Many Bible students find a number of memorable matters in Matthew chapter ten. There is a listing of our Lord’s twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1-4), Jesus’ charge for those apostles temporarily to preach only to the Jews (10:5-15), and the reality of the difficulties and persecutions that those men would need to be ready to face for Jesus’ sake (10:16-25).
In the next section, we read that Jesus, in a rapid sequence, three times instructed His apostles not to fear. Hear Him: “Therefore do not fear them . . . And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy
both soul and body in hell . . . Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (10:26,28,31).
In what settings did our Lord not want His apostles to fear? Anytime they would be living and preaching for Him. Jesus had just told them that they would be hated for His name’s sake (10:22). They would be persecuted for Him (10:23). Some folks would have a desire to kill them (10:28). When the time would come for them to face such ordeals in their lives, they would need to recall and reflect on those simple words of Jesus: “Do not fear.” In all of those scenarios, they must remain committed to their Lord. As difficult as it might feel from a merely human point of view, regardless of how others would treat them, the apostles must continue to preach the Lord’s message, and they must do so with boldness.
Jesus made it plain that there is one thing that the adversaries of God’s people cannot do: they cannot kill the soul (10:28). Instead of fearing those who can damage their physical body, they needed to fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in
hell (10:28). That, of course, would be none other
than the God of heaven. As we contemplate the Master’s words about being “destroyed” in hell, it is important to recognize that the Greek word for “destroy” is designated in this fashion: “The idea is not extinction, but ruin; loss, not of being, but of well-being” [Vine’s; www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved]. So, did Jesus use fear as an appeal to motivate people to serve God faithfully? He did. Eternal punishment in hell is no laughing matter (Matthew 25:46).
There would be times when the devoted disciples of Jesus would have to face and endure uncertain, dangerous, and anxious moments. Again, what was our Lord’s instruction for them? “Do not fear.” All followers of the Christ are exhorted, “So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).
As He did on numerous occasions, Jesus used an
example from the natural world to emphasize His point (“Do not fear”). The sparrows carry on their activities under the watchful eye of our heavenly Father, Who also knows how many hairs each person has on his/her head (10:29,30). If God knows and cares about birds and the hairs on our head, then how much more does He care for His children themselves? Why? Because we are of more value than birds (10:31). What should we conclude? Jesus wanted the apostles to learn to trust in their Lord!
That brings us to a topic in Matthew ten that is well-known to many. It deals with those whom Jesus will confess and deny. What did Jesus say?
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (10:32,33). Notice that Jesus began His statements about these matters by saying, “Therefore . . .” His thoughts connect directly back with what He had just said about not fearing: “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (10:31). Instead of crawling into a corner and doing nothing out of trepidation, instead of clamming up in fear, what the apostles needed to do was be prepared to do what was needed in order to persevere: trust in the Lord.
In potential life-threatening circumstances, the apostles could be asked, “Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you one of His disciples?” How they answered might determine whether their lives would be spared or killed! In the early centuries after Jesus’ death, many people lost their lives because they openly confessed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth. One who is ashamed of Jesus needs to know that the Lord also will be ashamed of him (Mark 8:38).
While it is true it is necessary to confess Jesus as
the Son of God like the eunuch did (Acts 8:36,37; Romans 10:9,10), the context of Matthew 10:32,33 and what the Master said about confessing or denying Him is not talking about what a lost person must do in order to receive forgiveness. It is a message that applies to those who already are His true disciples. Will we, like the apostles, be ready to confess Jesus as our Lord? Will we do that not only with our tongue but also in the way we live for Him? Or, will we draw back and deny our Savior out of fear? May we ever keep in mind these words of Jesus: “Do not fear.”
— Roger D. Campbell