7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’
9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
Point 1: Eschatological warning (verses 7-9).
What John the Baptist is proclaiming here is pretty obvious, “Judgment is near, and that judgment will not be determined on the basis of religious, cultural, or ethnic identity but rather on the what people have done with the coming Messiah that John is Heralding and then if their lives produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
We might no understand how significant this would have been to these 1st centuries listeners. In the OT it was clear that covenant was made to Abraham and his offspring. However the Jews had forgotten the part where the OT also communicated the need to have circumcised hearts in order to be a true Jew. They liked to remember Dt. 10:15.
Dt. 10: 15 … the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today.
But they had forgotten 10:16,
16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.
John the Baptist is reminding them of 10:16
When John the Baptist speaks,
“For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. ”
We can see how his knowledge of the OT is influencing him,
In Isa. 51, Abraham is compared to the rock from which God’s people are hewn. (Is. 51:1b-2).
Look at the rock from which you were chiseled,
at the quarry from which you were dug!
2 Look at Abraham, your father,
and Sarah, who gave you birth.
Well, what else might we note about vs. 7-9?
Brood of Vipers
1.) We should find it interesting that those who John the Baptist points at as opposing the work required to prepare the way of the Lord and to make straight paths for him are those styled as serpents. Right from the beginning of the ministry of the Lord Christ the seed of the Serpent is put in opposition to the seed of the woman. We see from this that the Spiritual warfare long spoken of in the OT between the serpent and his people and God’s people remains the center of conflict.
2.) Strong language
Brood of vipers
Ax laid to the root
Now remember this language was being used with those attached to the covenant community. It is not language pointed at those outside the covenant community.
Luke 3:9 — In the OT Israel is frequently compared to a fruitless vine (Ps. 80:8, Isa. 5:2, Jer. 2:21, Ez. 15:6, 17:6, 19:10 Hos. 10:1) Images of fire and judgment may again evoke Mal. 3-4, but the use of the ax in the act of destruction point specifically to Isa. 10:33-34, where the judgment of the Assyrians is announced. The judgment of Israel’s enemies will fall upon those within God’s people who refuse to repent.
The ax imagery prefigures Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:6–9 about the unproductive fig tree that is given a good dose of fertilizer and another year to live. But if it doesn’t bear fruit after one more year, then what? The ax.
Point 2: Ethical exhortation (verses 10-14).Now those hearing understand the warning and so ask, “What then shall we do?”
It is the same question the crowds listening to Peter on Pentecost ask (Acts 2:37) and, as in Acts, Luke uses it to provide the preacher an opportunity to get to the heart of his sermon. In Acts, Peter invites the crowd to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit.
In these verses, John gives concrete ethical instruction to those gathered, but keep in mind that John is one who is pointing to the necessity of the Lord Christ, just as Peter pointed to the necessity of the Lord Christ.
John responds to each reiteration of this question by offering specific action that equates to “fruits worthy of repentance.” To the crowds as a whole, John says: If you have more than you need, whether in terms of food or clothing, you must share. To the tax collectors, who were guilty of charging more for taxation on the top of regional and Roman taxes in order to line their pockets, John says: Stop stealing from your neighbors. And to the soldiers John says: No more using your power to take advantage of simple citizens.
No hoarding, no stealing, no extortion.
John’s counsel then seems fairly ordinary, even mundane.
It is interesting here that in each response John the Baptist gives is related to material wealth.
In the first case the words came to those who had much to remember those who were in need. In the second two cases the words came to those who took advantage of people by stealing or extorting from them. John’s counsel was to do justice.
When he advises to remember the poor we hear the OT law that provided for the poor in the gleaning laws. When John advises to not steal or extort we hear God’s 8th command. What John tells them was in keeping with God’s law.
Point 3: Messianic expectation (verse 15-17).
Regarding messianic expectation: one who is greater and who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire is coming, and his coming will initiate the eschatological judgment. In both of these regards, John stands as the latest — and, according to the New Testament authors, last — in a long line of Israel’s prophets.
This last Old Testament Prophet speaks of the coming Messiah and His role, and in doing so John turns to winnowing.
Winnowing was a necessary part of the grain harvesting process in the ancient world. It was done to thoroughly separate the wheat (seed) from the chaff (the stalk, husk, any part of the plant that is not seed). Winnowing is a process that takes place after all the wheat has been scattered out over the threshing floor and beaten to make the seed break loose from the stalk. After the beating or ‘threshing’ has taken place, then the workmen take large forks (similar to pitchforks), they scoop up piles of threshed wheat and toss them into the air (like tossing or flipping pancakes), they do this repetitively until they have winnowed the entire threshing floor.
What was the purpose of all their hard work? After the wheat has been threshed much of the seed still clings to the stalk. The winnowing process is the final stage of separating the wheat from the stalk. After the winnowing, the seed will be laying directly on top of the threshing floor, but the chaff, …its all ‘UP’ on top of the seed, until either the wind blows it away or the workmen carry it away to be burned.
Now there is something we should not miss here. Both the chaff and the grain are in the same threshing community 0ne could say. But they have need to be separated. All of this is metaphor for the Church which has in it both tares and wheat. There is only one community but in that community there are those who have only an outward attachment while others have both a outward and inward attachment. The winnowing process that John the Baptist says that Christ is going to do will separate the wheat from the chaff.
John’s announcement then reminds us that God’s salvation is often through Judgment. The winnowing process is salvation to the wheat while at the same time being judgment to the chaff.
As in the first Advent which brought this eschatological judgment into time so with the final advent will this eschatological judgment be completed. Christ will come with a winnowing fork and will separate forever the wheat from the chaff. This will be a time of great rejoicing as God’s people are relieved from those who oppress them.
Luke 3:16 — The Baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’ should be regarded as one baptism, as both terms are governed by one preposition and the address is directed to one group. In the OT the Spirit is associated with judgment (Is. 4:4, 40:24, 41:16, Jer. 4:11-16, 23:19, 30:23, Ezek. 13:11-3).
Luke 3:16 continued — The combination of the symbols of spirit and fire with the imagery of water is found in Is. 30:27-28, where one also finds the expectation of the discriminating judgment of God. (Luke 3:17) The presence of eschatological fire that will burn up the chaff in the context of the judgment of Israel bring to mind Mal. 4:1a: “See, the day is coming burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and evil doers will be stubble.”
3:17 — The presence of this echo behind 3:17 is plausible in light of the portrayal of John the Baptist which is couched in the language reminiscent of the Elijah figure of Mal.3-4 in Luke. 3:7-17 and elsewhere in Luke. Nevertheless, the comparison of the judgment of the wicked to chaff burning in fire is not unique to Malachi. (cf. Ps. 83:13-14; Is. 29:5-6, Obad. 18). The reference to unquenchable fire finds its parallels in other passages where the punishment of the wicked is describe: ‘for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isa. 66:24b, cf.34:8-10, Jer. 17:27).