what is fire?
The word fire is used a lot in the bible. There are 506 verses in the King James Version which have the word “fire”. How would the majority of Christians associate the word “fire” with the God of the Bible? Their first thoughts would probably be Hell-fire, the Lake of Fire, or Sodom and Gomorrah. It may be surprising to many Christians that the word “fire,” and its attributes of “light” and “heat,” reveal more of the Creator and His character and goodness than of a destructive force against His enemies.
Fire does play a very significant role in the Bible. God Himself is described as a “consuming fire” :
Heb (KJV) 12:29 For our God is a consuming fire.
Deut 4:24 (KJV) For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire….
Doesn’t it seem rather strange to call the God of Creation a consuming fire? Rarely, if ever, do we associate fire with the restoration and salvation process of God. We usually associate it with destruction. Later in this article we will see how God’s spiritual fire, since He calls Himself a consuming fire, is a force for good and an ultimate benefit for humanity. Nothing at all to do with the false orthodox view of an eternal hell fire or an ever burning Gehenna fire for the wicked.
It is also interesting to note that people who are more judgmental, vengeful, and fundamental are the ones who likely see fire as God’s punishment. They have a difficult time seeing fire as a positive symbol of God. For this kind of mindset, fire usually means Hell, the lake of fire, and everlasting punishment. On the other hand, the more, merciful, and compassionate one becomes, the more likely they are to see fire as a symbol of love, correction, and sacredness. They are “on fire for God” is an expression used in a positive sense. The judgmental person will usually see fire out in the future somewhere awaiting those whom it would swallow up in vindictive judgment, its flames engulfing those whom it will eternally torment or annihilate.
Christians who have come to recognize the glorious fire of God will see His fire in a totally different light. Rather than being utterly destroyed by the fire, they are purified, corrected, cleansed. God’s fire within brings forth a love that desires to bring healing and restoration to all mankind. The more spiritually minded, desirous to be changed, and willing to be conformed to the image of Christ one is, the less fear they have of fire in the Bible. This group is more likely to use the word “fire” in a positive sense.
There are two main aspects of fire. One is the kind of fire we associate with the physical creation, like a camp fire or the flame of a burning candle. The other is the fire related to the spirit dimension, like our trial of faith tried by fire (1 Pet. 1:7), every mans work shall be revealed by fire (1 Cor. 3:13) and you shall heap coals of fire on his head (Rom. 12 :20). The physical fire is easily understood. The spiritual fire is not physically tangible and therefore needs to be understood by spiritual discernment.
Let us look at the physical (literal) fire first and then look at the spiritual aspect of fire.
Physical (Literal) Fire
Fire has played a very significant role throughout history. . Because fire is sometimes the author of apparent calamity, its benefits are often lost sight of. Its main application is not destruction, but service. What does natural fire do? In fact, fire destroys nothing. It converts substances, releasing constituents from existing combinations, but all the basic elements remain intact, undiminished. Every component in a substance burned exists still, and is ready to be taken up again in new forms. But practically no manufacturing or industrialization would be possible apart from the use of fire to alter and shape materials and products for our use. The fire having the greatest impact on us is the sun. Life on earth depends upon the energy given by this huge ball of fire near the earth, the sun.
Fire produces flame (light) and heat, two very useful properties in the natural world. The more we understand the scientific properties of fire, the more useful fire seems to be to mankind. Science and technological advances are finding all kinds of uses for the energy waves which come forth from fire, whether the fire is from the sun, or from the splitting of an atom, building of lasers and LEDs or other sources.
If we burn a stick of wood, and carefully preserve the smoke and the ashes, we shall find that they weigh a little more than the wood weighed–just as much more as the oxygen weighed that combined with the flame in the process of combustion. The resulting particles are all changed but preserved. Science tells us that the ultimate particles of which all substances are composed are like subatomic bricks; they never lose form or identity, but, let loose from any combination by fire, or otherwise, they are ready to be again taken up in other forms. Destruction is a mere process in the cycle of fire.
As long as mankind uses fire as instruments of destruction and cruelty, mankind will continue to have a fear of fire. The atomic and hydrogen bombs are certainly terrible instruments of war which strike fear in the heart of everyone. Our ability to control our environment is not perfect. Fire accidents often produce horrible disasters. This also instils fear of fire. For more information on the characteristics of fire see Wikipedia :
While God’s response by fire was usually a positive act, there were times when His manifestation in fire, or the use of fire, was used as a correction or destruction of evil. We find that God uses physical fire to deal with evil cities, nations or systems. Here are a few examples in the Bible of God’s dealing with evil cities, nations or systems with fire:
In Jer. 21.10-12, we read of Babylon’s burning Jerusalem with fire, a national judgment fulfilled in 586 B.C.:
Jer 21:10 (KJV) For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.
There are many references in the major and minor prophets concerning God’s judgement by fire. Here are but a few:
Hos_8:14 (KJV) For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.
Amos_2:2 (KJV) But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet:
Amos_2:5 (KJV) But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.
Because of the wickedness done in Sodom and Gomorrah God brought total ruin to those two cities by fire.
Gen. 19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
We turn now to the subject of the spiritual fire of God.
Spiritual (Symbolic) Fire of God
God is a consuming fire as we read earlier (Heb 12:29). His primary attribute is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16) . Everything He does is in love and for the ultimate benefit of humanity.
There are some perplexing scriptures in the New testament that need to be examined. We need to ask what do these mean? What is fire referring too? There are a few scriptures that can be an enigma for some. For example:
Why did John the Baptist say he baptized with water for repentance but says when Jesus comes He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt.3:11)?
Why did Jesus say He came to set fire on the earth (Luke 12:49)?
Why did Paul say that our works would be revealed by fire and will try (test) those works (1 Cor. 3:13)?
Why did Peter say that our faith will be tried (tested) with fire (1 Pet. 1:7)?
God has shown Himself to be not only a God of love, but also of fire, a CONSUMING FIRE in the Scriptures. It is amazing how often God speaks of fire in bringing judgement on humanity. Judgement by God is good, it is righteous judgement. Scripture tells us that all is of God.
2 Cor 5:18 (KJV) And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
And just as real literal fire is used to refine and purify gold and precious metals, so God’s spiritual fire refines and purifies us from our sinful and carnal nature. And likewise, as real literal fire is used to burn up wood and stubble, so God’s all consuming spiritual fire will consume and burn up all the impurities in our life. All have sinned. Sin in our lives must be put to death by God’s fire.
1 Cor 3:11 (KJV) For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 3:12 (KJV) Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
1 Cor 3:13 (KJV) Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
1 Cor 3:14 (KJV) If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
1 Cor 3:15 (KJV) If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
These verses reveal an amazing truth. As trash is burned and precious metals are purified by the use of literal and physical fire, so God burns our spiritual trash (wood, hay and stubble) and purifies those qualities of character worth saving (gold, silver, precious stones) by His symbolic and spiritual fire. A mans carnal works shall be burned. Those works will be gone, burned away. But the man made righteous by God will be saved. Physical fire is inanimate and uncaring. God’s spiritual fire is caring and loving.
It becomes clear that God’s spiritual fire is not just for unbelievers but also for believers in Christ. Many assume that God judges unbelievers with fire, but not believers? Scripture tells us differently.
1 Pet 4:12 (KJV) Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
1 Pet_1:7 (KJV) That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Peter is saying that going through fiery trails is the norm and not the exception. They are not pleasant at all, but are a part of Christian growth. Even our faith, on occasion, will be tested by fire. The New Testament is filled with the fiery trials of God’s people.
Unless God through the chastising power of His spirit, is burning out the various sinful works of the flesh (Gal 5: 19-21) , we will not be born as Sons of God in His Kingdom at the first resurrection..
And why did Christ say He came to send fire on the earth?
Luke 12:49 (KJV) I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
The spiritual purging and purifying fire of Christ was kindled when He began His ministry, gave the Sermon on the Mount, and called His disciples. The article on Gehenna gives more detail on this fire that has been kindled. And it has been with us ever since. It is with us today in every life that Jesus is working with.
John the Baptist said this to the multitudes who came to hear him preach:
Mat_3:11 (KJV) I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and fire:
John said that Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It may seem that it is good to be baptized with the Holy Spirit but bad to be baptized by fire. But both baptisms are good. What Jesus does is always for a good purpose. Being baptized (immersed) in fire (Greek – pur) is as important and beneficial as being baptized with God’s Holy Spirit.
From these and many other scripture it becomes clear that God chastens us with His fire to build Holy righteous character, it can be a painful and not a pleasant experience but for our good and ultimate salvation.
Heb 12:11 (KJV) Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
There are many other New Testament scriptures that mention God’s spiritual fire. It is Jesus Christ who administers the spiritual fire of correctness. God the Father committed all judgement to Christ. It is needful to remember that the spiritual fire is God’s act of love and not of hate. It is for our benefit.
Mark_9:49 (KJV) For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
Every single person shall be salted with fire by God for salvation. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). We are to be the salt of the earth and do good works for the glory of God. Being salted by fire by God is part of the salvation process. Everyone, yes every single person, will be salted by fire. Every scripture is inspired by God and no scriptures contradict other scriptures.
Yes there seem to be scriptures in our commonly used English bibles that infer that fire can be a horrible thing that God uses to endlessly torment evil people. That is not true.
Fire burns something up. What does God’s fire burn? We know all have sinned. Sin needs to be overcome through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Sin needs to be purged (burned) from our lives.
The fire mentioned is not literal and has nothing to do with an ever burning hell.
Other terminology commonly thought to refer to eternal fiery Hell.
There are other places where we find mention of God’s consuming spiritual fire. Below are the phrases that mention this fire. Some have been mentioned already and others will be discussed in another article. Misunderstood phrases such as:
unquenchable fire (Mark 9:48-49).
Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14)
worm dieth not (Mark 9:48-49).
everlasting fire (Mat. 25:41)
wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 13:50)
Our merciful and loving God and Father does not eternally torture humanity in fire, but rather saves humanity by fire. And so we are assured that EVERYONE will be “revealed,” “tried,” “salted,” and “baptized” “in fire.” And these fiery trials as Peter calls them go on for a lifetime. If it were real, physical fire, all believers’ lives would be short indeed. God is Spirit, and God is a consuming fire. It is one attribute of God’s Spirit that is likened to fire. The spiritual teaching in this symbol is to recognize what real fire accomplishes and to then use that as an analogy as to what God does to us (or more properly for us).
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