And the saints also shall hardly escape; nevertheless, I, the Lord, am with them, and will come down in heaven from the presence of my Father and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire.
One of my seminary students imagined a vengeful Jesus zapping the wicked with unquenchable fire. I love hearing what others imagine or expect the fulfillment of prophecy to be like!
It seemed like a great moment to talk about unquenchable fire and how our choices impact our flammability.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego and the Fiery Furnace
One of my favorites stories which illustrates this principle perfectly is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
After the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego found themselves in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon. Their new job in the Babylonian empire was as counselors or wisemen to the king.
The king called for all of the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces to gather together to celebrate himself, the king. Nebuchadnezzar commissioned a gigantic golden statue of himself for the occasion and commanded everyone to bow to the statue after they heard music heralding the time.
In great ceremony, the music heralded the time to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. And everyone bowed…except for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
Imagine that scene. I imagine an open field with possibly hundreds, maybe thousands, of men from all over the kingdom assembled and facing a gigantic golden Nebuchadnezzar. I imagine Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego somewhere in the middle back of this human mass. The music sounds. Everyone falls to worship the image leaving three lone men standing. There is no hiding when you stand alone.
Watchdog wisemen, coincidentally jealous of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, notified the king that persons had not kneeled. There really must have been a lot of people if the king couldn’t see 3 standing men from, what I assume was, his perch at the front.
Of course, they were summoned to the king.
Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?
Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came forth of the midst of the fire.
And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.
The Consuming or Sanctifying Unquenchable Fire
Nebuchadnezzar created an unquenchable fire. Even men commanded to heat up the fire died outside of the fiery furnace! They were consumed.
But the unquenchable fire did not consume the three faithful. They were different somehow. Their life of faith and priesthood and righteousness changed them so that when they rose up to the fire, it sanctified them and they “endured” the presence of the Son of God.
Same fire. The fire consumed some. Others it sanctified and brought into the Savior’s presence.
Ultimately, that consumption or sanctification happened because of the men’s choices.
Righteousness Impacts Flammability
So when the Lord says
I, the Lord, am with them, and will come down in heaven from the presence of my Father and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire.
He really means that the wicked will be consumed. And a reason they will be consumed is because they cannot abide His glorious presence.
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.
Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.
For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.
And more and more and more scriptural warnings and stories describing this unquenchable fire event.
Satan’s Day of Burning Imitation
For the righteous, this burning is a salvation, a coming into the presence of God.
With every correct doctrine and principle, Satan provides counterfeits and imitations. Satan cannot imitate salvation and he certainly doesn’t want folks to believe there’s actually unquenchable fire consuming the wicked, so what tactics can he use?
He prompts people to imitate the event to disprove salvation.
Ammonihah’s Unquenchable Fire
Alma and Amulek preached repentance to Ammonihah’s citizens with mixed response. Some people converted and were baptized. Most declined repentance. Then in mob-crazed anger, those offended at the word identified those who believed God’s word. They threw believing men out of the city by casting stones at them. But then, in a horrific, bloodthirsty scene of self-righteousness, they conspired against the women and children.
And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire…that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
Amulek knew they had power to save.
But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.
And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.
Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed…the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?
Behold, ye see that ye had not power to save those who had been cast into the fire; neither has God saved them because they were of thy faith. And the judge smote them again upon their cheeks, and asked: What say ye for yourselves?
The quick ending of the story is that shortly thereafter the Lamanites absolutely abolish Ammonihah and all its remaining citizens.
Consuming, Sanctifying Unquenchable Fire
So Ammonihah’s unbelievers prepared an unquenchable fire to consume believers who didn’t appear to be saved to disprove the Gospel message of the Lord’s consuming fire.
Believers understand that this life is a continuation of an immortal journey. Death in a manmade pit is not destruction for a righteous soul, glorified by a matyr’s death.
But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life.
However, to die in the consuming fire that is Christ is the second death, relinquishing the opportunity to live with Him eternally.
But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.
Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.
Will I Choose to Be Consumed or Sanctified by Unquenchable Fire?
So unlike my teenaged friend’s view of a justified Jesus heaving balls of fire at the wicked, I see a merciful Savior descending in unquenchable glory, with power to save and sanctify, and pleading with everyone who will and can to come to Him.
[F]or as you now behold me and know that I am, even so shall ye come unto me and your souls shall live, and your redemption shall be perfected….
And we will live with Jesus Christ forever in His everlasting burnings.