A Fire Worth Catching

A Fire Worth Catching

Fire is both a tool and a danger. Fire can keep us safe and warm, and help us prepare food. Fire can also destroy us.

In the Bible, fire represents divine judgment. Punitive? Yes, you can find that in the text, but it seems less of a divine punishment and more of a predictable consequence of bad choices. If you mix fuel, heat, and oxygen without proper constraints and boundaries, destruction is what you will get.

In scripture, I am very fascinated by fire when it does not consume the fuel source. For instance, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2, ESV)

The fire wasn’t the miracle. The miracle was that the bush was on fire and yet wasn’t consumed by the fire. Elsewhere in scripture, to be in the fire but to be protected from the fire speaks to us of God’s divine protection.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2, ESV)

And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.” (Daniel 3:27, ESV)

So, in the sense that fire represents judgment, the covenantal example and promise is that God’s presence among his people will protect them. They will go through fire but will not be consumed by the fire. The burning bush stands as a sign pointing us toward the reality of pending judgment and the promise of divine protection. Think of Moses before Pharoah and each of the ten plagues. The Jewish people were divinely protected from the plagues. Then, through the Red Sea, that which destroyed Pharoah’s armies was salvation for those who followed Moses across dry land. Israel is the burning bush that was not consumed. God is present among his people, and this means salvation for his people and destruction for God’s enemies.

All of this points us toward Jesus. Moses is a type of Jesus, leading us out of our slavery to sin (Egypt) through the waters of baptism (Red Sea) to Sinai (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit) and toward the promised land (the fulfillment of all God has purposed).

John introduced Jesus as the one who would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11, ESV)

When the Spirit came at Pentecost, he came as fire upon the believers, yet they were not consumed by the fire.

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:3–4, ESV)

When the fire comes upon a fuel source and doesn’t consume it, this is a sign of God’s presence to bring salvation to his people and destruction to his enemies. But who are his enemies? With Israel, this was clearly about the other rival nations among whom Israel was God’s elect. If they blessed Israel, they would be blessed. But if they didn’t bless Israel, the fire upon Israel would destroy them. Though Israel would walk through the fire herself, ultimately, she would not be burned. Israel will endure. God will keep his promises to his people.

But who are God’s enemies now? Are we to apply this biblical imagery to peoples and nations, expecting the fire of God to consume our enemies? Should this imagery become the propaganda of nation states to invoke God’s judgment against other peoples and nations? No.

With Jesus, we find out that the concept “enemies” gets redefined. Those we thought were our enemies are actually our neighbors. Those we considered our enemies are the ones we are called to love. When Jesus leads us out of our slavery to sin through the waters of baptism, into the empowering work of the Spirit and toward the fulfillment of his purpose in all things, his enemies are certainly destroyed by that which saves his people. But his enemies are not other people.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus defeats all the powers of the devil and the kingdom of darkness.

The fire of God upon a believer is a sign of 1) God’s presence among his people, 2) God’s salvation, and 3) God’s victory over darkness. As always, the miracle is that we are not consumed.

I believe this is a fire worth “catching.”

4 Replies to “A Fire Worth Catching”

  1. Hi! So do you believe that the enemies of God will be consumed by the judgement fires? That seems to be the logical implication. Consumed as in literally destroyed, physically die? Thanks.

    1. I believe that the cross which provides our salvation also is God’s defeat of the devil. I believe that ultimately the devil and his angels will be destroyed with fire.

      1. Thanks for the reply 🙂

        I agree. The Bible speaks from cover to cover that the end of the wicked is death, destruction, perish, be no more, utterly consumed, melt away, destroy both body and soul in Hell (Gehenna), etc. and really lacks any explicit passage about eternal conscious torment outside of maybe two verses in the most symbolic book of the Bible (Revelation. Even those two have very good exegetical reasons for interpreting the symbology as destruction.

        Sorry to bug you, but do you also believe the unsaved people will ultimately be destroyed / physically die (second death) as well? Thanks.

  2. Great blog!! Isaiah 33 speaks again of the everlasting fire. The fire here, in a sense originates from the breath of the wicked themselves. The question is asked, “Who can dwell with consuming fire?” and the answer seems to be the righteous. The wicked cannot survive consuming fire and that is why those who choose the darkness rather than the light will finally be destroyed(Mt 10:28) But it is not for us to judge who will reject the light. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves and pray for their blessing and life.

     “11 You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble;
        your breath is a fire that will consume you.
    12 And the peoples will be as if burned to lime,
        like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”
    13 Hear, you who are far off, what I have done;
        and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
    14 The sinners in Zion are afraid;
        trembling has seized the godless:
    “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
        Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
    15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
        who despises the gain of oppressions” ESV

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