Mat 3:1 And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea.
Mat 3:2 And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Matt 3:1-2 In those days (at that time). This vague temporal reference is taken as indicating the beginning of a new period of time. It may have no connection with the preceding narrative, or, it may mean “while Jesus was still residing at Nazareth” (see Matt 2:23).
Cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. The early Christian kerygma (preaching) usually began with the mission and witness of the Baptist. Whereas Mark and Luke emphasized that John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3); Matthew downplayed the focus on John’s baptism to highlight the theme of repentance. Also, Mark/Luke referred to the Baptist’s preaching in narrative, whereas Matthew places the call to repent on the Baptist’s lips: “Do penance, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” These are the same words Jesus Himself will latter use (Matt 4:17).
The desert. The region is more closely identified in vs 6 which mentions the Jordan River. This area would call to the minds of the Jews the Prophet Elijah who was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot in the wilderness around the Jordan (2 Kings 2:1-10). The Prophet Elisha witnessed this event and would latter effect the healing of Naaman the Syrian in this same region (2 Kings 5:1-14). Both prophets were associated with the attempt to restore the covenant which Israel had broken (1 Kings 19:9-18).
Do penance (repent). Metanoeo means to turn back around, change direction, re-orient yourself, acquire a new outlook. The word is in the active voice in Greek and implies more than just an internal state of mind (though that is a major element), hence the Vulgate rendering “do penance.” Something radical has happened and men need to be made aware of it: The Kingdom of Heaven (literally, the Heavens) is near.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is near. Kingdom would better be translated as reign, which better conveys the sense of power and authority. Matthew’s “kingdom of Heaven is equivalent to “the Kingdom of God.
Is near is in the perfect tense. It is already here in the person of Christ. “This is the heart of the Synoptic eschatology. The concept of the Kingdom is thus a dynamic one. It is the NT equivalent to the triumphant cry of the psalms: “Yahweh has become King!” Mt usually prefers the reverent Semitic circumlocution “kingdom of heaven” for Mk’s and Lk’s “kingdom of God.” For Mt, the coming of the Kingdom is a “process event.” To a degree it was present in the OT (Matt 21:43), comes in the person of Jesus (infancy narrative), impinges even more forcefully during the ministry, breaks in definitively at the death-resurrection of Jesus, and matures in the field of the world until the parousia.” (John P. Meier. MATTHEW, pg 23).
Mat 3:3 For this is he that was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: A voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Matt 3:3 A voice of one crying in the desert, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. A reference to Isaiah 40:3, which originally prophesied the return of the Babylonian exile. In ancient times kings sent word in advance to cities in their realm that they were coming for a visit. The people were expected to prepare for the event in various ways, including repairing the road (way, path) on which the king was to travel, so as to make his coming to visit more pleasant. Here the preparation is a symbol for moral straightness. John prepares the way of the Lord by his preaching and baptizing.
Mat 3:4 And the same John had his garment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Matt 3:4 The garb of the Baptist recalls that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), and was the traditional dress of a prophet (Zech 13:4). Locust and wild honey is traditional desert food. The Baptist’s austere lifestyle is an indication of his status as a prophet (Matt 11:7-10). A girdle (belt) around the loins is a sign of readiness for the saving intervention of God (Exodus 12:11-12; Luke 12:35-40; and see 1 Peter 1:13).
Mat 3:5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan:
Mat 3:6 And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
Matt 3:5-6 The Baptist’s ministry is widespread among the people but, at the same time, it is localized to Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordan region. As in Mark, no one is mentioned as coming from Galilee to be baptized except Jesus (see vs 13 and Mark 1:2-11). In his commentary on Mark, Father Eugene LaVerdiere suggests this is done to “highlight the singular nature of Jesus’ baptism” by John.
Confessing their sins. In Jesus’ day Pagan converts to Judaism underwent a ritual washing. The radical nature of the kingdom now demands that Jews take upon themselves a status no better than those Pagan converts.
Mat 3:7 And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?
Mat 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
Matt 3:7-8 And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you how to flee the wrath to come? Certainly not John with his call to repent; for it is precisely a lack of repentance which the Baptist here condemns. The fruit image along with the condemnation of the Pharisees as a brood of vipers will reappear in the words of Jesus in Matt 12:24, 34-37. In Matt 23:33-36 He will use the term again when He ask the Scribes and Pharisees how they can flee Gehenna, since they act like their fathers who rejected and killed the prophets.
Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. The Greek word poieo (bring forth) is sometimes used as a synonym for fruit karpos. Essentially, what the Baptist is saying is :Produce something productive. See Isaiah’s famous Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7) See also Hosea 10:1-2, 12-13. God expected fruit from Israel but seldom got it (Hosea 9:16) The man who turns away from God (recall repentance means a turning back to God) shows a lack of wisdom, and is like a barren bush in the desert (see Jeremiah 17:5-10).
Mat 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Mat 3:10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you in water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire.
Mat 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
Matt 3:9-12 Merely being a child of Abraham by belonging to the race of Israel will be of no advantage on the day of judgment, for through Abraham’s seed, who is Jesus, all the nations of the earth were to find blessing on the basis of God’s promise (see Genesis 22:15-18; Galatians 3:6-14; 4:26-29; Romans 9:6-8). If God can raise up the child of the promise from the barren womb of Sarah (Isaac, the prophetic foreshadowing of Christ), then He can certainly raise up children from the stones (Gentiles).
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire. Obviously, this build upon the fruit image of verse 8. The day of wrath is coming but the judgment has already begun, and repentance is demanded in the face of it. In the OT the destruction of trees was sometimes used as images of God’s punishment of pride or opposition to Him (see Isaiah 10:18-19, 33-34; Amos 2:9)
I indeed baptize you with water unto penance, but he that shall come after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. Both the person and the power of the coming one is greater than John and his activity. Holy Spirit (Ghost) and fire are sometimes taken as referring to Christian baptism, or to Pentecost, however, given the judgment motif, it is probably better to understand Holy Spirit here as meaning both Spirit and wind. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for spirit can also mean wind. Wind and fire are two OT images for Judgment: For wind see Psalm 1:4; Psalm 18:42; Hosea 13:15. For fire see Isaiah 26:11; Jeremiah 4:4.
Whose fan (winnowing fork) is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his (threshing) floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
This continues the wind and fire image of the previous verse. Harvested grain was taken to a threshing floor where it was either beaten with heavy sticks or run over with heavy wooden sleds. This was done to remove the grain from the husks (chaff). The threshing floor was then cleaned of the chaff with a winnowing fork which was used to throw the chaff into the air to be driven away by the wind. The heavier grain would fall back to the floor so it could be collected and stored, while the chaff was gathered and burned.