Since the baptism of fire is a description of judgment and wrath (see Malachi 4), what then is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Before we answer this question, we need to again notice that these are two events John is speaking about. Can we say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a bad thing, like the baptism of fire? Not at all. As we noticed in the last lesson, the pouring out of the Spirit was a picture of the restoration of the people, restoration of the nation, and a return of God’s blessings to the people. In fact, we see this in John’s message in Matthew 3:12:
“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” (ESV).
Notice that the Messiah will gather His wheat into the barn. This is a positive event tied together with a judgment event. The Messiah is going to gather the people who are his, but destroy those who are not. John the Baptist is not preaching something new. The prophets spoke of two events that would take place when the Messiah came. One event would be good, but the other would be judgment.
Malachi 4:1-3. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth, and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD of hosts.” Notice how Malachi prophesied about a day of fire where the evil were set ablaze. But notice that the good tidings are also prophesied, as those who fear His name will tread down the wicked.
Joel 2:28-3:1. “After this I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe–inspiring Day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the LORD promised, among the survivors the LORD calls. Yes, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem….”
The Spirit will be poured out and the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem will be restored. However, at the same time, the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. These are images of judgment. Joel prophesies that it will be “lights out” for the nation of Israel.
Therefore, there is nothing unusual about John the Baptist preaching that the good will come with bad when the Messiah arrives. The righteous would receive the blessings of God while the wicked would receive judgment and destruction.
Rather than think in terms of miracles, notice the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the restoration of the blessings of God. Everything we noticed in the last lesson about the prophets promising the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is in view. Recall that we saw there were at least three aspects that the prophets promised in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit: (1) restoration of the kingdom of God, (2) restoration of God’s covenant with the people, and (3) restoration of God’s blessings upon the people.
John the Baptist preached, “The kingdom is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). John is telling the Jewish leaders that the Messiah is coming. With the Messiah will be two events: (1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that is, the arrival of the kingdom of God, restoration of God’s covenant with Israel, and blessings to the people. (2) Judgment. The Messiah was also bringing judgment, as John the Baptist describes. John’s message was very simple. Repent, because the restoration of the kingdom was near. The prophets warned that when the Messiah restored the kingdom, judgment would also follow.