Thursday, November 7, 2013

What does it mean to be “baptized with fire”? Does it mean that the Holy Spirit is burning inside of you?

This questions is concerning Matthew 3:11 which states,
"As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
In this passage John the Baptist is emphasizing the greatness of the coming Messiah. Although John was a great godly man, he was insignificant compared to Jesus. John’s baptism was “with water for repentance”, but Jesus was going to baptize with two things, the Holy Spirit and fire. When examining this passage there are three terms that need to be defined and examined in this context. They are 1. Baptism, 2. Holy Spirit, and 3. Fire.

What does “baptism” mean?
The term “baptism” is usually used in the New Testament in reference to the act that takes place at one’s conversion when they are buried in water symbolizing Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The word, however, is not always in reference to a religious action. “Baptism” in its most literal sense means to “dip or immerse” (Arndt 131). When examining Matthew 3, the definition “to immerse”, would make sense with water baptism as well as the Holy Spirit and fire. This article will explain the last two terms further.

What is the baptism of the “Holy Spirit”? 
Since the term baptism means “to immerse”, what does it mean when John said that Jesus would “immerse with the Holy Spirit”? Later in (Acts 2), the Apostles were gathered together and the Holy Spirit comes on them (like an immersion/baptism). The text reads,
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist (a prophet) is explaining that when Jesus comes, He will be able to immerse people with the Spirit of God. This is what He did in (Acts 2) and later with Cornelius and his household in (Acts 10). In fact, by inspiration, the Apostle Peter defines for the reader what was meant by the phrase “baptized with the Holy Spirit”. In (Acts 11:15-16) he says, 
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
Being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” means to be immersed with the Spirit. This happened to the Apostles in (Acts 2) and to Cornelius’ household in (Acts 10).

What does it mean to be “baptized with fire”?
There are many well-meaning people who ask to be “baptized with fire”. They make this statement out of confusion because they were taught that the fire in this passage is in reference to a “burning in ones heart” that the Spirit produces, or maybe in reference to the “tongues of fire” in (Acts 2). Both of these are assumptions that are far from the truth of this passage.

The term “fire” is used 3 times in (Matthew 3) and in no less than 12 verses in the entire book. Every single time this word is used, it is discussing hot, burning fire, as one would find in a furnace or in Hell. In (Matthew 3:10) John says, 
"The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”
The fire mentioned in (Matthew 3:10) is a destructive fire. It is a fire intended to burn up the pruned fruitless branches of a tree. A similar illustration is given in (Matthew 3:12) where John continues by stating, 
"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Again, in this verse fire is destructive, it is designed to burn up the worthless chaff after it is separated from the wheat. If the fire mentioned in vs. 10 is destructive, and if the fire in vs. 12 is destructive, one MUST conclude that the fire in vs. 11 is also destructive.

This passage is stating that Jesus will not only immerse people with the Spirit, He also has the power to punish by immersing them in destructive fire.

Jesus will judge the world some day. The “fire” mentioned in (Matthew 3:11) is the same as the fire in (Revelation 20:15) which declares, 
And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The lesson for the reader of this passage is that John the Baptist was a great prophet of God who prepared the way for the coming Messiah. The Messiah/Jesus was greater than John, for Jesus has the power to save and also to punish.

By Cliff Sabroe (Quotes from NASB95 Bible) and citation from
Arndt, William F. and F. Wilber Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.  Chicago: University Press, 1952.