Lesson 7: Matthew 3

“Lesson 7: Matthew 3,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)

“Lesson 7,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 7

Matthew 3


John the Baptist preached and baptized in Judea. Jesus Christ traveled from Galilee to the Jordan River, where He was baptized by John. God the Father testified that Jesus is His Beloved Son.

Suggestions for Teaching

Matthew 3:1–12

John the Baptist preaches in Judea

Ask the class to imagine how they would feel if one of the students in the class were to get up and begin taking personal items that belong to the other students. Then ask them to imagine that after taking each item, the offending student apologizes but continues to take items from other students. Ask:

  • What would you think about this student’s apologies?

  • How might this student’s actions be similar to trying to repent insincerely?

Invite students as they study Matthew 3 to look for truths that help us understand what we must do to truly repent.

Invite a student to read Matthew 3:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to look for what happened that would help prepare the people for the Savior’s ministry.

  • Who was John the Baptist? (He was the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, who was Mary’s relative. He held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood [see D&C 13; 84:27–28].)

  • What was John doing?

  • What did John exhort his listeners to do?

Explain that John’s mission had been foretold by Isaiah (Esaias) and other prophets (see Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 1 Nephi 10:7–10). John was to prepare the way for the Messiah (Jesus Christ) by declaring repentance and baptizing with water.

  • How do you think declaring repentance and baptizing with water helped prepare the way of the Lord?

Invite a student to read Matthew 3:5–6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how people responded to John’s message.

  • How did people respond to John’s message? (They confessed their sins and were baptized. Explain that being willing to confess one’s sins to Heavenly Father and, when necessary, to designated priesthood leaders is essential to repentance [see True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference (2004), 134].)

Invite a student to read Matthew 3:7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for whom John spoke to.

  • According to this verse, whom did John speak to?

Explain that the Pharisees were a religious group of Jews whose name suggests being separate or apart. They took pride in strictly observing the law of Moses and believed that man-made additions to it, known as the oral law, were as important as the law of Moses itself (see Bible Dictionary, “Pharisees”). The Sadducees were a small but politically powerful group of Jews who believed in obeying the letter of the law of Moses. They did not believe in the doctrine of resurrection or eternal life (see Bible Dictionary, “Sadducees”).

  • What did John call the Pharisees and Sadducees?

Palestinian viper

Palestinian viper

© taviphoto/

If possible, display a picture of a Palestinian viper and explain that it is the most common poisonous snake in Israel. Vipers are active at night and typically hunt by hiding and then sneaking up on their prey. When they feel threatened, vipers will coil their body, hiss, and strike at their opponents.

  • Why do you think John referred to the Pharisees and Sadducees as vipers? (You may want to point out that the Pharisees and Sadducees felt threatened by John, as he drew many people away from their evil influence and false teachings.)

Explain that the Joseph Smith Translation contains additional words that John spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Invite students to turn to Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 3:34–36 (in the Bible appendix). (You may want to explain that these verses are a translation of Matthew 3:8–9.) Ask a student to read these verses aloud.

  • According to John, if the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected his preaching, whom would they also reject?

  • How would you summarize John’s message to them?

Write the phrase Bring forth fruits meet for repentance on the board.

To help students understand this phrase, point out that in the scriptures people are sometimes symbolized by trees that produce either good fruit or bad fruit. Display or draw a piece of fruit and explain that it represents our desires and actions. You may want to explain that the phrase “meet for” means “worthy of” (see Matthew 3:8, footnote b).

Remind the class of the scenario you asked them to imagine at the beginning of the lesson (a student taking personal items from other students and then continuing to do so, even after apologizing).

  • Did the student appropriately demonstrate the principle of repentance through his or her desires and actions? Why not? (The student continued to take items from other students even after apologizing.)

  • How would you summarize what it means to “bring forth … fruits meet for repentance”? (Matthew 3:8). (Students may use different words but should identify the following truth: We demonstrate true repentance to the Lord as we change our desires and actions to follow His teachings.)

  • What desires and actions indicate that we have truly repented of our sins?

To help students understand this truth, list the following examples on the board: cheating in school, being mean to siblings, being unkind to or bullying other students, using bad language, and viewing pornography. Ask students to explain how someone who has repented of these sins might think and act.

Read Matthew 3:10 aloud. Invite students to follow along, looking for the consequence of not truly repenting. Ask students to report what they find. Explain that being “hewn down, and cast into the fire” implies that unrepentant individuals lose the influence of the Spirit of God and eventually forfeit the blessings of the celestial kingdom.

Invite students to ponder any desires or actions they may need to change in order to truly repent. Encourage them to demonstrate true repentance by changing any desires and actions that are not in accordance with God’s teachings.

Invite students to read Matthew 3:11 silently, looking for what John said the Savior would do.

  • According to verse 11, what would Jesus do that John could not? (Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Explain that John was referring to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, the second half of the covenant and ordinance of baptism. The Holy Ghost sanctifies and refines our souls as if by fire [see 2 Nephi 31:13–14, 17].)

Summarize verse 12 by explaining that it symbolically describes what will happen to the righteous who accept Jesus Christ (the wheat) and to the wicked who reject Him (the chaff).

Matthew 3:13–17

Jesus Christ is baptized, and the Father acclaims Him as His Beloved Son

Ask students who have been baptized to reflect on their own baptism. Invite several of them to share what they remember.

Explain that Matthew 3:13–17 recounts the baptism of the Savior. Invite students to look for similarities between their baptism and the Savior’s as they study these verses.

Write the following questions on the board:

By whom?



Divide students into pairs. Ask each partnership to take turns reading aloud from Matthew 3:13–17, looking for the answers to these three questions. After sufficient time, ask:

  • Who baptized Jesus? (Write John the Baptist on the board next to By whom?)

  • Why did Jesus travel from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist? (Remind students that John held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood and was the only man at that time who had the authority to perform the ordinance of baptism. Write Proper authority on the board next to John the Baptist.)

  • What phrase in verse 16 indicates how Jesus was baptized? (Make sure students understand that Jesus coming immediately “out of the water” indicates He was baptized by immersion—meaning He was covered completely by the water. Write By immersion on the board next to How?)

Invite students to imagine that they were at the Jordan River when Jesus came to be baptized.

  • Why was John initially reluctant to baptize the Savior? (He knew that Jesus’s position and authority were greater than his own.)

  • According to verse 15, why did Jesus say He needed to be baptized? (“To fulfil all righteousness.” Write this phrase on the board next to Why?)

  • What do you think this phrase means?

Explain that “to fulfil all righteousness” means doing all that Heavenly Father requires of us so that we can live with Him again. This includes receiving the ordinances of salvation, which God requires of all of His children, including Jesus. By being baptized, Jesus set the perfect example for us to follow, demonstrated humility, obeyed the commandments of His Father, and received an ordinance necessary to attain eternal life (see 2 Nephi 31:4–11).

Ask students to use the answers to the three questions on the board to identify a doctrine we can learn from Matthew 3:13–17. Students may use different words but should identify the following doctrine: Baptism by immersion by one holding authority is essential for salvation.

  • How does your baptism compare with the example the Savior set for us?

Explain that Matthew 3:16–17 also helps us learn doctrine about the Godhead. Invite students to reread these verses silently, looking for what they teach about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

  • Where was each member of the Godhead during the Savior’s baptism? (Jesus Christ was in the Jordan River, the Holy Ghost descended upon Him like a dove, and Heavenly Father spoke from heaven. You might explain that the Holy Ghost did not actually transform into a dove. Rather, the dove was a sign or symbol that the Holy Ghost had descended upon Jesus.)

  • What doctrine do these verses teach us about the Godhead? (Students may use different words but should identify the following doctrine: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct and separate beings.)

Point out that many people do not have a correct or complete knowledge of the Godhead. The more we understand the true nature of the Godhead, the greater love we can feel for Them and the better we will be prepared to teach and testify of Them to others.

To help students gain a better understanding of the identity of each member of the Godhead, divide them into groups of three and ask them to look up “God” in the Bible Dictionary. For every group, assign each of the three students a member of the Godhead. Invite students to read the entry, looking for information about the member they have been assigned. After sufficient time, ask students to teach what they learned to their group and to explain why those truths are important for us to know.

To conclude the lesson, consider inviting students to share with the class their testimonies of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Commentary and Background Information

Matthew 3:11. “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed what it means to be baptized with fire:

“We are commanded and instructed to so live that our fallen nature is changed through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost. President Marion G. Romney taught that the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost ‘converts [us] from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and water baptism are all preliminary and prerequisite to it, but [the baptism of fire] is the consummation. To receive [this baptism of fire] is to have one’s garments washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ’ (Learning for the Eternities, comp. George J. Romney [1977], 133; see also 3 Nephi 27:19–20).

“Hence, as we are born again and strive to always have His Spirit to be with us, the Holy Ghost sanctifies and refines our souls as if by fire (see 2 Nephi 31:13–14, 17). Ultimately, we are to stand spotless before God” (“Clean Hands and a Pure Heart,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 81).

Matthew 3:12. “Whose fan is in His hand”

“The ‘fan’ referred to in Matthew 3:12 is a winnowing fan that was used to toss wheat into the air. This allowed the wheat to be separated from the chaff. Wheat kernels would fall back to the ground while the wind blew the lighter chaff away. The wheat was then gathered into a garner, or storehouse, and the chaff was burned with fire. John the Baptist taught that the Savior, who would come after him, would separate believers from nonbelievers in the same way that wheat was separated from chaff (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 17).

Matthew 3:16. The sign of the dove

The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that the Holy Ghost did not appear as a dove after the baptism of Jesus Christ. Rather, the descending dove signified that the Holy Ghost was present on that occasion. Joseph Smith taught:

“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 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 of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 81).

Matthew 3:13–17. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct and separate beings

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the members of the Godhead are one but are also separate beings:

“We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. … I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true” (“The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 40).

Elder Holland further explained that one of the reasons for confusion about the nature of the Godhead is that during the Great Apostasy, “churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries” debated the nature of the Godhead and ultimately decided that God was unknowable and incomprehensible (see “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” 40–41).