In the Old Testament, the Lord appeared to Moses in the wilderness in the form of a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and after the Exodus, He walked among them in the form of a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21–22). The Lord commanded His priests saying, “A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out” (Leviticus 6:13).
The fire on the altar was a reflection of God’s presence and power and represented His continual ministry on behalf of His children. In the New Testament, the Messiah was to baptize people with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). After the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost came down and filled the people taking the form “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3).
The temple fire was originally kindled by God Himself: “and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24). No other source of fire was acceptable to God. When the sons of Aaron attempted to put a foreign fire, they were rejected by God (Numbers 3:4).
The Jews affirm that this fire burned continuously through their sojourning years in the wilderness. It was again sent down during the dedication of the new temple by Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1) and presumably continued until the Babylonian captivity. Some Hebrew traditions even claim that it continued for more than 1,400 years never being allowed to be put out until the final destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in 70 AD.
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In His service,
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