Luke 12:49-56 – Jesus Promises Judgment and Division


Luke 12:49-56


Jesus describes his purpose to bring judgment to the earth. He calls for a commitment that is so deep and defining that it can create divisions even within families.


Conflict and division result from Jesus’ ministry throughout Luke’s Gospel. In these verses Jesus acknowledges that all this controversy is no accident. With images of fire and baptism he announces that his role is to bring judgment to the earth. The kind of commitment that Jesus calls for creates divisions among people, even turning family members against one another. This is dangerous language, for Jesus claims that he will fracture households, which were foundational pieces of the social world of the first century. At the same time, what he says also indicates that Jesus calls for a commitment to him that is so foundational that it makes identification with him more primary than people’s identification with their own family unit.

Jesus’ desire to bring fire to the earth is a desire to see the world purified, not destroyed or punished. At the beginning of this Gospel, John the Baptist, announces that Jesus will come with a fire that purifies and refines (Luke 3:16-17; also Malachi 3:1-3). In scripture, fire is a sign of the divine presence (Exodus 14:24; 19:18; Isaiah 30:27). Fire represents God’s power to bring about change, no matter what the obstacles (Jeremiah 23:29). Fire can also indicate God’s ability to defeat opposition (2 Kings 1:2-14).