Fire came down from heaven – Revelation 20:9

Lightning over the Rincon Mountains

Previously: Satan will be released – Revelation 20:7-8

The scripture

Rev. 20:9 – They came up over the surface of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the saints, the beloved city. Then fire came down from heaven and consumed them. (HCSB)

Then fire came down from heaven

“They” in verse 9 are the armies of Satan, which surround Jerusalem. But fire descends from heaven and consumes them. We have seen references to heavenly fire in other passages:

  • The Lord sends burning sulfur to destroy the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19).
  • Fire comes down from heaven to consume a burnt offering, its wood and stones, and even a trench of water around it in the days of Elijah as he squares off against the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).
  • Fire again rains down from heaven on several occasions to destroy the messengers sent to Elijah by King Ahaziah (2 Kings 1).
  • James and John ask Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that rejects the Messiah, but He rebukes His followers and leads them to another place (Luke 9:51-55).
  • The two witnesses in Revelation 13 are able to call down fire from heaven.
  • And here in Revelation 20 fire destroys the enemies of God.

Fire often is a sign of the presence of God and highlights His purity, holiness, and wrath.

 A consuming fire

Our God is a consuming fire. He resides in unapproachable light. Moses must take off his shoes on the holy ground before the flaming bush in which the Angel of the Lord appears. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night protect the Israelites from their enemies, keep them from sunstroke by day and provide warmth by night. The Angel of the Lord causes fire to come from a rock upon which Gideon has placed a meal of goat, broth, and unleavened bread in a gracious act to prove His providence.

On the Day of Pentecost, tongues as of fire light on believers; they are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in languages they previously have not known. Paul tells us our works will be tried by fire, burning off the dross but purifying the good works (1 Cor. 3:11-15). In Revelation we see seven flaming torches before the throne of God in heaven, representing the seven-fold Spirit of God (Rev. 4:5).

Other passages could be cited, but the point is that when fire comes down from heaven it is for a holy purpose – to provide for God’s people, to vindicate His righteousness, to purify the righteous deeds of the saints, or to destroy the wicked. Ultimately, believers may rest in the fact that our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). His flame does not harm us except to purify us, yet it obliterates the wicked – and it is in the holiness of God’s fire that unbelievers must endure for all eternity, forever aware that their sin is an affront to a holy God.

Perhaps fire is the most accurate description of hell – not the fires of Islam’s hell that melts skin off the body, only to be replaced forever and ever, but fires that cast inescapable shadows on the wall of eternity, showing the wicked their grotesque sin and never allowing them to escape it. Just as the smell of smoke clings to a body in fire, the stain of sin, like a shadow, never leaves the soul of the unbeliever.

The fire from heaven in Rev. 20:9 consumes the wicked in the presence of the righteous. God’s work of preserving His own and preparing judgment for the rebellious is not always visible to us. In fact, His ways often are unknown to us. But here we see plainly the swift, precise, and complete separation of the righteous and the unrighteous.

Next: The lake of fire – Revelation 20:10