I’m not talking about “fire tunnels,” where people walk in between two lines of people who place their hands on them and pray for them.
Instead, I’m talking about what John the Baptist refers to. He says that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16).
What does it mean to be baptized with fire?
(Unlikely) Option 1: Fire = the Spirit
One might wish that being baptized with fire means the same as being baptized with the Spirit.
This might make sense since in the Old Testament fire sometimes was a symbol of God’s favorable presence (consider Moses at the burning bush, Exodus 3:2). Also, on the day of Pentecost, when people were baptized in the Spirit, “tongues of fire” rested on each of them (Acts 2:3).
(Unlikely) Option 2: Fire = Purification
In the Old Testament, fire sometimes symbolized God’s purification, much like fire is used to refine metals. For example, in Zechariah 13:8-9 the Lord said, “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. … I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
If this is what John the Baptist means, then being baptized with fire would refer to an event of being made more holy, like increasing in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).
(More Likely) Option 3: Fire = Judgment
In the Old Testament, fire is sometimes used to refer to God’s judgment of Israel’s enemies. For example, Isaiah writes that “your many enemies will become . . . like blown chaff. …The LORD Almighty will come with . . . flames of a devouring fire (29:5-6).
Similarly, in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist warns the Pharisees and Sadducees about “the coming wrath” (3:7). He adds that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (verse 10).
In the very next verse, John states that Jesus will baptize “with fire” (verse 11). And he immediately continues by adding that Jesus will burn “up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verse 12).
In this passage fire is only presented in a negative light.
The same thing is true for Luke 3:9-17, the only other place in the Bible that speaks of being baptized “with fire” (3:16).
If this doesn’t convince you, let me give you…
Three more reasons that being baptized with fire means receiving judgement:
1) Jesus never told the disciples they would be baptized in fire on the day of Pentecost. Rather, he only said, “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).
2) Even though they both quote John the Baptist as saying that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8, John 1:33), the gospels of Mark and John don’t mention being baptized with fire, and, likewise, they don’t mention anything about God’s judgment (unlike Luke and Matthew).
3) Even though Luke writes about being baptized with fire in his gospel, Luke never mentions it in the book of Acts (which he also wrote), and he also never says that anyone received the “fire” of the Spirit.
Baptism in the Spirit is great.
But, if someone asks you if you want to be baptized with fire, I suggest you run away from them while politely yelling, “No, thank you!”
In the meantime, please be careful that you “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). 😉
Question: Have you heard any other explanations of what being “baptized with fire” means?