Let’s read the whole passage before we look at it verse by verse. “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided; three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (NKJV).

The Lord knew that His coming into the world would bring DIVISION, for there would be “those who believe on Him” and “those who don’t believe on Him.” One has said that “Christ is the Great Divider of men” and this passage bears that out. We read in John 7:43, “So there was a division among the people because of Him.” This was true everywhere He went, and our portion reveals that this division would even take place in a home where family members would be divided because of Him.

In light of this truth, I believe the “fire” that is spoken of in verse 49 is the “fire of persecution.” FIRE in the Bible often speaks of WRATH; in this case it is speaking of the unbeliever’s WRATH or ANGER against the believer in Christ. Why would the Lord Jesus say, “I wish it were already kindled?” Did He invite persecution? No, but He knew that when the persecution came it would reveal what was truly in a man’s heart. If someone is angry at you and persecutes you for your faith in Christ, it exposes their unbelief. You know where they stand and they know where you stand. All pretenses are swept away.

Before the Lord resumes this subject in verses 51-53 He speaks of His impending death on the cross. He refers to His death on Calvary as a “baptism” because on the cross He was IMMERSED in God’s WRATH! I would encourage you to read Psalm 69 where we have Christ’s suffering for sin prophesied and several times it speaks of the “deep waters” and “the floods” of God’s judgment overflowing Him. His heart of love brought Him down to this earth to accomplish redemption for lost and guilty sinners and He longed for His mission to be accomplished so that repentant and believing sinners could be saved.

In verses 51-53 He clearly expresses the DIVISION that would result from His coming. He did NOT come “to give peace on earth” (that will happen at His Second Coming when He comes as the “Prince of peace” to establish His kingdom here on earth—see Isaiah 9:6-7 and 32:1, 17-18). He came knowing full well that it would bring DIVISION, even into the home where natural ties would not prevent the unbeliever from venting his anger against those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. I will never forget meeting a woman who had just been saved and she was so excited to travel home to share the good news of Jesus Christ with her mother and father. She was sure that they would receive the gospel immediately and rejoice in their newfound Savior. We cautioned her that this “might not happen.” When we saw her a few days later she was depressed, for they not only rejected the gospel she presented to them, but they displayed real anger towards her and told her to never bring this subject up again. She learned, by bitter experience, the truth of the passage we are considering. (275.9) (DO)