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Having told His friends to fear God rather than the persecution of men, Jesus then assures them that they are of great value to God. Hence, they need not really “fear” God in the sense of being afraid of Him. They need not be afraid of the One who has the authority to cast men into gehenna. To fear God is to respect His authority above that of men.
Luke 12:6, 7 says,
6 Are not five sparrows sold for two cents [assarii, the smallest of copper coins]? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Sparrows were plentiful and sold for very little. Matthew 10:29 says, “are not two sparrows sold for a cent (assarius)?” The price was two sparrows for an assarius, and five sparrows for two assarii. (This copper coin had a Latin name.)
The point of this passage is to relieve their fear of God, who was often thought to be severe and unforgiving. Jesus told them that God held them in high value, particularly those who were His “friends.”
Jesus continues in Luke 12:8, 9,
8 And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God; 9 but he who denies Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.
Jesus’ true friends were those who would not be ashamed to identify with Him. Jesus had already told His disciples of His impending trial (Luke 9:44, 45), although they did not truly comprehend what this meant. Yet the day would soon come when these disciples too would be adjured to confess whether or not they were Jesus’ friends. In that day they would have to fear God more than men.
Jesus continues in Luke 12:10,
10 And everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.
This admonition is also given in Matt. 12:31, 32, though placed in a different context. Luke’s context connects it to their trials before men, whereas Matthew’s context defines blasphemy in terms of attributing the works of God to the devil. Reading both accounts gives us a broader and more complete understanding. When Jesus’ friends would soon be brought to trial for identifying with Jesus and for doing the same miracles, they would face religious judges who would attempt to attribute those works to the devil.
Jesus was teaching, then, that those who would judge these good works in such a manner would be guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Of such, Jesus says in Matt. 12:33, “the tree is known by its fruit.” But Luke 12:11, 12 focuses on the disciples’ future trial, saying,
11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.
Thus, Matthew’s account shows the opposition to Jesus’ teaching and works, while Luke’s account foreshadows a future opposition to the disciples’ teaching and works.
In each case, when the religious leaders and judges were presented with the testimony of miracles that had been done, many would attempt to explain these things by attributing them to sorcery. The disciples, however, were not to fear those judges, who had only the power to kill the body. They were to fear God who was soon to cast Jerusalem into gehenna on account of its hypocrisy manifested by its rejection of Christ.
And so the disciples were not to worry about what they would say when giving testimony of the power of Jesus in working miracles or in clarifying their teaching that Jesus is the Christ. They were to rely on the unction of the Holy Spirit and speak His words of truth.
Luke, of course, was writing with the knowledge of what was yet to transpire on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was given to the Church.
We can see, then, the progression in Luke’s narrative, starting with the end of Luke 11 and extending to Luke 12:13. The section begins with an admonition to the Pharisees to clean the inside of the cup as well as the outside (Luke 11:39). This problem is then defined in Luke 12:1 as “hypocrisy” and “the leaven of the Pharisees.” Between these two verses is the great “woe” (Luke 11:47-52) for their persecution of the prophets throughout history, which also foreshadowed Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion.
This was the great hypocrisy which brought about the destruction of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah. It would be the same cause of the next destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. at the hands of Rome. And finally, it will yet be the cause of the final destruction of the city in the near future.
Many Christians today assume that the Israeli government (or Jews in general) will repent when faced with utter disaster, thus averting this destruction. But Jer. 19:11 shows such a view to be incorrect, for the city will indeed be destroyed. Furthermore, Jesus prophesied that the “fig tree” of Judah would never bear fruit (Matt. 21:19), even though it would later come back to life and bear more leaves (Matt. 24:32).
Leaves indicate a potential for fruit, but if that fig tree should ever bear fruit (as a nation), then Jesus has prophesied falsely. Those individuals living in Jerusalem or the Israeli state itself, who have come to believe in Jesus and who bear genuine fruit to present to God, should understand that at some point they may have to separate themselves from the main body of the nation in order to avoid loss when the city is cast into gehenna. It does not mean that they would lose their salvation, but that they would be adversely affected by their decision to remain in a doomed city.
This is the purpose of Jesus’ warning in this passage.