Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 3
February 19, 2006
7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
1901 ASV Translation:
7 He said therefore to the multitudes that went out to be baptized of him, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
- I. John's Refusal to Accept Anything Less Than Repentance.
- A. The problem is real: men are of the nature of vipers.
- B. The future is real: wrath from God is coming.
- C. The solution is real: God forgives those who repent and delivers them from wrath.
- D. Thus, any refusal to repent is illegitimate.
- II. John's Insistence Upon Repentance.
- A. He insisted that they "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance."
- 1. This demand is superficially problematical.
- a. It "looks" to be a demand for "performance".
- b. If it is a demand for "performance", it is deadly, for it requires of a "snake" that he act like a dove.
- 2. The essence of the demand is that one "repent".
- a. "Fruits" flow from the reality of the "essence". Jesus once asked, "How can ye, being evil, speak good things?" (Matthew 12:34). He also said, "Either make the tree good and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt... ." His point is my point: fruit is as natural as can be; it flows from the reality of the "essence".
- b. The insistence that his hearers "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" is simply a demand that they genuinely "repent". In the Isaiah text, the requirement of repentance is followed by the promises of divine action. It is impossible to "repent" and not bring forth the fruits of repentance just as it is impossible to refuse to repent and not bring forth the fruits of impenitence.
- 1) The Isaiah context includes the divine lament that "this people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me" (Isaiah 29:13).
- 2) There is always a problem of a unique kind when the people who are being addressed are in a context of a long-term exposure to biblical Truth that has been coupled to a long-developing heretical understanding. The problem is that they "think" their theology is correct, but it has been so corrupted that it is actually completely wrong-headed. The "legalism" of Jewish theology had forced a kind of self-righteousness (a defense against the Isaiah 6 phenomenon of having all of one's "righteousness" turned to corruption by the appearance of the glory of God) that led immediately to a "lip-service" kind of religion that was void of "essence-reality".
- a) When folks are completely outside of the "biblical" loop, the message of the Truth has a different set of obstacles.
- b) But when folks have been immersed since birth in a heritage of "biblical religion" that has been "turned", the obstacles are either great despair or great pride.
- c) John's message was "tailored" for the apostate nation.
- B. He insisted that they "not say within...'We have Abraham as father'."
- 1. This demand reveals the issue that John is really addressing: the refusal to repent.
- a. The only persons who would attempt to find refuge in "Abraham is my father" are those looking for a "refuge".
- 1) The issue of "Abraham is my father" is the issue of God's promises to Abraham and the inviolability of those promises: God has to fulfill his words to Abraham.
- 2) The "problem" of the issue of "Abraham is my father" is, according to John, that God is not bound to fulfill His promises to Abraham by conventional means: He can, according to John, completely bypass the conventional and go with the unconventional means of turning stones into seed.
- a) Did he really mean that? How "unconventional" can God get without being in violation of the meaning of His own words? Apparently, unless God has specifically spoken in "means" terms, He is free to fulfill His promises by any means He chooses. But, though this is the point John is making, it is unlikely that he really meant that God could/would turn stones into human beings. It is more likely that he was simply using a figure of speech to make his point: it was not literal. But, it did effectively cut the rug out from under anyone who thought they could be "safe" without repentance.
- b) The New Testament development of this means issue is Paul's argument in Romans 4 and 9. The means is "faith" (Romans 4:13) and physical generation is not an effectual part of that means (Romans 9:7-8). It is one of the spheres of God's effectual working (He makes some of the physical generation to be true seed, but He also makes some who have no physical linkage at all to be true seed [Romans 4:11-12].
- b. There are two issues in the text that call for a "refuge". One is the coming wrath. The other is the insistence upon repentance. Those coming out to be baptized by him were "fleeing the wrath to come", but they were also, apparently, seeking refuge in "Abraham" instead of "repentance". In other words, they were sufficiently fearful of the divine wrath to make a trek out to hear John (which indicates that though they gave lip service to their identity in Abraham and the "security" that was to provide, they were not really sure they were safe), but they were also sufficiently fearful of coming to God as a "snake" that they were tempted to resist that summons by taking the "fall back" position of "security in Abraham".
- c. What is going on here is the reality of life by the fang.
- 1) Those who live by the fang (vipers) actually have two problems: on the one hand, they are uncomfortable with the basic principle that one is free to use the fangs to kill for food (there is something so inherently evil about this that even the evil are not "theologically" comfortable with it); and on the other hand, they are also uncomfortable with the "security" that the use of the fangs to kill those who threaten is supposed to provide (what happens if one's fangs are insufficient to rid oneself of the danger that presents itself...like the "wrath of God"?)
- 2) But, those who live by the fang do so "by nature" and do not easily give up such a method. So, commanded to give it up, they are naturally tempted to seek for some way to keep from having to give it up. Thus, the "fall back" position. But, here is the rub: if the "fall back" position was "good enough", why were they out there listening to John? Some, to be sure, were not out there to "repent". They were attracted to the "attractiveness" of great multitudes being attracted to something. In other words, they were looking for ways to capitalize upon John's popularity. They were looking for "food". But, there were others who were out there because the lip service they gave to their theology of "security in Abraham" was not genuinely satisfying. There was a niggling sense that "something" was wrong. They would ask, "How can even God be really willing to allow the seed of Abraham to be the essence of His Kingdom just because they are the seed of Abraham? Wasn't Judah in the shape it was in while its residents were 'the seed of Abraham'? Wasn't the coming wrath going to be 'upon Judah' while its residents were the seed of Abraham?" So, they were caught between an habitual life by means of the fang and a niggling suspicion that such a life was going to bring the wrath of God upon them. It was to these that John "demanded" that they "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance". There was only one way they could: they had to "repent". It brings its "fruits" along with it because it is attended by the promises and power of God.
- 2. No "theology" will be effective in bringing safety to those who are impenitent.