When It Comes Back to Bite You
Jesus didn't pull any punches when it came to the Pharisees. He constantly rebuked them for being self-righteous, hypocritical, oppressive, and disingenuous. Of all of these justified criticisms, there was one animal in particular that He called them: vipers. In fact, "viper" appears only five times in the new testament and four of these are Jesus and John the Baptist addressing the Pharisees:
Matthew 3:7 But when he [John the Baptist] 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?
Matthew 12:34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the
heart the mouth speaketh.
Matthew 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Luke 3:7 Then said he [John the Baptist] to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers,
who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
The Bible is very intentional. There is a reason behind everything that is written. So, it begs the question: Why did Jesus and John choose to call the Pharisees vipers of all the animals in the world? They could have called them dogs, pigs, chimps, birdbrains, vultures, etc. Yet, on separate occasions, Jesus and John both likened them to vipers. To answer this, we have to look at the viper.
Vipers (or Viperidae or viperids) are a family of venomous snakes. Their most notable characteristic is their lethal fangs that are used to inject venom. These fangs are retractable, so vipers don't expose them until they are ready to strike. Vipers can actually control the amount of venom they release (ranging a dry bite to lots of venom) based on the situation and size of the prey. Unlike other snakes whose venom causes muscle contractions and paralysis, viper venom primarily affects the blood. It contains protein-degrading enzymes that produce pain, swelling, blood loss, and disruption of the blood-clotting system. Most of the deaths are from a collapse in blood pressure.
Since their venom does not immediately kill their prey like some other snakes, Vipers will stalk their prey while it gradually dies. This is called prey relocalization. They are able to track their prey based on the scent of their venom. Instead of smooth scales, vipers have keeled scales that allow them to blend in better with their environment for ambush. Pit vipers, in particular, have infrared sensors that can detect prey from over a 3-feet away based on heat.
While most snakes lay eggs, most vipers are ovoviviparous, meaning they hold the eggs inside of their body, but birth live offspring. In fact, the name viper actually means "live birth" deriving the Latin word vipera (vivus meaning "living"; parere meaning "to beget"). Finally, in colder climates, vipers are known to brumate, which is when a lot of vipers (up to 1,000) all hibernate together in what's called a viper's den.
After learning about vipers, it's clear why Jesus called them a brood of vipers. The Pharisees were great at camouflaging. Their religious demeanor conceals their fangs, but when they decide to strike, they are deadly. They don't always kill you instantly, but they place their scent on you to keep track of you, all while eventually breaking you down for their own gain. As soon as they convert someone, they make them just like themselves (Matthew 23:15). They are able to spot out those that are on fire for God (heat seeking), in hopes of turning them into prey. And finally, they all congregate and validate one another just like a den of vipers.
Rear It's Ugly Head
Now, if you were paying attention, you may recall that there are five instances of "viper" in the new testament and we covered four. The fifth occurance is involving Paul the apostle:
Acts 28:3-6 And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the
heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said
among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance
suffereth not to live. 5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. 6 Howbeit they looked when he
should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come
to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.
Here, we have an instance where Paul should have certainly been killed by this viper. Yet, as the snake hanged on his arm, he shook it into the fire and suffered no harm. How can this be?
Well, what's fascinating is that Paul used to be Saul, a devout Pharisee (Philippians 3:5). This means that Paul was one of these very same vipers that Jesus and John complained about in his past. In fact, Saul was such a zealous Pharisee that he persecuted the church (Acts 8:3; Galatians 1:13). So, isn't it ironic that the very same thing that Paul used to be, was the very thing that came back to bite him?
Many of us can relate. We start a new life in Christ, and something from our past tries to come back to bite us. It camouflages around us looking for the perfect time to catch us when we least expect it. This may look like old sins trying to creep back in our lives. It may look like old acquaintances trying to reappear. It may look like an accusation from someone who remembers how we used to be. It may look like a lie from the enemy that tries to creep back into our minds. It may even look like backsliding into something that we thought we had left. The most important thing is to remember is that even though this viper came back to bite Paul, he was unharmed. How can this be?
O, The Blood
Well, remember that a viper's venom primary affects the blood. What this viper didn't account for is that Paul was not working with normal blood. He was working with the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus is what empowers us to get bitten and shake it off. The blood of Jesus allows us to walk away unharmed. The blood of Jesus is what will cause onlookers to be amazed at how you made it through.
Notice the reactions of the barbarians around Paul. Paul and a group of men had just suffered a shipwreck and ended up in Melita among strangers. When Paul got bit and the snake was hanging on him, they had "no doubt" that he was a murderer who was getting his just due. But once he shook the viper off without being damaged, they changed their tune and said he was a god. What does this tell us?
When we go through something, people will make all sorts of assumptions. They will see your struggle or circumstance and think that you are suffering because of payback or "karma" that you had coming. Trust and believe that there will be all sorts of arm chair analysts who are looking at you (and not helping, by the way) and honestly waiting on your demise. And once you walk away from that situation that surely should have killed you, they will see the power of God. These barbarians actually thought Paul was a god, which really meant that they recognized a miracle before their very eyes. These instances are our opportunities to glory God. "I know that I should have been dead and gone... but God!"
In closing, what we used to be will always be lurking. Usually, it's the very same tendencies and temptations from our past that the enemy tries to use to take us out. Sometimes the snake will bite, but even if it does, it will not harm you. The scripture puts it this way, "no weapon formed against you shall proper." Sure, the weapon will form. It may even strike. But God declares that it shall not prosper. If you put your faith in Christ, then you are immune to the venom and the antidote is the blood. The blood will never lose it's power!
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of
Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.