Fire of Division

Luke 12: 49-53
Rom 6:19-23 / Psa 1

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!
(Luke 12:49)

If ever we are divided
By differences of opinion,
Lord, keep us at least united
As Your flock for our salvation.

Jesus said: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three. A father will be divided against his son and a son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)


“I have come to set the earth on fire.” This is clearly a prophecy of the persecutions that the early Church would suffer as the pagan world, particularly Rome resisted the spread of the Christian faith. The historian Tacitus wrote about the great fire that destroyed most of Rome in 64 AD, and the emperor Nero putting the blame squarely on the Christians. Consequently, many of them were burned at stakes “to serve as torches at night”, and others fed to wild animals. For centuries, the persecutions of the followers of Christ would continue, culminating in the reigns of the emperors Diocletian and Galerius at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD. It is said that more than 20,000 Christians died during the rule of Diocletian alone.

Aside from persecution, “fire” in Scriptures also symbolized other things. In the Old Testament, it was usually the manifestation of “God’s wrath” against evil, such as the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen.19:24-25). Moses called down fire from heaven as one of the ten plagues against the obstinacy of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:3). The prophet Elijah also called down fire from heaven that destroyed the soldiers of King Ahaziah who were sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:9-17).

Fire was also seen as purification. “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold” (Zech 13:9). The prophet Malachi wrote about the cleansing of God’s priests: “For (the Lord) is like a refiner’s fire… He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Mal.3:3). In the book of Isaiah, we read, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Is 48:10).

Jesus, however, was not talking about the Old Testament fire of destruction, or of the fire of purification. Our Lord was simply conditioning His disciples about the baptism of fire that He would soon undergo, and which they too would have to follow. But they would be given the fire of the Holy Spirit first on Pentecost so that they could persevere in their trials of fire in their mission to spread the faith. Perhaps Jesus was also making a prophecy about the fire of division that His Church would undergo in future generations, and even among family members on matters of faith.

We experienced this “fire of division” in our own community years ago, but as it says in Romans 8:28, it turned out for the best, because now we have two chapters in our city, both active in the work of evangelization. Jesus tells us that if ever division or conflict should happen in our church, community, or family, we need not worry, because this may be God’s way of strengthening our faith. Whatever happens, we must remain faithful to Him and His Gospel, and we will never go astray.

Dear God, may the fire of the Holy Spirit transform us and fill us with boldness, that we may be Your effective instruments in winning others to Christ Jesus. Amen.

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