The Wheat and the Chaff

The baptisms performed by John the baptist, the truth in his preaching, and the authoritative warnings of the urgency of repentance were just some of the things that made the people who witnessed it all (and, no doubt, many who simply had heard about him) wonder if he was the Messiah that had been promised to come since the beginning (Genesis 3:15). Indeed, Luke 3:15 points out that many must have desperately wanted him to be “the one.” But verse 16 tells us how John answered that question:

“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Winnowing grain by tossing it into the wind so the chaff will blow away

Winnowing grain by tossing it into the wind so the chaff will blow away

The concept of being baptized with the Holy Spirit is fairly straightforward to us as Christians – followers of Christ, who have been baptized with true repentance have had their lives changed, and can be guided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But what is meant by the statement that He will baptize with fire? The answer can be found in the following verse:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Rather than being something positive for Christ’s followers, the baptism by fire is the judgment for the unbelievers, with the unbelievers represented by “chaff” in that verse. Chaff is the dry, scaly, inedible casing of seed or grain. Before the invention of the threshing machine in the latter part of the 18th century, threshing was often done by placing the sheaves on the threshing floor and beating them or running over them. It was the most labor intensive part of the harvest. Afterward, the wheat would be separated by winnowing, often done with a winnowing fork by tossing the grain into the wind so that the chaff would be blown away. The chaff was often burned then to dispose of it.

The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus (Photo credit: Travis S.)

Luke then speaks in verse 18 of John’s distinction of being the first preacher of the “good news” of the kingdom of heaven – a very different sort of prophet from those who had come before him in the Old Testament. But not everyone was happy with the preaching of John the baptist (verse 19). Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, had the title of “tetrarch,” which means “ruler of a quarter” (his father had divided Judea into districts, and he was given Galilee and Perea). He had divorced his first wife, and taken his brothers wife, Herodias. John’s condemnation of this and many evil acts done by the ruler resulted in Herod having him thrown in prison.

Verses 21-22 tell of Jesus submitting to the baptism, and of the sign of the Holy Spirit and God’s pleasure in His Son. Though these verses come after the verse about John’s imprisonment, one should not infer that Luke did not know of John’s role in Jesus’ baptism, as he acknowledges John’s role in Acts 1:22.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at

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2 comments on “The Wheat and the Chaff

  1. Pingback: Nazarene Commentary Luke 3:15-17 – The Baptisms of the One Coming | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

  2. Pingback: Winnowing |

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