Bible Study With Jairus—Matthew 3

John the Baptist’s lifestyle Illustrates God’s New Wineskins

When John the Baptist arrives on the scene in Matthew 3, he is wearing camel skin clothing and eating locusts and wild honey. What does his odd lifestyle signify? It depicts the beginning of a new spiritual movement started by John. This movement is not rooted in the temple and priestly system, even though John is a descendant of the priestly line. It is a brand new spiritual revival that John is launching in the wilderness.

The starting point of this movement is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In addition, the movement emphasizes the baptism of repentance. The salvation brought by Jesus Christ must begin with repentance. Since this movement is new, like new wine, it requires new wineskins (outer religious structures). John severs himself completely from the priestly traditions and the temple. Instead of wearing priestly garments, he wears camel skin. As he preaches in the wilderness, he doesn’t base his new spiritual movement on his priestly ancestry, on the temple, or on Israel’s Old Testament worship system. He rejects the material provisions of the priesthood and eats locusts and wild honey, symbolizing his complete faith in God’s provision. When one cannot sever material ties with religious systems, it is difficult to avoid being spiritually bound by the old religious system. Hence, whenever a new movement of God arises, we often see people who love the Lord faithfully (including pastors) leaving the financial support of their original religious systems to pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in a new era. For instance, during the 1970s in the United States, when many pastors involved in the charismatic movement received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, many of them lost their positions as pastors of traditional churches. As Jesus said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins” (Luke 5:37-38).

When John the Baptist arrives on the scene, Judaism has become deeply bound by the evil spirits of religion and legalism, and can no longer contain God’s work in the new era. This is why God has sent John the Baptist into the wilderness to announce the coming of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. The work of this new era must start from scratch and be rebuilt from a new foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus is the new wine and the new wineskin. The new wine signifies new content, while the new wineskin represents a new structure, form, and vessel. Thus, John’s arrival and actions in the wilderness highlight God’s work in the new era. John wearing camel skin clothing and eating locusts and wild honey illustrate that God’s work in the new age starts from a completely new foundation.

John’s Arrival Is The “Voice of One Crying in The Wilderness”

Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. After the last Old Testament book was written, there were about four hundred years of divine silence. During this time, we have no record of any prophetic words from God. This is highly unusual. The book of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (1:1-2). This verse reminds us that God spoke frequently to the Israelites through many prophets and in many ways. Prophets were an important part of Israel’s history. Even during the reign of the worst kings like Ahab, there were great prophets like Elijah. So it was extremely unusual for the Israelites to go 400 years without a prophetic word from God.

God is a speaking God, so why this silence? Perhaps it helps to remember that to God, a thousand earthly years are like one day (2 Peter 3:8). As the book of Malachi closed the Old Testament canon, God had plans to send Jesus just 400 years later. These 400 years seemed like just a moment to God—less than a day. In the book of Revelation, when the Lamb opens the seventh seal, there is silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1). In the same way, the 400 years of silence must have seemed like a moment of silence to God. Why this silence? The entire universe was holding its breath, anticipating the imminent birth of Jesus Christ. Just like the silence in Revelation before the seventh seal was to usher in the seventh trumpet and bring God’s judgment and the repentance of many people, the four hundred years of silence would usher in the coming of the Lord Jesus.

After 400 years of silence, John’s arrival is like the appearance of the morning star in the darkness, announcing the coming of dawn (Christ). For this reason, Malachi specifically mentioned at the end of the book, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6). These are the last two verses of the Old Testament. This passage may refer to the end times and the return of the prophet Elijah. However, Jesus explicitly told His disciples that John was Elijah who was to come, but people did not recognize him (Mark 11:14, Matthew 9:13). When the angel announced to Zechariah that his son John would be born, he also said, “and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17).

In addition to the prophecies in the Book of Malachi, Isaiah also prophesies that John would be the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Isaiah 40 states, “A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain’” (Isaiah 40:3-4). In Matthew chapter 3, the Holy Spirit confirmed through Matthew’s pen, “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 wilderness is a place of trial and transformation. The Israelites faced trials in the wilderness as they traveled through it to the Promised Land. Moses once spent forty years in the wilderness, and Jesus also spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. After experiencing the trials of the wilderness, these individuals received the power of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus underwent trials in the wilderness, He received the power of the Holy Spirit and returned to Galilee. The Bible does not tell us exactly when John arrived in the wilderness, but we believe John endured a prolonged period of trials in the wilderness. After the trials in the wilderness were over, he received the power of Elijah so he could proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ and turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.

The Bible seems to imply that John the Baptist had not met Jesus before his baptism (except when he met him in the womb in Luke 1:41). In John 1:31, John says, “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” Again, in verse 33, John says, “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” This interesting verse seems to imply that John couldn’t recognize the Lord in the flesh but had to see and know the Lord in the Spirit. In addition, Luke 1:80 says of John, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” It seems that God hid John for a while, then revealed him to the world at the appropriate time. This reveals a principle of God’s work in the new era. When God chooses to perfect and prepare people for his service, he often hides them in the wilderness until their time comes.

In 2016, God revealed to me that there would be a great revival in China in the future and that he was calling me to be a part of this revival. In 2018, a Korean prophet prophesied to me about my role and responsibility in this coming revival. However, he also reminded me, “You are still placed by God in the wilderness. You need to learn more about surrendering to God. You must wait for God’s appointed time.” In 2013, the Lord gave me a vision of revival spreading like a tornado across the whole earth, slowly growing in size. I believe that my personal experience is characteristic of the way God often works. He hides people in the wilderness to prepare them for his service. When his time comes, He will use them to announce the beginning of a new spiritual movement.

John’s Rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees – “Bear Fruit Befitting Repentance”

At the beginning of a new spiritual era, people often exhibit several different attitudes. The first is resistance and contempt. Most likely, many traditional Jews expressed contempt toward John. They may have believed that John’s camel skin clothing was unclean. In the same way, people despised Jesus for coming from Galilee. “No prophet comes from Galilee,” they said.

Secondly, at the start of a new spiritual movement, we often see people attempting to infiltrate and disrupt this new movement. This is what the Pharisees and Sadducees attempted here. God initiated a new spiritual work through John: a baptism of repentance. However, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not repent. They attempted to infiltrate the new spiritual work by undergoing baptism, but they did not have good motives. John severely criticized the religious leaders: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10).

The Pharisees and Sadducees felt superior to others, believing that the Israelites were God’s chosen people who were guaranteed salvation. This sense of superiority might have become a veil in the hearts of the Pharisees and Sadducees. John rebuked them for their smug attitude. He told them that it was not enough to rely on being descendants of Abraham, because God could even raise up children for Abraham from stones!

Though Paul speaks of the salvation of all Israel in the end times (Romans 11:26), I don’t believe it means that every Israelite in history will be saved. This question is controversial, but I believe that some Israelites will be eternally lost. In the Book of Daniel, when speaking about Israel’s future, the angel said, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2). Being a Jew does not necessarily mean you are automatically saved.

Paul also states elsewhere, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” (Romans 9:6-7). In Galatians 3:7, Paul says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

These Pharisees and Sadducees were bound by the spirit of religion and legalism. Their concern wasn’t the redemption of Jesus Christ or the path of repentance and baptism offered by John; they were concerned about their own interests and doctrines. Hence, when they attempted to be baptized, John sternly reminded them that they must bear fruit in line with repentance.

The Pharisees and Sadducees represented the old wineskins centered around the temple and the priesthood. It is true that in the past, God chose the physical temple as His dwelling place. However, God’s work in the new era is not about constructing an external temple, but a spiritual one (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus said he was greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6) and greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42). Moreover, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). After saying this, John explains, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:20-21). Jesus was inaugurating a new spiritual era; He was constructing a spiritual temple. This temple far surpasses the former temple of the Old Testament era; it also surpasses the temple built by Solomon. Hence, God’s work in the new era, the new spiritual work, must be entirely established on a new foundation—Jesus Christ. And John the Baptist was proclaiming the arrival of Jesus Christ.

This present era marks a dividing point where God starts a new spiritual era and new spiritual work. Faced with the arrival of a new era, will we recognize the work of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or will we be hindered by old religious concepts? Throughout history, many believers have been unable to recognize God’s work in a new era; instead, they have resisted God’s new guidance. This is something we should be vigilant about.

Jesus Baptizes People in the Holy Spirit and Fire

John’s message is crystal clear. First, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is the message of repentance that he preached. Second, Jesus is the One who baptizes people with the Holy Spirit and fire. Over the ages, some churches have accepted the fact that we can be baptized in water , but ignored the fact that Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. In the book of Acts, they only knew about the baptism of John. The people he preached to were unaware of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Later, Paul came and laid his hands on them, and they received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, even today many Christians have not fully accepted or experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion:

Every new spiritual era requires a renewal and transformation of our minds, as well as the outpouring and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. John experienced trials in the wilderness. He received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his mind was renewed. Only then could he usher in a new era of spiritual work.

As we face a new spiritual era, we must be open to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the renewal of our minds. Even if we have already received the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still need a greater outpouring of the Spirit. Everyone needs a fresh outpouring of God’s power. God’s work is always fresh and new. We must undergo a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit so we can receive power for the spiritual work of the new era. We must continually renew our minds and be transformed into new wineskins that can contain the new wine that God is producing in the new spiritual era.