“Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not. John answered, saying to all, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than one is coming, Whose sandal straps I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:15-16; cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; John 1:26-27, 32-34).
One should be impressed with John’s humility. Not only did he tell people that he was not the Christ, he said that he was not even worthy to untie the sandals of the Christ. All should say, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). Paul had the correct attitude when he said, “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
John was not the Christ. The Christ would manifest Himself. He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The apostles were baptized with the Holy spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:1-8 cf. 2:1-4). Franklin Camp commented, “As far as I know, there are none that deny the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place at Pentecost. When the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and were asked to explain the meaning of it (Acts 2:12), Peter quoted Joel 2:28 to 32. The quotation of Joel by Peter shows that Joel’s prophecy is the background of the outpouring of the Spirit… Matthew 3:11 has Joel as its background, and Pentecost and what followed in the foreground” (Camp, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, p. 78).
Was this promised to all or only the apostles (Acts 1:4-5)? Foy Wallace Jr. answered this by saying, “The pronoun ‘you’ was not intended as a general promise but merely an announcement of something that would occur. It has been claimed that the use of the pronoun ‘you’ in the plural means that the Holy Spirit baptism was promised to the whole audience of hearers. Some comparisons of the use of the plural ‘you’ in other instances, particularly in the apostolic epistles, will show that even though an epistle was addressed to the whole churches, in certain parts of it the pronoun ‘you’ was applicable to only certain ones of them. The Corinthians epistles were addressed to the entire church, yet in numerous passages the pronoun ‘you’ applied to only some of them, as clearly indicated, as an example in chapters 4:8, 14, 21 and 6:7, 8, 11, the last citations make the application of ‘you’ to the some to which it applied. Other examples are abundant” (Wallace, The Mission and Medium of the Holy Spirit, p. 94).
Did others receive Holy Spirit baptism? (1) Cornelius and his household received miraculous ability directly from heaven (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18). Many believe that this was Holy Spirit baptism. Others disagree. However, what happened at Caesarea least reminded Peter of Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 11:15-17). (2) Paul’s apostleship did not come from man (Galatians 1:1; 1:15-24; 2:1-6). His inspiration did not come through the hands of men, even apostles (Galatians 1:1; 1:16-17; 2:1-6). I think that it is safe to conclude that Paul received Holy Spirit baptism.
Some have suggested that “fire” is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. However, such does not fit the context (see Matthew 3:10-12; Luke 3:16-17). H. Leo Boles objected, “There are three successive verses in Matthew treating the ministry of Christ. Is it credible that ‘fire’ should have one meaning in the first and third verse, and an entirely different meaning in the second?” (Boles, The Holy Spirit: His Personality, Nature, Works, p. 304).
Some have suggested that “fire” is a reference to Acts 2:3, which reads – “Then there appeared to them divide tongues, as of fire, and one sat on each of them.” However, the context is of judgment (see Matthew 3:10-12; Luke 3:16-17).
“Fire” refers to judgment. Unfruitful trees will be cut down to the ground and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10). Chaff will be separated from the wheat and burned (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17).
What judgment is in view? (1) This may refer to judgment upon Israel in 70 A.D. Consider: (a) Peter connects Joel 2 with what occurred on Pentecost (Acts 2:4, 12, 16). Joel 2 prophesied of two things. It foretold of Pentecost (Joel 2:28-29; cf. Acts 2:16-18). It foretold of the fall of Jerusalem (Joel 2:30-31 cf. Matthew 24:29, 34). (b) Jesus used words which are similar to John (Matthew 23:33 cf. 3:7). He spoke of them filling up the measure (Matthew 23:32). This is language of Israel’s downfall (Genesis 15:16; Numbers 13:55-56; Matthew 23:32; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39 cf. Luke 19:41-44). (2) This may look beyond 70 A.D. to the final judgment. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more they can do. But I will show you whom you shall fear. Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you fear Him!” (Luke 12:5-6).
Application: Jesus is mighty, much mightier than John or any man. He has the power to save. He sent forth the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostles (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). He offers salvation (Acts 2:36-38). He also has power to judge (2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-46).