Matthew 3:12 – His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire. — World English
This scripture is often presented as proof that there is suffering in fires after death, or that there is fire in hell.
Actually, nothing is said here about the bible hell, nor is anything said about anyone suffering for eternity in the fire mentioned. John is not speaking about literal winnowing, nor literal wheat, nor a literal barn, nor literal chaff, nor literal fire. The winnower was Jesus. The time being spoken of was then and there, while John the Baptist and Jesus were alive, that the winnowing was to begin. The unquenchable fire is symbolic of Yahweh’s unquenchable zeal for righteousness (as discussed in the earlier posts), especially as expressed in his wrath at the end of the Jewish age. (see Matthew 13:39, which speaks of the harvest as the end of final age) Jesus did a reaping work, and associated his disciples with himself in that saying, “I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor; other men plowed, harrowed, sowed, and ye are entered into their labors” (as reapers of the fruitage of other toil).
The truthfulness of this is manifest and is corroborated by the statement of John the Baptist, who declared of our Lord that he was the reaper of the Jewish Age whose fan was in his hand, and who did purge the threshing floor, and did gather the wheat into the barn and burned up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Looking back over Jewish history we see that the harvesting of the Jewish Age began with our Lord’s first advent and ended some years later at the destruction of Jerusalem and Masada. In that time he gathered all the wheat of that nation, all who were ready for the Kingdom. (John 1:12) These were comparatively a “little flock.” They were Israelites indeed in whom was no guile. (John 1:47) These were gathered to the garner or barn of Divine favor or protection by the baptism of the holy Spirit, which came upon the disciples gathered at Pentecost day and subsequently extended to others, to every Israelite indeed, anointing these with the holy Spirit. The Jewish-age time of trouble then was especially the years from 66 to 73 AD, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and Masada.