Out of the water - This shows that he had descended to the river. It literally means, "he went up directly from the water." The original does not imply that they had descended into the river, and it cannot be proved, therefore, from this passage, that his baptism was by immersion; nor can it be proved that even, if his baptism was by immersion, that therefore the same mode is binding on people now. In order to demonstrate from this passage that immersion is essential, it is necessary to demonstrate:
(a) that he went into the river;
(b) that, being there, he was wholly immersed;
(c) that the fact that he was immersed, if he was, proves that all others must be, in order that there could be a valid baptism.
Neither of these three things has ever been demonstrated from this passage, nor can they be.
The heavens were opened unto him - This was done while he was praying, Luke 3:21. The ordinances of religion will be commonly ineffectual without prayer. If in those ordinances we look to God, we may expect that he will bless us; the heavens will be opened, light will shine upon our path, and we shall meet with the approbation of God. The expression, "the heavens were opened," is one that commonly denotes the appearance of the clouds when it lightens. The heavens appear to open or give way. Something of this kind probably appeared to John at this time. The same appearance took place at Stephen' s death, Acts 7:56. The expression means that he was permitted to see far into the heavens beyond what the natural vision would allow.
To him - Some have referred this to Jesus, others to John. It probably refers to John. See John 1:33. It was a testimony given to John that this was the Messiah.
He saw - John saw.
The Spirit of God - See Matthew 3:11. This was the third person of the Trinity, descending upon him in the form of a dove, Luke 3:22. The dove, among the Jews, was the symbol of purity of heart, harmlessness, and gentleness, Matthew 10:16; compare Psalms 55:6-7. The form chosen here was doubtless an emblem of the innocence, meekness, and tenderness of the Saviour. The gift of the Holy Spirit, in this manner, was the public approbation of Jesus John 1:33, and a sign of his being set apart to the office of the Messiah. We are not to suppose that there was any change done in the moral character of Jesus, but only that he was publicly set apart to his work, and solemnly approved by God in the office to which he was appointed.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Matthew 3:16:
1 Corinthians 10:2
1 Corinthians 10:2
1 Timothy 3:16
1 Peter 3:21
1 John 5:6
1 John 5:8
1 John 5:8
1 John 5:9
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