What does Matthew 3:8 mean?
ESV: Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
NIV: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
NASB: Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance;
CSB: Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.
NLT: Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.
KJV: Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
NKJV: Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,
Verse Commentary:
John the Baptist's message to Israel was designed to bring comfort to some and discomfort to others. He proclaimed in the wilderness, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). This was both a promise and a warning. It meant that God was about to begin His rule on earth, bringing justice and vindication for those Israelites who were faithful to Him and judgment for those who were in rebellion. This was true even though the kingdom would be grounded in the hearts of Christ's followers (John 18:36) and only in the very end times become a political, physical reality (Revelation 20:6).

In the previous verse, John spoke directly to Israel's religious leaders who had come to see and hear him. He called them a brood of vipers and asked who had warned them to flee from God's coming wrath. Now he tells them what it will take to be spared: They must repent in their actions and not just their words.

John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that their repentance must bear fruit. In other words, it will not be enough to be seen publicly agreeing with John and being baptized by him in the Jordan River. Repentance means to change your mind and turn around, to head in a new direction. They must change their teaching and practice in leading the religious lives of the people of Israel. If the change is genuine, it will produce measurable results. It will bear fruit.

In the following verse, John will describe one error in their thinking and teaching.
Verse Context:
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.
Chapter Summary:
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.
Chapter Context:
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.
Book Summary:
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.
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