Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire,
for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them,
standing and warming himself. (John 18:18)

Given the right circumstances, fire is a reaction of the elements which takes place on this world with predictable reliability. It is commonly harnessed by man for warmth during cold weather, transportation through various forms of combustion, clearing of waste, generation of other types of energy, and for the cooking of food. Fire is used extensively throughout the Scriptures in a number of contexts to teach us that our God "is a consuming fire." (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29) To substantiate this, one needs only to review a few instances in the Old Testament where God is revealed. He appeared to Moses from the midst of a burning bush at Mount Horeb, (Exodus 3:2,3) led the people of Israel through the wilderness as a "pillar of fire" by night, (Exodus 13:21) and descended on Mount Sinai in fire. (Exodus 19:18)
In the elaborate Levitical systems surrounding the procedures for the offering of sacrifices, the various offerings were usually to be consumed by fire. This testified to the fact that whenever something is offered to God for sin, it must shed its blood and undergo the fire of God's judgement. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20, Hebrews 9:22) We know, however, that the physical fire which consumed the multitude of sacrifices offered by the priests of Israel was inadequate in respect to God's requirement for the removal of sin. God was not pleased with these repetitive offerings, for, unable to totally absolve sin, they merely covered and reminded of it. (Hebrews 10:1-9) In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, we read that, even though the Messiah paid a price beyond our comprehension, "the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief." (Isaiah 53:10) The Lord Jesus went through an unfathomable agony which far exceeded His physical pain. After taking on the likeness of sinful flesh in His incarnation, (John 1:1,14, Romans 8:3) He endured the fire of the cross. While He hung there, our Lord took on our sin such that we would be qualified to exist with God for eternity. (Isaiah 53:4-6, 2 Corinthians 5:21)
For One who had enjoyed the fulness of the glory of the Father "before the world was," (John 17:5) to be made "for a little while lower than the angels," (Hebrews 2:9) is a declaration of love and compassion beyond any other. (Ephesians 2:4-7) The path, then, to avoid the fiery judgement of God is to recognise the truth of the gospel. We please Him with our true faith, (Hebrews 11:6) which ultimately transforms one from existing according to the flesh, to living in the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-8) As one has asked, "...how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3)
"I have come to cast fire upon the earth;
and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)

The fire to which the Lord was referring in the above verse was the judgement the unsaved will undergo as they endure the wrath of God. This is the "baptism" about which He was anxious, for He had yet to take on the sin of all men and its penalty, to be smitten, afflicted, and forsaken by God. (Isaiah 53:4, Matthew 27:46) A study on the subject of judgement must be undertaken to better understand how the phenomenon of fire relates spiritually. We find that fire is used repeatedly in Scripture to describe the destruction that is inevitable for the one who ignores God's plan of salvation and, because of this, is unable to segregate himself from the consequences of sin. The eternal death which results from sin (Romans 6:23) can only be removed through God's one provision of His Son, (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:5) who died once for all, (Hebrews 10:10-14) thus fulfilling the Law of the Old Testament perfectly. (Matthew 5:17)
The analogies available to us relating to the destruction "by fire" of those unwilling to have the wages of their sin paid for by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ are numerous. We all have experienced or observed the power of fire, and know its ability to burn and destroy. It is not without reason that physical fire is chosen to represent the spiritual judgement of God, who does not wish for any to perish, (Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:3,4, 2 Peter 3:9) but, because of His absolute holiness, can not have sin in His presence. For this reason, the trees that do not bear good fruit are "cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:10-12, 7:19, Luke 3:9, 17) For this reason, the parable of the wheat and the tares concludes its lesson with the "sons of the evil one" burned with fire. (Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43) For this reason, the Lord Jesus assigns to the accursed "goats" on His left a departure into "the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and His angels." (Matthew 25:41) In each case, the ones who are burned are those who do not abide in the Lord Jesus Christ, and, as a result, are thrown away to dry up, be gathered as branches, and cast in the fire. (John 15:6)
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:28, 29)

There are two types of judgement for humanity found in Scripture, one for the unbeliever, and another for the believer. Fire is used in each case as a type of refinement, with two distinctly different end results. To refine is to remove impurities. Our metals, fuels, medicines, water, food, and just about every other substance we manipulate for our use, has at some point been subjected to refinement, where undesirable elements have been removed. Spiritually, the element which must be removed, to be pure by God's standard, is sin.
For the unbeliever, there is only one judgement found in the Bible, that of the great white throne. This judgement is not to decide a person's eternal placement, for this will already have been established. There is no such formality found in the Bible, where everybody stands in line to find out whether or not they are fit to enter heaven on the basis of their works committed in the flesh. The great white throne judgement is an event, at which time those who are not found in the book of life, unbelievers, are held accountable for their deeds. These are the actions which, performed in the flesh, have no relevance to salvation, either good or bad. At this point, these actions will be recalled, as they appear in the books, and after this, all those present before this judgement are thrown into the lake of fire, the second death, to be eternally separated from God and all that He is :
And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
(Revelation 20:11-15)

The Judge of all the earth will not make any errors. There is no element of cruelty or spite involved from God's point of view, for He is without sin, and there is no other option for those who have rejected the only Way of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. According to John's gospel, these condemned souls were "judged already" by their rejection of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18) Paul's description to the Thessalonian church of the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven "with His mighty angels in flaming fire" is, to every true believer, one of anxious anticipation. (2 Timothy 2:8, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 3:11-13) To those, however, who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus, there is but one end :
And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction,
away from the presence of the Lord
and from the glory of His power,... (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

If God is love, if He is light, and all that is comfortable and good, then to be in total separation from Him, and all that He is, is to exist in a realm where there is only hatred, darkness, agony, and evil. These are the fires of hell, burning for eternity the souls of those who refused the gift of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. Never a physical fire could burn with more intensity.
There is another context described in Scripture, the judgement of the believer, and its description also contains an analogy of fire :
Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved,
yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

This is a picture of refinement where the end result is not eternal death, but either a receiving of a reward or a suffering of loss. This section of Paul's letter written to the believers at Corinth (and "all in every place" who call upon the the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Corinthians 1:2) shows clearly that how one spends his time on this earth after being saved is not to be regarded lightly. Believers are left with a responsibility while they reside in the physical world. (Matthew 28:19,20, Mark 16:15) Their "building" as in Paul's analogy, is to one day be subjected to judgement by their Redeemer, Who will evaluate their service to Him. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions this accountability for the works of believers again :
Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent,
to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ,
that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body,
according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:9, 10)

If anyone who claims to worship and acknowledge the Messiah does not have the ambition to be pleasing to Him, and to serve Him according to the Scriptures, this person does not yet have a full understanding of salvation and the love of the Lord Jesus. The true believer is distinctly a "new creature," with the old things behind him. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Something in his life will be led by the Spirit within him, and he will have a desire to change those things in his liłn which he knows to be wrong and displeasing to his heavenly Father. What is in the heart of both the believer and the unbeliever will be evident in their fruits and their conversation. (Matthew 7:16-20, 12:33-35, 15:18, Luke 6:45) What true believer could, after hearing and receiving the wonderful truth of his redemption by the grace and love of God, live solely for himself, by his own standards, and selfishly hoard the eternal life given him?
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man's work,
conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth;... (1 Peter 1:17)

While men can not judge the thoughts and intentions of those around them and appoint others' eternal states, it has been given to believers to "test the spirits" and thus discern whether the people around them need to be treated as brothers, or, as those without the Lord, with the gospel. (1 John 4:1-3) The true determination of the eternal state of each man is not our responsibility :
Therefore do not go on passing judgement before the time,
but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness
and disclose the motives of men's hearts;
and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)

The transmission of the news concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, His role as the only mediator between God and man, is the believer's earthly assignment :
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19, 20)
And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

The message of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way which man can avoid the fire of complete eternal separation from God. As we have seen from the analogies of water, earth, and fire, God has provided all men with a way of eternal life. When we realise that, as human beings, we are unfit to exist in the presence of a Holy God, it is then that we can look to the cross of our Lord as the only means to avoid the fire of God's justice against sin.
"The Lord has made everything for its own purpose..." (Proverbs 16:4) The Scripture text of the New American Standard Bible is used by permission of
The Lockman Foundation, a corporation not for profit, LaHabra, California,
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