The harvest is one of the central eschatological doctrines. Foretold in the Old Testament (Hosea 6) the harvest was one of Jesus’ major themes. Few would doubt or question the connection between the harvest and the resurrection. That connection is axiomatic.
The gospel of Matthew particularly contains several passages on the harvest. We will not examine all of those texts, and need not to so to establish our case. However, one thing is more than clear: the time for the eschatological harvest– and thus, the resurrection– had arrived.
Of course, adherents of the futurist schools of eschatology scoff at such and idea. They tell us that the harvest occurs at the end of the New Covenant age, i.e. the end of human history. We are told that the resurrection could not have been near in the first century, because, after all, that is not a creedal doctrine. That idea is not found in the patristic authors who wrote long after the first century and yet, those writers clearly still anticipated the harvest / resurrection at some proposed end of time. See my book, Seventy Weeks Are Determined…For the Resurrection, for definitive proof that the resurrection was in fact to be in the first century.
I freely admit that what we present here is not in the creeds or church councils. However, I am not bound by the creeds, counclls or church history, but by the inspired word of God. If that is not alone sufficient, then we have nothing else to offer.
This article will focus on one short, powerful, and irrefutable text in Matthew: Chapter 3:10-12, and particularly verse 12, in which John, speak of Jesus said: “His winnowing fork is already in his hand.”
The language that John used is unmistakable, and yet, overlooked by a host of commentators. What we need to do is to define the words that John uses, to fully appreciate what it is he says.
Note that John said “his winnowing fork (sometimes translated as fan) is in his hand.”
Notice first of all the undeniable imminence of the events John is foretelling.
In v. 7 he warned the Pharisees and Sadducees concerning “the wrath about to come.” John used the word “mello” in the infinitive to speak of the “wrath about to come.” Blass-DeBrunner says “mellein with the infinitive expresses imminence.” (Blass-DeBrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1961,181).
The commentators agree that John’s use of mello indicated that the judgment wrath he had in mind was truly near.
Donald Hagner says, “What frightened John’s listeners was the insistence that the judgment was about to occur (mellousees).” (Word Biblical Commentary, Matthew, Vol. 33a; p. 50). Davies and Allison, commenting on Matthew 3:7: “Who has warned you to flee from the wrath about to come” “mello here implies no so much purpose as imminence or futurity” (W. D. Davies and Dale Allison Jr. International Critical Commentary, Matthew 1-7, London, T and T Clark,304).
Likewise, Alford’s Greek Testament says, “The reference of John’s ministry to the prophecy concerning Elias, Malachi 3:1; 4:5 would naturally suggest to men’s minds ‘the wrath to come’ there also foretold. It was the general expectation of the Jews that troublous times would accompany the appearance of Messiah. John is now speaking in the true character of a prophet, foretelling the wrath soon to be poured out on the Jewish nation.” (Alford’s Greek Testament, Matthew – John, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1875 / 1980)22).
The imminence of the impending judgment being heralded by John is emphasized in v. 10 where he said: “The axe is already in his hand.” The imagery of cutting down of trees springs from the Old Testament prophets and is undeniably the image of judgment. For John to say that the axe of that judgment was already at the root was a powerful expression of imminence.
Marius Reiser, commenting on John’s message of the axe at the root says, “With the motif of the cutting down of the bad trees, the Baptizer expanded on the original image and thus created a genuine similitude not only pointing to the end time cleansing of Israel by the removal of sinners, but giving vivid expression to the immediate proximity of that event, and thus the urgency of repentance. The axe is already at work!”… “This temporal urgency is underscored still further in the Greek text by the present tenses of all three verbs.” (Marius Reiser, Jesus and Judgment, Fortress, English translation, 1997, 175). He continues: “The expectation of the final judgment in the immediate future was the basis of his call for repentance and the action that gave him his name: baptizing.” (1997, 167).
As a concluding emphasis on the imminence of the coming judgment, John then says “his winnowing fork is in his hand.” And we will look closely at this imagery in the next installment, so, stay tuned!
The bottom line is that it is indisputably true that in the mind of John, inspired by the Spirit, “the wrath” was imminent. The cutting down of the unfruitful trees was near, and likewise– the time of the harvest had arrived. It is this image of the winnowing fork already being in the hand of Jesus that is on the one hand stunning, determinative, and yet mostly overlooked.