“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Luke 12: 49-53
We continue with Jesus’ conversation with the disciples uninterrupted from the last section. Recall that Jesus has been telling them not to worry about the affairs of this life, for they have a vastly higher calling. He has already told them they shouldn’t worry about their physical needs or much of anything other than God’s purpose; not even persecution. This text reintroduces the idea of persecution to the discussion, albeit indirectly, and is quite controversial in certain circles to this day. How will we understand this text?
To be honest, most of our perceptions of it will probably develop based entirely upon our general theological approaches. If you tend toward a ‘liberal’ approach to theology, you will see it one way, and if your approach is more ‘conservative’ you will see it the other way. If you are like me and you really can’t stand those labels… keep reading!
Oh, why do I dislike those terms? I dislike them because in theology as in politics, those labels are applied to thinking that is the exact opposite of what the labels mean… but alas, that’s a discussion for another time.
If we take this passage in its context, always a wise move, Jesus is telling them that there will soon be a time when there will be a significant divide within society that is based upon which side you are on: You are either a follower of Christ, or you are not. Of course this is why I mentioned the two camps above: the first will disagree with my statement and burst into a rousing chorus of “All you Need is Love” and the other will burst into a rousing shout of “Repent or Perish”.
Both are right, and both are wrong; we must think before we react.
In 12:49, Jesus says that He has come to bring fire to the earth, and that He wished it was already kindled. Of course is a metaphor here, for after His death and resurrection, He will unleash the Holy Spirit on the earth, and the earth will react to Him: Many will receive grace, while many others will react with violence against the message. This violent reaction, seem throughout Acts, is called persecution, which Jesus warned about in 12:1-12; it’s the whole point of this larger section we’ve been going through in this chapter.
In the rest of this section (12:50-53) He is simply reinforcing the divisions that will result between those who receive the Gospel and those who reject it, and as we all know, those same kinds of divisions exist to this very day.
What should we say about all of this? How will we react to it?
Our response is to be the response of love, not condemnation, but our love must not be so blind that we cannot comprehend the fact that not everyone will receive it, for in fact, most probably will not. After all, the servant is not greater than the Master, and this world nailed our Master to a cross!