Did Jesus Come to Bring Peace or Division?
Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!
Do you ever find yourself reading along in Scripture when all of a sudden you come across a verse that punches you right in your solar plexus? After you get over your shock, you say to yourself, “What is this doing here? How am I to make sense of this?” And if you’re really honest, you might even say, “I wish this verse weren’t here!”
Luke 12:51 is such a verse. It begins with a question that seems to have an obvious answer: “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?” Our answer: “Yes, of course we do. You are the Prince of Peace, after all. At your birth, the angels celebrated ‘peace on earth.’ The New Testament repeatedly explains how you give us peace. So, yes, Jesus, we do think you have come to bring peace on earth.” Then we hear Jesus’ stunning response: “No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (12:51). Jesus goes on to explain how he will split families in a variety of ways. This, in the culture of Jesus, was just about the worst thing one could imagine. And Jesus is saying he’s going to do it. It’s a punch to the gut, one that takes our breath away.
How are we going to make sense of Luke 12:51? Have we found a contradiction in the Bible, some fatal flaw in its tapestry of truth? How can we respond to this unsettling word of Jesus?
Context is everything, as they say. In Luke 12, Jesus is not making some broad statement about his ultimate purpose. Rather, he is pointing to a very real result of his kingdom proclamation. As Jesus announced the kingdom of God, calling for primary allegiance, this often split families, as some members believed and others did not. In fact, it’s quite possible that Jesus’ own family was severed because of his ministry, at least during his lifetime. So, even though the kingdom of God ultimately establishes God’s peace on earth, the advance of the kingdom brings division.
This unhappy truth does not, of course, imply that followers of Jesus are to seek conflict or to try to split up families. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that we are to be peacemakers and “to live in peace with each other” (Matt. 5:9; Mark 9:50). The Apostle Paul adds: “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). But making peace is not the same as making nice. Sometimes, our efforts to bring genuine peace to a situation or a relationship will, in fact, lead to conflict. Yet, we seek to serve God faithfully in such circumstances, knowing that, in the end, his genuine, lasting peace will pervade all creation.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced division in a relationship because of your faith in Christ? How can we be peacemakers in situations where the presence and values of the kingdom of God seem to stir up conflict? How are you seeking to be a peacemaker in your relationships?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, to be honest, my first reaction to Luke 12:51 was not a happy one. You know that, of course. I like the thought of peace on earth. I like singing about it and waxing eloquent about it. I love the fact that you have come to make all things new, thus pressing your peace upon your creation.
I don’t love the truth of Luke 12:51, but I must acknowledge it. There are times when loyalty to you divides families. I’ve seen it in my own ministry. I see it today throughout the world, especially in places where becoming a Christian is a capital offense. This is hard, Lord, as you may very well know from your own family experience.
Today I pray for those who face ostracism and persecution because of their faith in you, even from their own families. I ask that you sustain them and encourage them. Dear Lord, break down the dividing walls of hostility in our world.
Help me to be faithful to you in all things, no matter the cost. Help me to know how to be a genuine peacemaker in the situations and relationships where you have placed me. May I live for you and your kingdom in all I do. Amen.