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Matthew 10:29-33 by Robert Dean
Why does God allow sin and evil on this earth? Listen to this lesson for a Biblical answer to this age-old question. Learn about the differences between God’s sovereign permissive will and His decreed will. Find out that the suffering we face in life is known by God and is intended for our ultimate good. See what Jesus said about earning or losing rewards during our Christian life.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:46 mins 7 secs

Focus on the Future
Matthew 10:29-33
Matthew Lesson #061
December 14, 2014

We continue our study in Jesus' instructions to His disciples. In the first part of this chapter we emphasized that He gave a unique commission to these twelve to go out only to the house of Israel. This is the initial plan during the first year and a half of His ministry where He is focused on the presentation of the offer of the kingdom. This is nothing less than the promised and prophesied kingdom that had been revealed in the Old Testament that was the ultimate destiny for the Jewish people: a kingdom that would be centered in Jerusalem, a kingdom that would be led by a unique King, a King who was both God and a King who a descendant of David who would sit on that throne.

Jesus warns the twelve that not all will accept their message. In fact, man will not; they will reject Him and because they reject Him who is their master they will reject them and they will come under persecution. So Jesus warns them three times: "Do not be afraid".  This brings us into a future orientation. Jesus is telling them not to be afraid now and that even though now some things are done in secret everything will be exposed at a future judgment. For believers that is what is called the judgment seat of Christ, for unbelievers that will be what is called the great white throne judgment.

Matthew 10:28 NASB "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 [Gehenna]."  

The idiom that is used in Matthew regarding the Valley of Hinnom (sometimes mistranslated hell) is an emphasis on temporal divine judgment for disobedience. Every time this is mentioned in the New Testament it is a reflection on how it was used in the Old Testament. The Old Testament judgment wasn't focused on an eternal lake of fire judgment, it was focused on the fact that because Israel had disobeyed God, violated the covenant with Moses, and worshipped other gods, they would go through a horrific judgment in time and would be removed from the land.

The third "Fear not" is referred to in Matthew 10:31 NASB "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

All of this emphasizes something to do with the future and I want to add something to what I said last time related to these last three verses, 29-31. In verse 29 Jesus introduces this illustration from the sparrows. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And {yet} not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father['s will]." In the next verse, v. 30 NASB "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Then in v. 31 NASB "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

One of the things we should note is that in vv. 29 and 31 the focus is on this illustration of the sparrows. Sandwiched in between is the statement about the numbering of the hairs of our head. Often when this verse is taught the emphasis is on the fact that God is omniscient, He knows everything about us, and He pays attention. It goes beyond that. When we look at this verse it tells us that the focal point in terms of the essence of God is not simply upon His omniscience and His providential care of His creatures, that He is aware of what is going on in His creation; but it has something to do with His will. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?" The point here is that they are not worth a whole lot; they are perhaps one of the more insignificant aspects of God's creation. Then it says, "not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father['s will]." The focal point here is not on His omniscience. It doesn't say not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father's knowledge", it says, "apart from your Father's will".

The will of God is often described in different categories. We talk about God's sovereign will and sometimes God's permissive will, and then we talk about God's decreed will. In God's sovereign will or His permissive will we are talking about what God has allowed to happen in human history. The term God's "decreed will" or His "revealed will" is talking about what God has revealed should be done. In the Garden of Eden we have an example of God's revealed will: "Thou shalt not eat from the tree of the knowledge of God and evil". It was not God's revealed will for Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of that tree. But God gave them volition, individual responsibility, and they had the option to obey or disobey; that was God's permissive will or sovereign will—He allowed for them to disobey Him. He allowed for them to sin and to suffer the consequences of that son. And that consequence was what introduced evil into history; it brought judgment upon all of God's creation and it brought judgment into human history. We suffer because there is evil in the world, because ultimately Adam's decision introduced sin into the human race.

So God allows the permissive will, evil, to continue because of His omniscience. He knows that by allowing certain things to take place, and as they take place they go far beyond our ability of understanding. This is the issue that is raised in the book of Job. As Job encountered massive undeserved suffering his friends all tried to tell him what many people believe today, that suffering in your life is because of something you did. But a number of times in the first two chapters of Job we are told that God asks Satan: "Have you looked at my servant Job; he is righteous before me". Again and again it is emphasized that Job was a righteous man, he had done nothing wrong, and that the suffering in his life was not the result of the decisions that he made. So Job is left with the question: how do you explain undeserved suffering? How do you explain the existence of evil in the world? This is a question that has plagued many down through the centuries.

The answer that God finally gives to Job is: "I am not going to explain it to you. If I did you couldn't understand it; your knowledge is so finite that it could not comprehend what my omniscience can comprehend". God pointed that out by a series of rhetorical questions to Job like, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you when I created the stars and the planets? Where were you when I created life? Where were you when the angels shouted for joy when I laid the foundations of the earthy? These questions were to make Job focus on the fact that if he could not comprehend the entirety of God's creation how in the world would he be able to comprehend all of the information that was fed by God's omniscience into His sovereign rule over creation where He would allow certain things to take place, allow evil to take place because He understood what the ultimate end would be.

What is brought out here is that God's will is fully aware of whatever suffering the committed disciple would encounter in life through persecution. God is not only not unaware of the suffering that we will endure in life as we seek to grow and mature spiritually but it is something that He allows for an ultimate purpose related to many different factors, including our understanding of His grace and goodness, our learning to trust in Him, and our spiritual growth. This reminds us of the principle in Romans 8:28 NASB "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose." God is the one overseeing these things.    

So in Matthew 10:29 the illustration of the sparrow is used to show that even the falling of the sparrow is comprehended within the sovereign, permissive will of God. Then the illustration is given that even the hairs of your head are all numbered, that God understands something that none of us can comprehend. None of us can count the number of hairs that are in our head. It is beyond our comprehension. That was the issue that was raised with Job: "If I give you an answer, you can't comprehend it; it is beyond your knowledge". Jesus concludes: "Don't fear, therefore, you are of more value than the sparrows". God is paying much closer attention to whatever suffering you encounter and it has a greater value and greater purpose. 

Having warned them and having prepared them for encountering persecution and teaching them not to fear, He then goes back to the topic of encouraging them as they face and encounter this opposition. As we come to this what Jesus is doing is teaching them about what is involved in being a disciple. The first thing we need to understand is that the term disciple is not s synonym for being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not all believers are disciples, and the way Jesus is using the term disciple here in these passages is of a believer who seeks to mature, seeks to grow, and seeks to be obedient to the Lord. A couple of times the word disciple is used when it refers to unbelievers. It refers to Judas as a disciple; he was an unbeliever. But generally the word disciple refers to a category of believer, the category of believer that seeks to press forward toward spiritual maturity.  

We have to come to these passages and realize that Jesus isn't talking about how to get to heaven. He is not talking about things that have to change in our lives in order for us to be acceptable to God. He is not talking about how to become saved; He is talking about the challenge for how a saved person should live who is walking with the Lord. There are three ways in which the Bible uses the word saved; there are three different phases or stages to the Christian life. The first phase is justification. We use Ephesians 2:8, 9 as an example of salvation—we have been saved by grace through faith, and it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. In those verses we are told that we are saved by faith alone, that it is a free gift; it is not something we earn, it is something that is freely given to us. This phase one salvation takes place in an instant of time when we trust in Jesus Christ as our savior. We refer to this as being saved from the penalty of sin. We are no longer spiritually dead but we are made alive in Christ and we have a new life in Him.

What are we going to do with that new life? Are we going to just let it be there or are we going to develop that new life, and are we going to grow spiritually? This is the second phase, phase two, referred to as spiritual life. The first phase is sometimes described as positional sanctification—we are in Christ and we can never be taken from that position. The second is described as progressive sanctification or our ongoing spiritual growth. It is said here that we are saved from the power of sin. We are working out our salvation in fear and trembling. It is spiritual growth. Phase one is faith in Christ. That is becoming a believer. In phase two the issue is in relation to discipleship: are you willing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

What is involved in becoming a disciple? It is not the same as becoming saved. Becoming saved is a free gift; becoming a disciple involves effort, work, study, and application. It involves handling the adversities of life with the provisions that God has given us in His Word. It demands that we come to know God through His Word, and that we are effective students of the Word of God. So phase one is a free gift—by faith alone in Christ alone—but phase two has to do with applying the Word and growing to spiritual maturity. And then phase three is our final glorification when we are absent from the body and are face-to-face with the Lord and are finally saved from the presence of sin. We have to keep these categories distinct.

When Jesus is talking about getting into heaven, that is phase one and it is a free gift. When Jesus is talking about discipleship that is something where He is addressing those who are already saved in relation to their spiritual life and their spiritual growth. So when we come to this next section Jesus is talking about discipleship. He is not talking about how to become a believer; He is talking about what is incumbent upon a believer who wishes to become a disciple.

There are three sections here and I want to overview those briefly before getting into the first one. The first one involves vv. 32, and 33. There are certain things that connect these two verses together. It begins with a conclusion. Matthew 10:32 NASB "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." But, contrast. So He is offering two antithetical points here. Matthew 10:33 NASB "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." In the first verse we have two words that link it together: confess and confess. And then we have the contrast in v. 33.

This confession and the denial take place "before My Father who is in heaven". This is a phrase that is repeated in both verses, so these observations tell us that these two verses are connected. But they are not connected to the next set of verses where we have six verses (34-39) that are connected. It may not seem that way at first, it may seem like it is broken down into a couple of different statements but actually they are all connected. And if we observe the text carefully we will see certain things that tie them together.

Initially Jesus says, Matthew 10:34 NASB "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." We will cover this next time and apply it directly to the announcement the angels made when the Lord was born and they said, "Peace on earth, good will toward man." We often think of Jesus as the one who will bring peace. That is touted at Christmas but Jesus here says that He did not come to bring peace on the earth but to bring a sword. What in the world does that mean, and is the Bible contradicting itself? The Bible is not contradicting itself but we have to understand the context here, and that is that the message of the kingdom is going to produce different responses. Those who accept it will have peace with God. Those who do not accept it will not have peace with God and they will become antagonistic to the message to the point where they want to kill those who proclaim that message. This is the summary of what Jesus is saying here.

Then He explains that. Matthew 10:35 NASB "For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; [36] and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD." Those two verses clearly connect together but they are also an explanation of verse 34.

The next verse continues to pick up on this theme. Matthew 10:37 NASB "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." That introduces another key phrase here, "not worthy of me", and He repeats that two more times. Matthew 10:38 NASB "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." That means that vv. 37 & 38 are directly connected by that phrase "are not worthy of me", and so v. 38 is not introducing a new topic, it is continuing the same discussion.

Then Jesus concludes by says, Matthew 10:39 NASB "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." What is the criterion here? The issue is that we need to put Jesus before anything else in life: before any family members, before friends, before any details of life. The most significant thing in the life of someone who wants to be a disciple is someone who is one hundred per cent committed to learning from Jesus, learning the Word of God and applying it in their life.

Then in conclusion: Matthew 10:40 NASB "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. [41] He who receives a prophet in {the} name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." We all look at that and say, 'Oh, I notice that He is using the word receive a lot'. But what we don't notice is that the second for receive in v. 41, the receiving of a prophet's reward, and the receiving at the end, the receiving of a righteous man's reward, is a different word in the Greek. They are all connected but it is important to pay attention to those nuances because Jesus says, "whoever receives", and even the two words that are used here are ninety per cent synonymous when they are used in the same context they often show a slightly different meaning. So he who receives or welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet—this has do with hospitality—shall receive, i.e. to take or lay hold of a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  So we are talking about something different. We are not talking about salvation. At salvation we are given a free gift, but a reward is something we earn.

This helps us to get a grasp of this section here. We are not talking about how we get into heaven or how we are justified (that is a free gift), we are learning something about what is earned in the Christian life and that has to do with rewards.   

Matthew 10:42 NASB "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." So vv. 40-42 takes us to the topic of rewards, which connects to discipleship. 

In discipleship the issue is walking with the Lord in terms of our spiritual life and our spiritual growth, and it is in relation to that that we will ultimately be rewarded. Those who do not accept the challenge of discipleship will not be rewarded. They will be given the free gift of eternal salvation but they will not be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ. This is the overview of this passage, so let's just look at the first two verses. 

Matthew 10:32 NASB "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. [33] But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."

One of the first things we should note here is the use of the word confess. It is a word we are familiar with, e.g. 1 John 1:9. The word HOMOLOGEO is a legal term and whenever we see that word we ought to think first and foremost in terms of a legal setting. And so this is using and bringing to bear a legal setting where Jesus is before the High Court, the Supreme Court of heaven, and something is going on here in relationship to evaluation. It is not talking about justification or getting into heaven but we'll see something very different. Remember the principle: salvation is a free gift but rewards are earned. So what Jesus is talking about here is going to come under the second category, earning rewards or losing rewards, and He is talking about phase two; He is talking about our Christian life, not how to gain a Christian life.

So the Bible talks about differences between salvation and rewards. Salvation is offered to all mankind. Jesus paid the penalty for all sin, so the issue is no longer what sin you have committed; the issue is trusting in Christ as savior. Do you have the right kind of righteousness to get into heaven? Rewards are for believers. Rewards are for those who have trusted in Christ with reference to their spiritual life. Salvation is given to a few but rewards are also given to a few. Not all believers will press on in terms of spiritual maturity. In salvation Christ complete the work—He completed the work on the cross—but in terms of rewards the believer does the work: he is obedient. This is what James is talking about when he says that faith without works is dead. He is talking about faith without application. That is what we are talking about when we talk about works. It is not going out and doing good things, it is talking about doing what the Word of God says to do. Sometimes that involves application in terms of overt activity but often it involves focus on our thinking and our attitude.

Salvation is a free gift but rewards are earned. Salvation is permanent; you can't lose it. But rewards may be lost. This is taught in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. There are those whose works will be completely burned up at the judgment seat of Christ, yet they will enter heaven "as through fire". Their justification, their eternal life, is not lost but their rewards are lost. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, but rewards are on the basis of our walk by faith, our walk by God the Holy Spirit. Salvation provides us with an equal opportunity to grow to spiritual maturity, and rewards depend upon our use of that opportunity. So the focal point is on our rewards.

At the very end of Revelation Jesus Christ is quoted by John with a motivational statement that echoes the motivational statements He makes in Matthew chapter ten. This is why Revelation was written: to motivate us to pursue spiritual growth, to pursue discipleship. Revelation 22:12 NASB  "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward {is} with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." This is a complex issue, and so to cover this I need to put off until next time. 

Let's just go back and look at our passage again. What Jesus is saying is, Matthew 10:32 NASB "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." That language is picked up and used in one of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 3:5 where we come to the end of the letter to Sardis. In Revelation 3:4 we have the motivation to do better. NASB "But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy." He is writing to a church composed of believers in Jesus Christ whose destiny is heaven. But in terms of their spiritual life they have really messed up: they have defiled their garments. But they are still saved. They have been living in apostasy and they have been living in sin and carnality without recovery and without spiritual growth or spiritual maturity. But there are a few who have not defiled their garments and have grown to spiritual maturity, and they are going to have as part of their reward a closer intimacy with Christ in heaven; they will walk with Him in white.  Jesus says, "They are worthy." This is the same terminology that Jesus uses back in Matthew chapter ten when He talks about the one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. The one who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He is not talking about salvation but of being worthy of that salvation in terms of rewards.

NASB "He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels."

"I will not erase his name from the book of life" does not mean that Jesus would have or could have or that it is even possible to blot out a person's name from the book of life. Once we are saved we are always saved, that is eternal security; but this is a form of speech that is called technically litotes. We often use the concept of litotes in the way we talk. If some friend of yours does well and receives a promotion or receives praise for some activity, you slap him on the back and say, "Not bad!" What you are really saying is just the opposite; you are saying, "Well done!" But you are using understatement and stating it in the opposite and saying, "That's not bad." And so when we see this phrase in Revelation not having your name blotted out, that is simply reinforcing just the opposite, that not only will your name be in the book of life and you will be in justification, but I will confess your name before my Father and His angels. Not only are you justified and are not going to have your name blotted out because it is there, but something in addition is going to happen: "I will confess your name, give praise to your name, for your obedience …"

What Jesus is emphasizing here is for the disciples, the one who pushes forward. The positive is that he will have special recognition at the judgment seat of Christ. That is what it means when it says, "I will confess his name before my Father who is in heaven." The contrast is that if that is not true, if you lose rewards, then you will be denied—not salvation, but denied rewards—because of a life that was spent in disobedience and a life that was spent in spiritual failure.

So the challenge before us is to recognize that there is an eventual accountability for all believers at the judgment seat of Christ. The issue there is not eternal life; the issue there has to do with the quality, the extent, and the privileges of that eternal life in heaven. Getting into heaven is free, but the rewards are earned. That is the challenge before us.