Luke 12:49 - I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

What is the “fire” that Jesus refers to in Luke 12:49, and why does He wish it were already kindled? How does this relate to the baptism He mentions in the next verse?

Luke 12:50 - But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!


What is the “fire” in Luke 12:49?

Luke 12:49 - I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Jesus says that he has come "to ignite" a fire on the earth." His teachings , raised issues that cause great heat of controversy and result in the consuming of false teachings and traditions. This even separates individuals who might be expected to be united, dividing "father against son and son against father."...Luke 12:52-53

Luke 12:52-53 (NASB) Not Peace, but Division

52 For from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 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.”

1 Corinthians 1:23 (NASB)

23 but we preach [a]Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness,

  • Thank you for taking the time to answer! Can you explain why Jesus wished the fire were already kindled?
    – Gremosa
    Feb 12 at 21:41
  • It is a thought searching question, I do no know. Feb 13 at 18:42

The noun, πῦρ (pyr) is used in several distinct ways in the NT:

  • literal fire, eg, Mark 9:22, Luke 22:55, John 18:18, Acts 28:3, 5, Heb 11:34, etc.
  • As a symbol/metaphor of sinful tendencies getting out of control, eg, James 3:6, 5:3, etc.
  • As a symbol/metaphor of the Holy Spirit, eg, Matt 3:11, Luke 3:16, Acts 2:3, 19, etc
  • As a symbol/metaphor of refining judgement, eg, Matt 3:12, 5:22, 13:40, 42, 50, 18:8, 9, 25:41, Mark 9:43, 48, 49, Luke 3:17, 9:54, 12:49, 1 Cor 3:13, Heb 12:29, Jude 7, Rev 8:7, 9:18, 11:5, 20:14, etc.

The context in most cases makes it clear which meaning or metaphor is intended. However, the meaning in Luke 12:49 could be either the final judgement, or, the coming Holy Spirit.

Ellicott believes it is the judgement. MacLaren believes it is the Holy Spirit. Benson does not say. Barnes suggests the fire is "discord and contention, and consequently of calamities". Many more variants could be quoted. So what did the Lord mean here?

The context of the verse is the best guide to Jesus intended meaning. Note what precedes and follows Luke 12:49 -

  • In V42-48 Jesus tells the parable of the faithful and unfaithful stewards and what makes them such
  • In V48 Jesus discusses the basis for different disciplines ("stripes") or punishment
  • In V51 Jesus declares that he has not come to bring peace but division, ie, a distinction between the righteous and wicked
  • In V52 - a household will be divided - three vs two
  • In v53 - they will be divided - father vs son, etc

Thus, Jesus, in Luke 12:49, appears to discussing the process He describes in several other parables such the Weeds where the righteous and wicked grow together until the distinction/difference between the two is apparent and the wicked are thrown into the fire. If that fire had already been lit, then Jesus mission would be complete and the righteous would be saved.

However, things are not that simple. It is also our rejection or acceptance of the Holy Spirit, His teaching about Jesus in our lives that makes the difference between the righteous and the wicked. Again, John the Baptist alludes to this in Matt 3:11.

It is as if the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives prevents us from the final fire of destruction (2 Peter 3:7, 12) and Jesus ingeniously combines the two here in a single reference.

  • Thank you for the answer, Dottard! Can you speak to how this fire relates to the baptism Jesus says He needs to undergo?
    – Gremosa
    Jan 12 at 22:30
  • @Gremosa - I think this just a Hebrew idiom meaning a difficult and trying ordeal.
    – Dottard
    Jan 13 at 0:35
  • Thank you @Dottard! Do you have an idea of why Jesus wished the fire was already kindled?
    – Gremosa
    Feb 12 at 21:45
  • @Gremosa - the "already kindled" (v49) is simply Jesus wish that the whole process (for Him) was already complete and the judgement is underway and those rejecting Jesus were already being dealt with.
    – Dottard
    Feb 12 at 21:50

This fire is probably a literal fire. It would be Jesus’ premeditated answer to the cry of the murdered saints in Rev 6:10. If so, “the fire” will not happen until the last of the chosen few has been killed and the full number (144000/288000?) has been filled; according to Rev 6:11.

Many righteous people has already been martyred since the first martyr Abel:

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Mat 23:35).

However most of the chosen few will probably be martyred during the coming Great Tribulation (Rev 7:14). With this event the salt that prevented the world from decay is removed, and it starts to disintegrate rapidly:

“You are the salt of the earth”. (Mat 5:13; NIV)**

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Rev 6:9-11: NIV)

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,“they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:13-17; NIV)

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