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Fire On Earth

Luke 12:49 -- 59

Lesson audio

The Jesus who loves the little children is often preached; the Jesus who came to set fire on earth, to bring not peace but a sword, is seldom preached. But that does not mean that his words no longer carry meaning or import.

Fire On Earth

"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. "They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

(Luk 12:49-53 NASB)


This lesson will soon touch upon end times; no area of Christian thought has such wildly different and bitterly held convictions as that. No doubt there is someone out there who conceives of this message as meaning a literal fire. To that person I offer my humble apologies; I just can’t see it your way. Please forgive me – and tolerate me for a couple of pages.

Fire, in general, is interpreted symbolically as referring to the Holy Spirit. This interpretation comes, of course, from the day of Pentecost when tongues of fire were the outward sign of the Spirit. To generalize the meaning, we must recall that the function of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin and of judgment to come. Any man so convicted will hear the Gospel as it truly is: Good News.

It is this conviction which forces the Great Divide. The Gospel is either truth itself or a terribly malicious tale, deceiving billions. The two points of view are summed up nicely in Jesus’ dialogue with Pontius Pilate:

Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate *said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and *said to them, "I find no guilt in Him.

(Joh 18:37-38 NASB)

In our time there are two primary views of the truth; each with its own ultimate result:

  • One view holds that truth exists independently of the existence of man. Man discovers truth, but does not create it. This is the view held by most Christians of most times.
  • The other view holds that man creates and sanctifies truth. Like the umpire, they tell us “it ain’t nothing until I call it.”

This latter view is the position taken by most thought leaders of our day. From that point of view, then, we may determine what those people would like to do to the Christians in their midst:

  • Since man determines truth, anything that proclaims an absolute truth must be false.
  • Such people are dangerous, threatening to eliminate such basic human rights as abortion (to mention the most prominent example.)
  • We therefore need to act against these people by all means possible – in the name of Truth, of course.
  • And because we determine truth, those people can be subjected to anything from ridicule to torture; such treatment is right, because we know that it is.

(It should be noted that when the humanists persecute the Christians, it is a good thing and proper use of power; in the meanwhile, all Christians should be abjectly apologizing for the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials.)

The division is in us

What makes one person take one point of view versus another?

  • One reason is expediency. We want something, and one view or the other seems convenient. (“I want to sleep with my girlfriend; therefore, there is no God.”)
  • Others delight in wishful thinking. Some variation of humanism (for example, New Age thinking) appeals to them because they would like it to be true. Since man is the judge, it is therefore true for them. Truth therefore has many shades.
  • Others delight in cynicism; if they can’t see, feel or touch it, it’s not true (which eliminates, by the way, high school geometry.)

But some of us take truth as revealed (and discovered) and make the transition to faith. It is interesting to see how God has arranged matters:

  • He has given us plenty of evidence – both in Scripture (which is the historical record of his dealings with us) and in life.
  • But the evidence is not subject to absolute proof, as we would see it in mathematics. Faith requires the leap from evidence to belief.
  • God has so constructed the universe that it tends to force the decision: believe, or believe not.

Faith, by its very nature, admits the possibility of doubt. But it also forces the decision; there is no half way point. And the division is concerning the person and office of Jesus of Nazareth.

Forcing the Great Divide

The Scripture makes it clear:

  • Our love for Christ MUST come first, above all other things. All other good things are subordinate to this, and are instructed by it. (For example, my responsibilities in marriage are taught by Scripture, not just my experience).
  • Because faith admits the possibility of rejection, some will reject it. And some of those will be in our own households. When this happens, we must decide which is first.
  • The honor of rejection for Christ’s sake is so great that God takes steps to keep us humble – he keeps this treasure in “jars of clay” – us.

Signs of the times

All this is interesting (I hope) but we must ask: so what? Christ provides the answer: the day of judgment is coming.

And He was also saying to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming,' and so it turns out. "And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, 'It will be a hot day,' and it turns out that way. "You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? "And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? "For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. "I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent."

(Luk 12:54-59 NASB)

First things first: one of the messages here is simply that the average person is not blind. You should be able to pick up on the signs of the times. But that’s not the same thing as saying, “I know when the Lord will return.” Indeed, the signs of his imminent return are not to be misused or misinterpreted.

  • They are signs to the active Christian – not to be interpreted by those of idle curiosity.
  • The study of these signs is not meant to replace active Christian living, but rather are a part of it. A Christian of no works but plentiful reading on end times is no Christian – but he will receive greater condemnation for his knowledge.
  • Despite all example to the contrary, such signs are not to divide the body of Christ, but unite it.
The sign board

So then, just what are these signs?

  • Apostasy. The church will find itself riddled with all sorts of man-made doctrine, contrary to the clear meaning of the Scriptures.
  • The “man of sin” or the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. Many nominations have been made for the job. The most common one is the Pope (either the papal system, or a particular pope to come.)
  • The great delusion will come too – those whose hearts do not place Christ first will have a new system of beliefs.
  • Most people will consider the faith something to be mocked.
  • There will be tribulation; the true followers of Christ will be hated by all nations.[1]
  • Many will fall away from the faith and betray those who are still faithful.
  • The Gospel will be preached to all peoples before the end comes.
  • The abomination of desolation will be made – and there is a great deal of debate about that.
  • There will be signs in the heavens – taken literally or figuratively.

There. You are now an expert on the end times.

Indeed, our Lord specifically warns us that we cannot know the times set by the Father for this. We do get some advice on the timing, however:

  • He tells us He will return “like a thief in the night.” In other words, NOBODY will get this right. It’s going to be a surprise to most people.
  • Before then, we will have wars and rumors of wars – perfectly normal, it means nothing.
  • In fact, things will be going on just fine; he compares it to the days of Noah. No one, but Noah & company, saw the use for a boat. At Christ’s return, only the true Christians will be ready.
  • Only God the Father knows the time.

In short, don’t buy anyone’s theory that tells you all the answers. It’s wrong.


Ordinary diligence

So, what are we supposed to be doing when he returns? Same things we ought to be doing now! But here are four things you might look into:

  • First, you’re going to wait – so wait patiently. Look forward to his return, but don’t make it your life’s work to know when.
  • Do what God commands us to do – make disciples, preach the Gospel, help the poor and the sick – knowing he could be here any minute now.
  • DON’T follow the experts in this. There are many conflicting views out there; strident partisanship is their hallmark. Have nothing to do with those who divide the church.
  • DO encourage each other with the thought of his return. There should be a difference at a Christian’s funeral.
Prepare for the persecution

What about this persecution?

  • Expect it. Watch for it and pray that God will give us the strength to handle it.
  • Whatever you do, do not return evil for evil. Prepare to overcome the evil one by returning good for evil.
  • Most important: “take up the Cross.” Acknowledge that God is right and just in this too. Bear with gladness the burden he gives you. Then when the heavy burden of persecution comes, you will know where to find your strength.
When persecution actually strikes.

What do I do when the persecution actually arrives?

  • Like the early church, scatter. God is taking the persecution and using it to spread the Gospel.
  • Like the early church, pray for deliverance. No one in their right mind wants persecution. That’s not the issue; the issue is what do we do when it arrives?
  • Like the early church, count it all joy when it comes. It means that Satan has found in us a foe worthy of his steel.

Worthy of his steel? Let the church walk in the power of Christ, and not her own riches and devices, and Satan will soon find himself overmatched by those who know they are weak – and therefore are strong.

[1] The entire system of Tribulation, Great Tribulation, etc. is not what this refers to. It means simply that persecution will come as the day draws near. Specific times and dates? That is beyond my knowledge.

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