Chapter 3:1-10 (ESV) - In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he 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. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Question to consider: Why did John wear camel’s hair?
In the West, we tend to want to read the four Gospel accounts as a historical narrative which details the life of Jesus from birth until His resurrection. So we struggle with there being little information about His childhood or the details surrounding Joseph’s death. Where was Jesus educated? What kind of kid was He? How did He get along with His brothers?
Luke was more concerned with these kinds of details than Matthew. Matthew’s primary purpose was to show the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Jesus to establish Him as the long awaited Messiah. The last prophet to give information about the coming of Christ was Malachi who wrote of the coming of Elijah before the great and awesome day of YHWH.
Luke used the same language of Malachi in regard to John the Baptist saying that he would, “...turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” Matthew described John’s appearance to be like that of Elijah for the same purpose. The reason we say that John came in the spirit of Elijah is because he preached a message of repentance for Israel to prepare them to receive their Messiah. The camel’s hair clothing was like the garments God gave to Adam and Eve after the fall, and were used along with ashes by Israelites to express sorrow and repentance of sin. It’s as if John and Elijah lived lives dedicated to express sorrow for Israel’s sin.
John prepared the way of the Lord through the preaching of repentance and baptism. He did this outside of Jerusalem at Bethany by the Jordan. The Pharisees and Sadducees around Jerusalem came out to see John, not so they can be baptized but to express their offense that John would think that sons of Abraham would need to be baptized. John called them a “brood of vipers” which related back to the curse God gave the serpent after the fall. The seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the seed of the woman, and the seed of the woman would crush his head. So in calling the religious leaders a bunch of vipers, he meant that none of them knew God even though they thought their salvation was found in being a descendant of Abraham. A true seed of the woman would repent of their sins and be baptized.
The judgment of which John spoke will ultimately happen when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, but for these religious leaders, their days of leading Israel astray were over, and their temple would be thrown down before the end of that generation. If you went through my study of Zechariah, I made the case that the “day of the Lord” could be viewed through three lenses: the final judgment of the world, the final judgment of the Jerusalem temple, and the judgment of our sin borne by Christ on the cross.
The Jews often referred to the Gentiles as “rocks” so in saying that God would raise up sons of Abraham from the rocks, I think John was not only referring to the foolishness of the reasoning of the religious leaders, he was referring to the promise to Abraham that people of all nations would be blessed by him.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for receiving us as Your children even though we were no more worthy than the rocks to which John referred. Thank You for anointing us with Your Holy Spirit and fire so that we may be made clean for You and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Amen.