This passage of story we have not in any other of the evangelists, and it seems to come in here for the sake of its affinity with that next before, for in this also Christ rebuked his disciples, because they envied for his sake. There, under colour of zeal for Christ, they were for silencing and restraining separatists: here, under the same colour, they were for putting infidels to death; and, as for that, so for this also, Christ reprimanded them, for a spirit of bigotry and persecution is directly contrary to the spirit of Christ and Christianity. Observe here,
I. The readiness and resolution of our Lord Jesus, in prosecuting his great undertaking for our redemption and salvation. Of this we have an instance, Luke 9:51: When the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem. Observe 1. There was a time fixed for the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus, and he knew well enough when it was, and had a clear and certain foresight of it, and yet was so far from keeping out of the way that then he appeared most publicly of all, and was most busy, knowing that his time was short. 2. When he saw his death and sufferings approaching, he looked through them and beyond them, to the glory that should follow; he looked upon it as the time when he should be received up into glory (1 Tim. 3:16), received up into the highest heavens, to be enthroned there. Moses and Elias spoke of his death as his departure out of this world, which made it not formidable; but he went further, and looked upon it as his translation to a better world, which made it very desirable. All good Christians may frame to themselves the same notion of death, and may call it their being received up, to be with Christ where he is; and, when the time of their being received up is at hand, let them lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh. 3. On this prospect of the joy set before him, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem the place where he was to suffer and die. He was fully determined to go, and would not be dissuaded; he went directly to Jerusalem, because there now his business lay, and he did not go about to other towns, or fetch a compass, which if he had done, as commonly he did, he might have avoided going through Samaria. He went cheerfully and courageously thither, though he knew the things that should befal him there. He did not fail nor was discouraged, but set his face as a flint, knowing that he should be not only justified, but glorified (Isa. 50:7), not only not run down, but received up. How should this shame us for, and shame us out of, our backwardness to do and suffer for Christ! We draw back, and turn our faces another way from his service who stedfastly set his face against all opposition, to go through with the work of our salvation.
II. The rudeness of the Samaritans in a certain village (not named, nor deserving to be so) who would not receive him, nor suffer him to bait in their town, though his way lay through it. Observe here, 1. How civil he was to them: He sent messengers before his face, some of his disciples, that went to take up lodgings, and to know whether he might have leave to accommodate himself and his company among them; for he would not come to give offence, or if they took any umbrage at the number of his followers. He sent some to make ready for him, not for state, but convenience, and that his coming might be no surprise. 2. How uncivil they were to him, Luke 9:53. They did not receive him, would not suffer him to come into their village, but ordered their watch to keep him out. He would have paid for all he bespoke, and been a generous guest among them, would have done them good, and preached the gospel to them, as he had done some time ago to another city of the Samaritans, John 4:41. He would have been, if they pleased, the greatest blessing that ever came to their village, and yet they forbid him entrance. Such treatment his gospel and ministers have often met with. Now the reason was because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem; they observed, by his motions, that he was steering his course that way. The great controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans was about the place of worship—whether Jerusalem or mount Gerizim near Sychar; see John 4:20. And so hot was the controversy between them that the Jews would have no dealings with the Samaritans, nor they with them, John 4:9. Yet we may suppose that they did not deny other Jews lodgings among them, no, not when they went up to the feast; for if that had been their constant practice Christ would not have attempted it, and it would have been a great way about for some of the Galileans to go to Jerusalem any other way than through Samaria. But they were particularly incensed against Christ, who was a celebrated teacher, for owning and adhering to the temple at Jerusalem, when the priests of that temple were such bitter enemies to him, which, they hoped, would have driven him to come and worship at their temple, and bring that into reputation; but when they saw that he would go forward to Jerusalem, notwithstanding this, they would not show him the common civility which probably they used formerly to show him in his journey thither.
III. The resentment which James and John expressed of this affront, Luke 9:54. When these two heard this message brought, they were all in a flame presently, and nothing will serve them but Sodom’s doom upon this village: “Lord,” say they, “give us leave to command fire to come down from heaven, not to frighten them only, but to consume them.”
1. Here indeed was something commendable, for they showed, (1.) A great confidence in the power they had received from Jesus Christ; though this had not been particularly mentioned in their commission, yet they could with a word’s speaking fetch fire from heaven. Theleis eipomen—Wilt thou that we speak the word, and the thing will be done. (2.) A great zeal for the honour of their Master. They took it very ill that he who did good wherever he came and found a hearty welcome should be denied the liberty of the road by a parcel of paltry Samaritans; they could not think of it without indignation that their Master should be thus slighted. (3.) A submission, notwithstanding, to their Master’s good will and pleasure. They will not offer to do such a thing, unless Christ give leave: Wilt thou that we do it? (4.) A regard to the examples of the prophets that were before them. It is doing as Elias did? they would not have thought of such a thing if Elijah had not done it upon the soldiers that came to take him, once and again, 2 Kgs. 1:10, 12. They thought that this precedent would be their warrant; so apt are we to misapply the examples of good men, and to think to justify ourselves by them in the irregular liberties we give ourselves, when the case is not parallel.
2. But though there was something right in what they said, yet there was much more amiss, for (1.) This was not the first time, by a great many, that our Lord Jesus had been thus affronted, witness the Nazarenes thrusting him out of their city, and the Gadarenes desiring him to depart out of their coast; and yet he never called for any judgment upon them, but patiently put up with the injury. (2.) These were Samaritans, from whom better was not to be expected, and perhaps they had heard that Christ had forbidden his disciples to enter into any of the cities of the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5), and therefore it was not so bad in them as in others who knew more of Christ, and had received so many favours from him. (3.) Perhaps it was only some few of the town that knew any thing of the matter, or that sent that rude message to him, while, for aught they knew, there were many in the town who, if they had heard of Christ’s being so near them, would have gone to meet him and welcomed him; and must the whole town be laid in ashes for the wickedness of a few? Will they have the righteous destroyed with the wicked? (4.) Their Master had never yet upon any occasion called for fire from heaven, nay, he had refused to give the Pharisees any sign from heaven when they demanded it (Matt. 16:1, 2); and why should they think to introduce it? James and John were the two disciples whom Christ had called Boanerges—sons of thunder (Mark 3:17); and will not that serve them, but they must be sons of lightning too? (5.) The example of Elias did not reach the case. Elijah was sent to display the terrors of the law, and to give proof of that, and to witness as a bold reprover against the idolatries and wickednesses of the court of Ahab, and it was agreeable enough to him to have his commission thus proved; but it is a dispensation of grace that is now to be introduced, to which such a terrible display of divine justice will not be at all agreeable. Archbishop Tillotson suggests that their being now near Samaria, where Elijah called for fire from heaven, might help to put it in their heads; perhaps at the very place; but, though the place was the same, the times were altered.
IV. The reproof he gave to James and John for their fiery, furious zeal (Luke 9:55): He turned with a just displeasure, and rebuked them; for as many as he loves he rebukes and chastens, particularly for what they do, that is irregular and unbecoming them, under colour of zeal for him.
1. He shows them in particular their mistake: Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; that is, (1.) “You are not aware what an evil spirit and disposition you are of; how much there is of pride, and passion, and personal revenge, covered under this pretence of zeal for your Master.” Note, There may be much corruption lurking, nay, and stirring too, in the hearts of good people, and they themselves not be sensible of it. (2.) “You do not consider what a good spirit, directly contrary to this, you should be of. Surely you have yet to learn, though you have been so long learning, what the spirit of Christ and Christianity is. Have you not been taught to love your enemies, and to bless them that curse you, and to call for grace from heaven, not fire from heaven, upon them? You know not how contrary your disposition herein is to that which it was the design of the gospel you should be delivered into. You are not now under the dispensation of bondage, and terror, and death, but under the dispensation of love, and liberty, and grace, which was ushered in with a proclamation of peace on earth and good will toward men, to which you ought to accommodate yourselves, and not by such imprecations as these oppose yourselves.”
2. He shows them the general design and tendency of his religion (Luke 9:56): The Son of man is not himself come, and therefore does not send you abroad to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. He designed to propagate his holy religion by love and sweetness, and every thing that is inviting and endearing, not by fire and sword, and blood and slaughter; by miracles of healing, not by plagues and miracles of destruction, as Israel was brought out of Egypt. Christ came to slay all enmities, not to foster them. Those are certainly destitute of the spirit of the gospel that are for anathematizing and rooting out by violence and persecution all that are not of their mind and way, that cannot in conscience say as they say, and do as they do. Christ came, not only to save men’s souls, but to save their lives too—witness the many miracles he wrought for the healing of diseases that would otherwise have been mortal, by which, and a thousand other instances of beneficence, it appears that Christ would have his disciples do good to all, to the utmost of their power, but hurt to none, to draw men into his church with the cords of a man and the bands of love, but not think to drive men into it with a rod of violence or the scourge of the tongue.
V. His retreat from this village. Christ would not only not punish them for their rudeness, but would not insist upon his right of travelling the road (which was as free to him as to his neighbours), would not attempt to force his way, but quietly and peaceably went to another village, where they were not so stingy and bigoted, and there refreshed himself, and went on his way. Note, When a stream of opposition is strong, it is wisdom to get out of the way of it, rather than to contend with it. If some be very rude, instead of revenging it, we should try whether others will not be more civil.
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