12 His pitchfork 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 inextinguishable fire.
There is a difference of translations in this verse concerning the pitchfork. Quite a few translations use the word ‘fan’ or ‘winnowing fan’. The more modern versions tend to use the word ‘pitchfork’ or ‘winnowing fork/shovel’.
The picture that John paints is of a large area known as a threshing floor where the grain is laid out so that it can be pitched into the air with a pitchfork in order to separate the grain from the chaff. The grain was harvested and the chaff was burnt.
The implement referred to was a fork like shovel which was used to throw the grain and chaff up in the air. The grain, being heavier would fall to the ground, whilst the chaff, being much lighter would be caught up in any draught and blown to one side. In this way the grain and chaff were separated.
The Psalmist refers to the ungodly as chaff:
But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind – Psalm 1.4 (NLT).
John was preaching that there is coming a judgement with a harvest. The judgement is that those who are the grain of the Kingdom of God will be harvested and stored in His barn. However those who are wicked, the ungodly, will be gathered in the wind and thrown into the eternal fire.
The time of judgement was coming with the One whom John described as being stronger then himself. He was referring to Jesus, the Messiah, whom the Jews were looking for.
Jesus recognized that He came to be the judge of people:
“For the Father does not judge anyone, but has given all judgement to the Son” – John 5.22.
Let us hear this: Jesus has been given all judgement, and it is a judgement to separate the believers in Jesus from those who refuse to accept Him as their Lord and Saviour.
Jesus comes with His pitchfork to do the work of judgement.
For those who have received Him as their Lord and Saviour we need to be tossed into the air by His pitchfork, so that the chaff, the evil, in our life can be separated from us, gathered up and burnt in the unquenchable fire.