Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” The KJV translates “reverent submission” as “he feared,” implying that Jesus possessed godly fear. It sounds strange to hear that the Son of God feared God, but that was surely the case.
Godly fear and reverence are synonymous, denoting a profound respect infused with awe and admiration. Godly fear is not the panic induced by danger, but rather the amazement experienced when beholding a wondrous sight or standing in the presence of power and grandeur. In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a character asks if the lion Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? . . . Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you” (Collier Books, 1970, p. 75–76).
While the contemporary world may prefer a “safe” and indulgent god, Scripture portrays God as “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6–7, NLT). The godly fear we have of God stems from both His unfailing love and perfect holiness—God is not safe, but He is good.
In His earthly life, Jesus exemplified the Perfect Man, giving a blueprint of true humanity. One of the things that characterized His earthly existence was an unwavering alignment with the Father’s will, in stark contrast to Adam’s rebellion. As part of His example, Jesus demonstrated godly fear by submitting to the Father’s will at all times. Even in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will in godly fear (Matthew 26:39)—what a contrast to Adam’s lack of submission in the garden of Eden! Jesus frequently made declarations that showed godly fear, such as, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
In His perfect righteousness, Christ became the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, and those who trust in Christ are clothed with His righteousness. Yet His godly fear served a dual purpose—not only to be our righteousness but also to provide an example for Christian living. Paul stated, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8).
The book of Proverbs declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10a). Jesus, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), perfectly exhibited godly fear. As followers of Jesus, we are called to embody the same reverence toward God, leading to a life of wisdom.