When reading Matthew, Mark and Luke both synoptically and carefully, one sees that a gap existed between John the Baptist’s perception of the messianic task and Jesus’ perception of it. Verses like Luke 3:9 and Luke 3:17 suggest that John anticipated an unfolding of God’s judgment with the advent of the Messiah—good fruit trees were to be spared and wheat collected, whereas bad trees and chaff were to be burned. This separation motif is an indicator of judgment.
Christians read their Bibles through a lens of historical hindsight to illuminate certain features of Jesus’ teaching. Jews living in the first century did not have this benefit, and even one as saintly as John the Baptist struggled with aspects of Jesus’ messianic conduct.