What does Matthew 10:28 mean?
ESV: And 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.
NIV: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
NASB: And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
CSB: Don't fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
NLT: Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
KJV: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
The apostles have been given direct warning from Jesus about the persecution and hatred they will face. That hatred will come as they proclaim the truth about Christ. Those who represent Him will receive persecution from Jewish religious leaders and Gentile authorities, as well (Matthew 10:22–27).
Again, now, He urges His disciples not to respond to this persecution with misplaced fear. More specifically, he tells them to respond with proper fear. He tells them not to waste their concern on those in authority who can only kill their bodies but cannot kill their souls. Instead, they should reserve their fear for the one can kill both body and soul in hell.
Jesus is describing what the Old Testament often calls the "fear of the Lord." This is not intended to be abject terror, or panic. Rather, this is the healthy kind of "fear" for which a solider has for his weapon, or a cook has for the fire on a stove. Godly fear involves great and profound respect—and, at the same time, it does demand we acknowledge that God can utterly destroy those who are against Him. This is a right and proper fear.
Here, Jesus insists that death should not be avoided at all costs. The death of the body is not the ultimate loss. The death of body and soul together in hell is the ultimate loss. The message His apostles preach of salvation through faith in Jesus will bring the promise of eternal life in body and soul to many people, as well as to themselves.
In the following verses, Jesus balances this proper fear with the truth that this same God also cares deeply for His own people.
Matthew 10:26–33 continues Jesus' encouragement, as He sends the Twelve out with His authority. He commands the apostles to proclaim far and wide what He whispers to them now. Persecution will come to them, but they must not be afraid. Their enemies can only kill their bodies. They should fear God, instead, and understand that their Father cares for them. He will see if they fall. Jesus declares that He, too, will acknowledge to His Father everyone who acknowledges Him to others. Those who deny His identity as God's Son, however, He will also deny.
Jesus gives His authority over disease, demons, and even death to His twelve hand-picked apostles. He gives them instructions in preparation both for a short-term trip to the towns of Galilee and their ministry after He has left the earth. First, they will preach His message of the kingdom in Israelite towns as they heal and cast out demons to demonstrate His power. Later, they will suffer great persecution as they represent Him before both Jews and Gentiles. They should not be afraid, though, and trust their Father to be with them and to reward them.
Jesus has recently expressed compassion for the people of Israel, who are spiritually lost. Matthew 10 is a record of Jesus' instructions to His twelve core apostles, as He sends them on a short-term trip to the towns of Galilee. He also includes warnings and encouragements about the persecution they will eventually experience. In chapter 11, Jesus will continue to proclaim truth to the people of Israel, leading to further conflict with local religious leaders.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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