I have always been puzzled by the verses which follow John the Baptist’s words pointing to Jesus as the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit:
“His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17)
But what is this “unquenchable fire” that burns up the chaff? Like the many prophets before him, John the Baptist spoke, not only to his time, but also to the times we ourselves are living in, and the same words of warning are used to denote future end times.
I was born and raised in a large city. What did I know of rural life, of farming, of growing wheat and harvesting it? So I went to my friend who has a little farm. In harvesting her home-grown wheat she has taken kernels of wheat, and manually rubbed them very hard to separate the kernel from the chaff.
“Before wheat can be useful, the outer shell needs to be broken,” she told me. “It can be quite an abrasive process, for both the wheat and the chaff,” she explained. “It does not separate easily. But, until that chaff is rubbed off, the little kernels of wheat are not useful.” I was impressed that the kernels could then be ground into flour and used to make into bread and other baked goodies!
Her explanation reminded me of the words of Watchman Nee. What a marvelous analogy with our own lives! Nee speaks of the inner and outer man in his book, The Release of the Spirit. Until the outer man is broken, the spirit of the inner man cannot be released to be useful for the kingdom of God. Just as the seed needs to be stripped of its outer chaff, so the inner man is released from his outer shell, revealing the person who is able to function as God intends.
Future end-time messages reveal still more:
“And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people, since they do not return from their ways.” (Jeremiah 15:7)
In His parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus, explains, “…the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.” The tares are gathered (all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness) will be cast “into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42)
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul also speaks of God’s final judgment: “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day…” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
Knowing these things, what are we then to do? The best response is the one Peter gave to the crowd at Pentecost—the ones who were “cut to the heart” and asked the same question. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38, 39)
When I personally repented, I recognized the Holy Spirit could not dwell with the impurities in my life. They, like chaff, needed to be burned with the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit not just initially, but continuously as an ongoing purifying experience. I need to always be ready for the Master’s use.