Here’s what Jesus said about John the Baptizer: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptizer” (Matthew 11:11).
Here’s what John said about Jesus: “…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. 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” (Matthew 3:11-12). Nothing about Jesus is as it seems at first glance, but let’s look at John’s words closer.
Here’s how the process of harvesting grain worked in Jesus’ day: When the grain is ripe, the stalks are cut and gathered. Then, in a process known as threshing, the stalks are placed on a hard, level surface known as a “threshing floor,” where they are beaten or rolled, which detaches the kernels of grain from the useless stalks and husks (chaff). Next, the mixture is “winnowed:” using a fork-like tool, the mixture is thrown into the air, where the wind blows away the lighter chaff, leaving only the desirable kernels behind. (You can watch a short demonstration of this process here, and see an actual winnowing fork being used here).
Jesus plainly stated in Matthew 15:24 that at that time, he was only sent to the house of Israel. Israel was Jesus’ “threshing floor.” The two prongs of Jesus’ winnowing fork, with which he separated the wheat from the chaff, were his authoritative words and his demonstrations of power. Wheat and chaff represent states of the heart. The wind that blows the chaff away from the grain is the Holy Spirit of God Himself. Wheat represents a heart of humility, which has been given ears to hear the radical truth Jesus proclaims and eyes to perceive the reality of what Jesus is doing. The humble wheat-heart doesn’t fear or resist change. Chaff represents a heart of pride, which always opposes unfamiliar spiritual things which it doesn’t understand. Prideful chaff-hearts, found most prominently (but not only) among religious leaders in elevated positions, have hard hearts (resist new truth), refuse to acknowledge their spiritually blind eyes and dull ears, and persist in the prideful way of religious tradition, human understanding, and self-righteousness. Chaff can’t/won’t see that revelation from the Spirit, not doctrine and knowledge of the mind, is what counts.
Jesus said the pure in heart will “see God.” This means it will be given them to see and perceive God’s heart and His hand at work among them. When John said Jesus would “clear” his threshing floor, the word “clear” is related to the word “pure.” This is basically what John meant in his statement above: Jesus will come boldly proclaiming new Truth and will powerfully demonstrate His divine origin and the heart of his Father. By so doing, there will be a separation made between the pure and impure, righteous and unrighteous, humble and proud. The humble will recognize God at work and forsake their old ways to follow His son. The proud will resist the reality behind Jesus’ words and deeds, and will reject the way of Jesus and thereby dishonor his Father. These will be cast out of God’s presence and suffer terrible and irrevocable destruction. We can read in Acts that for a short time, as John had predicted, the church in Jerusalem was fully purified, walking in power and authority. On one level, the process of gathering the wheat into the “barn” and burning the chaff culminated with the siege of Jerusalem and the total destruction of its temple in AD 70. Jesus discussed and prophesied much of this in places like Matthew 24 and Luke 21:20-24. Read the historical account of that time and you’ll likely agree. Once the temple was torn down, Judaism was torn down with it.
While that is interesting, there is a deeper fulfillment of Johns words, which is more relevant for us today. Jesus told his disciples, representing the church, that it was better for them if he left to go to the Father,1 because he would then pour out the Holy Spirit, who is not bound to one time and place. Jesus is no longer a physical man on earth, but has become a “life-giving spirit”2 which vitalizes a corporate body consisting of many members (the “Church”), and he is the head of this body.3 I could say much more about that, but I believe once connection to the head is restored, the body of Christ will once again do the same works as Jesus, threshing and winnowing what Paul referred to as “all Israel;”4 both Jews and Gentiles who by faith are inheritors of the promise which was given to Abraham and his descendants long before Israel was a nation or the law put into place.5 The winnowing fork will be the same, but the scale will be worldwide. Many will once again not recognize Jesus Christ at work before them, but some will.
I don’t fully know what all this will look like or how it will all work. But I do know that right now, God’s prophets are telling people to flee to the mountains OUTSIDE of Israel, like Jesus warned natural Israel to do. In the spirit, this means to leave one’s “house” and “possessions” behind, meaning the familiar and comfortable ways and understandings of Christianity, to be taught by the spirit of God Himself. The “chaff” of Christianity will be destroyed like Judaism was. Jesus didn’t promote Christianity, He said to FOLLOW his WAY, which was one of seeking and following the words of His Father. So let it be with us. Let’s go to Jesus outside the camp, bearing his reproach,6 because that’s where we’ll find him. It’s not about a physical location, but a spiritual one.
- John 16:7
- 1 Corinthians 15:45
- Colossians 1:18
- Romans 11:26
- Romans 4, Galatians 3:14
- Hebrews 13:13