Key Verse: Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) prophesied that The Coming One would mikveh (baptize) with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), and with fire (Matthew 3:11), and we see this fulfillment carried out in the Book of Acts. Yahshua’s disciples were baptized with the Ruach HaKodesh on Shavuot or as it is referred to in the New Testament, the Day of Pentecost.
The question I want to put before you is did He (Yahshua) at the same time baptize them with fire.
In Acts 2:3 we read:
Acts 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost…
Many Christians have assumed that the answer is yes, that the baptism of fire and the baptism of the Ruach HaKodesh took place simultaneously. They take for granted that the “tongues of fire” mentioned in Acts 2:3 are a fulfillment of Yochanan’s prophesy about a baptism of fire. .
The question then is: Were these “tongues of fire” on the Day of Shavuot/Pentecost that “baptism of fire” that John prophesied in Matthew 3:11?
When Yahshua later prophesied about the Day of Shavuot/Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 11:16), He says nothing about fire: “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).” In this post resurrection saying of Yahshua, He instructs his disciples not to return to Galilee, but to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized in the Ruach HaKodesh. We notice that Yahshua is clearly referring what is to take place on the Day of Shavuot/Pentecost makes absolutely no mention of fire or a baptism of fire. If you were the recipient of that message what you would be waiting for is the Baptism of the Ruach HaKodesh and not a baptism of fire.
Well, you say to me that the Scripture of Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:3 seem perfectly clear to me, and Rabbi you just have to be wrong in your interpretation here. Hey, we all make mistakes so we’ll forgive you! Not so!
The problem comes as it does when anyone who has a preconceived notion interprets scripture as many do with Peter’s dream about unpermitted food (tref) in Acts 10:14. The answer there is in Acts 10:34 where He perceives that the vision of unclean animals was not referring to permitted or unpermitted food at all but to men being clean or unclean before G-d. Their bias leads them to ignore the obvious truth and arrive at a misinterpretation.
Like in Peter’s dream we also see in John’s message reported in Matthew 3:11 that what is meant is clarified in the very next verse through a beautiful allegory.
Mat 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (KJV)
To John who came in the spirit of Eliyahu (Elijah) fire was a symbol of judgment. Isaiah also often used this symbol to indicate judgment. In Isaiah 66: 15-16 we read:
Isa 66:15 For, behold, the LORD (YHVH) will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.
Isa 66:16 For by fire and by his sword will YHVH plead with all flesh: and the slain of the YHVH shall be many.
The Tanakh usually speaks of “fire” as something that “eats up” or “devours something.” Fire is an overwhelming thing that destroys in minutes or a few hours. Hebrews 12:29 quotes Deuteronomy 4:24 pronouncing: “Our G-d is a devouring fire.” Fire as used in our Bible is the perfect symbol of destruction and as a result a figure of judgment.
Because our English translations fail to carry the Hebrew thought into it, our key verse Luke 12:49-50 remain a puzzle to most English readers, which leads to misinterpretations and confusion. What we fail to understand is that these verses are not English or even Greek; but pure undisguised Hebrew. In just two short verses here we have a whole complex of Hebraisms.
Luke 12:49 “I have come to bring (or cast) fire on the earth, and how I wish it (the earth) were already kindled (burned up)!
Luke 12:50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed (all over)! (KJV)
First of all, we need to recognize that these verses of Yahshua speaking are a beautiful example of Hebrew poetry. It should not be necessary to say, but Hebrew poetry is not like English poetry. In this case, it does not rhyme, but more important Hebrew poetry echoes the same thought, but each time in different words while English poetry is a repetition of the same sound. This feature of Hebrew poetry is called parallelism. Parallelism is the placing side-by-side two synonymous phrases or sentences. You will note it repeatedly in the Tanakh. An example in II Samuel is the verse: “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.” The son of Jesse is a synonym for “David,” and “inheritance” is equivalent to “portion.”
In our passage “baptism” is parallel to “fire.” “Baptism” is parallel to “bring or cast;” and “how distressed I am till it is over” is equivalent of “how I wish it was already “kindled or burned up.”
To English speakers this doubling up is disconcerting and seems superfluous, but to the Hebrew speaker if is a most beautiful form of the language. Further confusion arises in connection with the tense of the verb “come” in “I have come.” Should it be translated as, “I came to cast fire upon the earth,” or “I have come to cast fire upon the earth”?
Hebrew does not have a sophisticated tense system like English or Greek. In English we can distinguish between simple past (he wrote), present perfect (he has written), and past perfect continuous (he was writing).” In Hebrew, there is only one form of the verb past. All of the foregoing forms of the English verb “write” would be translated in Hebrew by the same word- “katav)
In Verse 49 the word “come” (elthon) in is the aorist tense, like the simple past tense of English and conveys a simple action in the past. To express continuous action in the past or present, Greek has other tenses so this verb here can only be translated as “I came.” However, to understand that Yahshua is saying that He came once at some particular time in the past does not make sense because he is speaking about the present. Yet, the context forces the translators to translate it as “I have come.”
This error happens because the translator of a Hebraism into the Greek text and the English translator of a Greek text into an English text does not consider that he is translating a translation of a translation, and that Greek translators who translated Hebrew into the Greek traditionally used the Greek aorist tense to translate the Hebrew past tense and that leads us astray. The idea of salvation is a good example. Take the word “saved,” and you and I are “saved.” “Saved,” conveys the idea of something that happened in the past one time, once and for all, but the Greek tense here means being saved is a continuous ongoing action, so that it should mean you and I are being saved. So when we testify we are saved, and give a date, etc., we are not being biblically accurate, Salvation is a process of on-going salvation and not a once in a lifetime past action. In other words, you and I are in the process of being saved, and Scripture confirms this because it plainly teaches that we might fall from grace and lose our salvation. If the translator does realize it, then he is bound to translate it not as “I came” but “I have come” because in this case Yahshua is speaking in the present and not in the past tense. This may seem insignificant to you because you have the explanation, but the impact on other verses such as verses addressing the process of salvation leads to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
Another problem is how we perceive the text in the English. The phrase “I have come” conveys the idea that Yahshua has just left His heavenly throne as the Servant of G-d and am coming to earth. However, in Hebrew it is an idiomatic expression that means or denotes the speaker’s intention or purpose. It does not mean, “I have come” in the literal sense.
He is using “come” here in its idiomatic sense: “I intend to cast fire upon the earth; My purpose or better My task is to cast fire upon the earth. I could go on literally examining each word and pointing out all the Hebraisms in these two verses, but time does not permit it. Most English readers suppose that Yahshua is saying He wished the judgment had already come but that is not the case. This interpretation and translation makes a mockery of all that He taught and sought to accomplish, the saving of men’s lives. One might translate the clause “How I wish” as “How could I wish” and to see why this should be so; we need to see the Greek as it is literally. It says “And what I wish “if” already (it) has been set on fire.” The “if” here changes the meaning to “how could I wish.” He is saying “how could I wish it” He is not willing that any should perish.
This being an audible lesson it may have been hard for you to grasp but if you would take a good lexicon and the Strong’s concordance you can recreate it by going to your concordance and any good Greek lexicon that includes the parts of speech and decipher it yourself. Only a little more is required and that is learning that the ends of Greek words denote to what part of speech and how it fits grammatically when parsing the verse or words.
And that leads us back to Acts 2:3… Were the disciples baptized with fire as well as the Ruach HaKodesh? It seems unlikely. Hermeneutically, fire represents judgment. Christians use this verse to support a position that a believer has to be baptized with the Ruach in such a way that there is a demonstration of a phenomena like speaking in tongues or being baptized with fire used synonymously as evidence of being baptized in the Spirit. This is a contradiction because biblically fire in most all cases represents judgment. Being informed by the lessons we have just covered let me first give you the literal translation: “And there appeared being distributed tongues as of fire, and sat upon each one each of them, and they were filled all with Spirit Holy, and began to speak with other tongues.” Do you recognize the Hebrew parallelism here in this scripture: “distributed tongues” and “other tongues.” Let me say right here that the other languages were not “unknown” but recognizable languages such as Peter spoke at the Temple where Jews from all over the Diaspora heard him in their own native tongues. These other tongues were articulate languages that were understandable to a person whose native language it was. In your bible where there is a reference to “unknown” tongues, you will notice that the word “unknown” is italicized. This means it is a supplied word and is not in the manuscript. It is a word the translator(s) put in on his own authority. We know that “light” is a symbol of divine presence, but the word here employed for “fire” is the Greek word puros. It is a noun, genitive, singular, neuter describing tongues which is a noun, nominative, plural, feminine. The word “pur” of the genitive “puros” can mean “lighting,” from which the translators in the KJV got fire or it can mean violence, fury of battle or anarchy. Taking its usage from Mathew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17 and the above “fire,” this word so employed here depicts trials, and adversities that cleanse and purify a believer’s faith instead of the word “light” which is a symbol of divine presence.
To better understand, let me read from a passage in Matthew and there is another similar one in Luke 3: 16-17 you can read, that will give you the understanding of how the word “fire” in Acts 2: 3 is qualified by the succeeding verses.
Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Mat 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Notice the parallelism here? Holy ghost is linked with fire here as in Acts 3:2, but the fire is the force that purifies and separates the believer from the unbeliever as evidenced in verses 12 of Matthew and verse 17 of Luke of the respective passages. So there is no guesswork of what fire means. It is a force of judgment. This coupled with the other lessons we have learned, surely, Acts 3:2 means: That those coming to G-d via trust in the faithfulness of Yahshua will receive two things: they will be purged with fire through trials and adversity that cleanses and purifies the believer and the second thing they are given is the Ruach HaKodesh for empowerment. Given the comforter, that will stand alongside us to strengthen and encourage us to persevere and overcome. We would have fewer sunshine believers if they knew that by committing their lives to G-d they not only receive the blessings, but also the trials and adversities that go along with the privilege of being sons and daughters of G-d.
Lastly, when we read this verse correctly we find it in agreement with other scriptures that warn us that a believer’s life will be full of challenges. And we are to take up our execution stake, follow the example of Yahshua, confronting adversity, and trials head on. We, you and I must correctly divide the word of G-d instead of making out of it doctrines that divides believers, and leads them to expectations that are clearly not evident in scripture. We must be careful of the leaven of the religious establishment and come back to the Word of G-d, Torah.