Do Not Be Afraid of Those Who Persecute – Matthew 10:26-31

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In Matthew 10:16-25, Jesus tells his disciples they are sent out like sheep among the wolves and they will suffer on account of their testimony for Jesus. Everyone will hate the disciples because of their witness about Jesus and they will suffer in the same ways Jesus will suffer. Jesus tells the disciples they do not need to be afraid with this persecution comes.

 

First, the reason the disciples do not need to fear of those who persecute Jesus and his disciples is that the persecutors will be judged publicly (Matt 10:26-27). This is less clear than the parallel in Luke 12:2-9, and 8:17, but Jesus tells the disciples they have no need to fear their persecution because what might seem to be secret or hidden will be made known at the final judgment.

Part of the evidence for this is the possible parallels between this part of the discipleship discourse and Matthew 25:31-46; the hidden deeds of the sheep and goats will be revealed, and they will be judged appropriately.

Rather than let their fear silence them, Jesus’s disciples will speak boldly. Jesus has taught the disciples privately, but they are to proclaim Jesus’s message in public (in the light, from the housetops). Jesus as a private teacher might be looking ahead to Matthew 13, the secrets of the Kingdom of God are given to the disciples. It is not that the disciples are being taught in secret, but that they are being taught secrets which will eventually be proclaimed publicly.

A second reason the disciples do not need to be afraid is they are are precious to God and he will protect them (Matt 10:28-31). If the disciples are boldly speaking the message Jesus has taught them in public, they will be persecuted. But the disciples should fear God only, not those who persecute them because God is the ultimate judge.

The persecutor can only harm the body, but not the soul. This is a clear allusion to the physical punishment faced by the disciples in Acts, and their eventual martyrdom (according to tradition for most of them).

In contrast to human persecutors who can kill the body, God can destroy the body and soul in hell. The shift from kill (ἀποκτείνω) to destroy (ἀπόλλυμι) is important, and there is a temptation to hear God can annihilate the soul.” The parallel with Matthew 25:31-45 is again instructive since the goats go away to eternal punishment in the hell create for the devil and his angels. Jesus is not thinking of a kind of conditional immortality where the unrighteous dead are not resurrected, but rather the same kind of perpetual punishment other Second Temple Jews expected (Dan 12:2, the wicked go to everlasting contempt; Jude 7; 1QS 2:8).

In addition, the soul is destroyed in Gehenna (γέεννα), not hell or the lake of fire. In later Judaism, Gehenna is “Jewish popular belief, God’s final judgment was to take place” (BDAG).

To illustrate how valuable the disciples are to God, Jesus compares them to sparrows. God cares for sparrows, birds with almost without economic value. A sparrow (στρουθίον) is an analogy for something that has little value to anyone. Two sparrow costs a penny, an assarion (ἀσσάριον) is a Roman coin worth about one sixteenth of a denarius, perhaps “less than an hour’s work.” Luke 12:6, five sparrows are sold for two assarion. An assarion was the cost of a piece of bread, minimal daily substance.

As the disciples endure persecution for their testimony, it is possible they would think God does not care about them. That is what most people do when they start to suffer, question whether God really cares about them. But if God is aware of the lives (and deaths) of the smallest of birds and has intimate knowledge of his disciples, he will certainly care for them when they bear witness before the synagogue rules and Gentile kings. But what about disciples who do not acknowledge Jesus when they are persecuted? In the next section focuses on the importance of acknowledging Jesus when persecution comes.