I was reading the first part of Luke 12 the other day and I realized what a great passage it is and how it revolves around the idea of fear. A great crowd had gathered. Luke describes it as a myriad, which technically means 10,000, and so suggests an enormous crowd. So great was it, that the people were trampling over each other. It is striking how people were drawn to Jesus. He must have been amazing to watch in action. In this setting, Jesus addresses his disciples, warning them first of the Pharisees’ teaching.
It is the things he says in vv. 4–12 that really spoke to me. The theme of “fear” dominates. Jesus addresses the listeners as “my friends” demonstrating real affection in a world of enmity. In the Greco-Roman world, “friendship” was a very important motif. Unlike the Pharisees who had rejected Jesus, we are his friends. What a beautiful thought that Jesus sees me as a “friend.” It is not the language of someone to fear, but someone to trust and love.
Jesus tells his hearers in v. 4, “do not fear (phobeō) those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.” In other words, do not fear persecutors or murderers. In a world where it was common to take a life politically or for religious reasons, this is a real statement. Such people can kill believers, but they can do no more. They cannot affect a believer’s eternal fate—only God can. As such, we should not be afraid when we face those who oppose us.
Then in v.5, he goes on: “but I will warn you whom to fear (phobeō): fear (phobeō) him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear (phobeō) him!” Jesus uses the same Greek verb phobeō three times, all in the second person imperative, commanding his hearers. The first and second uses immediately follow each other in the Greek as in the English, an example of anadiplosis whereby there is a repetition of a word at the end of one clause and the beginning of the next. This is emphatic and climactic.
“Fear” here is of course “revere, respect, humbly honor” not live out of abject terror. The object is God. This is the idea of the “fear of the Lord” found in the OT, which of course is the beginning of wisdom. This is not fear of God as a capricious or potentially malevolent Being who will smite us if we fall out of line. He is not a God waiting to pounce on our errors, our failures, or our sin. He is a God who loves us and if we yield to him, we have no fear before him except utter reverence. While God has power over our eternal fate, we are to revere him rather than live in terror of him. We live out of freedom not fear.
In v.6 Jesus reinforces this. He comforts his “friends” reminding them that sparrows are of little monetary value, two worth only two assaria. An assarion was a coin worth 1/16th of a denarius, or half an hour’s wages for a menial worker. It is a figure of speech meaning “a paltry sum.” In other words, sparrows are pretty worthless economically. Yet, Jesus says, not one of them is forgotten by God. This shows that God loves his creation and its creatures. In v.7 he goes on to state that God numbers the hairs of a person’s head. Again, this is not literal, for he doesn’t love the bald man less than those with full heads of hair. But it shows that God knows us intimately, loves us completely, and is concerned for us. As a result, we should “fear (phobeō) not!” Note there is no object here. We fear nothing except the reverence of God. Despite God having the ultimate power not only to take our lives but also to throw us into eternal destruction, we should not be afraid. We revere God, but fear no one, no matter how powerful, and “fear not” whatever life throws at us. What a glorious assurance.
From here in vv. 8–12 Jesus continues encouraging his hearers to acknowledge Jesus before people and not to be anxious about what to say, for the Spirit will give them the words to say. Later in the chapter in vv. 22–34 they are not to be anxious about the basic material concerns like life, food and clothing, for God the shepherd provides for his sheep. Jesus says, “Fear (phobeō) not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (v. 32). This is the language of a shepherd who cares for his sheep. The assurance of the Kingdom is no small promise—it is all of creation over which God reigns. What an honour to be co-heirs with Christ of all that there is… one day, one day.
What a great passage full of assurances. The basic inclination of our lives which we should take with us at all times is respect and reverence for God—the “fear of the Lord.” We are not however to be afraid of God, but know he is trustworthy to protect, provide and reward. He is the good shepherd. He values us to the point of knowing every freckle, wart, hair and idiosyncrasy. And yet he loves us. We are not to live out of fear in a world that will reject us and hurt us. We are not to be worried at what to say before unbelievers, the Spirit will guide. We are not to be concerned about money, food, clothing, wants, needs, etc. We are to seek his kingdom and as his flock, he will provide and protect. We are not to be afraid of death, for that is the path to heavenly dwellings.