What makes you afraid? People fear all kinds of things from snakes to tight spaces to needles. Some fears are completely irrational, others are based in some sort of traumatic experience.
Matthew 10 talks a lot about fear and tells us exactly what we as Christians should and should not be afraid of. Verses 16-23 are Jesus’ warning to the apostles that they would be hated and persecuted for His sake. In fact, He tells them honestly and directly that he is sending them into dangerous, difficult situations. Families will be divided, Christians will be put on trial and martyred due to their faith, and the apostles will quite literally have to run for their lives.
All of this, though, sets up Jesus’ main point in the next section. If you skip to verses 26-33, we read what we should really be afraid of. After outlining the horrors that would come to the first century church at the hands of their persecutors, Jesus says, “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.” What the apostles had to realize is that there are horrific things that would happen in their lives, but no matter how much pain or persecution they endured, God would be just in the end, for better or for worse, for everyone, for all of time. If they lived faithfully to Him and kept His commandments, then they would be eternally “acknowledged” before the Father as The Redeemed, and they would be in a place where they would forget all the sorrows of this world and experience the indescribable joy of their Maker’s presence for all eternity. But, if they did not fear the living God and keep His commandments while on this earth, they would be eternally separated from the Father of the Man they had followed and worked with for 3 years. Their body and soul would be destroyed beyond anything an abusive, tyrannical emperor like Nero could even dream of. That should terrify us, just like it did them.
Jesus’ goal in these verses, though, is not just to literally put the fear of God into His apostles. He also uses this time to encourage them. Verses 29-31 tell us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus uses the thoughts of the coming persecution as motivation for His apostles to keep their eyes on the Heavenly Father. No matter how bad the persecution got, no matter how many of their brethren were stoned, no matter how many Christians were forced to compete to the death in the Coliseum, God knew everything about them and cared for them deeply.
We serve an omniscient God. He knows everything, including who are His, who are proud to be His, and who is slacking off in His kingdom. It is scary to know that whether we like it or not, and no matter how well we “fake it” with our brethren, we cannot hide from God. Jonah tried it. Adam and Eve tried it. It has never worked, so why would we be any different?
In the context of a comparison between God’s mercy and His wrath, the Hebrew writer tells us in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” God’s mercy, grace, love, and faithfulness are all strong, but His wrath and His judgment are too. When the end comes, God Himself is coming back to earth with a vengeance unlike anything we have seen before. His eternal purpose will be fulfilled and those who have been faithful to Him, His word, and His plan, will reap the benefits of their work. As the song says: “This world’s a wilderness of woe, this world is not my home. We will work till Jesus comes.”
But, on the other hand, Satan’s head will finally be crushed, darkness will be defeated, along with the rest of those who are not on God’s side. It is absolutely horrifying to think about the amount of destruction, judgment, and separation that will occur on that day. But is also incomprehensible to imagine the amount of love and joy that awaits those who are sons and daughters of the King.
The lesson in all of this is really to understand who we are dealing with. God has so many complex qualities that we can never fully understand, but the more we learn about Him and the closer our relationship with Him is, the better we will be able to understand and fear Him properly. We are to keep growing, keep praising Him, and keep communicating with Him through scripture and prayer. The more we teach ourselves about who God is, the more ready we will be to humble ourselves at His feet on the day of judgment.
We are to stay humble, stay in the Word, and stay fearful.
After all, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7)