What does Matthew 3:3 mean?
ESV: For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
NIV: This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.''
NASB: For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, 'THE VOICE OF ONE CALLING OUT IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘PREPARE THE WAY OF THE Lord, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!’?'
CSB: For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said:A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:Prepare the way for the Lord;make his paths straight!
NLT: The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, 'He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’'
KJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
Matthew has introduced John the Baptist as a man preaching a simple message in the wilderness: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1–2). Now Matthew directly connects John to the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3, "A voice cries: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'"

To Isaiah's original audience, this text was about preparing the literal roadway for the Israelite exiles to return to Judah from captivity in Babylon. Matthew, like the writers of the other Gospels, shows this verse is also about John the Baptist preparing the way of Jesus and those who would follow Him. John's role was to symbolically "clear the path" for Jesus by calling Israel to repent of sin and turn back to the way of God. If they did so, they would be ready to follow God's Son. As it was with the proportion of those who returned to Judah from Babylon, only a small percentage of Israelites would turn and follow Christ.

Matthew also continues to make the connection between the experiences of the nation of Israel and the life of Jesus.
Verse Context:
Matthew 3:1–12 introduces John the Baptist, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea near the Jordan River. John, dressed in camel hair and a leather belt in the style of the prophet Elijah, has a simple message: repent because the kingdom of heaven is coming. Crowds come from miles around, including even Israel's religious leaders. John calls those leaders vipers and warns that Messiah will bring the wrath of God against the unrepentant. The Messiah will baptize the repentant with the Holy Spirit and fire. The trees that do not bear fruit, spiritually speaking, will be cut down and burned.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew introduces John the Baptist as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. He is the voice crying in the wilderness as he prepares the way for the Lord. John calls the crowds who travel to hear him to repent from their sins. The kingdom of heaven is close! He also warns of God's judgment, specifically on Israel's spiritually-barren religious leaders. Finally, the Messiah he has been speaking of arrives and insists that John baptize Him. When he does, the heavens break open, the Holy Spirit comes to rest on Jesus, and the voice of God the Father says Jesus is His Son and that He is pleased with Him.
Chapter Context:
Matthew's story of Jesus jumps forward several decades from the moment when His family settled in Nazareth. This passage finds John the Baptist preaching about repentance in the wilderness and baptizing those who are willing. Crowds come from all around to hear John preach in the look and style of Elijah, including Israel's religious leaders. John warns them of God's coming judgment on those who do not truly repent. Jesus arrives and insists that John baptize Him. As Jesus emerges from the water, the heavens break open, the Holy Spirit descends to rest on Jesus in dove-like form, and the voice of God declares that Jesus is His Son. After this baptism, Jesus will be led into the desert to be tempted by Satan, in chapter 4.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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