"A Brood of Vipers!"
John (the Baptist) was in the wilderness baptizing at the Jordan river in the year that the prophet Daniel had written the Messiah of Israel would appear, a time late in 26 A.D. Many in Israel were also aware of Daniel's prediction and were thus heading out into the wilderness in anticipation of the Messiah's appearance. As we know, John was in the wilderness at the Jordan baptizing with water. He was doing this as a preview, baptizing with mere water, illustrating the coming reality of the Messiah (Jesus) baptizing with the Holy Spirit. John was also acting out in reality the prophecy of Isaiah hundreds of years earlier regards the "voice crying out in the wilderness 'make way the coming of the Lord.'"
Quite a lot takes place in the relatively short Scripture passage of Matthew 3:1-17. First, and as noted above, it is revealed that there was a genuine and serious expectation of the arrival of the Messiah as evidenced by John and the many in the wilderness receiving water baptism from him. Secondly, John is revealed as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." - a precursor to the appearance of the Messiah. And of course, there is the scene where Jesus is baptized by John. That vignette being a fulfillment of the Law of Moses (and the Law a precursor itself of Jesus) where the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem had to undergo a ritual bathing in "living" water before he could begin his annual seven day temple service when he would enter the holy of holies to make atonement for the sins of Israel on the Day of Atonement - Yom Kippur. (The baptism of Jesus in reality being the "righteous" work of the Law.)
However, in this commentary I don't intend on focusing on any of the points mentioned above. I intend on focusing on a simple statement by John to the religious agents sent by the temple leaders in Jerusalem to query John as to who he was and why he was doing what he was. And, incidentally, the very same statement John uttered to them will be used by Jesus himself when he confronts the religious authorities of the temple in the last days before his crucifixion. And, what is that statement? It is simply this: "You brood of vipers!"
It is my intent to comment on just what it was John, and then later Jesus, intended to illustrate by turning that phrase, "You brood of vipers." Yes, "you brood of vipers", what an interesting way to label the temple authorities -- and, again by both John and Jesus. Many overlook this appellate as a mere figure of speech, a way of symbolically identifying the temple hierarchy as a bunch of sinister, plotting, elitists simply up to no good and self-enrichment. And actually, that was pretty much what they were up to. However, the statement "you brood of vipers" has a much deeper meaning in its use by John and Jesus, and with an ancient origin, ancient even to 1st century Israel. Consider the following:
Genesis 3:17 "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
The above Scripture passage is about what God placed between the serpent and the woman in response to their interaction in the garden. As the passage points out, God Himself would put hostility and conflict between the woman and the serpent and between their offspring, those that would "spring off" from each of them. And, one of her offspring (he) would bruise the serpent's head; and the serpent would bruise his (the offspring of the woman's) heel. Hmmmm...their offspring? Let's consider the following.
A brood is a multiple of offspring of a parent of some sort. A brood of vipers are multiple offspring of a serpent! And, we know from what the Apostle John wrote in Revelation 12:9 that the "serpent of old" is Satan himself. John wrote: "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
As already mentioned, Jesus used the very same expression as John did when identifying the temple leaders who confronted him; and not just once, but at least twice. (Matthew 12:34 & 23:33) But Jesus even went further than to use simple innuendo. Jesus actually identified the temple elite as sons of Satan! Consider John 8:42-44a: "Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.'"
At this point it needs to be understood that "sonship" with God - or with Satan for that matter - is not a matter of physical origin, it is not a matter that one is created by God. (Along with man, God has made all things, birds; sea creatures; cats and dogs; wild beasts and microbes, and none of those are children of God.) Nor is being "made in His image" a mark of sonship, for an image only bears a likeness to an original; an image only appears to bear the characteristics of the original. But to be sure, however, the image does not possess the essence or spirit of the original. Again, the image of anything is just that - an image. No, being a child of God is a matter of spirit. Read carefully what the Apostle John wrote about Jesus and one being a son of God: "He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)
So, as John points out, no one is born a child (son) of God. One becomes a son of God, and that only through the accepting realization of Jesus. And it is by the very will of God we are given the right to become such.
Likewise, one becomes a child of Satan by allying with him. Whether consciously or unconsciously by rejecting or ignoring God's provision for reconciliation and eternal life -- Jesus himself -- one allies with the devil, the spirit of this world. As already stated, one is not born a child of God. One is adopted! It is as Paul wrote to the Ephesians: "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself." And Paul also teaches the same to the believers in Rome: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
The Pharisees did not realize they were sons of Satan as Jesus revealed to them; they were blind to the fact. But, they nonetheless were the offspring of the serpent -- for they followed the spirit of the devil, the spirit of this world, Satan. So, likewise, again as noted above, "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." In fact, and just like the brood of Satan, a child of God may not even realize they are truly a child of God until it is revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. (And, however the Holy Spirit might manifest that awareness to any one individual.)
Again, the Pharisees believed, in their own minds, that they were right with God because they believed in their own righteousness - their self-righteousness. They relied on the works of the Law and the works of their own hands. They believed "the lie", the great lie that the serpent, Satan, deceived the woman with in the garden and continues to deceive the entire world with: "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Yes, it is the above lie that Paul refers to in his second letter to the Thessalonians: "And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
So, in conclusion, when John, and then Jesus, addressed the religious leaders from the temple as a brood of vipers, it was not a simple and inconsequential rhetorical statement. It was a fundamental, precise and damming acknowledgement of their spirit relationship. They were in fact sons of Satan, the offspring of the serpent, and in enmity with the offspring of "the woman", the children of God, aka Christ, Jesus, and all his disciples, the Church -- Jews and gentiles alike!
It is understandable that many in the world look upon all of God's human creations as "children of God." It is the human way to connect physical lineage as bonds of family connection. But with God it is evident that family and "sonship" is a matter of spirit and not physical creation. It was through God's promise of Isaac that Abraham's descendants would be named, not through his older brother, Ishmael, whom Abraham brought about through the will and effort of himself and his wife, Sarah, and Sarah's slave, Hagar. It is through the promise, work and spirit of Jesus that one becomes a child of God. And of course, it is through the works of the natural man and the spirit of Satan, that one becomes an "offspring" of Satan, the serpent. It is solely as Jesus himself said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63 NKJV.) And, I dare say that it is by an opposing spirit that one merits eternal death. (See Romans 6:23.)
Let us all earnestly seek the Spirit of God now, his mark of possession upon us, as we await the return of King-Christ, Jesus. When at that time he will redeem us in full and transform us from mortal to immortal, from corruption to incorruptible. (See 1 Corinthians 15:50-53) and to fill us not with just a "down payment" a "deposit" of the Holy Spirit. (See Ephesians 1:13-14) but with His Spirit in limitless measure blotting out all within us that is of the spirit of this world.
Be assured, it's nothing but a win/win situation. Being made into a son of God, gifted with eternal life and a limitless Holy Spirit of power, kindness, love and selflessness, who can go wrong with that?! It just goes without saying; the future looks very, very promising, indeed, for those whom "He gave (gives) the right to become children of God!" (John 1:12b) And, as Jesus commanded us, let us pray for those whom God placed in enmity with the offspring of the woman. Let us pray for the salvation and transformation of those knowingly and unknowingly within the "brood of vipers."