John answered and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.Luke 3:16(NASB)
John the Baptist strode onto the pages of history after 400 years of prophetic silence. He came as the forerunner of the Jewish Messiah. He was sent in fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy, for John referred to himself as 'a voice crying the wilderness'. "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." he shouted, "Make His path straight".
Many wondered if John was the Messiah, but he vehemently denied this and bore witness that he was not the Messiah. John testified, concerning Jesus, and declared to those who questioned him, “He is the One Who is coming after me. He has surpassed me in honour, because He existed before me".
John also introduced a new type of ritual cleansing, or ceremonial baptism to Israel. He called it 'a baptism of Repentance', and used the washing of the body in water, to represent an inner cleansing of the heart, by the Spirit. Like the prophets before him, John was calling Israel to repent of their sin - both personally and nationally. They were to repent of Israel's idolatry and believe in their heart on the One Who would come after him - the Lord Jesus Christ - the Holy One of Israel.
The Jewish rulers questioned John's authority and asked if he was the Messiah. However, John proclaimed forcefully that he was NOT the Messiah. He declared that his ritual baptism was totally different from the true baptism, that the coming Messiah would one day implement. "John answered them, and said, "I baptise you with water; but One is coming Who is mightier than I. I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire."
John made a clear distinction between his WET baptism in water, for repentance, and the two DRY baptisms the coming Messiah would introduce. "He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with a baptism of Fire. He will baptise you with 1) the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (unto salvation) and 2) a baptism with Fire (unto damnation). Those who have done good, by believing on Christ, will participate in the resurrection of LIFE - through the baptism of the Spirit. Those that have done evil, by not believing on Christ, will take part in the resurrection of damnation - the baptism of fire.
John was Israel's last prophet, whom the Lord sent to call the nation, both nationally and individually, to repent. They were to repent of their apostasy. They were to turn away from their idolatry. They were to return to God of their fathers and put away all their idolotry. He warned that failure to do so would result in the fires of judgment. While obedience would result in the baptism of the HOLY SPIRIT, disobedience would result in a baptism of FIRE.
John was teaching Israel a very sober lesson. The Messiah, Who was already in their midst, would perform one of two types of baptisms on every one of them. "He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit, AND He will baptise you with fire". John was stating that SOME in their midst would be baptised with the HOLY SPIRIT (i.e. when they believed on the Messiah, Who was coming after him). Others, however, would receive a baptism of FIRE - the fires of judgement, because of their unbelief.
Those who truly repented of their sins - those who participated in John's baptism of repentance and believed on the One Who was to come, would one day be baptised with the Holy Spirit. Those who refused his baptism of REPENTANCE, and would not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, would one day have to undergo God's terrible baptism of FIRE. John likened those who would believe to good grain, who would be gathered into God's barn. However, he likened those who would not believe to chaff, which would be burned with a fire that never goes out.
The Holy Spirit 'came upon' a FEW people in the pre-cross era (i.e. the dispensation of Law). However, EVERY post-cross believer receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit, about which John spoke. From the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent by God to indwell every member of the fledgling Church (the Body of Christ). That unique Day of Pentecost, began a new dispensation in God's economy (i.e. the dispensation of God's Grace). Israel was set aside, for a season, and God began to work through the Church.
From that unique day, every new believer receives the Baptism of the Holy Spirit the moment they believe on Christ, for the forgiveness of sin. At the moment of salvation, a person immediately undergoes a baptism - a DRY, SPIRITUAL Baptism - the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which places them into the Body of Christ.
Jesus taught His disciples about this same, spiritual baptism, the night He was betrayed. He told them, "The Holy Spirit resides WITH you and He will be IN you". In Acts chapter 1, only 10 days before the Day of Pentecost, Jesus reminded them of this truth. "John baptised with water (a water baptism - of repentance) "but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now" (a spiritual baptism - of the heart)
The Mighty One about Whom John spoke began to baptise those who turned from their sin and believed on the Lord Jesus, on that unique, Day of Pentecost. However, the Baptism of Fire, spoken of by John, is a future judgement that will fall on unbelievers, at the great white throne. The Baptism of Fire is yet to take place in the lives of those who do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Baptism of Fire is God's judgement on UNbelievers.
Sin was judged at the CROSS for believers, and by faith in Christ, all who believe are declared righteous. All who are Baptised by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ are identified with HIM and baptised into His Body. All who believe will live in God's presence eternally. However, the sin of unbelievers will be judged through a baptism of fire. They will be declared unrighteous because they are not identified with Christ. They will be baptised with FIRE, and excluded from God's presence, forever.
Johns's message is a sobering one and every one of us should praise God for our great salvation. May all who have been baptised into Christ be used by Him to tell forth the glorious gospel of God, to those who remain dead in their trespasses and sin. May our lives be a living testimony to those who have yet to place their trust in Christ, so that they may be saved from the wrath to come.
Heavenly Father, the message of John the Baptist is a sobering one. Thank You that I have been baptised, by the Holy Spirit, into the body of Christ, and have been saved by grace through faith in Him. I pray for those that remain dead in their sin and are facing the terrible Baptism of fire, which awaits all those who do not believe on His name, for the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting. Look down in mercy on the fallen race of man and use me as an instrument to tell out the gospel of grace. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.