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Matthew 10:24-33 “The Necessity of Courage & Perseverance”

“A disciple is not above the teacher; neither is a slave above his lord. It is enough that the disciple might become like his teacher and the slave like his lord. If they call the head of the household Beelzebul, how much more the members of his house! Therefore, do not fear them! For there is nothing that has been concealed which will not be revealed and hidden which will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light. And what in a whisper you hear, preach upon the housetops. And stop fearing those who kill the body yet are not able to kill the soul. So rather, fear the one who is able to also destroy body and soul in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for an assarion? And one of them will not fall upon the earth apart from your Father. So also, the hairs of your head have all been numbered. Therefore, stop fearing! You are worth more than many sparrows. Therefore, any who will confess Me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. So, whoever might deny Me before men, I will certainly also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

 

Having only just plainly laid out for the twelve apostles that they can and should expect persecution, it is only fair to explain to them why. In these verses, Jesus lays down an obvious precedent that explains why persecution is guaranteed for the apostles (vv. 24-25) before drawing out two important implications from this precedent. The first implication is the connection between a proper eschatological focus and the necessary courage to obey (vv. 28-31). The second is a double-edged encouragement/warning regarding their perseverance and their ultimate eschatological fate (vv. 32-33).

 

Setting Realistic Expectations (vv. 24-25)

A disciple is not above the teacher; neither is a slave above his lord. It is enough that the disciple might become like his teacher and the slave like his lord. If they call the head of the household Beelzebul, how much more the members of his house!

 

The axiom presented in v. 24 plain enough and almost needs no explanation. By virtue of the disciple/teacher (μαθητής/διδάσκαλος) relationship, a disciple is always under and not above (ὑπὲρ) the teacher. The same  is true, only more so regarding the slave/lord (δοῦλος/κύριος[1]) relationship. In this case, the slave is the personal property of his lord and will never be above him. Yet even though the disciple and slave will never be above their teacher and lord, there remains a tight connection between the two. This may be where Jesus is going with this statement. That is, the emphasis has more to do with how society views these relationships than with their inner workings.[2] The disciple will be known and recognized as a follower of his teacher. A slave will be known by society as the possession and servant of his lord. There is an unbreakable link between the superior and the inferior. The latter is an extension of the former.


The next verse becomes more specific and takes the precedent to Jesus’ intended destination. For the inferior, it is sufficient, enough to become like (ὡς) the superior. This likeness cannot indicate a comparison of equality, unless Jesus seeks to undermine the axiom of v. 24. The sense is therefore a likeness of character.[3] It is the goal of a good disciple to imitate and become like his teacher. A slave will undoubtedly pick up some of the characteristics of his lord as he executes his lord’s will. The goal is not to become greater, or even equal to one’s master, but to become like them in nature and character. While this is a mark of a good and faithful disciple/slave, it is not without its dangers.

The final clause of v. 25 is a first-class conditional statement (an assumption of truth for the sake of argument). Jesus is not speaking in hyperbole or presenting a theoretical idea. The “they” are the same “they” who will hand them over to the courts and scourge them in their synagogues (v. 17). That is, the wolves as identified as Israel’s social and religious leaders. They call the head of the household Beelzebul,[4] a reference to Satan himself. In 9:34, the wolves who harass the sheep of the household of Israel stated that Jesus casts out demons by the ruler of demons (i.e., Beelzebul). They as much called Jesus Satan incarnate.


The point of this is to draw out the implication from the point made by the disciple/teacher and slave/lord precedent. In this implication there is both a sobering reality and a ray of hope. The reality is that those who call the head of the house[5] Satan incarnate will not hesitate to sling the same slander at those under his roof. If Jesus is not revered, there is no way that the twelve will even be respected.[6] Yet, there is an element of protection here as well. Because a disciple and slave is not above his teacher or lord, there is an implication that they will never suffer more than him whom they follow. No matter what happens to them, they will only suffer in Jesus’ likeness but never to the extent which Jesus suffered.

 

Courage is Gained from an Eschatological Focus (vv. 26-31)


After such a sobering precedent, the twelve are in need of some encouragement. There is a pattern of commands to “not fear” in the following verses by focusing the apostles’ attention on their eschatological hope. There is both a general command to not fear the outcome that will be revealed in the end (vv. 26-27) as well as specific commands to cease their fear in the present time (vv. 28-31.

 

Do Not Fear the Eschatological Outcome (vv. 26-27)

Therefore, do not fear them! For there is nothing that has been concealed which will not be revealed and hidden which will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light. And what in a whisper you hear, preach upon the housetops.

 

Even though they slander Jesus and will not hesitate to do so to His apostles,[7] they are commanded not to fear them. The idea is literally not to even consider fearing them.[8] Why? Because[9] there is nothing they can do to win and nothing the apostles can do to lose. Both verses are making a similar point but what v. 26 states in a general way, v. 27 makes more specific.


Jesus first speaks of things that have been concealed or covered up that will be revealed or uncovered. All that was covered up in the past will be uncovered in the future.[10] In addition to this, all that is hidden or kept secret will become known. Jesus speaks in general terms of the eschatological reversal of all things both negatively and positively. The point is that all the evil motives and deeds of men will one day be revealed and exposed to all. The same is true of those who are faithful as their faithfulness will one day be vindicated. There is no need to fear those who slander and torment now, for they will one day be exposed for who and what they are. This general statement gains some specific traction in the next verse.


Speaking directly to the twelve, Jesus commands them to speak in the light what He says to them in darkness. This seems to correspond with things covered up and things that will be exposed. Jesus goes on to command them to preach from the housetops what they hear whispered in their ear. Again, there’s a connection between things whispered in the ear and things kept secret or hidden. The point is more specific in that Jesus commands the twelve to make public all the things that Jesus has and will make known only to them. Even now, the twelve have been privy to things that the crowds have not seen or heard (the calming of the storm and the raising of the little girl). In the future, they will receive even more detailed instructions and explanations from Jesus apart from the masses. All these things will be declared openly without holding anything back. There are two important observations to be derived from this. (1) The apostolic message is a message that is received from Jesus, not a development of ideas or an evolution of abstract concepts into concrete doctrines. Jesus is the source, and the apostles are the medium. But the message remains unaltered. (2) Once the message is received, the apostles are commanded[11] to make it known in a very public manner. This is not a secretive wisdom known only to a chosen few, or a gradually revealed and highly nuanced teaching. What they hear from Jesus, they speak forth boldly and publicly.[12]


The point emanating from these verses is that there is no reason to fear those who persecute Jesus and then by extension the twelve. In the end, there will be nothing kept hidden. That includes all acts of faithfulness as well as faithlessness. The righteous will be vindicated and the wicked punished. This statement of course assumes that the kingdom will in fact come. In other words, there will be victory! Because of this, there is the assurance that the kingdom message will go forth. There is nothing “they” can do to stop the gospel of the coming kingdom. In light of the end, there is no reason to fear those who persecute Jesus and His household.

 

Stop Fearing the Present Process (vv. 28-31)


Two more commands to not fear appear in the following verses, though they are of a different nature than v. 26. Rather than the negated subjunctive (v. 26), the commands in vv. 28 and 31 are present tense imperatives. The sense is that the act of fearing is a present reality and so Jesus commands the twelve to cease fearing. While vv. 26-27 look at the eschatological end, these verses remain in the present and work together to provide the twelve with the courage to persevere.


The present imperatives to stop fearing (μὴ φοβεῖσθε) begin and conclude these verses and thus wrap them together as a single unit. The initial point is made in v. 28, expounded upon in vv. 29-32, and then brought to a conclusion in v. 31.

 

Stop Fearing the Powerless and Start Fearing the Powerful (v. 28)

And stop fearing those who kill the body yet are not able to kill the soul. So rather, fear the one who is able to also destroy body and soul in hell.

 

Like the axiom in v. 24, the point here is quite clear. Man is made of more than a physical body but is also comprised of an immaterial portion as well. Those who persecute are perfectly capable of killing the body and yet are not able to kill the soul, the immaterial portion of man. All men die. There is nothing new in this. It matters very little if one is killed on the street or dies alone in bed. What matters is the eternal soul of man. The eschatological outcome has already been hinted at in vv. 26-27 and is being advanced here. Why would anyone fear someone who has zero power over their eternal soul? It is far wiser to fear the One who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell, that is God.


The parallelism between these two statements is identical save the verb (kill vs. destroy). Far from teaching the heresy of annihilationism,[13] the change of verbs suggests something far worse than what we call death. Once someone is killed (ἀποκτείνω) there is nothing left to be done. No means of torture or suffering will affect that physical person any longer. To destroy (ἀπόλλυμι) is to cause ruination and loss. This is the same verb used to describe the loss of any eye/hand (5:29, 30), the perishing state of sailors (8:25), the ruined state of wine and wineskins (9:17), and the hopeless state of Israel (10:6). None of these other examples suggest that the objects being destroyed/lost/ruined cease to exist. The point is that men can kill and that is all. On the other hand, God can throw body and soul into hell where there is eternal torment and ruination. Hell is not only a motivation to repent, but it is also a motivation to remain faithful. The point is simple: stop fearing men (avoiding their wrath by breaking from Jesus) and start fearing God (avoiding His wrath by clinging to Jesus).

 

Realize God’s Attention to Detail (vv. 29-30)

Are not two sparrows sold for an assarion? And one of them will not fall upon the earth apart from your Father. So also, the hairs of your head have all been numbered.

 

The rhetorical question does more to advance the current thought than at first it may appear. The apostles know they will be persecuted (vv. 16-23) and that this persecution will come upon them because of their unity with Jesus as their teacher and lord (vv. 24-25). While Jesus assures them of eschatological vindication (vv. 26-27) and salvation (v. 28), He now assures them that God not only knows about their trials, but that He also cares for them.


An assarion (ἀσσάριον) was a small copper coin used in Roman territory worth about one sixteenth of a denarius (less than an hour’s worth of time for a common laborer). One might equate it with a penny, but it was probably worth less than even that. The point is that one could purchase two sparrows for less than a cent. These small birds were the cheapest meat source one could buy, almost without value to human beings. Yet, these creatures are not without value to the One who created them. Not a single sparrow (worth only half an assarion?) will fall without your Father’s consent.[14] Even the sparrows have value to the apostles’ heavenly Father. This is brought home more personally in v. 30. The idea that their hair is numbered implies that (1) their Father knows that number and (2) each individual hair is assigned a number. The point is not a guarantee of safety (not one hair of your head will fall) but an assurance of God’s knowledge and consent. If a single hair should fall, God not only knows which hair it is, but has given His consent for it to fall. The fact that God should take such care and pay such attention to the details of what man considers minutia proves that He is dedicated to things of great importance. This point is brought home in the following verse.

 

Stop Fearing and Start Trusting (v. 31)

Therefore, stop fearing! You are worth more than many sparrows.


The parenthesis ends here. “Therefore” (οὖν) points back to vv. 29-30 and repeats the same command to cease their present fear from v. 28. Because (1) God must give His consent for a single sparrow to fall and (2) God has already numbered the hairs of their head showing that He is intimately knowledgeable of them and (3) they are worth more than a multitude of sparrows, there is no reason to fear! This says nothing regarding their relative safety, but that if they do perish at the hands of men, there is nothing to fear because God has ordained it and given His consent. The point is simple: stop fearing those who may seek you harm now and start trusting Him who knows and controls the end from the beginning.

 

Encouragement from an Eschatological Reality (vv. 32-33)

Therefore, any who will confess Me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. So, whoever might deny Me before men, I will certainly also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

 

This “therefore” (οὖν) is logically in line with v. 26 as a second implication from the precedent set down in vv. 24-25. The precedent is that because a disciple is not above his teacher and thus will receive both the honor and the hatred aimed at his teacher. The first implication is not to fear the persecutors (vv. 26-31). The second implication (vv. 32-33) is to draw near to Jesus.


These two verses are perfectly paired. Each begins with possible scenario (those who might confess/those who might deny) followed by a promise (I will also confess/I will also deny). Each scenario is justly and appropriately handled by Jesus where affirms their actions before His Father. The scene is that of a courtroom. The language of “confessing” and “denying” are certainly legal terms but that (1) Jesus seems to be acting as either an advocate or prosecutor before the Father within (2) the near context of Dan. 7:13 and the coming Son of Man (v. 23) points to the final judgment.


To “confess” (ὁμολογέω) literally means to say the same thing. There is a sense of commitment here as one confesses Jesus, he commits himself to Jesus. The object of confession is not simply what Jesus says, but Jesus Himself. Thus, before men (public arena) this one agrees with and commits to Jesus in His entirety. This one will receive Jesus’ confession before the Father. On the final day of judgment, when the books are opened and court is in session, Jesus will stand as advocate in His committed defense of the one who confessed Him. Unity with Jesus now promises Jesus’ unity with us then.


Sadly, the same is true of those who deny Him. To “deny” (ἀρνέομαι) is to repudiate, disown, and refuse. Truly, this is the antithesis of commitment and agreement. What Jesus claims, he repudiates. What Jesus does, he rejects. What Jesus offers, he refuses. Who Jesus is, he disowns. Therefore, on the last day, Jesus will disown and reject this one. The sting of 7:23 is heard ringing in this verse: depart from Me you men of lawlessness. I never knew you!

The larger point is clear: unity with Jesus is a dangerous proposition, and yet is the only way to secure eternal life and avoid eternal judgment. With this in view, there is an additional note: it is not too late to repent from denying Him. Matthew uses this verb only four times. Twice here, and twice more to describe Peter’s denial of Jesus (26:70, 72). The differences is, Peter repented. There is always hope with repentance. The call is clear: Follow Jesus alone. If we falter and fail, repent.



[1] For the sake of consistency, it is best to translate κύριος as “lord” and allow the context to distinguish and the intelligence of the reader to discern the significance (“lord” vs. “Lord” vs. “Lord”). Clearly, the main emphasis here is on the domestic slave/master relationship. Yet, because Jesus is also making a clear reference to the relationship between Himself and the twelve, it is more than likely that there is at least a hint to His own Lordship.


[2] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 433-4.


[3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 407.


[4] There is much debate regarding the term Beelzebul with links to Beelzebub, a Philistine or Canaanite deity (2 Kings 1:2, 6). It appears that there has been an evolution of terms throughout the centuries as Israelites continued to poke fun at pagan Baals or gods (lords) by calling them “lord of the flies”, “lord of dung”, and so on. The point is, this term by the first century is synonymous with Satan as the lord of the demons.


[5] The term οἰκοδεσπότης literally means “house despot” or “the house master”. This is an interesting term choice of terms because the imagery is not totally in sync with either the slave/lord or disciple/teacher illustration. The choice of house master may very well allude back to the apostle’s target audience: the house of Israel (οἴκου Ἰσραήλ) back in v. 6. This understanding not only presents Jesus as the despot/master of Israel, but also continues the accusation against those who oppose Him as being anti-Israel in the sense that they are opposed to Israel’s rightful king and thus are seditious rebels.


[6] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 468.


[7] The inferential οὖν points back to the conditional clause of v. 25.


[8] The negated aorist subjunctive (μη φοβηθῆτε) is a strong negation that does not allow for even the possibility of fear in regard to those who slander the head of the house.


[9] The causal γὰρ points forward to express the reason behind the command not to fear.


[10] Not only does Jesus use precise antonyms (καλύπτω vs. ἀποκαλύπτω) but the verb tenses also suggest a reversal. The perfect participle κεκαλυμμένον (past action with continuing results) will be undone with the future indicative ἀποκαλυφθήσεται.


[11] Both the imperative to speak (εἴπατε) and preach (κηρύξατε) are aorist imperatives, indicating specific commands to be immediately obeyed.


[12] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 261-2.


[13] A false teaching that those condemned to hell will be destroyed and cease to exist.


[14] Quarles notes that the preposition ἄνευ (without) when used with a personal object (as here) carries the idea of without the knowledge or consent of. Charles Quarles, Matthew, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p. 106.

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