Where did the Jews before and after Christ and the Church after Christ come up with the idea of a purification from sins involving imagery of fire etc. ? How can there be any concept of fire related to those destined for heaven ?
As a protestant I would happily explain its not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. I would point out that “If we are faithful and just He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
We are indeed forgiven and we are also cleansed of unrighteousness. But how are we purified, how is holiness obtained, where do these images of fire and flame in relation to purification originate. And dare I say purgation for that comes from the word purgare which means to purge or cleanse. Was it that the Church and the Jews before them completely ignored scripture or did scripture confirm and support the ideas they have always held ?
Here is a brief foray through the pages of scripture highlighting references to this idea. It is not exhaustive. I occasionally find more examples and update this accordingly. However it will demonstrate that these ideas are indeed mentioned in the pages of scripture, and more than a little bit. A truthful protestant will be forced to admit that it is mentioned in scripture and instead declare we are misinterpreting it. But ironically they never start by saying we misineterpret it instead they claim it isn’t mentioned. Which is telling since they profess to have a superior knowledge of scripture in the first place.
Lets start in the psalms where it says the Lord makes his angels winds and his ministers flames of fire (the 104th psalm).
he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.
Isaiah is purified of his sins by firey coal from the altar when he is before the throne in heaven. This is the passage from which we sing or recite in the Christian liturgy. It was part of the liturgy of Judasim before the Church. It is a clear scriptural example of sins being cleansed by fire.
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft.
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
Ezekiel also sees into heaven and observes many interesting things. Most notably that among the living creatures something like burning coals of fire were moving back and forth. Here is a Biblical vision of beings in a fire that is not hell.
As I looked, a stormwind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire (enveloped in brightness), from the midst of which (the midst of the fire) something gleamed like electrum. Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings, and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze. Their faces were like this: each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle. Their faces (and their wings) looked out on all their four sides; they did not turn when they moved, but each went straight forward. (Each went straight forward; wherever the spirit wished to go, there they went; they did not turn when they moved.) Human hands were under their wings, and the wings of one touched those of another. Each had two wings spread out above so that they touched one another’s, while the other two wings of each covered his body.
In among the living creatures something like burning coals of fire could be seen; they seemed like torches, moving to and fro among the living creatures. The fire gleamed, and from it came forth flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw wheels on the ground, one beside each of the four living creatures. The wheels had the sparkling appearance of chrysolite, and all four of them looked the same: they were constructed as though one wheel were within another. They could move in any of the four directions they faced, without veering as they moved. The four of them had rims, and I saw that their rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved with them; and when the living creatures were raised from the ground, the wheels also were raised. Wherever the spirit wished to go, there the wheels went, and they were raised together with the living creatures; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
Over the heads of the living creatures, something like a firmament could be seen, seeming like glittering crystal, stretched straight out above their heads. Beneath the firmament their wings were stretched out, one toward the other. (Each of them had two covering his body.)
Then I heard the sound of their wings, like the roaring of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty. When they moved, the sound of the tumult was like the din of an army. (And when they stood still, they lowered their wings.)
Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen, looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man. Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum; downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire; he was surrounded with splendor. Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day was the splendor that surrounded him. Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I had seen it, I fell upon my face and heard a voice that said to me:
The prophet Ezekiel also sees heaven as it was before the fall of Satan himself. Here we see that in heaven with God are stones of fire among which the angels walk. It was from amon the stones of fire that evil was expelled in the beginning.
“Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, topaz, and jasper, chrysolite, beryl, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald; and wrought in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire.
The prophet Zecharai speaks of people being brought through fire, being refined and purified by it and this in the context of salvation and of Christ.
I will bring the one third through fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested. They shall call upon my name, and I will hear them. I will say, “They are my people,” and they shall say, “The LORD is my God.
The prophet Malachi speaks of the refiners fire purifying the sons of Levi in the context of their salvation by Christ.
And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying (silver), and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
And Malachi also says below of the fire of God at his coming that is both a destroying fire and healing rays.
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.
Now in the Wisdom of Solomon we read of those who are in the hand of God and are not touched by torment though first chastised a little and tried as gold in a furnace, as a sacrifical offering.
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
The gospels speak of this as well. Christ is said, by John the Baptist, to be the one who will baptise ( or wash/cleanse ) us with water and with fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.
Everyone will be salted with fire.
Of course there is the fire of pentecost but that was just the apostles and we find more such quotes in the epistles and onward. Paul says in Corinthians that our works will be tried with fire, what is evil will be burned up, what is good will remain, we will suffer loss and yet be saved.
If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.
In 2 Timothy, in a classic jewish funeral prayer, Paul prays for his friend to find rest in “that day”, as he speaks of the day in the passage to the Corinthians.
May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord 12 on that day.
Hebrews agains speaks of creatures being made flames of fire when it quotes the above psalm.
And again, when he leads the first-born into the world, he says: “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Of the angels he says: “He makes his angels winds and his ministers a fiery flame”
Hebrews describes how being disciplined, though in an earthly context which is part of our eternal journey, produces holiness though it seems as if we are suffering. It is done to us out of love and for our own good. This holiness is the holiness that without which we will not see the Lord.
Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not (then) submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews likewise describes God as a consuming fire.
For our God is a consuming fire.
The apostle Peter also speaks of us having to suffer to that the genuiness of our faith is proved and references it being tested by fire.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of (your) faith, the salvation of your souls.
In the Revelation of St. John we read of the souls under the altar, recall the altar who’s firey coals purified Isaiah, asking how long oh Lord. They are given a white robe and told to wait a little longer.
I saw underneath the altar 8 the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, “How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little while longer until the number was filled of their fellow servants and brothers who were going to be killed as they had been.
And then we see the great multitude on the sea of glass which no man could count all wearing the white robes who have come through suffering or tribulation. This sea is a sea of glass and fire.
Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory
And we read
After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches 6 in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.
Finally in the end of days even hades gives up the dead that are still in it. Hades is destroyed and only the eternal fire remains.
I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death. ) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.
The theme of purifying fire, of holiness through discipline and suffering in this life and as we move to the permanent reward in heaven runs through the entire scripture from front to back. Christ died to make a way out of death, or hell, for us and we are forgiven but we are not now perfect and we must be made perfect, obtain the holiness without which we cannot see god. It is why the Jews before the church, the church after christ and indeed most all the pagans in their myths as well speak of such things in various ways. All people knew it at one time.