Pharisees - A very numerous sect among the Jews, who, in their origin, were, very probably, a pure and holy people. It is likely that they got the name of Pharisees, i.e. Separatists, (from פרש pharash, to separate), from their separating themselves from the pollution of the Jewish national worship; and hence, the word in the Anglo-saxon version is, holy persons who stand apart, or by themselves: but, in process of time, like all religious sects and parties, they degenerated: they lost the spirit of their institution, they ceased to recur to first principles, and had only the form of godliness, when Jesus Christ preached in Judea; for he bore witness, that they did make the outside of the cup and platter clean - they observed the rules of their institution, but the spirit was gone.
Sadducees - A sect who denied the existence of angels and spirits, consequently all Divine influence and inspiration, and also the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees of that time were the Materialists and Deists of the Jewish nation. When the sect of the Pharisees arose cannot be distinctly ascertained; but it is supposed to have been some time after the Babylonish captivity. The sect of the Sadducees were the followers of one Sadok, a disciple of Antigonus Sochaeus, who flourished about three centuries before Christ. There was a third sect among the Jews, called the Essenes or Essenians, of whom I shall have occasion to speak on Matthew 19:12.
Come to his baptism - The Ethiopic version adds the word privately here, the translator probably having read λαθρα in his copy, which gives a very remarkable turn to the passage. The multitudes, who had no worldly interest to support, no character to maintain by living in their usual way, came publicly, and openly acknowledged that they were Sinners; and stood in need of mercy. The others, who endeavored to secure their worldly interests by making a fair show in the flesh, are supposed to have come privately, that they might not be exposed to reproach; and that they might not lose their reputation for wisdom and sanctity, which their consciences, under the preaching of the Baptist, told them they had no right to. See below.
O generation of vipers - Γεννηματα εχιδνων . A terribly expressive speech. A serpentine brood, from a serpentine stock. As their fathers were, so were they, children of the wicked one. This is God's estimate of a Sinner, whether he wade in wealth, or soar in fame. The Jews were the seed of the serpent, who should bruise the heel of the woman's seed, and whose head should be bruised by him.
Who hath warned you - Or, privately shown you. Τις υπεδιξεν - from υπο, under, and δεικνυμαι, to show. Does not this seem to allude to the reading of the Ethiopic noticed above? They came privately: and John may be supposed to address them thus: "Did any person give you a private warning? No, you received your convictions under the public ministry of the word. The multitudes of the poor and wretched, who have been convinced of sin, have publicly acknowledged their crimes, and sought mercy - God will unmask you - you have deceived the people - you have deceived yourselves - you must appear just what you are; and, if you expect mercy from God, act like the penitent multitude, and bring forth Fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to trifle with your convictions, by thinking, that because you are descendants of Abraham, therefore you are entitled to God's favor; God can, out of these stones (pointing probably to those scattered about in the desert, which he appears to have considered as an emblem of the Gentiles) raise up a faithful seed, who, though not natural descendants of your excellent patriarch, yet shall be his worthy children, as being partakers of his faith, and friends of his God." It should be added, that the Greek word also signifies plain or ample information. See on Luke 6:47; (note).
The wrath to come? - The desolation which was about to fall on the Jewish nation for their wickedness, and threatened in the last words of their own Scriptures. See Malachi 4:6. Lest I come and smite the earth הארץ את (et ha -arets, this very land) with a curse. This wrath or curse was coming: they did not prevent it by turning to God, and receiving the Messiah, and therefore the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost. Let him that readeth understand.
Pharisees and Sadducees - The Jews were divided into three great sects - the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. In addition to these, some smaller sects are mentioned in the New Testament and by Josephus: the Herodians, probably political friends of Herod; the Galileans, a branch of the Pharisees; and the Therapeutae, a branch of the Essenes, but converts from the Greeks. The three principal sects are supposed to have originated about 150 years before Christ, as they are mentioned by Josephus at that time in his history. Of course nothing is said of them in the Old Testament, as that was finished about 400 years before the Christian era.
I. The Pharisees were the most numerous and wealthy sect of the Jews. They derived their name from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies to set apart, or to separate, because they separated themselves from the rest of their countrymen, and professedly devoted themselves to special strictness in religion. Their leading tenets were the following: that the world was governed by fate, or by a fixed decree of God; that the souls of men were immortal, and were either eternally happy or miserable beyond the grave; that the dead would be raised; that there were angels, good and bad; that God was under obligation to bestow special favor on the Jews; and that they were justified by their own conformity to the law. They were proud, haughty, self-righteous, and held the common people in great disrespect, John 7:49. They sought the offices of the state, and affected great dignity. They were ostentatious in their religious worship, praying in the corners of the streets, and seeking publicity in the bestowment of alms. They sought principally external cleanliness, and dealt much in ceremonial ablutions and washing.
They maintained some of the laws of Moses very strictly. In addition to the written laws, they held to a multitude which they maintained had come down from Moses by tradition. These they felt themselves as much bound to observe as the written Law. Under the influence of these laws they washed themselves before meals with great scrupulousness; they fasted twice a week - on Thursday, when they supposed that Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and on Monday, when he descended; they wore broad phylacteries, and enlarged the fringe or borders of their garments; they loved the chief rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. In general, they were a corrupt, hypocritical, office-seeking, haughty class of men. There are, however, some honorable exceptions recorded, Acts 5:34; perhaps, also, Mark 15:43; Luke 2:25; Luke 23:51; John 19:38-42; John 3:1; John 7:50.
II. The Sadducees are supposed to have taken their name from Sadok, who flourished about 260 years before the Christian era. He was a pupil of Antigonus Sochaeus, president of the sanhedrin, or great council of the nation. He had taught the duty of serving God disinterestedly, without the hope of reward or the fear of punishment. Sadok, not properly understanding the doctrine of his master, drew the inference that there was no future state of rewards or punishments, and on this belief he founded the sect. The other notions which they held, all to be traced to this leading doctrine, were:
2.They rejected the doctrine of fate or decrees.
3.They rejected all traditions, and professed to receive only the books of the Old Testament. They were far less numerous than the Pharisees, but their want of numbers was compensated, in some degree, by their wealth and standing in society. Though they did not generally seek office, yet several of them were advanced to the high priesthood.
III. The Essenes, a third sect of the Jews, are not mentioned in the New Testament. They differed from both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were Jewish monks or hermits, passing their time little in society, but mostly in places of obscurity and retirement. It is not probable, therefore, that our Saviour often, if ever, encountered them; and this, it is supposed, is the reason why they are not mentioned in the New Testament. They were a contemplative sect, having little to do with the common business of life. The property which they possessed they held in common. They denied themselves, in a great measure, the usual comforts of life, and were exceedingly strict in the observance of the duties of religion. They were generally more pure than the rest of the Jews, and appear to have been an unambitious, a modest, and retiring sort of people. The two sexes were not in company except on the Sabbath, when they partook of their coarse fare (only bread and salt) together. They practiced dancing in their worship. Few of them were married; they were opposed to oaths, and they asserted that slavery was repugnant to nature. In regard to doctrine, they did not differ materially from the Pharisees, except that they objected to the sacrifices of slain animals, and of course did not visit the temple, and were not, therefore, likely to come into public contact with the Saviour. They perpetuated their sect by proselytes, and by taking orphan children to train up.
The other sects of the Jews were too insignificant to demand any particular notice here. It may be said of the Jews generally that they possessed little of the spirit of religion; that they had corrupted some of the most important doctrines of the Bible; and that they were an ignorant, proud, ambitious, and sensual people. There as great propriety, therefore, in John‘s proclaiming to them the necessity of repentance.
Generation of vipers - Vipers are a species of serpents, from 2 to 5 feet in length and about an inch thick, with a flat head. They are of an ash or yellowish color, speckled with long brown spots. There is no serpent that is more poisonous. The person bitten by them swells up almost immediately, and falls down dead. See Acts 28:6. The word “serpent,” or “viper,” is used to denote both cunning and malignancy. In the phrase “be ye wise as serpents” Matthew 10:16 it means be prudent, or wise, referring to the account in Genesis 3:1-6. Among the Jews the serpent was regarded as the symbol of cunning, circumspection, and prudence. It was so regarded in the Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the phrase “generation of vipers” Matthew 12:34, the viper is the symbol of wickedness, of envenomed malice - a symbol drawn from the venom of the serpent. It is not quite certain in which of these senses the phrase is used in this place. Probably it is used to denote their malignancy and wickedness.
Wrath to come - John expresses his astonishment that sinners so hardened and so hypocritical as they were should have been induced to flee from coming wrath. The wrath to come means the divine indignation, or the punishment that will come on the guilty. See 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.
The gospel is now opposed on every side. Never was the confederacy of evil stronger than at the present time. Spirits of evil are combining with human agencies to war against the commandments of God. Tradition and falsehood are exalted above the Scriptures; reason and science above revelation; human talent above the teaching of the Spirit; forms and ceremonies above the vital power of godliness. Grievous sins have separated the people from God. Infidelity is fast becoming fashionable. “We will not have this man to reign over us,” is the language of thousands. God's ministers must lift up the voice like a trumpet, and show the people their transgressions. The smooth sermons so often preached make no lasting impression. Men are not cut to the heart, because the plain, sharp truths of the word of God are not spoken to them. GW 149.1
Many of those who profess to believe the truth would say, if they expressed their real sentiments, What need is there of speaking so plainly? They might as well ask, Why need John the Baptist have said to the Pharisees, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” [Matthew 3:7.] Why need he have provoked the anger of Herodias by telling Herod that it was unlawful for him to live with his brother's wife? He lost his life by speaking so plainly. Why could he not have moved along without incurring the anger of Herodias? GW 149.2Read in context »
The people heard with trembling. The convicting Spirit of God spoke to their hearts. Many were led to search the Scriptures with new and deeper interest, the intemperate and immoral were reformed, others abandoned their dishonest practices, and a work was done so marked that even ministers of the state church were forced to acknowledge that the hand of God was in the movement. GC 367.1
It was God's will that the tidings of the Saviour's coming should be given in the Scandinavian countries; and when the voices of His servants were silenced, He put His Spirit upon the children, that the work might be accomplished. When Jesus drew near to Jerusalem attended by the rejoicing multitudes that, with shouts of triumph and the waving of palm branches, heralded Him as the Son of David, the jealous Pharisees called upon Him to silence them; but Jesus answered that all this was in fulfillment of prophecy, and if these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out. The people, intimidated by the threats of the priests and rulers, ceased their joyful proclamation as they entered the gates of Jerusalem; but the children in the temple courts afterward took up the refrain, and, waving their branches of palm, they cried: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Matthew 21:8-16. When the Pharisees, sorely displeased, said unto Him, “Hearest Thou what these say?” Jesus answered, “Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?” As God wrought through children at the time of Christ's first advent, so He wrought through them in giving the message of His second advent. God's word must be fulfilled, that the proclamation of the Saviour's coming should be given to all peoples, tongues, and nations. GC 367.2
To William Miller and his colaborers it was given to preach the warning in America. This country became the center of the great advent movement. It was here that the prophecy of the first angel's message had its most direct fulfillment. The writings of Miller and his associates were carried to distant lands. Wherever missionaries had penetrated in all the world, were sent the glad tidings of Christ's speedy return. Far and wide spread the message of the everlasting gospel: “Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come.” GC 368.1Read in context »
We are living in the closing scenes of this earth's history. Prophecy is rapidly fulfilling. The hours of probation are fast passing. We have no time—not a moment—to lose. Let us not be found sleeping on guard. Let no one say in his heart or by his works, “My lord delayeth his coming.” Let the message of Christ's soon return sound forth in earnest words of warning. Let us persuade men and women everywhere to repent, and flee from the wrath to come. Let us arouse them to immediate preparation; for we little know what is before us. Let ministers and lay members go forth into the ripening fields.... Mar 106.4Read in context »
God's judgments are abroad in the land. Shall we allow these things to come upon the world without telling the people the meaning of these terrible calamities, and how every one may escape from the wrath to come? Shall we let our neighbors remain in darkness without a preparation for the future life? Unless we ourselves realize where we stand, the day of God will come upon us as a thief.... PM 312.3Read in context »