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  • The dispensation of law was terminated by the coming of John the Baptist (Matt. 11:13; Luke 16:16). After the baptism by John, the preaching of the gospel of peace began (Acts 10:36-37). John's preaching was the beginning of the gospel (Mark 1:1-5). Hence, the dispensation of grace began with John.

  • In John the Baptist's preaching, repentance, as the opening of God's New Testament economy, involved making a turn for the kingdom of the heavens. This indicates that God's New Testament economy is focused on His kingdom. For this we should repent, change our mind, make a turn in our life-pursuit. The goal of our pursuing has been other things; now our pursuing must turn toward God and His kingdom, which in Matthew (cf. Mark 1:15) is specifically and purposefully called "the kingdom of the heavens." According to the Gospel of Matthew as a whole, the kingdom of the heavens is different from the Messianic kingdom. The Messianic kingdom will be the restored kingdom of David (the rebuilt tabernacle of David — Acts 15:16), made up of the children of Israel, and will be earthly and physical in nature; whereas the kingdom of the heavens is constituted of regenerated believers and is heavenly and spiritual. (See note Matt. 5:34b.)

  • To repent is to have a change of mind issuing in regret, to have a turn in purpose.

  • John the Baptist's preaching was the initiation of God's New Testament economy. He did this preaching not in the holy temple within the holy city, where the religious and cultured people worshipped God according to their scriptural ordinances, but in the wilderness, in a "wild" way, not keeping any old regulations. This indicates that the old way of worshipping God according to the Old Testament had been repudiated and that a new way was about to be brought in. Wilderness here indicates that the new way of God's New Testament economy is contrary to religion and culture. It indicates further that nothing old was left and that something new was going to be built up.

  • Because of the impenitence of the Jews, both this word and the word in v. 10 have been fulfilled. God has cut off the Jews and has raised up the believing Gentiles to be descendants of Abraham in faith (Rom. 11:15a, Rom. 11:19-20, 22; Gal. 3:7, 28-29). John's word in this verse clearly indicates that the kingdom of the heavens preached by him is constituted not of the children of Abraham by birth but of the children of Abraham by faith; thus, it is a heavenly kingdom, not the earthly kingdom of the Messiah.

  • The Sadducees were another sect within Judaism (Acts 5:17). They did not believe in the resurrection, in angels, or in spirits (Matt. 22:23; Acts 23:8). Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were denounced as a brood of vipers by John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus (v. 7; 12:34; 23:33). The Lord Jesus warned His disciples against their doctrines (Matt. 16:6, 12). The Pharisees were considered orthodox, whereas the Sadducees were the ancient modernists.

  • The Pharisees were the strictest religious sect of the Jews (Acts 26:5). This sect was formed about 200 B.C. They were proud of their superior religious living, devotion to God, and knowledge of the Scriptures. Actually, they had degraded into pretension and hypocrisy (Matt. 23:2-33).

  • The Jordan River was the water in which twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were buried and from which another twelve stones, again representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were resurrected and brought up (Josh. 4:1-18). Hence, to baptize people in the Jordan River implied the burial of their old being and the resurrection of the new. Just as the crossing of the Jordan River by the children of Israel ushered them into the good land, so baptism brings people into Christ, the reality of the good land.

  • To baptize people is to immerse them, to bury them, in water, which signifies death. John the Baptist did this to indicate that he who repents is good for nothing but burial. Further, this signifies that the old person has been terminated so that a new beginning can be realized in resurrection, to be brought in by Christ as the Life-giver. Hence, after John's ministry, Christ came. John's baptism not only terminated those who repented but also ushered them to Christ for life. Baptism in the Bible implies death and resurrection. To be baptized into water is to be put into death and buried. To be raised up from the water means to be resurrected from death.

  • John was born a priest (Luke 1:5, 13). According to the regulations of the law, he should have worn the priestly garment, which was made mainly of fine linen (Exo. 28:4, 40-41; Lev. 6:10; Ezek. 44:17-18), and he should have eaten the priestly food, which was composed mainly of fine flour and the meat of the sacrifices offered to God by His people (Lev. 2:1-3; 6:16-18, 25-26; 7:31-34). However, John did altogether differently. He wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather girdle, and he ate locusts and wild honey. All these things were uncivilized, uncultured, and not according to the religious regulations. For a priestly person to wear camel's hair was an especially drastic blow to the religious mind, for the camel was considered unclean according to the Levitical regulations (Lev. 11:4). In addition, John did not live in a civilized place but in the wilderness (Luke 3:2). All this indicates that he had wholly abandoned the Old Testament dispensation, which had degraded into a religion mixed with human culture. His intention was to introduce God's New Testament economy, which is constituted solely of Christ and the Spirit of life.

  • The way, similar to a street, and the paths, similar to lanes, are a portrait of man's heart with all its parts. To repent unto the Lord with our whole being and with our whole heart and to let the Lord come in is to prepare the way of the Lord. To allow the Lord to further occupy every part of our heart, including the mind, the emotion, and the will, is to make straight the paths of the Lord. Hence, to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight is to change our mind, to turn our mind toward the Lord and make our heart right, that through repentance every part and avenue of our heart may be straightened by the Lord for the kingdom of the heavens (Luke 1:16-17).

  • It was according to prophecy that John the Baptist began his ministry in the wilderness. This indicates that John's introducing of God's New Testament economy was not accidental but had been planned by God and foretold by Him through Isaiah the prophet. This implies that God intended His New Testament economy to begin in an absolutely new way.

  • This clearly indicates that before the coming of John the Baptist, the kingdom of the heavens was not there. Even after his appearing, during his preaching, the kingdom of the heavens was still not there; it had only drawn near. At the time the Lord began His ministry, and even at the time He sent His disciples to preach, the kingdom of the heavens had still not come (Matt. 4:17; 10:7). Hence, in the first parable in ch. 13, the parable of the seed (Matt. 13:3-9), which indicates the Lord's preaching, the Lord did not say, "The kingdom of the heavens is (or, has become) like ... " Not until the second parable, the parable of the tares (Matt. 13:24), which indicates the establishing of the church on the day of Pentecost, did the Lord say this. Matt. 16:18-19, in which the terms church and kingdom of the heavens are used interchangeably, proves that the kingdom of the heavens came when the church was established.

  • According to the context, the fire here is not the fire in Acts 2:3, which is related to the Holy Spirit, but is the same fire as in vv. 10, 12, the fire in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15), where the unbelievers will suffer eternal perdition. John's word spoken here to the Pharisees and Sadducees means that if the Pharisees and Sadducees would genuinely repent and believe in the Lord, the Lord would baptize them in the Holy Spirit that they might have eternal life; otherwise, the Lord will baptize them in fire, putting them into the lake of fire for eternal punishment. John's baptism was only for repentance, to usher people to faith in the Lord. The Lord's baptism is either for eternal life in the Holy Spirit or for eternal perdition in fire. The Lord's baptism in the Holy Spirit initiated the kingdom of the heavens, bringing His believers into the kingdom of the heavens, whereas His baptism in fire will terminate the kingdom of the heavens, putting the unbelievers into the lake of fire. Hence, the Lord's baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is based on His redemption, is the beginning of the kingdom of the heavens, whereas His baptism in fire, which is based on His judgment, is the ending of that kingdom. Thus, in this verse there are three kinds of baptisms: the baptism in water, the baptism in the Spirit, and the baptism in fire. The baptism in water by John introduced people to the kingdom of the heavens. The baptism in the Spirit by the Lord Jesus commenced and established the kingdom of the heavens on the day of Pentecost and will carry it on to its consummation at the end of this age. The baptism in fire by the Lord according to the judgment at the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15) will conclude the kingdom of the heavens.

  • Those typified by the wheat have life within. The Lord will baptize them in the Holy Spirit and, by rapture, gather them into His barn in the air. Those typified by the chaff, like the tares in Matt. 13:24-30, are without life. The Lord will baptize them in fire, putting them into the lake of fire. The chaff here refers to the impenitent Jews, whereas the tares in ch. 13 refer to the nominal Christians. The eternal destiny of both will be the same — perdition in the lake of fire (Matt. 13:40-42).

  • Those typified by the wheat have life within. The Lord will baptize them in the Holy Spirit and, by rapture, gather them into His barn in the air. Those typified by the chaff, like the tares in Matt. 13:24-30, are without life. The Lord will baptize them in fire, putting them into the lake of fire. The chaff here refers to the impenitent Jews, whereas the tares in ch. 13 refer to the nominal Christians. The eternal destiny of both will be the same — perdition in the lake of fire (Matt. 13:40-42).

  • As a man, the Lord Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized according to God's New Testament way. Of the four Gospels, only John's does not give a record of the Lord's baptism, because John testifies that the Lord is God.

  • Righteousness is to be right by living, walking, and doing things in the way God has ordained. In the Old Testament, to be righteous was to keep the law that God had given. Now God sent John the Baptist to institute baptism. To be baptized also is to fulfill righteousness before God, that is, to fulfill the requirement of God. The Lord Jesus came to John not as God but as a typical man, a real Israelite. Hence, He had to be baptized in order to keep this dispensational practice of God; otherwise, He would not have been right with God.

  • The Lord was baptized not only to fulfill all righteousness according to God's ordination, but also to allow Himself to be put into death and resurrection that He might minister not in a natural way but in the way of resurrection. By being baptized, He was able to live and minister in resurrection even before His actual death and resurrection three and a half years later.

  • The Lord's being baptized to fulfill God's righteousness and to be put into death and resurrection brought Him three things: the open heavens, the descending Spirit of God, and the speaking of the Father. It is the same with us today.

  • Before the Spirit of God descended and came upon Him, the Lord Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). This proves that at the time of His baptism He already had the Spirit of God within Him. The Spirit's being within Him was for His birth. Now for His ministry the Spirit of God descended upon Him. This was the fulfillment of Isa. 61:1; 42:1 and Psa. 45:7, and was carried out to anoint the new King and introduce Him to His people.

  • A dove is gentle, and its eyes can see only one thing at a time. Hence, it signifies gentleness and singleness in sight and purpose. By the descending of the Spirit of God like a dove upon Him, the Lord Jesus ministered in gentleness and singleness, focusing solely on the will of God.

  • The Spirit's descending was the anointing of Christ, whereas the Father's speaking was a testimony to Him as the beloved Son. This is a picture of the Divine Trinity: the Son rose up from the water, the Spirit descended upon the Son, and the Father spoke concerning the Son. This proves that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit exist simultaneously. This is for the accomplishing of God's economy.

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