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Matthew 3:17

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

In whom I am well pleased - Εν ω ενδακησα in whom I have delighted - though it is supposed that the past tense is here used for the present: but see the note on Matthew 17:5. By this voice, and overshadowing of the Spirit, the mission of the Lord Jesus was publicly and solemnly accredited; God intimating that he had before delighted in him: the law, in all its ordinances, having pointed him out, for they could not be pleasing to God, but as they were fulfilled in, and showed forth, the Son of man, till, he came.

As the office of a herald is frequently alluded to in this chapter, and also in various other parts of the New Testament, I think it best to give a full account of it here, especially as the office of the ministers of the Gospel is represented by it. Such persons can best apply the different correspondences between their own and the herald's office.

At the Olympic and Isthmian games, heralds were persons of the utmost consequence and importance. Their office was: -

  1. To proclaim from a scaffold, or elevated place, the combat that was to be entered on.
  • To summon the Agonistae, or contenders, to make their appearance, and to announce their names.
  • To specify the prize for which they were to contend.
  • To admonish and animate, with appropriate discourses, the athletae, or combatants.
  • To set before them, and explain, the laws of the agones, or contenders; that they might see that even the conqueror could not receive the crown or prize, unless he had strove lawfully.
  • After the conflict was ended, to bring the business before the judges, and, according to their determination, to proclaim the victor.
  • To deliver the prize to the conqueror, and to put the crown on his head, in the presence of the assembly.
  • They were the persons who convoked all solemn and religious assemblies, and brought forth, and often slew, the sacrifices offered on those occasions.
  • They frequently called the attention of the people, during the sacrifices, to the subject of devotion, with hoc age! τουτο πραττε : mind what you are about, don't be idle; think of nothing else. See Plutarch in Coriolanus.
  • The office, and nearly the word itself, was in use among the ancient Babylonians, as appears from Daniel 3:4, where the Chaldee word כרוזא caroza, is rendered by the Septuagint κηρυξ kerux, and by our translation, very properly, herald. His business in the above place was to call an assembly of the people, for the purpose of public worship; to describe the object and nature of that worship, and the punishment to be inflicted on those who did not join in the worship, and properly assist in the solemnities of the occasion.

    Daniel 3:4, is the only place in our translation, in which the word herald is used: but the word κηρυξ, used by St. Paul, 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11, and by St. Peter, 2 Peter 3:5, is found in the Septuagint, Genesis 41:43, as well as in Daniel 3:4, and the verb κηρυσσω is found in different places of that version, and in a great number of places in the New Testament.

    It is worthy of remark, that the office of the κηρυξ, kerux, or herald, must have been anciently known, and indeed established, among the Egyptians: for in Genesis 41:43, where an account is given of the promotion of Joseph to the second place in the kingdom, where we say, And they cried before him, saying, Bow the knee; the Septuagint has και εκηρυξεν εμπροσθεν αυτου κηρυξ· And a Herald made proclamation before him. As the Septuagint translated this for Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Egyptian king, and were in Egypt when they translated the law, we may safely infer that the office was not only known, but in use among the Egyptians, being denominated in their language אברק abrek, which our translators, following the Vulgate, have rendered, Bow the knee; but which the Septuagint understood to be the title of an officer, who was the same among the Egyptians as the κηρυξ among the Greeks. This is a probable meaning of the word, which escaped me when I wrote the note on Genesis 41:43.

    As every kind of office had some peculiar badge, or ensign, by which it was known among the ancients, so the heralds were known by generally carrying a caduceus. This was a rod with two spread wings at the top, and about which two serpents were entwined. The poets fabled that this rod was given by Apollo, the god of wisdom and music, to Mercury, the god of eloquence, and the messenger of the gods. To it wonderful properties are ascribed - especially that it produces sleep, and that it raises the dead. Who does not at once see, that the caduceus and its properties clearly point out the office, honor, and influence of the herald? As persons of strong voice, and ready speech, and copious eloquence, were always chosen for heralds, they were represented as endued with wisdom and eloquence from above. They lulled men to sleep, i.e. by their persuasive powers of speech, they calmed the turbulent dispositions of an inflamed populace, when proceeding to acts of rebellion and anarchy; or they roused the dormant zeal of the community, who, through long oppression, despairing of succor or relief, seemed careless about their best interests being stupidly resolved to sink under their burdens, and expect release only in death.

    As to the caduceus itself, it was ever the emblem of peace among the ancients: the rod was the emblem of power; the two serpents, of wisdom and prudence; and the two wings, of diligence and despatch. The first idea of this wonderful rod seems to have been borrowed from the rod of Moses. See the note on Exodus 4:17.

    The word κηρυξ kerux, or herald, here used, is evidently derived from κηρυσσειν, to proclaim, call aloud; and this from γηρυς, the voice; because these persons were never employed in any business, but such only as could not be transacted but by the powers of speech, and the energy of ratiocination.

    For the derivation of the word herald, we must look to the northern languages. Its meaning in Junius, Skinner, and Minshieu, are various, but not essentially different; they all seem to point out different parts of the herald's office.

    1. In the Belgic, heer signifies army. Hence heer -alt, a senior officer, or general, in the army.
  • Or heer -held, the hero of the army: he who had distinguished himself most in his country's behalf.
  • Or from the Gallo-teutonic herr -haut, the high lord, because their persons were so universally respected, as we have already seen.
  • Or from the simple Teutonic herr -hold, he who is faithful to his lord.
  • And, lastly, according to Minshieu, from the verb hier -holden, stop here; because, in proclaiming peace, they arrested bloodshed and death, and prevented the farther progress of war.
  • These officers act an important part in all heroic history, and particularly in the Iliad and Odyssey, from which, as the subject is of so much importance, I shall make a few extracts.

      I. Their character was sacred. Homer gives them the epithet of divine, θειοι .

    - Δολων, Ευμηδεος υιος,

    Κηρυκος θειοιο .

    Iliad x. 315

    "Dolon, son of Eumedes, the divine herald."

      They were also termed inviolable, ασυλοι ; also, great, admirable, etc. In the first book of the Iliad, we have a proof of the respect paid to heralds, and the inviolability of their persons. Agamemnon commands the heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates, his faithful ministers, to go to the tent of Achilles, seize the young Briseis, and bring her to him. They reluctantly obey; but, when they come into the presence of Achilles, knowing the injustice of their master's cause, they are afraid to announce their mission. Achilles, guessing their errand, thus addresses them: -

    Χαιρετε, κηρυκες, Διος αγγελοι, ηδε και ανδρων. κ. τ. λ.

    "Hail, O ye heralds, messengers of God and of men! come forward. I cannot blame you - Agamemnon only is culpable, who has sent you for the beautiful Briseis. But come, O godlike Patroclus, bring forth the damsel, and deliver her to them, that they may lead her away," etc., Iliad i. 334, etc.

      II. Their functions were numerous; they might enter without danger into besieged cities, or even into battles.

      III. They convoked the assemblies of the leaders, according to the orders they received from the general or king.

      IV. They commanded silence, when kings were to address the assembly, (Iliad xviii. 503. Κηρυκες δ 'αρα λαων ερητυον . See also Iliad ii. 280), and delivered the scepter into their hands, before they began their harangue.

    Ην δ

    'απα κηρυξ

    Χερσι σκηπτρον εθηκε, σιωπησαι τ 'εκελευσεν .

    Iliad xxiii. 567

    V. They were the carriers and executors of the royal commands, (Iliad i. 320), and went in search of those who were summoned to appear, or whose presence was desired.

    VI. They were entrusted with the most important missions; and accompanied princes in the most difficult circumstances. Priam, when he went to Achilles, took no person besides a herald with him. (Iliad xxiv. 674, 689). When Ulysses sent two of his companions to treat with the Lestrygons, he sent a herald at the same time. (Odys. x. 102). Agamemnon, when he wished to soften Achilles, joined Eurybates and Hodius, his heralds, to the deputation of the princes. (Iliad ix. 170).

    VII. Heralds were employed to proclaim and publish whatever was to be known by the people. (Odys. xx. 276).

    VIII. They declared war and proclaimed peace. (Odys. xviii. 334).

    IX. They took part in all sacred ceremonies: they mingled the wine and water in the large bowls for the libations, which were made at the conclusion of treaties. They were the priests of the people in many cases; they led forth the victims, cut them in pieces, and divided them among those engaged in the sacrifices. (Odys. i. 109, etc).

    X. In Odyssey lib. xvii., a herald presents a piece of flesh to Telemachus, and pours out his wine.

    XI. They sometimes waited on princes at table, and rendered them many other personal services. (Iliad ii. 280; Odys. i. 143, etc., 146, 153; ii. 6, 38). In the Iliad, lib. x. 3, Eurybates carries the clothes to Ulysses. And a herald of Alcinous conducts Demodocus, the singer, into the festive hall. (Odys. viii. 470). Many others of their functions, services, and privileges, the reader may see, by consulting Damm's Homeric Lexicon, under Κρω .

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    A voice from heaven - A voice from God. This was probably heard by all who were present. This voice, or sound, was repeated on the mount of transfiguration, Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35-36; 2 Peter 1:17. It was also heard just before his death, and was then supposed by many to be thunder, John 12:25-30. It was a public declaration that Jesus was the Messiah.

    My beloved Son - This is the title which God himself gave to Jesus. It denotes the nearness of his relation to God, and the love of God for him, Hebrews 1:2. It implies that he was equal with God, Hebrews 1:5-8; John 10:29-33; John 19:7. The term “Son” is expressive of love of the nearness of his relation to God, and of his dignity and equality with God.

    I am well pleased - or, I am ever delighted. The language implies that he was constantly or uniformly well pleased with him; and in this solemn and public manner he expressed his approbation of him as the Redeemer of the world.

    The baptism of Jesus has usually been regarded as a striking manifestation of the doctrine of the Trinity, or the doctrine that there are three Persons in the divine nature:

    (1) there is the Person of “Jesus Christ,” the Son of God, baptized in Jordan, elsewhere declared to be equal with God, John 10:30.

    (2) the Holy Spirit descending in a bodily form upon the Saviour. The Holy Spirit is also equal with the Father, or is also God, Acts 5:3-4.

    (3) the Father, addressing the Son, and declaring that He was well pleased with him.

    It is impossible to explain this transaction consistently in any other way than by supposing that there are three equal Persons in the divine nature or essence, and that each of these sustains an important part in the work of redeeming people.

    In the preaching of John the Baptist we are presented with an example of a faithful minister of God. Neither the wealth, the dignity, nor the power of his auditors deterred him from fearlessly declaring the truth respecting their character. He called things by their right names. He did not apologize for their sins. He set their transgressions fairly before them, and showed them faithfully and fearlessly what must be the consequence of a life of sin. So should all ministers of the Gospel preach. Rank, riches, and power should have nothing to do in shaping and gauging their ministry. In respectful terms, but without shrinking, all the truth of the Gospel must be spoken, or woe will follow the ambassador of Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:16.

    In John we also have an example of humility. Blessed with great success, attended by the great and noble, and with nothing but principle to keep him from turning it to his advantage, he still kept himself out of view, and pointed to a far greater Personage at hand. So should every minister of Jesus, however successful, keep the Lamb of God in his eye, and be willing - nay, rejoice - to lay all his success and honors at Jesus‘ feet.

    Everything about the work of Jesus was wonderful. No person had before come into the world under such circumstances. God would not have attended the commencement of his life with such wonderful events if it had not been of the greatest moment to our race, and if he had not possessed a dignity above all prophets, kings, and priests. His “name” was to be called “Wonderful, Councillor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace;” “of the increase of his government and peace” there was to be “no end;” “upon the throne of David and of his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice forever” Isaiah 9:6-7; and it was proper that a voice from heaven should declare that he was the long-promised prince and Saviour; that the angels should attend him, and the Holy Spirit signalize his baptism by his personal presence. And it is proper that we, for whom he came, should give to him our undivided affections, our time, our influence, our hearts, and our lives.

    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
    Christ's Object Lessons, 274

    The priests and rulers were perplexed. “They reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men, we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We can not tell. And He said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” COL 274.1

    “We can not tell.” This answer was a falsehood. But the priests saw the position they were in, and falsified in order to screen themselves. John the Baptist had come bearing witness of the One whose authority they were now questioning. He had pointed Him out, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. He had baptized Him, and after the baptism, as Christ was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God like a dove rested upon Him, while a voice from heaven was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17. COL 274.2

    Remembering how John had repeated the prophecies concerning the Messiah, remembering the scene at the baptism of Jesus, the priests and rulers dared not say that John's baptism was from heaven. If they acknowledged John to be a prophet, as they believed him to be, how could they deny his testimony that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God? And they could not say that John's baptism was of men, because of the people, who believed John to be a prophet. So they said, “We can not tell.” COL 274.3

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 746

    In the sufferings of Christ upon the cross prophecy was fulfilled. Centuries before the crucifixion, the Saviour had foretold the treatment He was to receive. He said, “Dogs have compassed Me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed Me: they pierced My hands and My feet. I may tell all My bones: they look and stare upon Me. They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture.” Psalm 22:16-18. The prophecy concerning His garments was carried out without counsel or interference from the friends or the enemies of the Crucified One. To the soldiers who had placed Him upon the cross, His clothing was given. Christ heard the men's contention as they parted the garments among them. His tunic was woven throughout without seam, and they said, “Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be.” DA 746.1

    In another prophecy the Saviour declared, “Reproach hath broken My heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Psalm 69:20, 21. To those who suffered death by the cross, it was permitted to give a stupefying potion, to deaden the sense of pain. This was offered to Jesus; but when He had tasted it, He refused it. He would receive nothing that could becloud His mind. His faith must keep fast hold upon God. This was His only strength. To becloud His senses would give Satan an advantage. DA 746.2

    The enemies of Jesus vented their rage upon Him as He hung upon the cross. Priests, rulers, and scribes joined with the mob in mocking the dying Saviour. At the baptism and at the transfiguration the voice of God had been heard proclaiming Christ as His Son. Again, just before Christ's betrayal, the Father had spoken, witnessing to His divinity. But now the voice from heaven was silent. No testimony in Christ's favor was heard. Alone He suffered abuse and mockery from wicked men. DA 746.3

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 579

    Daniel will tell you, He is the Messiah. DA 579.1

    Hosea will tell you, He is “the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is His memorial.” Hosea 12:5. DA 579.2

    John the Baptist will tell you, He is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. DA 579.3

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 406

    Now the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ, asking for a sign from heaven. When in the days of Joshua Israel went out to battle with the Canaanites at Bethhoron, the sun had stood still at the leader's command until victory was gained; and many similar wonders had been manifest in their history. Some such sign was demanded of Jesus. But these signs were not what the Jews needed. No mere external evidence could benefit them. What they needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation. DA 406.1

    “O ye hypocrites,” said Jesus, “ye can discern the face of the sky,”—by studying the sky they could foretell the weather,—“but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” Christ's own words, spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit that convicted them of sin, were the sign that God had given for their salvation. And signs direct from heaven had been given to attest the mission of Christ. The song of the angels to the shepherds, the star that guided the wise men, the dove and the voice from heaven at His baptism, were witnesses for Him. DA 406.2

    “And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign?” “There shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, Christ was to be the same time “in the heart of the earth.” And as the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the word! The people of the great heathen city trembled as they heard the warning from God. Kings and nobles humbled themselves; the high and the lowly together cried to the God of heaven, and His mercy was granted unto them. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation,” Christ had said, “and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Matthew 12:40, 41. DA 406.3

    Every miracle that Christ performed was a sign of His divinity. He was doing the very work that had been foretold of the Messiah; but to the Pharisees these works of mercy were a positive offense. The Jewish leaders looked with heartless indifference on human suffering. In many cases their selfishness and oppression had caused the affliction that Christ relieved. Thus His miracles were to them a reproach. DA 406.4

    That which led the Jews to reject the Saviour's work was the highest evidence of His divine character. The greatest significance of His miracles is seen in the fact that they were for the blessing of humanity. The highest evidence that He came from God is that His life revealed the character of God. He did the works and spoke the words of God. Such a life is the greatest of all miracles. DA 406.5

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