What does Matthew mean by “in those days”?
Matthew is moving the account along over some years. At the end of Chapter 2 Matthew is still addressing the early childhood years of Jesus and consequently John also, being that John was only about 6 months older. As we progress in to the following couple of verses the meaning of this phrase, “in those days”, becomes more evident. The preaching concerning the arrival of the kingdom of heaven begins at this point.
How could preaching in the deserted places be very effective?
The objective here is to simplify, not only the message, but the logistics of the preaching. Those that may have been knowledgeable of the basic concepts of the Messiah generally expected a grand introduction for the appearance of the Christ. This means of requiring the people to leave the comforts of their communities and make the trip to hear the speaker in the desert, suggests to them unexpected characteristics of the kingdom. They are going to have to understand that changes are required in more than one sense:
1. In order to enter the kingdom, you are going to have to leave something behind. Be prepared to sacrifice, without exception.
2. The kingdom is not defined by the things that currently defines these people according to their definitions. Changes are required to enter the kingdom, without exception.
3. The things of the flesh are not required to enter into the kingdom. This means the kingdom concerns the things of the spirit. So, entry requires a heart and soul ready to repent of wrong doing. The preacher is humble to show all aspects of the kingdom, including the king and the citizens, are going to be humble. Without exception.
Is this an effective example for us; preaching in the desert?
It depends. In concept, it could be. Many would be converts to the Law of Christ need to be removed from their normal circumstances and relations in order to get their minds and hearts focused on the gospel. The actual concept here is to understand that change is necessary in order to enter the kingdom of Christ. This change is different for everyone and may feel more like sacrifice of the things the world considers essential to being members of the community. But, holding on to these things contradicts the changed heart unto righteousness and holiness.
How will people hear the preaching if John is preaching in the deserted places of Judea?
It requires them to commit to the Lord. Their ancestors were, at one time, led through the wilderness by Jehovah. Now they must be led by the preaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. As the people heard from others that John was giving the message in the wilderness, or deserted places, they must have desired to hear the preaching if committed to travel to John.
By what law would the people hearing the preaching repent? In other words, with respect to what law would they repent?
John the Baptist preached in accordance with and under the authority of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses, or Old Law, specified the requirement for repentance from sins. The points of the sacrifices was reconciliation (through repentance) to God and offering (worship) unto God. Paul stated that is through law that one has a knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20, Psalm 143:2). The Law of Moses was intended to demonstrate the lack of ability for one to live flawlessly in justice. Therefore, a means of propitiation was necessary, which is Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25, Hebrew 2:17). While we live as Christians under the Law of Faith, we are not without law (1 Corinthians 9:21) but prove the point of the Law of Moses. The point is, no one is just before God and therefore needs to repent of sins. John the Baptist was to preach and prepare the hearts of the Jews for the judgement that is the Word which demands repentance.
To what kingdom does John refer?
The kingdom of Heaven was preached as being near. Not only by John the Baptist, but also by the disciples of Christ and Jesus prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom of Heaven is one and same as Christ’s church. In Revelation 12:10 the advent of the kingdom of Heaven within the vision given to John is marked by the realization of salvation and power of the kingdom. Both of these, salvation and power, comes through Christ and is only authorized as dispensed from Christ’s church. We know that the power is the word God which is intended for salvation (Romans 1:16). That power can only be accessed through Christ and word of the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18, 24).
What does John mean by saying the kingdom is near?
Many translations use the phrase “at hand”. It means that those who were hearing the message of John the Baptist needed to prepare themselves for the event of the revealing of the Messiah and the consequent reign of the Christ as kingdom over His dominion.
Matthew quoted a prophet in Verse 3. Who was the prophet and what verse is he quoting?
What does “prepare the way of the Lord” mean?
This is terminology referring to change but not in a social politically sense. Prepare the hearts, minds, and souls of the people as required by the Law of Moses. They needed to be aware of their sins against the Law and be of heart to follow God.
What does “make His path straight mean”?
The challenge here is the mind. The heart may be ready for change with the coming Messiah but the mind has to understand the means of change. Many would be looking for a saviour from the foreign authorities that ruled over the lands of Israel at the time. But John was not speaking about the culture of politics and dominions of earthly kingdoms. John was speaking of the need to be saved from an individual’s own sins, not the sins of Rome or the Herods.
Why does the messenger of God wear camel's hair with a belt of leather and eat locust and wild honey?
This is symbology of humility. This is not indicative of all preachers. But, we need to be able to show and foster, when necessary, the requirement of the soul to humble themselves in order to approach God and Christ with a heart of repentance. This also showed the people that went to the wilderness (no grand halls or throne rooms) to hear John that the Christ and kingdom would consist of humble means with respect to physical things. This also marks John as a preacher and prophet in the order of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). There is of course a dichotomy in the usage of the three symbols. (Dichotomy means two opposite entities, or results, from a single source.) The camel hair and leather belt are intended to show a basic and unrefined means of clothing. But camel hair is also used to make cashmere. A more detailed understanding can come from the fact that John likely utilized the more coarse and straighter hair that is known as the guard coat (outer layer) of the camel fur. The underlayer of hair that is finer and softer is used for expensive garments. Similarly, for the belt, leather can be used for the most remedial types of utility in clothing accessories or leather can be made into ornate pieces representing wealth and marking authority (like insignias). Wild honey is normally seen as an unprocessed and therefore unrefined and unfiltered sweetener. At the same time, honey is sold to the wealthy, not only for the sweetness but as associated to fine pastry and medicinal purposes. Christ foretold of the dangers of becoming a Christian for the wrong reasons. You can only serve one master and there has to be a high fidelity to the pattern established by the one king of the kingdom. Therefore, the church and the gospel must be used as intended and not as a means of self-glorification or enrichment (1 Timothy 6:3-10).
What does Matthew mean that Jerusalem and all Judea went out to John? Did all the people go to John?
Not all the people. This likely gives indication by Matthew of the intended audience that the message was preached to for preparation of the Christ at that time. Keep in mind, during the preaching of Christ, there were a number of Gentiles that were looking for and had faith in the Christ.
What is the “neighborhood of Jordon”?
The neighborhood is a more literal term compared to the normal English word, region. It can be understood to mean the cities and towns on each side of the Jordan River.
Why would John baptize the people since this is a few years prior to the apostles preaching on Pentecost?
The practice John is preaching is confession of sins, repentance from sins, and cleansing by washing. The concept is actually quite familiar to the Jews based on the Law as read in Leviticus.
What would that baptism look like?
The word here is baptizo, which means to bury. It comes from a word which means to dye or stain for coloring. This word has the active application of cleansing by completely covering.
By what authority were they baptized? Or, by what law were they baptized?
John baptized according to the Law of Moses including calling for the confession and repentance from sin.
By what rule, or law, were they confessing their sins? Sins according to what law?
The Law of Moses. Consider Leviticus 5:5, Leviticus 26:40, Number 5:7, and Psalm 32:5.
What was the subject of John’s preaching if the people were being baptized and confessing sin?
The transgressions against the Law of Moses.
How does John relate to 2 Kings 1?
2 Kings 1 tells the story of Elijah dealing with King Ahaziah. Elijah is described by Ahaziah’s men as being dressed very similarly to John the Baptist. John is noted by Matthew as persuading Jews to turn back to the rule of the Law of Moses. There were some that opposed John similarly as Elijah was opposed.
What should the people hearing the preaching of John have understood about John and Elijah?
The significance is the consequence of rejection of the word of God. Men died in opposition to Elijah. The situation with John is equally as dire but with respect to spiritual death for those that reject the preaching of John and the Law. Rejection of the word from the preacher of the Lord is the rejection of His salvation from transgressions against His law. Without confession and repentance of all sin, there can be no purification and no life of the rejecting individual.