Calling Down Fire From Heaven – Luke 9:51-56

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Luke 9:51-56 NIV

I have often found humor in this passage as I read it. During his ministry Jesus traveled from village to village proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God. He generally seems to have had a receptive audience in most villages. But there were some who rejected him. And this Samaritan village was one of those where he did not receive a warm welcome.

The bothers James and John took exception to this rejection. And I am sure that this being a hated Samaritan village did not help their mood. So they came to Jesus to ask about calling down fire from heaven to destroy them. I am sure they would have taken great delight in being able to do this. But, alas, Jesus did not grant them their request. Instead he rebuked them and then led the disciples to another village.

The Danger of Militant Christianity

There is a brand of Christianity today that seems to take this example of James and John as the proper response to those who oppose them. To call down fire from heaven to consume their enemies. And they seem quite willing to consider themselves as that consuming fire. This militant form of Christianity has become much more noticeable in the past few years, and I find that troubling.

Jesus’ response to the militant James and John was one of rebuke. Can we imagine that his response is different today to those who respond to opposition in the same way? Jesus tells us that we should expect to be rejected by the people of this world (John 15:18-21). But he tells us to respond in love (Matt. 5:43-48), not in anger.

I believe that this form of militant Christianity is extremely damaging to the cause of Christ. The kingdom is much better served when we follow Jesus’ example of self-sacrificial love, rather than the example of James and John in this passage.

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2 thoughts on “Calling Down Fire From Heaven – Luke 9:51-56”

  1. You are correct that Jesus would not allow His apostles to call down fire from heaven, however, I would not say it was strictly because of God’s love for mankind. God does have love of mankind, they are His creation that is after His image and likeness, but that love is tempered with several warnings from Christ.

    In Mt 10:37-38 we are told; “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

    This is one of the sayings of Christ that many cannot understand. Luke’s account phrases it even more bluntly: “If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Actually, these accounts (Matthew’s and Luke’s) have the same meaning, and it should be understood that “hate” as used in this context actually means lesser love that one has for others, It is not a vicious hatred in the ordinary meaning of the word “hate” although God is capable of considerable hatred for non believers. An Old Testament example of what Jesus meant is seen in Jacob’s “hatred” of Leah (Genesis 29:31), Jacob loved all his wives, but he loved Leah less than Rachel. The teaching in this place is simply that Christ must be FIRST in the lives of those who would truly follow him.

    The love of Christ is tempered with a severity that Paul commanded men to behold in Romans 11:22; “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”

    Preeminent among all of the attributes God has revealed concerning himself, the quality of his everlasting goodness stands out, not in the sense of being more than other qualities of God, but in the sense of being most frequently stressed and emphasized in the word of God. God’s attribute of invariable righteousness undergirds the blunt warning here; and that warning is: all of the Father’s promises to sinners saved by grace are conditioned upon their continuation in his loving service. When even an angel sins, God will not ignore it. The possibility of Christians’ defecting from the divine favor is tersely stated here. The fact of it is proved by the history of Israel, by God’s dispossession of the fallen angels, by God’s recorded Judgments in the scriptures, and the ultimate impossibility of any sin’s being able to stand in God’s presence. It was the loving and faithful God who swept the whole earth of the antediluvian race, and it was noted extensively in Paul’s epistle to the Romans that when sin and rebellion reach their point of no return, God hardens and destroys. The current love-cult has, to some degree, corrupted mankind’s conception of the divine goodness by leaving out of view the aspect of God’s character which Paul here commands people to behold. The severity here mentioned derives from the righteousness and justice of our Father who is angry with the wicked every day, who abhors evil, and who will punish all who refuse to do His will in all areas of their lives.

    That being said; God’s goodness is beyond the capacity of people to understand. It is a goodness that loved people, even in their sins, caused our Father to give His Beloved Son for our rescue, and waits in longsuffering patience upon man’s repentance, not willing that any should perish, but desiring the salvation of all. The divine goodness is not a weak and vacillating namby-pambyism, which is as revolting and disgusting as it is untrue of the God that created us, and gave us birth.

    The point in all the above is there can be no higher priority than one’s duty to God and his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Earthly rulers had long been accustomed to claiming of their subjects an allegiance that set aside all other duties; and the Lord, by such a statement as those above, demands it also for his own righteous purpose, which calls for an allegiance even greater and more binding than that given to generals and kings of the earth. A good example of such earthly demands of allegiance is the following battle call which marked the campaign of Donald Balloch in 1431. (I’m a history buff as well)

    Come every hill plaid and True heart that wears one; Come every steel blade and Strong hand that bears one. Leave untended the herd, The flock without shelter; Leave the corpse uninterred, The bride at the altar. Leave the deer, leave the steer, Leave nets and barges: Come with your fighting gear, Broadswords and targets.

    Jesus in His authority demands such a priority for his Kingdom, but with this monumental difference, that Jesus calls men to life and eternal salvation, whereas earth’s emperors and kings call men for, in most cases, death.

    Reply
    • I believe the issue was not God’s love for mankind. Rather it was the militant ‘righteousness’ that so many are guilty of today. Wanting to destroy anyone who falls short of what they think is proper. I find that attitude to be very destructive to the cause of Christ.

      Reply

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