Isaiah Journal 22: The Cleansing Fire

Isaiah 6:1-13   Link to LXE

Isaiah’s Vision and New Testament Parallels: Part 2

Isaiah Touched with Cleansing Fire

Isaiah 6:5 So I said, “Woe is me, because I am pierced to the heart, for being a man and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for I saw the King, the Lord of hosts, with my eyes!” 6 Then one of the seraphim was sent to me. He had a live coal in his hand, which he took with tongs from the altar. 7 He touched my mouth, and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips. Your lawlessness is taken away, and your sin is cleansed.” (Orthodox Study Bible)

First, Repentance

Repentance need not be formalized into a standardized statement of confession. There is no single sentence a repentant sinner must pray. True repentance can take many forms. For example, the thief on the cross repented by 1) acknowledging his guilt, 2) verbally acquiescing to the kingship of Jesus, and 3) asking Jesus directly that he might partake of his kingdom (Luke 23:39-43). In other words, the thief on the cross took the position of a humble suppliant before the Lord. But he used his own words. By the thief’s inclusion in Scripture, Jesus the King demonstrates that personal spontaneity is okay.

As sinners, our role is to repent. God’s role is to cleanse. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he cried, “Woe is me!” His confession was a spontaneous response to his vision of the Lord seated on God’s throne. The Apostle Peter provides a New Testament parallel to Isaiah’s example (Luke 5:8).

The angel received Isaiah’s repentance. He took a hot, burning coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips with this cleansing fire. He spoke the words, “Your sin is cleansed.”

Only the Blood

Sanctification is the process of making something or someone holy. It’s also a dedication of an object or person for the Lord’s sole use. Jesus illustrates the meanings of sanctification and consecration (these are nearly synonymous words) in his high priestly prayer:

John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Scripture uses an identical Greek word for “sanctify” and “consecrate” in the above verses. Only details of grammatical inflection differ. There is, however, a difference in shade of meaning. The English translators chose to use “sanctify” for the disciples. They, as sinners, needed cleansing. The same translators chose “consecrate” for Jesus’s application of the same word to himself. This is because Jesus is already holy. In this sentence, “consecrate” is used with the meaning “dedicate.” Cleansing was not necessary in Jesus’s case.

By praying this prayer, Jesus dedicates himself as the sacrificial Lamb to be presented to God upon the altar of the cross. I want to repeat this: In his prayer to God the Father, Jesus consecrates himself as the Lamb to be sacrificed upon the altar. Jesus acted as his own priest. He consecrated himself so that we could be cleansed from sin, i.e., sanctified.

Blood and Spirit

Yes, salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). It is the blood of Christ that was spilled onto heaven’s spiritual altar. Christ’s blood alone provides the sacrifice necessary for the atonement of salvation.

And salvation, blessedly, includes sanctification. There is 1) an immediate sanctification and 2) an ongoing process of sanctification. In plain English, complete holiness in our daily walk doesn’t come in a once-for-all bundle. Rather, we must work at it. Our work is to believe and cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he applies the cleansing Word of God to our conscious minds and lives.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

Isaiah 6:6 tells us that the angel took the burning coal of fire from the altar before the throne. The altar is the place where the blood of sacrifice is applied. The cleansing fire proceeds from the altar.

Cleansing Fire: Old Testament Groundwork

The Old Testament prepares the way for New Testament parallels of Isaiah’s cleansing by fire. Appearances of God have long been associated with fire. (Yahweh, the Lord, is the God who appears in the Old Testament)

  1. God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush–Exodus 3:1-6
  2. God’s appearance to Moses and the nation of Israel on Mt Sinai–Exodus 24:17
  3. Isaiah’s prophesy of the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning–Isaiah 4:4
  4. Malachi’s prophesy of the Lord’s coming as a refiner’s fire to purify and refine “the sons of Levi,” who are Israel’s priests–Malachi 3:1-3

Cleansing Fire: New Testament Parallels

  1. John the Baptist echoes Isaiah 4:4 and Malachi 3:1-3–Matthew 3:11; John 1:33; Luke 3:16-17
  2. Jesus’s followers (Peter and John) echo Malachi 3:1-3. In Malachi, the “sons of Levi” are Israel’s priests. In the New Testament, all believers together are the holy and royal priesthood of God–1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6
The Cleansing Fire of the Holy Spirit Precedes the Sending
Isaiah Was Touching by Cleansing Fire and Sent

Bear in mind from above that Isaiah’s “cleansing” indicates his sanctification and consecration for the Lord’s use.

Isaiah 6:6 Then one of the seraphim was sent to me. He had a live coal in his hand, which he took with tongs from the altar. 7 He touched my mouth, and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips. Your lawlessness is taken away, and your sin is cleansed.”

The Disciples of the Lord Jesus Received the Same Cleansing Fire

The New Testament authors boldly identify Isaiah’s cleansing fire as the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus to baptize his followers. Jesus said to his faithful disciples, “You are witnesses,” (Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8). According to these Scriptures, Jesus commissioned and sent the fire of the Holy Spirit to give his witnesses divine power to testify about him.

The tongues of cleansing fire which settled upon the disciples gathered in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost correspond to the burning coal with which the angel touched Isaiah’s lips. The fire accomplishes two purposes: 1) it cleanses, or purifies, both the lips and the message, and 2) it gives power, the power of the Holy Spirit of God to preach the Word with boldness and truth. The cleansing fire both sanctifies and commissions.

Isaiah’s Message: To Be Continued

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