on Matthew 3 :11
But he that cometh after me - Or, I coming after me, who is now on his way, and will shortly make his appearance. Jesus Christ began his ministry when he was thirty years of age, Luke 3:23, which was the age appointed by the law, Numbers 4:3. John the Baptist was born about six months before Christ; and, as he began his public ministry when thirty years of age, then this coming after refers to six months after the commencement of John's public preaching, at which time Christ entered upon his.
Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear - This saying is expressive of the most profound humility and reverence. To put on, take off, and carry the shoes of their masters, was, not only among the Jews, but also among the Greeks and Romans, the work of the vilest slaves. This is amply proved by Kypke, from Arrian, Plutarch, and the Babylonian Talmud.
With the Holy Ghost, and with fire - That the influences of the Spirit of God are here designed, needs but little proof. Christ's religion was to be a spiritual religion, and was to have its seat in the heart. Outward precepts, however well they might describe, could not produce inward spirituality. This was the province of the Spirit of God, and of it alone; therefore he is represented here under the similitude of fire, because he was to illuminate and invigorate the soul, penetrate every part, and assimilate the whole to the image of the God of glory. See on John 3:5 (note).
With fire - Και πυρι. This is wanting in E. S. (two MSS. one of the ninth, the other of the tenth century) eight others, and many Evangelistaria, and in some versions and printed editions; but it is found in the parallel place, Luke 3:16, and in the most authentic MSS. and versions. It was probably the different interpretations given of it by the fathers that caused some transcribers to leave it out of their copies.
The baptism of fire has been differently understood among the primitive fathers. Some say, it means the tribulations, crosses, and afflictions, which believers in Christ are called to pass through. Hence the author of the Opus Imperfectum, on Matthew, says, that there are three sorts of baptism,
1. that of water;
2. that of the Holy Ghost; and,
3. that of tribulations and afflictions, represented under the notion of fire.
He observes farther, that our blessed Lord went through these three baptisms:
1. That of water, he received from the hands of John.
2. That of the Holy Spirit he received from the Father. And,
3. That of fire, he had in his contest with Satan in the desert.
St. Chrysostom says; it means the superabundant graces of the Spirit. Basil and Theophilus explain it of the fire of hell. Cyril, Jerome, and others, understand by it the descent of the Holy Spirit, on the day of pentecost.
Hilary says, it means a fire that the righteous must pass through in the day of judgment, to purify them from such defilements as necessarily cleaved to them here, and with which they could not be admitted into glory.
on Matthew 3 :11
Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear - The word translated here as "shoes" has a signification different from what it has in our language. At first, in order to keep the feet from the sharp stones or the burning sand, small pieces of wood were fastened to the soles of the feet, called "sandals." Leather, or skins of beasts dressed, afterward were used. The foot was not covered at all, but the sandal, or piece of leather or wood, was bound by thongs. The people put off these when they enter a house, and put them on when they leave it. To unloose and bind on sandals, on such occasions, was formerly the business of the lowest servants. The expression in this place, therefore, denotes great humility, and John says that he was nor worthy to be the servant of him who should come after him.
Shall baptize you - Shall send upon you the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is frequently represented as being poured out upon his people, Proverbs 1:23; Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the same, therefore, as the sending of his influences to convert, purify, and guide the soul.
The Holy Ghost - The third person of the adorable Trinity, whose office it is to enlighten, renew, sanctify, and comfort the soul He was promised by the Saviour to convince of sin, John 16:8; to enlighten or teach the disciples, John 14:26; John 16:13; to comfort them in the absence of the Savior, John 14:18; John 16:7; to change the heart. Titus 3:5. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit means that the Messiah would send upon the world a far more powerful and mighty influence than had attended the preaching of John. Many more would be converted. A mighty change would take place. His ministry would not affect the external life only, but the heart. the motives, the soul; and would produce rapid and permanent changes in the lives of people. See Acts 2:17-18.
With fire - This expression has been variously understood. Some have supposed that John refers to the afflictions and persecutions with which men would be tried under the Gospel; others, that the word "fire" means judgment or wrath. According to this latter interpretation, the meaning is that he would baptize a portion of mankind - those who were willing to be his followers - with the Holy Spirit, but the rest of mankind - the wicked - with fire; that is, with judgment and wrath. Fire is a symbol of vengeance. See Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 66:24. If this is the meaning, as seems to be probable, then John says that the ministry of the Messiah would be far more powerful than his was. It would be more searching and testing; and they who were not suited to abide the test would be cast into eternal fire. Others have supposed, however, that by fire, here, John intends to express the idea that the preaching of the Messiah would be refining, powerful, purifying, as fire is sometimes an emblem of purity, Malachi 3:2. It is difficult to ascertain the precise meaning further than that his ministry would be very trying, purifying, searching. Multitudes would be converted; and those who were not true penitents would not be able to abide the trial, and would be driven away.
on Matthew 3 :11
3:11 He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire - He shall fill you with the Holy Ghost, inflaming your hearts with that fire of love, which many waters cannot quench. And this was done, even with a visible appearance as of fire, on the day of pentecost.