Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
This is the third of five words meant to encourage the apostles. The first was their pure motives in ministry would be made known to whom they witness (v. 26). The second was the Spirit would give them the words to say (v. 27). Here the Lord encouraged His disciples not to fear death, which was a very real threat. In fact, all the apostles, except John, eventually died martyr’s deaths.
Anyone can kill the body, but only God can destroy the body and the soul. Every day we have brothers and sisters in dangerous lands giving their lives for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hundreds of Christians are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed each year because they will not renounce Jesus Christ and embrace Allah, Mohammed, or some other man-made god. And they gladly give their lives because they do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul.
“The body is a small matter in comparison with the soul. Temporal death is a slight thing compared with eternal death” (Albert Barnes).
As fearful as hell is, it’s not hell’s fire people are to fear, it’s God. It’s not Christians who are to fear God, it’s non-Christians. The reason they are to fear God is because He can ‘destroy’ their body and soul in the fires of hell.
Destruction is not non-existence or annihilation as some believe; it’s conscious existence in a place especially made for Satan and his demons. In speaking about Judas, Jesus said, it would have been good for that man if he had not been born, (Matthew 26:24). If Judas eventually went to heaven in the end, then it would have been good for him to be born. In Matthew 25:41,46, Jesus said we are sent away to hell to the place where Satan is punished. Since we know that Satan will endure eternal conscious torment, it follows that unbelievers will as well.
Why is this important? Those who will find themselves in eternal fire have no regard for God, let alone fear God. Our witness must include the danger for rejecting Christ, not that we would ‘scare them into heaven’, but because it is the truth. God gives life, and eternal life through Jesus Christ. God takes life and gives eternal punishment in hell when they refuse Jesus Christ. This is the essence of the Gospel.
“Father, John taught us that perfect love casts out all fear. While sometimes it can be a fearful task to be a witness for Jesus because of the people we witness to, may my love for You and for the lost person cast out that fear and give me perfect peace as I share Your love with them. To the praise and glory of Jesus I ask, Amen.”