Matt 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness
As John begins his ministry, we ask, "where did he get his authority?" John had the Priesthood of Aaron through his lineage as a member of the tribe of Levi. Levites did not need to be ordained to the Priesthood but rather received it through their lineage. Hence, John, as Zacharias' son, did not need to be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. However, he was ordained to be an Elias, or forerunner, by an angelic administration while still an infant; he 'was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord' (DC 84:28). The same verse tells us that he was baptized while yet in his childhood. A priest by lineage, an Elias by ordination, his calling and authority were unique, as is his place in history.
Bruce R. McConkie
"This miraculously-born son of Zacharias was the last legal administrator of the old dispensation, the first of the new; he was the last of the old prophets, the first of the new. With him ended the old law, and with him began the new era of promise. He is the one man who stood, literally, at the crossroads of history; with him the past died and the future was born." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:113)
Matt 3:2 the kingdom of heaven is at hand
The kingdom of heaven will eventually come down from heaven to replace the kingdoms of this world (Dan 2:44, Zech 14, Rev 21), but the 'kingdom of heaven is at hand' for any individual who is taught by an authorized servant of the Lord. For them, membership in the kingdom hangs in the balance, 'For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom' (DC 84:36-38). Therefore, accepting the Lord's servants-the administrators of the earthly kingdom of God-qualifies one for that heavenly kingdom spoken of. Prior to Christ's ministry, John was the only active administrator of God's kingdom on earth. To reject him was to reject the kingdom of God.
"What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives his oracles, there is the kingdom of God... 'But,' says one, 'the kingdom of God could not be set up in the days of John, for John said the kingdom was at hand.' But I would ask if it could be any nearer to them than to be in the hands of John. The people needed not wait for the days of Pentecost to find the kingdom of God, for John had it with him. He came forth from the wilderness crying out, 'Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,' as much as to bawl out: 'Here, I have got the kingdom of God and I am coming after you. I've got the kingdom of God, and you can get it. I am coming after you, and if you don't receive it, you will be damned.' The scriptures represent that all Jerusalem went out unto John's baptism. Here was a legal administrator, and those that were baptized were subjects for a King. Also, the laws and oracles of God were there; therefore the kingdom of God was there, for no man could have better authority to administer than John, and our Savior submitted to that authority himself by being baptized by John. Therefore, the kingdom of God was set up upon the earth, even in the days of John." (Kent P. Jackson, comp. and ed., Joseph Smith's Commentary on the Bible, p. 115, italics added)
Matt 3:3 Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight
"The spirit of Elias is to prepare the way for a greater revelation of God, which is the priesthood of Elias, or the priesthood that Aaron was ordained into. And when God sends a man into the work to prepare for a greater work, holding the keys of the power of Elias, it was called the doctrine of Elias." (Teachings, p. 335-36.)
Matt 3:4 his meat was locusts and honey
James E. Talmage
"Insects of the locust or grasshopper kind were specifically declared clean and suitable for food in the law given to Israel in the wilderness. 'Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.' (Lev. 11:21-22.) At the present time locusts are used as food by many oriental peoples, though usually by the poorer classes only...'All the Bedouins of Arabia, and the inhabitants of towns in Nedj and Hedjaz, are accustomed to eat them,' says Burckhardt. 'I have seen at Medina and Tayf, locust shops, where they are sold by measure. In Egypt and Nubia they are eaten only by the poorest beggars. The Arabs, in preparing them for eating, throw them alive into boiling water, with which a good deal of salt has been mixed, taking them out after a few minutes, and drying them in the sun. The head, feet, and wings, are then torn off, the bodies cleansed from the salt, and perfectly dried. They are sometimes eaten boiled in butter, or spread on unleavened bread mixed with butter.' In Palestine, they are eaten only by the Arabs on the extreme frontiers; elsewhere they are looked on with disgust and loathing, and only the very poorest use them. Tristram, however, speaks of them as 'very palatable.' 'I found them very good,' says he, 'when eaten after the Arab fashion, stewed with butter. They tasted somewhat like shrimps, but with less flavour.'...
"Concerning the mention of wild honey as food used by John, the author last quoted says in a continuation of the same paragraph: 'The wild bees in Palestine are far more numerous than those kept in hives, and the greater part of the honey sold in the southern districts is obtained from wild swarms. Few countries, indeed, are better adapted for bees. The dry climate, and the stunted but varied flora, consisting largely of aromatic thymes, mints, and other similar plants, with crocuses in the spring, are very favourable to them, while the dry recesses of the limestone rocks everywhere afford them shelter and protection for their combs. In the wilderness of Judea, bees are far more numerous than in any other part of Palestine, and it is, to this day, part of the homely diet of the Bedouins, who squeeze it from the combs and store it in skins.'" (Jesus the Christ, p. 127-8)
Matt 3:7 the Pharisees and Sadducees
Bruce R. McConkie
"Two of the most influential apostate sects among the Jews. The Pharisees were a zealous, devoted sect who accepted both the law of Moses and the traditions of the elders. They were pious and puritannical in conduct, glorying in frequent fasts and public prayers. Intensely patriotic and nationalistic, they believed in spirits, angels, revelation, immortality, eternal judgment, the resurrection from the dead, and rewards and punishments in the life to come.
"The Sadducees, on the other hand, categorically rejected and believed in none of these things. They were a sect composed of skeptical, worldly, wealthy people a selfish group finding their most powerful adherents among the chief priests. Though the Sadducees professed belief in the law, they rejected the traditions of the elders, and made no pretentions of piety or devout worship. The Pharisees were far more powerful and influential in Jewish political and religious life than were the Sadducees." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:119)
Matt 3:9 think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father
"...according to the common notion of the time, the vials of wrath were to be poured out only on the Gentiles, while they, as Abraham's children, were sure of escape-in the words of the Talmud, that 'the night' (Isa. 21:12) was 'only to the nations of the world, but the morning to Israel'? (Jer. Taan. 64a).
"For, no principle was more fully established in the popular conviction, than that all Israel had part in the world to come (Sanh. 10.1), and this, specifically, because of their connection with Abraham...'The merits of the Fathers,' is one of the commonest phrases in the mouth of the Rabbis. Abraham was represented as sitting at the gate of Gehenna (hell), to deliver any Israelite who otherwise might have been consigned to its terrors. In fact, by their descent from Abraham, all the children of Israel were nobles, infinitely higher than any proselytes. 'What,' exclaims the Talmud, 'shall the born Israelite stand upon the earth, and the proselyte be in heaven?' (Jer. Chag. 76a)." (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p. 187-88)
James E. Talmage
"Judaism held that the posterity of Abraham had an assured place in the kingdom of the expected Messiah, and that no proselyte from among the Gentiles could possibly attain the rank and distinction of which the 'children' were sure. John's forceful assertion that God could raise up, from the stones on the river bank, children to Abraham, meant to those who heard that even the lowest of the human family might be preferred before themselves unless they repented and reformed." (Jesus the Christ, 115)
Matt 3:7-12 John as the doctrinal forerunner
John had the difficult task of preaching to a nation who had construed ancient promises of national glory into assurances of personal salvation. Jesus would come to preach a practical religion which would emphasize personal not national righteousness. John's message was to set the stage for this drastic change in focus. To do it, he used doctrines which would later be expounded by Him whose shoes he was not worthy to bear.
John taught, 'God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.' Jesus taught the same thing (Lu 19:40), adding 'That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth' (Matt 8:11-12).
John taught 'every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.' Jesus taught the same thing, adding 'A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit...Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them' (Matt 7:18-20).
John warned, 'O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' Jesus expounded, '...ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell?...upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias...All these things shall come upon this generation.' (Matt 23:33-36)
John taught, 'he will...gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' Jesus taught the parable of the wheat and tares, saying 'the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.' (Matt 13:38-42).
While preparatory in nature, John taught more than repentance. His message was broader than baptism. His message was so powerful that 'all men mused in their hearts...whether he were the Christ, or not' (Lu 3:15). Those who sought John in the wilderness would not find a 'reed shaken with the wind' (Lu 7:24). Rather, they found a prophet whose preparatory message was powerful enough to shake the wind.
Matt 3:11 he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire
The baptism with fire spoken of would not happen for over three years. Though Christ came soon after John's ministry ended, the gift of the Holy Ghost was not given until after his mortal ministry had ended. It was after his resurrection that the Lord gave the gift of the Holy Ghost to the apostles, as recorded, 'he breathed on them, and saith unto them Receive ye the Holy Ghost' (Jn 20:22). Yet, the actual enjoyment of the gift did not come right away. Jesus told them to 'wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence' (Acts 1:4-5). Then, finally, 'when the day of Pentecost was fully come...they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance' (Acts 1-4). As Nephi said, 'then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel' (2 Ne 31:13).
"You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half-that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 366)
Delbert L. Stapley
"Man can only become spotless and sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost in his personal life. The Holy Ghost is a cleansing and purifying agent to all who receive it and are righteous. This means that sin and iniquity are spiritually burned out of the repentant person. He then receives a remission of sins, and his soul is sanctified and made clean for the Holy Ghost to abide in him. The cleansed person enjoys a newness of life and becomes a new creature in the spirit." (Conference Report, October 1966, p. 112 - 113.)
Matt 3:15 Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness
'And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy to be baptized, yea, even by water!' (2 Ne 31:5)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Though sinless, Jesus Himself was baptized 'to fulfil all righteousness' (Matthew 3:15). Nephi further declared that Jesus, whose humility was total and whose submissiveness was complete, thus 'showeth unto the children of men that, ... he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. ... [Showing] unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.' (2 Nephi 31:7, 9.) Nothing could be more plain!
"We note this corresponding teaching by Joseph Smith: 'If a man gets the fulness of God he has to get [it] in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it and that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.'
"There really are no exceptions!" (Lord, Increase Our Faith, p. 75.)
Matt 3:16 he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
"The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of the dove, but in the sign of the dove. The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence." (Teachings, p. 276).
Matt 3:16-17 All members of the Godhead are manifest at the baptism of Christ
You wouldn't miss your son's baptism, would you? Neither would our Heavenly Father.
The doctrinal importance of Christ's baptism cannot be overstated. We learn so much about perfect obedience and humble submissiveness to the will of the Father. We also learn that the members of the Godhead are three separate personages: manifested as the voice of God from heaven, the Christ, and the presence of the Holy Ghost as represented by the dove. Yet, as we begin to think of the most transcendent spiritual manifestations in all the scriptures, we cannot find another situation in which all three members of the Godhead were manifest: not with Moses on Mt. Sinai, not on the Mount of Transfiguration, not on the day of Pentecost, not when the Savior appeared to the Nephites, not even in the Sacred Grove. The baptism of our Lord was different. No other event in history was holy enough, perfect enough, important enough, or symbolic enough to require the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.