Gathering and Sifting the Wheat

Matthew 3:12. “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.”

This is actually a continuation of John’s description of the Lord in verse 12, Whose shoes, he said,he was unworthy to carry.  To better understand this verse, we need to do a little bit of history.

In the Old Testament, a threshing fan was a wooden shovel or screen.  The harvester would pick up a load of wheat and toss it into the wind in order for the lighter chaff, which was useless, to be blown away.  The chaff would then be swept up and burned, while the good grain settled into a pile. This process was winnowing the wheat.

The winnowing process took place on a threshing floor.  It was a space that had been hardened by the years of use from the worker’s feet, often using oxen to pull a winnowing sled across the floor; it was the place of both blessing and judgment.  To purge the floor was to completely cleanse the wheat from all chaff, weeds, and other unclean materials. Often the wheat was pounded to separate the useful kernels from the waste, picturing God’s judgment in separating true believers from the dross of Christendom that claims the name of Jesus but does not truly know Him.

The threshing floor was a place of blessing because it was the place of harvest, where the crops would be cleansed for use in the coming year. The harvest time was a time of great rejoicing. At the end of the harvest, when all the good wheat had been separated and stored, the chaff would be swept together and burned, picturing the everlasting judgment to fall on those who do not receive Jesus as Messiah, as Savior.

So John uses an agricultural event that was familiar to all the Israelites to portray both the imminent coming of Jesus into His public ministry, and the far future final judgment of the end times, when God will separate the wheat (true believers) from the chaff (those who have a form of religion, but not the power).

5 thoughts on “Gathering and Sifting the Wheat

    1. I love the way the illustrations used in the Bible are fitting for those who are being taught. Your grandparents would have no trouble, then, understanding what John was talking about. Even though the methods have changed, the process is still the same.


  1. Before the days of combines, farmers went together and had threshing crews. One man in the neighborhood owned a belt run threshing machine. He went about the neighborhood with the machine while all the neighborhood men travelled along and everyone’s grain was threshed. My day, bless his heart, was always designated in the strawpile. The straw blew out of a giant pipe but to build a streawpile took technique so that it would shed rain and snow. My dad would come in at the end of the day covered with pickly chaff. He wore glasses so that protected his eyes, and regardless of how hot it was, he wore long sleeves for protection. I certainly know what chaff is. I have used that as illustration many times. Thresingfloors are used several times in scripture. However, farmers use combines now and leave the straw in the field which is later baled. No fun playing on a strawpile.


  2. You surely know a lot more about the farm than I do. I do remember, however, what it felt like to be all hot, sweaty, and covered with chaff from the weeks we spent on a friend’s farm in the summers. City kids, we thought it was amazing fun.


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