The Promise of the One Spirit – Part 2 (John’s Prophecy in Matthew 3)

Note: What you will hear today may not be what you have heard before when studying this topic. You may not have come to the same conclusions that I have. I am still studying this important subject from God’s word.

  • Please keep an open mind and listen to everything that is taught.
  • Do not assign conclusions to me or my position that I do not teach.
  • I will be glad to study personally with you or answer questions.

Intro: Our study this morning will rely upon our lesson last week. Last week we investigated the O.T. promises about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel all spoke of the day when God would pour out His Spirit on His people. Although there were many references to His future coming, there is little connection between the pouring out of the Spirit and a miraculous outpouring. In fact, it is only when we come to Joel 2 that we see accompanying miracles. In every prophecy we studied we noticed that the promise of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit spoke of at least three important events:

(1) the restoration of the kingdom,

(2) the restoration of the covenant relationship, and

(3) the restoration of God’s blessings.

Today we will look closely at John’s prophecy concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:

I. John’s Prophecy: “He who is coming after me…” John the Baptist prophesied of the time when the Messiah would arrive. The coming of Jesus would usher in a new age, and greater work of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3:7-12 – 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

What did John promise here?

A. Who is John Talking to? When we consider the baptism of the Holy Spirit we often conclude that this was something that was promised and given to the apostles alone. But, it is important to notice that the audience of John’s words.

1. At this point Jesus had not chosen any apostles. (No doubt those who would later be apostles were here.)

2. Vs. 5-6 describe the general audience and those whom John was baptizing with water. Matthew 3:5-65 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. John is speaking to the Jewish people who are flocking to him.

3. In verse 7 we see that John begins this lesson when he sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming among the people. John is speaking to the whole nation of Israel, as represented by the hypocritical leaders, and those who are sincerely coming to him to be baptized in water. For these two “types” of people in the audience there are coming two events: A two piece prophecy for a divided audience. The nation was going to experience a baptism of the Holy Spirit and a baptism of fire.

B. “Baptized with Fire” How did the Jews who heard John’s words understand the baptism of fire? Was the baptism of fire a good thing or a bad thing? Again it is important to look at what God had already said in scripture.

1. The O. T. prophets had consistently pictured fire as an element of God’s wrath and judgment. Isa 66:15-1615 See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD. (NIV) Ezekiel 22:20-2220 As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. 21 Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. 22 As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have poured out My fury on you.'” There are some commentators who interpret the baptism of fire as a good thing (expression of God’s grace). But the scriptures consistently present fire as bad. Even being refined by fire describes a painful experience.

2. John’s use of the term “baptize with fire” fire is a description of the coming judgment and the wrath of God. John the Baptist is speaking to the Pharisees, Sadducees and all those present who would willingly reject Jesus. In fact judgment is a major theme of John’s remarks here: Notice Matthew 3:1010 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. vs. 12 – “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

a. It does not make sense to argue that the baptism of fire is a reference to the tongues of fire that appeared upon the apostles’ heads in Acts 2. The ax was laid at the tree, Israel, and the tree would be chopped with the coming of the Messiah. Disobedient Israel will be immersed (baptized) in the fire of God’s wrath.

C. “Baptized with the Holy SpiritSince the baptism of fire is a description of judgment and wrath, what then is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? John’s mission was to announce the coming of the Messiah and identify both the time and Person. To his diverse audience in Matthew 3 John echoes the message of the O.T. prophets by describing the time of the coming Messiah in two different events: judgment of God and the restoration of blessings.

1. Notice this connection in an O.T. passage that has a direct fulfillment in John’s ministry: Malachi 4:1-3 – 1 “For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the LORD of hosts. Both the angel in Luke 1 and Jesus Himself tells us that these verses in Malachi 4 are fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist (He is Elijah the prophet who was to come). Notice the similarity between the words here and in Matthew 3.

a. In the “day that is coming” those who are disobedient are cut down and burned up, and those who “fear His name” will be gathered together and the blessing of God (healing) will be restored to them. (The good and bad are coming together).

2. In Joel’s prophecy that we studied last week we see this same description: Joel 2:28-3:1‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls. 3:1 ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, (NIV)           Again we see the good tied together with the bad. The pouring out of the Spirit and the restoration of the fortunes of Judah happens at the same time when the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. These are images of judgment.

a. Therefore, it is not unusual for John to preach in Matthew 3 that both good and bad will come when the Messiah arrives. The righteous would receive the blessings of God while the wicked would receive judgment and destruction.

D. “The Kingdom of Heaven is near…”Matthew 3 opens with these words: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:1-2) In the next chapter Matthew tells us that Jesus’ message was the same. Both John and Jesus looked to the restoration of Kingdom and the restoration of the blessings promised by the prophets. In anticipation of that event they called for repentance because along with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit would come the pouring out of God’s wrath. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

E. John’s Simple Message: John is telling the Jewish leaders that the Messiah is coming and with his arrival there will be two events:

1. The Baptism of fire: God’s enemies will be immersed in the fire of His wrath. So Repent.

2. The baptism of the Holy Spirit: God’s people will be immersed in the blessings of God’s Spirit as promised by the prophets.

a. To be understood in the context of O.T. scripture. It seems best to interpret John’s prophecy as those in his audience would have interpreted it. His promise was a continuation of the O.T. prophets’ view of the coming Messianic Kingdom.

b. Thus it is my conclusion that John’s statement that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit was not a promise of miraculous activity given exclusively to the apostles. But rather it was synonymous with the promise that God would pour out His Spirit in the days of the Messiah. It is more contextually a description of

1) the arrival of the kingdom,

2) the restoration of the covenant, and

3) the restoration of God’s blessings to His people.

Next Week: How and When is this promise fulfilled? The Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts