Luke 9:54

ESV And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
NIV When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?'
NASB When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'
CSB When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them? "
NLT When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, 'Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up ?'
KJV And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?

What does Luke 9:54 mean?

Jesus has sent messengers to a village in Samaria to "make preparations for him" (Luke 9:52). Because Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, the villagers refuse to accommodate their request (Luke 9:53). We don't precisely know their issue, but it's probably either religious or political. Religiously, the Samaritans worship on Mount Gerizim and do not believe Jerusalem is the proper place to worship God. Politically, about 150 years prior, John Hyrcanus, the chief priest, burned down the Samaritan's temple. The Samaritans have good reasons to reject Jesus both for His loyalty to Jerusalem and because He's a Jew. Even so, in a culture in which hospitality was central, this rejection was extremely insulting and even shameful.

And yet, James and John are also caught in the Old Testament mindset. They believe Jesus is the Messiah who will conquer Rome, bring political independence to the Jews, and reign, with the brothers by His side (Mark 10:35–37). They are defending Jesus' kingdom and the return of Jewish rule: a thought that would strike fear into any Samaritan.

In addition, James and John know the Samaritans do not worship God as they should. The distinction between Samaritans and Jews seems to have come during the time of Nehemiah. Yet the groundwork for that division goes back further. Idolatry was a problem for the people of Israel during the time of judges. It intensified when the northern kingdom of Israel broke off from Solomon's foolish son, and the new leader established idols to keep his people out of Jerusalem and the temple (1 Kings 12:25–33). Throughout their history, they worshiped more and more foreign gods until God called the Assyrians to destroy them—which introduced even more pagan deities (2 Kings 17:24–33). The Samaritans were descendants of intermarriage between Israelites and Gentiles. They only followed the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and worshipped on Mount Gerizim, believing the temple in Jerusalem, and its priests, to be illegitimate.

James and John can grit their way through the rampant false worship in Samaria. They don't have the patience for blatant rejection of the Messiah. Their thoughts apparently go back to the northern kingdom's king Ahaziah who sought the insight of Baal-zebub as to whether he would recover from his injury. Elijah challenged his idolatry and called fire from heaven to destroy his sacrilegious messengers (2 Kings 1).

In that time and place, Elijah's actions were a proper response. Israel was rejecting their God, whose worship only properly happened in Jerusalem. In this time and place—that described by Luke in this passage—Jesus is preparing His disciples for a new way. His political kingdom will not come yet. In God's church, His worshipers will abandon Jerusalem and spread throughout the world. It is Jesus they must be faithful to, not Jerusalem. This is why Jesus has already told them that if a town rejects their message of Him, they are to "leave that town [and] shake off the dust from [their] feet as a testimony against them" (Luke 9:5).

James and John's display is not all bad, however. First, they recognize the great power they have access to. They will need that confidence when they travel and teach that Jesus offers salvation. Second, at least they ask Jesus' permission, rather than immediately acting on their impulses.
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