In the previous post on Matthew 3, we touched on verses 9 – 12, but as I look at these verses again, I see things that provoke and puzzle me. For example:
“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”
(Matthew 3:9 BSB)
If you are unaware, one of the primary purposes of the seven years of God’s wrath is to drive Israel to God and bring about their repentance.
When you read a statement such as “I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham,” at the least, it sounds like a threat, as though God is telling the Jewish listener, don’t be so sure of yourselves. If you don’t know God’s capabilities, this thing with the rocks is doable. (Think about it, He -Jesus, created it all and made man from dirt. Dirt is a combination of many things, and one of them is rock.) I cannot begin to imagine what raising up stones as His children would look like, but it would be easy for God to do a substitution. Suddenly, this Gentile, who was graciously adopted into the family, feels very small.
Now look at what Jesus has to say.
“The axe lies ready at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
(Matthew 3:10 BSB)
Who is He referring to when He says trees?
The Children of Abraham.
“And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.”
(Romans 11:16 NLT)
Many will try to tell you that the Gentile church replaced Israel. NOT by a long shot. The Apostle Paul begins to explain.
“Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.”
(Romans 11:11-12 NLT)
I can’t help but think about the implications where “the axe lies ready at the roots of the trees.”
If you cut even a single, large root, you will severely damage the tree and possibly kill the tree; death, in this case, is slow. Some of the effects from such damage may have played a role in several tall trees falling due to rain, wind, and who knows what else. Fortunately, no one was struck by the trees.
Cut all the roots, and you will cut off the water and nutrient supply. Death will come quickly, anywhere from days to weeks.
If you are a farmer and your life is dependent upon the crops you produce, you only buy the best. A tree represented as top quality should not produce bad fruit; if it does, then you have insect damage or soil nutrient issues, which you should have checked.
But what does Jesus say?
Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I think about my life, where I was raised in the church. Whether I understood what I was doing or not seems irrelevant because I have been able to look back upon these detrimental events and know that God has always been a part of my life. Undoubtedly, I turned my back on God several times as I soaked in my shame, but God NEVER turned His back on me.
This would be an excellent place to throw in my two cents.
First, many have said God cannot look upon sin. Most recently, in my hearing, Pastor Greg Laurie once again made this assertion. The implications are that God must turn His back on you, effectively cutting you off from His active grace and mercy.
Is that true?
No, How can it be?
Adam and Eve did not only sin (they missed the mark and blew it up for all of us) in the garden, but some feel it is appropriate to say that Adam committed high treason.
So what did God do in response to their actions?
Turn His back on them?
No, He comes down, as usual, and walks in the cool of the garden, as He always did. Yes, He spelled out what the sin had done and what would continue to happen. But have hope, as Eve’s seed would eventually crush the Serpent’s head.
And while a rant like this could go on for volumes, let me repeat what the Apostle John told us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
(John 3:16-17 BSB)
Not only did He NOT turn His back on us, but He put Himself on the cross for us. Just the opposite of turning His back.
Did God cut me down and throw me into the fire?
This statement certainly sounds permanent, much like Gehenna/hell, and in a recent conversation with my wife, I think I realized that God had brought the fire into my life to purge and purify me. The circumstances drove me into the Word, where, as one dear lady puts it, it made me a Bible Nerd.
Look at what John the Baptizer has to say in the very next verse,
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
(Matthew 3:11 NLT)
There is that word fire again.
I understand baptism with the Holy Spirit because of statements that Jesus made to explain it. Still, there were the cloven tongues that appeared like fire upon the disciples, equaling about 120 persons. There was obvious evidence of speaking with other tongues and power, which for many equated to boldness.
Jesus had to go so that the Holy Spirit – the comforter, could come, and He did, but along with comfort comes boldness.
“But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.”
(John 16:7 NLT)
People are always willing to fight over terminology, especially if you did not say the correct word by their standards. So let me show you the Amplified translation, as they give more than enough supplementary words to define.
However, I am telling you nothing but the truth when I say it is profitable (good, expedient, advantageous) for you that I go away. Because if I do not go away, the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you [into close fellowship with you]; but if I go away, I will send Him to you [to be in close fellowship with you].
(John 16:7 AMP)
The Holy Spirit, acting on God’s behalf and doing only what the Father says, as Jesus did, strengthens our hearts about Jesus.
“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”
(John 15:26 NLT)
The Holy Spirit will abide with you forever. Doesn’t this speak of a God that will not let you go?
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.”
(John 14:16 NLT)
The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.
If you live under a rock and put your faith in Him, the comforter will teach you what you need to know and help you understand. Now, mind you, Jesus was referring to the things the disciples had been told at a time when there were no Bibles, and absorbing the Word of God could only come through repeated hearing from the Torah scrolls – typically kept in the synagogues.
“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”
(John 14:26 NLT)
I tried to run this past the wife, where John the baptist says, “ He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” and she had to ask me what the fire is supposed to be in our lives. Well, to be honest, I don’t know, in spite of the fact that many have tried to explain what they think this is.
Elijah called fire down from heaven upon troops that would take him, prisoner. And when you consider the two witnesses that show up on the streets of Jerusalem after the church has been removed, they are adeptly spewing literal fire upon anyone who tries to harm them.
Here is the drawback to thinking regarding the physical spewing of fire.
James and John exclaimed at one point,
“Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” (Luke 9:54 NLT)
They had no lack of faith that this could be done, but you won’t see their potential motivation if you use one of the simplistic translations. So instead, the Amplified expands the verse appropriately and gives you the backreference.
“But [the people] would not welcome or receive or accept Him, because His face was [set as if He was] going to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John observed this, they said, Lord, do You wish us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did ?” [II Kings 1:9-16.] (Luke 9:53-54 AMP)
Some things to notice here in this narrative about Elijah. It’s an amazing narrative; perhaps you should read it.
Because at least these two disciples had paid attention that day in synagogue school, James and John had a strong faith that they, too, could call fire down. Paying attention and having Jesus perform miracles on many levels could have built their confidence to the point where they felt they could call down fire on people. It’s a fantastic narrative; perhaps you should read it.
The context begins in 2 Kings 1:2.
“One day Israel’s new king, Ahaziah, fell through the latticework of an upper room at his palace in Samaria and was seriously injured. So he sent messengers to the temple of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether he would recover.” (2 Kings 1:2 NLT)
So instead of turning to the Lord, he turns to Baalzebub, the god of Ekron. On their way to the temple of Baalzebub, the king’s messenger meet Elijah.
“But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are on your way to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘You will not get up from the bed on which you are lying. You will surely die.’” So Elijah departed.” (2 Kings 1:3-4 BSB)
Of course, there is a God in Israel, but it is so easy to forget, and secondly, no one wants to hear that they are going to die and the messengers return to Ahaziah.
“When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, “Why have you returned?” They replied, “A man came up to meet us and said, ‘Go back to the king who sent you and tell him that this is what the LORD says: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending these men to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not get up from the bed on which you are lying. You will surely die.’” (2 Kings 1:5-6 BSB)
If you send someone on a mission knowing how long it should take, and they are back within 30 minutes when it should have taken a couple of hours, you know there is a problem. Having had experiences with Elijah, the King asks:
“The king asked them, “What sort of man came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?” “He was a hairy man,” they answered, “with a leather belt around his waist.” “It was Elijah the Tishbite,” said the king.” (2 Kings 1:7-8 BSB)
I am the king; go get him.
“Then King Ahaziah sent to Elijah a captain with his company of fifty men. So the captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on top of a hill, and said to him, “Man of God, the king declares, ‘Come down!’” (2 Kings 1:9 BSB)
The response from Elijah to this command.
“Elijah answered the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” And fire came down from heaven and consumed the captain and his fifty men.” (2 Kings 1:10 BSB)
This happened three times, but the third captain was wiser and could see the results of the previous two attempts.
“So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. And the third captain went up, fell on his knees before Elijah, and begged him, “Man of God, may my life and the lives of these fifty servants please be precious in your sight. Behold, fire has come down from heaven and consumed the first two captains of fifty, with all their men. But now, may my life be precious in your sight.” (2 Kings 1:13-14 BSB)
This response also pleased the Lord, so God gave Elijah the green light to go with the captain.
“Then the angel of the LORD said to Elijah, “Go down with him. Do not be afraid of him.” So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king. And Elijah said to King Ahaziah, “This is what the LORD says: Is there really no God in Israel for you to inquire of His word? Is that why you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not get up from the bed on which you are lying. You will surely die.” So Ahaziah died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. And since he had no son, Jehoram succeeded him in the second year of the reign of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat over Judah.” (2 Kings 1:15-17 BSB)
Setting aside the fire momentarily, God carried out His word, and Ahaziah died. There is an intriguing phrase within this paragraph: “So Ahaziah died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken.” Wow, I am sure that Elijah merely said what the Lord had told him to say. Perhaps there is a relationship thing that we are missing when we skim over something like this.
Jesus didn’t denounce the two disciples. The Bible tells us, depending upon the translation, that He reprimanded them.
The word that the majority of translations use is rebuked.
I’m not too fond of that word because, as a child, I was rebuked savagely, and let’s leave it at that.
The word rebuke is the Greek word epitimaō, and the meanings read like this:
REBU’KED, pp. Reproved; reprehended; checked; restrained; punished for faults.
REPROVED, pp. Blamed; reprehended; convinced of a fault.
CHECKED, pp. Stopped; restrained; repressed; curbed; moderated; controlled; reprimanded.
RESTRAINED, pp. Held back from advancing or wandering; withheld; repressed; suppressed; abridged; confined.
Did Jesus control, hold back, curb, restrain, and convince of a fault, these two disciples?
Most certainly, and He did it without rage. He did NOT tell them that what they were proposing was stupid and impossible because it wasn’t, but they were learning that they were living in the age of grace. So the instructions that Jesus had repeatedly given them were to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
Alright, the last verse for this post.
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
(Matthew 3:12 ESV)
The idea behind a fork like this is that the lightweight, unwanted portion gets caught by the breeze and moves away, forming a pile of debris while the wheat falls at your feet.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message tells us that “He (God) is going to clean house” soon. He goes on to say, “He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
The seemingly simplistic word burn is the Greek word katakaiō and means to burn down (to the ground), that is, consume wholly.
The King James Concordance tells us that the word katakaiō was used 13x in the New Testament. Revelation 18 is one of those places where the term katakaiō is used and is used concerning Babylon. Many seem to think that Babylon, the physical place, is to be rebuilt.
How about NOT. About a year ago, a Christian archaeologist went to the site of former Babylon and demonstrated how much it matches the description in Isaiah 13.
“And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation; Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there, Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there. But desert creatures will lie down there, And their houses will be full of owls; Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there. Hyenas will howl in their fortified towers And jackals in their luxurious palaces. Her fateful time also will soon come And her days will not be prolonged.” (Isaiah 13:19-22 NASB)
So Babylon is a demonic spiritual entity; watch what happens to it.
“To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.’ “For this reason, in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour, your judgment has come.’ “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more –” (Revelation 18:7-11 NASB)
And it goes on.
“The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ “And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’” (Revelation 18:15-19 NASB)
One more passage where the word katakaiō is used.
“The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.”
(Revelation 8:7 ESV)
When you start with Revelation chapter six, you see the beginning of God’s wrath being poured out upon Israel and the nations in the seals. Then, as the seals end, God moves into the “trumpet” judgments that begin in Revelation eight. Remember that the word katakaiō implies a complete burning where nothing is left.
I began this look at Matthew 3:11, where John the baptizer discussed how Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. I focused on fire and pointed out what it was not. What fire does is purify, so I cannot exclude God from bringing fire into our lives. If it needs to bring that idol you have set up to the ground, let it, as God is purifying you.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
(2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)
We will be tested with fire as part of the judgment seat. This is NOT a trying to see if you pass the admission test, but removing those things NOT allowed into the Holy City.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
(1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)
Fire brings warmth and comfort, so I hope you can see yourselves as someone who brings these aspects into the lives of others.