Who said the following?
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Did you say Mohammed? Did you say Joseph Smith? Did you say Confucius? Would it surprise you to learn that these words were spoken by Jesus Christ in Luke 12:49-51? This morning we shall learn that Jesus is the most divisive character in the history of the world and why that is important for Christians to understand. Lest we think that calling Jesus divisive is rude or blasphemous, Christians must recognize that it was Jesus Himself who said He was divisive. In fact, His reason for coming to this earth was to bring division.
Jesus Brings Division
In verse 49, Jesus told the crowd: “I have come to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” He then says in verse 50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” These two verses at first glance are very puzzling, but are best understood as figures of speech that are explained in 51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Let us examine these two figures of speech and how they speak of division. The fire that Jesus came to cast on the earth is properly understood as a purifying and refining fire. The prophet Malachi spoke of the Lord being “like a refiner’s fire and like a fullers’ soap” (Mal 3:2) that separates (i.e., divides) good from evil; purifying the good and destroying the evil. This fire is cast upon the earth and it divides the faithless (evil) from the faithful (good).
The baptism spoken of here must not to be confused with His water baptism by John the Baptist (Matt 3:16). The baptism Jesus speaks of in Luke 12 is a baptism that had not yet occurred. This baptism is understood to be His death, burial, and resurrection (see Mark 10:38). In other words, Jesus is going to be immersed into death. The result of this baptism is the kindling of the refiner’s fire that is cast upon earth.
Division is the natural result of Jesus’ work on earth. Jesus used the imagery of light to explain this to Nicodemus in John 3:20-21. He said, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:20-21). Those who do “wicked things” hate Christ and run from the light of Christ. Those who do “what is true” love Christ and run to the light of Christ.
As a result of Jesus’ work on earth, people are either running from Him or to Him, thus resulting in division on earth. In verses 52-53, Jesus shows that this division will also occur within families. While love of family is good, love of family cannot keep one from love of God. This is why in Luke 14:26, Jesus said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Those who follow Christ consider peace with God to be the most important peace available and, if necessary, are willing to sacrifice any other relationships in order to get it. This is because one cannot love God and love the hatred of God. Therefore Jesus divides.
Jesus Brings Peace
Thankfully, Jesus does bring peace. When Jesus said He did not come to bring peace on earth (v. 51), He meant peace with the world. Jesus did come to bring peace with the world but peace with God. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This peace is brought about by God “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14). The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus brings us peace and we are called “children of God” (Rom 8:16). The peace Jesus bring is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), the whole armor of God (Eph 6:15), and it is the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding [that] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).
Christians must understand that Jesus is the most divisive character in the history of the world. Do not get upset that the world does love and respect Him. Do not get bothered that they utter ridiculous statements like, “He is just a great moral teacher.” Don’t get offended if they try to explain Him away completely. In fact, the world will rage at anyone who dares utter that Jesus is Lord.
Our Lord divides good from evil. Let us who are in Christ rejoice in Him. Let the words of the Apostle Peter found in 1 Peter 4:12-16 establish your peace:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
Questions for Reflection:
- What did Jesus mean when He said, “I came to cast fire on the earth”?
- What was Jesus’ baptism to be baptized with? Why was He distressed about it?
- Jesus said He has not to bring peace but division. How is Jesus the great divider?
- Who is divided by Jesus according to verses 52-53?