What is the ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire’ from the biblical perspective?
Many will say that there is only one reference to this topic coming from the words of John the Baptist as found in Matthew 3:11:
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:
John was baptizing those who came to him when he saw that there were Pharisees and Sadducees among the crowd. He used the opportunity to presage the coming of the Messiah who would offer a second baptism; that of the Holy Ghost and fire.
The subsequent baptism of Christ had these two components. He was baptized with water by John, followed by the spirit of God descending upon Him. Could this be considered a baptism of the spirit? I would suggest this is the case.
In the first chapter of Acts, we are given the last words of the resurrected Christ to the twelve:
4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
This, I would suggest, is consistent with the message found in Matthew 3, that there are two baptisms – baptism of water unto repentance and baptism of spirit.
Shortly after the ascension of Christ, the twelve were gathered together on the day of Pentecost with this result:
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
So here we have these men being ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ and having what appeared to be ‘fire’ standing upon them in literal fulfillment of the words of the Messiah and John the Baptist. They were baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
In the tenth chapter of Acts, we read of Cornelius, a gentile whose prayers and alms were noted by God. He was to become the first non-Jew to be brought into the kingdom.
44 ¶ While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
From verse 47 one can determine that Cornelius and his household received the same baptism that Peter and his associates received. I find it interesting that the sequence was reversed in the case of Cornelius, he having received the baptism of the Holy Ghost before the baptism of water unto repentance.
Further in the eleventh chapter of Acts, we read of Peter’s report of the incident to the brethren in Jerusalem:
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
Peter relates that Cornelius experienced the same type of event as the apostles did on the day of Pentecost. He then links it also to the statement of John the Baptist uttered in Matthew. I would suggest that these three events are consistent – that the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire occurred in each case. As such, I would consider the baptism of fire a component in this second baptism.
Where else does one find reference to water and spirit? Of course, John 3 gives us the same message:
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
This dual birth has the same components as the baptism described earlier. In going back to the Greek, one can find that the ‘see’ found in verse 3 can be suggestive of perceiving or having knowledge of the kingdom of God. This is certainly different from the act of ‘entering’ the kingdom of God described in verse 5.
This earth has received its baptism of water. It will yet receive its baptism of fire. While the wicked will be consumed by that fire, the earth itself will be sanctified and purged of all dross and iniquity. I would suggest the same is true for us as individuals. The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost will sanctify us and purge us of all iniquity.
I would suggest that the second baptism, described by John the Baptist, promised by the Savior, and experienced by the early church, is a glorious and life changing experience. It removes the burden of sin and guilt and leaves the person with a joy that is beyond description. It is truly the entry point into the kingdom of God.