Matthew 10:28 falls under a general body of instruction Jesus gave to His disciples before sending them out on a mission. The full verse states, “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.” Or, as the ESV puts it, “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.” The same teaching is found in Luke 12:4–5.
As Christians, we can easily apply the message of Matthew 10:28. Like the early disciples, we are sent out to the unsaved world to share the gospel (Matthew 28:19–20; Romans 10:10–17). We also live in a world that’s increasingly hostile to Christianity, making us sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).
We need a “do not fear” reminder more than ever. The Cato Institute, citing a study by Open Doors USA, reports that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world (www.cato.org/commentary/christianity-worlds-most-persecuted-religion-confirms-new-report, 3/7/22, accessed 5/10/23). In countries like Afghanistan, openly declaring one’s faith in Jesus is a death sentence. Even in religious countries like Nigeria, Christians are targeted by Islamic extremist groups. Mainstream America resents Christianity and Christian values. An American Christian can be canceled or lose a job for standing on biblical views of marriage and gender.
It is tempting to fear those who kill the body. After all, who wants to be persecuted? Who wants to lose their source of livelihood, their friends, their reputation, and even their lives? Compromise is easy in a postmodern world. The unspoken rule seems to be that you can practice Christianity just as long as you don’t swim against the tide of public opinion. However, being with Jesus requires going against the flow. We’re not of this world and shouldn’t be conformed to it (1 John 2:15–17; Romans 12:2).
Matthew 10:28 and the accompanying verses serve as a warning, a command, and an encouragement. We are to reserve our fear for God, the One in charge of life and death. We should also be encouraged because, even when facing persecution and death, our souls are ultimately in God’s hands. As people reconciled to God, this is good news (2 Corinthians 5:18–19; Romans 5:10–11; Colossians 1:20–23)!
Don’t be surprised that “those who kill the body” hate believers. In Matthew 10:24–25, Jesus said, “Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!” (NLT).
If Jesus was hated, His followers will be, too. People label Christians today as hateful, bigoted, rigid, and more for their stance on cultural issues that touch morality. And the gospel itself is offensive and foolish to some (1 Corinthians 1:18–21; Galatians 5:11). This helps us embrace Jesus’ command not to fear those who can kill the body.
Please note that Christians are not given leeway to develop a persecution complex or to be hateful. If persecution comes our way, it should never be because of our bad behavior. However, “it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16, NLT). We need not fear the powers of the present world. Every knee will eventually bow to Christ (Philippians 2:10–11).