“Baptism with fire” sounds ominous…

Having written about “trials by fire” in my last blog it reminded me that we’re also “baptized with fire” according to John the Baptist in Luke 3:16. And how ominous does that sound?

But to John it was “good news,” verse 18. So being baptized with fire isn’t ominous, it’s good. But how?

In context John connects baptism with fire to Jesus having a “winnowing fork in his hand to clear his threshing floor,” verse 17. Winnowing follows threshing. Threshing – or the flailing of grain – separates the grain from its inedible covering or husk. Winnowing then gets rid of the husks, so you’re left with just the edible seed.  

Winnowing involves wind. Fortunately, the husk of a seed is lighter in weight than the seed, so wind can separate the two, by throwing the combined seeds and husks up in the air with a winnowing (or pitch) fork, or dropping them from a height in a wind, or today by forced air fans. 

Jesus enters this picture at the winnowing stage, to illustrate what he’d be doing after John the Baptist’s work was done. Jesus is the pitch forker chucking the seeds and husks in the air, while the wind, presumably the Holy Spirit “wind” (John 3:8), blows away the husks. What’s left is the good and useful bit of the grain that can be ground into flour. 

So far, so good. But it’s what happens to the husks (or “chaff”) in Luke 3 that sounds ominous, because Jesus will “burn them up with unquenchable fire,” which harks back to verse 9 when John says, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire,” thereby associating “fire” with destruction, and clearly referring to the destruction of people (verses 7-8).

But why would Jesus want the chaff husks burnt with “unquenchable fire”? Well, that harks back to Psalm 1:4-5, that the wicked “are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous,” totally assuring us in verse 6 that “the way of the wicked will perish.” 

It simply won’t exist anymore. So all those evil people, who think they’re invincible and untouchable in their protected castles of power and control, need to take note – that Jesus is an “unquenchable fire” in his insatiable desire to rid this world of evil once and for all.

Jesus is going to reduce all evil to ashes, so it has no power whatsoever. Evil is not indestructible, which it seems to be in this world, where evil people so often get away with their evil. But Jesus assures us that no sinner is indestructible. And it’s a total lie by Satan that “You shall not die if you disobey God” – meaning “You can get away with it” – because no one will. 

“Unquenchable,” therefore, means Jesus won’t stop until all evil in every symptom and cause is removed and full justice is done. Nothing will be allowed to fester or simmer below the surface. God’s allowed evil to exist, yes, but in Acts 17:30, Paul tells us that “In the past God overlooked ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed,” and he’s “given proof of it,” verse 31, “by raising him from the dead.” 

No wonder John the Baptist said a baptism with fire was “good news,” and especially for those who feel powerless against evil, because in the coming of Jesus is the promise that one day evil will have no power at all. It will be baptized with fire, burnt to a crisp, and real, true, beautiful justice will prevail for all. 

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