The ministry of John the Baptist – he came with a message of judgment, and with that judgment being only for the Jews:
(Read) Matt. 3:1-2, 7, 10, 12 Pending judgment about to come (we, in the 21st Century western culture, have so often only thought of John as coming to announce the coming of the Messiah, as the lamb of God as the “savior” of the world, but when understanding the OT predictions of the coming of the Messiah it was two-fold: judgment and salvation. The Hebrew people very well knew their Old Covenant (OC) writings.)
It is critical at this point that we slow down to understand the significance of the Holy Spirit’s selecting of words, and their meaning. John the Baptist is standing amidst his Old Covenant audience, among who are many farmers, and have come from generations of farming, or are of or familiar with the agricultural industry, and are well aware of the farming language metaphors John is speaking to them. Again, we need to hear and understand this from the audience relevance significance to whom it is spoken, and not lose the power in the message from any modern or uncultured (their 1st century culture) lack of understanding.
In Matt. 3:12 the Holy Spirit inspired John to speak to them about a winnowing fork (some translations say fan, but it actually refers to a “pitch fork”). His audience being well aware of the customs and procedures done for wheat harvesting would fully understand the significance of what God was wanting them to know. It is us, here in our modern unfamiliar world/culture views who are the ones who need to see the power of what they are being told – the “winnowing fork” is an “end of the harvest” tool used to throw the wheat up in the air to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
- A winnowing fork is used at the “end” of the harvest once all of the wheat/tares are gathered.
- John is giving them clear visual imagery about the whole passage he had just spoken:
- It was all stated as present tense/time, and imminent to them.
- The Kingdom had drawn near (vs. 2)
- The axe is at their root (vs. 10)
- Christ’s winnowing fork for the end of the harvest was already in His hand.
Look at what Jesus had to say about John the Baptizer: (read) Matt. 11:10, 14; then 17:10-13, “The disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”
To understand all of this better we need to go back to the OT prophecies to see what was written: (read) Mal. 3:1…then keep reading vs. 2-3 (which is about Jesus Christ). Look what it says was a major purpose of His coming – judgment – Israel. (See how Amos 9:8-10 confirms same thing.)
This same prophecy does not end there – look over at (read) Chpt. 4:4 What does it say, “Remember the law of Moses…” here again the OC people are brought back to their beginning to remind them that God has not forgotten His promises – and their judgment is coming.
AND what was to be their warning of when the “time was at hand/at the door” – v. 5, “behold I will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
- This was their/Israel’s judgment time warning! And what did we just read Jesus said in Matt. 17:10-13 – John the Baptizer was Elijah, and had now come already.
**Matt. 17:12 is a direct cross reference from Mal. 4:5. Do we realize what we are being told here – Elijah “had” come, and that this coming was in fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi, which said this was “just before” the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
- Do you not think the Jews understood the significance of this warning?
- Do you not think their history came into their minds?
- The covenant promises/curses?
- Hundreds of years of prophet after prophet warning them to repent and turn back to God, or the promise of judgment and destruction? (The last thing they heard was from Malachi warning them that Elijah was coming to prepare the way of the Lord, and part of this was to be to “purify the sons of Levi” and of this “great and dreadful day of the Lord” coming upon them)
NOW, after 400 years of no word from God, out of the “wilderness” comes a voice crying to them (v. 2)“repent,” (v. 7)“the wrath is about to come,” (v. 10) “the axe is now at the root,” (v. 12) “Jesus’ winnowing fork is in His hand…to thoroughly clean out His threshing floor…” (Israel – same as Mal. 3:2 – purify the sons of Levi).
* Let’s turn to read what Luke has to tell us about the purpose of the ministry of John the Baptist in (read) Luke 1:16-17 – John’s ministry was again stated to be to Israel, and he was used to turn many of them to God. And as we saw in Matthew Chpt. 3 – away from the pending judgment about to come upon them when Jesus Christ cleaned His threshing floor (Israel) in vs. 10 and 12.
* Let us also look at what the Book of John has to say about John the Baptist, and to whom he said Jesus had first come for – (read) John 1:11; 29-31, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (Israel) Vs. 29-31, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
“Study Series 16 Lesson 7 Rev. Chapters 19 and 20 (sub study on The Wedding)”