Although John the Baptist saw the Spirit descending like a dove upon Jesus, yet, when he prophesied the essence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit the church shall receive from Jesus, he mentioned that it shall be associated with “fire” (Luk 3:16). Indeed, in the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit revealed His presence in the church in the form of “tongues of fire” that sat upon each of them (Act 2:3). This indicates that the essence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church differs from His work in Jesus life. While the “dove” symbolizes meekness, the “fire” in the bible indicates:
Fire mentioned associated with God’s holiness several times in the bible. An example, when the flame of fire appeared out of the midst of the thorn bush, the place became a holy ground (Exo 3:5). Another example, when the Lord came down upon the mountain of Sinai in fire, the mountain became sanctified (Exo 19:23).
But what is holiness? Holiness is influential righteousness. Righteousness alone is to love good and hate evil, but holiness is righteousness that influences the others. It makes the good shines and rises; as well, it exposes the evil and condemns it. When righteousness is combined with that influential power, it’s called holiness.
When your heart is full of love of others, this is righteousness, but when your love exposes the hatred exist in the others hearts and condemns it, that is holiness. When sin cannot settle in your heart, this is righteousness, but when it cannot settle in the sphere surrounding you because your purity exposes it, that is holiness.
Holiness and Fire
Holiness effect on people is similar to fire effect on substances. The fire tests any material placed in it. It purifies metals and classifies them, and it burns other materials like wood, hay and stubble. Things cannot remain the same after passing through the fire, and you cannot remain the same when you are exposed to God’s holiness. Some matters will burn, others will change and others will shine.
If Moses wishes to come unto the holy ground, he must pull off his sandals. He ought to get rid of the objects which are in touch with the cursed earth. Once Isaiah presented in the presence of the “Holy”, immediately the unclean matters in his life were exposed and burnt by a live coal from the altar (Isa 6:3-7). He who desires to go up into the hill of the Lord and stands in His holy place must have clean hands and a pure heart (Psa 24:3-4). You cannot come to God’s holiness and keep an iniquity hiding in your heart. Holiness is like fire, tests everything; it commends good matters and purifies them, and exposes the evil ones and condemns them.
Holiness and Meekness
Meekness then appears to contradict holiness. While meekness gives others the chance to express themselves and disclose their hearts without fear, holiness condemns the evil hidden in their heart and gives it no chance to survive.
Meekness does not storm into man. In contrary, it encourages him to determine his will. But holiness -once man is exposed to it- examines his depths and brings it out to the light. Man cannot stifle it.
However, there’s no contradiction at all between the different manifestations of the Spirit. Each one is essential for God’s work. God chose to work in man first with meekness, through the life of the Lord and His ministry to give him a chance to understand and repent. But that will not remain forever. One day man will face God’s holiness. At that moment there will be no more chances but a prompt judgement.
The Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel
God’s justice always works through two stages; first, sowing, and second, harvesting. His justice will not examine man for a matter that man didn’t learn, or judges a sin without exposing it under the light first. God does not demand harvest out of what the grace hasn’t already sown, because He knows that man has nothing to offer but his sins. Holiness reaps what meekness has sown. And what we have learnt from the spirit of meekness ascends before God like fragrant incense by the spirit of holiness.
In the parable of the wheat and the darnel, the Lord explains that the kingdom of Heaven is established through two phases, sowing then harvesting (Mat 13:24-30).
In the sowing phase two things were planted in the field, wheat by the owner of the field, and darnel by his enemy. The wheat flourished and produced grains; the darnel also grew to the size and the shape of the wheat but had no fruits. That mix cannot stay forever. At the time of harvest, the two crops will be separated and the difference between them will be revealed to everyone, useful wheat, and useless darnel.
Sowing is a phase of meekness and endurance; meekness that let the enemy sow his seed in the field; meekness that gave the darnel a chance to grow as well as the wheat; meekness that endured a weed which is fitted to burning. Harvesting is a time for judgement. The darnel must be burnt, and the wheat must be gathered into the granary. That’s how the fire tests, it burns the filthy, and approves the precious.
The Baptist’s Prophecy
John the Baptist prophesied how the Spirit works in Jesus life through those two phases. He prophesied the sowing phase, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh 1:29, MKJV). The term “the Lamb” indicates meekness and endurance which are the essence of the sowing phase. First, the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die to bring forth much fruits.
But John also prophesied Jesus in the harvesting phase, “Whose fan is in His hand, and He will cleanse His floor and gather His wheat into the storehouse; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mat 3:12, MKJV). Again, we see the harvest as a time for separation and judgement.
Apparently, the Baptist fiery mission made him too excited about the harvest in a manner overlooked the sowing phase which he himself prophesied and saw it manifested in the form of a dove. He got offended in the Lord when he waited for the act of fire to take place, but nothing happened. He sent men to Jesus asking if He is He who should come or they should look for another. The Lord answered him that He is still sowing; behold the blind sees and the lame walks. Jesus lightens people’s eyes before judging them for living in darkness. He cures the lames before condemning them for not walking His path. He opens the deaf ears before charging them for not listening. Sowing first, then harvesting. Although the Lord endured the sowing phase with pain, humiliation and blood, yet it was essential for the satisfaction of God’s justice.
The Time of Harvest
When the time of sowing was over, the wheat had already grown out of the death of the divine grain of wheat. The Pentecost day came; it was also the Jew’s harvest feast (Deu 16:9-10). In that day, the Holy Spirit manifested Himself in the form of “tongues of fire”, announcing the beginning of the harvest. Christ, through the church, turned the world upside down (Act 17:6). That was the act of the “fan” which handles the corps in the same manner to separate the grains from the chaff as the Baptist prophesied (Mat 3:12). Then, the wheat was gathered into the storehouse (Act 4:32), and the darnel was bound in bundles (Act 4:27). Around the wheat, there was a sphere of good fruits such as peace, grace and healing. On the mean while the darnel camp had nothing but hatred, envy and intrigues. It was just a few decades before the fire burns the darnel. The Roman Emperor, Titus, seized Jerusalem and burnt it with fire. That was the fate of a city rejected the gospel of grace and did not know the time of her visitation.
At the Garden of Eden
When God created man, He gave him everything abundantly. Before creating him, He prepared everything needed for a joyful life; abundant garden, and earth and heaven full of all sorts of creatures. Before God demanded man to honour His rights, He gave man all his rights (presuming that man has any right before God). God gave man to indulge all the trees in the garden. He gave him to rule all other creatures. He gave him the company and support by creating them male and female. He gave him a free will to choose, as obedience cannot be expected from a tied will.
Isn’t it the meekness we were talking about that gives everyone their rights? What right man did not get; or should we say what good thing man was not granted by God? When God requires something from man, He requires what He previously has given him. Man is required to love as a mere reaction of God’s perfect love. Man is expected to obey at least as an appreciation to the freedom and glory which God has crowned him with.
But the spirit of meekness was not just towards man, but also towards the crafty serpent. The Lord gave it the chance to accuse God. How amazing was the meekness that hemmed the Garden of Eden! Even man’s attempt to sin against God wouldn’t be suppressed. But undoubtedly, after the work of the spirit of meekness is finished, another spirit will follow:
The Spirit of Judgement
After man got his opportunity and exercised all the rights God granted him, it’s now time for God to demand His rights and exercise His sovereignty. The Lord came to the Garden of Eden, but this time with the spirit of judgement to condemn sin. He charged Adam, Eve and the serpent each according to their sin. Notice that none of them objected to His judgement or requested a softer charge. They knew they had no excuses. They have been given everything they needed, yet deliberately chose to sin. Notice also that the spirit of judgement was symbolized in a powerful expressive figure which is:
A Flaming Sword
“And He placed cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24, MKJV)
The first time we see the fire in the Bible was when God placed a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. The fire was combined with the sword to express a dual truth which is God’s holiness (the fire) demands death (the sword) as a judgement of sin. God’s holiness and His judgement are keeping man apart from life now. Man wouldn’t have eternal life. He doesn’t dare to approach the tree of life because he would have to pass through the flame of God’s holiness and the sword of His justice. Since in man no good things dwell, perish is certain to anyone approaches the flaming sword. Passing through the fire of God’s holiness will burn him entirely; nothing of him will remain to pass to life.
Until came the man who could pass the flaming sword and remains alive. The fire of God’s holiness struck Him, smelting His heart like wax in the midst of His bowls (Psa 22:14). The sword of judgment was awakened against Him striking Him to death (Zec 13:7) (The sword was asleep since Adam’s exile from the Garden of Eden, because nobody dared to approach it). After passing the flaming sword carrying our sins and representing us, Christ was raised from death in the fullness of life. His life did not end at the flames of God’s holiness, but paid the wage of sin and remained. While bearing our sins on His body facing the penalty of death, He carried within a pure nature that pleases the Father. For this reason, it was not possible that He should be held by the power of death (Act 2:24). He passed the flaming sword to the tree of life, and made the road open to those who have been united with Christ and hid in Him (Rev 2:7). They will not be hurt by the flaming sword, because “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1, MKJV). Only for them, the flames were quenched by the blood of the Saviour, and the sword was halted by His body.
The Work of the Dove and the Fire in the Israelites
In the past, God began His working in the people of Israel with the spirit of grace and meekness that gives man generously and unconditionally. He gave them to be a free self-determined people after their slavery. He gave them a homeland after they were strangers.
Later, they were given the law to live according to God’s holiness. Again, we see the spirit of meekness gives man all his rights before the spirit of holiness demands God’s right. God did not give the Israelites the law in the land of bondage where they were bound to others, but after they were given the right of a free will and free deeds. The law was the requirements of God’s holiness from a man who enjoyed his freedom; it was the harvest that God wanted from the land of the man in whom the grace worked generously.
Because the law reflects the requirements of God’s holiness, we saw the fire when Moses was receiving the tablets of the testimony, “And Mount Sinai was smoking, all of it, because Jehovah came down upon it in fire” (Exo 19:18, MKJV).
Just as Adam failed to offer a satisfactory harvest to God despite the good sowing God has done in his field, the people of Israel also failed to revere God’s holiness in their life despite all His beneficence to them. That’s because man’s heart is wicked; it turns away from God easily. What Adam has done in the Garden of Eden became a natural inclination for all mankind.
The repetitive failure of man was expected. That’s why the law included a ritual legislated to deal with sin. That ritual was another revelation of the position of God’s holiness towards sin. The ritual was called:
The Sin Offering
If a man sinned, he must bring a sacrifice to the priest at the door of the tabernacle or at the entrance of the outer court. The sacrifice is burnt on the bronze altar; another image of death accompanied with fire indicates that God’s holiness judges sin with death.
And as the flaming sword restricted man from approaching the tree of life, here, we see the bronze altar restricts him from proceeding inside the tabernacle. In both cases, the meaning is the same; God’s holiness and justice restrain man from having a fellowship with God (who symbolically is present in the Holy of Holies).
The bronze altar was the first thing man meets as he comes to the tabernacle. It was also the last thing he dares to approach. Everyone brings their sacrifice to the bronze alter, then they turn around and leave. The people were not allowed to pass the altar and step into the Holy Place.
The purpose of that repeatedly symbolic ritual of sacrifice was to emphasize that God’s holiness does not reconcile or live with sin. Anyone who dares to proceed to the presence of God will certainly die. Because God loves man, He allowed him to substitute himself with an animal sacrifice. As man watches the animal dies and burns with fire, this truth abides in his conscience; for anyone to enjoy the presence of God, he must pass the fire of His justice first. Since nobody could pass that fire and survive, the path to the Holy Place remained closed until the Saviour comes.
The Altar of Incense
There were two locations flaming with fire at the tabernacle, the bronze altar, and the altar of incense. The fire must remain aflame continuously on the two altars. The bronze altar, where sacrifice is slain, symbolizes the holiness of God avenging transgression.
The good news was there is another altar that gives hope to entering into the Holy Place. That altar is made of wood overlaid with gold. It is placed in the Holy Place before the veil which leads to the Holy of Holies. On that altar fire is seen continuously not to burn a slain animal, but to light the incense, and ascend a sweet savour before God.
The Two Acts of the Fire
The fire had two acts at the tabernacle, to burn the sacrifice for atonement, and to burn the incense for a sweet savour before God. That indicates the dual work of the spirit of fire, it avenges sin exist in man, and approves any righteousness and raises it before God.
God’s holiness does not just work in a negative way, but in a positive way too. While fire burns hay, it purifies gold making it brighter and more valuable. It’s the same meaning demonstrated earlier when harvest and fire came related to each other, where the wheat was gathered into the granary and the darnel was burnt with fire. While the bronze altar is stained with blood and ash, the altar of incense emits pleasant fragrance. And while the bronze altar locates outside the Holy Place, the altar of incense locates in the Holy Place right before the Holy of Holies. The meaning behind these symbols is sin keeps man away from God, and righteousness brings him to His presence.
The altar of incense added a new dimension to the picture. There is a hope for man to enter the Holy Place in one case; to have the man who can pass through the fire of God’s holiness without being consumed, but rather generates savour that pleases God. Only then man will not be halted at the entrance of the tabernacle, but rather will continue to the altar of incense before the throne of God.
In whom I am well pleased
Since nobody was able to do so, the practice of that ritual remained until Lord Jesus came to put forth His soul as a sin offering (Isa 53:10), and also bring forth pleasure to the Father (Mat 3:17). He offered a perfect life pleases the Father and bore a complete death for the atonement of our sins. His life did not end at the fire of the cross, but was approved, brightened, and risen from among the dead. He ascended to the Father a sweet savour forever.
The ritual is now ceased. The veil was torn and the temple was destroyed. The full truth behind those symbols is now available to us; the way to the Holy of Holies is open for those who are united with Christ.
The judgement work of the Holy Spirit was represented by fire several times in the Bible, “by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning” (Isa 4:4, MKJV). We saw that fire in the rituals of the Old Testament. But the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be briefed in symbols. The Spirit has longed for a live being in which He may dwell and exercises His judgment work on earth, because the fire of the bronze altar cannot burn the sin in people’s heart. The Spirit longed for a big body with many members capable of receiving different gifts. Through that body the Spirit shall reveal the truth to the world in different manners. That body is the church. The judgement will start first in that body, because the judgment must begin from the house of God (1Pe 4:17).
The Lord Jesus prepared that body. He cleansed them through the word He has spoken to them (Joh 15:3); He bore their sins on the cross for atonement; they are now a consecrated dwelling for the Holy Spirit forever (Joh 14:16). The Holy Spirit will convict the world (Joh 16:8) through them, not through the flaming sword seen at the east of the Garden of Eden.
The church is the dwelling and the resting place of the Holy Spirit in an ungodly world. A world that does not know Him nor it can receive Him (Joh 14:17); a world chose uncleanness as a method, sin as a way, and the devil as a god. Holiness is not recognized or welcomed in that world. The church is the only entity which not just bears the fire of God’s holiness, but also loves it. The church is the only entity that accepts and rejoices God’s judgement. It’s the only bush that was burned with fire but hasn’t been burnt up.
The fragrance ascending out of the gold altar did not satisfy God, because indeed He desired human being through whom the Spirit can raise a true worship.
The Holy Spirit announced His satisfaction with that being on the day of Pentecost. His presence was manifested in the form of tongues of fire sat upon each member (Act 2:3). The scene revealed that the Spirit dwells in these people is the One whom the fire of the altars which has been aflame all along the Old Testament indicated. And that the work He is going to do in them and through them is what the symbolic altars and fires could not do.
While the Father prepared a body for the Son to come to the world (Heb 10:5), the Son prepared a dwelling for the Holy Spirit in the world which is the church. The Holy Spirit is preparing that church to be a bride for the Son (Rev 21:2), and, on the other hand, to be the tabernacle of God with men (Rev 21:3). The mutual love and bestowal of the Persons of God are beyond our imagination. But what we can assert is that those members of the truly church of God are unimaginably blessed and fortunate.
The Absence of the Fire
Despite the apparent religious culture which reveres the one God, the Jewish nation did not significantly differ in her evil and uncleanness than the other pagan nations. The only difference was, pagans were doing the evil bluntly and publicly, but the Jews were doing the evil secretly while maintaining their religious look. The more the dead men’s bones stink inside, the more they whitewash the outside. As inequity grows inside the dish, they diligently clean the outside to make it shiny. And as defilement increases in their heart, they enlarge the borders of their garment (Mat 23: 5-26).
The gentiles worshiped idols in large temples seen by everyone; the Jews worshiped the same idols but in the dark, in the chamber of their imagery (Eze 8:12).
They did not maintain their religious outer shell because they loved holiness, but rather because they wanted to keep their proud with the distinction of being the people of God. A distinction they enjoyed at the beginning when the Lord of glory dwelled among them. When they lost the presence of God because of their sins, their pride led them to deny the situation. They vainly continued to claim supremacy among the nations.
How could a society live like that? How could uncleanness hides behind that holy appearance? How could people practise both iniquity and solemn meeting (Isa 1:13) at the same time? The answer is the absence of fire makes that possible.
The spirit of fire strips the sin and condemns it. In the absence of that spirit, sin can hide in the heart for long time without getting seen by anyone. Moreover, man may depict a reverent image for himself and wins people’s applause. But the most dangerous situation is when the sinful heart itself loses every sense of iniquity and believes the reverent image it created.
When the Fire Comes
When the spirit of fire comes, hiding becomes impossible. The evilness of the Jews was stripped by the righteousness manifested in the church by the Spirit. Their pride and cruelty erupted like a volcano when faced by the meekness of the disciples. When love hemmed the church of God, hatred and envy burst out of the hearts of the priests and the leaders of the people. The truthfulness of the disciples exposed the priest’s delusion. The leaders of the Jews can no longer preserve their reverent image; they started to act like criminals (Act 23:15).
Judgement Begins from the House of God
The fire does not distinguish between a sin exist in the Jewish nation and one that exists in the church. In fact, judgement always begins from inside the house of God (1Pe 4:17). It’s a divine principle to cleanse the inside before the outside (Mat 23:26). Joining the people of God is not a permit for a charge-free sinful life, but in contrary, puts us at the front line before judgement.
(Of course the author is not talking here about the judgement before the great white throne from which believers have been redeemed. He talks about God chastening His children for not self-judging their sins “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1Co 11:31-32, MKJV) (The interpreter)).
Ananias and Sapphira
When the Holy Spirit poured out on the church, He manifested God’s righteousness in His followers. Spontaneously, they lived the Lord’s words, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:35, MKJV). Many of the owners of lands or houses sold their property and laid the price at the apostle’s feet (Act 4:34). Barnabas was a good example of the liberality that hemmed the church.
In this sacred sphere, the enemy moved to seed darnel in the field. Darnel looks like wheat in shape but fruitless. The essence of that darnel was not about giving but about taking; about gaining others’ attention and praise. With that intention, Ananias and Sapphira sold their field and brought a portion of the price at the apostle’s feet. Their act appeared similar to that of Barnabas and others. But the fire aflame in the midst of the congregation examines the essence of the deeds and judges them. Once the fire detected falsity in the couple’s behaviour, the judgement came instantly, before that lethal poison of hypocrisy spread out in the sphere. Ananias and Sapphira fell down expired at the feet of the apostles and were carried out. The Holy Spirit did His judgement work in the house of God, before judging the rebellious nation outside.
In Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians we learn that the Spirit judges any sin in the believers by strikes begins with weakness and rises up to death (1Co 11:30), or even by delivering the believer to the hands of Satan (1Co 5:5).
If we don’t learn to judge ourselves, reject our faults, and live a life befits our holy God, we will be judged and chastened by the Lord so that we shall not be condemned with the world.
The Fear of God
The fire created a fear of God in the church (Act 5:11). A sacred fear results from continuous consciousness of being in the presence of the Lord, the “righteous Judge”. That fear keeps our heart clean, our mind pure and our walk straight. That fear should pass along with us all the time of our earthly residence (1Pe 1:17), and cultivate our salvation (Php 2:12).
We don’t see that sacred fear these days. It leaked out of the church and replaced by carelessness. Undermining holiness became horribly a commonplace among believers. Secret and disclosed sins spread out shockingly. Selfness bluntly discloses itself seeking power in the church of God. When we look around and cannot see God’s judgement restoring things, then we must shout: