Have you heard of this disciple who attempted to call down fire from heaven? Who was he? Why did he do it? What was the story behind it?
In this article, discover:
- Who this disciple was as a person and a follower of Jesus
- The story behind calling down fire from heaven and why he did it
- How this incident changed him
- The lessons you can learn from this story
Let’s dive into it!
Who Was This Disciple Who Wanted to Call Down Fire From Heaven?
Let’s trace his family background.
John was one of the “sons of Zebedee” (Luke 5:10, ESV). His brother was James (Mark 3:17).
Who was his mother?
The Bible mentions three Marys. Two of them were Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. The third one was Salome, “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40, ESV).
Based on this, Salome was John’s mother.
What was his occupation?
Like his father and brother, John was a fisherman. In fact, he was mending his nets when Jesus saw him and invited him to be His disciple (Matthew 4:21).
These brothers were with Peter and Andrew in this livelihood. Unfortunately, they couldn’t eat their catch of fresh fish due to an agreement with the tax collector 1.
That is, fresh fish would be for the rich people’s consumption only. The fisherman could only get processed fish in return.
Unfair, isn’t it?
But John had good experiences as a fisherman too.
For instance, one night, he was fishing with some of the disciples. Unfortunately, they caught nothing. When Jesus saw them the next day, He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.a
Did you know that? They caught 153 fish (John 21:11)! Their fishing nets were so heavy that they couldn’t pull them.
Can you believe it?
What were his evangelistic roles?
As a disciple
John was one of Jesus’ closest disciples.
He belonged to the intimate three with Peter and James. They were with Jesus during His transfiguration (Luke 9:28), healing ministry (Mark 5:37), and almost all of His significant activities.
What a privilege to witness every moment of Jesus’ ministry firsthand!
Also, John sat next to Him during the Last Supper. He leaned on His bosom while having an intimate conversation with Him (John 13:23-26).
He even ambitioned to occupy one of the two sides of His throne in heaven (Mark 10:37). Such confidence!
Nevertheless, he was Jesus’ trusted disciple to take care of His mother Mary when He was about to die on the cross (John 19:26-27).
As an apostle
After Jesus’ ascension, John worked with Peter in establishing the early Christian church.
These apostles pioneered the first activities. They preached the Pentecost sermon after receiving the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-41).
John preached “with great zeal and success” 2.
He had a “testimony of power” his opponents “could not controvert.” It “encouraged his brethren” and they admired his wisdom, conviction, and sincerity.
As an evangelist
John was passionate about preaching to the extent that the Roman Empire condemned and tried him.
Emperor Domitian put him in a pot of burning oil while Aristodemus, the chief priest, challenged him to drink poison 3.
And there was a dare! If it did not harm the apostle, he would believe in the God he claimed 4.
But did you know what? The boiling oil did not burn him and the poison did not hurt him. So, he continued preaching 3.
With this, John claimed God’s promise that if people “drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them” (Mark 16:18, ESV).
Could you picture yourself in this trial? How much would you be willing to suffer for Christ’s sake?
Unfortunately, John’s enthusiasm for preaching caused his exile to Patmos—all alone on an island. No one to talk to. No entertainment. Boring.
But guess what? In this place, he received visions from God concerning the “events that would take place in the closing scenes of this earth’s history” 5.
How would you like to see a glimpse of the future too?
Aside from this, John was able to study closer than ever God’s work of creation and His skillful wisdom. He has seen His power and glory through nature 6.
The Story of Calling Down Fire From Heaven
Where did it happen?
Do you remember Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well? Where was it?
Yes, it was in Samaria.
And it was here Jesus and His disciples passed by going to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).
Now, the “calling down fire” incident
Approaching a Samaritan village, Jesus asked James and John to look for food and lodging (Luke 9:52).
Wait, Samaritan village? For sure, you remember the good Samaritan’s story (verses 25-37 of chapter 10).
Two men saw a helpless Jew. But they ignored him and passed by. Only the Samaritan stopped where he was. He pitied the man, brought him to his inn, and took care of him.
With that hospitality shown by the good Samaritan, would this Samaritan village accommodate Jesus as well?
Unfortunately, the people did not receive Him (verse 53 of chapter 9).
There was a history of hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans.
When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, they rejected the Samaritans’ welcome. Similarly, when the latter volunteered to join Jerusalem’s rebuilding, the former declined them (Ezra 4).
With this, the Samaritans were probably taking revenge.
Going back to the village scene, the Samaritans’ rude behavior and inhospitality triggered James and John. They asked Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54, NIV).
Can you imagine how angry they were? If you were in their place, how would you react?
How did Jesus deal with this tension?
For that display of high temper and impatience, Jesus reprimanded James and John exclaiming, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55, MEV).
As such, Jesus called them “Boanerges,” meaning “sons of thunder,” “sons of tumult,” or “sons of wrath” (Mark 3:17, ESV) 7.
And He reminded them of His mission that “God did not send His Son” to “condemn the world” but to save it (John 3:17, NIV).
What an eye-opening realization! If you were James or John, what would you feel? How would it change the way you treat the Samaritan villagers?
What Did John Learn From This Encounter?
John must have felt ashamed of what he and his brother did. But he has seen Jesus’ unconditional love for sinners.
Despite their sinfulness, He wanted them all to receive salvation. That is if they would “believe and receive Christ” 8.
With this, John felt Jesus’ love for him on a personal level. This is evident in calling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” several times in His Gospel (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20).
Wait, doesn’t it sound arrogant? Well, on the surface, it seems like it. But it was only John’s way of manifesting God’s grace and love 9.
10 Lessons to Learn From This Hot-tempered Disciple
1) Like anyone else, you sin.
Like John, “all have sinned and [fallen] short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, ESV).
What causes sin?
“The heart is deceitful above all things.” It is “sick” that you can hardly understand (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).
Your selfish desire lures and entices you. When it “has conceived,” it “gives birth to sin.” And when your sin has “grown,” it “brings forth death” (James 1:14-15, ESV).
With this, there exists a “waging war” against the law of your mind, making you “captive to the law of sin” (Romans 7:23, ESV).
Speaking of the law, “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, ESV).
It is because “no one who abides in [God] keeps on sinning.” And “no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him” (verse 6, ESV).
Finally, Romans 8:7-8 (ESV) states, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to [His] law.” True enough, if you are in the flesh, you cannot please God.
2) Jesus is a God of second chances.
No matter how sinful you are, God is always patient with you.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness.” He does not wish “that any should perish.” Instead, He wanted all men to “reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV).
It is God’s kindness that leads you to repentance (Romans 2:4). Comforting to know, He does not keep His anger forever.
Now, let’s relate this concept to the Samaritan village incident.
Jesus could have burned the Samaritan villagers as James and John requested. Worse, He could have included these aggressive brothers.
But He didn’t.
Instead, as we’ve seen in the story earlier, Jesus reminded James and John of the ultimate reason He came to earth—to save His people from sin.
It motivated these brothers to reflect on their sinfulness and humbled them enough to feel the need for repentance. And it led to their transformation.
Can you remember the worst sin you have committed so far? You’ve been guilty of it all your life that you think you no longer deserve a second chance.
But if you confess your sins, God is faithful and willing to forgive and cleanse you from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
3) An intimate relationship with God makes a difference.
The nearer you come to God, the more He reveals Himself to you 10. Only in an intimate relationship with Him can you hear His voice, know His will, and understand His heart.
With this, humility is essential. 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV) reminds us to humble ourselves “under the mighty hand of God.”
By being humble, you become willing to acknowledge your sinfulness enough to seek God and turn from your wicked ways.
By then, God forgives and exalts you (2 Chronicles 7:14; James 4:10).
4) Character transformation begins when you humble yourself.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV).
With this, God said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, ESV).
“When Christ calls you, He bids you come and die”—a form of total surrender 11.
Also, “true humility does not know that it is humble.” If it does, it will be “proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue” 12.
Now, where do we see humility in John’s life?
“During the years of his close association with Christ, he was often warned and cautioned.” And he accepted His reproof 13.
As John manifested God’s character, he saw his deficiencies. Every day, “he beheld the tenderness and forbearance of Jesus.” And he learned “His lessons of humility and patience.”
What about you? How has Jesus taught you the value of humility? How has it changed your life?
5) Temperance brings peace.
Intemperance does no good but trouble.
As Proverbs 15:1 (ESV) reminds us, “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
As a matter of fact, temperance or self-control is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit along with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” and “gentleness” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).
How did it work with John’s character?
“Evil temper, the desire for revenge, [and] the spirit of criticism were all in the beloved disciple.” Yet, Jesus saw in him a potential to change for the better.
He discerned his “ardent, sincere, loving heart” 14.
Jesus rebuked John’s self-seeking attitude, disappointed his ambitions, and tested his faith.
More so, “He revealed to him that for which his soul longed”—God’s “beauty of holiness” and the “transforming power” of His love.
True enough, from a son of thunder (Mark 3:17), John transformed into a loving, patient disciple.
6) Zeal works better with love and wisdom.
The dictionary defines zeal as an eagerness and interest in pursuing something.
But zeal alone is not enough. Romans 12:11 (ESV) says, “Do not be slothful in zeal” but “be fervent in spirit” in serving the Lord.
Moreover, zeal “not according to knowledge” is unrighteous (verses 2-3 of chapter 10, ESV). In other words, if you seek to establish on your own, you do not submit to God’s righteousness.
Indeed, it is “earnest Christian zeal” that is necessary. It is “manifested by doing something” 15.
In connection to this, if you are a zealous Christian, you will always keep your interest in God’s cause. Your enthusiasm will give you power with men (Acts 18:25-28) 16.
If you accept Christ as your personal Savior, you will long for the privilege of serving Him 17.
With this, your heart will be “moved with boundless love and adoring gratitude” which you will express by devoting your abilities in His service.
This transforming love of Christ was evident in John’s transformation.
From an ill-tempered disciple, he became a fervent, earnest, and powerful preacher 16.
7) Jesus can be your best friend.
Have you ignored a friend when you met a new acquaintance? How did your old friend feel?
Unfortunately, “this is the way we treat Jesus.” We “forget that He is our Companion. We engage in conversation and never mention His name” 18.
Now, suppose you’ve lost a family. You felt alone and hopeless as if the world was against you. You couldn’t bear the misery and wanted to end your life.
Yet, God worked things out to give you hope. He used people to raise you and give you a new life.
Whenever you look back to this experience, you realize that God has never left you, after all. Indeed, He is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, ESV).
8) Take God’s love wherever you go.
John called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
As we’ve learned earlier, this designation is not meant to boast of himself. Instead, it is his way of reflecting God’s love 9.
Like Moses and Jonah, John testifies that God is “merciful,” “gracious,” “slow to anger,” and “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6, ESV).
Also, God pardons iniquity and passes over transgression for you. He does not keep His anger forever because “He delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18, ESV).
Indeed, God’s love is more than enough for you to uphold in whatever you do, wherever you go. Hence, you can’t help but manifest it in word and action—exactly what John did.
9) Keep going, no matter how challenging Christian life can be.
Like a rollercoaster, the Christian life is full of ups and downs. Do you agree?
As a disciple and later an apostle, John had his challenges too.
For instance, he was with Peter arrested by the Sadducees for teaching about Jesus (Acts 4:1-7).
Still, the apostle continued preaching even if it meant his exile at Patmos (Revelation 1:9).
There, he was alone with God and nature. Yet, it turned out to be a blessing. He learned about the “events that would take place in the closing scenes of this earth’s history” 5.
What lesson can you learn from this?
Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV) says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you. He will not leave you [nor] forsake you.”
“Run with endurance the race” set before you. Keep “looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith.” And remember how He “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
In whatever trials of life, remember that “God is our refuge and strength.” He is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).
Finally, do not fear. The Lord establishes your steps and upholds your hands when you fall (Psalm 37:23-24).
10) You need spiritual rebirth to enter God’s kingdom.
“John’s love for his Master was not a mere human friendship” 19. It was “the love of a repentant sinner.”
He felt the redemptive power of Christ’s precious blood. Unless you are born again through the baptism of “water and the Spirit,” you “cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5, ESV).
With this, you become “a new creation” as you are “in Christ.” And “the old has passed away” because “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).
Indeed, you always deserve a second chance. No matter how sinful and stubborn you consider yourself, God sees through your soul.
He sees in you a potential to change. That is if you will let Him dwell in you through the working of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
John was once a “son of thunder.” You saw how impatient and furious he was like his brother James.
But you have seen how God worked through his weaknesses. His love was a consuming fire that melted this disciple’s pride.
In the end, John became a humble servant of God. He became an apostle of love, ready and firm to stand for His truth to the extent of his martyrdom and exile (Revelation 1:9).
Like John, are you ready to let God transform you into His likeness? Are you willing to let go of the pride in your heart? Will you allow His consuming fire to refine your character?
- Oakman, in Deni Rene YouTube Channel, 2017
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 70.1
- Wilson, 2020
- Early Christian Writings, 2021
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 570.4
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 571.2
- Francis Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 5, 595.17
- Francis Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 5, 930.17
- Fong, 2016
- Kibble, 2021
- Armstrong, 2010
- Jimmy Long, 2014
- Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 557.1
- Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 539.3
- Ellen White, Christian Service, 229.6
- Francis Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 6, 621.11
- Ellen White, Christian Service, 229.7
- Ellen White, Our Higher Calling, 55.3
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 53.3