The Tongues of Fire
Our heavenly Father in His love is ready to ‘give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him’ and like manna in the wilderness it is given afresh daily.

The Tongues of Fire

Right from the very first act of creation in the Scripture, it is evidently clear that the Holy Spirit joins God’s Word in effecting a transformation or initiating any action for His kingdom work. The command from God to others during the transfiguration of Lord Jesus was ‘Hear Him’ so that the Word gets deeply embedded in their hearts and minds. At Pentecost on the arrival of the Holy Spirit could then empower them to operate in the authority of the Word. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on mankind is for nothing else but for God’s kingdom work by overcoming the devil and thus winning souls out of his clutches.

         What is Holy Spirit baptism? Before baptism of the Holy Spirit a person in his sinful state is touched by Him to lead the individual to the Savior Lord. The moment one decides to accept and declares his/her allegiance to Lord Jesus baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs. This could happen like outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family while they were still listening to Apostle Peter preach the Gospel to them (Acts 10:44-48). It was after that only that they were all baptized in the name of the Lord. However, water baptism is considered an essential ritual of dying to our wins with the Lord and being raised into Him and then be filled with the Holy Spirit.

          Lord Jesus cautioned the disciples to remain in Jerusalem till ‘promise of baptism of the Holy Spirit’ gets fulfilled to empower them to be ‘witness to the Lord to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:5-8). This gifting if knowledge, wisdom and extraordinary power is for Christ exalting ministry for ‘Everyone who is called by My name, (whom) I have created for My glory’ (Isaiah 43:7). Holy Spirit baptism may come in an unusual, decisive experience after submission and accepting the Lord Jesus as Savior. This may happen in a moment, a day, a week or anytime later through various ways with fillings and blessings throughout a lifetime that are just unpredictable.

         Is it only a onetime experience? – No, for His work is continuous in our lives and right till the day of the second coming of Lord Jesus this will continue. The fillings of the Holy Spirit must we sought and expected by every believer for various reasons. First, Holy Spirit role as defined by the Lord is, ‘He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you’ (John 14:26). The task of reaching out to others and face the devil’s ‘darts’ creates a daily need to remember and learn the Scripture from the Teacher Spirit. Second, Lord Jesus’ prayer to God the Father, ‘sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth’ (John 17:17) is to not only reveal the truth but also change the believers with that.  Sanctification is a continuous process of confession and repentance under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit. The tongues of fire at Pentecost represent the same task of God’s Spirit where fire refines and also gives power to the spoken Word.

        Third, revelation of mysteries of the Word – Apostle John received all details of the Book of Revelation at Patmos Island in old age and He received all that while being in the Spirit. Fourth, He teaches us to pray for ‘the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God’ (Romans 8:26-27).  Fifth, He will give us the line of reasoning to defend ourselves when facing trials ‘For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say’ (Luke 12:12). Everyone involved in preaching and teaching ministry is aware of the need for His guidance while preparing the notes for the sermon, every time and everywhere. 

        Probably wrong to limit baptism in, by or with the Holy Spirit to a single event for filling and empowering needed again and again and this cannot be the same in every situation. Apostle Paul was in Cyprus and Elymas the sorcerer tried to interfere in his ministry to ‘the proconsul to turn him from the faith’. The Apostle was filled with the Holy Spirit and faced Elymas with extraordinary power and the sorcerer was blinded for a time (Acts 13:8-12). This is what the Lord meant to command the disciples to ‘wait for this (Holy Spirit) baptism’ and then ‘they were filled with the Holy Spirit’ and this is a recurring experience not a onetime event (in Acts 1:4-5 & Acts 2:4).  God promised His Spirit to His people (Joel 2:28-29) and the events of Pentecost are fulfillment of this prophetic promise of speaking with extraordinary power (Acts 2:16). That is why our Lord declares, ‘When you receive the Holy Spirit, you will have power so that you can be My witness to the end of the world’ (Acts 1:8) and this empowering is for exalting His name and His Gospel message. It was the same message to ‘wait in Jerusalem till you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49) and this is provisioning for a full covering of the body and soul. We are to seek this covering and empowerment daily and then minister to others in His love, authority and power.

         Reason for different signs of Holy Spirit manifestation – During the process of creation, when the earth was ‘tohu va bohu’ or void an d without form, the Holy Spirit was seen ‘hovering over the face of the waters’ (Genesis 1:2). Holy Spirit descended like a dove on the Lord, where dove is a symbol of peace (Luke 3:22) and then at Pentecost as divided tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). Let us see His role in each phase of His coming. His role is empowering, guiding and teaching thus bringing in change and during creation waters and earth in were incapable of participating with God in their state. Holy Spirit covers the entire face of waters and incoming Word of God initiates the change when darkness is removed by God’s glory being revealed, waters are separated from earth and both ready to produce vegetation, sea  creatures, cattle and beasts.

        Son of God is Prince of Peace as per prophesy, ‘of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). It was then revealed that ‘The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD’ and the next verse further defines the Messiah’s ministry (Isaiah 11:2-3). What was spoken from heaven on His baptism was repetition of the prophesy ‘Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:1). Zechariah, father of John the Baptist ‘filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied about his son’s role, ‘you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways… to give light to those in darkness and the shadow of death’ (Luke 1:76-79).

         Lord Jesus’ first coming is as ‘Prince of peace’ and John the Baptist declares, ‘I Saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him…. And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God’ (John 1:31-34). John the Baptist in his mother’s womb only recognized the Lord’s presence near him. Dove being a symbol of peace was the symbol of Holy Spirit manifestation on the Son of God and in this is empowerment of the Lord but He declares that ‘the Son can do nothing of Himself; but what He sees the Father do’ (John 5:19). Lord Jesus reconciled us sinners to the LORD God by washing us with His blood and peace was restored.

        Descending of tongues of fire on the 120 present at Pentecost was preceded by a great sound heard by others who were present in Jerusalem in large numbers from all over the world (Acts 2:3). 15 nationalities are named in the Scripture and this was a moment of great outreach. This outpouring of the Spirit happened 50 days after Passover and the day is called Feast of Harvest, when all Jews above 12 years of age were mandated to be present before God in His Temple (Exodus 23:16). The importance of this particular symbolic outpouring of God’s Spirit is for witness and world evangelization for the Lord had already declared that the ‘harvest is ready’ and on the first day itself 3,000 were baptized. The symbol of tongue is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel and in His Word resist Satan while the fire is to refine, empower and devour the enemy. Different tasks at different times have revealed different shapes or appearances of God’s Spirit in the world.

         Importance of revealed symbols on Pentecost – The promise of the Lord is to be filled and clothed with power to be His witness to the ‘end of the earth’. The task of outreach is not yet complete and the promise of extraordinary power to sustain and carry the message still operative, till Lord Jesus’ second coming. Great outpouring of the Holy Spirit is always for great results in and from individuals or entire nations. The famous evangelist, William Carey was appointed to teach Bengali and Sanskrit in 1801 at Fort William College and filled with God’s Spirit, he translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese and Sanskrit and into 29 other languages and dialects and Indian evangelization effort was greatly enhanced.

         First word ‘suddenly a sound came from heaven’ – Holy Spirit is free and sovereign and not bound to our timings or technique and He comes suddenly on His own terms and in His own times and He comes for harvesting souls.

        Second, ‘rush of a mighty wind’ – A visible, audible, touchable manifestation of His presence and power in the form of great sound heard and this sound filled the place but there was no storm or movement of wind. ‘Wind or pneuma blows where it wishes’ and you hear the sound but cannot tell from where it comes from and where it goes (John 3:8). So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.  The Greek word pneuma is synonymous with the Hebrew word ruach meaning wind, breath or spirit and the Holy Spirit moves on His own. In the Old Testament He was seen as a Pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire, descended on the Lord as a dove, in another time the building was shaken (Acts 4:31). In Philippi, a great earthquake shook the prison where Apostle Paul and Silas were held breaking all shackles (Acts 16:26). At Pentecost all 120 present in the upper room were in one accord and in prayer and the sound filled the whole place blessing all those who were present.

         Third, ‘tongues of fire’ – The same words are also translated as ‘tongues on fire’ for the Greek word glossa means tongues and also language. Lord Jesus has incorporated all believers into one body through Spirit baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13) and all present at Pentecost were speaking in His power. There speech was set on fire and empowered to reach those outside while all others were amazed and ignited by the fire of their words.

          Relevance of Symbols – All such symbols that precede the coming of God or His Spirit are just signs announcing the event and in themselves they mean nothing. Prophet Elijah was commanded to stand on the mountain before the LORD and then came a great and strong wind that tore into the mountain and broke the rocks in pieces; then an earthquake and finally a fire but the LORD was present in none of those mighty signs. He was audible in a still small voice and all the symbols are not His Spirit for we feel an overwhelming sense of presence of God on His arrival. The disciples until then were praying and worshipping, say Psalm 23, ‘I walk through the shadow of death, but I will fear no evil for You are with me’. But like Prophet Elijah transformation from mere knowledge of God into experiencing God’s presence occurs then and all fear disappears. Holy Spirit baptism starts the process of change of deductive certainty of God’s present as per His Word to experiential certainty and then fire burns in their hearts and in their mouths (Luke 24:32).  Overwhelmed with God’s greatness comes boldness in praise and believers start declaring mighty works of God as the ‘Spirit gave them utterance’. As the Spirit knows the deep things of God, fullness of the Holy Spirit means thus that Spirit’s experience of God’s greatness becomes our knowledge and experience of God’s greatness (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

         Loudness of sound of wind drowns out voices of doubt and uncertainty while fire on their heads sets fire to their knowledge of God turning it into passion to tell others of God’s greatness. Fear, hesitation, timidity get replaced by courage and zeal to reach out to others. There were no such symbols or signs in later manifestations of the Holy Spirit for signs are not the essence. God’s Spirit causes amazement and perplexity in the minds of others causing two questions to come up. Those who feel, what does this mean/what we should do, seek Him and get filled while others who feel that ‘they are filled with wine’ remain lost in darkness.

         Holy Spirit must be central to evangelical missions to shake the space, give words of wisdom and encouragement, empower with His Word and to keep us zealous for outreach. We must keep asking for new fillings of the Spirit to gain knowledge and wisdom, strengthened faith and other gifts and to bear much fruit to touch lives of others.

          We are created for God’s glory and are tasked to take the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. On the other hand, Satan and his agents keep making all out efforts to hinder the message of truth of salvation in and through the Lord Jesus. In this daily fight we need the power of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis and like the Savior Lord, we can get this through daily prayer and worship. The day we are weak is the day ‘the roaring lion’ will surely pounce for he is always on the prowl!

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