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What the Bible says about Brood of Vipers
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 12:22-50

The well-known parables in Matthew 13 are given in response to the circumstances and events in Matthew 12. The initiating event was a confrontation that began with Jesus healing a demon-possessed blind-mute (verse 22). He established His authority as the One who had power and dominion. Everything that transpires from this point sets the stage for the subsequent parables, and this context is critical for grasping why Jesus spoke these parables. After the miraculous healing, many wondered if He might be the Son of David (verse 23), the One who would restore the Kingdom. However, the Pharisees, in their usual defiance, attributed the healing to the power of Satan (verse 24).

Jesus responds that, if exorcism manifested Satan's power, then the Pharisees must admit that their “sons” (disciples) were likewise in league with the Devil, for they were doing the same thing (verse 27). But if God's Spirit had performed the exorcism, then the Kingdom of God—the dominion of God—had come upon them (verse 28). He could rob the demon of its possession only if He bound it first, showing that He had authority over the spirit realm (verse 29). There is no neutrality; a person is aligned either with God's dominion or with Satan (verse 30).

He continues His unwelcome correction by contrasting Himself with them. After warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (verses 31-32), Jesus draws on the principle of examining fruit to determine whether a tree is good or bad (verse 33). He calls His opponents a “brood of vipers,” saying that their blasphemy proved the evil within (verses 34-37).

Since the people expected a conquering king to come and restore the Kingdom to its former glory, Jesus' assertion that the authority of heaven was working through Him challenged the current leadership. The scribes and Pharisees ask Him for a sign—some proof of His claim—prompting Christ's words about the sign of Jonah (verses 38-42). His answer focuses on the timing of His death and resurrection, which only the Most High could bring to pass. It also includes the example of a major Gentile city that repented at the preaching of Jonah, while the current “Kingdom of God” would not repent at the preaching of One greater. He also refers to the “queen of the South” (Sheba) who came to hear the wisdom of the man sitting on the Lord's throne, yet He was greater than Solomon—not only in wisdom, but also because Solomon's throne belonged to Him!

Jesus follows this with another lesson, warning that unless something positive replaces the evil that is cast out, the former evil—and worse—will return (verses 43-45). He foretells that this would happen “with this wicked generation” (verse 45). All the repentance, baptisms, healings, and exorcisms that had been taking place would do no good if the people did not make their lives inhospitable to the evil influences.

In verses 46-50, Jesus teaches that flesh-and-blood family is of less importance than the spiritual Family, which He defines as those who do the Father's will (or those “who hear the word of God and do it”; Luke 8:21). The matters of parentage and family relations came up frequently during Christ's ministry (for example, John 8:39-59) because the Jews felt secure in their position before God because of their physical descent from Abraham. Though not obvious, His clarification of “family” in spiritual terms appears throughout the parables of Matthew 13, as Jesus contrasts Abraham's physical descendants with his spiritual ones.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus defines His symbols to His disciples (Matthew 13:38). The field, He says, is “the world.” While there can still be an application of this parable to the church, Jesus' immediate audience was “great multitudes” (Matthew 13:2, 34, 36), and the scope was “the world,” rather than the limited assembly of called-out ones.

Jesus defines the tares as “the sons of the wicked one.” While it is common to interpret this parable and its players strictly in terms of the church, consider that both God and Satan have had “sons” from the very beginning, long before the founding of the church. Abel lived by faith, but Cain, the first murderer, bore the spiritual image of his father, Satan (see John 8:44). Seth likewise was of the “good seed,” as were Enoch, Noah, and others. God planted in the world all these righteous men, who had to contend with the sons of the Adversary.

The parables in Matthew 13 come after a verbal altercation with the Pharisees in which Jesus calls them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34), indicating they were offspring of the serpent—sons of Satan—because they bore his spiritual image. John the Baptist also dubs the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” implying they will be burned like the tares (Matthew 3:7-12). In John 8:44, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they were of their father the Devil, just another way of saying “sons of the wicked one.” He uses parallel imagery in Matthew 15:13, again regarding the Pharisees: “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”

Jesus says that “while men slept,” the “enemy came and sowed tares” (Matthew 13:25). The Bible often uses sleep as a symbol of obliviousness, non-awareness, or inattention. As such, it is frequently a negative symbol, often coinciding with lethargy, apathy, and letting down in one's duties (see Proverbs 6:4-10; 24:30-34).

Within Israel, God appointed watchmen who were not merely to keep an eye out for approaching armies but were also to monitor the nation's moral condition (see Isaiah 56:10-11). Those who should have sounded the alarm about the problems creeping into the nation before the captivity were—as we would say—asleep at the switch! Focused on their own concerns, they allowed ungodly elements to take root, leading to the nation's spiritual downfall.

Jesus ends the parable's explanation with, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:43). Similarly, Daniel 12:3 says the “wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” This glorification is also linked with the “harvest” in John 5:28-30. This end-time harvest is not limited to righteous individuals who lived from AD 31 onward—that is, the church—but includes all who have lived and died by faith, beginning with righteous Abel. As Hebrews 11:40 explains, all the true sons of the Kingdom, planted throughout history, will be made perfect at the same time.

Certainly, this parable can apply within the assembly of believers, for the New Testament is replete with warnings about false teachers and false brethren. Yet the principle is not limited to the church. The Pharisees were “sons of the wicked one”—and thus tares—even before Christ founded His church. The parable warns that not everyone who appears to be under the dominion of God is actually of God. The Pharisees and other leaders defied God's sovereign authority, but He commands His servants to leave Satan's offspring in place until the conclusion of His purpose.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)

Matthew 13:33

In both the the fourth and fifth parables in this chapter, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to something hidden. The fourth parable (Matthew 13:33) shows a woman hiding leaven in “three measures of meal,” resulting in the leaven spreading throughout. The fifth parable describes a man finding hidden treasure and hiding it again. We first see “three measures of meal” in the meeting of Abraham and Sarah and the Lord, when He foretold the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18:6). However, the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham's house degraded over the centuries, and by the time of Christ's ministry, their peaceful accord had become completely debased.

The Parable of the Leaven ties the first three parables together. The critical issue in the third parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, is that a plant with a faithful beginning ends up being a welcome home to demons (Matthew 13:31-32). Symbolically, this is the effect of leavening: false beliefs lead people astray—away from God and toward perdition. Even though Abraham lived by faith and kept God's commandments, “leavening” introduced to (and by) his descendants broke down the spiritual wall and made the nation an environment hospitable to demons. While not every Pharisee, Sadducee, or common Jew was demon-possessed, Jesus forthrightly classified those who opposed Him as Satan's children (see John 8:44), as did John the Baptist before Him, calling them a “brood of vipers” when they claimed Abraham as their father (Matthew 3:7-9).

The symbolism involved in leavening further explains the second parable, whose conflict is found in the dismaying presence of the tares among the wheat. God did not plant the tares. They threatened to diminish the harvest because their origin is satanic rather than divine. At the time Jesus spoke this parable, the tares were embodied in the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were oppressing those with whom God was working. Jesus rebukes them in Matthew 23:13, saying, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (emphasis ours throughout). Their active opposition to the good seed directly resulted from their corrupt—leavened—beliefs about righteousness.

Taking one more step back, the idea of leavening also plays into the Parable of the Sower, in which most of the soils on which the word of the Kingdom fell could not produce a positive, sustained response. In the first scenario, the birds—a symbol of demons—interfered before the seed had a chance to sprout. The demons were present because, by turning away from God, the nation had essentially invited them in. In the second scenario, the soil was stony, and the sprouting seed could not develop roots to allow continued survival and growth. The nation's hardness of heart made many slow to believe, which ties to the problem of leavening. Likewise, the thorns—pursuing the cares of the world—are a consequence of a misaligned belief system that prioritizes the material over the spiritual.

As we can see, Christ's woeful parables to the multitudes reach a climax in the Parable of the Leaven. It explains the underlying cause of the nation's spiritual problems described in the previous parables, as well as the controversy between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Matthew 12.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 23:1-39

In one chapter, Matthew 23, Jesus Christ rips the scribes and Pharisees to shreds. Eight times He pronounces on them woe—defined by Webster's Dictionary as "deep suffering, grief, affliction, ruinous trouble." He dubs them "hypocrites" seven times, "blind guides" twice, "fools and blind" twice, "blind" once, "whitewashed tombs" once, and finishes His name-calling tirade by designating them"brood of vipers"!

He then accuses them of being the children of those who had killed the prophets—a heavy-duty insult considering how proud they were of their ancestry. He predicts they would do the same themselves and declares that He would have nothing to do with them until they accept and bless the ones He sends.

Jesus was really worked up over this! Why? These people were extremely careful in keeping every minor article of the law. They even added many precise rules themselves to ensure they did not overlook the law's details.

Their lives, and the lives of those under their jurisdiction, consisted of endless, mindless details. Endless, for they continued to break branches of the law down to twigs down to leaves. Mindless, because this focus hampered their ability to think and properly weigh what was most important. They became so involved in making sure everyone else obeyed their demands that they no longer remembered the fundamental purpose of the law or kept it properly themselves. Even worse, they used the law against others and took advantage even to the point of "devouring widows' houses" (verse 14). Hence Christ's remonstrance: Hypocrites!

Yet they LOOKED good, publicly counting their mint, cummin and anise. It is not wrong or unlawful to count each seed; tithing should be done, as Christ pointed out (verse 23). But there are far more important issues of the law to consider than counting individual seeds—namely, JUDGMENT, MERCY AND FAITH.

Notice Christ's scathing indictment of the Pharisees' religion and it's effects:

♦ They set a horrid example by not following their own teaching (verse 3).
♦ They abused their office by burdening others with strict requirements while not requiring the same of themselves (verse 4).
♦ What they did do was only for vanity and show (verse 5).
♦ They were social climbers (verse 6).
♦ Their teaching had negative results, driving people farther from the Kingdom rather than closer to it (verse 13).
♦ Their twisted reasoning led them to steal even from the weak (verse 14).
♦ Their misguided zeal made their proselytes twice as bad as they were before they were even "converted" to Pharisaism (verse 16).
♦ Gold, money, and greed became their main focus and god (verses 16-18).
♦ Their perspective was so perverted that they would pay more attention to keep from swallowing a gnat than they would a camel (verses 23-24).
♦ How others saw them was far more important than moral values (verses 27-28).
♦ While they extolled the virtues of past men of God, they were so deeply hateful and murderous that they would kill Christ and any of His followers that they could (verses 29-37).
♦ Their religious house was utterly worthless and desolate, bereft of any contact with or influence of God, though they thought they were perfectly righteous. In a word, they were self-righteous.

We could easily break these attitudes down into many more categories of sin, but the point is obvious: The total of all their religious efforts was zero. Actually, Pharisaism had negative value, for the scribes and Pharisees took what people already had and made them even worse off than before!

Staff
The Weightier Matters (Part 1): Introduction


 




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