God’s Fire

By Alan H. Crosby

There are three kinds of fire found in Scripture: natural, supernatural and figurative. Scripture does not distinguish them, for all fire belongs to the Lord – but supernatural fire is uniquely His.

Natural Fire
Man used fire to worship God almost from the very beginning. Henry Soltau wrote in his book, The Tabernacle – The Priesthood And The Offerings: “Every sacrifice which had been presented to God from Abel downward, had been a burnt offering” (pp. 363-364). In Leviticus 1:9, according to a note in the English Standard Version, we see the burnt offering described as an “offering by fire” with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. In a physical sense many people would agree, for roasting meat smells good.

From the beginning man used fire to cook his food, warm himself and process his materials. In Genesis 4:22 we read: “Tubal-cain … was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” (ESV). Today, controlled combustion – fire or burning heat – is used to power our airplanes, ships, trains, trucks and cars. It is also used to generate electricity. God certainly blessed us by giving us our knowledge of fire, including how to develop and use it!

Supernatural Fire
Supernatural fire is quite different from natural fire in that it does not require fuel nor necessarily produce ash. Its appearance is a miracle created by God to accomplish very special results. For example, Asaph spoke of God’s “glorious deeds … and wonders” (Ps. 78:4), including how “He led [His people] with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light” (v.14). God also used that “pillar of fire” to throw Israel’s Egyptian pursuers into a panic to deliver His escaping people. The pursuers said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against [us]” (Ex. 14:24-25).

Earlier, God had used supernatural fire to call Moses to lead His people and create a nation for Himself. At that time the Israelites were Pharaoh’s slaves and were suffering because of their hard taskmasters. They cried to the LORD, and He answered them by using a supernatural fire in a desert bush. Scripture says, “The Angel of the LORD [presumably the pre-incarnate Son of God] appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush … the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (3:2). When Moses turned aside to “see this great sight” (v.3), God called to him and persuaded him to serve as Israel’s leader.

Years later, at the time of Elijah, God used supernatural fire to establish that He, and not Baal, was truly God. Elijah said, “The God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Ki. 18:24). Two altars were set up, and supernatural fire fell only on Elijah’s offering in answer to his prayer. “The fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Ki. 18:38).

The Lord used supernatural fire to grow the Church on the day of Pentecost. The apostles “were all together in one place … and divided tongues 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 2:1-4; see 1 Cor. 12:10). “There were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven … and they were bewildered because each one was hearing [the apostles] speak in his own language” (Acts 2:5-6). To the Church “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v.41).

Figurative Fire
God’s punishment of the unrepentant is likened to the pain of being burned in a lake of fire (Rev. 20:10,15), sometimes likened to the caldera of a volcano. Scripture compares the punishment to the burning of chaff “with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12) and speaks of “a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27). Satan, a name that means “Adversary,” and his angels are spirits and therefore cannot suffer physical pain, but they will suffer the spiritual pain called “eternal fire,” prepared especially for them (Mt. 25:41).

Believers will have no sins for which to suffer in eternity – our Lord Jesus has already suffered for all of them on the cross. What is left for us to do is repent and accept the way of forgiveness He provided for us. However, present sins do have consequences – “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). The Lord said, “Buy from Me gold refined by fire” (Rev. 3:18), speaking figuratively of our acceptance of the reproof and discipline that He metes out in love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). “Like a refiner’s fire” (Mal. 3:2), He will purify us now as He will purify the sons of Levi in the future (v.3).

Christ also will judge our works by figurative fire. Paul described the work of growing the Church as constructing a building. The apostle wrote that he is, as it were, the master builder; Jesus Christ is the foundation, and we are God’s fellow-workers building upon it (1 Cor. 3:9-11). The quality of what we build will be evaluated. “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (v.13).

“If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (vv. 14-15). Paul likened the believer whose works are worthless, or all burned up, to a person who just escapes from a burning building with his life but loses all his possessions in a fire.

We are exhorted: “Let each one take care how he builds” upon the foundation (v.10). We should make sure that what we build on that foundation beautifies the Church in the Lord’s eyes and will survive the fire of judgment.

However, if we build with combustibles like wood, hay and straw, they will burn up. We do this by seeking to add extra-scriptural interpretations, some of which we hold in pride and fiercely contest. Partitions we try to make by twisting or misinterpreting Scripture (see 1 Pet. 3:16) will also burn up. There are those who would seek to “stir up divisions,” or build partitions; whom after suitable warning we are to “have nothing to do with” (Ti. 3:10).

We are to build only what would glorify the Lord and, as it were, survive if the whole thing were set on fire. Paul prayed that in every work you do “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him” (2 Th. 1:12). Let us not fear God’s fire. Instead, look forward to the manifestation, the revealing and display, of our works. There are works that we may not have highly valued as being gold, silver or precious stones, but then we may find out that they were, having withstood His fire!