Jesus Did Not Say That The Wheat And The Chaff Were The Godly And Ungodly


In actual fact, it was John the Baptist who said of Jesus:

I baptise 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 baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matt. 3: 11-12)

Why is it that we are so quick to interpret these words as referring to the end times and as the separation of the ungodly from the godly so that the ungodly can be sent to hell?

John used a familiar agricultural picture to explain the work of the Messiah whom he came to introduce to his people. John recognised his calling to be that of the one prophesied by Isaiah.

This is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’” (Matt.3: 3)

It was John’s role to create a picture of the Messiah so that the people would recognise Him when He came. Once again, we must understand his words from a Hebraic perspective. John referred to “fire” twice in this description. Was he meaning a literal fire or did he imply something else? Hebrew people would ask the question, “What does fire do?” Fire can either purify as with metal, for example, or it can destroy.

Was it Jesus’ intention to destroy people? No, a thousand times!

‘. . . For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’ (Luke 9: 56 – New American Standard Bible)

What, then, is the significance of John’s use of the imagery of wheat and chaff? Chaff is the hard protective husk that covers the grains of wheat. It is inedible. The process of winnowing was to separate the chaff from the wheat by beating it off the wheat grains and then tossing the wheat into the air so that the wind would blow the lighter chaff away while the wheat fell into a pile to be gathered up for later use. The chaff would be burned because it had no further use for the farmer.

Just as the chaff was separated from the wheat and burned, so the Holy Spirit would separate what was useless in the lives of Jesus’ followers (i.e., sin), from what was of value. The “fire” of the Holy Spirit would purge out that which was worthless, purifying their hearts and setting them apart for God.

That brings me to a second thought regarding the work of Jesus. Unfortunately, there has been bred in the minds of many believers an escapist mentality. What Jesus came to do on earth has been narrowed down to one thing – that He came to save us from hell and take us to heaven. Believers are taught to “hang on” until Jesus comes, a sort of “white-knuckle” club. If we can just “endure to the end”, we shall be saved.

How does that match with Jesus’ statement that He came to give us abundant life? Does that only refer to life in the hereafter? Is that what salvation is all about? Are we just to endure this life so that we can enjoy heaven forever? Did Jesus just endure His few years on earth so that He could go back to heaven to be with the Father?

If we read the gospels correctly, we see a man who loved life. In spite of what He had to endure from His opponents, He was described as a man of joy, more joyful than any other person who had ever lived (Heb. 1: 9). He came to reveal the Father and to live a human life that made “up there” come “down here”. He wanted His disciples to understand how to bring heaven to earth by living like He did, in fellowship with the Father, doing His will and serving those who needed Him.

No, Jesus did not come to separate the ungodly from the godly, but to invite all people into a life of great happiness by following Him and becoming like Him. It was His passion to set people free from the sinful ways that destroyed them so that they could enjoy life to the full. He promised them His love. His joy and His peace to replace the fear, guilt and shame that burdened their consciences and kept them from coming to the Father. He paid the debt of sin so that people could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

Jesus’ focus was always on this life. Yes, those who followed Him would be with Him forever, but it was His desire that His people would represent Him on earth so that those who did not know God would recognise Him in them and leave their ungodly ways to follow Him.

We must broaden our understanding of salvation to mean much more than going to heaven when we die. Salvation, to the Hebrew mind, is another word for wholeness. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent from the Father to replace Him when He left, has an all-consuming task on earth, to restore people to wholeness. How does He do it? By leading us into all truth (John 16: 13); by revealing Jesus to us (John 16: 14-15) so that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12: 2).

Whole people are those who unselfishly and willingly give themselves to the service of others as their Master showed them. They express the righteousness of Jesus by their generosity with their resources and with who they are. They recognise that this life is an apprenticeship for the next. They follow Jesus because He promised to take them to the Father.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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