Matthew 3:16
(16) The heavens were opened.--The narrative implies (1) that our Lord and the Baptist were either alone, or that they alone saw what is recorded. "The heavens were opened to him" as they were to Stephen (Acts 7:56). The Baptist bears record that he too beheld the Spirit descending (John 1:33-34), but there is not the slightest ground for supposing that there was any manifestation to others. So in the vision near Damascus, St. Paul only heard the words and saw the form of Him who spake them (Acts 9:7; Acts 22:9). That which they did see served, as did the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, as an attestation to the consciousness of each, of the reality of the gift imparted, and of its essential character. That descent of the Spirit, "as it were a dove," as St. Luke adds (Luke 3:22), "in bodily form," taught the Baptist, as it teaches us, that the gift of supernatural power and wisdom brought with it also the perfection of the tenderness, the purity, the gentleness of which the dove was the acknowledged symbol. To be "harmless as doves" was the command the Lord gave to His disciples (Matthew 10:16), and when they read this record, they were taught as we are, "of what manner of spirit" they were meant to be.

Verse 16. - And Jesus, when he was baptized. Combining the statements of the synoptists, we may conclude that Jesus went up from the water at once, praying as he went, and that, while he was going up and praying, the heavens opened. Out of; from '(Revised Version); ἀπό; for, as it seems, he had not gone fully out of the water. The heavens were opened unto him. So also the Revised Version, but the Revised Version margin, with Westcott and Herr, rightly omits "unto him." The words were inserted because it was thought that Jesus alone saw the manifestation, as indeed we should have supposed if we had had only the account of St. Mark, who reads, "he saw" before "the heavens being rent asunder" (but cf. John 1:32-34). To our Lord and to the Baptist the appearance was as though the sky really opened (cf. Ezekiel 1:1; Acts 7:56). The Spirit of God; recalling Genesis 1:2. "Messiah now enters on his public office, and for that receives, as true Man, the appropriate gifts. The Spirit by whom men are sub jectively united to God descends upon the Word made Flesh, by whom objectively God is revealed to men" (Bishop Westcott, on John 1:32). Like; as (Revised Version). The comparison is hardly to the gentleness of the descent of a dove, but to a visible appearance in bodily form, as a dove (see parallel passage in Luke). Not, of course, that the Holy Spirit was thus at all incarnate, but that either the appearance of a dove was seen by John's eyes only (cf. especially Theodore of Mopsuestia, in Meyer), or, as is not unlikely (even though the suggestion belongs ultimately to Paulus), a dove really flew down and lighted on the Lord (Luke), and that this, to outsiders merely a curious incident (cf. John 12:29), was to our Lord and the Baptist a sign of spiritual blessing. A dove (περιστερά); any member of the pigeon tribe; chosen because a symbol of deliverance (Genesis 8:8), of purity (Leviticus 5:7), of harmlessness (Matthew 10:16), and of endearment (Song of Solomon 6:9). There is no evidence (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:287) that the dove was at this period interpreted by Jews as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Targum on Song of Solomon 2:12 paraphrasing "the voice of the turtle-dove ' by "the voice of the Holy Spirit," dates in its present form from the eighth to the tenth century. The dove mentioned (though probably by interpolation) in the account of Polycarp's death, appears to be a symbol of the soul (cf. Bishop Lightfoot). Wichelhaus (as quoted by Kubel) says suggestively, "lamb and dove - no kingdom in the world has these emblems on its escutcheon." And; omit, with manuscripts. Lighting; coming (Revised Version), because it is needless to translate a common Greek (ἐρχόμενον) by a rare English word. Observe that it refers to the Holy Spirit, not to the dove as such. Upon him (so Luke and John 1:32, 33; Mark more vaguely, "unto him").

3:13-17 Christ's gracious condescensions are so surprising, that even the strongest believers at first can hardly believe them; so deep and mysterious, that even those who know his mind well, are apt to start objections against the will of Christ. And those who have much of the Spirit of God while here, see that they need to apply to Christ for more. Christ does not deny that John had need to be baptized of him, yet declares he will now be baptized of John. Christ is now in a state of humiliation. Our Lord Jesus looked upon it as well becoming him to fulfil all righteousness, to own every Divine institution, and to show his readiness to comply with all God's righteous precepts. In and through Christ, the heavens are opened to the children of men. This descent of the Spirit upon Christ, showed that he was endued with his sacred influences without measure. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. At Christ's baptism there was a manifestation of the three Persons in the sacred Trinity. The Father confirming the Son to be Mediator; the Son solemnly entering upon the work; the Holy Spirit descending on him, to be through his mediation communicated to his people. In Him our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable, for He is the altar that sanctifies every gift, 1Pe 2:5. Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire, but in Christ, a reconciled Father. This is the sum of the gospel, which we must by faith cheerfully embrace.And Jesus, when he was baptized,.... Christ, when he was baptized by John in the river Jordan, the place where he was baptizing,

went up straightway out of the water. One would be at a loss at first sight for a reason why the Evangelist should relate this circumstance; for after the ordinance was administered, why should he stay in the water? what should he do there? Everyone would naturally and reasonably conclude, without the mention of such a circumstance, that as soon as his baptism was over, he would immediately come up out of the water. However, we learn this from it, that since it is said, that he came up out of the water, he must first have gone down into it; must have been in it, and was baptized in it; a circumstance strongly in favour of baptism by immersion: for that Christ should go down into the river, more or less deep, to the ankles, or up to the knees, in order that John should sprinkle water on his face, or pour it on his head, as is ridiculously represented in the prints, can hardly obtain any credit with persons of thought and sense. But the chief view of the Evangelist in relating this circumstance, is with respect to what follows; and to show, that as soon as Christ was baptized, and before he had well got out of the water,

lo the heavens were opened: and some indeed read the word "straightway", in connection with this phrase, and not with the words "went up": but there is no need of supposing such a trajection, for the whole may be rendered thus;

and Jesus, when he was baptized, was scarcely come up out of the water, but lo, immediately, directly, as soon as he was out, or rather before,

the heavens were opened to him; the airy heaven was materially and really opened, parted, rent, or cloven asunder, as in Mark 1:10 which made way for the visible descent of the Holy Ghost in a bodily shape. A difficulty arises here, whether the words, "to him", are to be referred to Christ, or to John; no doubt but the opening of the heavens was seen by them both: but to me it seems that John is particularly designed, since this vision was upon his account, and for his sake, and to him the following words belong; "and he", that is,

John, saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: for this is what was promised to John, as a sign, which should confirm his faith in Jesus, as the true Messiah, and which he himself says he saw, and upon which he based the record and testimony he bore to Christ, as the Son of God; see John 1:32 not but that the descent of the Holy Ghost in this manner might be seen by Christ, as well as John, according to Mark 1:10. The Spirit of God, here said to descend and light on Christ, is the same, which in the first creation moved upon the face of the waters; and now comes down on Christ, just as he was coming up out of the waters of Jordan, where he had been baptized; and which the Jews (r) so often call , "the Spirit of the king Messiah, and the spirit of the Messiah". The descent of him was in a "bodily shape", as Luke says in Luke 3:22 either in the shape of a dove, which is a very fit emblem of the Spirit of God who descended, and the fruits thereof, such as simplicity, meekness, love, &c. and also of the dove-like innocence, humility, and affection of Christ, on whom he lighted; or it was in some other visible form, not expressed, which pretty much resembled the hovering and lighting of a dove upon anything: for it does not necessarily follow from any of the accounts the Evangelists give of this matter, that the holy Spirit assumed, or appeared in, the form of a dove; only that his visible descent and lighting on Christ was , as a dove descends, hovers and lights; which does not necessarily design the form of the creature, but the manner of its motion. However, who can read this account without thinking of Noah's dove, which brought in its mouth the olive leaf, a token of peace and reconciliation, when the waters were abated from off the earth? Give me leave to transcribe a passage I have met with in the book of Zohar (s);

"a door shall be opened, and out of it shall come forth the dove which Noah sent out in the days of the flood, as it is written, "and he sent forth the dove", that famous dove; but the ancients speak not of it, for they knew not what it was, only from whence it came, and did its message; as it is written, "it returned not again unto him any more": no man knows whither it went, but it returned to its place, and was hid within this door; and it shall take a crown in its mouth, and put it upon the head of the king Messiah.''

And a little after, the dove is said to abide upon his head, and he to receive glory from it. Whether this is the remains of some ancient tradition, these men studiously conceal, concerning the opening of the heavens, and the descent of the Spirit of God, as a dove, upon the Messiah; or whether it is hammered out of the evangelic history, let the reader judge.

(r) Bereshit Rabba, fol. 2. 4. & 6. 3. Vajikra Rabba, fol. 156. 4. Zohar in Gen. fol. 107. 3. & 128. 3. Baal Hatturim in Gen. i. 2. Caphtor Uperah, fol. 113. 2.((s) In Num. fol. 68. 3, 4.

Matthew 3:15
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