Matthew 3:1-4:17

Jan 18, 2014

Matt 3.1-4.17.pdf

This topic was inspired by the traditional observance of “Theophany” (also known as “Epiphany”) annually on Jan 6th in the Orthodox Church.

First, because there is neither space or time available here to do so, we should familiarize ourselves with the main characters in this pericope, John the Baptist and Jesus.  We can do this by recalling the key events from the Nativity accounts in the Gospels that led to their rendezvous at the Jordan River at the high point of John’s ministry (which was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry).  Jesus’ baptism is mentioned in all four Gospels.  The actual event is recounted in the synoptic Gospels, but the Gospel of John includes important thoughts about its significance.  So we should also look at John 1:29-34 and especially take note of the fact that, in this event, Jesus was being introduced and revealed to Israel as the Christ by the greatest of all prophets, John the Baptist.  John testified that Jesus was both the (Paschal) “Lamb of God” and “the Son of God,” so we should spend some time considering the person and work of Christ as it relates to our redemption.

With these background as our foundation, we can better consider our main text, Matt 3:1-4:17 and study the passage using an outline adapted from the book, “The Shape of Biblical Language” by Fr. John Breck:


A. John’s Message: Repent

  B. Prophecy of Isaiah 40:3

    C. John’s Asceticism

      D. Israel’s Baptism by John

        E. Warning of Judgment

          F. Bear Good Fruit

            G. Physical Children

            G’ Spiritual Children

          F’ Bear Good Fruit

        E’ Warning of Judgment

      D’ Jesus’ Baptism by John

    C’ Jesus’ Asceticism & Testing

  B’ Prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2

A’ Jesus’ Message: Repent


Note: It is a shame that this valuable book, published by St. Vladimir’s Press, is out of print at the time of this writing.  In any case, John the Baptist’s message about repentance was based on the nearness of the kingdom.  This teaching appropriately goes along with the fact that Jesus, as the Christ, was the rightful heir to the throne of King David, his ancestor.  Jesus could later say, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).   The kingdom was present because Jesus as king was present.  Ironically, this very issue would come back negatively on Jesus (from an earthly perspective).  He, as rightful heir apparent, would eventually be accused by the Roman authorities and rejected by the Jewish religious officials, regarding this same topic - Jesus as King of the Jews.  We can see from the text how these religious officials, the Pharisees and Sadducees, had come to the Jordan River on this occasion, but not because they were truly repentant.  Although they relied on their physical heritage as Jews descended from Abraham, God was able to (and indeed, will) raise up spiritual children of Abraham in Christ.  As he has done and is doing in the lives of his saints, so also, God can take hearts of stone and give them eternal life for his own praise and glory!  We should be sure to consider John’s preaching about bearing fruit appropriate to repentance. God may grant repentance that begins as a change of mind, but true repentance also includes our Spirit led cooperation such that it results in a changed life.  True faith issues in good works.  That is important since the structure of the passage makes it clear that John preached Christ as one who is mighty and coming in judgment.  Jesus, the Christ, has his winnowing fork in hand to separate the good from the evil.  We know now that this judgment is still future.  We, by the Spirit and God’s grace, need to be ready so that we are like the wheat gathered into the barn and not the chaff that is burned with unquenchable fire. 


When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Trinity was clearly revealed and right then and there testified as to Jesus’ saving mission.  Jesus was there, not because he needed to repent of his sins, but to “fulfill all righteousness.” He identified with repentant sinners to bring them to saving righteousness.  There is an ancient hymn that explains the role of the Triune God in Jesus’ baptism,


“When you, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest,

for the voice of the Father bore witness to you and called you his beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his word.
O Christ, our God, you have revealed yourself and have enlightened the world, glory to you!”


There is not enough time or space at this writing to do much more than just mention how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are involved in our salvation.  Far from being some man-made or secondary concept, every aspect of God’s grace to us is shown from the New Testament to be bound up in the life of the Holy Trinity - everything from God’s love in sending his own Son, our being united with Christ, the righteousness of God from faith, inclusion in God’s family, the baptism, communion and various gifts of the Spirit, up to and including our hope of sharing in the very glory of God.  These things are just a small sample.  2Pet. 1:3-4 says, regarding these things,


“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,

through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises,

so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, 

having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”