Matthew 3:7 - "But when he [i.e., John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'" The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders of the day. The Pharisees contended for a strict separation between the Jews and all pagans. Along with the majority of the Jews, the Pharisees believed in: (1) the resurrection of the dead, (2) a future state with rewards and punishments, (3) angels and spirits, and (4) a special providence of God carried out by angels and spirits. The Sadducees, on the other hand, desired freedom to interact with the pagans as they saw fit. They consented to no restraints other than that which the Scriptures themselves imposed, and they interpreted such as loosely as possible. They denied all four of the points of belief held by the Pharisees. They believed in God, but denied that He had any special supervision of human affairs. They were the materialists of their day.
John uses a stinging metaphor to liken the Pharisees and Sadducees to the offspring of vipers. John's point is that they were full of deceit and hatred; they were both cunning and dangerous. It appears that they have come to be baptized of John, but they are not penitent. They were ready for a new kingdom but not for a new way of life!
There is no indication that John refused to baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees, but he did hold them to the same standard as everyone else. If they expected to receive mercy from God, they too would have to repent and confess their sins. He commands them to "bear fruits [i.e., acts of righteousness] worthy of repentance." It seems likely that most of them refused baptism, thinking such was not necessary for them (cf. 3:9; Luke 7:29,30).
In Matthew 3:9, John nips their self-excuse in the bud - "Do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." The Jews were under the delusion that the Messiah would rule over them as a nation, and that all Jews would automatically be citizens of His kingdom by birthright. John's words were undoubtedly very surprising to them when he informed them that being a child of Abraham by natural descent would be of no real value in God's kingdom. The Talmud, an uninspired collection of Jewish traditions, is full of expressions showing the extravagant value that Jews of a later age attached to being a descendant of Abraham. For example, they believed: "Abraham sits next to the gates of hell, and doth not permit any wicked Israelite to go down into it." The Talmud also depicts God as saying to Abraham: "If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones, thy merit would avail for them...A single Israelite is worth more before God than all the people who have been or shall be...The world was made for their [i.e., Israel's] sake." The Talmud shows the Jews to be an arrogant bunch. However, their pride was inexcusable, especially because of the clear warnings from the prophets that their privileges were not absolute. They would by no means escape just punishment for their sins. Jesus preached the same truth in Matthew 8:11,12. Elsewhere, the New Testament teaches that one becomes a child of Abraham by faith, and not by ancestry (Gal. 3:26-29).
In Matthew 3:10, John continues the analogy between people and trees that he started back in verse 8. "And now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire." Two types of trees are under consideration here: those that bear good fruit and those that don't. Every non-productive tree would be cut down--not pruned--and cast into the fire (cf. II Thess. 1:8,9)! This principle is still true today. Are you bearing good fruit for the Lord with your life? If not, the time of destruction is coming.
We will conclude this series on the preaching of John the baptizer tomorrow.