Matthew 3:7-12


3:7 - "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?' "


Images used by John in these six verses:

  • Vipers
  • Fruit
  • Stones
  • Ax
  • Root
  • Trees
  • Fire (3x)
  • Sandals
  • Threshing
  • Grain
  • Chaff
  • Barns


Pharisees were the separated ones dedicated to the law

Sadducees originally were the descendents of Zadok, the high priest of David's day. The term Zadokites is the source of the word Sadducee

 Matthew has the Pharisees and Sadducees linked together in this verse as one group even though they were political and religious enemies. They both united against John and Jesus.

The text does not say they were coming to be baptized but that they were "coming to his baptism" or "ercomenouV epi to Baptisma autou" ("coming to -- baptism his"). "Coming" could be "go", "be brought." The Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to see or observe. They were not coming for repentance, confession or baptism.

"Brood of Vipers" is "gennemata" (gennhmata) which means "child, offspring, kind". So, the same people that Jesus will refer to as an "adulterous generation" and later in Matt. 12:34 and 23:33 Jesus calls them the same thing as John "brood of vipers" or "generation or snakes." John here also  calls them "generation of snakes."

"Brood of Vipers" - Picture snakes slithering away from a burning fire . . .

Notice Matthew has said nothing about John saying anything about the "coming wrath" but only that John preached the coming of the kingdom. Which means, according to scripture, "coming wrath." See Malachi 3:2. The only mention of wrath again by Matthew is found in the imagery of two parables: 18:34 and 22:7. Wrath is not mentioned again.

John is calling both:

            1. The individual

            2. The nation

"Warned" is "hupodeixnumi" and means "to show secretly, to teach, to make known"


3:8 - "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

Is the "fruit" John is asking for from the Pharisees and Sadducees baptism itself? By being baptized they would be renouncing their confidence in previous religious experience which was being Jewish. This would explain John's next comment. Thus, John is demanding that these people also repentant, confess their sins and be baptized as a sign they have repentanted.

Baptism would renounce Jewish pride.

Josephus mentions John and says that those who sought his baptism were to make their baptism acceptable by do these things:

                        "practice virtue, behaving with justice toward one another and piety            toward God"

"Produce" literally means "make" and is used to refer to the production of fruit by plants.


3:9 - "And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  O tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham."

"say to yourselves" is not hypocrisy but instead has to be personal conviction. This is really their conviction and their belief.

"stone" being a son of Abraham gives you the advantage of a stone. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are no closer to God than anyone. They to must come to God with repentance, confession and, here, baptism, for the forgiveness of sins.


3:10 - "The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

The axe head against the tree is the marking or aiming for the first swing.

Chopping trees is a sign of national (Israel, other nations), family (house of Jesse) and individual judgment (Nebuchadnezzar) in the OT

Here the tree seems to refer to individuals

"Root" is the source of life. This is not pruning, but total removal.


3:11 - "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy spirit and with fire."

Mark and Luke are addressing the general audience of listeners with this statement (Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:9-17)

  • Disciples served masters except for the removing of shoes
  • Slaves untied the shoes of their masters
  • John is lower than a slave and is unworthy to even serve as a slave

"After" is a word that means "behind" or literally, "comes behind me" and seems to indicate a disciples who becomes greater.

"Holy Spirit" here is from Ezekiel 36:26-27 and Joel 2:28, 30.

  • John's baptism is a ritual, a commitment after repentance and confession
  • Jesus baptism is effectual. It is the new birth.

"Fire" could be these, but only the last one is correct for those who are baptized:

  • the fire of judgment in time in the form of destruction or in the Lake of Fire
  • the fire of the charismatic/pentecostal emotion or motivation
  • the fire of purification - for the believer the fire is purification

"Holy Spirit" and "Fire" share the preposition "en" which means they are part of  the same thing.

Malachi 3:2 promised the Messiah would be a refiner's fire

1 Corinthians 3:15 shows the judging and purification of the believer

The Holy Spirit came like fire on Pentecost and became a positional truth and a personal experience for the believer.


3:12 - "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."