What does Matthew 3:6 mean?
ESV: and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
NIV: Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
NASB: and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
CSB: and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
NLT: And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
KJV: And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Verse Commentary:
People travelled some distance to come and hear the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1–2). The odd-looking preacher spoke and acted like the prophets of Israel's history, especially Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), who some suspected had returned to Israel in the form of John the Baptist (Malachi 4:5; John 1:21).

John's message was simple and clear: The kingdom of heaven was near. Messiah was coming. Confess and repent of your sins. Demonstrate your commitment to leading a holy life by being baptized. Many people were doing exactly that, confessing their sins and being immersed by John in the Jordan River during an ongoing series of public baptisms.

John's baptism wasn't exactly the same as the Christian baptism practiced later in the church (Acts 18:25; 19:3–6). It was—like Christian baptism—a symbolic religious rite meant to declare a person's agreement with God about his or her sin. The main purpose of John's baptism was to publicly declare a renewed commitment to live as God had commanded in the law. Being immersed in the water and raised up out of it seems to have symbolized the cleansing of sin and escaping God's judgment.
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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