“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
(Matthew 12:34-37 ESV)
Jesus continues His harsh words for His critics and doubters today by explaining to them the source of their evil claims that He was working on behalf of Satan.
Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Vipers are a type of poisonous snake. They are not only deadly but deceptive. They blend into their environment and launch surprise attacks. It was a viper that bit Paul while he was gathering wood on the island of Malta [Acts 28:3].
Notice that Jesus calls them a “brood”. The definition of “brood” is “a family of young animals from the same parent”. The Pharisees had essentially called Jesus the son of Satan [Matthew 12:24]. But in today’s passage, Jesus turns the tables on them and says that they are the offspring of Satan, who is often represented in the Bible as a snake.
Just like vipers, the Pharisees were deceptive. They had the outward appearance of being righteous but they were not. They harbored evil in abundance in their hearts.
In Jewish culture a person’s “heart” represented their character. According to God the human heart is the source of all kinds of evil [Jeremiah 17:9]. The mouth, when it speaks, exposes what is in a person’s heart. It was the evil nature of the Pharisees that caused them to blaspheme the Holy Spirit – the one and only unforgivable sin [Matthew 12:31].
Our words reveal externally what we are internally. Out of his treasure a good person brings forth good and an evil person brings forth evil. The Greek word for “treasure” here is τηεσαυροσ (pronounced: thay-sow-ros’) which gives us our English word “thesaurus” which means “treasury of words”. A person’s heart is a treasury of thoughts, desires, and attitudes.
Jesus goes on to inform them that on the day of judgment people will have to give an account for every careless word they speak. The Greek word for “careless” here is αργοσ (pronounced: ar-gos’) which means “worthless”. The concept here is any word spoken without thinking.
While it’s easy to pretend to be something we’re not when we carefully consider our words (much like a politician), words that are spoken without thinking demonstrate our true thoughts and reveal what is in our hearts. It is by our words that a person is justified or condemned.
Jesus’ words in this passage are severe and certainly did not sit well with the Pharisees. But Jesus didn’t care about being liked. His goal was to save people – even the Pharisees – from their sins. When necessary He used language that was truthful, but which was never devoid of love.
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