Summary: Thousands were coming into the wilderness to hear what John was preaching
The Application of John’s Message
Thousands were coming into the wilderness to hear what John was preaching, were repenting and being baptized in the Jordan River. This was an usual thing for the Jews to do. Among those who came into the wilderness were the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were two of the three noted sects among the Jews at that time the third were the Essenes, whom we never read of in the gospels. The Pharisees emphasized the ritual, ceremonies and the traditions of the elders. The Sadducees denied the existence of spirits and a future state. It was strange that they came to John’s baptism. It was their curiosity that brought them to come where John was preaching and baptizing believes. It is possible some of them repented and were baptized by John, but unlikely. In Luke 7:29-30 it is written, when all the people and the tax collectors heard what Jesus had said in verses 24-28 “they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.” There are many who hear the gospel message in this present age but don’t accept it as they did in John’s day.
When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees he does not call them Rabbi or applaud them. He addressed them as “a generation of vipers.” He told them they were like a viper, venomous and poisonous, and full of malice and enmity to every thing that was good; they were a viperous brood, the seed and offspring of vipers, their malice and enmity was bred in them. They gloried in the fact they were the seed of Abraham, but John told them they were the serpent’s seed (Genesis 3:15), their father the Devil (John 8:44). They were a viperous gang. They were all alike; though enemies to one another they joined together to do evil.
John’s question, “Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come” is a warning that they were in danger of the wrath to come; and that their case was so desperate, and their hearts so hardened in sin, the Pharisees by their pride in their religion, and the Sadducees by their arguments against religion, that it would take a miracle to effect anything hopeful among them. John wanted to know what influenced them to come into the wilderness where he was preaching and baptizing those who repented and turned from their evil deeds and ways. The priests and Levites that came to the place where John was preaching and baptizing believers wanted to know if John was Elijah, the prophet Moses predicted would come (Deuteronomy 18:15). They wanted to know by what authority he was preaching and baptizing.
There is a wrath to come, besides the present wrath, that is being poured out but there is a future wrath that is being stored up. It is a wrath we are to flee from. God, who does not delight in the pouring out His wrath, has warned by the written word, by ministers, and by conscience to flee from this wrath. These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves. There are more people who ignore the warning than heed it. John warned the Pharisees and Sadducees and we have been warned to flee from the wrath to come and to bring forth the fruits of repentance. Because the warning has gone out the terrors of the wrath should persuade us to live a holy life.
The evidence of repentance is rooted in the heart. As a root it brings forth the evidence of the forsaking all sin, and cleaving to that which is good. Those who merely say they are sorry for their sins are not worthy of the name of penitents, or their privileges. Repentance involves more than mere sorry. It requires a complete turning from our ways and the ways of the world toward God. Repentance requires the humbling of self and avoidance of all appearances of sin.
In verse 9 there is a word of caution, “do not suppose that you can say to yourself, we have Abraham for our father.” They are warned not to trust in their external. There are hundreds of excuses and vain thoughts the sinful use to override the convincing, commanding power of the word of God. God takes notice of what we say and the thoughts which we believe are hidden in the darkest recesses of the heart. Thoughts we dare not speak out, and the false rests of the soul, and the lies with which it deludes itself. Many try to hide the lie that ruins them because they are ashamed to admit it.