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But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Note 2 at Mt 3:7: The word "Pharisees" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "separate" (Strong's Concordance). This term was applied to this sect because of their extreme devotion to the Mosaic Law and commitment to leading separated lives. This was a reaction of the devout Jews who came back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. They could see the pagan customs and influences of the Babylonians everywhere, so that not only their religion but also their identity as a nation was threatened. The Pharisees were patriots as well as religious zealots who, in the beginning, served a very needed function in the Jewish nation, which was struggling for survival. However, over the centuries they had departed from the Mosaic Law and had written their own interpretations of the Law: interpretations that they held to be God-inspired and equal to that of Moses (Mt 15:2-3 and Mr 7:8-9). In Jesus' day they were characterized by hypocrisy (Mt 23:13-16 and Lu 12:1) and self-righteousness (Mt 5:20 and Lu 18:9-14). They, as a whole, persecuted Jesus (Mt 12:14, 16:1, and 22:15) and His followers (Ac 7:51-58) and received the Lord's most stinging rebukes (Mt 23).
Note 3 at Mt 3:7: The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that originated with Sadok in 250 B.C., who was a president of the Sanhedrin. They denied the existence of angels or spirits (Ac 23:8) and especially the resurrection (Mt 22:23-33). The Pharisees and Sadducees were rivals, and Paul used this contention among them for his own defense in Ac 23:6-7.