Baptism of Fire
||Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.
At the age of 14, Prince Louis Napoleon of France had a dramatic introduction to the art of warfare. His father, Napoleon III, wanted him to jump into his first battle feet first. Louis agreed, but nothing could have prepared him for the terrors of war. Later on, people described the young prince’s experience as a “baptism of fire.” Today, people use the same expression to describe a situation in which someone is thrown into a tough spot without much preparation.
In the Bible we find a different baptism of fire. When John the Baptizer was preaching in the wilderness, he told his audience that he was immersing “with water unto repentance” (Matthew 3:11). But, he went on to say, One will come Who will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11; Acts 19:3-5). Of course, this coming One would be Jesus. But what was John talking about? How would Jesus baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire?
The New Testament gives us two clues. First, Jesus repeated the words of John to his disciples just before His ascension. “For John truly baptized with water,” Jesus told them, “but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Unlike the experience of Prince Louis, the point of this baptism was to help prepare the disciples for the hard times that would come(John 14:26; 16:7) Our second clue comes in chapter two of Acts. Here we read that the twelve apostles were gathered together on the Day of Pentecost. They heard a noise like a wind, and saw something that looked like fire coming down on them (Acts 2:1-4). It was at this moment, the Bible tells us, that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. So, John the Baptizer’s prophecy was fulfilled when these two things-the Holy Spirit and fire-appeared on the Day of Pentecost.
It was very common for fire to be associated with the presence of God. Back in the Old Testament, God spoke to Abraham from the burning bush; a pillar of fire led the children of Israel through the wilderness; and God Descended on Mount Sinai in fire when He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. In the vision of the apostle John, the Son of God had eyes burning “like of flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14).
Fire has fascinated man through the ages. It is so important to our survival, and yet it is so dangerous to anyone who does not respect its power. No wonder God shoes to appear in the form of fire many times.