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, know:
- Who this disciple was as a person and Jesus’ follower
- 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 hot-tempered disciple
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, ESV).
Now that you know his father, who was his mother?
According to Matthew 27:55-56 (ESV), there were three Marys. Two of them were Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. The third had no name mentioned. It only states, “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
But you can read her name from Mark 15:40 (ESV) – Salome.
Now, his occupation.
Like his father and brother, John was a fisherman. As a fact, he was mending his nets when Jesus saw him (Matthew 4:21, ESV). That day, he became His disciple.
Like his brother, John was working with Peter and Andrew. Unfortunately, they couldn’t eat their catch of fresh fish. They had an agreement with the tax collector (Oakman, in Deni Rene YouTube Channel, 2017).
Based on this contract, fresh fish would be for the rich people’s consumption only. Hence, the fisherman could only get processed fish in return.
Unfair, wasn’t it?
But John had good experiences as a fisherman, too.
One night, he was fishing with some of the disciples. Unfortunately, they caught nothing. The next day, Jesus saw them. He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.
Did you know what? They caught 153 fish (John 21:11, ESV)! Their fishing nets were so heavy that they couldn’t pull them.
Could you believe such a miracle?
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. For instance, they were with Him during His transfiguration (Luke 9:28, ESV) and healing ministry (Mark 5:37, ESV).
Imagine yourself in John’s shoes. What a privilege it will be to witness every moment of Jesus’ life 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, ESV).
He even ambitioned to occupy one of the two sides of Jesus’ throne in heaven (Mark 10:37, ESV). Could you believe such confidence?
Finally, he was Jesus’ trusted disciple to take care of His mother, Mary. He was about to die on the cross at that time (John 19:26-27, ESV).
What could you say about this trust?
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 in Acts 2:14-41 (ESV). It was after receiving the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-13, ESV).
John preached “with great zeal and success” (Ellen White, The Sanctified Life 70.1). He had a “testimony of power” his opponents “could not controvert.”
Instead, it “encouraged his brethren.” True enough, they admired his wisdom, conviction, and sincerity.
As an evangelist
John was passionate about preaching Jesus. It was to the extent that the Roman Empire tested his endurance.
In particular, Emperor Domitian put him in a pot of burning oil (Wilson, 2020). Also, Aristodemus, the chief priest, challenged him to drink poison.
And there was a dare! If it did not harm the apostle, he would believe in the God he claimed (Early Christian Writings, 2021).
But did you know what? He did not burn from the boiling oil. Also, the poison did not hurt him. Thus, he continued preaching (Wilson, 2020).
Indeed, John claimed God’s promise in Mark 16:18 (ESV). That is, if people “drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them.”
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 brought him to exile at Patmos. He was alone on an island.
Have you experienced being in this kind of situation? There was no one to talk to. No entertainment. Boring, you might say.
But guess what? Here, he received visions from God. They were about “events that would take place in the closing scenes of this earth’s history.”
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 (Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles 571.2).
What Was His Story?
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, ESV).
Now, the “calling down fire” incident.
Approaching a Samaritan village, Jesus asked James and John to look for food and lodging (Luke 9:52, ESV).
Wait, Samaritan village? For sure, you remember the good Samaritan’s story (Luke 10:25-37, ESV).
That is, 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 this hospitality of the Samaritan, do you think the dwellers would let Jesus in?
Unfortunately, “the people did not receive Him” (Luke 9:53, ESV).
There was a history of hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans.
When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, they rejected the Samaritans’ welcoming. The latter volunteered to join Jerusalem’s rebuilding. Yet, the former declined them (Ezra 4, ESV).
Hence, you can say that the Samaritans were taking revenge.
Let’s go back to the village scene.
The Samaritans’ rude behavior and inhospitality triggered James and John. They asked Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and destroy them?” (Luke 9:54, NIV).
Could you imagine how angry they were? If you were in their place, how would you react?
How did Jesus deal with this tension?
For such a display of high temper and impatience, Jesus scolded James and John. He exclaimed, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55, ESV).
Also, Jesus called them “Boanerges” or “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17, ESV). The SDA Bible Commentary vol. 5, 595.17 translates it as “sons of tumult” or “sons of wrath.”
But, in this rebuke, Jesus reminded them of His mission. That is, “God did not send His Son” to “condemn the world” (John 3:17, ESV). Instead, He came to save it.
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” (SDA Bible Commentary vol. 5, 930.17).
With this, John felt Jesus’ love for him on a personal level.
For instance, he called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” His Gospel has several mentions of this designated title. You can see them in John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, and 21:20.
Wait, doesn’t it sound arrogant? Well, on the surface, you may say it does. But it was only John’s way of reflecting God’s grace and love (Fong, 2016).
10 Lessons To Learn From This Hot-tempered Disciple
1) Like anyone else, you sin.
Like John, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, ESV).
What causes sin?
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) mentions, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” It is “sick” that you can hardly understand.
Your selfish desire lures and entices you. When it “has conceived,” it “gives birth to sin.” Also, when your sin has “grown,” it “brings forth death” (James 1:14-15, ESV).
With this, there exists a “waging war” against your mind. It makes you “captive to the law of sin” (Romans 7:23, ESV).
Speaking of the law, 1 John 3:4-6 (ESV) has a reminder. That is, “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness.”
It is because “no one who abides in [God] keeps on sinning.” Also, “no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.”
Finally, Romans 8:7-8 (ESV) states, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” It’s because “it does not submit to God’s law.” Hence, 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, ESV). Comforting to know, God does not keep His anger forever.
Now, let’s go back to the “calling down fire” incident.
Jesus could have burned the Samaritan villagers as James and John requested. Worse, He could have included these aggressive brothers.
But do you know what? He didn’t.
Instead, Jesus reminded James and John of the ultimate reason He came to earth. It was to save His people from sin.
Hence, it motivated these brothers to reflect on their sinfulness. It humbled them enough to feel the need for repentance. And it led to their transformation.
As a reflection, 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 deserved a second chance.
But if you confess your sins, God is faithful and willing to forgive you. No matter what, He is always ready to cleanse you from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, ESV).
3) An intimate relationship with God makes a difference.
According to Kibble (2021), the nearer you come to God, the more He reveals Himself to you. 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 5:6-8 (ESV) reminds you to humble yourself “under the mighty hand of God.”
By being humble, you become willing to acknowledge your sinfulness. Hence, you seek God and turn from your wicked ways.
By then, God forgives and exalts you (2 Chronicles 7:14; James 4:10, ESV).
4) Character transformation begins when you humble yourself.
True enough, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV).
With this, Luke 9:23 (ESV) reminds, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself.” Then, “take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
“When Christ calls you, He bids you come and die” (Armstrong, 2010). It is a form of total surrender.
Do you agree?
Also, “true humility does not know that it is humble” (Jimmy Long, 2014). If it does, it will be “proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.”
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 (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles 557.1).
As John manifested God’s character, he saw his deficiencies. Also, the revelation humbled him. Every day, “he beheld the tenderness and forbearance of Jesus.” 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 you no good. With this trait, you only end up in trouble.
Do you remember what Proverbs 15:1 (ESV) says? “A harsh word stirs up anger.” But “a soft answer turns away wrath.”
As a fact, temperance or self-control is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV). It is among “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” and “gentleness.”
How did it work with John’s character?
“Evil temper, the desire for revenge, the spirit of criticism, were all in the beloved disciple.” Yet, Jesus saw potential in him.
That is, He discerned his “ardent, sincere, loving heart” (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles 539.3).
Hence, White continues that Jesus rebuked John’s “self-seeking” and “disappointed his ambitions.” He also “tested his faith.”
More so, “He revealed to him that for which his soul longed.” These were God’s “beauty of holiness” and His “transforming power of love.”
Hence, 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 the eagerness and interest in pursuing something.
But zeal alone is not enough. Romans 12:11 (ESV) reminds you, “Do not be slothful in zeal.” Instead, “be fervent in spirit” in serving the Lord.
Moreover, zeal “not according to knowledge” is unrighteous (verses 2 and 3 of chapter 10). 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. This zeal is “manifested by doing something” (Ellen White, Christian Service 229.6).
The SDA Bible Commentary vol. 6, 621.11 echoes this. In particular, if you are a zealous Christian, you will always keep your interest in God’s cause. Echoing Acts 18:25-28 (ESV), the commentary adds that your enthusiasm will give you power with men.
Now, let’s take a look at Ellen White’s Christian Service 229.7. She says that if you accept Christ as your personal Saviour, you will long for the privilege of serving Him.
That is, you find your heart “moved with boundless love and adoring gratitude.”
Hence, you express gratitude by devoting your abilities to His service. You long to show your “love for Christ” and “His purchased possession.”
As you see, Christ’s transforming love was evident in John’s transformation.
From an ill-tempered disciple, he became a “powerful preacher.” He was “fervent” and “earnest” (SDA Bible Commentary vol. 6, 621.11).
7) Jesus can be your best friend.
Have you experienced ignoring your friend when you met a new acquaintance? How have you felt? Ellen White illustrated it in Our Higher Calling 55.3.
Unfortunately, “this is the way we treat Jesus,” White admits. “We forget that He is our companion. We engage in conversation and never mention His name.”
Can you relate?
Now, recall your most challenging moment.
For instance, you’ve lost a family. You felt alone and hopeless. It seemed like 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 on 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.”
It is not meant to boast. Instead, as Fong (2016) reiterates, it is the apostle’s way of reflecting God’s love.
With this, John felt his Master’s love for him.
Like Moses and Jonah, he testifies that God is “merciful,” “gracious,” and “slow to anger.” He is also “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6-7; Jonah 4:2, ESV).
Also, God pardons iniquity and passes over transgression for you. That is, 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. Thus, you can’t help but manifest it in word and action.
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. You can read it in Acts 4:1-7.
For this reason, the Roman Empire persecuted him with burning oil (Wilson, 2020). They also challenged him to drink poison (Early Christian Writings, 2021).
Still, the apostle continued preaching even if it meant his exile at Patmos (Revelation 1:9, ESV).
There, he was alone with God and nature. Yet, it turned out to be a blessing (Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles 570.4). He learned about the “events that would take place in the closing scenes of this earth’s history.”
What was the lesson here?
Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV) says, “Be strong and courageous.” Never fear or be in dread. You can rest assured that “the Lord your God…goes with you” and “will not leave you [nor] forsake you.”
Likewise, Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) encourages you to “run with endurance the race” set before you. While on the journey, may you find yourself “looking to Jesus…, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith.” May you remember how He “endured the cross.”
In whatever trials of life, remember that “God is our refuge and strength.” He is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1-3, ESV).
Finally, do not fear. The Lord establishes your steps and upholds your hands when you fall (Psalm 37:23-24, ESV).
10) You need spiritual rebirth to enter God’s kingdom.
“John’s love for his Master was not a mere human friendship” (Ellen White, The Sanctified Life 53.3).
Instead, “it was the love of a repentant sinner.” He felt the redemptive power of Christ’s precious blood.
John 3:3 (ESV) says that unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God. This rebirth is through the baptism of “water and the Spirit” (verse 5).
With this, you become “a new creation” as you are “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Indeed, you always deserve a second chance. No matter how sinful and stubborn you consider yourself, God sees through your soul.
True enough, 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, ESV).
John was once a “son of thunder.” Also, by calling down fire from heaven, you can liken him with thunder and fire. You saw how impatient, intolerant, and furious he was, like his brother, James.
Yet, you have seen how God worked through this hot-tempered disciple. His love was a consuming fire that melted his pride.
In the end, John became a humble servant of God. He became an apostle of love, ready and firm to stand for God’s truth. As you’ve learned, it cost him 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 fire in your heart? Will you allow His consuming fire to refine your character?