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Matthew 10:28-33 by Robert Dean
What does it mean to commit your life to Christ? Listen to this lesson to see that this is not a command found in the Word of God but that all believers are called to be disciples. Find out about the responsibilities and challenges of discipleship as taught by Jesus. Understand the distinction between directives to unbelievers on how to be saved and directives to those who are believers on how they are to grow and mature. See that believers who are disobedient are under divine discipline here on earth and will suffer loss of eternal rewards but will not lose their salvation.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:53 mins 40 secs

Praised by Christ, or Not?
Matthew 10:28-33
Matthew Lesson #062
December 28, 2014

We want to get our thinking back into this passage a little bit, thinking about what Jesus is doing and how He is challenging these disciples. Because the challenge at the end of the chapter is a little bit different from the instructions. The instructions at the beginning focus on a specific mission, i.e. a specific time related to a specific people. He is sending out the twelve to only the house of Israel. They have a message that is related to the gospel of the kingdom at that time. Then He warns them to anticipate persecution and opposition. He tells them that God is going to supply their needs and through the Spirit of God they will be given the words to answer their opponents and that as time goes by this opposition was going to increase to the point where even close friends and family members would turn them over to be persecuted, to be killed because of their stand in the Word.

As we come to the second part of the chapter He is giving universal principles that apply across the board in any age to those who focus on spiritual growth, spiritual life and spiritual maturity. In that He says some things that are rather challenging. Many of the things that He says in the last part of the chapter (vv. 28ff) are repeated several times. They are repeated by the Lord in different contexts and are recorded in different contexts by the Gospel writers. They are not always given in the same context. These were illustrations that He used several times as He was challenging His disciples to be disciples. And it is part of our responsibility as well to challenge ourselves to be a disciple. A disciple is not someone who is simply a believer. There are many people who are believers in Jesus Christ for eternal life who never understand anything related to the challenge to be a disciple. A disciple is someone who is a committed follower or student of the Lord, someone who has dedicated his life to growing to spiritual maturity. That is not easy, and part of the response that comes our way is opposition.

In the church age we face that in various degrees. In the US you might not have a lot of opposition but in some parts you may face a lot of opposition. So as we look at this we see a warning that Jesus gives. Whenever we study a passage of Scripture, especially in the Gospels, we have to ask two questions. Is Jesus talking to unsaved people about how to be saved or, is He talking to saved people about responsibilities that are inherent in being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? In passages that we have looked at they are always addressing one of those two things.

This whole section is related to teaching His disciples about the responsibilities and challenges of being a disciple. He is not teaching them about how to become saved. So when we look at passage like Matthew 10:28 and we read, NASB "Do not fear 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", the problem that we have here is that the Greek it doesn't say "hell". Hell is an English word that derives from Viking mythology and not from the Scripture. The literal translation is Gehenna, which means the Valley of Hinnom. The context here in this passage is that they will be persecuted to the point of death, and in verse 28 Jesus says not to fear those who threaten you with physical death. The word "kill" talks about physical death. But on the other hand, there is one you should fear and that is the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

What does it mean to destroy someone in Gehenna? And what does it mean to destroy as opposed to kill? Why does Jesus shift the verbs there? The verb to kill is APOKTEINO, which means literally to kill or to take one's life. The other word, APOLLUMI, has the idea of destroying someone; it is used in passages like John 3:16 for "perish (eternal perishing), but it is also used in numerous other passages for temporal destruction. So it is a word that doesn't necessarily bear the weight of eternal condemnation. In many places it is just talking about some sort of temporal punishment or temporal ruin.

We really have to start with that idiom of Gehenna to understand the rest of it, because we have to answer the question as to whether or not we are talking about eternity in the lake of fire or about some sort of temporal punishment. These are the two options. Does Gehenna refer to the lake of fire? That is what the word hell conjures up for us in English—that Jesus is threatening them with eternal punishment in the lake of fire. We have a problem with that because He is talking to His disciples. With the exception of Judas they are all believers. He is talking to believers, so why would He be threatening them with the lake of fire? The other option is that Gehenna describes a form of temporal punishment, or divine discipline or divine judgment in time rather than in eternity. He is saying to them that if you as a believer are disobedient then God is going to judge you. He is going to bring divine discipline into your life. That is the other option.

If Gehenna refers to the lake of fire then that would indicate that either a) Jesus is indicating that His disciples who are saved at this point could lose their salvation. Theologically that is known as Arminianism, and that doesn't stack up to what the Scripture says. The Scripture teaches eternal security, that once we trust in Christ as savior, if we believe in Him, then we are saved eternally because of all that God does for us at the instant of salvation. The other option b) that often comes up if Gehenna refers to the lake of fire is that failure to persevere in the face of opposition or persecution would mean that these disciples are not truly believers, they have just deceived themselves into thinking they are; and the real sign of being a disciple is perseverance and not faith in Christ. That is usually referred to as Calvinism, lordship theology, and that is the idea that the only way you know you are saved is if you live like it; and if you don't live like it then you have probably deceived yourself and you have the wrong kind of faith. But that is not biblical at all. The Bible says that we are saved because we trust in Christ and the way we know we are saved is because we have believed the promise of God to trust in Christ as savior, and in that instant we are saved (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

Gehenna indicates the Valley of Hinnom. It has significance in the Old Testament, and that is where we have to go to understand the idiom. It was where the southern kingdom had sinned by committing child sacrifice in burning their sons and daughters in the fires of Molech. Molech was one of the gods of the Moabites and the Canaanites, and the way to worship him was to build this huge fire and burn infant child in the fires of Molech. This symbolized for Judah their greatest spiritual defeat. It symbolized their disobedience to God, the fact that they had broken the first two commandments and had succumbed to idolatry, creating an image of God. It became an idiom of their spiritual failure and their disobedience to God.

2 Chronicles 28:3 NASB "Moreover, he [Ahaz] burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel."

Jeremiah 7:31 NASB "They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind."

This was something that they thought was wonderful and were very much given over to. God condemned them for that. Because of these sins of idolatry Judah, the southern kingdom, was punished in Gehenna in 586 BC. This was a historical punishment; it didn't have an eternal connotation. God said that they would be destroyed in the very same valley where they destroyed their sons and daughters.

Jeremiah 19:6 NASB "therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter."

Jeremiah 7:32 NASB "Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no {other} place." That was historically fulfilled in 586 BC. The Valley of Hinnom is first of all the place of their greatest sin, and secondly it is the place where God brought divine discipline and judgment upon the nation for their sin. So the imagery, the picture, the historical reality doesn't relate to eternal punishment; it related to God's discipline for discipline for their life today.

In terms of the conclusion, the Valley of Hinnom was never used in the Old Testament as a reference to eternal condemnation. It is not used as an analogy to the eternal lake of fire but it is a place of divine discipline for a disobedient nation because of their failure to follow God's Word. Gehenna became an idiom for spiritual failure, condemnation, shame and divine discipline in time.

When Jesus uses this it is a Jewish metaphor that invokes a memory of Israel's spiritual failure and God's judgment to warn believers of the very real dangers of divine discipline in time and the loss of rewards and shame at the judgment seat of Christ. When Jesus uses this phrase in Matthew 10:28 He is using it in the sense of temporal judgment. He says, "On the one hand, don't be so fearful of the person who threatens your life that you disobey God, because God is the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell." That phrase "soul and body" is one we often think of as the components of a human being, but here that really doesn't fit the context. What Jesus is saying is that of you are fearful of the person who can kill you physically you need to recognize that God in divine discipline can wreck your life, destroy your life. The word there for destroy isn't the word for eternal condemnation; it is judgment.

In 1 Corinthians chapter three at the end of the reading about the judgment seat of Christ the focus is upon how God is going to evaluate us on the basis of our works and on the basis of rewards, it then says that God is going to bring judgment on that person's life. 1 Corinthians 3:15 NASB "If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." He was suffer loss of reward but won't lose salvation. [17] "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." The "temple of God" is your spiritual life, and defiling it has the idea of harm to your spiritual life. You and I do that through disobedience and carnality. This is what Jesus is saying here. He is talking about rewards, not about how to get into heaven.   

In Matthew 10:29-31 Jesus reminds His hearers that God was fully aware of what suffering they would go through, and He would take that into account. And just as it would be impossible for us to number the hairs of our head, so it is impossibly for us to understand all of the details as to why God allows us go through suffering.

As we go into the next two verses we have to go back to understand the basics that the Bible talks about salvation in three phases. Phase one: we are saved by faith alone. We are saved from the penalty of sin, which is spiritual death, by trusting in Christ as savior. Then after that we have a new life, a spiritual life. It is our responsibility to feed and nourish that spiritual life through the Word of God so that we can grow (1 Peter 2:2), and we are now to be saved from the power of sin. Then when we die physically and are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord, only then are we saved from the presence of sin.  We have to make these distinctions. Jesus is not talking in this passage about phase one; He is talking about phase two. This is the point in Matthew 10:32, 33.

Matthew 10:32 NASB "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. [33] But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."

Reading that at first glance it is like, well, if you accept Jesus (confessing Him before men) you are going to go to heaven, and if you deny Him He will deny you and you won't go to heaven. But lets slow don't a little bit. Why would He be threatening His disciples again with the loss of salvation? He is not talking about phase one; nothing in the passage is talking about how to get saved, it is talking about how a saved person should live. So what does it mean that Jesus confesses us before God and Jesus will deny us before God?

Reminding about the context a little bit, in Matthew 10:42 Jesus talks about rewards. There are three times in this passage where Jesus is talking about rewards. We have already seen the difference between salvation and rewards. Salvation is free; rewards are earned. Salvation is for a few; rewards are for a few. Salvation is based on faith alone but rewards are based on what we do in terms of works—works means obedience and application of God's Word. So again, in Matthew 10:32, 33 the context is going to be about rewards, not about getting into heaven. It is about what happens at the judgment seat of Christ.

So we have these two pairs of words. The word for confess is the Greek word HOMOLOGEO, a word we refer to frequently when we talk about 1 John 1:9, when we confess our sins. In contexts that have a legal overtone this word usually refers to the admission of the acknowledgement of guilt, that you have done something wrong. In other places that are not technically related to a legal context—confession of sin before God is a legal context—it also has the idea of praise. So we could translate this: "Therefore whoever ever praises me before men, Him I will also praise before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven" So deny here means to refuse to acknowledge a relationship with someone. Again, a reminder that salvation is a free gift—rewards are earned (Revelation 22:12), "according to his works". This isn't about getting saved; it is about how we live as a saved person. 2 John 1:8 says the same thing: NASB "Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward." These passages are not talking about getting into heaven, getting justified; they are talking about our position once we are there as a result of our evaluation at the judgment seat of Christ.

A great passage to help us to understand the confession and denial terminology is found in Revelation 3:4, 5. We look at these in terms of just understanding a few things about the context. In Revelation chapters two and three we have these seven letters. These are evaluation reports on these seven different congregations. They are each addressed to the angel of the church. This is a term for an angel who is the watcher, the evaluator of that particular congregation. The word ANGELOS is always used of an angel; it is never used of a pastor. So this is writing to the angel who functions as sort of like a court reporter who is recording the behavior of this local congregation. He is the record keeper that will bring the records before the judgment seat of Christ when it occurs. Each one of these reports gives the positive things and the negative things in each congregation. There are two that have positive things and two that have negative things.

The term "church" refers to a group of believers. A problem is stated in verse one: "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." Some people look at that and say, "They think they are spiritually alive, they think they are saved, but they are dead." Let me suggest that that is not the way to understand this. There are different kinds of death in Scripture. One kind of death is physical death, the second is spiritual death when we are not saved and do not have eternal life. A third death is that we are in carnal death, not walking with the Lord but according to the sin nature. Those who are in carnal death are saved but they are living like a spiritually dead person. That is what we have here. The writer is writing to them as believer, talks to them as believers. He says the solution to their problem of death here is not faith in Christ. That is not what He says. He says, "I know you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead … wake up and strengthen the things that remain." He is talking to believers who are out of fellowship and is basically saying, You need to get right with God; you need to walk by the Spirit; and you need to strengthen what remains because even though you have made a lot of mistakes God's grace will still forgive you and you can still move forward in your spiritual life.

Then He goes on to say in v. 2 "I have not found your deeds completed [often translated "perfect"] in the sight of My God." The word is TELEIOS, which has to do with being complete. In other words, you are incomplete in your obedience. You are incomplete in your spiritual growth and so you need to correct yourself, you need to walk with God, confess your sin, get back into fellowship, walk by the Holy Spirit, abide in Christ, and grow toward spiritual maturity. Verse 3, "So remember what you have received and heard …" That word receive is a word that is also used in various places to refer to accepting Christ as savior. So, remember that you have already believed in Christ as savior. So it is very clear that He is talking to them as believers. But the majority of them are those who have defiled their garments; they are spiritually unclean. 1 John 1:9 NASB "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." That is just the starting point in terms of recovery.

Revelation 3:4 NASB "But you have a few people [individuals] in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy."

The garment is a metaphor for their possession of righteousness. We all possess imputed righteousness because Christ died on the cross for our sins. The possession of the garments indicates, once again, that they are believers. But some have defiled their garments because they have committed sin, so there needs to be recovery. Walking "with me in white" is not something that would necessarily be true of every believer. Obviously there is a distinction. Those who are defiled would not be walking with Him in white, so that indicates some special category of reward for those who have not defiled their garments. The reason for this is further described: "they are worthy". The others are unworthy because they lived a disobedient life as believers.

In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus uses the word worthy three times, just as in this same section He uses the word reward three times. Rewards are related to worthiness. "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." The passage in Matthew 10:28-33 is talking about rewards, and rewards are related to worthiness.

Revelation 3:5 NASB "He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels."

This "clothed in white garments" is something different from positional righteousness or imputed righteousness. This has to do with a category of reward because it is related to those who overcome. Some people think that the overcoming is related to every believer but the word is used in John 16 by the Lord to refer to the world. He said: "I have overcome the world". This is a perfect tense verb, which means completed action—before He ever went to the cross and dealt with sin. That means it is not related to justification, phase one; it must be related to phase two, to spiritual life.

In 1 John, John talks about the same thing: that believers who are overcomers overcome the world; they don't overcome sin. The word overcome is never related to sin, that is what happens when we trust in Christ. We recognize our sin is paid for when we trust in Him and we are given eternal life. Now we have to overcome the world. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2—not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. That is something that occurs after salvation. The concept of overcoming is something that some believers do but not all believers do. Not all believers grow to spiritual maturity. Not all believers are serious about being disciples; not all believers really pursue spiritual maturity. That is the challenge for us. We don't want to be failures at the judgment seat of Christ. We don't want to be those who come under divine judgment in this life because we have failed to step to the plate and accepted the challenge to grow to spiritual maturity. We want to be among those overcomers. That means we need to be disciples who are committed to internalizing the Word of God so that we can grow to spiritual maturity.

"He who overcomes", i.e. a believer who is a winner, who is victorious in his spiritual growth, "shall be clothed in white garments". That is part of his reward. Then Jesus says, "I will not erase his name from the book of life". A lot of people take that as an indication that you can lose your salvation. But this is a figure of speech that is really emphasizing the positive; it is not talking about the negative at all. It is called a litotes, which is a form of understatement. We use it all the time, and we use it when we use a negative to state a positive. You praise someone for doing well and you say, "That wasn't bad". We really meant that was good; we meant just the opposite. Or, You are not as young as you used to be (you are getting old). Examples: Isaiah 55:11 NASB "So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty …" What He is saying is, My Word will return full. He is emphasizing the positive; it won't return void. Jeremiah 30:19 NASB "… And I will multiply them and they will not be diminished …" They will not diminish is a way of saying they will expand, be numerous.

So when we read in Revelation 3:5, "I will not blot out his name", what it is really saying is not only will his name be there but it will be praised. That is what the emphasis is. What the Lord is saying is that at the judgment seat of Christ if you are an obedient, victorious believer, then you will be praised before God for your obedience at the judgment seat of Christ.

This is also seen in a parallel passage that for some is difficult to understand. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 NASB "It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him …" That is the positive promise. "… If we deny Him, He also will deny us." Does that mean we lose salvation? No, not at all. That is what the last line corrects: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." Faithless is parallel to denying Him. The point at the end there is, even if we are a failure as a believer He won't reject us. He will be true to His Word. If we expand that translation a little bit, he is saying: "If [1st class condition in the Greek; it assumes the reality of the premise] we died with Him"—as believers we are identified with Him in His death, burial and resurrection at the instant of salvation (Romans 6:3-5)—"we shall live with Him". That is an absolute, rock-solid promise. We have eternal security.

"If we endure"—talking about the spiritual life. If we endure, persevere in the midst of opposition or persecution—"then we shall also reign with Him." That is rewards, in addition to eternal life in heaven. "If we deny Him, He will also deny us"—He will deny us rewards; He will deny us praise at the judgment seat of Christ. But as we read in 1 Corinthians 3:12ff all their work will be burned up. They will enter heaven, yet as through fire. They are denied rewards but not salvation. If we are faithless in our spiritual life He remains faithful. He is true to His promise to save us if we trust in Him, because He cannot deny Himself.

2 Corinthians 5:10 NASB "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." We appear not to determine if we are going to go to heaven but to evaluate our spiritual life to see what our role and responsibility will be in the kingdom. "His deeds (works)" is not talking about justification. There is accountability for our spiritual growth.

1 Peter 1:17 NASB "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work…" This is not talking about whether or not you are going to get into heaven, because all of our works of righteousness are as filthy rags. We are saved by grace through faith and not of works, so this is talking about rewards for obedience.  "… conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay {on earth;}" That is the issue. We are not to fear the one who can kill the body; we are to fear the one who can destroy the body and the soul. We need to be aware that just becoming a believer is not the end result; it is just the beginning. We have a new life in Christ, and with that comes a new responsibility to nourish that life and to grow and mature in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So that when the Lord appears we will not be ashamed at His coming but will be prepared so that we can stand before the judgment seat of Christ and hear the praise: Well done good and faithful servant.