At the time of John the Baptist, the Pharisees sect included about 6,000 members. They considered themselves separated from the people and devoted to God on the grounds that they were not defiled as the rest of their despised countrymen, but strictly and accurately kept all the commandments of the Old Testament, and adhered rigidly to the traditions of the fathers. They wanted to manage the situations of life under strict rules. The duties decided by them at the time of Jesus amounted to 248 duties and 365 prohibitions. They gave themselves entirely not to transgress any of them so that the kingdom of Christ might come soon. They believed that man could save himself by keeping the law. They did not understand that the law does not give man the power of love. It condemns his selfishness and unveils his sins as a mirror does.The Sadducees regarded themselves as righteous and godly. They were a party of the prominent priests and notable people who were open to the modern living and to the Greek and Roman thoughts and tried to bind those thoughts to the Scriptures. The Sadducees denied that there were angels. They refused to believe in the immortality of the soul, and in the resurrection of the dead, and considered the final judgment a fantasy. They doubted God’s interference in the history of man, consequently some of them lived under the motto: "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we will die." On the other hand, the temple and its sacrifices remained, according to their belief, the essence for reconciliation to God. They had many followers and all the priests and Levites submitted to them in their offices. They dealt, as much as possible, with the Romans to maintain their Jewish emirate around the temple.John the Baptist, with great courage, called the religious "brood of vipers." Every Jew knew that the Holy Bible calls Satan "the serpent." John called them "brood of vipers" because of their wickedness and poisonous teachings and their resorting to trickery to flee from the wrath to come through accepting his baptism without repentance. He asked them who had warned them to flee from the wrath to come—the same wrath, as they knew from the Scriptures, that would come upon the wicked when Christ is revealed. With boldness, John condemned their self-righteousness represented by their literal keeping of the law. He contested the life of freedom obtained by keeping the law and instead considered the law to reveal sin. He also recognized God’s wrath upon every hypocrisy and self-deceit in keeping the rituals and testified of the judgment against all those living without God, for there is none righteous in front of God. "They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one" (Romans 3:12).To others he thought it enough to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." But when he saw the self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees coming, he found it necessary to rebuke them and explain God's purposes in more detail. John harshly addresses them, not calling them "Rabbi" or giving them the applauses they were accustomed to, he calls them "brood of vipers." Christ gave them the same title (Matthew 12:34; 23:33). Though they appeared righteous and true, they were venomous and poisonous vipers, full of malice and enmity to everything that was good.Now, what are the fruits of repentance? Man is corrupt, even in his intents and he cannot do good. Therefore the required fruits are:
Those who say they are sorry for their sins and yet persist in them are not worthy of the privileges that come with repentance. They that profess repentance and are baptized must be truly remorseful for their sin and act penitent, striving never do anything unbecoming a contrite sinner. A contrite heart will cause a person to be humble, thankful for the least mercy, patient under the greatest affliction, careful to avoid all appearances of sin, abounding in every good deed, and to be charitable in judging others.The Jews believed that because Abraham was their father, that guaranteed them God’s promises and covenants and that God does not go back on his promises. John rebuked this belief and called the children of Abraham the children of Satan. He pointed to the numerous stones in the wilderness around him and told them if their stony hearts were not broken and they did not ask God for new spiritual, merciful hearts, "God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones."This statement, "God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" is of concern in our world today. The hearts of so many people are hard and they do not hear the voice of God within themselves because of hundreds of years of anti-Christ doctrines. But we do believe, and admit joyfully with John the Baptist, that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stony hearts.It is vain presumption to think that having good relations with people around us will save us. Though we may have descended from pious ancestors, have been blessed with a religious education, have a family where the fear of God is uppermost, or have good friends to advise us and pray for us, what will all this avail us if we do not repent and live a life of repentance? And what about you, dear brother—do you believe with us and confess the saving power of the Lord?