To whom was John speaking? Notice verse 5,
"Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him . . . " (Matthew 3:5)
Now, are we to suppose that all Jerusalem and all Judaea, and all this region were righteous, or at least repentant and seeking salvation? Not at all! The whole population came in great crowds -- largely out of curiosity. Did John baptize them all? Not at all! Many were repentant, confessing their sins. But others were not. Notice,
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance . . ." " (Matthew 3:7-8).
John calls the hypocritical religious leaders who came to his baptism VIPERS! Some of those in his audience to whom John spoke were to be baptized later with the Holy Spirit. Others are awaiting the wrath to come, which will be a baptism of unquenchable flames! There are two classes of people here, awaiting two opposite fates -- one to receive the Holy Spirit, the others flames!
Notice the tenth verse:
"And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. " (Matthew 3:10)
He is speaking of the fate of the wicked, which shall be cast into the lake of FIRE, which is the second death, Revelation 20:14, and standing before him were those to receive that fate!
Will Jesus perform a baptism by fire?
Let's continue with John the Baptist's scolding and warning to the self-righteous religious teachers:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me (Jesus) is mightier than I . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12).
Now notice many things here. He will gather HIS wheat. The wheat is cast, or rather gathered, into the garner. But a flaming baptism awaits those who are of the chaff! Compare that with Matthew 13:30:
"Let both (wheat and tares -- the wheat representing saints, the tares lost sinners) grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn." "
What do the symbols represent? Jesus explained:
"The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares (chaff) are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom (purge His floor) all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace . . ." (Matthew 13:38-42).
Now the key to the whole question lies in the definition of "his floor." Those who believe Christians should seek a baptism by fire believe the "floor" means the individual Christian -- that Christ will fan up the flames with the fan in his hand, burning out the dross from the life of the Christian, purging this life of sin, thus burning up the chaff, leaving only the good part of the man -- the wheat.
This interpretation is not correct based on the clear meaning of other scriptures.
Notice, Christ's fan is to be in His hand. He will purge His floor. Purge it of what? Of the chaff. Then the wheat will be gathered into His garner. What is "His floor"? Evidently the same as "His field":
" . . . 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in HIS FIELD' " (Matthew 13:24)
But while He slept, the enemy, the devil, came and sowed tares -- sinners. Now He let BOTH -- saints and sinners -- the wheat and the tares, (or the wheat and the chaff) -- grow together in HIS field -- (His floor) -- until the harvest. Then He sends his angels to perform a baptism (immersion) of the tares, or the chaff -- the lost sinners -- with FIRE, which burns them up, but the wheat -- the saved -- are gathered into His garner -- His kingdom. Verse 38 says the field is the world.
The expressions used are almost identical to John's statement about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Before John were gathered the children of the wicked one, and also some of those to be heirs of salvation. Christ will PURGE His floor -- His field -- the earth. The wheat will be gathered into His Kingdom, but the chaff, or tares -- the lost sinners -- are to be PURGED from the world.
Now examine that word "purge." What is it Christ will PURGE? Notice Ezekiel 20:38. When He comes again,
"I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel . . ."
What about that word "fan"? The marginal reference takes us to Jeremiah 51:1-2,
"Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I will raise up against Babylon . . . a destroying wind. And I will send winnowers (fanners) to Babylon, Who shall winnow (fan) her and empty her land." " And she (Babylon) shall be utterly BURNED: "for strong is the Lord God who judges her." (Revelation 18:8).
The fan is an instrument for destroying sinners with flames -- not purifying saints.
What or who is the chaff?
Now what is the "chaff"? Speaking of sinners (not sins to be cleansed out of saints), God says, through Hosea 13:3,
"Therefore they shall be like the morning cloud . . . like CHAFF blown off (fanned) from a threshing floor . . ."
This language closely matches that of Christ, with His fan, whipping up a wind that purges the chaff off His floor, to be burned! Now notice further, Daniel 2:35:
"Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold (Babylon -- sinners) were crushed together, and became like CHAFF from the summer threshing FLOORS; the wind (started by his fan) carried them away so that no trace of them was found." Yes, to be burned. These scriptures show the chaff refers to lost sinners, not faults in saints. With His fan He purges His floor, carrying away the chaff, or the tares, to be burned. Now what is UNQUENCHABLE fire? Is it used in connection with purifying saints, or punishing the lost?
Notice Malachi 4:1:
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven. And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble (chaff, tares). And the day which is coming shall burn them up," says the Lord of hosts . . . "
Surely that settles it. John was speaking to both sinners and those to be saved. When he said Christ shall baptize you -- the YOU included both. The saved he shall baptize with his spirit -- and the others will receive a baptism of fire!