Baptism with Fire

By Royce Frederick

John, the forerunner of Jesus, said, “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 [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire(Matt. 3:11). Who is you in this verse, and what is the baptism with fire?

YOU — John was talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees (3:7). But he clearly used the word “you” in a general way to mean  people.”

1. “I indeed baptize you with water....” — John did not baptize the Pharisees with water. “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Lk. 7:29-30; see Matt. 21:25). So, “you” meant “people” in general, without telling which people.

2. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit....” — The New Testament tells of only two occasions of baptism with the Holy Spirit, in Acts 2 and Acts 10. These did not include the Pharisees and Sadducees. Again, “you” meant “people.”

So, like the others, “He will baptize you” reveals that Jesus would baptize people with fire. But it does not reveal which people.

John was not telling them who would be baptized. He was telling them who has the greatest power! John was a mere human and could only baptize with water. But Jesus, the Son of God, has the power to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire!

BAPTISM WITH FIRE In Matt. 3:10-12, John mentions fire three times: (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) ...He [Jesus] 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.”

John is not referring to the “tongues, as of fire” on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:3. “Baptize” means “immerse.” The apostles were baptized (immersed, overwhelmed) with the Holy Spirit, but not with fire. The “tongues, as of fire” sat on the head of each apostle; they were not immersed with fire that day.

Matthew 3:10 & 12 show that 3:11 is not referring to a “trial by fire,” as in some verses (see 1 Pet. 4:12).

John was speaking of eternal punishment in fire.  He was warning the Pharisees and Sadducees that the wrath (3:7) of God would come upon all who do not truly repent. Jesus often spoke about the punishment of eternal fire which awaits all who reject God and “those who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8; see Matt. 13:40-42, 49-50; 25:41; Mk. 9:43-48; Jn. 15:6). At the end of the world, all people will be raised to life and judged by Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). He will cast the disobedient into the eternal lake of fire, baptizing (immersing) them in fire forever (Rev. 20:14-15). John compared it to throwing a fruitless tree and chaff into a fire (Matt. 3:10, 12).

Jesus has the power to punish sin. All of us sin and deserve to be separated from God forever (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Jesus also has the power to save us through His death for our sins. And you have the power to accept His grace by being baptized into Him for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38)!