WEEK 21 : “Yochanan haMatbil Prepares the Way”
Matt. 3:1-6; Mark 1:2-6; Luke 3:3-6
Lk. 3:3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of remission of sins. (Mt. 3:3; Mk. 1:4)
Mt. 3:2 And saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Lk. 3:4a As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying, (Mt. 3:4a; Mk. 1:2a)
Mk. 1:2b “Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare Your way before You.
Lk. 3:4b “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight,” (Mt. 3:3b; Mk. 1:3)
Lk. 3:5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.”
Lk. 3:6 “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Mt. 3:5 Then all Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around Jordan went out to him, (Mk. 1:5a)
Mt. 3:6 And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mk. 1:5b)
Mt. 3:4 And Yochanan himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around the waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Mk. 1:6)
Matthew 3:1-6 (NKJV) Other versions ...
In this segment we have the Synoptic Gospels coming together for the first time. They are called the Synoptic Gospels because they all tell basically the same story, although the wording of their story is based upon their particular theme. The reason that they tell basically the same story is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, unlike John, are far more interested in what Yeshua did than what He said. John’s Gospel does not fully parallel the other three because he is more interested in what Yeshua said and what the others left out. That is why in this commentary we are including all four Gospels so the story is complete. Comparing all four Gospels can present some wording problems, but overall it is worth it to see the full story.
Our sources concerning Yochanan haMatbil are the New Testament and Josephus. Josephus’ interpretation of the significance of Yochanan’s baptism is almost identical to the theology of baptism in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It appears that there was indeed an infinity between Yochanan haMatbil and the Dead Sea Sect, and scholars assume that Yochanan was once a member of the Dead Sea Sect and had left for ideological reasons.
Baptism for Yochanan haMatbil had a great significance as the Jewish ritual immersion in a mikvah (a special pool of rain water used for purification purposes). Yochanan had the belief that immersion purified the body from sin that had been a Jewish concept from the beginning of their recorded history. But, they believed that a person’s body was defiled not only through contact with objects which were ritually unclean, but also through sin. When someone sinned, his body was defiled, and therefore, a man who had not repented before his immersion would not become pure. While immersion might purify the body, it would immediately be defiled again through the person’s sins. Therefore repentance prior to immersion was absolutely necessary.
Numerous people flocked to him since he did not require them to abandon their usual way of life, to give away their property to a communal fund, or form a separate sect. They simply hoped to redeem their souls through confession and immersion. There were even some who believed mistakenly that immersion itself would purify them from their sins. These people did not grasp the idea that repentance purified a man from sin, and water only purified the body.
The Biblical concept of forgiveness presumes, in its oldest strata, that sin is a malefic force that adheres to the sinner and that forgiveness is the divine means for removing it. It is not enough to hope and pray for pardon. A man must humble himself, acknowledge his wrong, and resolve to depart from sin. The many symptoms for contrition testify to its primacy in the human effort to restore the desired relationship with God: seek the Lord (II Sam. 12:16; 21:1), search for Him (Amos 5:4), humble oneself before Him (Lev. 26:41), direct the heart to Him (I Sam. 7:3), and lay to heart (II Kings 22:19).
At the same time, inner contrition must be followed by outward acts. Remorse must be translated into deeds. Two substances are involved in this process. First, the negative one of ceasing to do evil, and then the positive one of doing good. This doctrine implies that man has been endowed by God with the power of “turning.” He can turn from evil and to good, and the very act of turning will activate God’s concern and lead to forgiveness.
Vs. 3:1: Yochanan was preaching a baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. In essence, the word “baptism” means to identify and those who were baptized by Yochanan were identifying themselves with the “back to God movement.” The baptism of Yochanan is not the same as the baptism of the Messiah, although the mode was the same. That is why those who were baptized by Yochanan and later received Yeshua as Messiah, had to be baptized all over again in Yeshua’s name (Acts 19:1-5).
Some were possibly familiar with the ritual immersion done by the priests in the Temple, but this was far different from Yochanan’s baptism. What Yochanan was evidently patterning his baptism after was the practice called tevilah. When a proselyte converted to Judaism he was required to perform this “tevilah” as part of his “coming back to God.” It was required to be performed in some type of a natural spring, or living water. Yochanan use the Jordan River. It was then said that the convert had experienced a new birth.
Scholars continue to debate the exact location along the Jordan River where Yochanan haMatbil baptized Yeshua. The traditional site has come to be known as Bethabara, which means “house of the ford.” It is about 7 miles north of the Dead Sea. An article in the Jan./Feb., 2005 issue of the “Biblical Archaeological Review” magazine gives very convincing support for this view. Some scholars feel the real Bethabara was further up the Jordan River near Galilee. This is probably the same place identified in John 1:26-28 as Bethany beyond the Jordan.” This should not be confused with the Bethany on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, which was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Pilgrim tradition identifies this same site on the Jordan for both Joshua’s crossing and Yeshua’s baptism. The anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux (writing in 333) locates this site as the place where Elijah ascended to Heaven. Regardless of the exact location, what is more interesting is the Aramaic verb “abar” in Bethabara. Abar (“eber” in Hebrew) indicates a movement, “the thought that one CAUSES or MOTIVATES another to move. Gilbert Sidon, in his article :John the Baptist, Jesus and the Jordan,” explains the concept of “abar” this way.
“In concrete terms, John was challenging his fellow Jews to go across to the east bank of the Jordan, out of Israel. This was an act of confession, admitting in this dramatic fashion that they had forfeited their right, not so much to live in the land, but to be God’s people. John then literally “turned them around” (“shav”in Herew, which is the root of the Hebrew word for repentance). John then led the people back through the river into the land. This is a dramatic example of God’s sure promise of restoration of our relationship with Him.”
Vs. 3:2: Notice that this verse uses the term Kingdom of Heaven. This same phrase is used all throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Yes, Mark and Luke use the phrase Kingdom of God. Why? Are there two different “kingdoms” being talked about in the Gospels? We must remember that Matthew was writing to the Jews. The Jews will not pronounce the name of God for fear of violating the commandments found in Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 19:12., so they use the phrase “kingdom of Heaven.” The Greek word used here is “Theos,” which in itself is not a proper name. But, if you look further into your concordance you will see that the Hebrew word most often translated by “Theos” is Elohim, or “El” which is a shortened version of Elohim. Mark and Luke, being non-Jews, had no such compunction for using God’s name in their writings. It is the very same Kingdom that all three Gospels are talking about.
Mk. 1:2: Luke and Matthew quote Isaiah 40:3 and Mark quotes Malachi 3:1. Both of these O.T. passages predict that before the Messiah is made known, He will be preceded by a forerunner. A forerunner will come announcing the soon coming of the King. This prophecy was fulfilled in a literal way by Yochanan haMatbil. That is the reason for quoting these two O.T. passages.
Lk. 3:3: This is one of the prime examples of how modern translations have erred. In this instance it is a simple little punctuation mark that makes all the difference. Two questions must be answered in order to open our understanding. First, why was Yochanan starting his ministry our in the wilderness instead of Jerusalem or some other heavily populated area? Secondly, why would people travel such a long distance to hear him?
The answer to both of these questions is found in the correct translation of Isaiah 40:3. The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) correctly reads: “A voice rings out: clear the desert road for the Lord. Level in the wilderness a highway for our God.” From this verse the Jewish people always expected that the first appearance of the Messiah was to be in the desert regions where Yochanan was. This is also probably the reason for the establishment of the community at Qumran which is nearby. This is also another reason why scholars believe that Yochanan was raise by the Dead Sea Sect. Yochanan was there announcing the fulfillment of prophecy, and the people went out fully expecting to see the Messiah. It would not be long until their expectations were realized. They would not be disappointed.
Lk. 3:5: If there is any doubt in someone’s mind as to who Yeshua is, this same verse in Isaiah explains it very well. In Judaism there are two primary names for God: Elohim for Creator; and Yahweh (YHVH) for Covenant Maker. Again we quote the proper translation of Isaiah 40:3, putting in the correct Hebrew: “A voice rings out: clear in the desert a road for Yahweh (YHVH). Level in the wilderness a highway for Elohim.” Yeshua the Messiah was and is God. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Mt. 3:5: This verse points out the tremendous response Yochanan begins to receive from all around the country of Judea and there in Jerusalem. Keep in mine that there were no telephones, radios or television to spread the news. News traveled by word of mouth. Remembering that will put this thing more in perspective. Yochanan had a message that really got the people’s attention.
Mt. 3:4: “Sha’atnez” in Judaism is the prohibition of wearing clothing made of any combination of linen and wool. The reason for this prohibition was this type of cloth was reserved to make the garments of the priests for wearing in the Tabernacle and Temple. Camel’s hair (wool) was exempt from this prohibition and was likely the wool used to make the priest’s garments. Camels were bound to have been the most popular, and the most plentiful animals used during the Exodus.
The tribes of Israel wandered in nomadic fashion for 40 years in the wilderness, never staying long in any one place. Because of this, it was very difficult for them to grow the grains needed to make flour used in baking, especially for such things as the Shewbread in the Tabernacle. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica the most popular substance used in that day by the nomadic tribes was dried locusts ground into a fine meal. Water was also a scarce commodity in the desert, so wild honey was used in its place, especially in making the shewbread. To tie this all together, we need to take another look at Yochanan haMatbil. His clothes were made of camel’s hair (not skins), and his food was locusts and wild honey. Yochanan was of the priestly lineage (his father was a priest). It is said that the priest represented God to the people and the people to God. He fit this role perfectly. He fit this role perfectly in his introduction of the Messiah. He may have had extremely long hair because of his Nazirite vow, but this was a sign of his consecration to God. In preparing himself for his assigned task, his clothing was made of the cloth reserved for the priest (he was of the lineage of Aaron), and his food was two principle ingredients of the shewbread which was the food of the priests. Yochanan was not the wild, hairy mountain man that so many have tried to picture him as.
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