Thursday, January 25, 2024

In Spirit and Fire

John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism in water “for the remission of sins,” and he announced the arrival of the “Coming One.” He was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah as promised in Isaiah - “Behold, I send my messenger before your face… The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord.” He would be the King of Israel who baptizes his people “in Spirit and Fire.”

The Baptist summoned the entire nation of Israel to repentance, and he warned the religious leaders of the coming judgment that would befall them if they did not do so. The day was coming when it would be too late, namely, the “Day of the Lord” - (Matthew 3:7-10).

Waterfall Dusk - Photo by Andrey Andreyev on Unsplash
[Photo by Andrey Andreyev on Unsplash]

The baptism administered by John prepared the way for the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God, and the need for repentance included even the most rigorously religious members of the Jewish people.

  • (Matthew 3:11-12) – “I indeed baptize you in water for repentance: but he that is coming after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.

John differed from this “Coming One” in three ways - might, worth, and mode of baptism. His baptism in water was preparatory, not final. Both he and Jesus “baptized” penitent men, but the Messiah would do so “IN HOLY SPIRIT AND FIRE.

The Gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “Last Days” and foundational to the New Covenant promised in the books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. By His Spirit, God would circumcise the hearts of His people and write His laws on them - (Isaiah 44:1-4, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:38-39).

In Holy Spirit and fire” indicates two aspects of his “baptism.” In the Greek clause, “spirit and fire” do not refer to two separate events or baptisms. Only one preposition governs both nouns, namely, “in” (en). “Spirit and fire” together form the object of the single verb, “baptize,” and both “fire” and “spirit” characterize the one “baptism” administered by Jesus.

In this literary context, “fire” refers to judgment, whether for the purgation or destruction of the individual or nation. The reference to “spirit and fire” is part of John’s response to the “Pharisees and Sadducees,” the very ones he warned that the “axe” was about to cut down the fruitless tree - The “fire” points to the burning of the “chaff” by the Messiah (“He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

All those who responded by preparing themselves for the Messiah would experience the “baptism in the Spirit.” Those who refused would endure the alternative, judgment “in fire.”

Finally, John’s warning applied to individual Israelites and the whole nation. If Israel rejected God’s Anointed One, she would experience the baptism of fire.

  • Salvation for All! - (Jesus dispatched his disciples to announce his Lordship and salvation to the uttermost parts of the Earth)
  • His Name is Jesus - (‘Jesus’ means ‘Yahweh saves.’ In the man from Nazareth, the salvation promised by the God of Israel arrived in all its glory)