World Wide Study Bible


a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary

Jesus the Cause of Division

49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided:

father against son

and son against father,

mother against daughter

and daughter against mother,

mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law

and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Select a resource above

49. I am come to send fire on the earth. From these concluding words it may easily be inferred, that this was one of Christ’s latest discourses, and is not related by Luke at the proper place. But the meaning is, that Christ has introduced into the world the utmost confusion, as if he had intended to mingle heaven and earth. The gospel is metaphorically compared to fire, because it violently changes the face of things. The disciples having falsely imagined that, while they were at ease and asleep, the kingdom of God would come, Christ declares, on the contrary, that there must first be a dreadful conflagration to kindle the world. And as some beginnings of it were even then making their appearance, Christ encourages the disciples by this very consideration, that they already feel the power of the gospel. “When great commotions,” says he, “shall already begin to kindle, this is so far from being a reason why you should tremble, that it is rather a ground of strong confidence; and, for my own part, I rejoice that this fruit of my labors is visible.” In like manner, all the ministers of the gospel ought to apply this to themselves, that, when there are troubles in the world, they may be more diligently employed in their duty. It is proper to observe, also, that the same fire of doctrine, when it burns on all sides, consumes chaff and straw, but purifies silver and gold.

50. But I have a baptism to be baptized with. By these words our Lord asserts that there remains nothing but his last act, that by his death he may consecrate the renovation of the world. For since the shaking which he mentioned was appalling, and since that conflagration of the human race was terrific, he is about to show that the first-fruits must be offered in his own person, after which the disciples ought not to be displeased at feeling some portion of it. He compares death—as in other passages—to baptism, (Romans 6:4,) because the children of God, after having been immersed for a time by the death of the body, shortly afterwards rise again to life, so that death is nothing else than a passage through the midst of the waters. He says that he is sorely pressed till that baptism has been accomplished, that he may encourage every one of us, by his example, both to bear the cross and to prefer death. Not that any man can have a natural preference for death, or for any abatement of present happiness, but because, when we contemplate on the farther bank the glory, and the blessed and immortal rest of heaven, we not only suffer death with patience, but are even carried forward by eager desire where faith and hope lead us.

Luke 12:51. Do you suppose that I came to send peace on the earth? What Christ has now demanded from his disciples any one of them would reckon it an easy matter to give, if the whole world, with one consent, embraced the doctrine of the Gospel. But as a considerable part of the world not only opposes but fights keenly against it, we cannot confess Christ without encountering the resistance and hatred of many. Christ therefore warns his followers to prepare for battle, for they must necessarily fight for the testimony of truth. And here he meets two stumbling-blocks, which otherwise would greatly have distressed weak minds. The prophets everywhere promise that there will be peace and tranquillity under the reign of Christ. What then were his disciples entitled to expect but that, wherever they went, all would instantly be at peace? Now as Christ is called our peace, (Ephesians 2:14,) and as the Gospel reconciles us to God, it follows, that he also establishes a brotherly harmony amongst us. The kindling of wars and contentions in the world where the Gospel is preached, does not seem to agree with the predictions of the prophets, and still less with the office of Christ, and with the nature of the Gospel.

But that peace which the prophets describe in lofty terms, is associated with faith, and has no existence but among the sincere worshippers of God, and in the consciences of the godly. To unbelievers it does not come, though it is offered to them; nay, they cannot endure to be reconciled to God: and the consequence is, that the message of peace excites in them a greater tumult than before. As Satan, who holds a kingly power over the reprobate, is furious against the name of Christ, as soon as the doctrine of the Gospel is proclaimed to them, their impiety, which formerly lay asleep, acquires fresh vigor. Thus Christ, who properly speaking, is the author of peace, becomes the occasion of disturbances in consequence of the wickedness of men.

Let us hence learn how great is the depravity of corrupt nature, which not only soils a gift so inestimable, but changes it into a most destructive evil. Meanwhile, if tumults arise at the commencement of the reign of Christ, let us not be alarmed at it, as if it were strange or unusual: for he compares his Gospel to a sword, and says that it is διαμερισμὸς, separation Some think that this is intended to describe the punishment which was inflicted on the despisers of the Gospel, by their rising in hostility against each other. But the context shows, that Christ is here exhorting his disciples to perseverance, though a good part of the world should be at variance with them, and though their voice should be like a war-trumpet to call innumerable enemies to arms.