Wedged in-between John’s baptism of many from Jerusalem and Judea and his baptism of Jesus are some strong words:
”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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”Matthew 3:7-10
Some of the religious elites had shown up where John was doing the dunking. Not one to be easily intimidated, his message to them was the same as his message to the common folk of the region: “Repent!”
The kingdom of heaven was at hand, and it was accessible only through repentance (v. 1)—that is to say, turning away from sin and self-dependence and turning towards total dependence on Christ. This was a struggle for the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were convinced that the right family lineage and their own strict adherence to the law were sufficient for obtaining God’s favor.
If we’re honest, we can easily fall into the same ruts as the “brood of vipers” as John calls them, trusting in ourselves for our salvation: “I grew up in a Christian home!” . . . ”I’m a good person!” . . . “I go to church!” All of these are good, even commendable, but none of them grant us access into the kingdom of heaven—only the repentance of sin and faith in Jesus can do that.