Title: The explanation by John the Baptist
Scriptures to Read: Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14
What do you think of John’s response to the Pharisees and Sadducees? Doesn’t it look like a strange way to respond to someone who is coming for baptism?
Two stages of investigation
Whenever there was any kind of messianic movement of significance the leaders of Israel would investigate it in two separate stages.
1. The first stage is the stage of observation.
In the first stage a delegation was sent out to do nothing but observe. At this stage they could raise no questions or objections. They could only observe what was being said, taught and done, but nothing could be verbalized out loud. Thereafter they were to go back to Jerusalem and give a report and issue a verdict. The verdict was to answer the question: “is the movement significant, or is it insignificant?” If the movement was considered to be insignificant the matter was dropped. Yet if they said that it was significant, then came the second stage.
2. The second stage is the stage of interrogation.
And now a second delegation was sent out, but this time they would raise questions and they would raise objections, looking for a basis to accept or reject a person’s claims.
Investigation of John
Now because John came preaching the concept of the kingdom, which had messianic overtones, what happens here is the first of these two stages namely; the observation stage. Some Bible translations of Matthew 3:7 read like this “when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism.” The Greek preposition ‘epi’ means upon, unto or to. There is also a personal pronoun in the Greek. The ESV has a more accurate translation “but when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism.” They were not coming to John to be baptized! They were coming to his baptism to make observations! They are observing what he is claiming, what he is saying, and what he is doing.
The wrath to come
What is the wrath to come? The wrath to come refers to the Day of Jehovah, also called the Day of the Lord, in the Hebrew Bible. This is the period of the outpouring of divine judgment that will precede the establishment of the messianic kingdom.
We have Abraham for our father
Why does John say to them, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’? The Pharisees held to the common teaching of the rabbis that all Jews will enter the messianic kingdom. When the Messiah comes all Jews will be resurrected and all Jews will enter into the messianic kingdom. And so merely being a descendant of Abraham, they say, will qualify them for entry into the kingdom. John is warning them against relying on this teaching.
The basis of the judgement
What will enable them to escape the wrath to come? The way to escape the coming wrath is to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. In other words, it is the nature of their fruit that will determine their future. Entrance into the kingdom is actually on the basis of an internal righteousness from God that is evidenced by our fruit.
What they observe
Verses 10-14 of Luke’s account show us what these Pharisees and Sadducees observed. At this point John underwent the stage of observation, and what happens to the herald will happen to the king. What is the common thread in the examples given here? What they observe is John instructing people to do what goes contrary to their nature and what goes contrary to their office.
• The multitudes– John instructs them to share with others. It is a tendency for people to want to hoard and collect things, and he tells them to keep what is essential for them to meet their needs, and what is left over should be given away.
• The Tax collectors– They were despised and ostracized, so why would a Jew take up the job of a Roman tax collector? They chose to take the job because Rome would allow them to get away with collecting more funds than were necessary. And they would become wealthy by keeping the extra. John tells them in verse 13: Collect no more than what you have been ordered to. And so the very reason they entered the job of tax collector is now to be rejected. They can continue to be tax collectors, but not to collect more than what is allotted by the authorities.
• The soldiers– Why Would Jewish soldiers become mercenaries in the Roman army? As part of an occupying army they could also become rather wealthy by taking spoil. Now John tells them not to take money from anyone by force and not to practice what they became soldiers to do. This is not dealing with defending the country; this is dealing with becoming wealthy through the spoils of war.