Vol. 18, No. 19 – May 12, 2019
Doctrine of the Baptism with Fire
“Fire,” is the Greek Noun PUR. In the OT, fire was used for both a cleansing, purifying agent and an agent of destruction. God demonstrated His pleasure with fire upon the altar, Gen 15:17; Lev 9:23f.; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chron 21:26; 2 Chron 7:1. Yet, fire also demonstrated God’s displeasure and was a sign of His wrath and judgment, Gen 19:24; Ex 9:24; Lev 10:2; Num 11:1; 16:35; 2 Kings 1:10; Amos 1:4, 7. In addition, the Lord God is described as a “consuming fire,” Deut 4:24; 9:3; Isa 33:14.
The first mention of “fire” in the Bible is Gen 19:24-25, the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. The last mention in the OT is Mal 3:1-2, the 2nd Advent of our Lord. The first mention in the NT, is Mat 3:10, the parallel passage to Luke 3:16, the Baptism with Fire. The last mention in the Bible is Rev 21:8, the final judgment of the unbeliever, the second death, the eternal Lake of Fire.
Fire was also used by our Lord as a physical manifestation of Jesus Christ in the OT, called a “theophany.” This is illustrated several times in the Bible including:
- The making of the covenant with Abraham, Gen 15:17.
- The appearance in the burning bush, Ex 3:2.
- Leading the Israelites by a pillar of fire by night, Ex 13:21-22; 14:24; Num 9:15-16; 14:14; etc.
- His appearance on Mount Sinai, Ex 19:18; 24:17; Deut 4:11-36; 5:4-26; etc.
- And others, 1 Kings 18:24, 38; 1 Chron 21:26; 2 Chron 7:1, 3.
Fire was also used symbolically in Israel’s worship to represent God’s constant presence with Israel, Lev 6:12-13. God’s presence as fire represented both judgment and purification. Our English words purify and purge both come from the Greek word for fire, PUR.
Used about 75 times in the NT, it carries the same meanings as in the OT. It is particularly used to represent Jesus’ judgments: On the believer’s works in 1 Cor 3:13-15; on the unbeliever’s works in Rev 20:11-14; 2 Thes 1:7-9.
2 Thess 1:7-9, “And to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
Likewise, Jesus referred to the judgment of eternal condemnation as a place of fire, of unquenchable flame, Mat 5:22; 13:42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mark 9:43, 48; Luke 3:17. No less horrible is the idea of being eternally lost in the Lake of Fire, Rev 14:9-11; 19:20; 20:14-15; 21:8.
Now, as for the baptism that Jesus Christ will perform called “the Baptism with Fire,” in our verse, there are several interpretations.
1. Many believe the “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” and the “Baptism with Fire” in Luke 3:16, are one and the same because of the conjunction KAI, “and,” usage in this verse, linking them together, and especially because on the day of Pentecost, the visible manifestation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, was described as “tongues as like fire,” in Acts 2:1-4. But the reading of Acts 2 says, “like as fire” not “is fire.” This coupled with “fire” being an analogy for the Holy Spirit, leads them to this interpretation. Thus, when John the Baptist says “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me…will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” Mat 3:11; Luke 3:16, they understand this to be one positive promise to believers that they will be baptized both “with the Holy Spirit” and “with fire.”
Even further, some separate these two as two baptisms of the Holy Spirit during the believer’s life, where the “2nd Baptism” is manifested in some charismatic way. In addition, they even tell their congregants to “pray for the 2nd Baptism.” They construe it as an experience to be sought, a kind of “second Pentecost.” Yet, these interpretations are manifestly erroneous, and it is not scriptural to pray for a Baptism with Fire.
Yet, in context, the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with Fire are two are separate things, because when we carefully read Acts 2:3, the text says the tongues were “as or like fire,” (using the Greek Adverb HOSEI), and not “of fire,” (which the Greek would exclude HOSEI if that were the correct reading). Therefore, this was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost for the Disciples in the upper room, but not the Baptism with Fire.
2. Some interpret the “Baptism with Fire” as an ongoing cleansing that the Holy Spirit brings to the believer post salvation. This interpretation applies the purifying aspect of fire to the believer’s life, as being trials and tribulations, or the Holy Spirit’s purifying work in the life of the believer to bring them to perfected holiness. They apply the OT analogies of the refining fire on gold or silver where the dross is removed to make the precious metal more pure. They believe this is the analogy applied to believers post salvation. This is where we get our current day idiom “baptism with fire,” meaning someone goes through a difficult task that results in some kind of advancement.
3. The Theological Dictionary also notes that the Gnostics would seal the initiates with a hot iron on the lobe of the right ear, calling it the “Baptism with Fire.”
4. The correct interpretation of “Baptism with Fire,” is that it is a separate baptism from the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, as we have noted above in the outline of the Seven Baptisms Found in Scripture. Not only is it separate, but it is performed by Jesus Christ upon His Second Advent, and does not affect the Church Age believer, and only affects unbelievers.
As we have noted above, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, is a positive promise to believers who will be immersed in the Spirit and entered into union with Jesus Christ at the moment of their salvation, making them members of the Royal Family of God. On the other hand, the “Baptism with Fire,” is a negative promise of judgment to the unbeliever, as fire is also associated with Divine judgment in Scripture. Therefore, Jesus will baptize everyone with one or the other. You either receive the Spirit from Christ or else He will cast you into the fire. This was John’s point, as we will define further below.
It is also worth noting that the gospels of Mark and John present far less detail on the content of John’s preaching. Specifically, neither of them mention John’s warnings of impending judgment or his vivid image of “the axe laid at the trees root where every fruitless tree is cut down and thrown into the fire” and “chaff being cast into the fire,” as Matthew and Luke do, cf. Mat 3:10-12; Luke 3:9, 16-17. As such, when Mark and John present John the Baptist’s words about Christ, they leave out the reference to the “Baptism with Fire” that Luke includes in vs. 16.
Mark 1:7-8, “And he was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’.”
John 1:33, “And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’.”
Mark and John do not include it in their gospels because judgment is not in view in their accounts of this scene. Therefore, we are not told about a “Baptism with Fire.” In every case where the judgment of the wicked is not discussed and only the positive promise to believers is in view, the language about baptizing with fire is absent, cf. Acts 1:4-5; 11:15-17.
In the same way, the OT spoke of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:16-18, cf. Joel 2:28-29, the OT prophets used a similar image related to the idea of a “fire baptism,” cf. Zeph 3:8.
Joel 2:28-29, “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
Zeph 3:8, “‘Therefore, wait for Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘For the day when I rise up to the prey. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them My indignation, all My burning anger; for all the earth will be devoured by the fire of My zeal’.”
The burning fire of God’s indignation will be poured out on all the nations and peoples of the earth. This is the Baptism with Fire. Similar language is used for God’s judgment elsewhere, such as:
Lam 2:4, “He has bent His bow like an enemy; He has set His right hand like an adversary and slain all that were pleasant to the eye; in the tent of the daughter of Zion He has poured out His wrath like fire.”
Lam 4:11, “The Lord has accomplished His wrath, He has poured out His fierce anger; and He has kindled a fire in Zion which has consumed its foundations.”
Nahum 1:6, “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him.”
Ezekiel 22:31, “‘Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,’ declares the Lord God.”
Thus, just as the “Baptism of the Spirit” pointed back to the promises of God “pouring out His Spirit,” so too does the image of a “Baptism with Fire” point back to the imagery of God pouring out the fire of His wrath.
Now, as we have noted above, the Baptism with Fire is one of seven different Baptisms in the Bible. There are 4 Real and 3 Ritual Baptisms. A “Real Baptism” is without water and identifies someone or something with someone else directly. “Ritual Baptism” is with water and uses water as a representation of someone or something that another is identified with.
The Ritual Baptisms included:
1) The Baptism of John, Mat 3:6-11; John 1:25-33.
2) The Baptism of Jesus Christ, Mat 3:13-17.
3) Christian Water Baptism, Acts 2:38, 41; 8:36, 38; 16:15, 33.
The Real Baptisms include:
1) The Baptism of Moses, 1 Cor 10:2.
2) The Baptism of the Cross, Mat 20:22; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24.
3) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:5; Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-28; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12.
4) The Baptism of Fire, Luke 3:16-17; Mat 3:11-12; 25:31, 33; 2 Thes 1:7-9.
2 Thes 1:7b-9, “…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
The announcement of the Baptism with Fire was given to John the Baptist as noted in Mat 3:11‑12; Luke 3:16‑17. Later, the Apostle John would write about it in Rev 19:11.
Rev 19:11, “And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”
In Rev 19:11, the Baptism with Fire is defined as the judgment of the Tribulational unbelievers at the Second Advent. The time of the Baptism with Fire is at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Upon His Second Advent, all living unbelievers are removed from the earth and placed in fire, (Hades), for 1000 years until the last judgment. The punishment area for the Baptism with Fire is the “Place of Torments” in Hades, where all unbelievers await the last judgment. Both Jews and Gentiles who are Tribulational unbelievers are involved in this Second Advent judgment. This judgment results in the Millennium beginning with believers only, Mat 3:11‑12; Luke 3:16-17. Therefore, this is the real identification of unbelieving Jews and Gentiles at the end of the Tribulation with fire in Hades and eventually the eternal Lake of Fire, at the Great White Throne Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ, when all unbelievers throughout human history are identified with fire forever. This signifies that the Tribulational unbelievers, as are all unbelievers, are identified with the defeat of Satan.
In Luke 12:49, Jesus exclaimed, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Notice, Jesus was saying He came to judge the earth. People do not read this passage, but we must realize that he came to judge. He came to send fire on the earth.
Then Jesus said in vs. 50, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” Before he could send fire on the earth, He had another baptism to undergo, the Baptism of the Cross, the payment of the penalty for our sins. He had to experience this before He could send fire on earth. By receiving John’s baptism, Jesus was announcing that the Messiah will soon be baptized with the baptism of the Cross, which, in turn, will take away the sin of the world.
So, John mentioned two baptisms: The Baptism with the Spirit and The Baptism with Fire. The Baptism with the Spirit began at Pentecost, Acts 1:5; (note that Jesus said nothing about fire at that time). The fact that Jesus did not append “with fire” to His announcement of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:5, further confirms that the Baptism with Fire refers to a future separate baptism.
Today, whenever a sinner trusts Christ, he is born again and immediately baptized with the Spirit which places the believer in union with Jesus Christ and into the body of Christ, the Church, 1 Cor 12:12-13. In contrast, the Baptism with Fire refers to the future judgment of unbelievers which both Luke and Matthew explain in the verses following the announcement of the two baptisms.
The analogy to the Baptism with Fire is found in Mat 24:36-41. The one left in the field is the mature believer; the one taken is the unbeliever. This is not a “rapture” passage for the Church. It is a passage about the Second Advent of Jesus Christ that is compared to the days of Noah when people had no time for Bible doctrine because they were too distracted by the pleasures of normal living. In the days of Noah, all unbelievers were removed from the earth by water; at the Second Advent, it will be by fire. In addition, we see a similar judgment when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone to remove the unbelieving sinful population, Gen 19:24-25, which is the first mention of fire in the Bible.
Gen 19:24-25, “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, 25and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.”
Therefore, we see that the Baptism with Fire is necessary for the beginning of a new civilization in the Millennium. In each civilization man has a different life span, each civilization has its own climate and its own variation in species, and all civilizations begin with believers only. Remember that a civilization is the Divine protection of the human race during the Angelic Conflict. As such, God has ordained four civilizations in human history: Antediluvian, Postdiluvian, Millennium, and Eternity.
The NT also gives us various parables of the Baptism with Fire, including:
- The wheat and the tares, Mat 13:24-30, 36-43.
- The good and bad fish, Mat 13:47-50.
- The ten virgins, Mat 25:1-13.
- The sheep and the goats, Mat 25:31-46.
- The talent test, Mat 25:14-30. The one talent man represents the unbeliever.
The Baptism with Fire is used to motivate and evangelize Jews of the Church Age, Heb 12:27‑29. The Jewish Baptism with Fire is noted in Ezek 20:34-38; Isa 1:25-27. All Jewish unbelievers of the Tribulation go into fire, Mal 3:1-6, 4:1-2. It is the picture of Christ judging them in the desert. Mal 3:2, is the last mention of fire in the OT, before our Lord’s first Advent.
Mal 4:1, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
It is also used to motivate and evangelize Gentiles as the Gentile Baptism with Fire is noted in Mat 5:22, 29-30; 25:31-46; cf. Mark 9:43.
Mark 9:43, “And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.”
So, both the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism with Fire demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ to judge. To be in God’s presence is to be in the presence of absolute holiness where no sin or unrighteousness can stand. Because God cannot be in the presence of sin, He is able to judge and destroy sin and the sinner, and purify the repentant sinner. Therefore, John shows that “He who is coming,” is more than an earthly Davidic king; He is a supernatural Person who establishes the kingdom and reigns as Savior and Judge. John’s message of salvation and judgment announces that the Messianic age is upon them.
Like the OT prophets, John may not have necessarily seen the time difference between the First and Second Advents of Christ. He may have seen them both in one picture. As such, John was saying, especially in vs. 17, that the Messiah, when He came, would prepare a remnant (wheat) for the kingdom by empowering and cleansing the people. Those who reject Him (chaff) would be judged and cast into eternal unquenchable fire, cf. Mal 4:1.
Finally, the Baptism with Fire also vindicates the character of Jesus Christ, Acts 2:19; Rev 19:11.
Acts 2:19, “And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke,” cf. Joel 2:30.
Rev 19:11, “And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”
In conclusion, the Baptism with Fire, is not to be confused with the cleansing efficacy of the Holy Spirit, nor with the tongues “as / like of fire” that appeared at Pentecost. “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” is placed in direct contrast to gathering the “wheat into the garner,” in vs. 17. It is clear from the immediate context of this reference in both Mat 3:9-12 and Luke 3:16-17, and from the general testimony of Scripture, that this Baptism with Fire is connected with judgment at the Second Advent of Christ, as the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:5; 11:16, is connected with grace flowing from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ at His First Advent. As John F. Walvoord correctly observes, “While the Church Age is introduced with a baptism of the Spirit, the Kingdom Age is to be introduced with a baptism of fire” (Doctrine of the Holy Spirit). Therefore, the Baptism with Fire is thus to be interpreted as eschatological judgment.
After saying that Jesus Christ would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” in vs. 16, John used an agricultural analogy in vs. 17, to describe it and its results. Jesus will not only “gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the separated chaff with unquenchable fire.” This means that after His Second Advent, Christ will take repentant converts into His Millennial Kingdom, but will send the unrepentant people to fire or Hades and then in Rev 19:20; 20:15, to “the Lake of Fire.” So, the context shows that the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a good result for believers only, but the Baptism with Fire is a punishment for unbelievers only. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit began after Jesus’ First Advent and the Baptism with Fire will begin after His Second Advent. This was the view of the early church father Origen and others, and is among many modern commentators today.
“His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
This verse begins with the relative Pronoun HOS, “of whom,” to indicate this winnowing fork is the Lord Jesus Christ’s; the same person from vs. 16, who will baptize both “with the Holy Spirit,” for believers only, and “with Fire,” for unbelievers only.
Interestingly, this verse has 4 Greek words that are only used in this narrative about John the Baptist’s proclamation about Jesus, both here and in Mat 3:12. They include the Greek words for: “winnowing fork,” “thoroughly clear,” “threshing floor,” and “chaff,” that we will note below. In addition, “unquenchable” is only used in these two texts and Mark 9:43, 45, where all 4 usages define hell / the eternal Lake of Fire.
The reason for the unique usage of these words and phrases is that John was witnessing to OT saints. These words are rich in OT theology that would have been known by his hearers in that day. In addition, because they are steeped in OT analogies of God’s judgment, especially towards His people Israel, it was powerful language for them to understand and apply. Therefore, John uses terms rich in OT theology for the Jews of his day to recognize the Messiah / King, who also judges.
“Winnowing fork,” is the Noun PTUON, πτύον that means, “fan or winnowing fork or shovel.” It is only used in this narrative of John the Baptist, here and in Mat 3:12. It denotes a tool used in winnowing grain. It was a fork with which farmers would toss threshed grain up against the wind in the process of separating the chaff and stalks from the grain, by letting the wind blow away the chaff or stalks, while the grain fell back to the ground to be collected.
Since it is only used here in the NT, we look at its use in the OT. This is where John was getting his imagery from. In the OT, it is equivalent to the Hebrew Noun ZARAH that means, “to scatter or winnow.” It was used literally for winnowing wheat or barely, Ruth 3:2, and for God’s judgment, Isa 30:24-25, that describes the lead up to the battle of Armageddon, cf. Lev 26:33; 1 Kings 14:15; Psa 44:11; Jer 4:11; 31:10; 49:32, 36; Ezek 12:14f; 30:23, 26; Zech 1:19.
Its first use in the Bible refers to judgment against a rebellious people. It is used in Ex 32:20 for when Moses took the golden calf that Aaron had made, pulverized it and scattered the powder on the water, and made the children of Israel drink it as a punishment.
Of direct correlation to our passage, there is another Hebrew noun MIZREH that means, “winnowing fork or fan,” that is only used in Isa 30:24; Jer 15:7, where both passages speak to the judgment of God against Israel. The first, Isa 30:24, speaks of God’s judgment of blessing the people in the last days, after he has separated out the unbelievers. This verse also uses a hapaxlegomena Hebrew word, RACHATH that means, “winnowing shovel,” used to gather the grain after the fork had separated the chaff by tossing. So, the gathering of God’s elect is also noted in that passage.
The second, Jer 15:7, speaks of His judgment towards the unbelieving. Therefore, this process is used as a metaphor of the effects upon the wheat and the chaff with the varying results to each.
In addition, in both Hebrew and Greek, the word “spirit” can mean “wind,” RUACH and PNEUMA respectively. In this sense, the Holy Spirit or “Wind” is the instrument of judgment, cf. John 16:8, used by our Lord to separate the believer from the unbeliever, as is “Fire.”
“In His hand,” CHEIR, means Jesus is ready for immediate work and for the work to begin.
“Thoroughly clear,” is also only used in this narrative in our verse and Mat 3:12. It is the verb DIAKATHARIZO, διακαθαρίζω or DIAKATHAIRO, διακαθαίρω in the Aorist, Active, Infinitive that means, “cleanse thoroughly or perfectly, clean out, thresh out, or to winnow.” It comes from the root verb KATHAIRO that means, “to cleanse or purge,” or KATHARIZO that means, “cleanse, make clean, or purify.” It uses the prefix DIA to intensify the word. This term is not found in either classical Greek or the Septuagint. This “cleansing / winnowing process” is analogues to the “baptism” analogy.
“Threshing floor,” is the Noun HALON, ἅλων that is also only used in these two passages. It is related to the Verb ALOAO that means, “thresh.” In the ancient world a threshing floor was often a hard place in an open field where grain was piled to be threshed and winnowed. Interestingly, the first time “threshing floor,” is used in the Bible is Gen 50:10, with the Hebrew Noun GOREN, for the “threshing floor of Atad,” which was the place that Joseph and his brothers, and many others, lamented over the death and burial of Jacob/Israel. There was “great and sorrowful lamentations there. This reminds us of the “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which describes Hades and the Lake of Fire, Mat 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28.
Luke 13:28, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.”
Its last use in the OT is Micah 4:12, that speaks about the Baptism of Fire for Israel and the separation of the Sheep nations from the Goat nations.
Micah 4:12, “But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD, and they do not understand His purpose; For He has gathered them like sheaves to the threshing floor.”
Next, we see the first purpose of this winnowing process, “to gather,” (SUNAGO), “the wheat,” (SITOS, used symbolically for the life of a righteous person versus the unrighteous who at death will be rewarded by God with a new, resurrected life, cf. 1 Cor 15:37; John 12:24, in heaven with God, cf. Mat 3:12; 13:25, 29), “into His barn,” (EIS APOTHEKE).
APOTHEKE meaning, “barn, storehouse, or granary,” is used 6 times in the NT, and only by Matthew and Luke. Besides this narrative, it is also used in several parables by our Lord, cf. Mat 6:26; 13:30; Luke 12:18; 12:24. This phrase is a metaphor or idiom for gathering believers unto Himself and bringing them to heaven.
Mat 13:30, “Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’.”
Then we have “but,” the Contrasting Conjunction DE that introduces the second purpose of God’s winnowing process that is directed towards unbelievers.
“He will burn up,” the Future, Active, Indicative of KATAKAIO, κατακαίω, “burn down, burn up, consume by fire.” To prevent chaff from being blown back and mixed again with the wheat, it was burned up. There will be no mixing of good and bad after death, Rev 22:15; cf. Mat 8:12; 1 Cor 6:9f; Gal 5:19-21; Rev 21:8.
“The chaff,” ACHURON, only used in this narrative, nevertheless when the Bible wants to show the worthlessness and doom of the ungodly, “chaff” is one of its favorite figures, cf. Job 21:18; Psa 1:4; Isa 17:13; Jer 15:7; Hosea 13:3; Mal 4:1.
“With unquenchable fire,” ASBESTOS PUR. The Adjective ASBESTOS, ἄσβεστος means, “inextinguishable, or not to be quenched.” This is where we get our English word for a material that is heat resistant called “asbestos.” It is used in this narrative and Mark 9:43, 45 for the Eternal Lake of Fire. This portrays the eternal finality and irreversible nature of the final judgment. It fits well the description of Gehenna as a metaphor for the place of eternal judgment, for there Jerusalem’s garbage was burned, and its fires never went out. So, here and in other places, 2 Thes 1:8-9; Mark 9:48; Mat 25:41, the future suffering of the wicked is taught in the Bible.
As such, Jesus made extensive use of fire, burning, or a flame to portray the agony of those who will experience everlasting punishment. The gospels record at least thirteen instances of such descriptions from Jesus, Mat 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8–9; 25:41; Mark 9:43, 48–49; Luke 16:24; John 15:6, and six more mentions of the same by John the Baptist, Mat 3:10-12; Luke 3:9, 16-17.
Jesus used the figure of Gehenna eleven times to portray the misery of eternal punishment, Mat 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5. In two instances He combined the two words into the expression “Gehenna of fire.” Gehenna was the designation of a valley to the south and southwest of Jerusalem where garbage was dumped to furnish fuel for a fire that burned continually. Earlier the place had acquired a bad reputation because of sacrifices offered to the god Moloch there. The name became the equivalent to the hell of the last judgment.
So, Hell will be a place of great heat in a literal sense, probably hotter than any heat ever generated in this creation, and a place of great suffering, both physical and spiritual, suffering the likes of which no human has yet endured, suffering that Jesus likened to other types of human misery.
Therefore, the separation of the chaff (i.e., the wicked) is a picture of the Lord’s judgment prior to and after the eschatological kingdom of the Messiah. John is telling the people that Jesus is coming ready to judge, and His Cross will be the determining factor. If people believe, they are the wheat gathered into heaven, if they do not believe in Jesus, they are the chaff that is burned up in the unquenchable fire called Hell or the Eternal Lake of Fire.
The image here of the threshing floor is as sobering as the ax laid to the root of the unfruitful tree, vs. 9. “Christ plunges the winnowing shovel of the gospel into the world, and the wheat of faith is collected while the chaff of unbelief gets burned away in condemnation. Christians must bear faithful witness to Christ the Judge in a world that would rather Jesus were only a babe in a manger; they would only have Jesus be some wise teacher and consistently deny that he is Judge. Jesus is both the saving Lord who gives his life for sinners and the judging King who weighs us all.” (Christ-Centered Exposition).
Preaching the gospel is not just about eternal salvation, it includes the potential for eternal condemnation. It is always about the forgiveness of sins, since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, yet that forgiveness is either realized by those that believe or unrealized by those who reject Jesus as the Savior / Messiah. For those that reject Him, there is the reality of eternal condemnation. Therefore, God’s judgment of eternal condemnation towards the unbeliever is part of the gospel message, as we see in John’s preaching.
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If you would like more information on this subject, you may watch/listen to lesson:
#19-048 & 19-049 & 19-050
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A PERSONAL NOTE FOR YOU
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I am here to tell you that Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His life for you. God the Father also loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you by sending Him to the Cross. At the Cross Jesus died in your place. Taking upon Himself all of your sins and all of my sins. He was judged for our sins and paid the price for our sins. Therefore, our sins will never be held against us.
Right where you are, you now have the opportunity to make the greatest decision in your life. To accept the free gift of salvation and eternal life by truly believing that Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised on the third day as the proof of the promise of eternal life.
So right now, you can pause and reflect on what Christ has done for you and say to the Father:
“Yes Father, I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ,
died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.”
If you have done that, I welcome you to the eternal Family of God!