Matthew chapter 3 verses 7-12 give the account of John the Baptist's confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees regarding the reason why he was baptizing people. He gave them a warning to repent or face the wrath of God. He then makes the statement that pertains to this post:

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
-- Matthew 3:11 (NIV)

When John the Baptist says "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" who is the "you" referring to?

  • D. Berry - I suggested a small edit to the title, to make it a little clearer, (given the answer below that seems to be misunderstanding). Feel free to roll-back, or clarify the question. Jun 27, 2017 at 19:57

4 Answers 4


The answer, found in Luke's account of this same event, is everyone - or at least any who would come to be baptized:

Luke 3:15–16

And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire

  • I was thinking that the Pharisees and Sadducee's represented the Jewish nation and that they were representative of the ones Jesus was talking to. It was the Jews who were promised the Holy Spirit and it was the Jews who received Him on the Day of Pentecost.
    – D. Berry
    Apr 28, 2017 at 1:28
  • Some but not all Jews received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, not "the Jews". Many Jews rejected Him. Some killed Him. Regarding the Holy Spirit, the prophesy was I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-32). God's promise to Abraham was that all nations shall be blessed, not just the Jews (Genesis 22:18).
    – user33515
    Apr 28, 2017 at 1:50
  • @D.Berry Acts 10:44-48 records the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles, to the astonishment of the circumcision. As user33515 has pointed out, the promise was to all flesh
    – enegue
    Apr 28, 2017 at 9:45
  • @user33515 +1 - I suggested an edit to emphasize "all". I do think Enegue's references to Acts and Joel would help show that this is a consistent interpretation. Jun 27, 2017 at 18:42
  • I don't think this is a strong answer. (1) It needs to be shown that 'all men' in that context refers 'everyone' or 'any[one]', rather than just the particular crowd present at that moment. (2) Luke 3.15-16 may be a Synoptic parallel to Matthew 3.11, but it is not guaranteed that GLuke understood John's saying in the same way as GMatthew. The texts are not identical. It needs to be shown that GLuke's extra verbage is implied or intended by GMatthew.
    – user2910
    Jun 28, 2017 at 21:35

Who were the “you” in Matthew 3:11?


We learn in Matthew 3:5 and Mark 1:4-5 precisely who the the audience of John was:

Matthew 3:5

Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan

Mark 1:4-5

John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

  • Sola - +1, Good answer, now. :D Misunderstanding questions happens to me all the time, and happens to everyone else when they read my questions. I am usually like, "How in the world can this be any clearer???" Then Frank Luke or someone comes along and rewords it for me. Meh. Its all good. :D Jun 27, 2017 at 22:42
  • Haha! The joy of the Word of God done made me a little impetuous, that's all ;] Jun 27, 2017 at 23:06
  • The concise answers to me are usually the best!
    – user6053
    Sep 2, 2017 at 3:26

John 1:12 (NLT) tells us:

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

What makes believers children? Romans 8:15 (NLT) says:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

According to 2 Corinthians 1:22 (NKJV) the Spirit is given by God to believers:

who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Galatians 3:2 (NKJV) says this spirit is given by hearing and recieving with faith:

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

In Romans 10:17 (NKJV) Paul is asking a rhetorical question, basically implying, that of course it was by faith:

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

  • 1
    Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site operates. To format a quote properly, use a '>' symbol as the first character in a new paragraph. Press the [Enter] key twice to conclude the quote, then continue typing your own text. Also, it would be good to add a final sentence clearly state your conclusion.
    – enegue
    Jun 28, 2017 at 9:51
  • Thank you for the Edit, and the tip! i am new to stack exchange in general, and was very pleased to see a bible related section :)
    – L1R
    Jun 28, 2017 at 16:48
  • SE:BH isn't about the Bible generally or synthesizing it's theology but exploring the original meaning of specific verses in their original social context – technically, exegesis and hermeneutics. Your answer is interesting, but it's all theology, not exegesis. This Q&A explains the differences: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/5325/6884
    – Schuh
    Aug 1, 2017 at 14:02
  • I figured this out and have moved over to the Christianity SE. Thanks!
    – L1R
    Aug 1, 2017 at 16:26

John was speaking to those he called "brood of vipers" in verse 7. Let's look at all of it.

Matt. 3:7-12,

"7 And having seen many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming about his baptism, he said to them, `Brood of vipers! who did shew you to flee from the coming wrath?

8 bear, therefore, fruits worthy of the reformation,

9 and do not think to say in yourselves, A father we have -- Abraham, for I say to you, that God is able out of these stones to raise children to Abraham,

10 and now also, the axe unto the root of the trees is laid, every tree therefore not bearing good fruit is hewn down, and to fire is cast.

11 `I indeed do baptize you with water to reformation, but he who after me is coming is mightier than I, of whom I am not worthy to bear the sandals, he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,

12 whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor, and will gather his wheat to the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.'" (YLT, bold emphasis mine.)

John was speaking to two sects of the Jews who held political control over the people: the Sadducees controlled the temple and the money, and were seeking favor from the Roman governor so that they would remain in power; and the scribes and Pharisees held themselves out as the most knowledgeable of the law. See The Sadducees and here and Different Sects.

John was not speaking to people who were coming to him to be immersed in water. (Remember that the word "baptism" is an English form of the Greek "baptizo", and instead of being transliterated it should have been translated as "immersed", or "submerged".) Just a few chapters later, Jesus engaged in a conversation with some of these same people and knew they were plotting to kill Him (Matt. 12:14-37). He even calls them the same as had John:

Matt. 12:34,

"`Brood of vipers! how are ye able to speak good things -- being evil? for out of the abundance of the heart doth the mouth speak." (YLT)

So, John was not referring to their possible conversion. They were not interested in being converted else they would have asked John to be immersed in the water in which he stood as he spoke to them. He knew them to be evil, because he called them a brood of vipers.

The language all throughout verses 7 -12 is judgment language as can be seen from all OT prophesy. The axe laid to the root of the trees is a picture of strong men about to be cut down. In OT prophesy "trees" were symbolic of powerful men (See Ez. 17:22-24; Ez. 31:3; Jer. 17:7-8; Psa. 1:3, etc). Hewing down a tree was symbolic of cutting down a king, or nation.

Fire was the symbol of God's wrath and judgment. See Deu. 4:24; 32:22-24; Isa. 29:6, Isa. 30:30; Ezek. 38:19-20; Nah. 1:5-6, etc. Anytime we see the word "fire" in the scriptures we should automatically think "judgment" language.

John was telling these evil, wicked people that they were in danger of being burned up in God's judgment. Therefore, the immersion he spoke of "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" was immersion into God's judgment. Immersing someone or something does not always apply to salvation. This was a judgment prophesied by John upon those who plotted to kill the Messiah.

It should not be applied to immersion into water of those who want to be saved.

The NT is filled with judgment language straight out of the OT, and had a great impact on the Jews who knew it from all OT prophesy. For more study on the judgment language of the OT see my posts, "It's Not The End of The World, Part III-Judgment Language in the Old Testament", and Part IV - Judgment Language in Both the Old and New Testament" at here.

  • The link to your posts is asking for a user name and password!! And the "Different Sects" link has no information about the author.
    – enegue
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:45
  • Try it now. Hopefully I fixed the links. I'll find the author on the Different Sects article and add it.
    – Gina
    Jun 28, 2017 at 23:38
  • The ones immersed in holy breath were different from those baptized in fire: Malachi 3:3He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 30, 2017 at 14:43

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