PERSECUTION SHOULD BE EXPECTED BUT NOT FEARED
Charles Swindoll: How easy it would have been for the disciples to just opt out at this point. Persecution? Suffering? Rejection? Scourging? Death? No way! Knowing the human tendency toward fear rather than faith, Jesus ministered to His disciples with encouraging words. Three times He told them, “Do not fear” (10:26, 28, 31). Why not fear in this mission of being sheep among wolves? Jesus gave three main reasons.
- First, God wants His message revealed, not concealed (10:26-27). Therefore, He would see to it that they were protected and that His word would be proclaimed.
- Second, even if the enemies of the gospel succeeded at putting His witnesses to death, they would continue on to eternal life (10:28). It is the persecutors who should be afraid – of God’s eternal judgment!
- Third, God never ceases to love and care for His disciples even in the midst of great trials and tribulations. God is sovereign and providentially cares for even the sparrows (10:29). God is omniscient and knows even the number of hairs on a person’s head (10:30). Because of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence, the disciples could have confidence that He will never abandon or forsake His own (10:31).
Grant Osborne: There are four reasons why one need not fear in the face of universal persecution.
- As disciples, they are to be like their Master and so should expect persecution and not be surprised by it (vv. 24–25).
- The time is coming when everything will be disclosed, so God’s servants must boldly proclaim what Jesus has taught them (vv. 26–27).
- Those who can only kill the body are not worth fear; that must be reserved for the one who is Judge at the final judgment (v. 28).
- God knows every part of his creation, and human beings are at the apex of that creation, so he will watch out for us (vv. 29–31).
Stanley Saunders: Fear is a primary cause for the failure of discipleship. Fear is also the primary motivation for our obeisance to human powers and our conformity to the structures and assumptions of a fallen world. Faithful proclamation of the gospel puts disciples on a collision course with the very powers that foment this fear. The primary tools at the disciples’ disposal include knowledge of God’s loving and merciful presence in the world, recognition of the facades of human power that are rooted in fear of death, awareness that the gospel produces division, and ongoing practices of hospitality and welcoming, especially with those at the margins of this world. These constitute both the mission itself and the means of persevering in mission.
I. (:24-25) RELATIONSHIP OF TEACHER AND DISCIPLE CREATES REALISTIC EXPECTATION OF PERSECUTION
A. (:24) Disciples Are Not above Their Teacher
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.”
Craig Blomberg: Even as they do not seek persecution and in fact actively shun it, all Christians can at times expect it. Promises of exemption from persecution offer false hope. People who have never experienced it probably have not sufficiently witnessed to their faith. But Jesus’ words here must be balanced with the principles of 1 Tim 3:7 and 1 Pet 2:12; 3:15-16. To the extent that it is possible, Christians and their leaders should try to get along with and gain the respect of unbelievers in their communities.
Donald Hagner: Teacher and disciple, master and servant, stand together because of their respective responsibility and allegiance. Jesus and his chosen disciples stand preeminently together. In the present discourse Jesus is instructing them to extend his ministry to Israel with the same words and deeds that characterized his own ministry, that is, with the good news of the fulfillment and the dawning of the kingdom. But if Jesus suffers hostility and rejection, so must his disciples be prepared for the same. Thus, almost by definition, with discipleship to Jesus and the witness of the gospel comes an unavoidable suffering. A large incongruity exists between the content of the message and the current experience of Jesus and the disciples; no doubt the latter had trouble assimilating the announcement of Jesus at this point, although they probably connected them with the messianic woes preceding the eschatological age itself. Nevertheless, though these words are ominous, the disciples can be comforted that Jesus will have preceded them in the experience of suffering and rejection and in turn can sustain them in the midst of it. This has been the testimony of the Church throughout the ages.
B. (:25a) Disciples Must Emulate Their Teacher
“It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher,
and the slave as his master.”
William Barclay: In this saying of Jesus, there are two things:
- There is a warning. There is the warning that, as Christ had to carry a cross, so also the individual Christian must carry a cross. The word that is used for members of a house hold is the one Greek word oikiakoi. This word has a technical use: it means the members of the household of a government official, that is to say, the official’s staff. It is as if Jesus said: ‘If I, the leader and commander, must suffer, you who are the members of my staff cannot escape.’ Jesus calls us not only to share his glory but to share his warfare and his agony; and we do not deserve to share the fruits of victory if we refuse to share the struggle of which these fruits are the result.
- There is the statement of a privilege. To suffer for Christ is to share the work of Christ; to have to sacrifice for the faith is to share the sacrifice of Christ. When Christianity is hard, we can say to ourselves not only: ‘We are treading where the saints have trod’; we can also say: ‘We are treading where the feet of Christ have trod.’
C. (:25b) Disciples Will Be Vilified Like Their Teacher
“If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul,
how much more the members of his household!”
Grant Osborne: The point here is that if the teacher is maligned, why should the student expect to be accepted? I tell my students regularly to read 2 Cor 11:16–33 every six months and ask, “Am I better than Paul? Should I expect everything always to go well in my ministry?” Christian leaders today do not know how to handle adversity!
The meaning has been disputed. It has been common (even in the NIV, but corrected in TNIV) to label this “Beelzebub” (“lord of the flies”), an ancient insult to the Canaanite deity; but the Greek has “Beelzebul,” which could mean “lord of the dung” (bā ʿēl zibbûl), but is better “lord of the heights”—in fact a play on words with the “lord of the house” in v. 25a. He was the chief God of Ekron (2 Kgs 1:2) but here is the “prince of demons,” Satan (9:34; 12:24), a being who had several other names in Jewish circles—Azazel, Belial, Beliar, the Dragon, Mastema. The leaders are accusing Jesus of gaining control over demons by allying himself with Satan. The disciples should expect at least as much.
Richard Gardner: Since the name itself means “head of the house” or “lord of the dwelling,” Jesus is actually making a pun in 10:25b: If persons call the head of (God’s) house the head of (Satan’s) house, how much more will they discredit the rest of the household?
John MacArthur: We are to be like our Teacher. We are to be like our Master and our Lord and our King. That is our commitment. We are called to be like Him. That’s what it means to have His values, to have His commitments, to have His priorities, to be given utterly over to His will and His purposes and His kingdom. We are to be like Him.
Now, we said last time that if we are like Him, we will be also treated like him.
II. (:26-31) 3 REASONS NOT TO FEAR PERSECUTION
Walter Wilson: In addition to creating a frame around the next unit (10:26–31), the parallel formulations μὴ οὖν φοβηθῆτε (10:26a) and μὴ οὖν φοβεῖσθε (10:31a) express its main theme, with καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε in 10:28 bringing the number of “fear not” imperatives up to three. Despite the prominence of this feature, in terms of its rhetorical posture, 10:26–31 is better described as encouragement than exhortation, with Jesus offering the Twelve arguments meant to reassure them—even in the midst of suffering and persecution—of their place in God’s plan.
Donald Hagner: Wherever the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed there will be opposition. When that opposition escalates into open hostility, the messengers of the good news are not to be afraid. The message must be proclaimed, and God will surely look after the ultimate welfare of his servants. Even death itself is not to be feared, for the person is more than the body. Life after death is assumed here as a fact, as is the reality of judgment. In short, God, the “Father,” who watches over the sparrows and knows the number of hairs on a person’s head, will care for his disciples through all that they may have to experience in the service of the gospel. In difficult times the disciples and the witnessing Church of every age have been able to take courage from these words (cf. 8:31).
A. (:26-27) Because God Has a Vested Interest in Open Proclamation of Kingdom Truth
- (:26) Goal of Disclosure of God’s Truth
“Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”
William Barclay: The meaning of that is that the truth will triumph. ‘Great is the truth,’ ran the Latin proverb, ‘and the truth will prevail.’ When James VI threatened to hang or exile the reformer Andrew Melville, Melville’s answer was: ‘You cannot hang or exile the truth.’ When Christians are involved in suffering and sacrifice and even martyrdom for their faith, they must remember that the day will come when things will be seen as they really are; and then the power of the persecutor and the heroism of Christian witness will be seen at their true value, and each will have its true reward.
John MacArthur: Your enemies cannot prevent your vindication. That’s what He’s saying. Look, people. Look. You’ve got to live with an eternal perspective. You see? That’s what He’s saying. If you’re stuck on worrying about what the world is going to say, you’re looking at the wrong thing. What you want to be looking at is what God’s going to say in the end. Right?
- (:27) Goal of Dissemination of God’s Truth
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light;
and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”
Walter Wilson: The relevance of the proverbial assertion in 10:26 to the argument is then clarified by the command in 10:27, which has the effect of reinforcing the correlation motif. Through their ministry, the disciples reveal what Jesus has revealed to them (cf. 13:11, 52), which in turn reflects what the Father has revealed to him (11:25, 27; cf. 16:17). By extension, the disciples’ ministry constitutes a revelatory action of God and as such can be assigned eschatological significance (cf. 24:14). The new epoch of revelation inaugurated by the birth of the Messiah continues in the time of the church (cf. 17:9; 28:19–20), culminating in the final disclosure that takes place at the last judgment (cf. 10:28, 32–33, 39, 41–42). From this perspective, even the experience of persecution is properly understood as an occasion for disclosure and dissemination, tasks whose execution is understood to be guided by divine necessity (cf. 10:19–20).
Grant Osborne: The time of “darkness” when Jesus’ teaching was “whispered in your ears” refers to his private instruction of the disciples. But they in a sense have graduated, with 10:1–4 being their ordination service, so now they must proclaim these truths “in the light … from the rooftops.” In the first century important public announcements were given from the flat rooftops. So Jesus is saying this mission is to be one of fearless proclamation, public and powerful in its intensity.
William Barclay: Christian preachers and teachers are men and women who listen with reverence and who speak with courage, because they know that, whether they listen or speak, they are in the presence of God.
D. A. Carson: The truth must emerge. The gospel and its outworkings in the disciples may not now be visible to all, but nothing will remain hidden forever. And if the truth will emerge at the end, how wise to declare it fully and boldly now. Flat rooftops of Palestinian houses provided excellent places for speakers (cf. Josephus, J.W. 2.611 [21.5]). In a sense, the apostles were to have more of a public ministry than Jesus himself. He told them things in private, some of which they did not even understand until after the resurrection (see Reflections, p. 252; cf. Jn 14:26; 16:12–15). But they were to teach them fully and publicly.
B. (:28) Because Physical Death Does Not Determine Your Ultimate Destiny
- Negative Description – Don’t Fear Those Whose Power Is Limited
“And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul;”
Grant Osborne: Jesus is not drawing an absolute distinction between the two parts of a human being, body and soul, as if we are a dualistic being rather than a whole person. Still, he is saying that if all a person can do is destroy your mortal body, that is nothing to fear. The most important part of a person, the soul, will live on. Moreover, we all look forward to a new “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44) anyway, to be received at the parousia.
Warren Wiersbe: Martin Luther caught this truth when he wrote,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.
R. T. France: Fear of God is balanced by trust in God as the disciple’s heavenly Father; the God who can destroy in hell is also the God who cares for the smallest bird. Within his fatherly care, there is nothing to fear from human hostility.
- Positive Description – Only Fear God Who Controls Ultimate Destiny
“but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
John Nolland: The ultimacy of death is relativized by the image of a more fearful ‘death’ experience. Talk of killing ‘the body’ already implies that there is more to a person than the body, but the presence of the body again in the post-death state warns against a division along the lines of mortal body and immortal soul. . . There is no better word with which to render it with here than ‘soul’, but it means more the essential person than an ontologically separable component of a person. Matthew’s point is not that the soul is deathless, but that only God has power over it. Death is a dreadful reversal, but not the most extreme one possible. Fear of God is to displace fear of death-dealing persecutors. The stakes are higher with God.
C. (:29-31) Because Your Heavenly Father Values You
- (:29) Have Confidence in God’s Omnipotence
“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?
And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
John MacArthur: Thirdly, finally, the third reason we need not fear is because of what I call valuation. Vindication, veneration, and valuation.
Grant Osborne: Sparrows were by far the cheapest food (considered food for the poor), as a “penny” (ἀσσαρίου, genitive of price, cf. BDF §179) was the smallest coin in the Roman world, worth one-sixteenth of a denarius, so less than an hour’s wage.
D. A. Carson: The third reason for not being afraid is an a fortiori argument: If God’s providence is so all-embracing that not even a sparrow drops from the sky apart from the will of God, cannot that same God be trusted to extend his providence over Jesus’ disciples?
- (:30) Have Confidence in God’s Omniscience
“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Daniel Doriani: Jesus says God even numbers the hairs on our heads. Experts say humans typically have 100,000 to 500,000 hairs. These numbers do not necessarily follow our wishes. For many men, hairs disappear from the forehead and crown while they multiply on the ear, the nose, and eyebrow, where we do not want them. God numbers even the erratically proliferating hairs on our head. We should not fear because he cares about the details of life more than we do.
- (:31) Have Confidence in God’s Great Love
“Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Walter Wilson: The image of God the destroyer (10:28) is then juxtaposed with the image of God the Father (10:29–31), a claim regarding divine sovereignty over the future segueing into a claim regarding divine sovereignty over the present. In terms of its logic and structure, the unit exhibits features of sapiential argumentation, the rhetorical question in 10:29a drawing an example from everyday experience, while 10:29b appeals to the concept of God’s solicitude for the world’s creatures, and 10:30 has the appearance of a proverb.
William Barclay: Matthew says that two sparrows are sold for a penny and yet not one of them falls to the ground without the knowledge of God. Luke gives us that saying of Jesus in a slightly different form: ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight’ (Luke 12:6). The point is this – two sparrows were sold for one penny. (The coin is the assarion, which was one-sixteenth of a denarius; a denarius was the average day’s pay for a working man.) But if the purchaser was prepared to spend two pennies, he got not four sparrows but five. The extra one was thrown into the bargain as having no value at all. God cares even for the sparrow which is thrown into the bargain, and which by human reckoning has no value at all. Even the forgotten sparrow is dear to God.