Jesus And Division

by Allan Turner

In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet referred to Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.” In the New Testament, He is called the “Lord of peace” (2 Thessalonians 3:16). And at His  birth, the angels and the heavenly host said: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). Around Christmas time we hear folks quoting these passages as if they were originally intended as a remedy for the sad state of affairs in the world (i.e., “wars and rumors of wars”). Contrary to what many people think, these passages are not addressing Jesus' connection to peace between nations. Neither are they saying that His primary mission was to bring peace between men. Jesus did not come to bring peace in the way we normally think of the word. I know this is true because the Bible says so.  In Matthew 10:34-36, Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be they of his own household.”

Again in Luke 12:49-53, the Lord said:

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

So, as shocking as it may sound, Jesus said that He came into this world to bring division. But, before we pursue this subject any further, it is absolutely essential that we understand the statements made in Isaiah 9:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; and Luke 2:14. First of all, one can be sure that these statements do not contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36 and Luke 12:49-53. The Bible, the inspired word of God, does not contradict itself! In Luke 2:14, the angels and host of heaven are speaking of the peace that would, as a result of this child's work, be able to exist between God and man. As Romans 5:1 says, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This peace was being bestowed upon all of mankind “through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36), and the “glory” for all of this belongs to “God in the highest.”

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

In other words, all of mankind became the enemies of God through sin, and the only way they could be at peace with Him was through His goodwill or grace. This, and this alone, is that of which Luke 2:14 speaks. Yes, it would be true that men who were at peace with God through Jesus Christ would also learn how to be at peace with each other (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11), but this was clearly secondary to, and dependent upon, the peace that could, through Christ, exist between God and man. With this truth firmly fixed in our minds, it is now time for us to try and understand what the Lord meant when He said He came to cause division.

Jesus Christ Must Be Taken Seriously

Although many seem to miss it, the Bible makes one thing very clear: Jesus Christ expects to be taken seriously! If one does not kiss (worship) the Son, then He will be angry with him (Psalm 2:12). Those who think Jesus will be tolerant concerning their religious beliefs are sadly mistaken. Jesus made it quite clear that He is not a way to the Father, but He is the way (John 14:6). Peter taught the same thing when he said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Consequently, in order to spend an eternity with God in heaven, one is going to have to make the right decision about Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:24; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7).

For instance, our Muslim friends honor Jesus as a prophet of God. In the Qur'an (Koran), Mohammed wrote, “The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, is but the apostle of God and His word” (Sura 4:169). He had previously written, “We have given Jesus the son of Mary manifest signs, and strengthened him b y the Holy Spirit” (Sura 2:54). Even so, Mohammed rejected, as do our Muslim friends, the truth that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnated (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16; etc.). Mohammed believed and taught that Jesus, although a prophet, was just a man. As a result, there is a great division that exists today between those who practice Islam and those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Jews, who had been entrusted with the oracles of God and therefore should have known better (Romans 3:1-2), failed to “kiss the Son,” and they felt His terrible wrath when He came in judgment against their nation and their religious institutions in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (see Matthew 24:4-34). Since their rejection of the Messiah, there has been a division between the Jews and Christians.

Hindus believe there are many paths that lead to heaven. They believe that Jesus is but one of those ways (i.e., they believe Jesus is a way). But, again, Jesus clearly said that He was the way (John 8:24). When Christians teach that Jesus is the only way to the Father, there is a great rift that develops between the Hindu and the Christian.

Now, I've said all that to say this: What one thinks about Jesus causes division, and Jesus emphatically said it would! So sharp would be the divisions caused by Christ, that He said:

“For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a mans enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:35-36).

Again, in Luke 12:52-53, He said:

“For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

This sharp division over Christ will one day culminate in the great judgment scene where the wise and the foolish, the sheep and the goats, those on the right hand and on the left, and the doers of the word and the hearers only, shall be divided for an eternity (Matthew 7:21-27; 25:31-46).

If all this is true, then why is it that we hear so many Christians complaining about disagreements and divisions taking place in churches of Christ over God's word? Did anyone who loved the truth back in the Fifties and Sixties not think that institutionalism, unless repented of, would cause division? When the current false teaching on marriage and divorce began circulating (i.e., the unbeliever is not amenable to Christ's marriage law), did anyone who loved the truth think that this would not, without repentance, cause division? These divisions occurred and will continue to occur because the word of God does exactly what the Lord intends it to do—provide a criterion for separating the spirit of truth from the spirit of error (1 John 4:1-8), and ultimately separating sheep from goats (Matthew 25:31-33).

It is extremely unfortunate that some who make a plea for the restoration of New Testament Christianity are caught up, quite erroneously, in the pipe dream of a golden era of the church when there were neither problems nor divisions. But when was that? Churches of Christ have always been plagued by strife (Philippians 1:15-16), false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3), perverse and destructive leaders (Acts 20:29f., Jude 4), the preaching of a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), servants of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), and divisiveness (3 John 9-10). This is why Jude exhorted Christians “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b). This is why Paul admonished Christians to: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13, NIV). What the kingdom of God needs today are more soldiers of the cross and less spiritual pacifists, who only stand around bemoaning what they say is a lack of love among brethren, and who frequently point accusatory fingers at those whom they consider to be much too strident.

Now, I realize that those who are at peace with God through Jesus Christ ought to be at peace with each other (James 3:18). And if we were all what we ought to be, then this would be the case. In fact, the objective standard for the peace mentioned in James 3:18 is clearly set forth in 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 1:27; 1 Peter 3:8; and John 17:21. Unfortunately, the redeemed do not keep this standard perfectly. Yes, it is certainly wonderful when brethren live together in the unity of the Spirit and faith for which Christ died (Ephesians 4:3, 13), and we ought to cherish those times and circumstances, but because Jesus Himself is the standard of authority for God's people, there will be times when we will have to oppose those who teach or practice error. Furthermore, if we do not keep the standard, we, too, will have to be opposed. This is simply the effect of following a standard outside o f ourselves. Of course, when compelled to oppose error, we need to be very careful that we don't fall into some sin ourselves (Galatians 6:1). Nevertheless, heresies, contentions, dissensions, and other works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) must be opposed. When this happens, divisions usually occur. As uncomfortable and unpleasant as this is, this is as it ought to be when the truth is at stake. Consequently, let those of us who follow Christ not grow weary in well-doing, but let us confront, oppose, and identify those who do not obey God's word (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15).

In the final judgment at the end of time, all things will be set right. In the meantime, the tares and the wheat grow together in the same field (Matthew 13:24-30). Let us determine to spend our time here in this world proving ourselves to be the “good seed” sown by our Lord, Jesus Christ. Remember, the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira, who basked in the twilight of the 1st-century, were condemned by the Lord for tolerating false teaching. Reflecting in the twilight of the 20th-century, let us make sure that we are not guilty of the same misdeed.

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