Atheist to the Christian

05 Hardened hearts burning with fire

Posted May 10, 2018 by Adrian Ebens in Pathway
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In chapter one we considered the death of the cross and the amazing love it displayed. In chapter two we viewed the depth of tenderness in the Father and Son relationship. These two truths give us an important foundation upon which to understand the character of God and the nature of His kingdom. Chapter nine of Luke provides us an excellent narrative that shows what happens when we resist the cross. It gives us a picture of how men allow themselves to desire God to burn people alive in retribution for their sins believing this is in harmony with His character.

Luke 9:18-20

Matt 16:13-17

Mark 8:27-29

Father and Son relationship revealed

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ of God. Matthew records that Peter stated He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus tells Peter that this knowledge is a spiritual revelation from the Father and no man can learn this himself apart from God showing it to him.

Luke 9:21-22

Matt 16:21-23

Mark 8:31-33

First warning of the cross.

Jesus gives first warning about the human hatred for the submissive Son of God and how He will be killed. Peter reacts strongly to this and states emphatically that this is not going to happen! Peter refuses to allow his ambitions for greatness to be crucified. This is a denial of the cross. Jesus rebukes the spirit of Satan that inspired Peter’s comment.


First hardening

There is no record of Peter or the disciples responding to the coming cross and how they might prepare. This begins to harden the hearts of the disciples to the sufferings of Christ and His cross.

Luke 9:23-27

Matt 16:24-28

Mark 8:34-38

Call to take up the cross of self-denial

Jesus warns the disciples that their worldly ambitions must be laid down if they wish to follow Him. There is no worldly honour in the path He is treading. There is only self-denial and service to others.

Luke 9:28-36

Matt 17:1-8

Mark 9:1-6

Father commands them to hear His Son.

In mercy the Father reveals the glory of His Son and urges them to listen to what He is saying. The previous refusal of the cross means the disciples do not have perfect love and so they fear greatly the voice from heaven. Fear hath torment. “He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.

Luke 9:37-42

Matt 17:14-21

Mark 9:14-29

Unbelief is manifested

The refusal to accept the cross begins to reveal itself in unbelief. The disciples can’t cast out the demon because their hearts are still influenced by their desire for greatness. Jesus labels their lack of faith as a warning.

Luke 9:44-45

Matt 17:22-23

Mark 9:31-32

Second warning of the cross. Heart hardens even more.

In love Jesus again tells of the cross in order to help them give up their cherished ambition but again they reject this call to repentance and simply enter into sorrow about what He is saying. Their hearts harden even more as a result.

Luke 9:46-48

Matt 18:1

Mark 9:33-38

Selfish ambition grows

The disciples open the door to Satan who tempts them to discuss which of them is the greatest among them. Jesus responds by placing a small child among them and warns them that unless they become like this child they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 9:49-50

Mark 9:38-39

Spirit of dominance appears.

Since the disciples were seeking for the greatest position they did not want anyone else to take that position and so exercised a spirit of force towards their perceived competitors.

Luke 9:51-54

Spirit of murder appears and justified through Scripture.

In refusing the cross of self-denial the disciples’ hearts were taken over by a spirit of pride leading to control and then murder. The hardening of their hearts led them to see nothing wrong with killing people in the name of God.

The disciples did not wish to accept the warnings of Jesus about His impending death at the cruel hands of the nation’s leaders. They had pinned all their ambition for national greatness upon Him; they had perceived Christ not as He was but as they wanted Him to be. Their aspiration was for Christ to be Barabbas[1], and the reality of the cross crucified their dreams and turned them to dust. They chose not to embrace the cross and begin to comprehend the tremendous relational suffering that Christ experiences each and every day in seeing almost everyone reject and despise His message, mission, and His person as the representative of the Father. Instead, they chose to ignore this suffering which in turn hardened their hearts.

When at the baptism of Jesus, the heavenly Father announced to the world His deep affection for His Son; a door was opened to truly comprehend the love, tenderness, and sensitivity of God and His Son. It is this sensitivity that causes Them to bear this terrible cross of agony through self-denial. Each day Their hearts are torn by human selfishness, pride, and indulgence. The freedom loving character of God allows men to continue to despise and reject Him for years and He never retaliates. He allows their hearts to harden and sadly watches them destroying themselves while ever seeking to stop them from doing this. The disciples were invited to begin to comprehend the brightness of this love, but the cross was not what they wanted and, as Israel had told Moses to cover the brightness of His face, the disciples put a veil over their hearts to prevent the truth from softening them.

When Cain and Abel watched the death of the lamb, Cain put a veil over his heart to obscure the meaning of the suffering, and thus the lamb actually became a catalyst to harden his heart which prepared him to murder his brother. As Abel beheld the lamb he trembled as he contemplated its implications. He thought of the Lamb of God broken for us and he wept with a broken heart. The same sacrificial lamb yielded totally opposite results in the two men.

Such is the light of the cross. The light is so bright that we must either fall on the Rock and be broken or resist and become as hard as a rock and consequently crushed by our own guilt when we are finally faced with the truth of the love of God.

These principles are critical for us to understand the stories of the Bible correctly. Unless we can accept the tender love of the Father for His Son our hearts cannot be truly softened to interpret God’s judgments. A loving father would never burn his children alive, pouring molten brimstone on them as they shriek in dying agony. To believe that God could do this is simply to not understand the relationship of the Father and His Son and the grace that pours forth from them to the universe. To not understand the cross causes men to forget the agony He goes through when being despised, hated, and rejected; yet He refuses to give up on those who reject Him. He leaves His heart open to the very last, hoping that sinners will turn to Him. If in the end they reject and turn completely away from Him, every rejection causes Him immense pain. It is a pain that we as sinners recoil from in sorrow, anger, and disgust. We would never allow someone to do this to us over and over again. Leaving His heart open to rejection is the true cross of the Father manifested in His Son.

The power and mystery of the cross explains all other mysteries concerning the judgments of God. Wherever we see judgments falling upon men in Scripture we must interpret them in the light of the cross for this is the place where mercy and justice kiss each other. The Scriptures tell us:

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:  Galatians 3:13

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  Isaiah 53:5

Jesus has paid the wages and suffered the curse of sin. He died the death of those who at the end of time refuse salvation and choose rather to die. If Jesus died a death different than the death at the end of time then He did not pay the wages of sin. The question then is, Did Jesus suffer the fires of hell? If the final death of the wicked has them burn in the flames of hell and Jesus did not pay that price, then He did not pay the penalty for sin. Did Jesus experience fire on the cross? Notice how Paul connects doing good to those who don’t deserve it to coals of fire to the soul.

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.  Romans 12:20

When the children of Israel saw the glory of God at Mt Sinai it appeared to them as devouring fire.

And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.  Exodus 24:17

When the selfless love of God is revealed to a selfish person, the sense of guilt they experience burns in the heart so greatly that it causes physical pain. The experience of Jesus on the cross is prophesied in several Psalms.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?  Psalm 22:1

I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. (3) My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,  Psalm 39:2-3

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. (5) The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. (6) In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. (7) Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. (8) There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.  Psalm 18:4-8

The wages of sin is death. What actually brings about that death is the guilt that sinners experience when they are confronted with how evil they are. The only way that evil is exposed is when God’s character is revealed in contrast. When the character of God is revealed it is as a devouring fire to the wicked because, as the sinner perceives the purity, selflessness, and grace of God in comparison to their selfish, evil nature, the sense of guilt is as coals of fire in their hearts. At the coming of Christ the wicked will be destroyed by the brightness of the coming of Christ.

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:  2 Thessalonians 2:8

Christ is the brightness of the Father’s glory, Hebrews 1:3 and the Father’s glory is His character. Exodus 33:18; 34:6,7. The loveliness and beauty of Christ’s character will be fully revealed at His coming and this revelation will be a fire that is joy to the righteous and death to the wicked.

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:  Revelation 14:10

The word for brimstone is theion which comes from Theos meaning God and carries the meaning of divine incense. It also means flashing. When we look at incense in the sanctuary described in heaven we notice the connection to fire.

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. (4) And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. (5) And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.  Revelation 8:3-5

The incense represents the divine presence of God that is like fire. This is what is meant by the brimstone. Again we see this in Isaiah:

Behold, the name [character] of the LORD cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire: (28) And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err… (30) And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones… (33) For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.  Isaiah 30:27-28,30,33

Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.  Jeremiah 5:14

...for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. 
Song of Solomon 8:6

God’s love is a fire and for the righteous the burning of that love in the heart is beautiful. This is what the disciples experienced on the day of Pentecost.

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.  Acts 2:2-3

The Scriptures tell us clearly there will be those who can live in this fire of God’s character; the righteous who will burn forever in the fire of God’s love, for God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29. While the wicked are crushed by the guilt of their sins, those who trust in the merits of Christ have their hearts burning with love and gratitude.

The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (15) He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;  Isaiah 33:14-15

At the end of time the sinner will receive his wages, and who pays these wages?

For the wages of sin is death…  Romans 6:23

Sin pays the wages. It is the crushing weight of guilt and the realisation of knowing that whilst through all their lives the sinner was rejecting the pleadings of the Spirit of Christ, he was daily piercing Christ with his harsh words and vile attitudes towards others. When the sinner realises all that he has done to Christ through his life, his own sense of justice will demand death. Like Cain the sinner will cry, “My iniquity is greater than can be forgiven.”

This whole experience was carried by Christ on the cross. He suffered the fires of hell. He was made sin for us and felt the crushing weight of sin upon Him as He exhausted the curse. What He experienced on the cross is what the wicked will experience at the end of time.

And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. (10) And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.  Revelation 20:9-10

Again the Scriptures tell us how Satan will die:

Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.  Ezekiel 28:18

This text gives the clear sequence of how this takes place:

  1. Satan defiled himself by the multitude of his iniquity and trafficking those sins to others.
  2. The next word therefore gives the resulting consequence.
  3. I will bring forth a fire from the midst of thee – the fire of guilt. How does God bring this forth? The revelation of His character of love as transcribed in the law.
  4. And IT shall devour thee. So it is the fire coming forth from within Satan born of his guilt from iniquity that will devour him.
  5. AND then Satan is brought to ashes upon the ground after he has been devoured.

Satan can’t avoid seeing all the evil that he is and all the evil he has done while in the presence of God. The loving purity and holiness of God is so selfless it brings complete and utter self-condemnation that comes forth from the heart as a burning fire. This process devours Satan. After he is devoured and is dead he is turned to ashes upon the ground through cleansing fire.

The destruction of the wicked is described in the historical book of 2nd Esdras in the following manner:

And this my Son shall rebuke the wicked inventions of those nations, which for their wicked life are fallen into the tempest; (38) And shall lay before them their evil thoughts, and the torments wherewith they shall begin to be tormented, which are like unto a flame: and he shall destroy them without labour by the law which is like unto me. 2 Esdras 13:37-38

The law that causes the wicked such torment is indeed a fiery law yet it was given in love. Our Saviour did not come to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. The law is a law of love but the wicked feel condemned by it because it is a reflection of the character of God.

And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. (3) Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.  Deuteronomy 33:2-3

What about the fact that the Bible tells us that the wicked shall be turned to ashes?

And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.  Malachi 4:3

When sin has finally paid its wages to the wicked through the curse of guilt that falls upon them as they behold the purity of God’s beautiful character their dead bodies will lay upon the earth. Only then will the bodies of the wicked be turned to ashes.

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?  2 Peter 3:12

There are many who describe the final death of the wicked like putting down a diseased dog that puts other lives in danger; therefore, the animal must be put down. The problem with this analogy is that the owner of the dog does not light a slow burning fire that burns the dog for several days while it is still alive, causing it to shriek and howl in agony before it finally dies. This idea comes from a hardened heart. Our Father in heaven would never do something like this. Once you know the love of God, it is simply not possible to charge Him with the slow torture and personal slaughter of billions of His children. The reason why this idea is almost universally accepted and taught in the Christian world is because of a refusal to allow the reality of the cross to enter the heart. The heart in turn hardens to the truth of the sensitive and tender nature of God, and as it was with the disciples, there enters the idea of God sending down fire and physically burning people alive.

Let us learn the lesson from the disciples and notice the command of the Father when His Son was transfigured – “Hear Him!” Let us listen to His pleading voice as He sets a precious little child in our midst and holds that child close to His chest and tells us “unless you become as an innocent child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Harden not your hearts as did the Israelites who begged Moses to put a veil over his face when the gospel was revealed to them.

Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. (11) So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. (12) Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (13) But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; (15) While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.  Hebrews 3:10-15

If you choose not to accept the self-denial of the cross you are in danger of hardening your heart while reading the Bible in a callous manner and attributing to God the pain and death of millions of people through human history. Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.


[1] Barabbas was a political leader at the time of Christ who advocated overthrowing the Roman control of Israel. He advocated violence to achieve this goal and claimed to be a messianic figure. His name Barabbas means “son of the father” and was the complete counterfeit of Christ who is the true Son of the Father.