(To read what John the Baptist preached see Luke 3:7-18.) To answer such a terrific question we should start by noting that John the Baptist’s message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:2; the same message Jesus preached: see Mt. 4:17). But to whom did their passionate ministries gear toward reaching? Their outreaches were focused primarily on the Jews. Jesus’ earthly ministry was to God’s covenant people; He came for the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24). (This wasn’t because Jesus didn’t like other groups. God had simply invested hundreds of years of preparation into this people for this particular intervention which would shortly spread out to all people, everywhere.)
Since birth, generally, a Jew would have been taught the Jewish law (as given to Moses with its manifold commandments: see the commentary on Rom. 9:31 for more info about “the law”). The purpose of the law was not as a means to earn God’s favor. The purpose of the law was to make sin “exceedingly sinful” (Rom. 7:13), to silence every mouth and make the whole world guilty before God (Rom. 3:19,20), and to bring people to Christ (Gal. 3:24). John’s call to repentance made perfect sense to the Jews. Godly Jews realized they had breached God’s holy standards numerous times and were guilty of sinning against heaven. The law had done its duty. They just needed to be confronted with God’s urgent command to repent so their sins could be forgiven. Now, though, we are living in a time where we minister to every type of people, not just a select prepared people group.
A critical point to consider is who John was speaking to… the Pharisees. The 4 references to the phrase “Brood of vipers!” made by both John and Jesus were only made to the hypocritical Pharisees (Mt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Lk. 3:7). They didn’t go around name-calling at sinners; this was a strategic, precise public rebuke and distancing from these religious leaders who were leading people to Hell. Jesus warned these sorts would have greater condemnation (Luke 20:46, 47).
If we approach everyday sinners only with a hellfire “Repent, you brood of vipers!” it will not only make no sense to them, but we will be unjustifiably alienating them. We can’t assume anyone’s grasp of such Biblical themes as sin, man’s guilt, repentance, or Jesus Christ. We should take the time to carefully explain such important spiritual truths to the lost. Otherwise, we may end up doing more harm than good. Also, remember John and Jesus preached a message of simple repentance to the Jews before the gospel was completed. Throughout Acts the picture of preaching is painted differently because by that time they were given the good news of the gospel to preach along with repentance to the world (Mk. 16:15). That message will be explained in further depth in upcoming weeks.
Worthy of mention is John’s outward expression of inward repentance: water baptism. Contrary to common thought, water baptism was not a new concept at the time of John’s ministry. Jews had already been using this practice in proselytizing pagans into Judaism for sometime. Along with water baptism, heathen proselytes (converts to Judaism) were required to be circumcised, which was the essence of John’s message to the Jews: to circumcise their hearts (see Lk. 3:8-14). John’s concept to baptize Jews was no doubt seen as a radical notion. Because in so doing the Jews were placing themselves on the same level as Gentiles (Gentiles were referred to as dogs by the Jews: Mt. 15:26) to whom did not belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, or the promises. Only acknowledgment of personal sin, a repentant heart and genuine humility could bring a Jew into those murky Jordan waters. The action of being baptized itself expressed the person was no longer looking to their heritage to save them but to God Himself.
(Email from Johna) "Would you guys explain repentance in your tracts and in your shows? When you say, "Repent and trust in Christ," it sounds like salvation by works and faith. I've struggled with it ever since I heard it preached. The Bible says it is only through trusting Christ that we are saved."
God is the One who grants repentance. 2 Tim. 2:25 – “. . . in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.”
Jesus gave us the example to preach both faith and repentance. Jesus said in Mark 1:15 (emphasis mine), “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus commissioned us to preach repentance. Speaking of Himself He said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary . . . that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name [Jesus] to all nations” (Lk. 24:46,47).
Paul preached both. Paul said in Acts 20:20,21 (emphasis mine), “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It’s been said true repentance isn’t horizontal, it’s vertical. A reformed attitude and abstinence from a particular sin is not true repentance in the Biblical sense. Biblical repentance is firstly a remorseful and changed heart toward God followed by reformed behavior. When the prodigal son “came to himself” he exclaimed to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk. 15:21). He realized he didn’t just sin against dear old dad but against his very Maker. After committing adultery with another man’s wife and ordering her husband’s death, King David penitently said in prayer, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight” (Ps. 51:4). When Potiphar’s wife offered herself to Joseph, he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen.39:9). If you recall, the infamous couple, Adam and Eve didn’t do this when they sinned. When they heard the Lord walking in the garden they hid among the trees. After they hid, God called to Adam and asked where he was. Why? Did God lose His omniscience; did His all seeing eye cease to see all? No, of course not. It sounds like God was giving them opportunity for repentance. Adam spoke up and said he was afraid because he was nude (not because he had sinned). God proceeded to ask Adam who told him he was naked (as if He didn’t already know). Then God directly asked Adam if he did what He told him not to, coaxing Adam on to confession. In response, instead of humbly owning up to his sin, Adam blamed the woman for giving him the fruit and God for giving him the woman. The blame game started with Adam, who tried to pass the shame to the woman and God; Eve in turn shifted the blame to the serpent, all the time neither of them ever taking responsibility for their sin and repenting. For their disobedience and impenitence, from the ground up God cursed them: the serpent, Eve, and then Adam (Gen. 3:1-19). Mankind must realize Whom their sin is ultimately against, regret it, confess it to God, and in repentance forsake it for the wholehearted following of Christ.
To watch today’s “On The Box with Ray Comfort” episode, visit our YouTube channel:http://www.youtube.com/thewayofthemaster