In Spirit and Fire

John proclaimed a baptism in water “for the remission of sins,” and he announced the arrival of the “Coming One.” He was sent as the Forerunner of 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 was the promised King of Israel who would baptize his people “in Spirit and Fire.”

The Baptist summoned the entire nation to repentance, and he warned the presumed religious leaders of Israel 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 Messiah and the Kingdom of God, and the call 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 contrasted himself with this “Coming One” in three ways - mightworth, 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 direct 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 other side of the coin, judgment “in fire.”

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

  • The Forerunner - (John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah, the herald of the Good News of the Kingdom of God – Mark 1:4-8)
  • 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)
  • The Messiah Arrives - (In the ministry of Jesus, the kingdom of God arrived, commencing with his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist – Mark 1:1-3)



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Going on to Perfection