26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 10:26-33 ESV
In His address to His disciples, as He prepares to send them out on their first independent ministry mission, Jesus uses a number of proverbial statement that must have sounded confusing and even a bit contradictory to His audience. There were already reeling from His announcement that they were going to face persecution and even death as His emmissaries. Of course, they didn’t understand that much of what He had told them was prophetic in nature and dealing with events far into the future, long after they were gone. Jesus was addressing not only the twelve, but all those who would become His disciples after His death and resurrection. Future Christians would face persecution and difficulties of all kinds, including martyrdom. And the greatest period of persecution will happen during the period known as the Great Tribulation, just prior to Jesus’ second coming.
So, in light of His announcement that the disciples would face difficulty and possibly death, Jesus encouraged them “fear not.” Three separate times, Jesus emphasizes that they were to have no fear of those who would harrass and harm them,
So have no fear of them… – Matthew 10:26 ESV
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… – Matthew 10:28 ESV
Fear not, therefore… – Matthew 10:31 ESV
And knowing that His disciples would find these words difficult to obey, Jesus provided them with the reasoning that should motivate and alleviate their fears. First of all, using a proverbial statement, Jesus told them, “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26 ESV). The news that they were to share regarding His Kingdom was going to become known. They could allow their fears to silence their tongues, but the message would still become known. The news about the arrival of the Messiah would be spread one way or another, so they might as well speak up. All that they had seen Jesus do and heard Him say was to be broadcast to their fellow Jews. The Messiah had come and they were to let everyone know. And they were not to let their fear of man silence them.
And Jesus was realistic, acknowledging that there was always the real chance of death associated with their mission. Not only was there the potential for people to reject their message, there was the distinct possibility that they could take their lives. But Jesus tells them “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” His words were meant to focus the attention of the disciples on the eternal rather than the temporal. All men could do to them was kill their bodies. They could not touch their souls or impact their future destiny. Men could eliminate the disciples’ physical lives but do nothing to influence eternal life.
But while Jesus clearly told His disciples to “fear not,” He was not telling them fear nothing. They were to have a healthy fear of God.
…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28 ESV
Too often, we live with a misplaced fear, caring far more about men think of us or might do to us, rather than fearing the power and holiness of God. We are eternal creatures, whose souls will last long after our bodies have died and decayed. Men can harm our bodies, but they cannot touch our souls. And yet, the afterlife is far more important than our earthly life. Where we spend eternity is of greater importance than how we spend out lives on this planet. The disciples could allow their fear to keep their mouth’s shut, in hopes that they could avoid possible suffering, but Jesus wanted them to focus their attention on the future – on eternity.
The judgment of God is far greater and more devastating than anything man can do to us. He has authority over the physical bodies and the eternal desitinies of all men. So, it is much more important that we fear Him, rather than wasting our time worrying about what men might do to us. Jesus was not suggesting that a believer could lose their salvation if they failed to remain faithful. He was simply reminding the disciples that God was the ultimate determiner of men’s fate, and the eternal destiny of men was of greater importance than any temporal suffering they may face or attempt to avoid.
Jesus summarized the need for their fear of God by trying to get them to recognize His sovereign care for them.
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:31 ESV
The God who cares for the physical well-being of birds, cares far more about the souls of men. He feeds the birds and even knows the fate of each and everyone of them. But He cares more about men. Birds and animals have no souls, but men do. And God cares deeply about the souls of every man and woman He has created. And the whole reason He sent His Son to die on the cross was in order that men and women, whose souls are condemned to hell because of sin, could be restored to a right relationship with Him. God knows us so intimately, that He has the hairs of our heads numbered. He is closely aware of every one of the billions of human beings on this planet, and He longs that their souls be preserved through faith in His Son.
But the fate of the souls of men is tied directly to their acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ. Those who faithfully acknowledge Him as their Savior, in spite of persecution and opposition, will be acknowledged by Jesus as one of His own when they stand before God. Their willingness to face possible rejection and death on this earth for their faith, will result in full acceptance by God when they stand before Him. The disciples were to take the message of the Kingdom to their fellow Jews, knowing that they would face opposition. They were to shout their message from the rooftops, refusing to remain silent even in the face of persecution. All because they trusted that their eternal destiny was in the hands of God Almighty.
The apostle Paul would later write, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 ESV). That is what Jesus is calling us to do. And it is not to be a one time event. Our confession of Jesus as Lord is to be ongoing, and it is something we should be willing to do before men. Our faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ should be something we are willing to broadcast to all those around us. The good news of Jesus Christ was not meant to be kept secret or hidden from others. It is to be shouted from the rooftops and proudly proclaimed to any and all. Yes, we will face rejection and ridicule. We might even face bodily harm and death. But we will be saved. Our souls are preserved by God. Our eternal destiny is secure. We have nothing to fear.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.