“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
One morning, some years ago, I was sitting in my study when I felt a tremendous explosion. Moments later a column of smoke appeared on the horizon. Then I smelt fire. Evidently, something had gone seriously wrong in an oil-refinery about seven kilometres away. Numerous fire trucks and other emergency vehicles converged on the scene. Firefighters did what they could, but they could not quench the fire. Instead, it burned so hot that even a fire truck, parked some distance away from the blaze, was destroyed. The firemen, however, did not get hurt, although they were working much closer to the fire. The reason is obvious. After all, a fire truck runs on fuel. When it got hot, it exploded. Firemen, on the other hand, wear protective clothing; fire cannot harm them.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist told the people of Israel that Jesus would baptize them with fire. This fire, however, is not the gentle flames that will appear on the head of the disciples on Pentecost. Instead, says John, Jesus will go to heaven. There He will be seated at the right hand of his Father. From his royal throne, He will rule over all things. He will protect his apostles as they go out into the world, preaching in all the synagogues until all Israel has heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has been called to repentance. When that has been done, the Lord will come down from heaven. Then He will baptize his people with fire. For just as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of their unfaithfulness, so the people of Israel will be baptized with fire as well. And we can look back. We can see that this prophecy was fulfilled in the year 70 AD, when the Roman army invaded Jerusalem and set the city ablaze. The Romans did the dirty work, but in reality it was Jesus Christ, the ruler of the kings of the earth, who destroyed his disobedient people through this baptism of fire.
In his second letter, Peter tells us that the world will be baptized with fire once again. For when the Gospel has been preached to all nations and the number of the elect is filled, the Son of God will come down from heaven once more. Then the heavens and the earth will all be destroyed by fire! So the prophecy of John the Baptist that the Lord Jesus Christ will baptize with fire will be fulfilled ultimately in the final judgment on the last day.
But the Lord Jesus Christ does not baptize only with fire! Instead, He also baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. In fact, our baptism with the Holy Spirit comes first. For when the Son of God went to the cross, He bore the wrath of God against our sins. His death laid the basis for the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation. Now King Jesus can give these blessings to whomever He pleases! And how does He give them to us? Well, on Pentecost He baptized his church with the Holy Spirit, and then He showered us with all his gifts! He gives us faith! Our sins are forgiven and we are righteous. We have eternal life! At Pentecost, King Jesus baptized us with the Holy Spirit. In this way, He gave all these gifts to us!
Now think back for a moment to the fire that I mentioned earlier. That fire destroyed everything except the firefighters. It could not harm them because they wore protective clothing. In the same way, when the Lord returns, He will send unquenchable fire to the earth. That fire will consume all people from all nations, except those people who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Their faith will save them. Their sins have been forgiven. And so they will be righteous. Because they are baptized with the Holy Spirit, the fire will not be able to touch them!
Previously published in Clarion Magazine (https://www.clarionmagazine.ca/archives/2000/241-260_v49n11.pdf). Some minor cosmetic changes made.