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Did Jesus really mean that?

By Dan Etheridge

Ever come across those awkward bits of the Bible? You know, the passages that just don’t fit with how we view God or do life? There’s plenty of them – but generally we skip over them, ignore them or just pass them off as something we’ve lost over 2,000 years of cultural change.

But things start getting really tricky when we begin to dismiss the words of Jesus himself. He’s the one, as Christians, that we believe reveals God. He’s the way, the truth and the life, and if we begin to ignore some of the harsher things he said, then we run the risk of misunderstanding what he was all about. We need to be careful that we have a full picture of who Jesus is and what he said – the good and bad, rather than selectively choose a Jesus that suits us.

Take this passage:

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Luke 12: 51-53

Harsh right? The one who reveals the God of love and justice, says pretty clearly that he’s come to bring division. And, not division between people who don’t already like each other. He’s talking about division between families – between the closest relationships you can develop.

Is he just in a bad mood?

It’s tempting to think Jesus was just in a bad mood. But in reality, he’s being honest, speaking the truth and trying to help people realise some of the cost of following him.

When Jesus said these words, family was the bedrock of society. People were known as the mother, wife, son or daughter of someone. Your status, identity and even future career would be tied up in who your dad, or husband was. So for Jesus to speak about a disruption to that unit and those ties, he was poking at something many would find difficult.

Where is our identity and security

In saying that he will come and divide families, Jesus is pushing his first century Israelite listeners to realise that finding identity, security and purpose in God is more important than any other allegiance they can have. Jesus is poking at deep-rooted cultural values. The family was something embedded in people’s view of who they were, how they acted and all they could be. Jesus is saying ‘Forget all that. Find your identity and purpose in me’.

The reality of the time

When Luke wrote his gospel, Jesus had already died and his first followers would have increasingly realised that their faith in Jesus put them at odds with the Jewish religion that they, and their families, were born into. These new ‘Christians’ caused disruption and disrespect to the established religion and it’s leaders. Those who chose to follow Jesus in these early days would have done so at a massive cost – just look at the early days of Paul (Saul) in Acts to see how he tried to track down and kill the blasphemous followers of Jesus.

Just as back then, today, thousands – if not millions – of Christians choose to follow Jesus, and bring division in their families.

It’s not much of a step to think that those who chose to become Christians would be causing massive division amongst not just local Jewish leaders, but also their families too. Father against son, and son against father, as Jesus predicts. Some of these early Christians knew exactly what they were risking in putting Jesus above all else – even family – but they knew he was worth it.

The reality of today

These words of Jesus aren’t just about challenging the family loyalties of first century Christians. Just as back then, today, thousands – if not millions – of Christians choose to follow Jesus, and bring division in their families.

Ajay’s story is sadly, not uncommon. When he became a Christian his Hindu father was furious. He was beaten for reading his Bible, then forcibly married to a Hindu girl, but that plan backfired as his wife decided to follow Jesus too. Ajay’s father disowned his son, his brothers threatened to kill him, and the couple were thrown out of the house. He has never gone a day without some form of persecution because of his choice to put Jesus about everything, even his family. But Ajay is not downhearted: “God is blessing me in countless ways!” he says.

What about us?

Family doesn’t mean the same thing to us in the west today as it did to Jesus’ listeners 2,000 years ago. But the truth is, the choice to follow Jesus will still bring division and controversy – and it’s something we should be prepared for. We need to look at where we find our identity and our security – is it in our family, our money, our possessions, our reputations? God is asking us to follow him with all we have, and that means re-arranging our priorities and adjusting our core values. It might not always mean that we step away from our family – in fact, I’m sure God hurts when families break down and relationships are fractured – but it does mean we do all we can to make sure that He becomes our focus, our safety and where we find our meaning. It means that all else comes second to Him.


We don’t think Jesus is saying that you go out and cause arguments with your mum and dad, or brother or sister (however much you might want to)! Instead, we think he’s saying that really following him comes at a cost, and sometimes our Jesus centred choices, hopes and dreams can bring division, even amongst those we love.

As a response, take some time to let the Holy Spirit prompt you to understand where you put your hope and security – is it really in God? If not, what can you change? Does changing mean you’ll offend someone? If so, how would you got about explaining that to them?

The Author
Dan works part time with Open Doors, mainly sorting out the comms stuff for youth and students. In his other life he's a freelance writer and graphic designer who likes collecting records and sitting on beaches looking at waves.

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.