Matthew 3:1-12 John The Baptists’s Call To Repentance.
John the baptist came preaching a message of repentance in the wilderness (v. 1 Cf. Mk. 1:3-8), because as he said “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 2). The themes of the exile, as is seen in the genealogies, and the exodus of the Son, are joined now by this specific mention of John’s location. It brings to mind the history of the generation, including Moses, who wandered in the wilderness, after the exodus, because unlike Joshua (or Jesus) and Caleb, they did not believe the promise of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven in the promised land (Cf. Dan. 2:44). Isaiah’s prophecy foretelling of John’s appearing echoed the wilderness experience, one which should have been one of repentance and faith but was not (v. 3 Cf. Josh. 14:10; Lk. 1:76; Is. 40:3). John’s baptism was as specific as was his message-strictly concerned with the matter of repentance (vv. 4-6, 11 Cf. Mk. 1:5; Acts 19:4).* It would later be replaced by the Trinitarian baptism instituted by Christ as the sign of the new covenant administration (Cf. Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 18:25; 19:3).
This focus on repentance led to his very scathing rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees, because all along they never acknowledged their need to repent, claiming that being a physical descendant of Abraham was enough (vv. 7-9 Cf. Jn. 8:33). Talk was not enough, much less simply being born into a given tribe or family. Repentance, like faith, is something that is planted by God and shows the fruit thereof. The coming of the Messiah was a time of old covenant lawsuit and new covenant renewal (Cf. Ps. 96:13; Zeph. 2:1-3; Mal. 3:1-7; Is. 4:3-4; Jer. 31:31-34). “Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 10 Cf. 7:19). The One to whom John pointed would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 11 Cf. Lk. 3:16; Jn. 20:22; Acts 2:3-4; I Cor. 12:13). This was a time of winnowing the wheat, the true children, from the chaff, the pretenders (v. 12). Again, this was the concluding message of Malachi (Ch. 4). John fulfilled the role of the Elijah to come (Cf. Lk. 1:17)
* The mention of locusts reinforces the point that John was a man who followed the law (v. 4 Cf. Lev. 11:22).