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Matthew 3:16

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The heavens were opened unto him - That is, to John the Baptist - and he, John, saw the Spirit of God - lighting upon him, i.e. Jesus. There has been some controversy about the manner and form in which the Spirit of God rendered itself visible on this occasion. St. Luke, Luke 3:22, says it was in a bodily shape like to a dove: and this likeness to a dove some refer to a hovering motion, like to that of a dove, and not to the form of the dove itself: but the terms of the text are too precise to admit of this far-fetched interpretation.

This passage affords no mean proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. That three distinct persons are here, represented, there can be no dispute.

  1. The person of Jesus Christ, baptized by John in Jordan.
  • The person of the Holy Ghost in a bodily shape, (σωματικω ειδει, Luke 3:22;) like a dove.
  • The person of the Father; a voice came out of heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, etc.
  • The voice is here represented as proceeding from a different place to that in which the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit were manifested; and merely, I think, more forcibly to mark this Divine personality.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Out of the water - This shows that he had descended to the river. It literally means, “he went up directly from the water.” The original does not imply that they had descended into the river, and it cannot be proved, therefore, from this passage, that his baptism was by immersion; nor can it be proved that even, if his baptism was by immersion, that therefore the same mode is binding on people now. In order to demonstrate from this passage that immersion is essential, it is necessary to demonstrate:

    (a) that he went into the river;

    (b) that, being there, he was wholly immersed;

    (c) that the fact that he was immersed, if he was, proves that all others must be, in order that there could be a valid baptism.

    Neither of these three things has ever been demonstrated from this passage, nor can they be.

    The heavens were opened unto him - This was done while he was praying, Luke 3:21. The ordinances of religion will be commonly ineffectual without prayer. If in those ordinances we look to God, we may expect that he will bless us; the heavens will be opened, light will shine upon our path, and we shall meet with the approbation of God. The expression, “the heavens were opened,” is one that commonly denotes the appearance of the clouds when it lightens. The heavens appear to open or give way. Something of this kind probably appeared to John at this time. The same appearance took place at Stephen‘s death, Acts 7:56. The expression means that he was permitted to see far into the heavens beyond what the natural vision would allow.

    To him - Some have referred this to Jesus, others to John. It probably refers to John. See John 1:33. It was a testimony given to John that this was the Messiah.

    He saw - John saw.

    The Spirit of God - See Matthew 3:11. This was the third person of the Trinity, descending upon him in the form of a dove, Luke 3:22. The dove, among the Jews, was the symbol of purity of heart, harmlessness, and gentleness, Matthew 10:16; compare Psalm 55:6-7. The form chosen here was doubtless an emblem of the innocence, meekness, and tenderness of the Saviour. The gift of the Holy Spirit, in this manner, was the public approbation of Jesus John 1:33, and a sign of his being set apart to the office of the Messiah. We are not to suppose that there was any change done in the moral character of Jesus, but only that he was publicly set apart to his work, and solemnly approved by God in the office to which he was appointed.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    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.
    Ellen G. White
    God's Amazing Grace, 83.3

    When Christ bowed on the banks of Jordan, after His baptism, the heavens, were opened, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove, like burnished gold, and encircled Him with its glory; and the voice of God from the highest heaven was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The prayer of Christ in man's behalf opened the gates of heaven, and the Father had responded, accepting the petition for the fallen race. Jesus prayed as our substitute and surety, and now the human family may find access to the Father through the merits of His well-beloved Son.... Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The gate of heaven has been left ajar, and the radiance from the throne of God shines into the hearts of those who love Him. AG 83.3

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    Ellen G. White
    SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1077-9

    1, 2. Attention Focused on Birth of Jesus—The Lord moved upon the wise men to go in search of Jesus, and He directed their course by a star. This star, leaving them when near Jerusalem, led them to make inquiries in Judah; for they thought it was not possible for the chief priests and scribes to be ignorant of this great event. The coming of the wise men made the whole nation acquainted with the object of their journey, and directed their attention to the important events which were transpiring (The Spirit of Prophecy 2:26). 5BC 1077.1

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    Ellen G. White
    Early Writings, 153-4

    I was carried down to the time when Jesus was to take upon Himself man's nature, humble Himself as a man, and suffer the temptations of Satan. EW 153.1

    His birth was without worldly grandeur. He was born in a stable and cradled in a manger; yet His birth was honored far above that of any of the sons of men. Angels from heaven informed the shepherds of the advent of Jesus, and light and glory from God accompanied their testimony. The heavenly host touched their harps and glorified God. They triumphantly heralded the advent of the Son of God to a fallen world to accomplish the work of redemption, and by His death to bring peace, happiness, and everlasting life to man. God honored the advent of His Son. Angels worshiped Him. EW 153.2

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    Ellen G. White
    SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1079

    The time had now come when Satan's empire over the world was to be contested, his right disputed, and he feared that his power would be broken. He knew, through prophecy, that a Saviour was predicted, and that His kingdom would not be established in earthly triumph and with worldly honor and display. He knew that the prophecies foretold a kingdom to be established by the Prince of heaven upon the earth which he claimed as his dominion. This kingdom would embrace all the kingdoms of the world, and then the power and glory of Satan would cease, and he would receive his retribution for the sins he had introduced into the world, and for the misery he had brought upon the human race. He knew that everything which concerned his prosperity was depending upon his success or failure in overcoming Christ with his temptations; and he brought to bear on the Saviour every artifice at his command to allure Him from His integrity (The Signs of the Times, August 4, 1887). 5BC 1079.1

    16, 17 (Ephesians 1:6. See EGW on Matthew 4:1-11). A Pledge of Love and Light—In our behalf the Saviour laid hold of the power of Omnipotence, and as we pray to God, we may know that Christ's prayer has ascended before, and that God has heard and answered it. With all our sins and weaknesses we are not cast aside as worthless. “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.” The glory that rested upon Christ is a pledge of the love of God for us. It tells of the power of prayer,—how the human voice may reach the ear of God, and our petitions find acceptance in the courts of heaven. The light that fell from the open portals upon the head of our Saviour, will fall upon us as we pray for help to resist temptation. The voice that spoke to Jesus says to every believing soul, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased” (Manuscript 125, 1902). 5BC 1079.2

    Assurance of Acceptance—Through the gates ajar there streamed bright beams of glory from the throne of Jehovah, and this light shines even upon us. The assurance given to Christ is assurance to every repenting, believing, obedient child of God that he is accepted in the Beloved (The Signs of the Times, July 31, 1884). 5BC 1079.3

    A Way Through the Dark Shadow—Christ's prayer on the banks of the Jordan includes every one who will believe in Him. The promise that you are accepted in the Beloved comes to you. God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This means that through the dark shadow which Satan has thrown athwart your pathway Christ has cleaved the way for you to the throne of the infinite God. He has laid hold of almighty power, and you are accepted in the Beloved (The General Conference Bulletin, April 4, 1901). 5BC 1079.4

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