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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to Fire?

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Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to Fire?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 25

The Bible uses many different symbols for the Holy Spirit. One of them is fire. We find John the Baptist comparing the Holy Spirit to fire.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11 RSV).

John said that the Holy Spirit will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Consequently we have this comparison of the Spirit of God with fire.

Fire Appeared on the Day of Pentecost

On the Day of Pentecost, we are told that “tongues like fire” appeared on the disciples when the Holy Spirit came down in a special way. The Book of Acts records it as follows.

Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak (Acts 2:3, 4 CEV).

Among other things, this would remind the Jews of God speaking to Moses by means of the burning bush. Scripture records what occurred as follows.

There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up (Exodus 3:2 NIV).

This was a well-known miracle for all of the children of Israel.

Fire Speaks of God’s Presence and Power

Fire speaks symbolically of God’s presence and His power. It also testifies to His approval of what is occurring. For example, God’s power and approval was demonstrated through the fire that came down and consumed the burnt offering that Elijah had prepared. The Bible explains what took place in this manner.

Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench (1 Kings 18:38 NRSV).

The fire of the Lord came down and consumed the sacrifice. This is how God demonstrated His presence in a practical way.

God Himself Is Compared to Fire

We also find that the God of the Bible is compared to fire. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way.

For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29 KJV).

Since the Holy Spirit is God, it is not surprising that He also is compared with fire.

Fire Can Speak of the Purging of Sin

Fire is used as symbolizing God purging sin. In the Book of Malachi, we read.

The Lord will purify the descendants of Levi, as though they were gold or silver. Then they will bring the proper offerings to the Lord (Malachi 3:3 CEV).

Here we find that sin is purified by fire.

Isaiah the prophet wrote of something similar when he spoke of the “spirit of burning.” He explained it in this manner.

When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning (Isaiah 4:4 NASB).

Thus, the Lord uses fire to purge sin.

After Isaiah saw the Lord upon His throne, He had to be purged from his sin with fire. We read the following.

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6, 7 NIV).

Sin is purged through fire.

Fire Speaks of God’s Judgment

Fire can also speak of God’s judgment. We read of this in the Book of Leviticus.

So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD (Leviticus 10:2 NIV).

Those who rejected the message of Jesus will be judged by means of fire. The city of Jerusalem, with its temple, was destroyed by fire one generation after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The ultimate destination for unbelievers is the “lake of fire.” Therefore, fire is indeed a proper symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Summary – Question 25
Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to Fire?

Fire is used symbolically in Scripture in a number of ways. Among them, we find that the person and work of the Holy Spirit is compared to fire. Indeed, it tells us a number of things about who He is as well as what He does. For one thing, God’s presence and His approval are symbolized by fire. In fact, the Lord used fire to demonstrate that Elijah was a genuine prophet of God. He did this by sending fire from heaven and consuming the sacrifice which Elijah put on the altar.

God Himself is compared to fire. The Bible says that He is a “consuming fire.”

Fire is also symbolic of God purging sins from believers. We are told that He cleanses believers through the refining process.

Fire is representative of judging unbelief. Scripture says that there will be a final judgment where unbelievers will be thrown into the lake of fire. Sadly, fire will be their judgment for all eternity because of their rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ to them.

Thus, fire is a fitting symbol for the Spirit of God.

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