At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, there is a general misunderstanding regarding the baptism with fire among most of “popular Christianity”. In the passage below, their are three baptisms discussed.
Luke 3:15 –17 — “And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.”
Most, especially among Charismatics, and this usually will find its way into popular Christian music, equate the baptism with the Holy Ghost and the baptism with fire that is spoken about in this verse as the same. Sometimes, they are spoken of as different, and the baptism with fire is a special endowment, or a revival, where where the fire “sets us on fire for God”. While we would love to see revival, this is not what John was speaking about when he spoke of a baptism with fire, that Christ, Who was to come after him, would administer.
The baptism with the Holy Ghost and the baptism with fire are not the same. There are three baptisms in this verse, and not two. The first is John’s baptism, where he baptized with water unto repentance¹. The second baptism is the one where the One mightier than John will baptize with the Holy Ghost. He will also baptize with fire. The total count of baptisms here is three. In fact, immediately after John’s statement about baptism with fire, he defines it: “Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.”
Earlier in this same passage, John had this to say:
Luke 3:9 — “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
When John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, he preached the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3). It was a crisis in Israel’s history.
Malachi 3:1 — “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”
That this was referring to John’s ministry is corroborated in Mark’s gospel:
Mark 1:2 – 3 — “As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”
Malachi 3:2 – 3 — “But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.”
We can see from this that there is a purifying fire associated with the Lord’s coming. Now the prophets did not see the present time between our Lord’s “first coming” in humility, coming to seek and to save the lost, and His days of vengeance. Isaiah spoke this word, of Christ’s coming:
Isaiah 61:1 – 2 — “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn…”
Notice that the Lord Jesus spoke this word, or a part of it, when He began His ministry to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel²”:
Luke 4:16 – 20 — “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
“And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him.”
Notice that the book is closed, without any mention of the day of vengeance. The Lord does, however, later in Luke’s account, speak of the days of vengeance:
Luke 21:20 – 22 — “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”
That there would be so long a time between time of Christ’s coming to seek and to save, and the the days of vengeance, was not seen by the prophets. Clarence Larkin, a Bible student of years past (and a very gifted artist) drew the following picture to illustrate the prophet’s view of things to come:
Now Mr. Larkin did not always get everything right. I personally do not like his use of the phrase “the valley of the church”, and would prefer to use language that is in Scripture, like dispensation of grace, or day of salvation, but what he is illustrating is that which the Apostle Peter described:
1 Peter 1:11 – “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”
That the glory following would be so long, and still in waiting, was not revealed to anyone. That is why we can speak of the time when we will be “caught up together to meet the Lord in the air³” as being imminent: the prophets never gave a time-table for us to follow, but the Apostle Paul taught us that we are to live expectantly, “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.4“
The Apostle Paul, in fact, described these “days of vengeance” in this way:
2 Thessalonians 1:7 – 9 — “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power…”
Do you see in this description a “baptism with fire”?
Read carefully the following from the Lord’s prophets to Israel. Note that in them, we see exactly that which John the Baptist spoke about, when he spoke of the axe being laid to the root of the tree, and the trees that did not bring forth fruit were cast into the fire. There is a purging of fire that Israel was, and still is to go through, and we know it as the time of Jacob’s trouble5.
Malachi 4:1 – 3 — “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Isaiah 4:4 — “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.”
Ezekiel 22:17 – 22 — “And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, the house of Israel is to Me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you. Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of My wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst thereof. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the LORD have poured out My fury upon you.”
A study of the parables, with this background in the prophets, sheds much light on exactly what it is that the Lord was speaking of in His parables.
Matthew 13:24 – 30 — “Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”
The Lord explains His parable:
Matthew 13:37 – 43 — “He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Do we not see the baptism with fire in that parable? It is for the tares, not for the wheat. “The chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.” The kingdom of the Son of Man will be established in righteousness, and this will not be done as the children of the wicked one are mixed in among His People. Now, “His People” throughout the majority of the Scriptures, is a reference to the people of Israel as a whole. “The Lord shall judge His People”, and in this purifying judgment, the chaff will be removed and only the children of the kingdom will be left — that is the baptism with fire!
Now, lest anyone think that the baptism with fire is only upon the nation of Israel, read the following, and think again:
Revelation 3:10 — “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
The whole earth has future appointment with the wrath of God. The believer, who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, does not, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). A baptism with fire is awaiting the entire earth, pre-pictured back in the days of Abraham:
Genesis 19:24 — “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven…”
Those that are in Christ, whether “asleep or awake”, will be caught up before this judgment comes. That is our blessed hope. The rest of the world can can expect a future like that of Babylon:
Revelation 18:8 — “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.”
To Israel, we see this warning to those who will not hear God speaking “by His Son”6:
Hebrews 10:26 – 31 — “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Now to the rest of us, God has also spoken unto us by His Son, and we have opportunity even now to be counted, not as adversaries, but to find our refuge in Christ. The word to us is as sure as the word to Israel. Are we counted among those who, like Abraham, believe God, and have it counted as righteousness, or are we adversaries, standing either in our own “righteousness”, or in our own unrighteousness? Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, and when we believe in this gospel of Christ, we are saved from the wrath to come7, for we are counted in Christ, saved by grace. Consider the alternative:
Hebrews 12:29 — “For our God is a consuming fire.”
- Matthew 3:11
- Matthew 15:24
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17
- Titus 2:13
- Jeremiah 30:7. It is sad and sobering to note that the people of Israel have been, as said in the prophets, “scattered and peeled” (Isaiah 18:2, 7), and yet this is not the worst that will be upon them. The “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be”, (Matthew 24:21) will yet happen, and this is the time of Jacob’s trouble, and the baptism with fire that John the Baptist said that Christ would baptize with. Remember that the hands that will break the seven seals are the same hands that today have the nail scars of accomplished redemption. That the people of Israel will still go through this time is a fact, even though the history of the nation since they first rejected their Messiah has been filled with trouble. It will be nothing compared to that great and terrible day. But no Israelite today need fear that he must go through it — “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:12 – 13). No one, for that matter, must go through the wrath to come, for “behold, now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). All who will but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel that He died for our sins and rose from the dead will be saved. That is what God is doing today!
- Hebrews 1:2
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.