“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as 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 ESV).
In Part Five of this series, we discovered that the Spirit of God is imparted by God as the Breath of Life, as when God breathed life into Adam, and Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples. And that before the crucifixion, Jesus had already described the Holy Spirit to Nicodemus as moving wherever he willed, like the wind.
In the verses above, Luke witnessed that as Jesus’ followers waited together in the upper room, suddenly they heard the sound of a mighty rushing wind, which actually filled the house. That Pentecost wind was a mighty breath of God from heaven, that breathed Life and Spirit into the Body of Christ and gave birth to the Church.
But what about the “tongues of fire” that alighted upon the disciples? What does that mean?
Before we talk about fire, let’s have a word about water.
Matthew chapter three begins by telling us that “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-3, 5-6 ESV).
John was sent by God to prepare the way for Christ, baptizing the repentant with water.
But John himself tells us that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with 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 fire” (Matthew 3:11 ESV).
At salvation, we receive God’s Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and we are baptized for repentance by the Blood of Christ; his Blood washes us clean of every sin. (Hebrews 9:11-15; 1 John 1:7)
After salvation, a minister of Christ baptizes us in water as a symbol of our death with Christ and rebirth into God’s kingdom, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5)
Then it becomes possible for Christ to baptize us in his Holy Spirit, to equip and empower us for witnessing, ministry and mission. (Acts 1 and 2)
Every person who is saved receives forgiveness of sins and God’s Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room with the proof of his crucifixion and resurrection, and why he breathed on them to impart his Spirit as we discussed in Part 5. That is the first baptism, in the Blood of Christ, for salvation:
““On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1 ESV).
The next baptism, in water, is the public proclamation of salvation, in the name of the Holy Trinity.
The last baptism is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, first demonstrated by the sound of the wind (the breath of God) and the tongues of fire, witnessed at the birth of the Church, at Pentecost. This is the baptism of which John said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The only baptism that is absolutely required is the first baptism, with repentance, by the Blood of Jesus, for salvation. This baptism is experienced by all who sincerely call upon Christ for forgiveness and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Baptism in water does not impart salvation, but it follows salvation, as a proclamation of our salvation.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, that empowers us with all the available attributes of the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s purpose for each of us individually on earth, and as the Body of Christ and the Church.
As Jesus promised before his ascension:
“’…for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:5b,8b ESV).
So we’ve talked about the Breath of Life and baptism in water, but what about fire? What does fire symbolize?
In Exodus 3:2, God spoke to Moses in the wilderness: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (ESV).
The “angel of the Lord” is another name for the Holy Spirit.
In Exodus 33:14 God promised Moses “…My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (ESV). And it was God’s presence, his Holy Spirit, who guided Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The Word of God says, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21 ESV).
Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (ESV).
God’s presence is often signified in scripture as fire, and the fire of God can be a consuming fire, as was called down from heaven by the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19-39); or a fire that burns but does not consume, as with the bush that God used to speak to Moses, or the tongues of fire that fell on the disciples at Pentecost. The fire of God is also a flame, burning in the darkness, that guides us and lights our way, as the pillar of fire led Israel through the wilderness. The fire of God is a manifestation of his Holy Spirit, and fire is one of his attributes.
The story of Pentecost is the birth of the Church and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, through the life-breath of God and the illuminating fire of his presence.
(Continued in Part 7)