God sent John, the son of Zacharias, to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. From the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we get the idea that something is wrong. Luke doesn’t come right out and say what’s wrong, but what he does say implies corruption, and his implications cannot be missed by Theophilus, the high priest, to whom Luke’s Gospel is addressed. Earlier, Luke alluded to the days of Samuel, the prophet, when the high priesthood was corrupt. The implication is that in John’s day it was no different. Nevertheless, one cannot openly accuse one’s leadership of wrongdoing during the 1st century AD and expect to live a long life. John accused Herod of committing adultery by taking his brother’s wife for himself, and John was beheaded not long afterward. Jesus openly confronted the Jewish leadership (Matthew 21:23-46) and was crucified within a week.
John directed his remarks concerning the coming wrath to those coming to his baptism. Most translators of Luke identify them as either crowds or multitudes. However, the Greek word (G3793) simply means people, and it is so translated very often in other parts of the New Testament rather than crowds or multitudes. What Luke doesn’t identify specifically in Luke 3:7, Matthew identifies as Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7). Luke seems to veil the identity of these people who came to John’s baptism. The question is why would he do that? If Matthew 3:7 really does show that John directed these particular remarks to the Pharisees and Sadducees, could Luke be seeking to avoid unnecessary reprisals against the Jerusalem church by the leadership there?
On the other hand, did John repeat these warnings to everyone who came to his baptism? It is difficult to say conclusively, because Luke veils rebukes to the authorities, especially against the Sadducee party to which the chief priests belonged, including Theophilus, Luke’s addressee. However, although corruption a is a veiled but probable accusation against the Jewish leadership at Jerusalem, Theophilus couldn’t miss what Luke implied, and the veil isn’t so complete that it cannot be removed by the Bible student. It merely means that Luke’s remarks aren’t so forthright that he would be jailed (or worse) or that the church at Jerusalem would incur reprisals, because of these remarks.
If Pharisees and Sadducees are, indeed, Luke’s veiled meaning, we need to be looking deeper for what is hidden. It is possible that Luke refers to a conspiracy to undermine John’s ministry and control it. Later, the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to destroy the Church by disguising themselves as brethren (see Paul’s remarks in Galatians 2:4; cf. 2Corinthians 11:26). They crept in unawares (Jude 1:4). They could have desired to do the same to John who was becoming very popular with the people, and the Jewish authorities may have felt threatened by John’s high esteem among the people.
On the other hand the Pharisees and Sadducees, or at least some of them, may have legitimately sought to be baptized by John, being pricked in their hearts by his message. Nevertheless, the context reveals they were unwilling to be perceived as responsible for the errors of the nation. Nicodemus, who came to the Lord at night (John 3:1-2), might be an example here. Luke alludes to secret meetings with John in Luke 3:7, possibly under the cover of night. The word translated warned (G5263) implies a private suggestion or warning. The same word is used in Acts 9:16 for the Lord privately showing Paul what he must suffer for his name’s sake. Later, Paul privately told some brethren how he showed by example what they should do. In fact, the Ethiopic version actually speaks of a private meeting sought by the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:7. So, the multitudes or simply many people in Luke 3:7 might refer to the many Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John’s baptism in Matthew 3:7, and whether they came as spies or as one’s legitimately seeking baptism, they came secretly (perhaps under the cover of night), according to the context.