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2 And saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of hoaven is at hand.
2. Repentance implies sorrow for past offences, 2 Cor. vii. 10; a deep sense of the evil of sin as committed against God, Ps. li. 4; and a full purpose to turn from transgression, and to lead a holy life. A true penitent has sorrow for sin, not only because it is ruinous to his soul, but chiefly because it is an offence against God, and is that abominable thing which he hates, Jer. xliv. 4. It is produced by seeing the great danger and misery to which it exposes us; the justice and holiness of God, Job xlii
. 6; and that our sins have been committed against Christ, and were the cause of his death, Zech. xii. 10. Luke xxii. 61, 62. There are two words in the New Testament translated repentance; one of which denotes a change of mind, or a reformation of life; and the other sorrow, or regret that sin has been committed. The word used here is the former: calling the Jews to a change of life, or a reformation of conduct. In the time of John the nation nad become extremely wicked and corrupt. Both he and Christ began their ministry by calling to repentance. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The expectation of such a kingdom was taken from the Old Testament, especially from Daniel, ch. vii. 13, 14. The prophets had told of a successor to David, who should sit on his throne, 1 Kings ii. 4; viii. 25. Jer. xxxiii. 17. The Jews expected a great national deliverer. They supposed that when the Messiah should appear, all the dead would be raised; that the judgment would take place; and that the enemies of the Jews would be destroyed, and their nation advanced to great dignity and honour.
The language in which they were accustomed to describe this event was retained by our Saviour and his Apostles. Yet he early attempted to correct the common notions respecting his reign. This was one design, doubtless, of John in preaching repentance. Instead of summoning them to military exercises, and collecting an army, which would have been in accordance with their expectations, he called them to a change of life; to the doctrine of repentance; a state of things far more accordant with the approach of a kingdom of purity.
The phrases,“ kingdom of God,' &c., have been supposed to have a considerable variety of meaning. Some have thought that they refer to the state of things in heaven ; others, that they mean the church, or the reign of Christ in the hearts of his people. There can be no doubt that there is reference in the words to the condition of things in heaven, after this life. But the church of God is a preparatory state to that beyond the grave; a state in whicn Christ pre-eminently rules and reigns; and it means, therefore, the state of things which the Messiah was to set up---his spiritual reign begun in the church on earth, and completed in heaven.
The phrase would be best translated 'the reign of God draws
near," or the time when Christ would reign is at hand. The time when Christ should set up his kingdom, or begin his domiajon on earth, under the Christian economy, was about to commence. The phrase should not be confined to any period of that reign, but includes his whole dominion over his people on earth, and in heaven.
The word heaven, or heavens, as it is in the original, means sometimes the place, so called, and sometimes is put for the Great Being whose residence is there; as in Daniel iv. 26; "the Heavens do rule. See also Mark xi. 30. Luke xv. 18. As that kingdom was one of purity, it was proper that the people should prepare themselves for it by turning from their sins.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 3.
' The prophet Esaias.' The prophet Isaiah. Esaias is the Greek mode of writing the name. This passage is taken from Isaiah xl. 3. It is here said to have been spoken in reference to John, the forerunner of Christ. The language is such as was familiar to the Jews, and such as they would understand. Anciently, it was customary in the march of armies to send messengers, or pioneers, before them, to proclaim their approach; to provide for them; to remove obstructions; to make roads, level hills, till up vallies, &c.
As applied to John, it means, that he was sent to remove obstructions, and to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah ; like a herald going before a host on the march, to make preparation for their coming.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
4. "His raiment of camel's hair.' His clothing. This is not the fine hair of the camel from which cloth is made, called camlet, nor the more elegant stuff, brought from the East Indies, under the name of camel's hair; but the long, shaggy hair of the camel, from which a coarse, cheap cloth is made, still worn by the poorer classes in the East, and by monks. This dress of the camel's hair, and a leathern girdle, it seems, was the common dress of the prophets, 2 Kings i. 8. Zech. xiii. 4. ' His meat was locusts." His food. These were the food of the common people. Among the Greeks, the poorest of the people used to eat them; and the fact that John made his food of them is significant of his great poverty and humble life. The Jews were allowed to eat them, Lev. xi. 22. Locusts are flying insects, and are of various kinds. The green locusts are about two inches in length, and about the thickness of a man's finger. The common brown locust is about three inches long. The general form and appearance of the locust is not unlike the grasshopper. They were one of the plagues of Egypt, Exod. x. in eastern countries they are very numerous. They appear in such quantities as to darken the sky, and devour in a short time every green thing. The whole earth is sometimes covered with them for many leagues, Joel i. 4. Isa. xxxiii. 4. They are sometimes dried and salted, or ground into a kind of cake, &c. • Wild honey. This was probably the honey that he found in the rocks of the wilderness. Palestine was often called the land flowing with milk and honey, Exod. iii. 8, 17; xii. 5. Bees were kept with great care; and great numbers of them were found in the fissures of trees and the clefts of rocks.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan.
5. • Jerusalem.' The people of Jerusalem. All Judea.' Many people from Judea. Not literally all the people, but great multitudes went. Jerusalem was in the part of the country called Judea Judea was situated on the west side of the Jordan. Region about Jordan.' Near to Jordan.
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
6. • Were baptized.' Baptism was a solemn rite, significant of their being cleansed from their former sins, and purified for the peculiar service of Jehovah. As it was used by John it was a significant rite, or ceremony, denoting the putting away of impurity, and a purpose to be pure in heart and life. The Hebrew word (Tabal) which is rendered by the word baptize, occurs in the Old Testament in the following places, viz.: Lev. iv. 6; xiv. 6, 51. Num. xix. 18. Ruth ii. 14. Exod. xii. 22. Deut. xxxii. 24. Ezek. xxiii. 15. Job ix. 31. Lev. ix. 9. 1 Sam. xiv. 27. 2 Kings v. 14; viii. 15. Gen. xxxvii. 31. Joshua iii. 15. It occurs in no other places; and from examination of these passages, its meaning among the Jews is to be derived.
The river Jordan is the easiern boundary of Palestine, or Judea. It rises in mount Lebanon, at the north of Palestine, and runs in a southerly direction, under ground, for thirteen miles, and then bursts forth at Cesarea Philippi. It then unites with two small streams, and runs some miles farther, and is emptied into lake Merom. From this small lake it flows thirteen miles, and then falls into the lake Gennesareth, otherwise called the sea of Tiberias, or the sea of Galilee. Through the middle of this lake, which is sixteen miles long and five broad it flows undisturbed.
and preserves a southerly direction for about seventy miles, and then falls into the Dead Sea, at its entrance into which it is about ninety feet widè. It flows in many places with great rapidity, and when swollen by rains pours like an impetuous torrent. It formerly regularly overflowed its banks in time of narvest, that is, in March, in some places six hundred paces, Josh. iii. 15. 1 Chron. xii. 15. These banks are covered with small trees and shrubs, and afford a convenient dwelling for wild beasts. Allusion is often made to these thickets in the sacred scriptures, Jer. xlix, 19; 1. 44.
7. But when he saw many of the pharisees and sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
7. • Pharisees and sadducees.' The Jews were divided into three great sects, the pharisees; the sadducees; and the essenes. In addition to these, some smaller sects are mentioned in the New Testament, and by Josephus: the herodians, probably political friends of Herod; the galileans, a branch of the pharisees; and the therapeutæ, a branch of the essenes, but converts from the Greeks. The principal of these sects are supposed to have originated about 150 years before Christ, as they are mentioned by Josephus about that time. Of course nothing is said of them in the Old Testament, as that was finished about 400 years before the christian era.
I. The pharisees were the most numerous and wealthy sect of the Jews. They derived their name from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies, to set apart, or to separate, because they separated themselves from the rest of their countrymen, to peculiar strictness in religion. Their leading tenets were the following: that the world was governed by fate, or by a fixed decree of God; that the souls of men were immortal, and were either eternally happy or miserable beyond the grave; that the dead would be raised; that there were angels, good and bad ; that God was under obligation to bestow peculiar favour on the Jews; and that they were justified by the merits of Abraham. They were proud, haughty, self-righteous, and held the common people in great disrespect, John vii. 49. They sought the offices of the state, and affected great dignity. They were ostentatious in their religious worship, praying at the corners of the streets, and seeking publicity in the bestowment of alms. They sought principally external cleanness; and dealt much in ceremonial ablutions and washing.
In addition to the written laws, they held to a multitude which they maintained had come down from Moses by tradition. They were in general a corrupt, hypocritical, office-seeking, haughty class of men. There were, however, some among them of a better character. See Acts v. 34.
II. The sadducees are supposed to have taken their name from Sadok, who flourished about 260 years before the christian era. He was a pupil of Antigonus Sochæus, president of the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation. He had taught the duty of serving God disinterestedly, without the hope of reward, or the fear of punishment. Hence Sadok, not properly understanding the doctrine of his master, drew the inference that there was no future state of rewards or punishments; and on this belief he founded the sect. The other notions which they held, all to be traced to this leading doctrine, were: 1. That there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit, Matt. xxii. 23. Acts xxiii. 8; and that the soul of man perishes with the body. 2. They rejected the doctrine of fate. *3. They rejected all traditions, and professed to receive only the books of the Old Testament.
They were far less numerous than the pharisees, but their want of numbers was compensated, in some degree, by their wealth and standing in society. Though they did not generally seek office, yet several of them were advanced to the high-priesthood.
III. The essenes, a third sect of the Jews, are not mentioned in the New Testament. They differed from both the pharisees and sadducees. They were Jewish hermits, passing their time little in society, but mostly in places of obscurity and retirement. It is not probable, therefore, that our Saviour often, if ever, encountered them.
The other sects of the Jews were too insignificant to demand particular notice here. It may be said of the Jews generally that they possessed little of the spirit of religion ; that they had corrupted some of the most important doctrines of the bible; and that they were an ignorant, proud, ambitious, and sensual people.
• Generation of vipers.'. Vipers are a species of serpents. There is no serpent that is more poisonous than a viper. The word serpent, or viper, is used to denote both cunning and malignancy, or wickedness. In the phrase, ‘Be ye wise as serpents,' it means be prudent, or wise, referring to the account in Genesis ii. 1–6. Among the Jews the serpent was regarded as the symbol of cunning, circumspection, and prudence. It was so regarded in the Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the phrase, 'generą. tion of vipers,' Matt. xii. 34, the viper is the symbol of wickedness, of envenomed malice—a symbol drawn from the venom of the serpent. The phrase is used in this place to denote their malignancy and wickedness. See Matt. xii. 34; xxiii. 33. 'Wrath to come.' John expresses his astonishment that sinners so hardened and so hypocritical as they were, should have been induced to flee from coming wrath. "The wrath to come' means the Divine indignation, or the punishment that will come on the guilty. See 1 Thess. i. 10; ii. 16.
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance