Matthew 3:11 mentions three types of baptism. One is called a baptism of fire. What exactly is the baptism of fire? Should you seek this kind of baptism?
John the Baptist told a large crowd that had gathered where he was baptizing, “I indeed baptize you with water unto 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.”
“He who is coming after me” was referring to Jesus Christ. So John was saying that he was baptizing with water and Jesus would (in the future) baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
This did not mean that Jesus would abolish and replace water baptism. John the Baptist meant that in addition to water baptism, Jesus would add two outcomes that could only come from God: the Holy Spirit and fire.
So what are the three types of baptism in the Bible?
- Water baptism.
- Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
- Baptism of fire.
This is why many years later, the author of Hebrews lists “baptisms” (plural) as one of the foundational doctrines of the Church of God (Hebrews 6:2).
The word baptize comes from a Greek word that means “to immerse.” John was immersing people in the water of the Jordan River. That’s what water baptism literally is: the complete immersion of a human body in water for “the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Immersion in water symbolizes the burial of the “old man” and the forgiving of past sin.
For further information about baptism, see our article “What Do the Symbols of Baptism Mean?”
But what exactly did John mean when he said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire? What is the difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire?
What is baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Roughly 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to the apostles and told them that they would soon be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Act 1:5).
Jesus’ statement was fulfilled a few days later on the Day of Pentecost when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4, emphasis added throughout). This was the fulfillment of what John the Baptist and Jesus had said would happen. This was the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Before this time, when people were baptized by a servant of God, they only were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Beginning on the Day of Pentecost, a new element was added to Christian baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Later the book of Acts reveals that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” takes place after a person is baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins through a ceremony called the laying on of hands.
We see an example of this process in Acts 19. When Paul was in Ephesus, he came across a group of disciples who, he discovered, had not experienced a full Christian baptism.
But after they learned the fullness of the gospel, Paul helped them take the next steps:
- First, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5). This was water baptism by immersion whereby they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and received forgiveness of their sins.
- Second, “Paul … laid hands on them, [and] the Holy Spirit came upon them” (verse 6). This completed the baptism process and provided them the Holy Spirit. This was baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Did the baptism of fire also occur on Pentecost?
Some people believe that on the Day of Pentecost, the baptism with fire also took place. This is based on a misunderstanding of Acts 2:3: “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” But notice that these were tongues “as of” fire, not literal fire.
Luke, the author of Acts, was using fire as an image to describe this miracle to his readers. The Bible doesn’t describe “tongues, as of fire” appearing on Christians baptized after this. This was a unique miracle that happened on this special occasion.
When something happens for the first time in the Bible, God often performs a dramatic miracle to draw attention to it. That’s what was happening with these believers on the Day of Pentecost.
Confusion about this has led some people to desire fire to be a part of their baptism. Some have said, “I want that baptism with the Spirit and fire!”
Let’s now discover exactly what it means to be baptized with fire. As we will see, the baptism of fire is something nobody should desire to experience!
What is baptism by fire?
What does it mean to be baptized by fire?
We learn the answer by reading the context of John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus baptizing “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Right before the statement, he talked about what will ultimately happen to those who don’t “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (verse 8).
John was talking about the commitment to change that is proof of repentance. Real repentance is a necessary starting place for developing righteous character that would result from having the Holy Spirit. Years later, Paul wrote about the link between fruit and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Notice what John said about those not bearing fruit: “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
A few verses later he said, “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verse 12). John was warning that fire will be the fate of those who refuse to repent and “bear good fruit.”
This refers to the final punishment for unrepentant people after Jesus Christ’s return and 1,000-year rule on earth. Revelation 20:15 tells us that unrepentant people will be “cast into the lake of fire.”
This is what the baptism of fire is. The baptism of fire is being immersed in the lake of fire. Unlike water baptism, which is immersion in water to “newness of life” (Romans 6:4), the baptism of fire is immersion in fire that results in eternal death (Romans 6:23). This is the “everlasting punishment” that Jesus later referred to (Matthew 25:46).
What does the Bible say about eternal punishment?
The baptism of fire is also referred to in Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
This scripture gives us a basic listing of sinful character traits that will not allow a person to receive eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Those who ultimately refuse to repent of those things will experience the baptism of fire, or the second death, eternal death in the lake of fire.
This was also prophesied by Malachi, hundreds of years before John wrote the book of Revelation. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up” (Malachi 4:1).
The baptism with fire will be the destruction of incorrigible sinners who refuse to repent. Some of these people are described in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-27. To learn more about how this connects to the sin Jesus said could not be forgiven, read our article “Unpardonable Sin: What Is It?”
God also destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone for their sins. The difference is that the people who perished in Sodom and Gomorrah will be resurrected in the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-12; see also Matthew 11:23-24).
On the other hand, the Bible shows that those who are destroyed in the lake of fire will be destroyed forever. They will not be cruelly tormented in hell for eternity, but will be mercifully destroyed and cease to exist. To learn more about the many misconceptions of hell that people have, read “What Christianity Gets Wrong About Hell.”
In fact, Jesus is the One who will authorize the destruction of the incorrigibly wicked in the lake of fire. This point is illustrated in Matthew 13:40-42 in the parable of the tares. The sinners will be immersed or engulfed in the lake of fire.
This is the baptism with fire, and this is the baptism none of us want to go through!
For more information, read “What Is the Punishment of the Wicked?”