THE WITNESS OF CHRIST BY JOHN
Matt 3:11-12 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.
When the multitudes came to hear John preaching repentance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2), and responded by confessing their sins and submitting to baptism (Matt. 3:6), Luke, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, tells us that many thought John was the promised Messiah - the Christ (Luke 3:15). Matthew wrote that John denied being the Messiah. Both Mark and Luke record the same answer, and they all used the wonderful words, used in the lesson text, to do so. John explains the limitations of the baptism he was asking them to submit to - it was symbolic, outward cleansing that was unto repentance. At this particular time in God's plan of salvation, this was all that John could do for those that, in his presence, confessed their sins to God before he baptized them with water. John could only promise the remission of sins that was to come, but he could not perform any acts that could bring it about. This was reserved for the Messiah; the Christ; the Son of God.
Here Matthew, as well as Mark and Luke, describes the Holy One that was to come as the promised Savior of the world. He writes that he did indeed baptize you with water, but humbly adds that One mightier than I cometh. Although John was born miraculously into the world in the spirit and power of Elijah, his power was limited. His God-given mission was only to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17). Indeed, John was given power from God, but it was nothing when compared to that of the Christ. Esteeming the Son of God so high, John confesses that he is not even worthy to bear His shoes. In comparative passages, both Mark and Luke say that John thought himself unworthy even to unloose the latchet of the shoes worn by Christ. The task of putting on and taking off the shoes of a master, is often assigned as the lowest duty of a servant. John didn't even consider himself worthy of being the lowly shoe-bearing servant of Christ. True, dedicated servants of God always have, and forever hereafter, must be humble in their own eyes. Deep-rooted humility is a Christian characteristic that should always be readily observed by all that we come in contact with, whether they are our families, friends, neighbors, or our fellow Christians.
Neither is John's baptism of water worthy of being compared to that which Christ would usher in as God's requirement. John says that He, that is Christ, shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. This restricts the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and with fire to only Christ, Himself. Jesus Christ promised these spiritual baptisms to His apostles (Acts 1:4-5; 1:8). And, according to Acts 2:1-4, this promise was fulfilled. Through the teaching of the Holy Spirit-led apostles, others were baptized with the Spirit of God when they obeyed the gospel message of Christ, submitted to the requirements that led to water baptism, and afterwards was added, by God, to the church of Christ.
Fire, as it is used in both verses 10 and 12, is an element of destruction. Therefore, its use in verse 11 must have the same meaning. Matthew, Mark, and Luke in parallel passages refer to the baptism of the Holy Ghost (See Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16), which is the same as the Holy Spirit of God. Only Matthew and Luke, in this context, refer to the baptism of fire, and it is followed with this comparable explanation: 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. Here, Christ is characterized as a winnower - one that separates the wheat from the chaff. With His all-knowing power to distinguish the righteous from sinners, He will separate them as wheat is separated from chaff. The righteous are eternally saved, and the wicked are destined to the eternal fires of hell. Through Jesus Christ we have the opportunity to accept and believe the Holy Spirit-inspired baptism of water for the remission of our sins, or our fate will be the baptism of fire - eternal punishment in the lake of fire reserved for Satan and his followers.