Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Baptism With (of) The Holy Spirit and With (of) Fire

Baptism of fire

This is one of those expressions in the Scriptures which have been diversely interpreted and pressed into service, sometimes unwillingly. Some think of this passage as speaking "He shall baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit". I have heard many people praying again and again for the baptism of fire. How right are they? Was this what happened on the day of the Pentecost? Did the Apostles receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire? I have heard somebody say, “Each individual must have his own Pentecost. If he does not, he is likely to miss heaven after all”. Some even distinguish between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that of fire – and thus make a third blessing.

We wish to spend these brief minutes turning again to our Bibles and carefully examine all that is there recorded concerning the Spirit’s baptism, noticing too, some other operations of the same Spirit, which have been greatly misunderstood by many.

It was John the Baptist who first spoke of this Spiritual baptism when the people were in danger of giving him an undue place, he pointed them to the coming One, the latchet of whose shoe he is not able to unbind. He said, “I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance, but He that comes after me, is mightier than I ... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire ...” (Matthew 3:11-12)

In Mark’s account no mention is made of fire. He quoted John as saying “I baptise you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:7-8). Why did he omit “and fire”?

In Luke’s account which is the fullest he talked of John’s mission and the place of God’s wrath. He talked of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:9-17)

In the Gospel of John again, as in that of Mark, nothing is said of fire “... He it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:32-34) 

The only other promise of the Spirit’s baptism is that given by the risen Lord Himself before His ascension as recorded in Acts 1;5 “... you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence”. It is spectacular that Luke, who had earlier talked of fire in the Gospel, missed it out in the Book of Acts.


In Acts 2, we have the historical fulfillment of these promises. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven and enveloped all the one hundred and twenty believers in the Upper Room, baptizing and indwelling them. There is no mention of fire. I can hear somebody saying "wait a minute, Silas, you are wrong! It says ‘Cloven tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them.’" Please note the statement “like as of fire”. It does not say a baptism of fire, but tongues having the appearance of fire, sat upon each one. This is not the baptism of fire that John talked about. Why do I say so?

Twice we have found the double expression used —Baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. Three times we have seen the last expression omitted; why? John was addressing a mixed and promiscuous company in both Matthew and Luke. Some are repentant, waiting for the Messiah; others are proud, haughty, hypocrites and unbelievers. Some are humbly baptized in water, as signifying the death their sins deserve. Others evade the baptism or would undergo it still unrepentant. John is saying in effect “Whether you are baptized by me or not, you shall all be baptized by the coming mighty One, either by the Holy Spirit or in fire!” He will make a separation between the true and the false. Every corrupt tree will be cut down and be hurled into the fire – baptized in the fire of judgment. The wheat will be gathered into the garner; they will be the Spirit baptized ones. The chaff will be cast into the fire; this will be their baptism of wrath or fire.

In the accounts given by Mark, John and Luke in the Acts, there are no unbelievers introduced. Both John and Jesus were speaking only to disciples. To them they said nothing of the baptism of fire. There is no judgment – no wrath to come, for them to fear (Romans 8:1). They receive the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit only, and this was fulfilled at Pentecost. 

Baptism of fire

Fire, in the Scripture, talks of judgment. The Old Testament prophets agreed that Jesus ‘coming will have two consequences – He will bring blessing and glory to the God-fearing but judgment to those who are proud and work wickedness. (Isaiah 61:1-2; Malachi 4:1-3; See also the imprecatory Psalms in which the Psalmist rejoices in the judgment that shall come upon the wicked – Psalm 58:6-11; 83; 109 etc)

Having seen that John was talking of the separation that Jesus makes between the God-fearing and the unrepentant we need to ask two more questions: When does the separation or baptism occur? And should the Christian pray for either or both of them?

Again going back to the Scriptures, we notice that after Acts 2 we never hear again of this baptism as something to be waited for, prayed for, or expected. The promise of the Father had been fulfilled. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit had taken place. There was never another Pentecost recognized in the Church. Only twice thereafter, is the baptism so much as mentioned in the New Testament; once in Peter’s account of the reception of Cornelius and other Gentiles with  him into the Christian fold (Acts 11:16), and then in Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians where it is shown to be something past, in which all who were believers had shared. “By one Spirit are you all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles” (First Corinthians 12:13); and the Epistle is addressed to “all in every place, who call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (First Corinthians 1:1) many of these were weak Christians, many were carnal, many failed to enter into much of the glorious truth pertaining to the new dispensation, but all were baptized by the one Spirit into the one body of Christ.

Next week, we will inquire carefully into what that Spiritual baptism accomplished and why it took place subsequent to the new birth or conversion of the apostles and other believers in the opening of the Book of Acts.

God bless you all.

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