Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees of God’s wrath to come John the Baptist said. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:13).
John the baptist, Christ, and the apostles warned of impending wrath to come in that generation. John preached regarding the coming of the Messiah. "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:1 NKJV).
Pharisees and Sadducees know what is written in their Old Testament a lot better than most of us today. In Jeremiah 15:5-7 it says, "For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or who will turn aside to ask how you are doing? You have forsaken Me," says the LORD, "You have gone backward. Therefore, I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting! And I WILL WINNOW THEM WITH A WINNOWING FAN in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people, Since they do not return from their ways.
John warning was not new. But how did the Pharisees and Sadducees standing in John’s audience understand his metaphors of a Winnowing fan and threshing floor? Winnowing fan and threshing floor, were a part of their historical setting and culture, and they were familiar with them. So the Israelites' familiarity with the winnowing fan and threshing floor, made it ideal for illustrative purposes.
Winnowing was accomplished by the use of either a broad shovel or a wooden fork which had bent prongs. With this instrument, the mass of chaff, straw, and grain was thrown against the wind. Because there was generally a breeze blowing in the evening, this was the time when it was normally done. So Naomi said to Ruth concerning Boaz: "Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight in the threshing floor" (Ruth 3:2).
When the Bible speaks of winnowing fan the shovel or wooden fork was used when unseparated grain and straw that was thrown against the wind. When the grain and straw, are not yet separated, they are thrown into the air, and the wind causes the mass of material to fall to the threshing floor. Since the grain is the heaviest, it naturally falls beneath the fan to the threshing floor. The straw and the chaff are the lighter and are blown to the side into a heap. The chaff is later burned as Scripture often indicates. "And the flame consumes the chaff" (Isaiah 5:24). David was also familiar with this concept. The Psalmist writes, "The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away" (Psalm 1:4).
When they hard threshing floor what do they think of? Threshing floors were used to separate grain from the chaff at harvest time. This was usually a two step process. First, the cut stalks of grain were spread on the threshing floor and a threshing sledge was pulled over the stalks by oxen. The sledge was a simple wooden sled or heavy board with stone or metal spikes on the bottom that would break the heads of grain from the stalks.
In Isaiah 41:15 we read, "Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth; You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, And make the hills like chaff. The same thing could be accomplished by having the oxen trample the stalks (Deuteronomy 25:4) or by beating them with heavy sticks (Judges 6:11).
The second step was to toss the broken stalks into the air. The wind would blow the lighter chaff to one side, while the heavier grain would fall back onto the floor. The grain, then could be gathered into the barn. Jesus used this illustration in Matthew 13:30 'Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, BUT GATHER THE WHEAT INTO MY BARN." ' "
Winnowing is this process of separating grain from chaff or tares by wind (Ruth 3:2, Isaiah 30:24). Because of the need for wind, threshing floors were normally located on hilltops or in large open fields, and were often used as landmarks (Genesis 50:10, 2 Samuel 6:6) or meeting places (1 Kings 22:10).
Threshing floors were critical to the harvest and to the life of the people of Israel, and they were highly valued. Threshing and winnowing are common metaphors for judgment (Daniel 2:35; Isaiah 21:9-10; Jeremiah 15:7, 51:2, 33; Hosea 13:3). The good fruit is gathered and saved, in the barn the bad is burned with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:17).
"Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17). The separation of "wheat" and "chaff" could only occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem since John the Baptist applied the things of their historical setting and culture to THEM.
John the Baptist as well as all the Israelites were familiar with the winnowing process and the burning of the chaff and now so do you in its historical context.