"As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.Matthew 3:11(NASB)
John the Baptist was speaking directly to many unrepentant and prideful Pharisees and Sadducees, whom he scolded with various blistering accusations. He called them 'a fruitless generation of vipers', whom God, in His wrath, was preparing to chop down and cast into the fire.
They boasted of being 'children of God', because they were Abrahams physical descendants. However, they were ill-prepared to harken to John's voice in the wilderness.. concerning the need to repent. John the Baptist was calling for individual repentance, as well as a collective, national mourning - for the nation's past sin, their spiritual adultery and gross apostasy.
John was the forerunner of the Messiah, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah. He came to prepare the way of the Lord. John came to Israel, proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Jesus, was the king of the Jews and He was now in their midst. He had come to set up the kingdom. which had been promised to David - but FIRST individual and national repentance was required. Inner repentance of heart was to be demonstrated through an outward 'baptism-unto-repentance' with water.
The apostate nation, that had turned against the God of their forefathers, was being called to repent of their sin.. and to be baptised with water for repentance to demonstrate their change of direction. This was to be a preparation for the arrival of Jesus - their promised Messiah and King of the Jews. When Joshua entered the promised land, the people had to re-commit themselves to the Lord, which they did through the outward act of circumcision. In the same way the people had to recommit their faith in God, by an inward repentance of their sins and the outward display of water-baptism.. because Jesus had come to give them their promised rest.
The people considered John to be a great prophet, and yet his ministry was a partial preparation for the good news, that was to follow. He confessed.. that the One Who was coming after him, was much greater and mightier than he was. We read that John was the greatest of all the prophets and yet Jesus would completely overshadow John, and all the former prophets of the Old Testament. Indeed, John admitted that he was not sufficiently worthy to unlace His sandals.
John warned, that although he himself baptised with water - for repentance, the One Who was coming after, would baptise in two very different ways. First, with the Holy Spirit-for salvation, forgiveness and eternal life and second, with Fire-for judgement, condemnation and eternal separation from God. The former took place at Pentecost, but the latter is yet to come.
Some suggest that these two baptisms of Christ are one and the same. Indeed, they give Pentecost as evidence!! However, when seen in its correct context, we discover that they refer to 1) salvation and 2) judgement.. First a separation of the good wheat, (true believers) who will be stored in granary.. and second the bad chaff, (unbelievers) who will be burned forever with unquenchable fire.
Praise God, that having been saved by grace through faith, we have been baptised into the Body of Christ, and placed in union with Him. And thank God.. that we will never have to face the future baptism of fire and judgement, about which John spoke.
Sadly, there are many who do not know the glorious gospel of grace. May we use the time that we have to share the good news of Christ, and warn of the bad news of rejecting His offer of salvation.
Heavenly Father, thank You that I have been baptised into Your Body and will never face the wrath of God and the judgement of fire. I pray that my life would be a light to the unsaved.. for the glory to God. In Jesus name I pray, AMEN.