TODAY’S READING: LUKE 11-12
“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.” – Luke 12:49-51
“I came to cast fire on the earth.”
Many people immediately jump to conclusion that Jesus is going to burn up every person that hasn’t confessed his name and believed in him in a big ball of flaming fire. Therefore, Jesus’ statement of casting fire to the earth gets lumped in with an end times judgment that sends the evil and the wicked into the burning lake of fire forever and ever, an eternal conscious torment.
Is this what Jesus meant when he, “I came to cast fire on the earth?”
Luke 9:54-55 says, “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.”
Jesus and the disciples were heading to a village of the Samaritans. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews. They were half-breeds. The Samaritans were part Jew, part Gentile. The Jews believed that they did not worship the true God the way they died.
Jesus sent some messengers ahead of them to make preparations for him in this village. But, the Samaritans, the hated and despised people, did not receive Jesus.
Because they did not receive Jesus, James and John asked if they call fire down from heaven to destroy them. Some Bibles say that James and John asked if they should do just like Elijah did (see 2 Kings 1:9-12). They wanted to destroy with fire from heaven the Samaritans that had rejected Jesus just as Elijah did to the captains that Ahaziah sent to him.
But, in some translations (based on later manuscripts), in addition to saying that Jesus turned and rebuked James and John, Jesus said, “You do not know what kind of Spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
The spirit of James and John that wanted to call down fire to destroy those that rejected Jesus was not the Spirit of God. Rather, it was the spirit of the devil for he is the one who destroys (Who Says “I Destroy” – God or Satan?). The son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. So, the fire that the son of man brings saves. That is the Spirit of God.
Returning to Luke 12:49-51, Jesus says three basic things:
- I came to bring fire
- I have a baptism to be baptized with
- I came to bring division
The first and the third cause a lot of confusion for people. But, the second is very clear.
What is the baptism that Jesus was to be baptized with?
James and John asked sit on his right and left hand in Jesus’ glory. In Mark 10:38, Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
The cup that Jesus was to drink is the same thing as the baptism he was going to be baptized with. And, both refer to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Indeed, in Mark 10:33-34, just before James and John asked Jesus if they could sit on his right and left hand, Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” There is the cup that Jesus had to drink and the baptism he had to baptized with.
Why was the cross a baptism?
To be baptized means to be immersed. It was even used of dying a garment. So, it has the idea of infusing something into something else.
The cross was a baptism for Jesus because he was immersed in sin and death.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.”
1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”
Jesus, in whom was the life of God (1 John 5:11), partook of death (Hebrews 2:14).
Jesus says this baptism is a great distress to him until it is accomplished. And, it was on the cross that Jesus said, “It is finished.” The word finished in John 19:30 is the same Greek word as accomplished in Luke 12:50.
Now, Jesus is speaking of the fire he came to cast down, the baptism he was to be baptized with, and the division he was to bring as the same. Therefore, we know that all three things refer to the cross.
The fire that Jesus came to bring was the cross. This is why Jesus said he wished that it was already kindled. He wished that the fire he was bringing would have already started burning and working.
So, how was the cross the fire that Jesus would bring?
The cross revealed that God did not kill. Rather, he was killed.
The cross revealed that God did not condemn. Rather, he was condemned.
The cross revealed that God did not do violence. Rather, violence was done to him.
The cross revealed that God did not take vengeance. Rather, forgiveness was given to all by him.
Therefore, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Despite all the evil, wickedness, and violence we could dish out toward Jesus, a perfectly innocent man and the son of God, Jesus forgave us. And, so did God.
When someone love you and forgives you undeservedly, it does something to your mind. It brings conviction to you. This is the burning coals, the fire, of God’s vengeance. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Yes, it may be written that God takes vengeance, but to the contrary give food and drink to your enemy. In other words, instead of taking vengeance on your enemy, love them. Just as God does. That casts down the fire that Jesus was bringing.
What does this fire do?
Fire consumes. It purifies.
What is the fire Jesus cast down consuming and purifying?
We expect God to be a conquering warrior. We want him to smash our enemies with a great army. We want him to destroy, condemn, and kill all those that hate us and persecute us.
But, the cross reveals that God doesn’t do any of these things. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The cross seems weak and foolish to men because it is not how they act and not how they expect God to act. But, the cross reveals the true nature of God. Therefore, the cross, which produces the fire that Jesus came to cast down on the earth, consumes all of wrong ideas, thoughts, and notions about God. The cross, this fire, purifies us of every impure thought about God.
So, the fire that Jesus came to bring was not to destroy men but to save them.