John would not baptize people who didn’t appear repentant, not wanting to bolster anyone’s self-deception. He baptized people “as they confessed their sins” (Matt. 3:6). He warned those who came:
The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:10, 12).
John was not afraid to tell the truth about hell, a subject that is often avoided by preachers who are trying to win a popularity contest rather than win souls for God’s kingdom. Neither did John fail to proclaim the same theme we discovered in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount—only the holy inherit God’s kingdom. Those who don’t bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.
If John were alive today, he would no doubt be castigated by many professing Christians as a “hellfire and brimstone preacher,” a “gloom and doom prophet,” “not seeker-sensitive,” or worse, “negative,” “condemning,” “legalistic” or “self-righteous.” Yet John was Jesus’ favorite preacher. John preached about hell and made it clear what kinds of people on their way there. Interestingly, Luke referred to John’s message as “the gospel” (Luke 3:18).