It is at this time that Matthew enters the same realm as Mark! However, he hasn’t dropped his whole prophecy shtick. It’s a pretty important concept that people see the prophetic connections that Matthew sees. Let us read about John the Baptist.
So, Matthew starts by saying that John went out into the wilderness and started proclaiming. Why? Because that’s what Isaiah 40 says he should do. However, I once again ask, is that what it says? Nope. The passage actually shouts that they should prepare a way for the Lord ‘in the wilderness’, not that a voice was shouting in the wilderness. In case you think it can go either way, I linked the remainder of the passage because the context confirms that this is the case. What do we have, then? Matthew shoehorning prophecy to fit reality or vice versa?
In the following passage, we see a description of a holy man in contrast to the holy men of Jerusalem. His appearance and diet hearken back to prophets of old. People were listening to his call for repentance and he was baptising them and taking their confessions. This baptism appears to be a symbolic form of repentance where a person confesses their sinfulness and is baptised as a type of promise to change their life moving forward. This is indicated in the following passages about the ‘fruit that proves repentance’.
John certainly doesn’t like the current religious leaders, does he? His diatribe sounds familiar though, doesn’t it? Vipers? It reminds me of Jesus’ rant at the temple. Hmm, evidence that Jesus was a student of John’s just as in Mark?
John thinks the Pharisees view their blood connection to Abraham as sufficient enough to justify any action, and they are inherently righteous men. However, he then claims that God can make Abraham any children he wants, possibly a foreshadowing of the adoption language used by Jesus later? Again language Jesus uses that is first used here by John, more evidence of Jesus’ influence by John. It really makes me wonder how close of a follower of John’s Jesus was.
Finally, it is interesting to note these points about baptism. Baptism with water is the repentant kind, for turning one’s life around. Baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire sounds like something completely different, a deeper experience, perhaps a trial from which one emerges pure. I don’t think the result is death though because while John’s imagery does bring such an end in mind, that is not how Jesus’ responds to most of the Pharisees and Sadducees he encounters. Rather, he tests them as much as he tests the non-religious, it just so happens that those not in power, those without money, are much more likely to come away unscathed.
I absolutely think that Matthew intended it to be as aggressive as it sounds here. This is how Jews viewed God’s actions. God will choose those who are righteous and all others will be burned. I simply think that the winnowing, the cleaning out, was not quite what John anticipated it to be.
Grace and Peace to you all.