Since Simon Peter’s confession at Caesarea-Philippi (that Jesus is the Christ), matters in each of the gospels hasten towards our Lord’s passion in Jerusalem. Luke writes, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke tells us in another place that Jesus said, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (13:33). Jesus knew who he was and where he was going, and not only to Jerusalem, but “up,” to return to his heavenly Father upon finishing his work; that is, he looked beyond the cross to the joy set before him, as we should do (John 14:28; Hebrews 11:13-16; 12:2).
But as Jesus and his disciples were in Galilee, they must travel through Samaria to get to Jerusalem. Jesus had had some good relations with Samaritans before (John 4). So as they were coming to a village in Samaria (it doesn’t say which one), Jesus sent messengers ahead to “make preparations” for him. But the Samaritan village would not receive Jesus, a terrible choice since Jesus said, “Whoever receives me receives the One who sent me” (John 13:20). But we mustn’t be harsh with these Samaritans; most people, both then and now, do not receive Jesus. And why did they not receive him? Because Jesus was headed for Jerusalem; that is, their village wasn’t his final destination. Obviously, the Samaritans hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated them. They were zealous (and jealous) for Samaria. Well, James and John knew just what to do in payment for such an insult: Call fire down from heaven to consume them! These two weren’t called the “Sons of Thunder” for nothing (Mark 3:17). And Jesus, as we would expect, rebuked them. So James and John were just as zealous (and jealous) for Jesus and Jerusalem, themselves.
To be zealous can be good – or it can be bad. We need more zeal for the Lord. Paul writes that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). On the other hand, Paul was a zealous persecutor of the church (Philippians 3:6). And he writes that it was zeal that kept the Jews from embracing Christ, a zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:2). Zeal must be wed to knowledge and wisdom. I would say that if anything we wish to do blinds us with passion and makes us deaf to the godly counsel of others, we need to check ourselves (please see Proverbs 18:1 and 25:28). We must ask ourselves, “How does this activity, which I so want to do, serve the kingdom as Christ would desire?”