A Moment with the Bible
Jesus continues to prepare the apostles for the violent reaction they will encounter when they preach the gospel. Possibly the most surprising of all His warnings is that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Obviously, Jesus did come to bring peace between God and man, but what He did not bring was peace among men. The Greek word for “sword” is a short sword or dagger that was commonly used to sacrifice animals. This indicates that the “sword” was the sword of persecution as Christians were sacrificed for the cause of Christ. Even more surprising is that this sword will come from a person’s own household. This is further proof that Satan is the force behind the strong negative reactions to the gospel. What else in this world would create this type of division within one’s own family?
Verse 37 offers one of the most difficult commands Jesus ever gave. If a person loves father, mother, son or daughter more than Him, they are not worthy of Him. The violation of this command is one of the most common sins committed. When a person first becomes a Christian, he invariably faces the challenge of whether God or family will come first in his life. Unbelieving family members repeatedly encourage the new believer to forsake worship or make other compromises for family activities. If the believer decides to put the Lord first, the reaction of his family members is one of betrayal and accusations that he must have joined some type of cult. The disciple who caves in to this pressure not only loses his own soul, but also loses any opportunity of winning his family to Christ. No one will be won to the Lord by a weak and compromising believer. But a believer who stands strong provides for the only possibility of gaining the respect and attention of those around him. It is this strength of faith that causes others to realize that there are worthwhile reasons for considering a life serving God. This is the faith by which Satan is defeated. As Revelation 12:11 states, “They loved not their lives even unto death.”
A Moment with the Bible
Jesus has warned His disciples against fearing man more than God as they spread the gospel. In these verses, Jesus explains the seriousness of not being ashamed of Him and His words. A disciple’s salvation is dependent on whether or not he confesses the Lord before men. Notice carefully the Lord’s words. He did not simply require a man to confess Him. He required a man to confess Him before men. Further, the context shows that He is not talking about confessing the Lord before men who serve God. Jesus is dealing with antagonistic circumstances where there is strong pressure put upon a person to deny Him. It is easy for us to confess the Lord before other Christians, but the challenge is to confess the Lord when to do so will require us to suffer negative consequences.
Christians today often underestimate the seriousness of confessing one’s faith in Christ before the world. Confession of our faith is not only a requirement for us when we first come to Christ, it is a requirement for salvation through out lives. In the midst of serious persecution by Rome, Revelation 12:11 gave early Christians the key to victory over Satan: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” When we the battle against Satan, it is “the word of our testimony” that destroys Satan’s power.
Consider one other passage. Revelation 21:8 says, "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Notice the word “cowardly.” Some versions translate, “fearful.” In the midst of a list that includes that most serious and degrading sins known to man, the Lord says it will also be the cowardly who will have their part in the lake of fire. Just imagine, we can be everything that Lord wants us to be, but when we are afraid to confess our faith before others, we will lose our souls.
A Moment with the Bible
The challenge of every disciple who truly wants to pattern himself after Christ is fear. The apostles and early disciples would face serious persecution that in many cases would lead to death. Whether persecution that threatens one’s life or simply pressure exerted by those who disagree, Jesus’ admonishes that there are three reasons for not fearing those who would attack them.
First, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. One might first think that Jesus is saying that all hidden sins and wickedness will be revealed in judgment. While it is true that on the Judgment God will reveal the wickedness of men’s hearts, in this text Jesus is dealing more with the revealing of the Word of God. In other words, they will be successful in their attempts to spread the gospel regardless of attempts to stop them. The things the Lord reveals to them “in the dark,” they are to proclaim on the housetops. As Isaiah, said, “My word will not return unto Me void” (Isa. 55:11).
Second, there is someone greater to fear than other humans. A man can kill the body, but is unable to do any more. God can destroy both body and soul in hell. Does it make sense to fear a person who has no power after the grave rather than the One who has power to punish eternally? Every part of a Christian’s life ought to be lived with that knowledge in view.
Third, a disciple should not fear because God cares. If God cares even about a sparrow, how much more would He care about His followers? While we at times may feel alone in the face of persecution and pressures from without, we are never alone when we are putting the Lord first. He is there with us and therefore we must not keep silent.
A final application is important. Notice in verse 28 that Jesus speaks of a man being able to kill the body but not able to touch the soul. There are some religions who teach the soul refers only to our physical life and that when we are dead, we are non-existent. But Jesus taught that the soul lives on and we must fear God who can affect our eternal existence. We were created as eternal beings. We have no end; therefore we must be concerned about where we will spend that eternity.
A Moment with the Bible
There are two great lessons all disciples must learn from this text. Have you ever before heard of a master who invited his slaves to become like him? The Lord is asking His disciples to partner with Him in His work. In so doing, they will experience the same things He has experienced. Therefore, the first lesson is that when we act like Jesus, we must expect to be treated like Him. Most disciples have a hard time facing this fact. If we are mistreated for the cause of Christ, we have the tendency of thinking we are doing something wrong. We might even look for ways to compromise the truth or be less forthcoming about what is right and wrong. A disciple should never bring persecution on himself because of his own bad behavior or harsh presentation of the gospel. Paul warned that, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). However, even when truth is presented with gentleness and the best of intentions, one is often repaid with strong negative reactions. The point of the text is that we should not be surprised; if they did it to Jesus they will do it to us. Jesus did not convert everyone He taught and not everyone He encountered was willing to be His friend. Therefore, when people reject us even though we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), we must not give up or be willing to compromise. Keep teaching and the Lord’s word will not return void (Isa. 55:11).
The second lesson has to do with who we are and who we are to become. How do you picture your religious life? How do you picture what it means to be a disciple of Christ? Many look only at the aspect of a religious worship service. They think that the point of Christianity is to belong to a type of religious club and that this once-a-week service works to placate God. But true discipleship is to become like Jesus. This means we learn to speak like Him, react to negative situations like Him, rely on God like Him, know God’s word like Him, and seek the lost like Him. In every part of our lives, we are to be like Him. That is the essence of discipleship and periods of worship are the means to that goal, not the goal itself.
A Moment with the Bible
It is amazing that the teaching of the gospel would illicit such strong reactions, even to the point that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household. Could a brother really betray a brother or a father his own child? It not only could happen, it did happen during the Roman persecution of the church in the first and second centuries. There are times, when a person’s own life is at stake, that they feel justified in betraying others in order to save themselves. The apostles needed to be aware of these possible reactions so that they were not taken by surprise and respond sinfully. Thus in verse 16 Jesus said, “Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Though they were not to react to persecution sinfully nor fight back physically (innocent as doves), they were to be smart in how they dealt with the world they were teaching. Paul repeatedly used wisdom to avoid persecution. A Christian must be willing to accept persecution without denying the Lord, but that does not mean he goes looking for it or in any way encourages it.
In the midst of this kind of severe trial, who will be saved? Only those who “endure to the end.” Endurance implies a struggle. In other words, it will not be easy to be in the minority so that even close family members are betraying you. It is as those times especially that a Christian tends to question his commitment and wonder if this is what the Lord actually expects of him. But the only person who will be saved is the person who does not give in to the pressure. There may be a desire to bend to the crowd, but think of where that crowd is going on the Day of Judgment. In a parallel passage Jesus warned against being ashamed of Him (Mk. 8:38).
Thus, when persecuted, the disciples were urged to flee to the next city. No reason to stay and be killed, but do not quit telling the good news. The phrase, “until the Son of Man comes” most likely refers to Jesus’ “coming” to destroy the nation of Israel for their rejection. Jesus talks more about this “coming” when He speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt. 24:3; Mk. 14:61-62). We will discuss this in more detail when we come to Matthew 24.