The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44

3. The kingdom and judgment, 12:35-13:21

iii] Signs of the age - division


In the passage before us Jesus delivers two oracles which conclude with a commentary based on Micah 7:6. In these sayings Jesus gives his disciples an insight into life in this age, these "last days".


Although believers possess the peace of God, they do not possess peace on earth. In the age of the absent Lord, judgement faces the human family. People face decision, and decision produces division, division between friends and even between family members.


i] Context: See 12:35-40. Signs of the age - division, is the third episode in a set of six which address the issue of the kingdom and judgment, 12:35-13:21. This episode reveals that division prefigures judgment. This judgment theme is brought to an appropriate conclusion in the fifth and sixth episodes by reminding the reader of the choice facing humanity, namely "repentance or death", 13:1-9, and of the inevitable victory of the kingdom, 13:10-21.


ii] Structure: This passage, The signs of the age - division, presents as follows:

Sayings on judgment, v49-50:

"I have come to bring fire on earth ...."

"I have a baptism to be baptized with ....."

Sayings on division, v51-53:

"do you think I come to bring peace on earth? No, ... but division."

"from now on there will be five in one family divided ......"


iii] Interpretation:

Division is certainly a dominant theme in this set of linked sayings of Jesus, but the overarching theme is judgment. The sayings concern the "fire" of the coming kingdom, the "fire" of judgment, even now proclaimed in the gospel, and already "exercising a judgment among men, sharply dividing them according to their attitude toward [the word of] Jesus", Ellis. So, "division", prompted by the preaching of the gospel, serves to prefigure the coming day of judgment; this day is now.


iv] Synoptics:

Again we have saying material which is peculiar to Luke, although there is some alignment with Matthew 10:34-36, and Mark 10:38. Some commentators suggest that the source is Q, but then what was the source for Matthew's sayings? It seems more likely that Luke is drawing on his own oral source of the gospel tradition.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 12:49

Signs of the time, v49-53: i] Judgment, v49-50. a) Saying - the judgment of fire, v49-50. "I have come to pour fire upon the earth. What is it that I want? Oh! I just want it to be kindled." Our passage for study stands within a number of other passages that deal with coming judgment. There is great debate as to what Jesus actually wants to pour upon the earth, but it is more than likely that Jesus is speaking about the coming of the kingdom of God and of the terrible judgment that faces humanity in its comin. The coming day of the kingdom is not prefigured by peace on earth, but rather by "fire" - the fire of the great assize.

hlqon (ercomai) aor. "I have come" - I came. "Coming" in the sense of Jesus' coming on mission. The sense of the aorist tense here may be culminative, as NIV, but probably better ingressive (inceptive) where the beginning of the action is in view. The word "coming" is often used to express "coming in judgment." "I came to bring fire", NRSV.

balein (ballw) aor. inf. "to bring" - to throw, put. Possibly "kindle", Jeremias, so "light a fire." The infinitive probably serves to express purpose; "in order to throw down."

pur (pur puroV) "fire" - The position is emphatic. What "fire" is intended is open to debate. The following have been suggested: i] The fire of the gospel message, a message that condemns and divides, so Bock; ii] The fire of judgement, in the sense of the eschatological judgement in the last day, so Johnson, Nolland, or present judgment (division - "dividing fire"), so Stein, Danker, Creed; iii] The fire of the Holy Spirit's coming, 3:16, so Ellis, Johnson; iv] The fire of suffering; v] The fire of holiness, poss. purification, so Plummer; vi] The fire of faith, so Zahn. It seems best to follow Nolland who sees the language in terms of "eschatological purgation and judgment", "The eschatological conflagration", Conzelmann, fire being a dominant Old Testament image of judgment. This coming judgment, which entails the realization of the kingdom God in the enthronement of Christ and the great assize, is prefigured in Christ's "baptism" (= his suffering and death) and in family and society division resulting from the preaching and acceptance, or rejection, of the gospel. In all this, Jesus looks to get on with it.

epi "on" - upon, over. The meaning of this preposition is fluid, but probably "upon" is intended, "pour fire upon", so, "I came to set fire to the earth", CEV.

ti "how [I wish ..]" - how, what, why [I will] - Introducing an indefinite statement, a wish, as NIV, or possibly an interjection, or even a question, "And what do I want if it is already kindled?" Rieu. A question seems best, "what is it that I want?", but followed by an unfulfilled wish ei hdh anhfqh, "Oh that it were already kindled", Moule IB p137. "I have come to set the world ablaze. What is it that I want? Would that it were already kindled", Barclay.


b) "I must be plunged into a flooding-tide of suffering, and there can be no relief for me, until I have gone through to the end", Barclay. Jesus knows well that the coming kingdom of God is realized through tribulation, and for Jesus, this means suffering and death. Jesus must himself face the wrath of God and for this reason he sets his face toward Calvary and with determination, presses onward toward the end. Jesus' "baptism" (the word is being used metaphorically here of "immersion") is his immersion in suffering and death on the cross, his atoning sacrifice for broken humanity. This event, with its cosmic signs, serves to prefigure a divine judgment which will inevitably engulf the whole of creation.

baptisma (a atoV) acc. "[I have] a baptism [to undergo]" - immersion, overwhelmed. "Overwhelmed by catastrophe", Marshall. "I have to be baptized [with] a baptism", "baptism" is a cognate accusative of the infinitive, "to be baptized", the infinitive functioning as the direct object of the verb "I have." We have here another example of this word being used in a metaphorical sense. In fact, it is quite possible that most uses of the word in the NT are metaphorical, eg. immersed in the Spirit, immersed in teaching ...., as opposed to immersed in water. Here obviously immersed in suffering, the suffering of the cross, which suffering, accompanied by cosmic signs and even a preemptive rising of the dead, serves to prefigure the coming day of judgment. Specifically "the inundation of the waters of divine judgment", Bock, Plummer, but certainly not an allusion to Christian baptism, or the baptism in blood of the Christian martyr. "I'm going to be put to a hard test", CEV.

baptisqhnai (baptizw) aor. pas. inf. "to undergo" - to be baptized [with], immersed, overwhelmed. The infinitive is epexegetic, explaining what Jesus must have, so "I have to be overwhelmed [with] an overwhelming; "I must be plunged into a flooding tide of suffering", Barclay.

sunecomai (sunecw) pres. pas. "[how] distressed I am" - I am constrained / afflicted. Possibly in the sense of "distressed" as NIV, but also possibly the sense of "constrained", even "preoccupied", Nolland; "there can be no relief for me", Barclay.

eJwV o{tou + subj. "until [it is completed]" - until [it is accomplished]. This construction forms a temporal clause referring to time up to a future point, so "until". The subject, the "it", is the "baptism", and there will be "no relief" for Jesus "until" this suffering "is over", REB. For Jesus, the cross looms large, it dominates, and everything moves toward it. "Until I have gone through to the end", Barclay.


ii] Division, 51-53. a) Saying - the judgment of division, v51. Jesus aligns himself with the Old Testament prophets when he reminds his listeners that the coming day of the Lord is not a day of peace, but rather, is a day of judgment, a day of apocalyptic tribulation, a day when the saved are separated from those doomed to destruction. In the present moment, this coming day is prefigured in social division, cf. v52-53. We know that Jesus makes much of the sign of "love", the love of the brotherhood, but what we have here is another sign of the kingdom, the sign of division.

oJti "-" - that [I come]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they might think; "Do you think that I have come", NRSV.

dounai (didwmi) aor. inf. "to bring" - to give. "Give" in the sense of "establish". Infinitive expressing purpose, "in order to", but possibly consecutive expressing result, "do you think the result of my coming will be peace in the world?" Barclay.

eirhnhn (h) "peace" - The position is emphatic; "do you really think that peace is the purpose / is the consequence of my coming? No way!" The popular prophets in Jeremiah's day preached "peace", when there was no peace, for the coming day of the Lord is not a day of peace, but a day of apocalyptic tribulation. Jesus aligns himself with the true prophets when he reminds us that "the good news" has a sting; for many it's bad news! Of course, that it is bad news for some doesn't stop it being good news for others, ie. Jesus does also bring peace, 1:79, 2:14, 29, etc.

en + dat. "on [earth]" - Local, expressing space/sphere.

ouci "no" - A strong negation, "no way!"

uJmin dat. pro. "[I tell] you" - [I say no] to you. Dative of indirect object.

alla h] "but" - but rather. Forming a strong adversative.

diamerismon (oV) "division" - Hapax legomenon, once only use in NT. Matthew records the word "sword" rather than "division", Matt.10:34. Luke most likely clarifies the meaning of the word "sword" by his use of "division". Possibly "dissension", Moffatt, "discord", Williams, but "division", even "hostile division", Bock, fits best with the context. The sense is of separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, the repentant from the unrepentant. In the present, this division is achieved by the gospel. This separating is both eternal, a separation unto life, or unto death, but is also a present social separation, cf. v52-53.


b) Saying - the judgment of fractured relationships, v52-53. Jesus now explains what he means by division and then, in v53, supports his words by quoting Micah 7:6. Division was one of the commonly expected signs of the coming messianic kingdom, and so now, with the coming of Jesus the messiah, families can expect that through the preaching of the gospel household members will "turn against one another", CEV. Some members of the family will stand with Jesus and others will stand against him. In the last days, this now time, this end time, families will be divided, generally, one against another, but specifically, one generation against another. So, it will be two against three, or three against two.

gar "-" - for. Probably serving here as a stitching device between two sayings so left untranslated.

apo tou nun "from now on" - from the present, henceforth. A general time designation used by Luke to identify a change caused by the arrival of the messiah.

esontai (eimi) fut. "there will be" - [for now] (on the earth/land, v51) there will be. Future of the verb to-be. If linked to the participle "having been divided", the verb to-be would form a "periphrastic future perfect", so Marshall, Nolland, Fitzmyer, ie. "a household of five will be divided", TNT, but a bit irregular (a future periphrastic is usually formed by the future of the verb to-be with a present participle), so see below.

oikw/ (oV) "[in one] family" - house.

diamemerismenoi (diamerizw) perf. pas. part. "divided against each other" - having been divided. The action is intensive, but with durative effect; from now and into the future there will be division in families. The participle is probably adjectival, attributive, either limiting the noun "house", it's a divided house/family, "five in one divided house", or better limiting "[five] people", people being understood, "five people divided in a house." "In one house there will be five people in a state of division", Barclay.


diamerisqhsontai (diamerizw) fut. pas. "they will be divided" - Subject, "they", is the listed family members. The position is emphatic, as NIV.

epi + dat., acc. "against" - As usual, the meaning of this preposition is fluid, but the context requires the spacial sense"against".

authV gen. pro. "-" - [against] her [daughter-in-law]. The genitive is adjectival, relational.


Luke Introduction



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