Bible Study #10, Based on Luke 3:15-20
People were wondering whether John the Baptist was the Christ (the Messiah, or Anointed One). There at least a couple of reasons why they would have wondered whether John was the Christ:
- They could have discerned from Daniel’s prophecies that they were living in the times when the Christ would come
- They could have heard about the birth of John the Baptist (I highly doubt this was a family secret)
- They could have heard about the birth of Christ (the shepherds, Anna, Simeon, and the magi would have told others)
However, we are told that they were questioning in their hearts whether John was the Christ, so it is surprising to find that John the Baptist answered them. However, since John was a prophet, a suitable explanation is that the Spirit of God revealed to him what people were thinking, for Christ also knew what was in the heart of people (Luke 7:39-40, John 2:25).
However, John knew that he himself was not the Christ, so he told the crowd what he knew:
- The Christ was coming after him
- The Christ was mightier than he
- He was not worthy to untie the sandal of the Christ
- The Christ would baptize people with the Spirit and fire
Now then, what did it mean that the Christ woudl baptize people with the Spirit and with fire?
John said he baptized people with water, but the Christ would baptize them with the Spirit and fire. By baptizing people with water, people were showing that they were repenting of their sins and trusting God’s message of forgiveness. However, John baptized only with water: the true baptism was the one Christ himself would provide.
In the Tanach (the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible), there were some prophecies that indicated God would pour His Spirit on His people, for example Isaiah 32:15, Ezekiel 37:14, Ezekiel 39:29, and Joel 2:28-29. Of these prophecies, we know that Luke (just as the Lord taught) saw Pentecost as the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which was the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 2:16-21, 2:32-33).
So, John the Baptist was telling people that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit on them at Pentecost. However, John was not so clear because most likely he did not understand how all the events would unfold, so what he actually said was that the Christ would gather the wheat into the barn, which is a figure of salvation.
On the other hand, John explained that the Christ would burn the chaff with unquenchable fire: most likely, this was John’s explanation of the baptism with fire. Although some have tried to link the baptism with fire to the tongues of fire that appeared at Pentecost in Acts 2:3, that’s a different book of the Bible! In the absence of the book of Acts, Luke’s original audience would most likely not have linked the baptism with fire to Acts 2:3, but to the unquenchable fire mentioned here.
What John was saying is that although he was baptizing people with water, that baptism did not really accomplish anything. The baptism that really mattered was the baptism announced by the prophets, the baptism of the Holy Spirit: and that baptism would be done by Christ.
Nevertheless, the Christ would also judge people with fire that burns forever: a clear picture of judgment. But when does this judgment take place? In one way, the fire appears to happen when people die (Luke 16:23-24); in another way, the fire may be tied to the judgment of Israel through this idea of judgment: it began in the days of Christ (Luke 12:49), and the year 70 AD would bring a fulfillment of vengeance against Israel through the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Luke 21:22), just as it was foretold that many Israel would fall and thoughts would be revealed (Luke 2:33-35).
These then were the good news that John was preaching: Christ was coming to bring salvation (and judgment).
Finally, in verse 19, we are told that Herod locked John in prison because John had reproved him (similar to Elijah confronting Ahab in 1 Kings 17:1).
Questions for Reflection
- Why was Christ greater than John the Baptist?
- How are the baptism with water, baptism with the Spirit, and baptism with fire different from each other?
- Peope in Luke 3 had been waiting for biblical prophecies to be fulfilled. What do you think is the next biblical prophecy that will be fulfilled?
- Thank God for promising to give us His Spirit.
- Thank God for sending Jesus, the Messiah, to save the world.
- Ask God to help you share the good news with others so they can be saved and escape judgment.
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