The Prophetic Message of John the Baptist

Norbert Lieth

John the Baptist announced the coming baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire to the people of Israel. What did he mean by it? An interpretation of salvation history.

When he saw the religious yet unbelieving elite of Israel, John the Baptist called out, “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? [. . .] And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 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: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:7, 10-12).

The context makes it clear that fire is an image of the judgment. John had already spoken of the future wrath that would come over Israel; namely, over the trees of the kingdom and over His threshing floor. The church, as the body of Christ, was still hidden at this time, and so John didn’t speak of it. The time of the “body of Christ” would be inaugurated by God at a later date (Rom 11; Eph 3; Col 1:25-26). Therefore, John named the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire in the same breath. But, in reality, the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire are separated by the Church Age, which John didn’t mention, since he was still a prophet under the Old Covenant (cf Luke 7:28). Seen through the lens of salvation history, the prophetic words of John the Baptist encompass seven aspects, which can be broken down as follows:

First, the axe was already “laid unto the root of the trees.” This means that the judgment was already clear and its beginning was already being anticipated. From the start, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and religious leaders opposed the work of God.

Second, John baptized those in Israel who repented with water.

Third, the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred at Pentecost. So, when Jesus later announced the Holy Spirit to His disciples, he didn’t mention the fire: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). The disciples weren’t destined for the fire of judgment, but to be the foundation of the church.

Fourth, as previously mentioned, the Church Age lies between the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire at the judgment. This period pushes the two baptisms (Holy Spirit and fire) apart from each other chronologically. We can understand it as follows: God is working in Israel. The baptism with the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven, and the church is inserted. The church will be taken up into heaven after its determined time, and the baptism with fire begins. God works in Israel through the judgment of the Great Tribulation. Finally, Jesus Christ appears in great might and glory. So, if we imagine away the insertion of the church, then the Holy Spirit and the judgment with fire would be immediately consecutive. The Lord would have established His kingdom and rendered judgment. However, the church is inserted between the baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Fifth, after the rapture of the body of Christ comes the time of wrath, the Great Tribulation, with the judgment and its baptism with fire (cf. Matt 13:40; Joel 2:28-32).

Sixth, the wheat is gathered into the barn. This is fulfilled in Revelation 20: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years [. . .] Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (vv. 4-6). These include all of those from Israel’s threshing floor, mentioned in Matthew 25: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34).

Seventh, the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire. This is likewise fulfilled in Revelation 20: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (vv. 11-15). This corresponds to Matthew 25: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41; cf. Rev 14:14ff.).

Midnight Call - 07/2019

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