Real Bible Studies: Matthew, Baptism and Temptation

After the drama of Yeshua’s birth and his family’s escape to Egypt, Matthew skips ahead to the baptism by John, when Yeshua was an adult. Here, we get another prophecy, foretelling John’s ministry.

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.”

Matthew 3:3

The actual wording from Isaiah according to the RSV says nothing about a voice crying in the wilderness, rather, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” Isaiah 40:1-3

Matthew would have been using the Septuagint for the Scriptures, so, perhaps it’s worded differently in that translation.

John is described as wearing a camel hair garment, with a leather belt and eating locusts and wild honey; a true man of the wilderness. His message is simple and straightforward, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Book of Daniel is referenced in these warnings, especially relating to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that Daniel interprets. Daniel, most likely written during the Seleucid empire, which the Maccabees successfully opposed, was a leading source for messianic prophecies and the Kingdom of Heaven that both John and Yeshua herald.

Pharisees and Sadducees come to John and he rebukes them, highlighting the divisions between factions. John’s message is that they can’t simply rely on being descendants of Abraham, because God can raise up children of Abraham from the rocks. The animosity John displays establishes the central conflict of the story just before the main character (Yeshua) is introduced. Matthew diverges slightly from the source material in Mark, stating that when Yeshua came to be baptized, John recognized him and protested that Yeshua should be baptizing him. Otherwise, Matthew’s account agrees with Mark that once Yeshua was baptized, the heavens opened and the voice of God proclaims that Yeshua is his son.

Once his baptism is over, Yeshua heads into the wilderness for forty days and nights where he fasts, and the Biblical passages on which the account is based continue the comparison to Moses. While both Lent and Ramadan are forty-day observances that occur around the Spring Equinox, the forty day period preceding Yom Kippur appears to be the observance referenced here. Jews spend the month of Elul preparing for Yom Kippur, commemorating Moses’s second ascent on Mount Sinai to ask for forgiveness for the Israelites making the golden calf, and to receive the commandments again after he smashed the first set. Yeshua’s behavior matches the observance by praying and atoning.

The tempter appears, trying to lead Yeshua astray. The first occurrence is most likely metaphorical, and the tempter wasn’t an actual physical presence, rather than the effects of fasting for forty days. More scriptures come into play with both the devil and Yeshua quoting passages as a point, counterpoint. It’s during this exchange in the Gospels where we get the famous phrases “Man cannot live by bread alone” and “Get behind me Satan” the last almost symbolic as Yeshua leaves behind worldly concerns to take on his mission. Almost all the prophecies quoted relate to Israel, not to a specific individual. After the tempter is unsuccessful, he leaves and angels minister to Yeshua.

Matthew states that once John has been taken into custody, Yeshua heads to Capernaum in Galilee. He then calls, as apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These four become his closest advisors. All are fishermen, which highlights the fact that the epoch being ushered in is that of Pisces. Early Christian symbols revolved around Ichthus, the fish. It’s not until the formal establishment of the Church that the cross officially replaces the fish in the iconography. Unlike John, Yeshua does not head to the Jordan river to baptize people. He goes into the synagogues to deliver his message and begins attracting a huge following.

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