It has become necessary now just it was in the beginning by God for people to understand as he truly is. This is one of chief reasons that Jesus came. To show us God as the father and not as a distant being. To a Jew who had centuries of following the law all their life they already had a conception who God was. The perception was framed within the context of the Law of Moses.
As far as they could see was a God who would visit with blessings based on their good works and abandon them to evil when they err. This was so easy to see when they look at the terms of the covenant they struck at Sinai. A covenant that God had no interest in. God was more interested in continuing on the Abrahamic covenant after all that was the covenant that got them out of the land of Egypt. This same covenant also held the promise of the seed through which all the families of the earth would be blessed.
God has dealings with them on that Mosaic covenant that covenant-obligatory which also meant certain consequences if they did not fulfill their part. Those issues within the context of the Old covenant were the peculiar experiences the Jews had through the closing books of the old testament from when the lost the land to the Babylonians, their exile and return.
One phrase that we see in the New covenant that has enjoyed widespread misinterpretation is one found in Hebrews 12:29
“for our God is a consuming fire.”
Just as my Pastor friend Paul White who always say, “When you see a “for” in the beginning of a verse then you must find what it’s there for.
This scripture has been used by many in the African church world to present a picture of a God who would personally murder the enemies of your success in life. We have sadly painted a picture of a God who went on assassination escapades. The fire of God is presented as a judgmental aspect of his dealings also in the New covenant. Consequently we have many in thousands seeking for “Men of God” who have the anointing to make God hunt down their enemies in order to get them to succeed in life.
Another way that people have misinterpreted this scripture is that they imply that it means that God burn people in hell. What they fail to see is that the scripture says nothing in context to hell fire. It would also be a misnomer to see God as hell fire. It didn’t say for our God is hell fire.
What does it mean that he is a consuming fire? First let us see the scripture again but this time with previous verses to give it content.
“25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.”
It’s very clear in this just as the theme of the book of Hebrews is all about contrasting the 2 covenants. The comparisons drawn from chapter 1 through 12 is get the believing Jews established in the New covenant and the unbelieving Jews out of the Old covenant because the writer believed that they were living in the last days. The last days of the Old covenant.
Jesus prophesied in Matt 24 about the destruction of the temple and the land. He told them the Roman armies would burn down everything.
So in the passage, he warns them not to refuse the voice of him that calls them to His rest because they receiving a kingdom. Remember that from John the Baptist the message was that the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus died and the Old covenant ended and that ushered in another kingdom, God’s kingdom. That kingdom manifested fully at the end of the age.
In Acts chapter 1 we find Jesus teaching his disciples things concerning the kingdom. It was to manifest soonest at the destruction of the former that was ruled by the prince of the power of the air.
That is why he said “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably”
Now we must also understand that he was talking to Jew who would understand the phrase he used in the following verse “for our God is a consuming fire”.
Let us see it used in the Old covenant with reference to the subject matter:
20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day. 21 Furthermore the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I would not cross over the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. 22 But I must die in this land, I must not cross over the Jordan; but you shall cross over and possess that good land. 23 Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.(Deuteronomy 4:20-24)
This was when God was about to give them the law through Moses. He gave them strict warnings that would ensure complete observance failure upon which would not be to their benefits. Their failure to remember their part in the promised land would get them to experience the consuming fire of God.
Did they forsake God? Yes. So how did God manifest as the consuming fire?
Sometime around 586BC the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and the city was burnt down. Nebuchadnezzar led his armies against Judah until they laid siege to Jerusalem for over a year, killing many people and destroying the Jewish temple, taking captive many thousands of Jews, and leaving Jerusalem in ruins.
So the writer in Hebrews was also brining their attention to a similar outcome that was to occur because the same Jews killed the prophets sent to them, crucified their covenant partner and were rejecting the new covenant. He told them God would shake the heavens and the earth. Which represented the temple and its institution.
What was the way out for them?
“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”(Hebrews 4:9,10)
The unbelieving Jews were invited to rest from their labour of works to be righteous and submit to God’s righteousness which comes through faith
“For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
‘For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge”.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
But because of their stubbornness that consuming fire also fell on them on the day it happened in the Babylonian conquest, 9th of Av 70AD.
Josephus the Jewish historian spoke of the house to house fighting that occurred:
“These Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched some what out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamour, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing . . . thus it was the holy house burnt down . . . Nor can one imagine any thing greater or more terrible than this noise; for there was at once a shout of the Roman Legions, who were marching all together, and a sad clamour of the seditious, who were now surrounded with fire and sword . . . the people under a great consternation, made sad moans at the calamity they were under . . . Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it.”
Jerusalem was totally destroyed and as Jesus had predicted – not one stone was left upon another. When the Temple was set on fire the Roman soldiers tore apart the stone to get the melted gold. The Menorah and vessels were carried to Rome and the treasury was robbed.
This is not something that we need to be afraid of again. The consuming fire has consumed anything that stands against you in drawing near to your father who loves you with an everlasting love. Be at peace we are in the kingdom that cannot be shaken.