Fire and Smoke
As you read through the passages, there are two main things to compare and contrast: natural, earthly fire and smoke vs. divine fire and smoke. We know what physical fire is all about, such as a campfire or a flame thrower or a candle. We are not sure exactly what divine fire looks like, but it surely is not caused by burning wood, wax, or napalm! For example, look at our first text.
"So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." (Genesis 3:24)
It is highly improbable that the angels had swords spitting out burning napalm that scorched everything around. They were probably some kind of heavenly high tech that glittered super bright.
"And the angel of the LORD appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." (Exodus 3:2)
This was probably the Son of God's glory directly. At the very least, it is confirmed that this divine fire does not burn things.
"And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night." (Exodus 13:21)
So was this a travelling campfire? Obviously not, because it turned into a cloud during the day and in other places we are told it lifted up in the air to lead the hosts of Israel.
"And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the far part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke of it ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly." (Exodus 19:16-18)
"These words the LORD spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me." (Deuteronomy 5:22)
At Mount Sinai we seem to see some regular fire and smoke. Of course, God's glory was in there somewhere as well.
"And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers." (Joshua 8:20)
Ai was an example of regular fire and smoke caused by a burning town. Since we are not given any clues of the divine presence, we assume this fire was normal.
"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both apart; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." (2 Kings 2:11)
This is obviously figurative to a degree. A regular horse and chariot cannot bring someone to heaven. Was it angels shaping their glory into some gigantic thing in the shape of horses pulling a chariot? What we know for sure is that this was not regular fire, because it does not pick up a person and fly through the air maintaining the same shape.
"There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire. Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and defeated them." (Psalms 18:8-14)
This is probably a combination of divine glory and natural judgments on Israel's enemies.
"Who makes his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire." (Psalms 104:4)
Are the angels perpetually burning up or are they robed in shimmering glory that is best described using the earthly words, flaming fire?
"When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst of it by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defense." (Isaiah 4:4-5)
Notice the use of the phrase "spirit of burning" to describe the purifying work of the Holy Spirit. Also, was this a prophecy of the return of the pillar of cloud and fire if Israel was faithful? Was it literal or spiritual?
"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged." (Isaiah 6:1-7)
Here is a great example of God's glory being described using earthly things. It is highly unlikely real smoke filled the temple with ugly blackness that would have choked the prophet. And was it a real coal that burned Isaiah's lips? Could a real coal take away sin? It is hard to picture it, but this fire, smoke, and coal was something out of this world!
"Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire. And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day; And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standard-bearer faints." (Isaiah 10:16-18)
Again, we see a mix of regular fire that burns forest and field with spiritual fire that refines God's "fat", spiritual lazy people. There is also a hint of something more than regular fire in the phrase "both soul and body." This reminds us of the part of Matthew 10 where we are told to fear God because He can destroy both body and soul in the fires of hell.
In these next 3 passages from Ezekiel notice the fire that infolds itself--obviously not normal fire. Notice the references to coals, lightning, and clouds. Earthly words just cannot contain the amazing things that Ezekiel saw!
"And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst of it as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward: where the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning." (Ezekiel 1:4-14)
"Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his waist even downward, fire; and from his waist even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the color of amber." (Ezekiel 8:2)
"Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. And he spoke unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill your hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight. Now the cherubims stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD's glory. And the sound of the cherubims' wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaks. And it came to pass, that when he had commanded the man clothed with linen, saying, Take fire from between the wheels, from between the cherubims; then he went in, and stood beside the wheels. And one cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubims unto the fire that was between the cherubims, and took of it and put it into the hands of him that was clothed with linen: who took it, and went out." (Ezekiel 10:1-7)
Again, we see that earthly things were used to describe heavenly things, but the earthly words broke down and could not bear up under the weight of glory. The Son of God with a flamethrower at His waist spitting out fire? Definitely not! But we know He was glorious! Coals and lightning burning up everything in their path? Definitely not! Not until we get to heaven will know exactly what Ezekiel saw!
Something else that Ezekiel saw was Lucifer's original position. Surely the fallen angel was not dancing with burnt toes in campfire coals!
"You are the anointed cherub that covers and I have set you so: you were upon the holy mountain of God; you have walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you. By the multitude of your merchandise they have filled the midst of you with violence, and you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire." (Ezekiel 28:14-16)
Now let's look at a natural fire where a supernatural event took place.
"Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished and rose up in haste, and spoke and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spoke and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the most high God, come forth, and come here. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them." (Daniel 3:22-27)
Remember this passage for later. Regular humans survived in the midst of a regular fire without any pain or after effects.
"I beheld until the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spoke, I beheld even until the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame." (Daniel 7:9-11)
I think you are getting the picture by now that God's throne was not pumping out fire that obliterated all in its path. The angels, with their fiery glory, were gathered happily about Him. As far as the flame that burned the beast, there was probably a mix of regular and divine flame involved.
"And after six days Jesus takes Peter, James, and John his brother, and brings them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his clothing was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will let us make here three tabernacles; one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him." (Matthew 17:1-5)
Entering the New Testament, we see the use of less fearful language. Instead of fire and smoke, sun and cloud is used.
"And if your hand offend you cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot offend you cut it off: it is better for you to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye offend you pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." (Mark 9:43-49)
Here is one of the texts that appear to support the unending torture of the wicked. But we must ask, The fire will not be quenched by who? Can God make a fire He cannot quench? And what kind of fire is this? Maybe God does not want to quench it, but that does not mean torture lasts forever. And what are these worms that do not die? And why is everyone, saint and wicked alike, salted with fire? How can a person be salted with fire? Is a refinement and/or cleansing process being referred to? More later!
"And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." (Acts 2:3)
Obviously, mini campfires were not lit on top of each head!
"Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made plain: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he has built on it, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
Can natural fire test the fruits of a person's character?
"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
"And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
Jesus could spit regular fire out of His mouth, but the glory of His presence tells us what kind of fire destroys the wicked.
"For our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29)
What does God's fire consume? Good things? Does God destroy the good things He created? No, He destroys the bad things, which destroy the good things.
"Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God, in which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness." (2 Peter 3:11-13)
No campfire or blast furnace can be made hot enough to melt and recreate the whole solar system or galaxy. Furthermore, holy people survive this fire, so that gives us a clue as to what kind of fire this is.
"And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and wrapped about the chest with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters." (Revelation 1:13-15)
This text reminds us of the vision of Ezekiel.
"And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." (Revelation 8:4)
There must be something more to this smoky incense because it is mixed with prayers.
"And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." (Revelation 10:1)
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself." (Revelation 19:11-12)
Again, we can't possibly be viewing regular fire!
"And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and surrounded the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." (Revelation 20:7-21:3)
Here we are at our final text and it is time to make the point and pull all of our passages together.
First question: Is regular fire hot enough to burn up death? Of course not.
Next question: What is the only way to kill death? Hint: Not with more death! How do you get rid of the darkness in a room? How do you get rid of a hole?
Next: What fire is hot enough to burn up death and give life? Of course, divine fire.
God's glory--His very own presence--descends from heaven and fills up death with life and recreates the earth into a new earth. The dead are judged according to their works because it takes longer to fill a sinner's spot who has more sins (which is death) than another.
"For, behold, the day comes that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 4:1-3)
Like the three Hebrew captives in the fiery furnace, there is regular fire all around as the earth burns up, but the wicked are confronted by the glory of God in their souls and conscience. Every sin is remembered. Every sin is held onto in the very presence of God and this causes pain and guilt. The more sin, the more pain. Everyone is rewarded according to their works, then they die. The last one to die is the root of the tree of evil--Satan.
“You have defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your traffic; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of you, it shall devour you, and I will bring you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold you. All they that know you among the people shall be astonished at you: you shalt be a terror, and never shall you be any more.” (Ezekiel 28:18-19)
Notice how Satan is killed–a fire comes “from the midst” of him, not from the outside. Notice also how this parallels his start of sin. "You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you. By the multitude of your merchandise they have filled the midst of you with violence, and you have sinned." (Ezekiel 28:15-16)
Lucifer sold lies to many angels and this drained his heart of peace and filled it with violence and unrest. God’s glorious presence was shoved out. Now, at the end of time, Satan is confronted by God’s presence in his heart once again. It now becomes visibly clear to all onlookers that there is no love or unity there. It is impossible to convert and save the fallen angel. His soul burns, then his body burns.
“For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, you shall diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:9-11)
After sin, sinners, death, and hell, are burned up, God's lifegiving glory alone fills the universe, just like in the beginning. Now, however, everyone understands the difference between life and death, sin and obedience, love and selfishness. Never again will God's glory need to burn up sin.
"He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time." (Nahum 1:9)
Unending punishment and torture of sinners does not take place because God's living fire burns up death and turns sinners to ashes. On the other hand, in a way, everlasting hellfire is true, because God's glory is the fire that burns up sinners in hell.
"The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14)
“Thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, says the LORD; and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:15-19)
God's glory is hellfire to the sinner, but lifegiving glory to the humble child. Fear not! Go to Jesus with full repentance.