1Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
8"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11"When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say." (NIV)
Characteristics of Christ's disciples - they are to be:
1. sincere, not hypocritical (vv. 1-3).
"be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees" (v.1) Just as yeast can make its way through bread, so hypocrisy (which Jesus denounced the Pharisees for in the last chapter; see 11:37-54), can permeate the hearts of even followers of Christ if they are not vigilant. The fact that Jesus said this in light of the strong reception received by the disciples from the crowds may have meant that the crowds were a source of temptation for the disciples (towards pleasing people rather than God).
Sincerity must involve hating what is evil and clinging to what is good (Rom 12:9). Therefore it inevitably puts Christ's followers on a collision course with the rest of the world (1 Pe 3:15-17; 1 Jn 3:13; 2 Ti 3:12-13).
In verses 2 and 3, Jesus challenges us to have as much integrity in private as we may be seen to have in public, by reminding us that God sees everything, and will judge every action and motive of ours in the last day (Heb 4:12-13; Rom 14:12). While believers will not be condemned as unbelievers will be (2 Th 1:6-10; Rev 20:11-15), their works will be judged, and they will be given rewards, or a lack thereof, accordingly (1 Co 3:10-14; 2 Co 5:10).
2. fearing God, not man (vv. 4-5).
The inevitable opposition that Christ's disciples must face can easily lead to fear of man. But even if, in the worst-case scenario, we should be put to death for our faith, Christ assures us that physical death is the worst that man can do to us (Paul reiterates this somewhat in Rom 8:31-39). Yet, the power of eternal life or eternal death is in the hands of God. Therefore, "You (that is, God) alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?" (Ps 76:7).
Some Christians may be greatly troubled by verse 5, because they interpret it to imply that God is capricious in his character, and could decide to condemn them to hell after all. This idea, however, goes against the testimony of the New Testament, whether from the words of the apostles or from Jesus Himself (Jn 5:24; 6:37; 10:28-30; Rom 8:31-39; Phil 1:6; 1 Pe 1:3-5).
But all Christians should have a "reverent fear" towards God, especially when they realize what it cost Christ to satisfy God's wrath on their behalf, and so pay the penalty for their sin (1 Pe 1:17-21).
3. trusting God, not man (vv. 6-7).
Possibly in anticipation of the temptation his followers might have to doubt the goodness of God - even if they entrust themselves to Him over against people - Christ assures them that God is so full of compassion and care that He looks after the most valueless creatures (e.g. sparrows) and that, therefore, He will care all the more for them, for they are worth so much more (vv. 6-7). See also Ps 103:8-14; Mt 6:25-34; 1 Pe 5:6-7; and Heb 13:5.
5. bold, not timid (vv. 8-9).
Christ requires that we be bold witnesses for Him - though not all of His people may be evangelists, we are all called to testify about Him before others - just as he charged the healed, former demon-possessed man to do in his hometown (Mk 5:19; Lk 8:39) - and to always be prepared to proclaim the gospel (1 Pe 3:15-16).
He also warns that those who deny belonging to Christ will receive the same treatment by Christ himself. This inevitably leads to the question, "Why, then, didn't Christ disown Peter just like Peter disowned him?" This is not an easy question to answer. But in verse 9, Christ might possibly be referring to a continuous, unrepentant refusal to be known as a Christian. It is hard not to come to this conclusion, especially with the way verse 9 seems to be a parallel to verse 10, which is given attention below.
6. believing, not blaspheming (v. 10).
"Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit probably refers to a total rejection of the testimony that the Spirit gives to Jesus and the plan of God. This is not so much a sin of the moment as of one's entire life, an obstinate rejection of God's message and testimony. Cf. Matt 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-30." (footnote from the NET Bible [emphasis added] - online at net.bible.org)
7. reliant on the Holy Spirit, not worrying (vv. 11-12).
The fact that Christians could expect to receive opposition from both Jews and Gentiles is confirmed by Jesus' words "synagogues, rulers and authorities" (v. 11). "Synagogues" suggests Jews while "rulers and authorities" infers Gentiles.
This assurance by Jesus that the Holy Spirit will give the proper words for His followers to say at the right time is but one example of a much bigger promise found throughout Scripture: that God will give His people what He commands (Rom 15:18; Phil 4:13; 1 Pe 4:11; 1 Co 15:10; Col 1:28-29).
Even though Jesus gave this assurance, Christians should not take this to mean that the Holy Spirit normally works in a way that is "independent" of the Word of God. They need to meditate upon the Word of God continually (Psalms 1, 119), and then the Holy Spirit will illuminate their minds at a later time with what they have reflected on in the Scriptures.
While it is ultimately God who works in us to will and act according to His good pleasure, what means can we use toward the goal of becoming more:
b) reverent toward God?
c) reliant upon God rather than man?
d) bold in our confession and witness?