Having just been with a bunch of Pharisees over lunch, Jesus and the disciples are with a crowd that has gathered; a crowd of several thousand. Before He addresses the crowd, Jesus shares a warning with the disciples, a warning that they will be tempted by persecution to become the kind of hypocrites so often found amongst the Pharisees.
Needless to say, Jesus warns His disciples to resist this temptation and couples the warning with reassurance that God will remain with them. In the first paragraph, He assures them that every hypocrisy of their accusers will be exposed, that nothing will remain hidden. The schemes, the plots, the evil… will all become known, and they will be vindicated.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 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. (12:4-5)
Here, Jesus seems to be telling the disciples to take a long view of things, to look beyond their earthly existence into eternity. Those who will one day persecute them can only affect the present; the worst thing they can possibly do is to kill someone. But physical death is not the end of the story; it’s only the end of the beginning of the story, for there is an eternity to follow this life. The One to fear is the One who can throw us into hell. Yet He will bring us into glory instead, as Jesus indicates in the next two verses as He tells them how valuable they are to God who reigns supreme.
In 12:8-10 Jesus urges them to remain faithful to Him under severe physical pressure, for the faithful who do not deny Him before men will be protected; they will be saved, and those who reject Him will be condemned. They should not even be concerned for what to say, for when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will give them the words they need, and will sustain them through trials. Later, as Luke tells the story of those disciples in Acts, we see that they heeded these warnings and that as a result many more came to salvation as a result. Yet I can’t help but wonder what they were thinking at the moment Jesus uttered these words Sadly, Luke doesn’t tell us, for right about then someone from the crowd shouts an interesting request, and Jesus turns to address them…