John the Baptizer and The End
John the Baptist ministry was to condemn Israel of her sins and to warm them of the impending judgment of God. Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees of God’s wrath John said. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:13).
Later after John was put in imprison and did not see the impending judgment on the Pharisees and Sadducees he conclude that Jesus might not be the Messiah. So John sent some of his disciples to Jesus asking if he was the ONE the Old Testament prophets wrote about concerning the wrath of God or should they look for another? (Luke 7:18)
There Jesus sent word back to John the Baptist by his disciples that he was fulfilling the prophecies. Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'” (Luke 7:21-23)
Jesus was quoting from Old Testament Scripture from the book of Isaiah 35:4-6 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come (with vengeance). With the recompense of God; He will (come and save you).” Then the (eyes of the blind shall be opened), And the (ears of the deaf shall be unstopped). Then the (lame shall leap like a deer), And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert. (Emphasis, mine)
Notice here the “vengeance” of God and His “recompense” come and save you (salvation) are to happen synonymously. John fully understood the prophecies of Isaiah 35:4-6 about the comings of the Messiah which included the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf shall hear the judgment or vengeance of God and salvation.
John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostle Paul warned of impending wrath to come on that generation. But where did John the Baptist get the idea of using a winnowing fan and threshing floors as a metaphor to warn the Pharisees and Sadducees of God’s impending wrath to come?
John and the Message of Impending Judgment
John know what is written in the Old Testament a lot batter then most of us today. Jeremiah 15:5-7 “For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or who will turn aside to ask how you are doing? You have forsaken Me,” says the LORD, “You have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting! And I WILL WINNOW THEM WITH A WINNOWING FAN in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people, Since they do not return from their ways.
Winnowing fan and threshing floors, were long a part of the historical setting and culture, of Israel. So the Israelites’ familiarity with the winnowing fan and threshing floors, made it ideal for illusion for the purposes of God’s wrath.
Winnowing was accomplished by the use of either a broad shovel or a wooden fork which had bent prongs. With this instrument, the mass of chaff, straw, and grain was thrown against the wind. Because there was generally a breeze blowing in the evening, this was the time when it was normally done. So Naomi said to Ruth concerning Boaz: “Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight in the threshing floor” (Ruth 3:2).
When the Bible speaks of winnowing fan the shovel or wooden fork was used when unseparated grain and straw that was thrown against the wind. When the grain and straw, are not yet separated, they are thrown into the air, and the wind causes the mass of material to fall to the threshing floor.
Since the grain is the heaviest, it naturally falls beneath the fan to the threshing floor. The straw and the chaff are the lighter and are blown to the side into a heap. The chaff is later burned as Scripture often indicates. “And the flame consumeth the chaff” (Isaiah 5:24). David was also familiar with this concept. The Psalmist writes, “The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (Psalm 1:4).
When you think of a threshing floor what do you think of? Threshing floors were used to separate grain from the chaff at harvest time. This was usually a two-step process. First, the cut stalks of grain were spread on the threshing floor and a threshing sledge was pulled over the stalks by oxen. The sledge was a simple wooden sled or heavy board with stone or metal spikes on the bottom that would break the heads of grain from the stalks.
Isaiah 41:15 “Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth; You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, And make the hills like chaff. The same thing could be accomplished by having the oxen trample the stalks (Deuteronomy 25:4) or by beating them with heavy sticks (Judges 6:11).
The second step was to toss the broken stalks into the air. The wind would blow the lighter chaff to one side, while the heavier grain would fall back onto the floor, the grain could then be gathered into the barn. Jesus also used this illustration about the “end of the Old Covenant age” in Matthew 13:30 ‘Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, BUT GATHER THE WHEAT INTO MY BARN.” ‘ ”
So Winnowing is this process of separating grain from chaff or tares by wind (Ruth 3:2, Isaiah 30:24). Because of the need for wind, threshing floors were normally located on hilltops or in large open fields, and were often used as landmarks (Genesis 50:10, 2 Samuel 6:6) or meeting places (1 Kings 22:10).
Threshing floors were critical to the harvest and to the life of the people of Israel, and they were highly valued. John the Baptist was familiar with the winnowing process and the burning of the chaff. “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).
Threshing and winnowing are common metaphors for judgment (Daniel 2:35; Isaiah 21:9-10; Jeremiah 15:7, 51:2, 33; Hosea 13:3. The good fruit is gathered and saved, in the barn the bad is burned with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:17). The separation of “wheat” and “chaff” could only occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem since John the Baptist applied the things of their historical setting and culture to THEM. Matthew 3: 7 But when he (John the Baptist) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, (he said to them), “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from (the wrath to come)?
For more on the significance of John the Baptizer– As Elijah – see Don K. Preston’s book Elijah Has Come: A Solution to Romans 11:25-27. This book effective proves, with a huge amount of evidence, that the ministry of John the Baptizer, as Elijah, lies behind Paul’s expected salvation of “all Israel.”