Why would John be so negative to the Pharisees and Sadducees?
Even before Jesus’ declarations, John new these people to be hypocrites. The Pharisees were arrogant and believed holiness rested only with them. The Sadducees did not believe in spiritual beings such as angels and consequently, inspiration unto revelation. They were more like Deists which, basically, believe God set all things in motion and fate takes over. John’s justifiable contempt toward these people was strictly based on their lack of faith and hardness of heart. This can be a good lesson for our disdain and disgust toward sin. So many people demand that we hate the sin but love the sinner. Here, John demonstrates that the sinner needs to be addressed as sinner when the situation demands it (Colossians 4:5).
If John identified them as a group, are we to understand the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to him were repenting and being baptized according to the preaching?
Not really according to the intended context. There may have been some of them that wanted to repent and be baptized lawfully but could not bring themselves to do it from the heart. In other words, they wanted to be recognized conscientiously by a convicting authority but were not willing to do the things which true repentance required. They were not willing to repent which was turning away from the things that stained them. They wanted to keep being accepted with their sects with all the privileges offered.
Why does John call them a “brood of vipers”?
To be a brood is to be offspring. The implication is the source of their hypocrisy which is Satan. Remember, the introduction of the evil one is in the form of a viper (serpent). This contrasts to their claims of being descendents of Abraham, the father of the faithful (Romans 4:16, Galatians 3).
What “wrath to come” should the people be warned of as referenced by Matthew in Verse 7?
John is referring to God’s wrath. Paul stated the following:
For God's wrath is revealed from Heaven on all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, holding the truth in unrighteousness, because the thing known of God is clearly known within them, for God revealed it to them. - Romans 1:18-19
John asks them the rhetorical question, “who warned you”? The prophets warned them. The teachings of the scriptures warned them. As Paul points out, all men are warned beginning with the very evidence of creation all around them, not to mention the existence of love. When God’s law is rejected, even in part, then justice demands the consequences of sin. As Paul goes on to say,
He "will give to each according to his works:" everlasting life truly to those who with patience in good work seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility; but to the ones truly disobeying the truth out of self-interest, and obeying unrighteousness, will be anger and wrath, trouble and pain on every soul of man that works out evil, both of Jew first, and of Greek. - Romans 2:6-9
If you repent from sins, what fruit will you bear?
Fruits of righteousness of course. John demands of them the true fruits of repentance. This requires an actual change in a person involving sacrifices that even the people of the world can recognize.
Why would the Pharisees and Sadducees make an argument to John that Abraham was their father?
Their claim would be out of self-interest. In order to understand their argument, we need to ask the question, what are they trying to preserve by claiming their blood lineage? For the ruling class, both secular and religious, in Jerusalem, they had to maintain a relationship with the powers that be. At the time, the immediate power was the Herods with the prevailing, or over-ruling power, being Rome. They would liked to have done away with both and establish themselves sole rulers of Judeah but they had to contend first with the direct threat. That threat was the truth. The people they sought to rule over were hearing the truth. The truth provided by John and Jesus was that being a descendant of Abraham required that one live by faith, no matter what their blood relations were.
Liberal with the scriptures
Literalist with scriptures
Believed in Torah
Believed in Torah
Studied the Law
Controlled the Sanhedrin
Expected equal respect to oral law
Rejected oral law
Believed in purgatory for “holy”
Did not believe in angels/demons, resurrection, God’s love etc.
Typically controlled the synagogues
Controlled the temple
Were generally respected by the people
Politically connected to Rome and generally wealthy class
Who are the true children of Abraham?
Paul answers this question best in his letter to Galatia:
Even "as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness," (Gen 15:6)
know, then, that those of faith, these are sons of Abraham.
And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel before to Abraham: "All the nations will be blessed" "in you." (Gen. 12:3)
So that those of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.
The person that lives by faith (Christians) are the true descendants of Abraham.
What does John mean by saying from stones laying on the ground God is able to raise up children to Abraham?
The statement made by the preacher in this verse can be oversimplified and overly complicated in interpretation. To merely say that the Jews could be replaced with true Israelites is understating things. To go as far as to say that John is convicted them of hypocrisy by using the stones as symbolism of a greater invitation of the nations to the kingdom of Heaven. I think it is simply a statement within the preceding and succeeding verses of offering the opportunity of repentance from neglect of the Law of Moses. That was the point of the preaching and baptism of John. In order to be ready to accept the preaching of the gospel of Christ beginning on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, these people had to renew themselves to the Law of Moses and the total commitment to the covenant. In this they would be able to understand the prophets and psalms that pertained to Christ and the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning the blessing of all nations through the Lord. Remember, God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations, not just the nation of Israel (Genesis 17:1-14, Galatians 3).
Is John teaching about keeping a law? What law?
Yes. In Verse 6 Matthew tells us John was teaching them to confess their sins. The people responding to the teaching were from Judah, Jerusalem and the area of the Jordan (Verse 5). In other words, the Jews. They people were being convicted concerning sin which is defined by law (Romans 3:20). The law to which the Jews were subject was the Law of Moses. Therefore, the baptism (e.g. Leviticus 14 and Numbers 19) and preaching of confession and repentance was based on the Law of Moses.
Is John requiring the people hearing his teaching to live by faith or by works of the law?
By faith, of course. There is no obedience to God at anytime in the history or future of mankind that does not come from faith. No works of any law can justify a man even if that law comes from God (Law of Moses, law of nature; Romans 1-11).
Psalm 143:2 and do not enter into judgment with Your servant; for not anyone living is just in Your sight.
As the example of Abraham was extended from the those under the Law of Moses to those under the Law of Christ, righteousness and salvation from sin begins with faith.
Rom 4:13 For the promise was not through Law to Abraham, or to his seed, for him to be the heir of the world, but through a righteousness of faith.
Rom 4:14 For if those of Law are heirs, faith has been made of no effect, and the promise has been annulled.
What is necessary to keep the works of the law (Habakkuk 2:4; Hebrews 11:6)?
Habakkuk 2:4 Behold, the soul of him is puffed up and is not upright; but the just shall live by his faith.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please God. For it is right that the one drawing near to God should believe that He is, and that He becomes a rewarder to the ones seeking Him out.
Think this through thoroughly. To keep a law is to obey the commands of that law. In order to keep the law (perform works of righteousness) you have to have a working faith. As Paul stated to the Romans, he preaches an obedience of faith (Romans 1:5 and 16:26).
If John is teaching that the people should live by faith then why does he require, by the Word of God, that the people bear fruit in keeping with repentance?
James, by inspiration of the Spirit, gives the best answer to this question.
James 2:17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.
James 2:18 But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith out of my works.
James 2:19 You believe that God is One. You do well; even the demons believe and shudder.
James 2:20 But are you willing to know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is dead?
James 2:21 Was not our father Abraham justified by works offering up his son Isaac on the altar? Gen. 22:9
James 2:22 You see that faith worked with his works; and out of the works the faith was made perfected.
James 2:24 You see, then, that a man is justified out of works, and not out of faith only.
James 2:26 For as the body is dead apart from the spirit, so also faith is dead apart from works.
John says “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees”. What does this mean?
Many prophets spoke of the impending doom to come upon Israel and Judah based on their lack of repentance. The Lord even states through the prophets that He would see to the punishment of sinners for the sake and rescue of the righteous.
Hosea 10:10 When I desire, I shall bind them; and the peoples shall be gathered against them, when they bind themselves to their two perversities.
Jeremiah 30:11 For I am with you, says Jehovah, to save you. Though I make a full end among all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a full end with you. But I will correct you justly, and I will not leave you unpunished.
There were examples of people that would repent based on the conviction brought by the declared judgment of God such as Hezekiah, Naaman, and David. It is those that will not turn from the ways of unrighteousness and darkness that will realize the promise of destruction.
Why is it necessary that trees that do not bear fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:15-20; John 15:1-6)?
There were even events in the history that involved judgment with fire. Such as Achan and his family, the messengers of the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1), and Sodom and Gomorrah. Taking what was to God refuse and consuming it with fire is an illustration that should motivation us to repentance from sin.
Psalm 11:5 Jehovah tries the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one loving violence.
Psalm 11:6 He shall rain snares on the wicked; fire and brimstone and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
Psalm 21:8 Your hand shall find out all Your enemies; Your right hand shall find out those hating You.
Psalm 21:9 You shall set them as a fiery furnace in the time of Your presence; Jehovah will swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire will devour them.
Hebrews 12:28 For this reason, receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us have grace, by which we may serve God pleasingly, with reverence and awe;
Hebrews 12:29 for also, "Our God is a consuming fire." Deut. 4:24
What is the implication with regard to energy that goes into keeping a garden if the nonbearing plants/branches are to be burned (Luke 13:7)?
Luke 13:7 And he said to the vinedresser, Behold, three years I come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down, and why does it waste the ground?
The implication is that God is willing to tell us of our sin and give us the chance to repent by coming to our senses, realizing the perfect love of God which we rebel against. The Lord declares His longsuffering for us so that we can have the opportunity of life through Christ instead of death due to sin. This longsuffering through love is demonstrated through every book of the bible.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord of the promise is not slow, as some deem slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not having purposed any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
Romans 2:3 And, O man, the one judging those practicing such things, and doing them, do you think that you will escape the judgment of God?
Romans 2:4 Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, and the forbearance and the long-suffering, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 2:5 But according to your hardness and your impenitent heart, do you treasure up to yourself wrath in a day of wrath, and revelation of a righteous judgment of God?
Romans 9:22 But if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction,
Romans 9:23 and that He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory,
Romans 9:24 whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations.