John the Baptist, as the forerunner of the Messiah, spoke in terms of the coming King ("Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" Isa. 40:3; cf. Matt. 3:3) and said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt 3:11; cf. Luke 3:16). The question often asked is what does he mean by fire?
One of the first principles of sound interpretation is to look at the context. Just prior to this, John said, "Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matt 3:10), and "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (v. 12). In the preceding metaphor those who do not produce "good fruit" will be hewn down and cast into the "fire." In the following metaphor the fan is used to separate what is on the harvest floor from the chaff that will be burnt up with an "unquenchable fire." Both of these probably use fire as a term for the judgment that will occur at Jesus' second coming. Only those who repent, are baptized with the Holy Spirit, and bear good fruit are saved. The Messiah will work a complete separation that ends in useless chaff being burn at judgment.
There is another interpretation based on the Greek singular pronoun autos suggesting that John is speaking about the same person. Also, a double baptism of the same person is suggested by the use of one preposition en being applied to both the Holy Spirit and fire (baptisei en pneumati hagio kai puri (Robertson). The person being baptized would be baptized not just with the Holy Spirit, but would also face fire, i.e., judgment. Paul wrote about this coming fire: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (I Corinthians 3:13; cf. vv 10-13; cf. II Cor. 5:10).
by Leland M.Haines. Edited by Richard Polcyn. August 30, 2001
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