WEEK 22 : “Yochanan Preaches to the People”

1. SCRIPTURE

Matt. 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14

Mt. 3:7 But when he say many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?” (Lk. 3:7)
Mt. 3:8 “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Lk. 3:8a)
Mt. 3:9 “And do not say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father;’ for I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Lk. 3:8b)
Mt. 3:10 “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Lk. 3:10 So the people asked him, “What shall we do then?”
Lk. 3:11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him that has none; and he that has food, let him do likewise.”
Lk. 3:12 The tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “What shall we do?”
Lk. 3:13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed to you.”
Lk. 3:14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, “And what shall we do? “ So he told them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely; and be content with your wages.”

Matthew 3:7-10 (NKJV) Other versions ...


2. COMMENTARY

Mt. 3:7: First century Jewish sources provide no direct antecedent for a parallel to Yochanan’s baptism. Cleansing ceremonies using the waters of purification are prescribed in the Torah, and the priest-prophet Ezekiel declared that God at the end of time will purify the people from their defilement with clean water and give them a new heart and a new spirit. The custom of baptizing converts to Judaism is close to Yochanan’s rite, although it cannot be proved that proselyte baptism antedates Yochanan. If the practice was current it is possible that Yochanan deliberately applied it to the children of Abraham “a rite devised by them to benefit pagans, thus evidencing his conviction that the whole Jewish nation needed to be reconstituted as the people of God.

Matthew’s Gospel shows that Yochanan’s remarks were directed primarily at the Pharisees and Sadducees that were in the crowd. “Brood of vipers” is a reference to the dozen or more small, dangerous snakes that emerge at birth from the mother snake. Vipers are proverbial for their subtle approach and attack. Some of the Pharisees were well known for their sly ways they used especially the Oral Law for their own advantage.
One of the basic teachings of the Pharisees was that at the coming of the Messiah there would be a time of judgment. Those who did not live by God’s laws would face His wrath. Some of the Pharisees and Sadducees thought they were the super pious, super religious ones around, but Yochanan here is telling them they are the worst ones of the bunch.

Yochanan’s baptism had began to create quite a stir. Many years ago the prophet Ezekiel had prophesied something that seemed to be coming true (Ezek. 36:25-28). Yochanan was not just simply baptizing people, but leading them out of the land, and then back into the Jordan River where they could purify their bodies through baptism and purify their souls through repentance. They could then re-enter the land given to their forefathers, and God their Messiah would come to them.

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish “Supreme Court.” It consisted of seventy Torah Sages and the High Priest, making a total membership if seventy-one. They met in the Lishkat haGazit or Chamber of Hewn Stone adjacent to the Temple. There were also smaller religious Sanhedrins in every town in Palestine. There was also three-member courts in each synagogue called a Bet Din. Whenever there was any kind of Messianic movement of note, the Sanhedrin had a legitimate two-fold responsibility they had to carry out. In the previous paragraph Yochanan began preaching a message that the King and the Kingdom were near at hand. And so in that sense Yochanan was beginning a Messianic movement of some sort. Because he was creating such a great amount of attention, the Sanhedrin was obligated to do two things.

First, they were to send a group for the purpose of observing. This is called the Stage of Observation. Unlike the Luke account where the multitude did come to be baptized, the Pharisees and Sadducees merely “came to” the baptism to carry out the first element of observation. They were not allowed to ask any questions, but merely observe what was being said and done. After a period of observation this group would go back to Jerusalem and report to the Sanhedrin their conclusion as to whether this movement was significant or not. If the movement was judged insignificant the whole thing was dropped right there.

But, if the movement was significant, then the Sanhedrin would begin the second stage, the Stage of Investigation. A second delegation would be sent out to investigate. They were to ask such questions as: (1) who are you?; (2) who do you claim to be?; (3) what do you plan to be doing?; and (4) why are you doing it?

Mt. 3:8: Yochanan’s eschatological message of imminent judgment closely resembles that held by the Dead Sea Sect, but Yochanan’s rite of baptism differs in meaning from the “purifying waters” of that sect. Yochanan’s preaching was intensely eschatological. He heralded the imminent day of judgment; God’s retributive punishment would soon fall upon the apostasy of Israel. The merits of the patriarchs would provide no escape and descent from Abraham would offer no advantage. Only sincere repentance would avert the “wrath to come,” and this must lead to baptism. Moreover, those who confessed their sins and received Yochanan’s baptism as a sign of this repentance were commanded to “bear good fruit” following in “the way of righteousness” taught by Yochanan.

Vs. 3:9: Yochanan warns the Pharisees and Sadducees about saying, “we have Abraham as our father.” This was a reflection on a Rabbinic teaching that all of Israel has a share in the world to come (Olam haBa) found in Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1. Some Rabbis taught that the Jews did not have to be concerned about losing out with God because of the merits of the fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Also Bereshith Raba 48:8 records, “In the hereafter Abraham was set at the gates of Hades and would not let any circumcised Israelite to descend into it.” Yochanan was contradicting this teaching.

The indefinite expression “Olam haBa” (the future world), as opposed to “Olan haZeh” (the present world) is frequently found in Talmudic-Midrashic literature to signify a new order of things. It is sometimes used interchangeably with “Athid Lana” (the future), a vague phrase referring to the Messianic Era (Yemoth haMashiah) as well.

Lk. 3:11: It goes contrary to the nature of individuals to share their wealth. People who have extras tend to hoard those extras, not share them with others. And yet, Yochanan’s instructions to the multitude was to do just that.

Lk. 3:12,13: Publicans were Jews who bought the office of tax collector. This meant they were putting themselves in the position where they would be ostracized by the Jewish community because they would be reckoned as working for the enemy, and therefore, traitors. Why would Jews seek that office in light of the fact of the reaction of the community? The reason that people sold this office that paid only a very small salary was something that the Roman law allowed. If the Roman government determined that an individual owed 5 shekels, the publican would charge 10 shekels. He would then give Rome 5 shekels and keep 5 shekels for himself. It was through this kind of extortion that the publican became very wealthy. Here Yochanan is telling them to do exactly contrary to the reason why they entered this office to begin with.

Lk. 3:14: Here we have a clear example of the power of Yochanan’s words He is preaching a message of preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God through repentance and ritual immersion. Up until now, he had been talking to people who believe in the God of Israel (even publicans can still believe). But now, he is approached by pagan, polytheistic soldiers who had believed in many false gods. The Roman government allowed its soldiers the right to take spoils from the subjugated people even after peace had been established. In this way they were able to supplement their meager military income. Yochanan is telling these soldiers to do contrary to what they were legally allowed to do. Considerably later on, the Lord would be asked what is the greatest commandment. His reply was to love the Lord you God with all your heart, and secondly, love your neighbor as yourself. Yochanan’s message here parallel’s the Lord’s teaching. You show your love for God by repenting and being baptized. You show your love for your neighbor by treating him right. Both the teachings of the Lord and Yochanan parallel the two same major themes of the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus.

3. DISCUSSIONS

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