When God Comes
The writer to the Hebrews, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24, wrote, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
Israel was used to this representation of God among them. The pillar of fire had guided them out of Egypt. Moses had recognized God’s presence as the bush burned but was not consumed. Israel had seen it blazing from the mountaintop of Sinai as Moses talked with God. Fire would demonstrate God’s presence as it fell on Elijah’s soggy altar as he faced the false prophets in 1 Kings 18.
Israel would be reminded of that as their enemies were defeated before them. In Deuteronomy 9:3, Moses tells them: “But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you…”
Fire is symbolic of God’s judgment. Isaiah 66:15-16: “See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with the fire and the sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord.”
Fire refines—both the work and the worker.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that what they did would be refined by fire, separating the worthy from the worthless. “…no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (3:11-15).
Isaiah 48:10, 11 says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.”
This idea of refinement is carried through the message deliver by the prophets. Zechariah proclaims, “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver, and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”
When the Spirit of God fell on the followers of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost, He came as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). God was there; around them, in them, and working through them.
As the Israelites saw the flames consumed the offerings on the altar, they understood the presence, the power, the purifying that those flames represented. It brought them joy and it took them to their knees in worship.
That’s what happens when God comes.