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Matthew 3:11 NASB:

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

What does John mean when he says that Christ will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and fire? What is this "fire"? I'm aware that during Pentecost tongues of fire came down onto the disciples and they were "filled with the Holy Spirit". Is this what John is referring to? It seems as though he is referring to something that all believers are baptized with, and if that's the case, what is the "fire" we are all baptized with?

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  • The fire of affliction and persecution (for Christ's sake). The fire of the vehement life of the Spirit of Holiness (seven lamps of fire before the throne). A fire without, from that which is adverse to Christ. A fire within from that which is of his Holy Presence.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 11 '20 at 22:05
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Note the whole text of Matt 3:11 -

I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me will come One more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

First note that John makes a deliberate contrast between the opposites of fire and water by saying that John baptises with water but Jesus would baptise with fire symbolising the Holy Spirit. (More on this shortly)

The work and function of the Holy Spirit is frequently associated with the metaphor of fire. Here is a sample:

  • Matt 3:11, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
  • Luke 3:16, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
  • Acts 2:3, 4, They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
  • Rom 12:11, Be on fire with the Spirit.
  • 1 Thess 5:19, Do not put out the Spirit's fire. (INT)
  • Heb 12:29, God is a consuming fire.
  • Rev 4:5 where the Spirit is symbolised by torches of fire.
  • Jodges 15:14, (about Samson) Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire,

At the same time, fire, and the context of Matt 3:11 suggests some kind of Judgement. This is consistent with that in the OT in places such as:

  • Isa 4:4, he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.
  • Isa 33:11, You conceive chaff, you give birth to straw; your breath is a fire that consumes you.

This judgement fire was to separate (the basic meaning of judgement) the worthwhile material from the waste - good material would be survive the fire and waste burned up. The above texts all have their origin in Mal 3:1-3 about God being a refiner's fire that is used to refine silver; see also Num 31:23. This was the action of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and God more generally that they act as a fire to separate and make evident, or distinguish the righteous from the wicked.

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It seems to refer to divine judgment.

Notice v. 12, which immediately follows the statement:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (NRSV)

Also notice v. 10, which immediately precedes the statement:

Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (NRSV)

Also compare Matt 13:40-42:

Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NRSV)

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Jesus baptizes me with the Holy Spirit and fire. Personally, it means a few things.

  1. I have received the Holy Spirit in my spirit, i.e., the indwelling Spirit. I was born from above of the Spirit. Nothing can sever that connection. This happened exactly once.

  2. Slow Spirit fire cleanses me from sin, burning away my useless parts. This is a gradual continuing process of slow cooking or pruning. It is painful at times.

  3. On occasions, I'm set on high heat Spirit fire, eager to perform works of God. These are episodic bursts of high spiritual energy inside me, to read the Word of God, to pray, to praise, etc.

  4. Spirit fire comes out of me to convict. This one is rare so far in my walk before God. The very first time I did my neighborhood Good News visit, one person repented and turn to Christ. Praise God.

There is another one, even more rare. But if I tell you about it, you will not believe me. So I rather not tell. And I'm not talking about glossolalia either.

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