The Fire of God
Fire is used as a spiritual symbol throughout scripture. The meaning of the fire of God ranges from a sign of the Holy Spirit's presence, purification, divine presence, holiness, testing of eternal works and of course, the use of fire in the final closure where death, the devil and his agents are finally put asunder. To understand the vast subject of the fire of God, we need to understand the various aspects and characterises of God, to apply our understanding of his fire correctly.
One of the first books I picked up was called "The Holy Spirit" by one of the first pentecostal ministers and covers the entire subject of the Holy Spirit, looking at the meaning and implications of who Holy Spirit is, throughout the scriptures. I found the book extremely enlightening and if you can get a copy, I highly recommend giving it a read although I do not think it can be found online, it's so old!
I want to explore the various aspects of the fire of God, and what it means. I will probably not cover every single application or meaning, but hopefully this short snippet will give you enough of an idea to search for the truth on the matter for yourself.
Fire of God as a Sign and Wonder
When Moses encountered God, God appeared as a fire in a bush that did not consume the bush. The presence of God, which is his spirit, for God is spirit, is like a fire. When the Israelites were led by God through the desert, they were guided by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night.
This tells us the appearance of God is not limited to fire, for he also appeared as a cloud as well. This gives us grounding to know God is not just a fire, and so when speaking of Holy Spirit, we should think of him as fire and more.
When Elijah called upon God at mount Carmel, fire came down from heaven and consumed his sacrifice. When God made a covenant with himself concerning Abraham and his descendants, God appeared with a torch of fire.
Fire is a sign and a wonder that points us to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Fire at The Day of Pentecost Acts 2:3
When the disciples were gathered in the upper room, the Holy Spirit manifested upon them as tongues of fire. This is another sign of his presence. Why did he manifest as fire? Perhaps to allude towards the various examples outlined above: fire represents the presence of Holy Spirit, so this was a sign to the disciples so they would know the words of Jesus (Luke 24:49) had been fulfilled, and so they could move out in confidence that they were filled with the power from heaven.
The day to day appearance of the Holy Spirit is actually invisible. The disciples were clothed with power from on high when the Holy Spirit manifested as tongues of fire that rested on all of them, but they still had the same human appearance as before. Their spirits, however, had undergone a transformation with the very Spirit of God entwined into theirs. They were clothed with the power of God.
The sign of tongues of fire on day of pentecost was also given to break one of the moulds that had been set by certain sects in the Jewish tradition. Many were aware of Kabbalah and how it defines a path way into a glorious transition into a God like state. Through it's mystic practices, people believed they could attain such a closeness with God that they would eventually be transformed into his likeness while here on Earth, or even ascend into a higher realm in their transformation and become a glorious one, just like Elijah or Enoch.
Despite their best intentions, this was not what God had in mind. He didn't want us to transform into his likeness just to leave the Earth, because he wanted to dwell with us and transform the Earth with love, kindness and compassion, through us.
So the Holy Spirit coming down to Earth in the way he did, set a standard for the followers of Jesus. They did not have to climb up a spiritual ladder to reach God and the heavens, God was here among us! The transformation is in our hearts and God has done the work by his Spirit. Perhaps this was a mercy act of God because the Kingdom of God is supernatural. It deals with the realm of spirit, as his Kingdom is not of this world. So, as pure speculation, perhaps God did this act to show his disciples the correct way to live and approach spirituality, as addressed by Paul in the letter to the Colossians (2:6-20) and in the letter to the Hebrews (1:5-14).
Fire of God to Test and Weigh
Zechariah 13:9 says: "I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined ... test them as gold is tested..."
In my previous blog post, I explored the subject of the fire stones of God from the passage in Ezekiel 28. This passage tells us the presence of God is amidst the fire stones, the stones them selves flash with fire and they test the angels and spiritual beings in the heavens for purity and alignment with the Holy Spirit. These are not purifying stones but rather testing stones.
1 Corinthians 3:13 tells us all our works will be tested by fire, and what is eternal shall remain. This fire speaks of a Holy Spirit work that is beyond our current dwelling on Earth and is to do with when we enter into paradise and our good works follow us (see my previous blog posts on Beyond Death: Resurrection, Paradise and Immortality and Heavenly Mansions).
Just as fire purifies and refines, so the Holy Spirit purifies and refines the works we have done. This is not to bring judgement, as some have taught. Rather, this is to seek and find the things of eternal value that can be changed into rewards that will follow us into paradise.
God is good and he loves us so much, he wants us to enjoy the good things that follow every good gift, prayer, work and deed done here on Earth. He went through such an arduous ordeal on the cross, he will go to extremes now to ensure the reward of his suffering is reaped, which is the full joy of eternity in his presence with rewards for everything done that reflects his nature and character while here on Earth.
Fire of God: Holy Spirit Encounter
When the Holy Spirit fills us, we may experience something that feels like heat within. It is perhaps no wonder this happens sometimes, as fire is one of the symbols used to represent Holy Spirit.
I remember in the early days of my faith, I would lay on my face for hours in silence, seeking Holy Spirit from my heart. I wanted his presence so bad, I would finish my days with several hours of "soaking". I didn't realise at the time that I was soaking, I just wanted more of God and I wasn't satisfied until I found him.
After a few days, I found I had what felt like an energy inside me, at times it felt like a heat that needed to escape. At one point, I was sat in a car with a friend of mine and I wasn't sure what he thought of me, but I said I just had to express what I was feeling inside, and he encouraged me to continue. Next I knew, I was speaking in tongues and a passion rose in my heart for Jesus.
A short time after, I found myself in a student gathering and I was at the front, worshipping away when something like a weight fell on me and I started to sweat. My whole body felt like it was burning up and my breathing became laboured. My limbs felt like lightning was flowing through them and I could not stand. (Some may say this was demon possession, but I have had the experience of such and being delivered from such, this was no demon, for I remained in my right mind and my heart was full of love toward Jesus).
I became more enthused with the love of God, I wanted to share it and for others to see it too. This enthusing with the spirit of God lead to me being involved with, and helping start, a ministry for the homeless and vulnerable that has lasted to this day in that city, and has impacted countless lives.
Fire of Holy Spirit: Purification and Sanctification
The inner work of the Holy Spirit is likened to a purifying fire. He sanctifies us and continually draws us toward an every increasing likeness of Jesus Christ. The work of the fire of the spirit is not felt but is more a process of purifying our motives, attitudes, thoughts and behaviour.
Using the word fire to describe this work of God is more apt that water, because fire refines whereas water washes. The Holy Spirit is also like water, but this is more a refreshing and comforting pleasure, as opposed to the challenging fire that refines us.
Fire: Ordeal to Purify Our Faith
Some will be persecuted for their faith in Christ. 1 Peter 4:12 tells us this fiery ordeal is strange but through it our faith is tested. The fire refines and tests us, to prove our faith stronger. Not that God needs us to prove our worth, but this proving is a kind of revealing of the precious worth that is in our spirits through perseverance.
Fire: Supernatural Acts of Judgement
This is perhaps one of the most difficult subjects to explore on, simply because the church has misconstrued judgement. Many of the old testament prophecies speak of a fire judgement that comes from the Lord God to consume his adversaries and often, the church has applied this to those who aren't walking in a way they think is in line with God.
Firstly, I am not discussing the same judgement that the scripture speaks of that begins with the church. This is a judgement of fire that consumes the current creation to make way for the new creation, and consumes the spiritual enemies of God.
We know from the life of Jesus that he does not wish to burn or kill those who are so called "sinners" (Luke 9:54). Jesus even rebuked his disciples for thinking the judgement of fire was upon people who did not know God! Jesus came to the world to save it, not condemn it. Instead I think the heart of God is "while we are in the year of the Lord's favour, seek the Lord while he may be found".
The old testament prophecies were about Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:10) and the grace that was to come to us. What then, can we say about the prophecies concerning fire and judgement, of which there are many! God is intent on us finding him while we can but he also wants to usher in his new creation, of Heaven and Earth, which will be free of all evil. In order to do so, there will be a supernatural demonstration of fire which will begin to consume this world until the final day when God destroys all things in order to create a new place for us to live in.
The book of revelation can help us understand this, as well as some of the new testament letters.
2 Peter 3:6-7 and 1 Peter 3:10 make it clear that the fire of judgement is going to burn up the things of this creation. Once destroyed, God will make a new heavens and a new Earth for us to enjoy. In this scripture, people are not burned in judgement. Even in Revelation 8:7, people are not harmed by the judgements brought by fire. Instead, the fire of judgement is reserved first for the devil and his angels, this is called the lake of fire, which some have falsely presented as "hell".
This eternal fire, as described in Revelation 20:14-15 (I have not explored this here and is separate to judgement, for judgement happens in the verses leading up to the lake of fire) is reserved for after everything is destroyed - death itself and hades (the place where the dead reside) - are going to be destroyed by fire, meaning there is no place for the dead, so the dead come to life and then their fate awaits. The end of things is not made entirely clear to us so I want to avoid going into too much detail about it, although scripture is clear there will be a clear distinction between those who want God, and those who do not, both with different ends.
The good news that we can take from the final closure on all things:
Death is destroyed - death will be no more!
The devil will be destroyed - no more evil adversaries or spiritual wickedness!
This world and creation will be destroyed, allowing a total creation of a new place for us. As we know from the book of Genesis, God included Adam in his creation, as soon as Adam was made. So as we will exist at the beginning of the new creation, it may be possible that we will be included in its creation.
The fire of God can represent different things, but is mostly to do with testing, weighing, purifying, purging of evil and as a sign and wonder to his presence.