Time of Preparing

Key Verse: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.”
—Matthew 3:11

Selected Scripture:
Matthew 3:1-8, 11-17

JOHN THE BAPTIST WAS the last of the prophets; and, as Jesus declared, “There hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” (Matt. 11:11) In Matthew 3:3 we read concerning John, “This is he that was spoken of by the prophet, Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” At the time of this account, we are told that among the Jews, “the people were in expectation” of the Messiah.—Luke 3:15

John the Baptist’s mission was to arouse the people of Israel to the fact that Messiah had already come, and the inauguration of the long-promised kingdom of God was at hand. John told the people they should begin preparation at once if they desired to share in that kingdom, in harmony with their long-cherished hope. They were to repent from their violations of the Law and turn from sin; and their reformation was to be symbolized by a baptism.

John was faithful in telling his hearers that his work of preaching and baptism was merely preparatory to the greater teachings and the higher baptism Messiah would institute.

In his message, John admonished those who would listen, that “now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. 3:10) This was a figurative way of saying that a testing time, as an individual matter, had come for the Jewish people, and all who did not bear ‘good fruit’ would not be identified with the kingdom.

All those who did not bear the necessary fruitage would be cut off from Divine favor, and cast into the fiery trouble with which the Jewish Age would end, and their national existence would cease. Calling attention to this matter, the Apostle Paul said that “wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”—I Thess. 2:16

Continuing in Matthew 3:11 (Revised Standard Version), John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

He illustrated the character of Messiah’s work in their nation, comparing it to the winnowing of wheat from chaff. He said that the Messiah will “gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (vs. 12) In this prophecy, the ‘chaff’ of the nation was cast into the ‘fire’ of trouble, which consumed Israel as a nation in A.D. 70.

John the Baptist understood that he was not fulfilling all the features of the antitypical Elijah. When priests and Levites asked John, “Art thou Elias? … he saith, I am not.” (John 1:21) But Jesus said, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” (Matt. 11:14) He meant that—to those who recognized his message and obeyed it, who became the Lord’s disciples—John fulfilled the work of Elias (Elijah). The antitypical Elijah is composed of Jesus’ followers in the flesh, who also must do a preparatory work in the world—introducing the Messiah of glory at his Second Advent.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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