There is a chiastic structure in Mat 3:
1a) Mat 3:1-3, John, the prophet of God;
1b) Mat 3:4, John was clothed with camel’s hair;
1c) Mat 3:5-6, Jerusalem and all Judea went out to him to be baptized by him;
1d) Mat 3:7, Who warned you, Pharisees and Sadducees. to flee from the wrath to come;
1e) Mat 3:8, Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance;
central axis) Mat 3:9, “and 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;”
2e) Mat 3:10, Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire;
2d) Mat 3:11-12, He will gather His wheat, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire;
2c) Mat 3:13-14, Jesus also came from Galilee to be baptized by him;
2b) Mat 3:15-16, Jesus was clothed with righteousness and the Holy Spirit;
2a) Mat 3:17, Jesus, the Son of God.
What struck me in today’s reading, is that biological descent from Abraham will not save a person in that day. Being a professional pastor or theologian will not save a person in that day. Being an expert on God will not save a person in that day. But only bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
Is John preaching a gospel of works in order to earn salvation? No, he is saying, that the one who recognizes that God is King of the kingdom of heaven, which is coming, recognizes that He also has the right to command obedience and expect to be obeyed. What king does not command obedience and expect to be obeyed? If even human kings, then surely God, the King of heaven.
The one who recognizes God’s right to command obedience and righteousness, also recognizes their own violations of those commands and their own shortcomings to that righteousness. This realization of our sinfulness, and also of the LORD’s kindness in being patient with us and not blasting us for our transgressions against His holiness, is what leads men to repentance.
Repentance means, turning away from that way in which we had been walking, and walking in a different direction. Repentance means turning away from our own way and from sin, and now walking in God’s ways, and in righteousness.
So fruit worthy of repentance comes from a repentant and changed heart. Fruit worthy of repentance is just outward evidence of the inward change of heart that cannot be faked. Therefore fruit will be what is judged, but this is not a gospel of works. This is the gospel of grace by faith. Salvation has always been a free gift to those who trusted in God, that He would forgive them, at their point of repentance.