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.
Many South Africans live with fear as a companion – fears regarding their physical safety, health or financial well-being, etc. Fear, in and of itself, is not a bad thing; it is a natural response to danger that encourages you to seek safety when necessary. But sometimes fear can be debilitating, and sometimes is can be misplaced. We see this truth taught in our text.
In Matthew 10, Jesus calls and commissions His disciples for Gospel witness: ‘As you go, proclaim this message: “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near”‘ (verse 7). In the midst of a long list of practical instructions that follow, Jesus tells His disciples: ‘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’ (verse 28). There are those (plural) that kill the body but have no power to kill the soul. Do not fear them, says Jesus. Jesus here raises the possibility of martyrdom in the cause of Gospel witness (cf. verse 21). Do not seek it, but do not fear it. The ability of people to harm you is limited to this life. But there is One (i.e. God ) you should fear because He alone has the power to destroy both body and soul (i.e. the whole person) in hell. The destruction in view here is eternal suffering, not annihilation. Clearly for Jesus, the ultimate disaster is not physical death, but spiritual death, according to one commentator (cf. Revelation 20:14).
Fear God, not men, and for good reason, says Jesus. God’s power to destroy you extends beyond this life and beyond the physical. But, truth be told, we tend to do the exact opposite. We fear people rather than God, and we value the body above the soul and this life above the eternal. According to Jesus, our fears and values are misplaced. But Jesus here mercifully provides His disciples with a biblical perspective on the matter which is divine (fear God), eternal (destruction in hell), and balanced (both body and soul matter). Keep this perspective in mind when tempted to fear others. To fear God means to make Him BIG in your own thinking and living, and when GOD is big, all others become small and less fearful. As one commentator states it, ‘Fear of Him overcomes fear of them.’