09.03.06 Lk. 12:49-53
49 “I came to bring fire on the earth,
and how I wish it were already set ablaze!
50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with,
and how it consumes Me until it is finished!
51 Do you think that I came here to give peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
52 From now on, five in one household will be divided:
three against two,
and two against three.
53 They will be divided,
father against son, son against father,
mother against daughter,
daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law,
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Literary Style: This passage was given in typical poetic style, which gives understanding of the text. In the first stanza, notice that “fire” is associated with “baptism,” but it is in the context of judgment. Likewise, the word “wish” on line 2 is associated with “consumes” on line 4.
The statement by Jesus, “I came to bring fire,” appears to relate to the day of Pentecost when the “tongues like fire” fell from heaven. John the Baptist said that the One who would come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11). The question is whether the fire mentioned by John is the same as the “tongues like fire” on the Day of Pentecost. It may not be, since Jesus Himself never mentioned fire concerning the coming day of Pentecost. He mentioned only the Holy Spirit coming to the believers, therefore, the “fire” mentioned in this case does not relate to Pentecost. Jesus spoke to a Jewish audience in a Jewish context where fire was almost always symbolic of judgment.
Fire is like a double edge sword: it utterly destroys what is not permanent and purifies what is permanent. It is divides the righteous and unrighteous, or brings destruction of the unrighteous. Isaiah said that the Lord would come to bring the fire of judgment. Jesus said He would bring fire and division instead of peace to the earth. The context of the narrative in Matthew is the same and it does not permit an allusion to the day of Pentecost. It should be noted that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell like tongues of fire; the fire itself did not fall. The words of John the Baptist were reflective upon the book of Isaiah:
15 Look, the Lord will come with fire
His chariots are like the whirlwind
to execute His anger with fury
and His rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For the Lord
will execute judgment
on all flesh with His fiery sword,
and many will be slain by the Lord.
“But I have a baptism to be baptized with.” This was not a literal water baptism, but a clear reference to His death and resurrection. Baptism is symbolic of death to one’s sinful nature and a resurrection of new life in Christ.
“Do you think I came here to give peace on earth? No.” (See also Mt. 10:34-39.) This passage is explained in light of the reputation that Jesus is the “Prince of Peace.” His listeners had to decide whether to follow Him or to surrender to peer or family pressures. When one follows a path different from other family member, there is conflict. It was such times that Jesus referred to when He said that He brought division and not peace. There will always be those who reject His message of love, holiness, and living a life in covenant with Him.
. Barclay, “Luke.” 169.
. This interpretation is presented by Bivin and Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words. 87-93.