“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” — Matthew 10:28
In chapter 10 of Matthew, Jesus sends out his disciples to preach and heal. He tells them to go to the nearby towns and villages to proclaim the good news, proclaiming that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7). Then he gives them clear instructions: Don’t take any money (10:9), don’t carry too many belongings (10:10) and stay in the homes of the people who invite you (10:11).
After giving these preparations, he goes on to warn them that they are “sheep in the midst of wolves” (10:16). Things will be very difficult for them, and they can expect physical abuse, injustice (10:17), family betrayals (10:21) and condemnation as the agents of the enemy (10:25). Eventually some disciples will even die the death of martyrs for being Jesus’s followers (10:28).
All these difficulties come on top of the “normal” problems that we have as human beings — that is, those things that come our way just because we are alive: sickness, loss of income, and natural disasters. COVID-19, for instance, is infecting people regardless of their relationship to Jesus.
But even as he warns about these difficulties, Jesus has this message: “Do not be afraid” (10:31). After laying out all the issues that the disciples will face — persecution, abuse, abandonment, and death — he provides these words of comfort.
Does Jesus mean, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, folks. All this bad stuff doesn’t matter”? Well, if he really meant that, why would he have taken on flesh to suffer and die for our salvation? Those aren’t the actions of someone who thinks that our problems are unimportant.
No, Jesus acknowledges that our problems are very real. These earthly injustices and deprivations matter, and he came to fix them. The Gospel is fundamentally about making wrong things right by curing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out evil spirits (10:8). Individual sins and systemic oppression all stand in the way of what God wants to do through Jesus Christ.
Jesus says, “Do not fear” because none of these difficulties can separate us from God. The only thing to truly fear is being apart from the Father (10:28). The good news of the kingdom of God is that none of the difficulties of this life can do that:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).