And in those days cometh John the Baptist (en de tai hmerai paraginetai Iwanh o Baptisth). Here the synoptic narrative begins with the baptism of John ( Matthew 3:1 ; Mark 1:2 ; Luke 3:1 ) as given by Peter in Acts 1:22 , "from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us" (cf. also Acts 10:37-43 , Peter's summary to Cornelius very much like the outline of Mark's Gospel). Matthew does not indicate the date when John appeared as Luke does in ch. 3 (the fifteenth year of Tiberius's reign). It was some thirty years after the birth of John, precisely how long after the return of Joseph and Mary to Nazareth we do not know. Moffatt translates the verb (paraginetai) "came on the scene," but it is the historical present and calls for a vivid imagination on the part of the reader. There he is as he comes forward, makes his appearance. His name John means "Gift of Jehovah" (cf. German Gotthold) and is a shortened form of Johanan. He is described as "the Baptist," "the Baptizer" for that is the rite that distinguishes him. The Jews probably had proselyte baptism as I. Abrahams shows (Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, p. 37). But this rite was meant for the Gentiles who accepted Judaism. John is treating the Jews as Gentiles in demanding baptism at their hands on the basis of repentance.
Preaching in the wilderness of Judea (Khrusswn en th erhmwi th Ioudaia). It was the rough region in the hills toward the Jordan and the Dead Sea. There were some people scattered over the barren cliffs. Here John came in close touch with the rocks, the trees, the goats, the sheep, and the shepherds, the snakes that slipped before the burning grass over the rocks. He was the Baptizer, but he was also the Preacher, heralding his message out in the barren hills at first where few people were, but soon his startling message drew crowds from far and near. Some preachers start with crowds and drive them away.