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Monday, November 15, 2010

The Everlasting, Purifying ( Consuming? ) Fire

The question has been in the thoughts of some, recently; 'is our God still 'a consuming fire' ( Hebrews 12:29 )! There can be no doubt that His is a purifying, cleansing presence, or that, to those who perished in the conflagration of AD70 ( the fall of Jerusalem & the temple ) He was a very literal 'consuming fire'. We've read of the famous 'burning bush', in Exodus 3:1-4, which, as Moses saw, '[ was ] not consumed'. In this case then, His Presence was apparently not a 'consuming' one. For the destruction ( consumption ) of Sodom & Gomorrah; Genesis 19 records that 'the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah' ( 'out of heaven' ), so, in this case; God used fire ( meteor shower, probably ) to accomplish His work of 'consummation'. During the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel; we have record of numerous times that 'fire of the LORD' consumed those ( things ) that did not please God ( Numbers 11:1-3, 16:35 ( Deuteronomy 5:25, 32:22 ) II Kings 1:10-14, Jeremiah 49:27, Ezekiel 22:21-31. Some of these are actual examples of a literal fire that would 'devour the adversaries' ( Hebrews 10:27 ( Leviticus 10:1-3 ( Numbers 26:10 ), and some are examples of 'the fire of His jealousy' ( Zephaniah 1:18 ) Lamentations 4:11, Ezekiel 23:25, Zephaniah 3:8 ( Revelation 20:9 ), which, I believe, is a metaphor for His righteous indignation, while, in a few others, He used ( and uses ) the natural consequences of their own foolishness ( Ezekiel 19:12-14 ) Ezekiel 28:18, Job 31:12, Psalm 78:63, Ecclesiastes 4:5 ) to 'consume' them.

It is clear then, that under the 'old' covenant ( Mosaic ) administration; God was surely a fiery Presence. We know that He does not change ( Hebrews 6:17 & 18 ( 13:8 ), and thus, it is ( more than ) safe to assert that He still is. Several brothers of mine have ruminated on the question ( the idea really ) of whether or not God was or is the Lake of Fire, and I do not wish to 'cast aspersions' on them. Definitely, without question, the context of Scripture tells us that He, at least, was the Fire ( Deuteronomy 5:22 ( Numbers 14:14, 9:15 ) Exodus 40:38 ) in their midst. Revelation 20:14 reads 'Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.' Again; without 'casting aspersions', or claiming that I am 'the end all..' ( some would say I AM a 'know-it-all' ); I would like to submit that this 'death of death', although, in a sense, physical, because many, many lost their lives ( 'he who loves his life will lose it' ( John 12:25 ), was not the end of physical death ( that's pretty obvious, isn't it? ), but was the end of 'sin-death', which itself is metaphorical for separation ( Isaiah 59:2 ) from God. The 'Death' which was thrown into the Lake of Fire ( metaphorically, and really ) was the 'death' that Adam had suffered ( Genesis 3:22-24 ), and brought upon all his 'children' ( through inheritance-Romans 5:12-21 ), by his disobedience to God's first command ( 'you shall not eat'-Genesis 2:17 ), and this Presence was restored in Christ ( John 14:23 ); no more death!

I have made the point before, I believe, that, while God was very surely the 'Fire' in ( or 'behind' ) the 'Lake of Fire'; it was questionable whether was actually 'the Lake of Fire' itself ( for one thing, that would make Him 'the second death', which really, in  the greatest sense, He was; He IS 'the beginning and the end' ), but looking back on it; I realized that I had fallen into the same trap that I often accused others of! Yes; one could easily say that the conflagration of AD70 was a literal ( actual ) 'Lake of Fire', but, as the Revelation to John was in a vision ( or visions ) one must admit that John was not talking about an actual 'lake' ( as we think of lakes ) of fire, but was seeing, describing metaphorically, not only God's judgment on this 'death' which the sin of Adam had unleashed, but was, in actuality, one that they had kindled themselves ( Ezekiel 19:14 ) by their foolish, idolatrous, and harlotrous actions.

Again we ask; 'is God still a consuming fire?' Yes and no. As we are under the 'new' ( Jeremiah 31:31-34 ) covenant; I believe that, in a sense, the rules have changed, at least as far as we feeble humans are concerned. Now; before we get all kinds of people 'flying off the handle', and accusing me of teaching dispensationalism, or some such; let me point out, first of all, that Hebrews 7:14 DOES say that 'the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law' ( which, in reality, is simply talking about the fact that Jesus came from Judah, and not Levi; or was it? ), and also, that I clarified this statement with 'as far as we..humans are concerned'.

Have the 'rules' changed? Paul wrote of a major 'change' that was due to take place in the first century; 'the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed'. The writer to the Hebrews said that the first covenant failed because 'finding fault with them', He promised to make a NEW covenant with His people, one that He Himself, through His Son ( Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 ) would keep ( II Timothy 2:13 )! I believe that there is ONE covenant; that which God made with Himself, if you will ( there was no one else, after all ) before He created the 'worlds' ( I Peter 1:20 ), but God instituted, through Moses, a sort of 'tutor' ( Galatians 3:24 ) covenant '[to bring us ] to Christ'; a sort of 'test case', you might say.

I believe we must acknowledge, in any case, that God is still a 'consuming fire' ( He does not change, remember? ), but as far as we're concerned, as far as the covenants are concerned; I believe that He no longer works as such, as He did towards those under the 'old' covenant, except that He still consumes our 'dross' ( Proverbs 26:23 ), and we all, I believe, have a little 'dross' in our lives that needs to be 'purged' ( Isaiah 6:7 ); Amen!

In the love of Christ. Charles Haddon Shank

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