“When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54/NIV).
Here is a brief anecdote. Jesus was on his way towards Jerusalem. Obviously, it was his last journey to Jerusalem as we read: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Verse 51/NIV).
As you will imagine people did neither have the internet, cell-phones, nor ordinary telephones in those days. They could not book hotel rooms from a distance to have someplace where to sleep along the way to Jerusalem. Therefore Jesus sent messengers to a village in Samaria. They were to ask for accommodation for one night.
Presumably, meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples reached that village. Then they realized the people there would not receive them.
The reason they were given (or the reason Luke has recorded) was they were heading towards Jerusalem. You may know that there were some differences between the Jews and the Samaritans.
We are not given any details about why those Samaritan villagers did not want to give hospitality to Jesus and his group on their way to Jerusalem. Was it a general dislike of pilgrims going there? Had they had some bad experiences? Or perhaps was it more specifically that they did not want to receive Jesus and his followers? We do not know.
John and James were full of zeal. They were convinced that God was on their side. They believed they were treading on the paths of some of the prophets of the olden days.
In the King James Version, you can find an explicit reference to Elias. You can find a story in the Old Testament where Elias did call fire from heaven. The king had sent a captain with fifty soldiers to Elias. Presumably, these brave men were not primarily meant to make Elias comfortable. It seems Elias was to be taken to the king’s palace by force. You can guess what might have expected him there. (For this story please read 2 Kings Chapter 1).
John and James would have heard of these happenings from readings in the synagogues. They were heading to worship God at Jerusalem as God had commanded his people to do so.
Now they were confronted with a completely different atmosphere in that village. The villagers objected to their going to Jerusalem. They did not want to receive them and be their hosts for one night.
They were pilgrims to celebrate the Passover in the holy city. They were following a leader who they believed was the Messiah of their God. What were they to do about these villagers who apparently objected to their enthusiastic faith?
Admittedly, I would rather think of different options than these disciples did. If I were to speak out loud and call for fire falling from heaven, at least I would hesitate and think such a thing was very unlikely to happen. Yet John and James had been with Jesus for more than two years. They had seen Jesus doing many miracles.
What was the Lord’s answer to them? The manuscripts on which the King James Version is based tell us the following: “But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:55+56).
(Modern bible versions preferably rely on the oldest existing manuscripts of the New Testament. These only tell us that Jesus rebuked James and John. They omit the explanation given above. Regardless of textual evidence this explanation is in line with other teachings of the Lord Jesus.)