Summary: The Fire that Jesus brings to the earth is a Fire of love, not the consuming fire of destruction such that destroyed Sodom and Gomorah, however, it’s impact burns in the hearts of the hearers and causes them to judge their own deeds which results in confl
Let’s put it this way, it’s not nice to hear any message of destruction, talk less of destruction by bringing fire to the earth. If Jesus was walking the streets of California, Los Angeles, London and Paris with that kind of message he would be number one on the FBI list of wanted persons. Well in his days, the Jewish leaders and the Roman goverment did not dissapoint, they had Jesus and his messianic message on top of their ’watch this bloke’ "Top Secret" caveat list of wanted people. They followed him everywhere, listened to every word he preached, albeit, with a different agenda. They weren’t listening to Jesus so that they could be saved, they were hunting him to bring him to their own judgement. How ironic it was when Jesus spoke about bringing fire to the earth, because the word ’Fire’ can sometimes connotes a meaning of judgement in the hearing of the people of his day.
"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how it were already kindled" Luke 12:49
This sentence is pregnanted with meanings, and it is designed to stir his listeners to action, action of decision, of thinking and of conflicts in their hearts. It worked to devastating effect as Jesus always demand from his followers total allegiance to God as a prerequisites of the Kingdom of God. Each hearer would have heard the same message but would definitely interprete it differently. So what do we then make of this statement of Jesus?, what does it mean to his hearers then and what does it mean to us today?
In Ancient Greek philosophy, Heraclitus the philosopher considered ’Fire’ to be one of the primary forms of the real world and quite a lot of people in ancient times believe that fire, air, earth and water are all primary elements substances of the world.
In the Old Testament, a sort of a history of the jewish people, one of the words used for’Fire’in Hebrew is ’ASh’. The letter ’A’-aleph oftens refers to God and ’Sh’ SHin infers ’bringing forth, or birth’so that the word ASh would mean ’The bringing forth or birth of God in us’. That means we can safely interprete the word fire to mean the bringing forth God in us, although there would be other meanings and ethymologies, it woul mostly all depend on the background, context and the usage of the word ’Fire’
However, the people of Jesus’ times would have been used to all permutations of the usage of the word fire, and ironically, the hearing of the word ’fire’ does really fires people up. One of the most notably usage of the Fire in the Old Testament was the Taberah, recorded in Numbers chapter 11, when the people of Israel complained too much and displeased God. He sent Fire and "consumed them that were in the uttermost part of the camp" Num 11:1-3
In the New Testament, the word fire was used many times in different forms, but their usage was relative to the prevailing conditions, background and within the context in which they existed. One of the earliest recordings of the usage of the word Fire in the NT was recorded in the gospel according to Luke, chapter 3 where John the Baptist was introducing Jesus in his absence to his followers who came to him to be baptised “I baptized you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire”. Here, John’s baptism with water symbolizes washing away of sin which is in line with his message of repentance and reformation. Jesus baptism by ‘fire’ includes the power needed to do God’s will, so the usage of ‘fire’ here connotes power and judgement, it symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit as those who refuse to repent brings God’s judgement on themselves.
So it is against this background and knowledge that Jesus makes this statement to the crowd and it must have stirred more than a bit of debate among them. Today it certainly created a lot of debate among theologians. Some scholars go by the judgement interpretation, they argue that ‘fire’ here symbolizes judgement. Others think it is in relation to the descent of the Holy Spirit as evident on the day of Pentecost in Acts Chapter 2. Still some scholars feel ‘fire’ here is referring to Jesus’ work on the cross and Jesus’ reference to ‘how I wish it were already kindled’ was in regards to how He wished the task is brought to fulfilment. Yet other theologians think that the judgement inference from this passage refers to the judgement that Jesus will suffer on the cross on his own during the brief separation from His father. It is the judgement the Messiah will bear for others, not the one that He will inflict on them.