William J. Stewart | Is That Really What It Means?
In Acts 2:24, we read about the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit. Luke writes:
…suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This is referred to in Acts 1:4-5 as the promise of the Father or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of confusion in the religious world today about the Holy Spirit. The pendulum of ideas about the Spirit range from the Spirit only dwelling in God’s people by the Word to Him causing folks to wail uncontrollably while rolling around on the floor. In a previous article, we addressed the misuse of John 14, 15 & 16 by some. Today we want to look at the misuse of Matthew 3:11. That said, if there are questions on what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit and our relationship to the Spirit, by all means, contact me and let’s sit down and study in greater detail.
For now, let’s take a look at Matthew 3:11:
I indeed baptize you with water unto 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 fire.
One can easily see by looking at Acts 1:4-5 that Acts 2:2-4 is the fulfillment of this baptism of the Holy Spirit which John spoke about. And yet, in conversation with folks, I’ve been told that they’ve received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Not just the baptism of the Holy Spirit (if they truly understood the Bible, they would know they hadn’t received that), but the baptism of the Holy Spirit AND fire.
I guess folks are linking the “fire” in Matthew 3:11 with the phrase “as of fire” in Acts 2:3. Well, that makes sense, right? It’s the same word in both texts, “fire.” And surely whatever the Lord promised and gave to the apostles, He also promised and gave to us. Right?
First, when John foretold Jesus’ coming, he didn’t say how widespread or how limited Holy Spirit baptism would be. Perhaps he didn’t know, it may not have been revealed to him. As we go forward in the Bible, we find that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens just two times. That’s right, just twice! Acts 2 (the apostles) and Acts 10 (Cornelius).
Acts 10:45-47 says the Gentiles received the Spirit just as the apostles had (cf. Acts 11:16-17). Peter said the Spirit fell upon them (this is a rather exclusive phrase) just as He did upon the apostles. However, in Acts 10 & 11, there is no mention of divided tongues or fire. Why not? Divided tongues, fire, rushing wind, etc. are not inherent in the baptism of the Spirit. They were present in Acts 2, they were not present in Acts 10.
Well, what about the fire in Matthew 3:11? Surely there is something to this fire John mentions.
May I suggest to you that John speaks of two distinct baptisms. One which would be very exclusive, Holy Spirit baptism; and the other widespread, the baptism of fire. If you look at the context of Matthew 3:11, you will see fire in the text three times (v 10, 11, & 12). Beginning in verse 7, John rebukes the religious leaders who came to him, demanding that they repent. In verse 10, he warns that judgment is coming. He uses the figure of a tree being cut down and thrown into the fire. This is not good for the tree!
We then have our text which says Jesus will baptize with fire. One verse later, John revisits the discussion of judgment with another image, cleaning out a threshing floor. The wheat is brought into the barn, but the chaff is burned with unquenchable fire.
Friend, we don’t want the baptism of fire. The context reveals it to be judgment! The baptism of fire is reserved for those who do not have the Spirit of God!
There is a baptism we are commanded to receive. Immediately after receiving the Spirit, the apostles preached to a crowd and commanded them to be baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins. Have you done so?