Matthew 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa,

2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Psalm 1:4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

Isaiah 5:24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Jeremiah 23:28 The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.

MEMORY VERSE: Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. —II Timothy 3:5

CENTRAL THOUGHT: A spiritual lesson is learned by studying the difference between the wheat, the true substance and the chaff, which is but a husk, an empty form.


Matthew 3:2 “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”: “The royal majesty of the heavens approaches!” (Bro. Clifford Wilson). “The purity of the Divine worship, and the blessedness which a righteous man feels when employed in it. The dispensation of the glorious Gospel was now about to be fully opened, and the Jews were to have the first offers of salvation. This kingdom is also at hand to us; and wherever Christ crucified is preached, there is salvation to be found” (Clarke’s Commentary).

Matthew 3:8 “Fruits meet for repentance”: fruit worthy of, suitable for, equal weight to, or congruent to, repentance. “Meet” means, properly, drawing down the scale, referring to the idea of putting weight on one side of the set of scales equal to the other side. The Greek word, aksios, is the origin of the English word axis, also referring to a balance scale operating by off-setting weights. “The assessment in keeping with how something “weighs in” on God’s balance-scale of truth” (HELPS Word Studies).

Matthew 3:12 “Whose fan is in his hand”: “The scene brought before us is that of the large hardened surface which was the “threshing-floor” of the East, the sheaves [of grain] thrown over it, the oxen treading on them, the large winnowing fans driving on them the full force of the strong current of air, [a pitchfork or shovel was used to throw the wheat and chaff into the air] leaving the wheat in the middle, while the chaff is driven to the outskirts of the field to be afterwards swept up and burnt” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers). “Throughly”: cleanse perfectly.

Psalm 1:5 “Ungodly”: “Rasha (Psalm 1), ‘wicked’; beliya`al (II Samuel 22:5), ‘worthless’; indicating that the persons so called are both irreverent and impious: Trench says that the idea of active opposition to religion is involved in the word, that it is a deliberate withholding from God of His dues of prayer and of service; a standing, so to speak, in battle array against God and His claims to respect, reverence and obedience. Those whose sins are particularly aggravating and deserving of God’s wrath are the ‘ungodly.’ And yet it is for such that Jesus Christ died” (Williams Evans, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). “Stand”: arise; maintain oneself.

Jeremiah 23:28 “Chaff”: the stalks of grain chopped and used for fodder; straw; stubble; refuse.


The threshing-floor scene was a familiar one to the Israelites. John the Baptist, preaching in the deserts of Judea, made the powerful analogy between the stern judgment of Almighty God against the sin and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the wind generated by the winnowing fans (made from palm leaves or woven from reeds and waved by the servants) which blew the straw and chaff away. Repentance, demonstrated by worthy acts of humility, contrition and a purposeful about-face from unrighteousness to godliness, was the clarion call of John’s ministry as he—the voice in the wilderness prophesied by Isaiah—cried, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” John was the forerunner of Jesus, Who in turn sent the burning, purging Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

The Psalmist also used the illustration when he compared the godly man, who delights in and meditates upon the law of the Lord, to the ungodly man. The godly, as the true substance of the kernel of grain, would withstand the judgment wrath, but the ungodly, who had a form of religion but was empty, like the outer husk, or chaff, would be unable to hold his head up in the judgment.

Isaiah explained the true cause of the judgment flame which consumed the chaff: casting away the law of the Lord and despising His Word.

The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day kept promoting a dangerous, false peace among the Israelites. Like an elusive dream, their message of security and prosperity, when in reality clouds of destruction and doom swirled black over their heads, was described by Jeremiah as mere chaff or stubble, when compared to the true wheat of the Word of God.

In each of these illustrations and in our memory verse, we see a strong, steady theme: there is a form of religion, a false righteousness, an outward pretense of godliness that is as empty and worthless as the grass stems, leaves and lightweight husks around the kernel of grain. There is a true worshiper, like the real grain, whose life has substance; there is a true gospel and a pure and enduring doctrine.

As in the harvest the sheaves were threshed and winnowed, the precious grain was gathered up to use for food, and the refuse was blown away to be burnt; in the end of the world the godly will be gathered into God’s eternal presence and the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire.

—Sis. Angela Gellenbeck


  1. Matthew 3 records the preaching of _________ _____ __________.
  2. Which two verses mention fruit?
  3. What are the elements of the grain analogy he used?
  4. The righteous are compared to __________.
  5. The ungodly are compared to _________.
  6. Describe how the righteous and the ungodly fare in the judgment.
  7. How does our memory verse connect to the rest of the verses in the lesson?


What a jolt it must have been to the pious-acting, super-religious Pharisees as they heard John the Baptist call them a generation of vipers and compare them to the chaff of the threshing floor! This image of worthless refuse, to men who were blindly puffed up by self- importance and self-assured in their rigid adherence to the law, should have been a wake-up call. John also called their next move—their boast that they were the elite of the earth, the children of Abraham.

As in previous lessons, we see that God was looking for fruit. The empty chaff of high profession wasn’t going to do. It is the same today. Chaff is the shell. The form of godliness. A claim to know God, but shameless denial of Him in everyday life. Piety that is actually irreverence; worship that is really opposition and rebellion. Paul said, “Turn away.” We are called to bring fruit to God that fully equals the requirements of true repentance.

Our lesson also speaks to false preaching that passes for truth: it is also called chaff. The empty dreams and smooth speeches of false religion today are worthless compared to the weighty preaching of the gospel accompanied by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Oh, may the truth of this lesson sink down into our hearts! Do we want just a shell of religion or the true kernel of salvation which produces godliness? Are we content with chaffy preaching that makes the flesh feel good, or that which strengthens and nourishes the soul?

—Sis. Angela Gellenbeck


“Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Wrath was hanging over the Jewish nation for its wickedness, rejecting and shedding of Jesus’ blood. The people cried, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.” Wrath was foretold by the prophet Daniel and Jesus foretold the same many times in His teachings. On the way to Calvary, he told some women, “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children (Luke 23:28).”

In Matthew 24:31, He said, “He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” This was accomplished through the preaching of the gospel. Those who believed the gospel and repented, believed Jesus’ teaching about the wrath to come.

Josephus relates that when the Roman armies encompassed the city, many people had fled to Jerusalem for protection, it being the capitol and having seemingly impregnable walls. But there was a flank out of position through which the just people escaped the city, besides the earlier Christians who had fled because of persecution. Once the gap was filled by the Roman armies, it was too late. Josephus relates that the number of those reckoned who perished in the war was 1,357,660. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

There is another day of wrath out in front of us. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (II Peter 3:10-11).

—Bro. Bob Wilson