What it Really Means to be BAPTIZED IN FIRE

This post is part of my current blog series called “Questions People Ask about the Holy Spirit” (#HSQuestions). You are still welcome to submit questions here

 

firetunnelnarrowI’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 burnup 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.

running_26_tnb_answer_5_xlargeBut, 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?

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11 thoughts on “What it Really Means to be BAPTIZED IN FIRE

  1. Hi Andrew
    Great post! I heard Gordon Fee on an old video series give good clues as to what John the Baptist was referring to. John’s eschatological expectation was that when the Messiah came, the old age would break and the new age would dawn, the Messianic age, with final judgment! So, yes, fire = judgment, and John’s warnings make sense in the light of Fee’s explanation.

  2. Thanks Andrew I have been trying to convince friends of this for some time. Occaisionally I succeed. Also Gordon Fee has been a great encouragment to me especially in my post-grad studies on 1 Cor

  3. I think in Theological Terms the use of The words Holy Fire in misused.However, when this is said most imply Fire to mean Power impartation , Annointing,Extra ordinary Grace.Some use it in terms of Wild Fire..as in HS showing up creating manifestations..laughter, shaking, sudden burts of worship, healing, and group deliverance. I think it is fair to say the missuse of the words doesnt confuse God on their intent to Receive more of His Holy Spirit or enpowerment in ministry.
    Though i understand the suggestion to “Run Away” based off a truer understanding of the words. I do not think for a second that agreeing to this impsrtation will somehow bring a Judgemental Purifying fire upon those who say yes.
    My experience, when these words are used, is a great deal of refreshment, freedom, empowerment.
    Thoughts?

    • Thanks seerson finally some sound theology, yes fire can be purifying and a symbol of judgement, and yes, we will all stand before the Father and be judged, but Jesus is a our Saviour, he has taken the judgement upon himself and we are free from fear. That is a legally binding contract called justification. As the Holy Spirit sanctifies us through the blood of Christ, we are made new, yes he will burn out all that is no of himself in our lives, but that is nothing to be feared or run away from. Bring on the burning, our Father is not vindictive or someone who wants to bring fear and destruction upon His children, We don’t run away from him and his work in our lives, we run into the arms of a loving Father who wants only the best for his kids.
      Sorry Andrew I think you may have missed the whole point of the Cross

      • Hi Peter, Thanks for commenting. I actually agree with pretty much everything you have said (just not the last sentence :). You are making a general theological observation about general themes in scripture. By contract, I’m trying to say what was John the Baptist getting at in these two specific Bible passages. So yes, the “fire” of God can be a great thing for believers, but (for all the reasons I explained above), when John the Baptism (the only person who used this metaphor in the Bible) spoke of being baptized in fire, I don’t think that is what he meant. Thanks again for commenting.

  4. Hi Andrew,
    I appreciate your writings and what your are doing, but wanted to comment on interpreting fire as judgment and mostly negative in reference to the Baptist’s statement, “He will baptize YOU with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Admittedly, this verse is not easy to interpret, but John does seem to be equating the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire.

    Before commenting on that verse I wanted to draw attention to viewing fire in a positive light. The pillar of fire in Israel’s wilderness wandering, the chariots of fire that whisked Elijah away, the blazing torch of the smoking firepot that sealed the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:17), and the apocalyptic description of Jesus himself (Rev. 1:14). Along with the tongues of fire on Pentecost and the burning bush they all have one thing in common: God’s awesome presence.

    The baptism in the Holy Spirit is nothing if it is not an immersion into God’s presence. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to accomplish what the LAW could not do and that is make us holy. If he cannot burn out the dross, refine us and as the Spirit of holiness (Rms. 1:4) nothing can. He is the purifying agent who burns up the impurities in our lives in the great eschatological event called baptism in the Spirit.

    Isaiah spoke of a day when the Lord would wash away the filth of Jerusalem “by a Spirit of judgment and a Spirit of fire” (Is. 4:4). When he did a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night would cover God’s cleansed people with a canopy of divine glory. Fire here associated with the Spirit cleanses moral filth and offers protection from the storms of life (vv. 5-6).

    So, I think in the larger context of Scripture the baptism of the Spirit and fire is not speaking of two separate events–one for believers (baptism in Holy Spirit) and one for unbelievers (fire) but of one glorious experience that ushers us into the wonderful, glorious protective covering of God and his glory. This interpretation, I believe, is more in keeping with Paul’s argument about the glory of the New Covenant being more glorious (II Cor. 3:8) that the glory of the first where Moses experienced a trembling, smoking and lightning bolts shattering mountain it. When we have the Spirit we all with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory and are transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (v16-17). He is God’s purifying agent.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Blessings,
    Bill Gibson