would do well to follow his example. The Bible has a voice of warning and denunciation, as well as words of invitation and love. Whosoever omits the warning of the judgment, speaks but half the message which God would have him deliver. God's wrath is his resentment against sin-- Matthew 18:34 ; 22:7 ; Mark 3:5 .]

  8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance [John had demanded repentance, he now demands the fruits of it. By "fruit" or "fruits," as Luke has it, he means the manner of life which shows a real repentance]:

  9 and think not {c begin not} [John nips their self-excuse in the bud] a to say within yourselves [speaking to your conscience to quiet it], We have Abraham to our father [The Jews thought that Messiah would rule over them as a nation, and that all Jews would, therefore, be by birthright citizens of his kingdom. They thought that descent from Abraham was all that would be necessary to bring them into that kingdom. John's words must have been very surprising to them. The Talmud is full of expressions showing the extravagant value which Jews of a later age attached to Abrahamic descent. "Abraham," it says, "sits next the gates of hell, and doth not down into it." Again, it represents God as saying to Abraham, "If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones, thy merit would avail for them." Again, "A single Israelite is worth more before God than all the people who have been or shall be." Again, "The world was made for their [Israel's] sake." This pride was the more inexcusable because the Jews were clearly warned by their prophets that their privileges were not exclusive, and that they would by no means escape just punishment for their sins ( Jeremiah 7:3 Jeremiah 7:4 ; Micah 3:11 ; Isaiah 48:2 ). John repeated this message, and Jesus reiterated it ( Matthew 8:11 Matthew 8:12 ; Luke 16:23 ). We should note that in this preparation for the gospel a blow was struck at confidence and trust in carnal descent. Birth gives no man any privileges in the kingdom of God, for all are born outside of it, and all must be born again into it ( John 1:13 ; 3:3 ); yet many still claim peculiar rights from Christian parentage, and infant baptism rests on this false conception. The New Testament teaches us that we are children of Abraham by faith, and not by blood; by spiritual and not carnal descent ( Romans 4:12-16 ; Galatians 3:26 ; 6:15 ; John 8:39 ). It had been better for the Jews never to have heard of Abraham, than to have thus falsely viewed the rights which they inherited from him]: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham [John meant that their being children of Abraham by natural descent gave them no more merit than children of Abraham made out of stone would have. He pointed to the stones along the bank of Jordan as he spoke.]

  10 And even now the axe c also a lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down [The threatened cutting down means the end of the probation of each hearer, when, if found fruitless, he would be cast into the fire mentioned below], and cast into the fire. [Used as fuel.]

  c 10 And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do? [This is the cry of the awakened conscience ( Acts 2:37 ; 16:30 ; 22:10 ). John answered it by recommending were doing, which, in their case, was true fruit of repentance.]

  11 And he answered and said unto them, He that hath two coats [By coat is meant the tunic, or inner garment, worn next to the skin. It reached to the knees, and sometimes to the ankles, and generally had sleeves. Two tunics were a luxury in a land where thousands were too poor to own even one. Wrath was coming, and he that would obtain mercy from it must show mercy-- Matthew 5:7 ], let him impart to him that hath none [For a like precept given to Christians, see 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ; James 2:15-17 ; 1 John 3:17 ]; and he that hath food, let him do likewise.

  12 And there came also publicans [The Roman Government did not collect its own taxes. Instead of doing so, it divided the empire into districts, and sold the privilege of collecting the taxes in these districts to certain capitalists and men of rank. The capitalists employed agents to do the actual collecting. These agents were usually natives of the districts in which they lived, and those in Palestine were called publicans. Their masters urged and encouraged them to make the most fraudulent and vexatious exactions. They systematically overcharged the people and often brought false accusation to obtain money by blackmail. These publicans were justly regarded by the Jews as apostates and traitors, and were classed with the lowest and most abandoned characters. The system was bad, but its practitioners were worse. The Greeks regarded the word "publican" as synonymous with "plunderer." Suidas pictures the life of a publican as "unrestrained plunder, unblushing greed, unreasonable pettifogging, shameless business." The Turks to-day collect by this Roman method. Being publicly condemned, and therefore continually kept conscious of their sin, the publicans repented more readily than the self-righteous Pharisees. Conscience is one of God's greatest gifts, and he that destroys it must answer for it] to be baptized, and they said unto him, Teacher [The publicans, though lowest down, gave John the highest title. Self-abnegation is full of the virtue of reverence, but self-righteousness utterly lacks it], what must we do?

said unto them, Extort no more than that which is appointed you. [Such was their habitual, universal sin. No man should make his calling an excuse for evil-doing.]

  14 And soldiers [These soldiers were probably Jewish troops in the employ of Herod. Had they been Romans, John would doubtless have told them to worship God] also asked him, saying, And we, what must we do? And he said unto them, Extort from no man by violence [The soldiers, poorly paid, often found it convenient to extort money by intimidation. Strong in their organization, they terrified the weak and enforced gratuities by acts of violence], neither accuse any one wrongfully [John here condemns the custom of blackmailing the rich by acting as informers and false accusers against them]; and be content with your wages. [The term wages included rations and money. The soldiers were not to add to their receipts by pillage or extortion. Soldiers' wages were about three cents a day, so they were exposed to strong temptation. Yet John did not bid them abandon their profession, and become ascetics like himself. His teachings was practical. He allowed war as an act of government. Whether Christianity sanctions it or not, is another question.]

  15 And as the people were in expectation [Expecting the Christ--see John 1:19-28 ], and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ [Prophecy induced a Messianic expectation. The scepter had departed from Judah, and Cæsar's deputies ruled. Tetrarchs and procurators held the whole civil government. In their hands lay the power of life and death from which only Roman citizens could appeal ( Acts 25:11 ). The power of the Jewish courts was limited to excommunication or scourging. The seventy weeks of Daniel were now expiring, and other prophecies indicated the fullness of time. But distress, rather than prophecy, enhanced their expectation. Tiberius, the most infamous of men, governed the world. Pontius Pilate, insolent, cruel, was making life irksome and maddening the people. Herod Antipas, by a course of reckless apostasy and unbridled lust, grieved even the religious sense of the hypocrite. Annas and Caiaphas, impersonators of materialism, sat in the chief seat of spiritual power. Men might well look for a deliverer, and hasten with joy to hear of a coming King. But, nevertheless, we could have no more forceful statement of the deep impression made by John's ministry than that the people were disposed to take him for the Christ];

  16 John answered, saying unto them all,   b 7 And he preached, saying,   a 11 I indeed baptize {b baptized} a you in {c with} water unto repentance [That is, unto the completion of your repentance. Repentance had to begin before the baptism was administered. After the sinner repented, baptism consummated his repentance, being the symbolic washing away of that from which he had repented and the bringing of the candidate into the blessings granted to the repentant-- Mark 1:4 ; Luke 3:3 ]:

c But there {a he that} [John preached repentance because of a coming King; he now announces who the King is. He pictures this King as, first, administering a different baptism from his own; second, as a judge who would separate the righteous from the wicked, just as a husbandman sifts the wheat from the chaff] b cometh after me [Subsequent to me in ministry. But John indicates that the coming of Christ would be closely coupled with his own appearing. One event was to immediately follow the other. So Malachi binds together in one time the appearing of both forerunner and judge-- Malachi 3:1-3 ] he that is mightier than I [mightier both to save and to punish], a whose shoes [The sandal then worn was a piece of wood or leather bound to the sole of the foot to protect it from the burning sand or the sharp stones. It was the forerunner of our modern shoe] I am not worthy to bear [To untie or carry away the shoe of the master or his guest was the work of the lowest slave of the household. As a figure of speech, the shoe is always associated with subjugation and slavery ( Psalms 60:8 ). John means, "I am not worthy to be his servant." John was simply the forerunner of Jesus; the higher office and honor of being Jesus' attendants was reserved for others-- Matthew 11:11 ]: b the latchet [the lace or strap] not worthy to stoop down and unloose. c he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit [That which is here referred to was foretold by the prophets ( Isaiah 44:3 ; Joel 2:28 ). In the early church there was an abundant outpouring of the Spirit of God ( Titus 3:5 Titus 3:6 ; Acts 2:3 Acts 2:4 Acts 2:17 ; 10:44 ). This prophecy began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 1:5 ; 2:4 ). In the choice of the word "baptize" God indicated through his prophet how full this flooding of the Spirit would be] and in fire [Many learned commentators regard the expression "in fire" as a mere amplification of the spiritual baptism added to express the purging and purifying effects of that baptism, but the context forbids this, for, in verse 10, casting the unfruitful trees into the fire represents the punishment of the wicked, and, in verse 12, the burning of the chaff with fire does the same, and consequently the baptizing in fire of the intervening verse must, according to the force of the context have the same reference. True, the expression "he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and with fire," does not separate the persons addressed into two parties, and, if the context is disregarded, might be understood as meaning that the same persons were to be baptized in both; yet the context must not be disregarded, and it clearly separates them]:

  17 whose fan [Winnowing shovel. In the days of John the Baptist, and in that country at the present day, wheat and other grain was not threshed by machinery. It was beaten out by flails, or trodden out by oxen on some smooth, hard plot of ground called the threshing-floor. These threshing-floors were usually on elevations where the wind blew freely. When the grain was trodden out, it was winnowed or separated from the chaff by being tossed into the air with a fan or winnowing shovel. When so tossed, the wind blew the chaff away, and the clean grain fell upon the threshing-floor] is in his hand [Ready for immediate work. Both John and Malachi, who foretold John, are disposed to picture Jesus as the judge ( Malachi 3:2-5 ). Of all the pictures of God which the Bible gives, that of a judge is the most common and frequent], thoroughly to {a and he will thoroughly} c cleanse his threshing-floor [Removing the chaff is called purging the floor. Humanity is a mixture of good and bad, and to separate this mixture, save the good and destroy the bad, is the work of Christ. He partially purges the floor in this present time by gathering his saints into the church and leaving the unrepentant in the world. But hereafter on the day of judgment he will make a complete and final separation between the just and the unjust by sending the evil from his presence and gathering his own into the garner of heaven ( Matthew 25:32 Matthew 25:33 ). He shall also winnow our individual characters, and remove all evil from us-- Luke 22:31 Luke 22:32 ; Romans 7:21-25 ], and to {a and he will} c gather the {a his} c wheat into his {a the} c garner [Eastern garners or granaries were usually subterranean vaults or caves. Garnered grain rested in safety. It was removed from peril of birds, storms, blight and mildew. Christians are now on God's threshing-floor; hereafter they will be gathered into the security of his garner]; but the chaff [when the Bible wishes to show the worthlessness and the doom of the ungodly, chaff is one of its favorite figures-- Job 21:18 ; Psalms 1:4 ; Isaiah 17:13 ; Hosxiii3 1:1 Jeremiah 15:7 Hos xiii. 3 ; Malachi 4:1 ] he will burn up [To prevent chaff from being blown back and mixed again with the wheat, it was burned up. All the chaff in the church shall be consumed on the day of judgment ( 1 Corinthians 3:12 1 Corinthians 3:13 ), and there shall be no mixing of good and bad after death-- Luke 16:26 ] with unquenchable fire [In this and in other places ( 2 Thessalonians 1:8 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ; Mark 9:48 ; Matthew 25:41 ), the future suffering of the wicked is taught in the Bible. He shows no kindness to his neighbor, no friendship toward mankind, who conceals the terrors of the Lord. These terrors are set forth in no uncertain terms. Many believe that God will restore the wicked and eventually save all the human race. Others hold that God will annihilate the wicked, and thus end their torment. This passage and the one cited in Mark would be hard to reconcile with either of these views; they indicate that there will be no arrest of judgment nor stay of punishment when once God begins to execute his condemnation. God at the time of the flood; he will again purge it with fire on the day of judgment-- 2 Peter 3:7-10 .]

  18 With many other exhortations [The sermon here given is in the nature of a summary. It embodies the substance of John's preaching. Afterwards John preached Christ more directly-- John 1:29-36 ] therefore preached he good tidings unto the people. [but, like the good tidings of the angel at Bethlehem, it was good only to those who, by repentance, made themselves well pleasing to God.]