Rather, do what is right in God’s eyes alone.
At the beginning of this passage, we see that Jesus is surrounded by a massive crowd of people. The crowd is so numerous that they are, “trampling one another underfoot”. He begins to speak first to those closest to him, his disciples. He is fully aware that there are Pharisees in the crowd and warns the disciples about them. “Beware the leaven, that is, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.” Why?
Jesus knows that for all of their pious words and public reputations, the Pharisees are hypocrites. They have no sense of humor and do not take the challenge of criticism well. They claim the moral high ground, but their actions do not correspond with their words. And they are bitterly opposed to this Jesus, precisely because his words and example shed a bright light onto their own dark failings in righteousness.
Jesus is warning his disciples that, because they are his followers, they must have courage, for they, too, are going to face persecution at the hands of the Pharisees, but he also assures them that he will be with them. He tells them, and he is telling us as we read and meditate on this passage, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one” (verse 5).
What is he saying here? Who is it he is talking about? He is talking about God. The Pharisees and the Romans have the power to kill the body, but that’s all, God has the power to cast the immortal soul into Gehenna, or hell. In other words, we are not to fear human threats or actions against us for believing in Jesus Christ. Nothing they can do to us, even killing us, is to be feared, for we are sons and daughters of God who promise eternal joy in his presence to those who love him. This is what is meant by the admonition, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). To fear the loss of his love, makes us wise, and gives us the wisdom to remain true to his Law. Fear of the Lord keeps us from sinning. This is wise because, in reality, it is his Law alone that can liberate us from our sins and from death.
In an increasingly godless age, where God is no longer feared or even recognized by larger and larger numbers of people, morals, the Law of God, are forgotten, even ridiculed. When people believe that they alone are the arbiter of what is right and wrong, self-righteousness becomes the norm. This secularistic, relativistic age is not friendly to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is growing more antagonistic as time passes. We who believe, who know and willingly follow Jesus, need to be reminded of Jesus’ words here again. “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body.” Fear the Lord who is both just and merciful. Fear the loss of his love alone. Do not follow, or fear being shunned by, the so-called “heroes” of today, that is, politicians, or parties of any stripe, or science, or a particular identity group. Rather, do what is right in God’s eyes alone.
“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (verses 8-9).