In this passage, we find a certain statement repeated twice: “The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out.” From verse 8 all through verse 13 we read regulations regarding keeping the fire burning. The priest must put on a certain kind of garment to handle the ashes from the previous day, because they have come off of the holy altar. When the priest carries the ashes outside of the camp to a clean place, he must change into different clothes, because this is a holy thing. There is solemnity and sacredness about this. Everything screams holy, holy, holy about the procedure even of taking the ashes off of the altar.
Hebrews 8:5, “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
There is a lot wrapped up in this. Christ is our sacrifice on the heavenly altar. The sacrifices all point to an ultimate heavenly type. The tabernacle, the altar, the instruments, the symbols of worship in the Tabernacle, and even the Ark of the Covenant all represent heavenly realities. I want to briefly look at Revelation 4 to give you a little more understanding in this before we begin to dissect what this heavenly altar and fire might be.
John is taken up to heaven and he beholds a throne. Classically, the throne of God was regarded as the Ark of the Covenant. We have Scriptures like Psalm 80:1, “You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth…” This is also hinted at in 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Samuel 6:2, and Isaiah 37:16. Before the throne is a sea of glass, which seems reminiscent of 1 Kings 7:23-45 where Solomon builds “The Sea” in the Temple. In the vision of Revelation 4, we find seven lamp stands, which are connected to the image of menorah. The four living creatures are identified in Ezekiel as cherubim (10:2, 20), which would explain again why we see four of them in this vision. In 1 Kings 6:23-28 we read about Solomon building two large cherubim in the Holy of Holies, where the Ark sat. On top of the Ark were two cherubim (Exodus 25:17-20). What John sees is the heavenly Tabernacle.
We find in Revelation 8:3 a mention of “the golden altar”. What is offered upon this altar is “much incense and the prayers of all the saints”. In Revelation 8:3, the altar is before the throne. The heavenly reality is what the earthly Tabernacle was patterned after. Thus, when we read in Leviticus about the fire that must continue to be burning, it must also reflect the heavenly fire upon the altar. It is upon that altar, according to Hebrews 9:24-28, that Christ Jesus was offered.
We read in Hebrews 13:11-16, “The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Does this make sense to you? Christ has been sacrificed, and there is now no more need for sacrifices before God – at least not redemptive sacrifices. Now we offer our own bodies, as discussed with the grain offering, and we sacrifice the fruit of our lips before God. Our sacrifices that we give to God upon that heavenly altar are the blameless walk before Him through the Spirit, and the praise of our lips. That praise may be confession of our faith; it may be confession to one another of our shortcomings. The confession might be speaking the truth in love to one another. What is obvious is that whatever the fruit of our lips would entail, it is above all things worship unto a holy God.
To come back to Leviticus 6, then, we ask what the fire is. We speak in evangelicalism about fire quite a bit. We consider fire to be passion. I don’t think so. Fire was what consumed the sacrifice. It was what caused for the pleasing aroma to reach unto God’s nostrils. The fire is necessary in our lives, not as passion, but as baptism. Matthew 3:11, for example, speaks of a baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. I think this is Hebrew parallelism. It is saying the same thing twice. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the baptism of fire. We read in Acts 2:1-4 of this baptism. A sound like a violent wind comes from heaven and fills the whole house, and what seem like tongues of fire separate and come to rest upon each of the people gathered for the feast.
Notice here that the point is not speaking in tongues, but rather the shape of the flames. Speaking in tongues is described in the following verses. This baptism of fire is something crucial to understand. Many people like to recite the stories from the Gospels of these disciples that are dim-witted, carnal, impetuous “saints”. We can take comfort in how similar we are to them. What they don’t explain is that you find in the book of Acts and in the epistles quite different men. How is it that in John 20 these men are hiding behind locked doors afraid of the Pharisees, and then in Acts 2-4 the same men are speaking to thousands of people boldly without regard for their preservation? Something extreme has taken place.
That is the nature of the baptism of fire. All of the disciples claimed that they would be willing to die for Christ. And, if there would have been some sort of battle that Jesus waged against the Romans, I’m sure the disciples would have indeed gone down in blazing glory. That isn’t what happened, though. Jesus gave himself willingly into the hands of the authorities, and every single disciple ran. More took place than Jesus rising from the grave. Though I’m sure that had tremendous impact, we find at the end of all of the Gospels and in the first chapter of Acts that these disciples still lack faith, they lack hope, and they lack holiness. But after Pentecost, something happens.
This is the fire. This is what it means to be priests that continue to keep the fire burning. Though the truth is that none of us can in our own strength and ability be what God has called us to be, we are not left to our own devices. God has provided redemption through the Messiah, and sealing through the Holy Spirit. That baptism of fire consumes all of the dross. It purges. It cleanses. It changes the person. We are changed into a different person when we come to Christ, and second work takes place in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
To keep this fire burning is to continually find yourself back at that altar. It is to have continual disposition of ministering before the Lord, whether in the prayer closet or out on the street. We pray without ceasing. Our lives are lived from the reality of eternity. Our thoughts, our deeds, our words, our actions, our ambitions, our strength, and all aspects of our daily lives are solely lived from the reality that we are behind that veil and standing in the presence of the angelic hosts that cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty…”
This is what it means to keep that fire burning in our daily lives and hearts. It has much more to do with finding yourself at constant devotion to Christ than it has to do with performing something. It isn’t necessarily about performance. It is about willingness and disposition. We stand before God at that throne day and night. Our every moment is lived out before Him.
May God help us all to find that desperation to be consumed, and to thus live out our lives in constant communion with Him.