A passage of stern warnings, but given with strong reasons not to fear nonetheless. First of all, Jesus is a realist. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (10:24). If they treated Jesus like this, then surely we should not expect that they will treat us any better. Not for Jesus the saccharine sentimentality of the “everything is always going to get better.” Nor for Jesus the fake kind of religiosity which says that Christ’s goal was to bring peace on earth in a worldly or human sense. No, that is not at all the case. Think of how they treated Jesus. Expect then, disciple, that your life will not always be treated well. How could it be?
Well, given this stern warning, we would naturally feel some temerity—in which case, Jesus then brings in reasons not to fear. To begin with, he tells them to be confident to shout his message out loud, to proclaim it from the rooftops. The thinking of verses 26-27 seems to be that they will find out anyway so you might as well take the initiative and proclaim the message. Then, in verse 28, we are told not to fear those who can only kill the body, but rather the one who can cast someone into hell. Such strong language is necessary when facing a martyr’s death. Can we have grace in that time and in that need? God will supply at that moment what is required, and this teaching will come back to mind: we all must die sometime (unless Christ returns first); how much better to not only die with honor, but to die in such a way that protects our eternal inheritance. Remarkably, Bonhoeffer, being led to execution, seemed more concerned for the guards than for himself. He knew the truth of this verse.
But then, at the same time, such extremity will not always be the lot of Christians (10:30-31). He cares for us so much; he knows the numbers of the hairs on our heads, a way of dramatizing God’s particular and very careful attention to our needs. The Father in heaven looks after sparrows; surely, then, how much more will he look after us.
And then is encouragement: acknowledge Christ while under persecution and Christ will acknowledge you before your Father in heaven. But there is also warning (10:33): denying Christ establishes that our relationship was never really with Christ at all, and he will deny us before his Father in heaven.
Verse 34 is a surprise to many, but not to those who carefully read the Bible. Jesus is not saying that he is a warrior, a general, a leader of an army in that sense. Jesus fought no battles in that physical sense. What he is saying is that his exclusive claims to be the Christ, the Son of God, mean that inevitably there will be conflict. Such conflict is then traced out in the family relationships (10:35-37). Even the intimacy of family is not more important than following Jesus. Strong words indeed. But there are even stronger words to come: even your own life is not more important than following Jesus (10:38). Why? Because to follow Jesus means to put to death your selfish self’s desires, and that is the path to true life.
These are words rarely spoken today. And yet all the more important for that. They give grit, determination, strength to the Christian. And they are to be internalized, utilized, and fed upon so that when the day of pressure comes we can stand firm in our faith and receive the crown of life.
To receive God Centered Bible devotionals directly in your inbox, sign up here.