JOHN PREPARES THE WAY
Matt 3:5-6 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (Also See Matt. 3:7-10; Mark 1:4-6; Luke 3:2-14)
With his God-directed mission before him, John began preaching repentance and baptism of the Jewish people in order for them to be prepared, and look forward to, the coming of the Messiah, telling them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2). John came to this wilderness area along the Jordan River, not with trumpets announcing his presence, and not with any pomp or ceremony, but as a poor prophet delivering the message of God. His appearance was much like that described of other prophets in 2 Kings 1:8, and Zech. 13:4. John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey (Matt 3:4; See Mark 1:6). Indeed, the clothes he wore and the food he ate identified John as a poor servant of God.
It was here, in the wilderness on the banks of the Jordan River, that John preached baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3). Many came out to him from Jerusalem and all the land of Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and after confessing their sins, they were all baptized of him in the river Jordan (Vs. 5-6; See Mark 1:5). Not only those seeking the remission of their sins came to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, but also Jewish religious leaders came, but for a different reason. Representatives of the two principal sects of the Jews, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, came to see and hear John. The Pharisees could be described as formal Jewish Puritans that strictly kept the ceremonial Mosaic Law to the letter. They placed more emphasis on outward observances and little on inner faith in God's law. The Sadducees were materialistic, relying strictly on Old Testament scriptures without any amplification from Jewish scribes and teachers. They taught that there would not be a state of future rewards and punishment; they denied angels, the soul of mankind, and the resurrection of the dead. Not withstanding some of these dissidentsacknowledged their sinful state, repented, and submitted to baptism by John.
However, most of thesePharisees and Sadducees probably came in order to repudiate John's teaching because it contradicted their worldly interests, their lifestyle, and their leadership in the Jewish religion. Recognizing their true intent, John severely chastised them for their religious self-righteousness, saying, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance (Vs. 7-8). They could not repent because they refused to humble themselves and change their lifestyle. These Pharisees and Sadducees thought that with their sacrificial rites, they had no need for repentance. They thought that because they were descendents of Abraham, they were now, and would always be God's chosen people (Vs. 9a). And with the coming of the Messiah, they thought the Jewish nation would rule the world and all other people would be in their servitude.
Not only did John tell the Pharisees and Sadducees they were self-righteous, and thought they had no need for repentance, he described what true repentance was to be among them. Just as recorded in Matthew 3:10, Luke also tells these Jewish sect leaders, in a symbolic manner, their future state unless they repent. Both inspired writers gave them this warning: the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Luke 3:9). "Trees" that are destined to be hewn down with the axe of God destroyed with fire represent those that do not bear good fruit - the reference here is to the self-willed, unrepentant people of the Jewish nation. Luke expands on this further. He wrote, And the people asked him (John), saying, What shall we do then (Vs. 10)? In the following text from Luke 3:11-14, note what John told them. True repentance is demonstrated with genuine, benevolent love for fellow human beings - clothe those that have insufficient clothing, and feed those that have little or nothing to eat (Vs. 11). To the publicans, that is, the tax collectors, John said, Exact no more than that which is appointed you, that is, demand no more taxes from individuals than that which is required. It is evident that many in this office of the government abused their authority by requiring more taxes and keeping this overage for their own gain (Vss. 12-13). To the Jews that enlisted or were drafted into the Roman-led military guard of Judea, John condemned them for threatening violence and false accusations against the Jewish people in order to bribe them into payments, which they kept for themselves. Such acts are totally contrary to having a repentant heart, and John told publicans and soldiers to stop seeking illicit and sinful gain and be content with your wages (Vs. 14).
John shows these Jewish leaders, tax collectors, and soldiers how foolish they were for denying their need for repentance and for relying on their heritage as pleasing to God and sufficient thanksgiving for His physical and spiritual blessings. Being at the Jordan River, John probably looked down, pointed at the riverbed, and showed them the folly of their conceit by telling them that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham (Matt. 3:9b). The fact that they were descendents of Abraham did not make them righteous without being humble and obedient to God's will. This has been the attitude of men and women from the beginning of time; so it was during the Jewish dispensation and so it is today in The Christian Dispensation. Today, the fact that one becomes a Christian through baptism into the body of Christ, does not assure eternal life. Salvation is reserved for Christians that have been obedient to the will of God and sought forgiveness when sin enters their life. Throughout all ages God has demanded that true repentance and confession must be made when people of the earth disobey God's will, and so it is today.