“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them”
– Acts 2:3
Fire does not need advertising. Fire demands our attention. Once a fire gets going, it’s hard to stop. A fire permanently consumes everything it touches. Fire can burn away dross and purify. But fire can also cause great harm. God used fire at Pentecost. What is the meaning of the tongues of fire that came to rest over the heads of those who were in the upper room that day? When we look in the Bible we see that fire is used in many ways.
First, God uses fire to manifest His presence. God manifested Himself to Moses in a fiery burning bush. This burning bush was different though, it didn’t burn itself out (Exodus 3:2). When Moses approached the burning bush he was told by God to take off his sandals. This was holy ground. It was through the burning bush that God made His presence known. This was the place He revealed His name to Moses (Exodus 3:1-6). God desires to dwell among His people. That was the purpose of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8; 29:45, 46). And God uses fire to make His presence known (Exodus 19:8; 40:38). When the Spirit comes He brings the eternal presence of God into lives.
The presence of God doesn’t need to be advertised. God’s presence makes its own impression. When we look historically at revivals we don’t see advertising, we see the Spirit drawing people with His magnetic presence. God is real and He makes a real impression on people. When Moses saw the burning bush, he was drawn to it. When people see the fiery presence of God in church they are drawn to it. Pray for revival. Pray for His presence. Pray for His fire.
Second, God uses fire to reveal His glory. God revealed His glory to the people of Israel by consuming the burnt offering on the altar in the Old Testament (Leviticus 9:23-24). The Holy Spirit brings the glory of God into a person’s life. Paul put it this way, “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It is the Spirit that brings the glorious presence of Jesus into a person’s life. All that we do should be for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). That includes seeking revival.
Third, God uses fire to reveal His power. God revealed His power in fiery hail to the Egyptians oppressors (Exodus 9:24). When the Spirit comes upon believers He brings the power of God into their lives in a special way. The Spirit brings power to defeat sin and serve the Lord.
Fourth, God uses fire to reveal His supremacy over all other gods. God used fire to show He was real and mighty and above all other supposed gods. When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal God used fire to differentiate between Himself and Baal. Baal was no true god (1 Kings 18-19). Only the true God answers to the prophet and rains fire down consuming sacrifice. When the Spirit of God comes upon believers He proves His supremacy through the fire of His people.
Fifth, God uses fire to dispel the darkness and lead His people. God led Israel with a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Jesus the Holy Spirit would lead people into “all truth” (John 16:13). Without the Spirit you can’t know truth. It is the Spirit who reveals God’s will. He does this through the inspired word. He illuminates its meaning to those who prayerfully read it and turn to Him for understanding of it (1 Cor. 2:9-14).
Sixth, God uses fire to illustrate His protection. God used the imagery of fire to communicate His protection to the Israelites. They were returning from captivity to rebuild Jerusalem. Their position was very vulnerable. God said, “For I, ‘says the LORD, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be glory in her midst” (Zechariah 2:5). The Spirit protects those He employs. In Acts jail cells can’t hold God’s men and storms can’t drown them.
Seventh, God uses fire to communicate His vengeance and judgment. In Hebrews it states, “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The context of the passage is describing how it is impossible for unrepentant sinners to escape God’s wrath (Hebrews 12:25-29). Jesus spoke of “everlasting fire” and “hell fire” (Mat. 18:8, 9). This destination is for those who refuse to repent of their sins and reject Jesus. It is for those who are not found in the Book of Life. The guilty will be cast into the “Lake of fire” along with Antichrist, the false prophet, and Death and Hades themselves (Rev. 20:10-15). This is a frightening potential destination. The sentence entails being “tormented day and night forever and ever.” This is why the lost are called “lost.” Lost opportunities, lost hope, lost eternal lives. And this is just for the unrepentant (Psalm 5:4; 7:11; 9:8, 16-17). It is the Spirit who conveys the just judgment of God to a lost world (John 16:8-11).
Eight, God uses fire to describe the nature of His word. Through the prophet Jeremiah God said, “Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jeremiah 5:14). Those who hear God’s word and refuse to allow it to have the Spirit led effect, will ultimately be consumed by that word of God. It is the Spirit who inspires and fires God’s word.
Ninth, God uses fire to describe how He can purify away sin. Fire is a purifying agent. When Isaiah came into the presence of the Lord he was convicted of his sinfulness and the sinfulness of the people. Angels took a coal hot from the fire and put it to his lips to symbolize God’s purifying work in this servant’s life (Isaiah 6:1-7). It is the Spirit who cleanses us from that fleshly sin that hinders our usefulness to God (Acts 15:8-9).
Tenth, God uses fire to describe passion for Jesus and His word. On the road to Emmaus the resurrected Jesus met up with two disciples. He fellowshipped with them “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). (O to be there listening to that teaching!) After Jesus left them, the two said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). When the Spirit comes our hearts burn with a fiery passion for God’s word (e.g. Acts 2:42).
Eleventh, God uses fire to describe the need for decision. In Acts 2:3 it states the tongues of fire “sat upon each of them.” “Each of them” had prayed “Each of them” had obediently waited for the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit. There wasn’t a bon fire set by God in the middle of the group. There were fires upon each of them. God gives individual attention. He requires individual decision to receive His fire.
God calls each of us to lay our all on the altar. The burnt offering of the Bible was an offering of total consecration, total surrender. That which was offered and burned on the altar could not be unburned. Similarly we, like “living sacrifices,” need to present ourselves to God in total surrender (Rom. 12:1-2).
By using fire at Pentecost God was communicating a great deal. He communicates His holy eternal presence. He communicates His protection and His purifying power. That’s what comes to those upon whom the tongues of fire come to rest. When Jesus is seen in the last book of the Bible John describes His “eyes like a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14; 19:12). Jesus has a passion for His people. The next time you see Jesus, He will have fire in His eyes. The question remains will you have His fire in your eyes? Have you experienced the fire of God? Has the Holy Spirit come upon you with fire? The promise is for you, for us. It is a gift of God’s grace received by faith. Ask Him for His fire today.