My last post highlighted the words of the Angel to Joseph concerning Mary: “She will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” It was the first reference to salvation in the book of Matthew. Today our verses are found in Chapter 3, and this time they are spoken from John the Baptist.
Matthew 3:7 onward.
But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
No explicit mention of salvation is present in these verses, nor in the section, however it is a pertinent portion of scripture for consideration.
The first verse speaks to us an absolutely critical truth. It is of extreme importance that we get what John is saying to the Pharisees here, namely that wrath is coming. Despite being an unpopular topic in today’s church, it is absolutely central to a proper biblical understanding of human history. I’ll talk more on that a bit later, but first I want to make some observations of the verse.
I would have loved to have been there to hear John’s tone of voice when he spoke these words. Whatever his tone many have been, the question is definitely rhetorical, as he is not expecting a response; he keeps on speaking. This is a statement far more than it is an actual question. Here is what I get from it.
…the wrath to come… This wording leaves no question that wrath is not only coming, but it is set in history. It has been appointed and ordained, and it is imminent. wrath is to come, and come it will. Just as the WILL in yesterdays text (Mt 1:13) denotes the guaranteed success of Jesus saving work, the TO COME in this text guarantees us that the wrath is on it’s way.
We should also note that it is not any wrath, but THE wrath. On this point I would encourage you to some study on the Day of the Lord’s wrath. It is beyond the scope of this post, and indeed many posts, to explore fully all that scripture has to say about the Day of the Lord; for it has much to say. If you wish to be brought to your knees in thanksgiving for your salvation, spend some time studying God’s righteous anger and holy wrath; it is presented graphically in several places in both the Old and New testaments. Just one example from Zephaniah that illumines our understanding of the nature of “the wrath to come”:
I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (1:17,18)
This is not symbolic or figurative language. This is a picture of a future reality. This is prophetic insight into history. This is the wrath to come, and it is spoken of all through the scriptures; There is coming a day when God will utterly destroy the inhabitants of the earth.
Because they have sinned against the Lord.
There is our connection with last week; Jesus has come to save his people from their sins. It is sin that secures wrath; salvation from sin and wrath go hand in hand; they cannot be separated. There is no salvation from sin apart from wrath, and no salvation from wrath apart from sin. There are no shortage of people who would have salvation from wrath, but who quite enjoy their sin and would rather not be parted with it. Those folks will find the real Jesus, as I said last week, quite useless.
Back to John the Baptizer.
Picture the scene unfolding in chapter 3. We’re told Jerusalem and ALL Judea and ALL the whole region around the Jordan were coming to him. Thousands upon thousands of people, coming, flocking to him. Fleeing to him. Multitudes are being baptized and confessing their sins. These people were the ones fleeing the wrath to come, a wrath made certain by their sins.
Remember John’s cry? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” was what these people had heard from him; it was a message that a great number took to heart. The Pharisees and Sadducees are given the same command: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”, though they had no intention of doing so. John gives them two more images; one of barren trees being thrown into fire, the other of chaff being burned with unquenchable fire.
The images could not be clearer. Produce fruit! Repent! I actually love how he tells them they bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Continue on indefinitely with repentance! Perpetual repentance!
One final thought from Mark that ties in very well at this point.
In Mark 11, we see Jesus do something he only did once while on earth. He was walking with his disciples on his way from Bethany, and he was hungry. He saw a fig tree that was in season, and he went to see if there was fruit on it. When he only saw leaves, he cursed the tree, and it died instantly. It was Jesus only destructive miracle recorded.
That whole event was a specific judgment upon apostate Judaism, but it’s parallels run beyond the temple walls. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance or be cursed. Sounds like what John the Baptist is talking about.
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, for Christ desires fruit. Where he finds none, he will pronounce his curse, and his wrath will fall. There are many more destructive miracles on the way; on the great Day of the Lord they will be unleashed upon a world of sinners, and who will be able to stand? Read through Revelation and see what is yet to come. Consider his wrath and tremble before the awesome and holy God!
I trust you can see how this ties in with our topic of Salvation. If “he will save his people from his sins” was reason for praise last time, how much more when we consider what it is we are saved from! Ourselves sinners, worthy of divine justice, dead in trespasses; could we ever secure our eternal safety? No chance. But Praise be to God, Christ has sought us and bought us and brought us to repentance and saving faith!
The wrath of God averted by his son; Christ; our salvation from the wrath to come!
3 chapters down; with lots left to go! I hope you’ll stick around till the end. God bless!