This passage in Luke is about the kingdom and judgment, and signs of the age – division. There is reference to Micah 7:6 and the "last days".
Although we have the inner peace of God, we do not have peace on earth. We face division at work, with friends and family.
Division is the main theme, but the overarching theme is judgment. There is reference to the "fire" of the coming kingdom, the "fire" of judgment, sharply dividing us.
Jesus has come on a mission and his coming brings to bring fire in other words judgment. Fire is a dominant Old Testament image of judgment.
Jesus says “I have a baptism to undergo”, this word being used in a metaphorical sense. In fact, it is quite possible that most uses of the word in the NT are metaphorical. Here baptized or immersed in suffering, the suffering of the cross.
Jesus is very distressed until his job, his mission is completed. And there will be no relief for Jesus until this suffering is over.
Jesus aligns himself with the true prophets when he reminds us that "the good news" has a sting; for many it's bad news!
Jesus comes to bring division or a sword as in Matt.10:34. The sense is of separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, the repentant from the unrepentant. It is a present social separation.
There will be fractured relationships, families, households will be divided, one against another, but, one generation against another.
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
Jesus is naming the reality that was around him. His presence in the world, God’s presence, was unsettling and it was a time of disruption and division. It was to be a time of upheaval.
By Jesus connecting his words about fire and division with the issue of reading the signs of the times Jesus is drawing attention to the unrest that was caused by his presence.
The end goal of God’s presence in the world is not in the division but in what the angels sang about and what Jesus declared after his resurrection: Peace. Shalom! Though he says he did not come to bring peace in the moment of his lifetime, the fulfillment of God’s promise in him is Peace.
The imagery of ‘fire’ is used here by Jesus to hearken back to the Old Testament and the images of ‘fire’. Some of these images point to a time of purification which was to come. The image of ‘fire’ is not the hellfire of punishment but the fire of purification; the refiners fire. Like when you heat a metal until it is liquid and take off the impurities that rise to the surface. That’s a bit like our lives. In the worst situations a purification takes place and we remove things that are tarnishing us.
Jesus of course was purified through his death and resurrection.
So Jesus is also speaking of the baptism of suffering that he has to go through, his suffering and death. His death however was not about division but about reconciliation, of us to God and us to one another.
Jesus is not affirming family breakdown and the disruption of relationships between children and their parents, nor affirming and encouraging division but naming what he saw around him.
We should not use this passage to condone division between one another, in our families, our congregation, or across the world. Division is the mark of the ungodly, not us!
We too can read the signs around us. We may experience fire and division but we remember that God’s peace is where we are headed.
Let us live as people of God’s shalom, receiving gratefully forgiveness when we fall short and celebrating and making God’s love where we are.