A ‘tongue-lashing’ by John the Baptizer was not what the Jewish officials coming to check him out expected.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matt 3: 7 – 10
So, why did they go to see this son of a Levitical priest? A man who had not followed his father and trained for work in the temple. Were they curious about why he had walked away from such an important hereditary role serving (in his ‘course’) at the temple, instead choosing to live alone is a desert?
Undoubtedly they heard that he was baptizing people and telling them to repent.
There were a few things wrong with that –
Jews did not need to be baptized, they were born into the faith. See this note from the Jewish Encyclopedia…
According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. viii. 8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b, 47b; Ker. 9a; ‘Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d)
Did the Pharisees and Sadducees come to correct him? He was telling the Jews that they needed to repent and be baptized. Baptism was for proselytes – people who chose the Jewish faith.
At the same time – they could read the prophecies and count. They knew the Messiah was due!
They came to see who he was that he would do such a thing…
They knew the scriptures, and prophecies – they were expecting His coming.
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not,
Luke 3: 15
Comment from Barnes Notes on this verse… “The great council of the nation, or the Sanhedrin, had, among other things, the charge of religion. They felt it to be their duty, therefore, to inquire into the character and claims of John, and to learn whether he was the Messiah. It is not improbable that they wished that he might be the long-expected Christ, and were prepared to regard him as such.”
But what did John – the Baptizer mean – “Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance?”
I will explore that next time. If you have any thoughts about this, please share them.
For information on the temple ‘courses’ see this link