Fire is an important image in the Bible about God’s presence. God appeared in a burning bush to Moses, in flames over Mount Senai, and in a pillar of fire over the tabernacle. And so the flames at Pentecost: this is the marking out of temple space—places where heaven and earth meet, become where God’s appearance manifests itself.
The Bible Project, Acts E2: Pentecost and the Expected Unexpected Spirit
(I experienced shivers down my spine as I wrote something very similar just minutes before I heard the above podcast)
Unlike earthly fire, God’s fire isn’t indiscriminate but only eradicates evil to refine and purify. For example:
I will turn my hand against you and will burn away your dross completely; I will remove all your impurities.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.”
Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Isaiah 1:25, 6:6-7, 48:10, CSB
I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are my people, and they will say: “The Lord is our God.”
Zechariah 13:9, CSB
Yet he knows the way I have taken; when he has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.
Job 23:10, CSB
For you, God, tested us; you refined us as silver is refined.
Psalm 66:10, CSB
But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
Malachi 3:2-3, CSB
The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold, but the one who purifies hearts by fire is the Lord.
Proverbs 17:3, GW
each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:13-15, CSB
This is why the Holy Spirit, whilst described as fire, doesn’t eradicate people. For example:
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke 3:16, CSB
They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:3-4, CSB
In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-20, EHV
When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning.
Isa 4:4, BRG
Showing hospitality to someone who has enmity towards you is “fiery” in this sense.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Romans 12:20, CSB
In my next post, God willing, I’ll look at how this, somewhat surprising, image of refining fire needs to inform the way we interpret verses about fire at the end of the age and in the ages to come (which providentially, The Bible Project discussed a few weeks ago).