7 “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?” (Matthew 3:7 ESV)
The common people flocked to see and hear John. They confessed their sins and submitted to his baptism of repentance (Matt. 3:4-6). But what about the religious leaders; the Pharisees and the Sadducees? How did they respond and react to John’s message and ministry? Who were the Pharisees and Sadducees?
The Pharisees were a fellowship of religious leaders who were popular with the common people and connected to local the synagogues. They originated approximately 150 B.C. Their chief characteristic was an adherence to extensive, extrabiblical traditions, which they rigorously obeyed as a means of applying the law to daily life. By adding to the Word of God, the were legalists.
The Sadducees were a small group who derived their authority from the activities of the temple. Like the Pharisees, they originated (173 B.C.) during the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testament. They carried out the priestly functions at Jerusalem’s temple and maintained the temple itself until Rome’s destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.
The Sadducees were removed from the common people by aristocratic and priestly influence as well as by their cooperation with Rome’s rule. They denied the existence of angels and the resurrection (Matt. 22:23; Acts 23:1-8). By taking away from God’s Word, the Sadducees were licentious.
“The Pharisees were a small (about 6,000), legalistic sect of the Jews who were known for their rigid adherence to the ceremonial fine points of the law. Their name means “separated ones.” Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees was usually adversarial. He rebuked them for using human tradition to nullify Scripture (Matt. 15:3–9), and especially for rank hypocrisy (15:7–8; 22:18; 23:13, 23, 25, 29; Luke 12:1),” explains Dr. John MacArthur.
“Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees rejected human tradition and scorned legalism. They accepted only the Pentateuch as authoritative. They tended to be wealthy, aristocratic members of the priestly tribe, and in the days of Herod their sect controlled the temple (see note on Matt. 2:4), though they were fewer in number than the Pharisees.”
Honestly, the Pharisees and Sadducees had little in common. Pharisees were ritualists; Sadducees were rationalists. Pharisees were legalists; Sadducees were liberals. Pharisees were separatists; Sadducees were compromisers and political opportunists. Yet, they united together in their hatred of Jesus Christ (Matt. 22:15–16, 23, 34–35).
John publicly addressed them as deadly snakes. The wrath to come was a particularly insulting rebuke to these Jewish leaders. Rather than acknowledging God’s wrath upon them, they imagined that divine wrath was reserved only for non-Jews.
Prior to your conversion to faith in Christ alone as Savior and Lord, with what group would you most associate yourself; the Pharisees or the Sadducees? Take time today to repent and confess any lingering legalism or license that either adds to, or takes away from, the Word of God.
Soli deo Gloria!