John the Baptist could see that his cousin Jesus was not coming politely.
What are we to do with this Jesus who baptizes with fire? He gathers in the good and burns the useless. We would all like to think that our efforts should be gathered in as good grain. We do not like to think about getting burned by Jesus.
There was another John, the disciple who walked closely with Jesus. In later life, his apocalyptic vision shows Jesus with flaming eyes and a sword coming from his mouth.
While it is a striking vision, it is not inconsistent with the Jesus we see presented in the gospels. This is the same Jesus that John had walked with personally.
Consider the painful words Jesus utters about the suffering he would endure and the conflicts that would ensue as the Kingdom of God came.
Theologian Karl Barth said,
Jesus used this strong word very consciously: I am come to kindle fire. Whatever gets into fire is not only changed, but it is transmuted in a manner unheard of, into something different from what it was. Wood ceases to be wood when in the fire; it becomes ashes and gas, light and warmth. Jesus meant to say: such transmutation, such radical change is what I bring and give. Just so he purposely used that other strong word: I am not come to bring peace, but a sword, the sword that brings death, that is, not just a change and an improvement in this existence with which we are acquainted, but a transition from this existence to an entirely unfamiliar one. Let us think for a moment that that which Jesus is and that which he wants, this Immanuel! God with us! is true; that it is not simply in the Bible, and spoken by a minister in the pulpit, but that it is simply true. What then? Clearly then something new begins, something as different from all that now is as ashes, gas, light and warmth are from wood, death from life.
Judge Jesus is on the bench. The fearful thing is that he can see right through us. He sees the issues of the heart and speaks with truthful clarity. Every matter will be settled in His court.