“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “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.”
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Two groups of religious leaders appeared on the scene. They were a cross between religious and political groups. The Pharisees devoted themselves to the law but they did not match their lives with the law. They were self-righteous. The Sadducees were religious skeptics who rejected the resurrection of the body, angels, and the immortality of the soul. Although these two groups opposed each other, they united against John’s message.
The Pharisees and Sadducees believed that they were routinely eligible to enter the Messiah kingdom because they were the physical sons of Abraham.
John the Baptist spoke to these leaders with exceedingly strong language. His statement about fleeing the wrath to come implied they were headed for God’s wrath. Matthew called them a “brood of vipers” or snakes in the grass. That is not a nice title for leaders! These leaders did not come open to the message but ready to judge its adequacy. They carried religious poison like the offspring of snakes.
Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Radical change involves more than religious profession and physical heritage from Abraham. “Repentance” is a change of mind that results in a change of life. Physical heritage is of little importance to God. This must have wounded the Pharisees in particular because they deemed themselves righteous; however, they were self-righteous.
And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’
Profession of faith is no big deal without attaching a change of life to the profession. These leaders presumed that their physical descent from Abraham was all that was necessary to make them sons of Abraham.
for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
God can save stones as easily as save these religious leaders. Stones appear to be dead, so the religious leaders were dead.
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.
John proclaimed that God was in the process of judging Israel. The “trees” (those people in Israel) were not bearing fruit. Root and fruit go together. It is necessary to have the right kind of tree (root) to bear fruit; otherwise, God would judge Israel.
Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
God would reject Israel if they did not accept the message of the Messiah.
Religion in itself offers nothing to God.
Religion that views itself as intrinsic to itself has no value in God’s eyes. Many people today think that because they are religious they are acceptable to God. No, it is not religion; it is the message that counts. It is the Messiah that saves, not some religious system.
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone… Ro 9:30-32
Religion seeks to establish its own righteousness rather than rest in the righteousness of Christ.
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Ro 10:3-4