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Gospel according to Luke 12: 49-51 (NIV)
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
We begin this reflection by visiting the book of Revelation. In chapter 20 the judgement of Satan and the defeat of his armies are described. In his vision, John has witnessed the release of Satan from his prison, Satan’s deceiving of the nations in the four corners of the earth and then his gathering of them, large numbers of them, for battle. John saw them surround the camp of God’s people. “But fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (verse 9b). Fire devoured the armies of Satan!
Could this be the fire to which Jesus referred as he addressed the crowd in Luke 12: 49? Jesus was sent by the Father to defeat Satan and ultimately to destroy all the armies that followed Satan. As recorded by Luke, Jesus spoke of this fire in the future tense. He expressed his desire that it were already kindled, that the judgement of Satan were already under way and that Satan’s armies were to be destroyed soon, perhaps even immediately if that were possible.
However this was not to be and Jesus knew it. Before that fire could be kindled, he had to endure the bitter days for which he was being prepared. He had to accept betrayal, being taken captive, being tried and sentenced unjustly, being beaten and flogged, being harangued by crowds who were children of Abraham as he was and then he had to endure the agony of spikes being hammered through his body onto rough lengths of wood in the form of a cross and of hanging on it to die. He had a baptism to undergo, the baptism of death.
Jesus knew he was under an unyielding constraint until this was completed. It was only his death on that cross which would take him through his constraint of remaining totally obedient to the Father. He could demonstrate to the world his obedience in no way other than by giving up his life in this cruel execution.
His death was the means by which the fire of which he spoke was kindled. The defeat of Satan is the inevitable consequence of Jesus’ willing sacrifice of himself on the cross. The power Satan exercises over human life on earth is through deceit, particularly regarding death and judgement (Genesis 3: 4). Jesus destroyed that lie once and for all by surrendering his own life and then, as was always the Father’s plan, by being raised again.
The fire has been kindled. It will not be quenched until Jesus has used it to devour, to consume, all the armies of Satan. We who have put our faith in Jesus are to cling to his words with confidence even as we encounter division between those who trust him and those who do not. The victory of Jesus is inevitable. The defeat of Satan is already assured.