It’s often said that when the Bible speaks of fearing God, it means something different to the normal meaning of fear. That isn’t entirely right. Imagine saying that to Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, Samson’s father, the Israelites who saw Korah’s rebellion, or Moses. Confronted with the Lord’s consuming fire, they were stricken with fear. The same is true in the New Testament of Peter at the lakeside, the disciples on Easter Sunday, and John on the island of Patmos. Fear of the Lord is certainly fear, a deep internal response to the realization that our well-being is in danger. More than that, we realize that we are in the presence of the One who is infinitely greater than us and quite capable of eternally punishing us in hell. Far from being a non-fear, the fear of the Lord is the greatest of all fears.
And yet, in a glorious paradox, having told us to fear God, Jesus says to His followers: “fear not.” So which is it? Fear or no fear?
The answer is in verse 32: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” Those who fear God as they should, do so because they know two things. They know that God’s holiness, majesty, glory, and power are infinitely greater than anything on earth. Thus, fear of God includes reverent awe, which all creatures must show before their Creator. And they know that, since they are sinners, they richly deserve His wrath. Thus, fear of God includes the awful knowledge of what, of ourselves, we deserve. His power to cast into hell is matched by His perfect justice in whom He casts there; and His perfect justice in whom He casts there is matched by our total deserving of exactly that. That is why we must fear God. He can cast us into hell, and He should cast us into hell.
And so, those who truly fear God do the only thing they can: they flee to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was sent from the Father to call us to come to Him to be saved from the coming wrath. Those who do, He will “acknowledge” before His Father. That is, He will name them as His. For He has carried their judgment of hell upon His own shoulders, and in doing so He has lifted it off them. God sent His Son so that those who fear Him will find that, far from being eternally condemned, they are eternally safe.
When we know that, then we really can have no fear. Not of God’s judgment, for He has saved us; nor of men, for they cannot harm us. Those who do not fear God have much to fear, in this life and the next, but those who fear God, sheltering in Jesus Christ, have truly nothing to fear.