What does Luke 12:5 mean?
ESV: But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
NIV: But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
NASB: But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed someone, has the power to throw that person into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
CSB: But I will show you the one to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the one to fear!
NLT: But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.
KJV: But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
NKJV: But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
Verse Commentary:
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner with other Pharisees and their lawyers. After the host showed astonishment that Jesus did not ceremonially wash His hands before the meal, Jesus took the opportunity to explain plainly how the Pharisees' devotion to their extra-biblical laws was abusive to the people and led only to death. When a lawyer warned Jesus to back off, Jesus described how the lawyers were just the same as the Old Testament Jewish leaders who murdered God's prophets. In response, the men conspired to lead Jesus into saying something blasphemous enough they could justify His execution (Luke 11:37–54).

Now, Jesus is building up His disciples to have courage under similar circumstances, not be afraid to speak the truth and publicly show their allegiance to Him when questioned before civil and religious leaders who seek a similar excuse to execute them (Luke 12:8–12). Because what is death? For Jesus' followers, it means their bodies will lie in the ground, and their spirits will go to paradise. After a time, they will receive glorified bodies and reign with Christ (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Luke 22:30; Revelation 20:4–6). Paul so internalized this truth that he was torn between ministering or accepting death to be with Jesus (Philippians 1:21–23). Paul eagerly anticipated living true life in eternity and yet saw his earthly life as a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1) necessary to the kingdom purposes of God, thus he lived it joyfully (Philippians 1:24–26; 2:17–18).

The religious leaders have the authority to kill bodies. Far more terrifying is God's authority to consign unbelievers to eternal death in hell, outside of His loving presence (John 3:16–18, 36; Revelation 20:11–15). To drive the point home, Jesus uses multiple ways, here, to tell the disciples to fear God (Luke 12:6–10).

The disciples learn to embody Jesus' encouragement after they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–2). They speak boldly before the Sanhedrin and, when they are beaten for their devotion to Jesus, they "[rejoice] that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41).

This verse, itself, does not teach that hell is eternal, although other verses do (Matthew 3:12; 25:41; Mark 9:43–49). What it clearly shows is that God will judge people and send some to hell. The belief that everyone will be saved is not true.

"Hell" is translated from the Greek geenna, or "Gehenna:" the place of torment inhabited by the dead who did not worship God. The name is taken from the valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem. This was a trash heap where the bodies of criminals were burned. At one point, it was the site where Israelites sacrificed their children to Baal (2 Kings 23:10).
Verse Context:
Luke 12:4–7 applies Jesus' warning for the disciples to reject the way of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1–3). The disciples will face intense persecution beginning with the Jewish religious leaders, particularly a Pharisee named Saul (Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–2). Many Jesus-followers will lose their lives. Even so, those who belong to God's kingdom will receive eternal life. Jesus goes on to say that when standing accused before those who can do them harm, they needn't worry about what they should say. The Holy Spirit will guide them (Luke 12:8–12). Matthew 10:29–31 covers the same material.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus teaches the disciples about proper priorities. This includes recognizing that God knows all things, even secrets. Believers should honor God more than they fear death, or than they worry about things like food and clothes. Christians are to remain ready for Christ's return, even as faith separates those who believe from those who do not. These ideas revolve around the central theme of verse 34: that a person's heart reflects what they value most.
Chapter Context:
Luke 12:1—13:9 compares the world with the kingdom of God. Jesus has condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Luke 11:14–54). He now instructs His disciples to reject the fame and security that Pharisees crave, and hold lightly to their lives, wealth, security, and even family. He then warns the crowd to be wise about their relationships with other people and with God. The next two units each include a miracle and teaching on God's kingdom and salvation (Luke 13:10—15:32). Then the final section in the "travelogue" repeats that three-unit pattern (Luke 16:1—19:27) before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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