In what ways is the Holy Spirit like a fire?
The New Testament speaks specifically about the Holy Spirit being like a fire on two different occasions. First, John the Baptist shared in Matthew 3:11, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Verse 12 adds, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
This reference to Jesus as one who will judge the righteous and the wicked is connected with the work of the Spirit as a fire. This same account is also shared in Luke 3:16-17.
Second, Acts 2 shares an account in which the Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire that has become the most well-known reference to the Spirit being like a fire. Acts 2:3-4 (NIV) states, "They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." In this account, the Spirit appeared visibly like some kind of fire as the church began on the Day of Pentecost.
This "fire" of the Holy Spirit gave power and boldness to the early Christians. On that day, 3,000 came to faith and were baptized (Acts 2:41). The church continued to grow in number and strength, spreading like a fire to neighboring cities and nations. By the end of the book of Acts, the apostle Paul was already in the Roman capital of Rome where he preached the gospel for two full years while under house arrest (Acts 28:30-31).
Other biblical passages refer to God or His actions as being like a fire as well. For example, Hebrews 12:29 calls God "a consuming fire." In the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2). The glory of God often appeared like a fire, such as during the time the Israelites traveled 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-31).
Though the Bible often uses fire as a symbol of God's judgment, there are other occasions in which fire is used positively to describe God's power. For example, Revelation 1:14 describes the glorified Jesus, saying, "The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire."
The Holy Spirit's power can certainly be represented by fire, yet His power is much greater than any flame. He was involved in the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:2), sustains believers, and continues His work to fulfill God's sovereign plan in our world today.