What does Matthew 3:7 mean?
ESV: 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?
NIV: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
NASB: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
CSB: When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
NLT: But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. 'You brood of snakes!' he exclaimed. 'Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?
KJV: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
John the Baptist was attracting large crowds from all around the region (Matthew 3:1–2). People were traveling from Jerusalem and all Judea to hear him preach (Matthew 3:5). Many of those who came confessed their sins and were publicly baptized by John to symbolize their repentance from sin and commitment to lead holy lives in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 3:6).
This seems to have caught the attention of Israel's religious leaders. It's unclear from the text why the Pharisees and Sadducees had come to the wilderness to hear and see John's baptism. Were they there to repent and be baptized themselves as a religious act or were they there to observe and decide if they agreed with John's teaching about the coming Messiah? Checking on John's message would have been part of their spiritual duties (John 1:19–28); however, other gospels show these men are more interested in refuting John than in learning from him.
The Pharisees and Sadducees did not like each other very much. Pharisees were religious leaders and teachers more closely connected to the common people at the local level of the synagogues. They set the tone for everyday religious life in Israel. Highly respected and even feared, they held themselves—and others—to very strict standards when it came to following the law. They also developed a system of rules that went beyond the inspired law of Moses.
The Sadducees were a much smaller group of wealthier priests and religious aristocrats. They held different views than the Pharisees on key spiritual issues. Sadducees were committed to protecting their power. They were known for their cooperation with Rome's occupation and were resented by the people.
John the Baptist clearly did not fear or admire either group. He calls them a brood of vipers, the same term Jesus will later use when talking to the Pharisees (Matthew 12:34). This name connects them to the deceiving serpent in the garden of Eden. John asks them who warned them to flee from God's impending wrath? John saw in his prophecy of the coming of the kingdom of heaven as good news for those who lead holy lives but terrible news for those who continued in sin. His words show that he saw Israel's religious leaders as sinful and unrepentant.
Matthew 3:1–12 introduces John the Baptist, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea near the Jordan River. John, dressed in camel hair and a leather belt in the style of the prophet Elijah, has a simple message: repent because the kingdom of heaven is coming. Crowds come from miles around, including even Israel's religious leaders. John calls those leaders vipers and warns that Messiah will bring the wrath of God against the unrepentant. The Messiah will baptize the repentant with the Holy Spirit and fire. The trees that do not bear fruit, spiritually speaking, will be cut down and burned.
Matthew introduces John the Baptist as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. He is the voice crying in the wilderness as he prepares the way for the Lord. John calls the crowds who travel to hear him to repent from their sins. The kingdom of heaven is close! He also warns of God's judgment, specifically on Israel's spiritually-barren religious leaders. Finally, the Messiah he has been speaking of arrives and insists that John baptize Him. When he does, the heavens break open, the Holy Spirit comes to rest on Jesus, and the voice of God the Father says Jesus is His Son and that He is pleased with Him.
Matthew's story of Jesus jumps forward several decades from the moment when His family settled in Nazareth. This passage finds John the Baptist preaching about repentance in the wilderness and baptizing those who are willing. Crowds come from all around to hear John preach in the look and style of Elijah, including Israel's religious leaders. John warns them of God's coming judgment on those who do not truly repent. Jesus arrives and insists that John baptize Him. As Jesus emerges from the water, the heavens break open, the Holy Spirit descends to rest on Jesus in dove-like form, and the voice of God declares that Jesus is His Son. After this baptism, Jesus will be led into the desert to be tempted by Satan, in chapter 4.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
Accessed 3/1/2024 9:59:47 PM
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