What divides: peace and urgency

christ-dancing-christianPeace and Division. 51 Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

To the question whether Jesus came to bring peace most of us would unhesitatingly reply ‘Yes’. But Jesus’ “No, I tell you” is emphatic (ouchi). There is, of course, a sense in which he does bring peace, that deep peace with God which leads to true peace among people. But in another sense his message is divisive – such is the effect of prophetic speech. In this Jesus gives a fulfillment in the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:35). But one must note that the division is really caused – not by the prophetic speech – but by the decisions one makes because of that speech. This has already been seen when people are called to decide if Jesus is of God or of Satan (Luke 11:14-20). Those who see Jesus must decide rightly lest “the light in you not become darkness” (11:35).

The cross challenges people. Jesus calls on his followers to take up their own cross as they follow him (9:23ff.; 14:27). When people do not rise to this challenge it is not unusual for them to become critical of those who do. Jesus’ words are quite literal and were the experience of the early church (and in differing ways, the experience of the church is all ages). Verses 52-53 strongly echo the words of the OT: “For the son dishonors his father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies are those of his household. But as for me, I will look to the LORD, I will put my trust in God my savior; my God will hear me!” (Micah 7:6-7).

Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreters Bible, p.267) reflects on this passage:

Repeatedly, the warnings about the coming judgment have forced us to examine the implications of our commitments. It is all too easy to make commitments in one area of life as though they did not affect other areas also. Jesus warned that those who make a commitment to him will be persecuted, that a commitment of faith also means that our attitude toward material possessions must change, and that moral responsibilities must be taken with even greater seriousness. Now Jesus warns that persons who make a commitment to him will find their relationships to others, even those closest to them, affected by that commitment. We cannot make a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord without its affecting the way we related to friends and to family members. Because our commitment to Christ shapes our values, priorities, goals, and behavior, it also forces us to change old patterns of life, and these changes may precipitate crises in significant relationships.

The urgency of the kingdom. Jesus is asking his disciples to clearly see the culmination of his mission in the return of the Son of Man at the time of judgment. He is already engaged in the task of lighting a fire on the earth to prepare people for judgment, all the while noting that judgment is taking place as people decide for or against him.

The “fire” of Christ is also given in the Holy Spirit as well (Acts 2:3–4); the fire of the Holy Spirit will be cast on the earth through the fulfillment of the events for which Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem. Jesus means by his “baptism” the plunge into this saving mission, a prospect that produces mixed emotions because of the suffering connected with it. Some of his teaching on forgiveness and peace may have given the impression that he was spreading a soft gospel; John the Baptist seems to have worried about that (7:18–23). Jesus assures his listeners that Christian discipleship is costly, even causing division in the family (Mark 3:21; John 7:5).


Luke 12:51 peace on earth: What is surprising is the seeming contradiction with infancy account’s promise that Jesus would bring peace (1:19; 2:14, 29). However, those who accept Jesus have this peace (7:50; 8:48; 10:5-6) and as a result are separated from those who reject the prophet’s message. Such separation inevitably leads to division.

Luke 12:52 From now on a household…: Compare this to the analogy of Satan’s household in 11:17-18.

Luke 12:53 a father …against his son: Interestingly this is a reversal of the promise made concerning the mission of John by Gabriel, that like Elijah, he would “turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous” (1:17)


  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995)
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970

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