What is meant to be accomplished in the 12th chapter of Hebrews, when we hear that God is an all consuming fire? Was this something to be sought after, something the writer hoped would pour out like a river upon the Hebrews? Was it to be celebrated? No.
It was a warning, reminding the people with the very words of Moses, in Deuteronomy 4:24, to not forgot what God did to a people who disobeyed and were disrespectful to His commands. We can find the root of these words in Numbers 15 & 16, where God gave the Israelites His commands regarding intentional sin. In view of UNintentional sin, God was willing to pardon through sacrifice and atonement, but for INtentional sin, God chose for His wrath to be poured out. It was a matter of the heart. Willful, defiant sin is blasphemy to Him.
A man among the Israelites was found gathering wood on the Sabbath, and the people detained him. God saw into the man's heart, and determined his sin to be INtentional. His punishment was death, and so Moses had him put to death, and following the instructions of God he told the people to tie blue tassles to the corners of their garments, to have as a visual reminder, a way to remember the commands of God.
"You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes." God said.
This is when Korah and a group of leaders stood up and told Moses "You've gone too far! This whole community is holy!" It was basically a public "How dare you!"
Moses called them out, to stand before God and let God decide. Some came, and some were insolent, and this is where we finally get to the meat of this "All Consuming Fire" when the glory of the Lord appears...
In Numbers 16:19, 'When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly.'
The ground opened up and swallowed them alive. People began running in pure terror, and here it comes, are you ready, verse 35: 'And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.'
The All Consuming Fire.....Consumed them!
Did you catch it though? They were making an offering to God. They thought they were right. They believed themselves to be the holy ones, and Moses to be the man who had gone too far. God showed them in one moment, through His consuming fire, where He stood.
In their hearts, God found them to be serving themselves, living for their own interests, in essence, counterfeit. (Think of Psalm 46, where God breaks into the scene of insolent men and declares "I will be exalted.")
The next day even more people rose up and grumbled, "You've killed the LORD'S people!"
They were still so deceived, so darkened, and so blind to the true work of God that they couldn't see. God again began to pour out His judgement for their disrespect, again looking at their hearts and their INtentional sin. He sent out a plague among them to finish them off, but Moses sent Aaron running into the midst of those who were being put to death, to beg for their atonement. God searched their hearts and halted His wrath, but almost 15,000 people were dead.
This, brothers and sisters, was the experience of Moses with God. Moses was warning his people by reminding them of God's all consuming fire, His judgement, and what would happen if they allowed that same disrespect and irreverence.
Finally, this is the same context of Hebrews 12. It is a warning, and a bold one at that, to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles," to "fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross", to "endure hardship as discipline", even though it can be painful at the time. If you are disciplined, you are loved. We are warned to strengthen our faith, our confidence, to be in check and search our hearts constantly regarding our relationship with Christ. We are to "make every effort to live in peace," to "see to it that no one misses the grace of God."
At the very heart, we are not to refuse Him. Can we claim to be God's holy and anointed, and yet be blind, on the wrong side of judgement? Absolutely we can, if we don't check ourselves and hold steadfast to Him and His commands. This is where we are to test the spirits (1 Thes 5). Does the work of the Holy Spirit point to Jesus? Does it exalt the Lord and oppose Satan? Is it soaked by Scripture, dripping with truth, producing the fruit of a genuine love? God points to Jesus. The Old Testament and the prophets point to Jesus. Jesus points to Jesus. The apostles point to Jesus. The New Testament of course, and even the work of the Holy Spirit is to point to Jesus.
Are we? Is our message about power or the gifts that can be ours, the adventure, the encounters, the blessings or the better life? Do we want the glory? This is our earthly nature, the very things we must put to death according to Paul (Col. 3), lest we find ourselves in the wake of pride, lies, false humility, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
God takes these things seriously. "I will be exalted."
Discern. Be Berean in your searching of the Scripture. Ask God to reveal your heart. There is stark contrast between the Pharisee and the Berean. One loves Jesus and will stand for the Word, whatever the cost, and one is too blind to recognize Him at all, because of pride.
The people in the day of Moses didn't escape His judgement here on the earth, even though they thought they were right. We shouldn't expect to escape either if we worship idols and chase after only what feels good. We must take care to keep our walk and our worship acceptable and pleasing to God, sights focused with reverence and awe, remembering that we will one day be there in the midst of His glory, where there is a river that makes glad the City of God, in that holy place where the Most High dwells. We will be with Him there, face to face with the Knower of Hearts, and if we are with Him, if He is in us, we will not fall.
His desire is that we should all repent and turn to Him, that we should ask forgiveness, and find His Grace. If we've been rescued, we should be pointing to Christ and Christ alone.
But, if we have let go of His commandments and have created our own idea based on what appealed to us, 'going after the lusts of our own hearts and eyes', then we serve an idol that is really ourselves. Many on that day will say, "Lord, Lord, didn't we do this or that in your Name?" and He will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" We bear no resemblance to Jesus Christ, and in view of our intentional sin, our God is a consuming fire.