“You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Luke 9:55

by Steven Chan

How do we react towards those who reject Jesus Christ?

In Luke 9:53-54, we read of an account of how the disciples of Christ reacted towards those who rejected Jesus Christ:

“But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And 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, just as Elijah did?”

The disciples, James and John, were understandably very disappointed and upset with those who refused to receive Jesus Christ. Also known as “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) their response was perhaps one of so-called “righteous indignation” as they asked the Lord for permission for them to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them – just as Elijah did” in 2 Kings 1:10-12.

There was biblical precedent for the request to command fire from heaven to consume those who rejected God as when the two captains along with their bands of fifty soldiers from King Ahaziah of Israel were consumed by fire from heaven. In that instance, after being injured from a fall, King Ahaziah had chosen to consult “Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether he shall recover from this injury” (2 Kings 1:2) and God sent Elijah with this message:

‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ 4 “Now therefore, thus says the LORD: ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’ “(2 Kings 1:3-4)

The two disciples knew the Scriptures and had wanted to rely on that Bible precedent to ask God to do the same to the Samaritans who had similarly rejected God when they refused to receive Jesus, His Son. They thought that what they were proposing to do was something that would please the Lord and especially so when they had Bible precedent for what they had proposed.

The reply of Jesus is instructive for us today:

“But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.”(Luke 9:55-56)

Jesus rebuked them for wanting to ask God to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, on two grounds:-

Firstly, He said that they did not know “what manner of spirit they are of”. In other words, do they realize what was motivating or causing them to react in that rather drastic manner?  What kind of spirit were they exhibiting? Was it a spirit that was consistent with what the Lord Jesus was conveying to the people at that time?  Were they motivated by love for the salvation of these men? Or, were they motivated by personal anger disappointment and a spirit of vengeance?

Secondly, Jesus said to them: “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Jesus wanted them to understand that what they were asking God to do was not consistent with the mission of Jesus for “He did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them”. Yes, ultimately, God will destroy those who refused to receive Him (2 Thess 1:7-9). However, “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”(2 Peter 3:9); until such time when He comes to judge the world, God now desires all to be saved.

Although the two disciples were guided by Bible precedent when they asked permission from Jesus to ask God to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume those who refused to receive Jesus”, they failed to fully understand God’s present will as revealed in Jesus Christ. Although God does not change in His Character or Attributes (Mal 3:6), His Revealed Will does change as when the Old Covenant or Will was replaced by the New Covenant or Will:

“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second… In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete….then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 8:7,13;10:9-10)

When we fail to “handle accurately the Word of God or to rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15), then we may well be attempting to follow a Bible precedent that is no longer applicable to us – just like the two disciples, James and John.  Thus likewise today, some bible students are confused as to whether they should follow the bible examples of circumcision, burning incense or of obeying the Law of Moses (also known as the Ten Commandments – Deut 4:13). This is because they failed to understand that the Old Covenant or Old Testament has been replaced by the New Covenant or New Testament (Heb 7:12, 18-19,22; 8:6; 9:14-17)

As disciples of Christ, we are followers of the life and teachings of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  It is therefore incumbent upon us all to conduct our lives in a manner that is consistent with the will of our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul offers a good example for us to follow:

“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some….Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Cor 9:19, 22; 10:3-33)

So, in our interaction with one another, we should always ask ourselves whether we know “what spirit we are exhibiting, manifesting or demonstrating”? Is it consistent with the mission and will of our Lord Jesus Christ? We should also avoid the danger of applying the wrong bible example or precedent as a justification for our conduct.