Question: "How many times has God sent fire from heaven?"
Answer: Fire has come down from heaven several times in history. The Bible records at least six of these instances:
Fire fell from heaven and destroyed Job’s flocks (Job 1:16). This was a direct attack from Satan, but, as the earlier part of Job 1 explains, Satan was acting with the permission of God (verse 12). It was a tragedy allowed by God and, in the end, bringing glory to God. On the other side of his trials, Job was blessed with even larger flocks (Job 42:12).
Fire coming down from heaven was also a means of God’s judgment. Fire in the form of burning sulfur rained from the heavens and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24; Luke 17:29). God also used fire from heaven to judge the soldiers sent by the wicked king Ahaziah to arrest Elijah—twice, fire descended from heaven to consume a group of fifty soldiers sent on the king’s business (2 Kings 1:10, 12).
But fire from heaven is not exclusively a means of judgment. On at least three occasions, God sent fire from above in order to consume a sacrifice: fire came down from heaven to consume the sacrifice that David offered on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (1 Chronicles 21:26); to consume the sacrifice at the dedication of the temple, in the presence of King Solomon and the people of Israel (2 Chronicles 7:1); and to consume Elijah’s sacrifice on Mt. Carmel, in response to the prophet’s simple prayer (1 Kings 18:38).
In each sacrifice consumed by fire from heaven, God was making an important point. In David’s case, God was forgiving David’s sin in conducting a census and halting a plague in Israel. He was also choosing the place where the future temple would be built. In Solomon’s case, God was consecrating that location as the place where His name would dwell forever (2 Chronicles 7:16). The people’s reaction was to worship the Lord and say, “He is good; his love endures forever” (2 Chronicles 7:3). In Elijah’s case, God was shaming the prophets of Baal, whose god sent no fire, and claiming His rightful title as Lord God of Israel. The people on Mt. Carmel “fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!’” (1 Kings 18:39).
Interestingly, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, two of His disciples, James and John, wanted to call down fire from heaven in judgment of a Samaritan village that did not welcome the Lord. Jesus, however, “turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:55). He had not come “to condemn the world, but to save the world” (John 3:17). James and John, rightly called the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), wanted what they thought was justice, but their idea went against God’s plan of mercy. God’s justice will come, but on His terms, not ours.
In the end-times tribulation, the false prophet will cause fire to come down from heaven as a means of deceiving people into worshiping the Antichrist (Revelation 13:13).
And, at the end of the millenium, God promises that He will destroy the armies of Gog and Magog with fire from heaven (Revelation 20:9).