|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
12:41-53 All are to take to themselves what Christ says in his word, and to inquire concerning it. No one is left so ignorant as not to know many things to be wrong which he does, and many things to be right which he neglects; therefore all are without excuse in their sin. The bringing in the gospel dispensation would occasion desolations. Not that this would be the tendency of Christ's religion, which is pure, peaceable, and loving; but the effect of its being contrary to men's pride and lusts. There was to be a wide publication of the gospel. But before that took place, Christ had a baptism to be baptized with, far different from that of water and the Holy Spirit. He must endure sufferings and death. It agreed not with his plan to preach the gospel more widely, till this baptism was completed. We should be zealous in making known the truth, for though divisions will be stirred up, and a man's own household may be his foes, yet sinners will be converted, and God will be glorified.
Verse 49. - I am come to send fire on the earth. It is still the same train of thought that the Master pursues - a train which had been only slightly diverted by Peter's question. The text, so to speak, of the whole discourse was "the strange attraction which riches possess for men, and the palsying effect which this attraction, when yielded to, exercises over the whole life." The Master's argument was as follows: "Beware of covetousness; let your attachment to earthly possessions sit very lightly on you all; and as for you, my disciples, do you have nothing to do with these perishable goods." And here, with an abrupt solemnity, probably the voice changing here, and ringing with an awful emotion, he enforces his charge to the disciples with the words, "I am come to send fire on the earth." "My stern, sad work is to inaugurate a mighty struggle, to cast a firebrand on the earth. Lo, my presence will stir up men - you will see this in a way none now dream of; a vast convulsion will rend this people asunder. In the coming days of war and tumult, what have you, my disciples, who will be in the forefront of this movement, - what have you to do with earthly goods? Toss them away from you as useless baggage. The pioneers of the army of the future, surely they must be unencumbered in the war, which is about to break out; for remember, 'I am come to send fire on the earth.'" And what will I, if it be already kindled? better rendered, how I would that it had been already kindled! That is to say, "How I wish that this fire were already burning!" (so Olshausen, De Wette, Bleek, and Farrar). Through all the woe, however, the Redeemer could see, shining as it were through a dark cloud, the unspeakable glory and blessedness of his work. But this fire could not be kindled into a flame until something had happened. The cross must be endured by him; till then his work was not finished; and in his pure human nature - it is with stammering tongue and trembling pen we speak or write here - he felt, we believe, the bitter stinging pain of dread expectation of what was coming. With this onlook he was weighed down, we know, at times; witness especially the Gethsemane agony. He goes on to say -
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
I am come to send fire on the earth,.... Meaning either the Gospel, which is as fire, that gives both light and heat, warms the hearts of God's people, and causes them to burn within them; though very distressing and torturing to wicked men; so the word of God is compared to fire, in Jeremiah 20:9. Or else zeal for it, and which would be opposed with sharp contentions by others; or rather persecution for the sake of the Gospel, called sometimes the fiery trial; which tries men, as gold is tried in the fire, what they are, and what their principles and profession be; unless the Holy Ghost, and baptizing with him, and with fire, should be meant; since Christ in the next verse, speaks of the baptism of his sufferings, which that was to follow:
and what will I? what shall I say concerning this fire? what shall I wish and pray for? what would be pleasing and agreeable to me? even this,
if it be already kindled; or "that it were already kindled", or "O that it were already kindled"; meaning either that the Gospel was warmly preached by his disciples, and zealously defended by them, as it was after his death and resurrection; or that hot persecution was raised against it which was now beginning, since the advantage of it would be far greater than the evil in it: or that the Holy Ghost was come down in cloven tongues, like as of fire.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
49-53. to send—cast.
fire—"the higher spiritual element of life which Jesus came to introduce into this earth (compare Mt 3:11), with reference to its mighty effects in quickening all that is akin to it and destroying all that is opposed. To cause this element of life to take up its abode on earth, and wholly to pervade human hearts with its warmth, was the lofty destiny of the Redeemer" [Olshausen: so Calvin, Stier, Alford, &c.].
what will I, &c.—an obscure expression, uttered under deep and half-smothered emotion. In its general import all are agreed; but the nearest to the precise meaning seems to be, "And what should I have to desire if it were once already kindled?" [Bengel and Bloomfield].
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