Blood, Fire and Billows of Smoke

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
" `In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"
(Acts 2:14-21)

I mentioned in a previous post that the imagery of "Blood, Fire and Billows of Smoke" in Joel 2 / Acts 2 fascinates me. It's one of those places in scripture, where you just know there is great revelation to be unlocked if only you could get a handle on it. I have often stopped to chew it over when I have read it, but it has only been recently in the light of conversations had on this blog, revisiting scriptures relating to baptism in the spirit, and re-reading Jordan's book, that the pieces of the puzzle finally seem to be fitting together. I'm not claiming I have the definitive exegesis, or that what everyone else says is wrong, but for me, this seems to satisfy in a way that other explanations haven't. I certainly think at least there is some mileage in it, or I wouldn't be sharing it. Anyway, read on and see what you think.

Signs on the Earth

Jordan points out in "Through New Eyes" that this scripture is a Chiasm ["A chiasm is a literary device in which parallel ideas or terms are presented in a sandwich form instead of normal parallelism"]

 (A) I will show wonders in the heaven above
    (B) and signs on the earth below
    (B) blood and fire and billows of smoke
 (A) The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood

This helps, because is shows that "Blood, fire and billows of smoke" are related to "Signs of the Earth Below". Jordan suggests that the imagery of Blood fire and smoke are to do with war, and links this to the darkening of the heavenly bodies representing human authority and rule. Whilst this is certainly plausible, I don't find it very satisfying. The scripture uses many symbolisms for war, but never "blood, fire and billows of smoke", what is more these symbols are very powerful scriptural pictures that are used elsewhere, and not in the context of war. The darkening of the sun and moon does not have to represent the fall of a human government either. They are there to govern time and seasons, so they could equally be pointing to the end of an age in some other way than just geo-political. Couple this to the fact that Peter includes these verses in the fulfilment of what happened at Pentecost and the explanation of war seems even less satisfying.

Blood + Fire-and-Billows-of-Smoke

Since "Blood, fire and billows of smoke" only occur together in Joel 2 and Acts 2, we must de-couple at least one of these symbols to examine where the other two are used together. The most fruitful approach I have found is in separating "blood" from "fire and billows of smoke." This seems a good way to proceed, because Joel 2 is a prophecy about the baptism in the Spirit, and we have already come across the column of fire and smoke in relation to baptism in the Spirit pictured in the Old Testament, described as baptised in the cloud. (1Co 10:2)

Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. (Isa 4:5)

Fire and billows of smoke is also the language of Sinai, and represents the awesome presence of God that none but Moses could approach.

Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently (Ex 19:18)

It is also repeated in the description of the altar of incense, when the priest would go behind the curtain on the day of atonement. Here again it represents the awesome holy presence of God, that only the high priest could enter.

He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain.He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. (Lev 16:12-13)

The way in changed forever

This second image of fire and billows of smoke is particularly useful as we are told in Hebrews about this event: But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Heb 9:7) So now we have all three elements re-united again: blood, fire, and billows of smoke. If this is the event they are referring to, then they represent the means by which sinful man is permitted to come into the presence of almighty God.

So we have signs on the earth relating to the way man comes before God, and signs in the heavens relating to the end of an age. Is it beyond the realms of reason to assume that these are both connected, and relate to Pentecost? Could it be that they represent the end of an age of how man comes into the presence of God! Before it was exclusive to the high priest, but now it is inclusive of "all flesh"; before man had to come into the presence, but now the presence is poured out; before it was limited to once a year, but now we have an abiding presence of God within us that will never leave us nor forsake us.

So where's the blood and smoke?

Joel prophecies that the day of Pentecost will be marked by "Blood, fire and billows of smoke", but when we come to the New Testament scriptures we see that the only sign that is given is one of fire.

"I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Mt 3:11)

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4)

The fulfilment of the sign of fire is clear, but it begs the question: where is the blood and the billows of smoke. After pondering this question for some time I am of the opinion that this is exactly the question the scriptures want us to ask! The blood and smoke speak volumes by their absence!

The absence of blood is easy: we no longer need to come before the Lord by shedding blood, because it has been shed once for all by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Our sins have been covered, and God's wrath fully propitiated. Christ's blood now seals an eternal covenant by which we may now enter boldly without fear of condemnation.

But the absence of smoke is not without precedent in scripture either. Consider Isaiah chapter 6; above the fiery coals of the altar, he saw not the billows of smoke that should have shielded his gaze from the holy presence, but he saw the Lord himself! It is also interesting that the first consequence of this encounter is that his lips were consecrated with this same fire, to enable him to declare the very words of God!

So this links in with the fact that the signs in the heavens reveal a change of an age. It is no longer one man who enters the presence of God, to make atonement for the people. But it is now a people who have been touched by the fire from heaven, and whose lips have been opened to declare the wonders of God, who take the presence of God with them, out to the whole word to declare to every nation tribe and tongue the good news of Christ's atoning sacrifice for sins, and that the way to God has been changed forever. It is open:

Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved!


anna said...

AMAZING!!! never realised the significance of the absence of blood and smoke esp. in relation to the atonement by the high priest. great stuff chris!

HolyInheritance said...

Outstanding! Obviously there is no value in going around focusing on temptation to sin when Jesus Christ has already set in motion our salvation from all sin. Our salvation is a done deal.

Callmeteem said...

Very interesting and enlightening. Thank you.

Puritan Belief said...

A well thought out read, I enjoyed the detail.

bio said...

Thank you, this really help me understand these three words!