I hate to tell you this- but I’m not sure the Devil has a pitchfork. In fact, he may not look much like ‘Sparky’ the Arizona State Sundevil at all. In fact, if you listen to John the Baptist’s sermons- Jesus is the one with the pitchfork, not Satan.
I’m not saying that Jesus is ALL about punishment or torturing people for eternity in Hell with a hay-fork. If anything, I’m probably closer to being type of heretic theologians call a “gospel reductionist”- that means that I believe that the very very core, bottom line about Jesus is His grace. That His law is love and his work on the cross is about forgiveness for us sinners.
But I think it’s amazing how popular culture and art history have placed the scythe in the hands of a “grim reaper” whom we see as the personification of death itself (which we also see as the ultimate evil), when in Matthew 13:24-29 &36-43 it’s God’s angels who will be harvesting souls and separating the wheat from the weeds.
And in Matthew 3, John the Baptist puts the pitch fork, in Jesus’ own hands, not in Satan’s. It may seem a little spooky, but read what John has to say and who he’s talking to. John is a “prophetic voice.” That is, he isn’t telling people what they WANT to hear, he’s telling them the TRUTH, God’s truth.
John’s addressing hypocrites. Religious & political leaders who were smug and full of themselves. They thought they were exceptional. They thought they were chosen, they assumed that they were entitled and special because God was on their side. But John challenged them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Think of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. These are virtues, principles of character which prove that you are a branch connected to Jesus, the vine.
So what fruit might that “brood of vipers” been bearing instead? Could it have been stuff like immorality, pride and arrogance, love of money, hatred or inciting other to hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, and self-indulgence? Sound like any celebrities or recently narrowly elected leaders of today’s time? (yeah, I just went there).
John is talking to all of us, not just to the Pharisees during Jesus’ time. He warns us ALL that we should turn from our sin and selfishness and seek Jesus’ forgiveness and renewal. The ax is at the root, ready to cut down any tree that’s not producing good fruit. The good news is the fire of God’s Spirit can burn off our greed and offensive if we let him.
But yeah, I went there. I think that more of us need to let God use us to be prophetic voices like John the Baptist. To be willing to say to people, including out leaders “That’s not how this works, that’s not how ANY of this is supposed to work” (like the old lady in the insurance commercial).
Sparky the devil torturing sinners in Hell with the pitchfork is not Scriptural. The lake of sulfur and fire wasn’t meant for humanity. It was meant for Satan and his demons- it’s their prison and punishment. They won’t be in charge there. And we only condemn ourselves there when we reject God’s free gift of grace and forgiveness.
The fork is for winnowing out grain from chaff (weeds) and that’s Jesus’ job and He does it for out good, not to torture us.
If anyone should fear it, it’s those in power who assume that they are entitled to that power because they’re privileged- and yet are hypocritical and selfish in their actions. His TRUE kingdom is near, in our hearts if we agree to His law- which is LOVE. He won’t put up with all the hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, and selfish ambition for ever.
MEANWHILE: why don’t you enjoy this lovely parody of Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ that I put together in Photoshop. Instead of the father pretending to protect his daughter’s innocence just after performing incest- I have the son, protecting the mother in a quasi-satirical way where Catholic iconography is combined with American iconography resulting in an ironic statement about how conservative Evangelical Christianity has co-opted Middle Eastern (Palestinian) refugees through the symbolism of poor, Roman-Catholic European immigrants to represent their socio-economic and political philosophies as if they were inerrant word of God!
Matthew 3:7-12 (NIV)
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”