John calls on the religious and the religious elites to confess missing God’s goal (aka sin) and to be baptized. It is a message for me and for our day. Just like during Jesus time, we have a religious culture. Some of us “grew up in the church”. It is always a good time to assess whether we are just being religious or truly following Jesus.
Have I adequately dealt with the reality that I have missed God’s goal? Have I confessed that to God? Have I started a new life having been baptized symbolizing my death with Jesus and my resurrection with Him? Have I radically changed my mind (aka repent)?
Now John had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. | Matthew 3:4-6 (CSB)
John fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 40:3. In a spiritual sense, John was “Elijah who was to come” for he came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:16–17). He even dressed as Elijah did and preached the same message of judgment. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the greatest of them.
The Jews baptized Gentile converts, but John was baptizing Jews! His baptism was authorized from heaven; it was not something John devised or borrowed. It was a baptism of radically changing our minds (aka repentance), looking forward to the Messiah’s coming. His baptism fulfilled two purposes: it prepared the nation for the Messiah and it presented the Messiah to the nation.
But John mentioned two other baptisms: a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11). The baptism of the Spirit came at Pentecost. Today, whenever a sinner trusts Jesus, he is born again and immediately baptized by the Spirit into the body of the Messiah, the church. In contrast, the baptism of fire refers to the future judgment, as Matthew explains (Matt. 3:12).
John was no city-slicker in his clothing and diet. For they carry forward the preceding theme of a wilderness and characterize him as a prophet in the mold of Elijah, whose return was predicted in Malachi 4:5. Locusts and wild honey not only indicate a sparse diet appropriate to the wilderness, but also a specially holy one devoid of flesh from which blood has had to be drained (hence locusts) and devoid of wine (hence honey, which like wine is sugary but unlike wine is nonalcoholic).
A wilderness was by and large devoid of human population — hence the need to “cry out” if anyone was to hear — but not necessarily devoid of vegetation. In fact, plenty of vegetation grew along the banks of the Jordan River. The sparsity of human population highlights by contrast the traveling of “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan” (in the sense of their inhabitants) out to John.
The large number indicated by these phrases anticipates the even larger numbers of people whom Jesus will attract to himself. The references to Jerusalem, Judea, and the region around the Jordan River imply that John was preaching and baptizing toward the southern end of the river, close to where it empties into the Dead Sea. Repentance led to baptism; and confession of sins accompanied baptism to verbalize repentance, which means a change of mind that results in a change of behavior.
Here is the literal translation:
And John himself [as distinguished from “the Lord”] had his clothing from camel’s hair and a leather belt [just a strip of hide] around his waist; and his nourishment was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea [southern Israel, where Jerusalem was located] and all the region around the Jordan [River] were traveling out to him [in the wilderness] 6 and were getting baptized by him in the Jordan River while confessing their sins.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 17). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mt 3:1–3). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (pp. 9–11). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.