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Eugene W. Prewitt

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Revelation 14 and the Fear of God




A Doctrinal Study on the Practical Meaning of the Command


The introduction to the Three Angel’s Messages is a solemn two-word command. Often it has been commented that the word “Fear” could be better translated “Reverence” or “Hold in Awe.”


With this the average reader has too often supposed that the depths of the command had been plumbed. Or, rather, that the command had little depth.


Yet the phrase invites the serious student into a world of world-view correction. I write “world-view correction” because the error is societal and sub-conscious. There are few persons as exceptions within our sphere of acquaintances. Only with difficulty can we even conceptualize the Biblical reality of fearing God. Something terribly wrong has skewed our understanding of this subject.


And our forgetfulness of God belies a deeply buried fear of something other than God.


Perhaps as defined by a lexicon we can say that we fear God. If we compare ourselves to the Bible illustrations of the term, we will find first that we do not. We will find next that we must. And we will see in Scripture terrible reasons why.


Not all in scripture meets the approval of those who deny a God of Judgment.


Be Not Highminded

Contrary to some religious pundits, there is a valid place for “fear” in personal spirituality. Not that the character of our Savior troubles our sleep, but our own character should concern us. Will we neglect to take advantage of the promises? “Let us therefore fear phobeo, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” Heb 4:1. See Php 2:12.


Will our pride or other character defect interfere with our efforts to represent our faith? “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear phobos:”1Pe 3:15


We would do ill to worry, while wholly consecrated, regarding a possible future apostasy. God is both the Author and Finisher of our faith. Nevertheless, we should fear sin. Sin today, not unforeseen difficulties tomorrow, leads to destruction. Our repose should be modified by an awareness that favored people cherishing unbelief or sin lost their position of favor. Consider the severity of God on them that fell. Consider the Jews.


Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.  Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. Ro 11:20-22


The passage exhorts to a dual consideration of God. While we have more to think about in terms of His severity, we will turn first to His “goodness” on them that “continue in His goodness.” Ironically, perhaps to some, the fear of God in scripture is connected to the best of the blessings that heaven has to offer.


Spiritual Blessings

The greatest blessings to those that Fear the Lord are spiritual. Have you wondered “How can I please God?” He takes pleasure in those that fear Him. Ps 147:11. He grants them mercy higher than the heavens and pity more tender than that of a father. Ps 103:11, 13, 17. He honors them with spiritual understanding of the covenants and other “secret” things. Ps 25:14.


They receive healing from Jesus and are made successful in departing from evil. Mal. 4:2; Pr. 14:16; 16:6. They receive glory here and inherit glory hereafter. Their salvation is “near.” God is preparing special things for them in heaven. They receive the gift of unending righteousness. Ps 85:9; 61:5; Ps 31:19; Ps 112:3.


They are buttressed against perplexing doubts. Ps 119:38; Pr 14:26. They are coworkers with heaven, guided into the right path, directed in character development, and endowed with responsibilities in God’s work. Ps 25:12; 2Co 7:1. Ex 18:21; Ezr 9:4


Physical Blessings

Their temporal life is equally charmed. They are saved from difficulties. Ps. 145:19. They are provided needed refuge. Pr 14:26. They are fed. Angels guard them roundabout. Their lives are prolonged and enriched. God provides them lodging. Ps 111:5; Ps 34:7; Pr 10:27; Pr 14:27; Pr 22:4; Ex 1:21.


They receive life insurance from Him who knows every need of those they leave behind. 2Ki 4. At Christ’s coming they are resurrected and given gifts. They, alone, reap good things from the good things they have sown. Ps 31:19; Re 11:18; Ps 128.


Holistic Blessings

The whole man receives strength through the blessings reserved for those that fear God. Jesus feared God—and that was the reason He “was heard.”


[Jesus] in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, . . . was heard in that he feared eulabia; Heb 5:7


Our audience with God is guaranteed on the same condition. Is 66:2; Ne 1:11. Every need is supplied. Ps 34:9. Our desires are fulfilled; our prayers answered. Ps 145:9. We are happy and filled with gladness. Ps 128:4; Ps 119:74.


Even our social needs are met as we receive honor from men, special attention from the minister and warmest fellowship among others that have a like-fear of God. Ps 15:4; Ac 13:16, 26: Ps 66:16; Ps 119:63; Ps 22:25; Mal 3:16; Pr 22:4. Even the familial needs of spousal affirmation and praise come to her that fears the Lord. Pr 31:30.


The families of those that fear God are made “fruitful.” The children in such homes are precious and mighty through God. Those that fear God joy to see their grandchildren. Their church family prospers. Ps 128; 112:1-2.


Our minds are blessed with the great gain of contentment. Pr 15:16; Pr 19:23. They are settled on a coming triumph. Is 66:5. They alone have true security in their acceptance with God. Ac 10:35. They find pleasure in obedience. Ps. 112:1. They have motive power in their work of evangelism. 2Co 7:1.


In short:

Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear yareh God, which fear yare before him: Ec 8:12


O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear yare me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! De 5:29


What blessings! What heavenly allurement to fear God! Let us understand and practice such a virtue as will bring truest riches!


And let us return again to the severity of God on them that fall—on those that do not fear God. There is a relation between the goodness and the severity. The fear of God moves men to an obedience that is “for our good always, that he might preserve us alive,” De 6:24.


Where the fear, the heavenly preservative, is lacking corruption sets in.


The first chapter of Proverbs speaks of men who cry to God in their troubles. Ironically, they paid no attention to God when He had earlier sent counsel their direction. They lacked the fear of God. God responds that He will not help them in their current distress. Why not?


For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear yir-ah of the LORD: Pr 1:29

Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth yareh the commandment shall be rewarded. Pr 13:13


The fear of God, like faith in Him, is a relation to the Word of God. Both faith and fear take God’s Word as authoritative, powerful, and sovereign. They are both acts of the will (see the word ‘choose’ in Pr 1:29 above). If the reader were to study other studies I have written on faith he would conclude that they are the same article under different heads. He would be right.


This is why many of the blessings reserved for those that “fear God” are the same as for those counted righteous by faith. It is also the reason that the Old Testament, with only a few references to words like “faith” and “believe”, has so many men of faith listed in Hebrews 11. They were the men that feared God.


The New Testament does not abandon the term “Fear of God” in favor of the phrase “Faith in God.” They have a place side by side. The former highlights the solemn realities and the latter the brighter prospects. But they are one and the same—living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.


And the New Testament reveals that a time of judgment, yea, even thoughts of a future judgment, should occasion godly fear.


And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 1Pe 1:17

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: Re 14:7


Why should judgment inspire godly fear in those that gladly say “Jesus is my Judge”? Because the Bible shows something of the nature of Jesus’ judgment.


He sent a lion to tear the Samaritans that worshipped Him and “feared” Him while cherishing various other gods. 2Ki 17:25-41. Jesus struck Miriam with leprosy when she allowed ill feelings for her brother—God’s prophet—to spill out of her mouth in disrespectful language. God asked her “Wherefore then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Nu 12:8.


Before the plague on Miriam, the plagues on Pharaoh followed hard on his deficiency in the fear of the Lord. Ex 9:30. Seven more plagues are coming on those that do not fear Jesus now. Revelation15 is the introduction to those plagues.


Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest. And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues. Re 15:4-6.


Jesus reinforced the call to godly fear with a barrage of curses in Deuteronomy 28 (see verse 58). In Matthew He reinforced it with a reminder of the lethal and eternal character of God’s judgments.


And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt 10:28


Paul taught that men partaking of the Lord’s Supper without proper respect for the emblems of Christ were in grave danger. Many of them had already died and others were already sick. 1Cor. 11:30. Jude speaks of this class as those that “feed themselves without fear.” Jude 1:12. Those who take Communion lightly ought to reflect solemnly on the consequences of neglecting to fear God.


The first man to take Communion while having the cross in mind did so without food or drink. He was a thief that fellowshipped with Christ while dying with Him. He warned his mocking fellow, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” Lu 23:40. It was the judgment to which the believing thief made reference by the phrase “fear God.” This way of thinking, this mode of consideration that keeps the judgment in view, belongs particularly to those in our age.


We are the ones that live at the time of harvest; for us has been reserved the blessing of the Latter Rain. In view of these things Jeremiah’s prophecy suggests a theme of thought that would be appropriate for us. The prophecy also explains why the harvest and rain are withheld. The introduction (verse 22) to the suggested prayer (verse 24) reminds us of the tsunami. Those who will not bow in awe at God’s power to preserve may be reminded of what life would be like were his decreed limits to be removed from nature.


Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it? But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, “Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.” Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you. Jer 5:22-25


The end-time issue of fearing God shines through Job’s story. The righteous man feared God, Job 1:1. For this reason he became a spectacle to men and angels. God pointed out his godly fear to Satan in the first instance of Satan’s direct appearance in scripture. Job 1:6-8; 2:3. Satan countered the idea that Job’s fear was principled. Job 1:9. God proved to the universe that it was. Here is the last generation in microcosm.


Revelation, the book, presents worship as the final issue in the struggle between good and evil. There are 22 occurrences of the word worship (in all its forms) in its 22 chapters. In Revelation 14:7, quoted earlier, the command to “fear God” precedes the command to “worship Him.” This is the order appropriate for the commands. In the final struggle over worship God supports the side that fears Him.


What does this mean for the first omens of the struggle as they exist in our church today? Bible passages on the fear of God teach plainly that worship should be conducted with solemn realities in view. David wrote “in thy fear will I worship.” Ps 5:7. Those in God’s presence, those bringing offerings, should remember that He “ought to be feared.” Ps 76:11.


His Name must not be taken lightly. Unlike the names of ministers, it is “holy and reverend.” Ps 111:9. The word “reverend” is the same translated fear or fearful elsewhere. So, in regard to worship and the place of worship and the time of worship:


God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. Ps 89:7

And he was afraid yare, and said, How dreadful yare is this place ! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Ge 28:17

Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence [fear] my sanctuary: I am the LORD. Le 19:30  and 26:2.


Ministers of the Lord are to be honored as becomes servants of the Most High God. They are to be received as ambassadors of the heavenly kingdom. Jos 4:14; 1Ki 3:28. The Corinthians modeled appropriate worshipful responses to the message of one of God’s spokesmen. The combination of zeal, repentance, godly trembling fear and earnest desire characterized their reception of the messenger. 2 Cor. 7:11, 15.


In summary, worship in God’s house, of God’s name, under the instruction of God’s messengers, at times in conjunction with the Communion table, is the place to humble one’s self in His presence. Fear God and worship Him, for the hour of His judgment is come.


Ironically, the Bible’s advice for addressing the perennial problem of rebellious youth comes close to the opposite advice as drawn from contemporary worship theorists. While they suggest catering to the tastes of the rebellious, the Bible rather suggests (by way of theocratic illustration) that the fear of God be instilled in the body by significant disciplinary action against offending youth. “And all Israel shall hear and fear.” De 21:20-21.


Not less contrasting are the plans for getting the world’s attention. The Bible speaks of numerous instances were God exalted Himself through powerful judgments on behalf of His people. Modern practitioner, God’s work is reproached by His enemies when His children neglect “to walk in the fear of the Lord?” Neh 5:9.


Revival follows heart-searching 20:3

God’s Banner Ps 60:4

God’s Patience – Be Fearful   Is 57:11

Revival Brings                                    Is 63:17

Comprehensive Scope             De 10:12, et al.


Where is my fear?       Mal 1:6

God’s Expectation      Zep 3:7


Diagnosis                    Ps 36:1; Jer 44:10 But Lu 18:2, 4

Etiology                      Is 29:13; Jer 2:19; Job 13:11 [31:23?]


Advice—unwanted; needed!


World Evangelism      SOCIETAL – Fear fell


Influences to Fear God: Converted ones near; Bible study; Grace; Judgments and Civil Punishments; Stewardship; Review (by administrators De 17:18, 19; others De 6 & 31); Preaching of the Word; Conversion; answers to prayer; God’s mercy; God’s power (Mr 5:15,33).


The plague of our own heart – 2Ch 6:28-33


What virtues are associated with the Fear of God?


Keeping the Commandments             De 8:6; 13:4

Walking in God’s Ways                      De 8:6; 13:4

Serving God                                        De 6:13; 10:20; 13:4; Josh 24:14; I Sam 12:14; 12:24

Swearing by God’s Name                   De 6:13; 10:20

Cleaving to the Lord                           De 10:20; 13:4

Obeying God’s voice                          De 13:4; I Sam 12:14

Putting away your gods                      Josh 24:14; 2 Ki 17:38

Offering yourself with sincerity, truth            Josh 24:14

Resisting temptations to rebel             I Sam 12:14

Considering what God has done        I Sam 12:24

Worshiping God                                 2 Ki 17:36

Sacrificing to God                              2 Ki 17:36

Remembering the covenant                2 Ki 17:38

Departing from Evil                            Pr 3:7

Fearing the King                                 Pr 24:21




We fear God when we “stand in awe of” His word. Ps 119:161

When we obey His voice amidst dark times   Is 50:10

When we are overwhelmed by God’s power Heb 12:21*

When a sense of God’s presence prevents sin            Ex 20:20


* The relation between eulabia and ekphobos in the chapter.


Men should walk simultaneously in the fear of God and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Ac 9:31

Men should simultaneously serve God with fear and rejoice—but with trembling. Ps 2:11

Men should simultaneously praise and glorify God while fearing him. Ps. 22:23.

Men should be simultaneously happy and fearing God “always.” Pr 28:14 [spasmodic fear…no such joy?]

Those that fear the Lord are directed to offer other services. They are to:


Trust in the Lord                                 Ps 115:11

Turn to God                                        Ps 119:79

Praise God                                          Re 19:5; Ps 22:23; Ps 135:20

Glorify God                                        Ps 22:23

Tell of His enduring mercy                 Ps 118:4


As all of these are harmonious, yeah, perfectly consistent, with deep affection for the Lord, it is apparent that godly fear is no detractor from the same. The fear moves men, no doubt, but it is a fear that displaces no warmth.


Is 66:2             Fear proceeds from creation and progresses toward humility

Is 8:12-13        Sanctify JEHOVAH himself. Let him be your fear and fear.


Jesus Feared God        Heb 5:7

With strong crying and tears amidst prayers to His Father who could serve him – i.e. in Gethsemane.


The opposite of fearing God is hardening one’s heart            Pr 28:14

The opposite of fearing God is attending to visions and dreams Ec 5:7

The opposite of fearing God is taking Him lightly Ps 33:8


Fear is a matter of priorities: Ps 96:4


Revive fear [pa-chad] of God’s “goodness” in the latter days         Ho 3:5


Fear proceeds from troubled meditations on the presence of God. Job 23:15


And here are some passages that appear to be partial definitions of the fear of God:


The fear yir-ah of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. Pr. 8:13

In the fear yir-ah of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. Pr 14:26

The fear yir-ah of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility. Pr 15:33


Then there are the three “beginning of wisdom” passages that are so well known. Together with Pr 15:33 they say more than they do apart.


The fear yir-ah of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. Ps 111:10

The fear yir-ah of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Pr 1:7

The fear yir-ah of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Pr 9:10

The fear yir-ah of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility. Pr 15:33


We might synthesize these statements: The fear of the Lord is the first step in the education process. It is the key to discerning holiness in God and His Law. Such discernment can truly be called understanding if it leads to obedience. Reverence for God teaches a man how to receive such knowledge. His heart is subdued and ready to receive instruction.


Putting these with the defining verses above them we might write: When a man keeps ever in mind the eternal power and holiness of God and submits to be taught by the all-knowing one, he will come to hate evil and to see the blackness in pride. His consciousness of God’s presence fortifies him with strong confidence in the face of any obstacle.


And adding to these the characterizing verses we would have: An ever-fruitful sense of God’s presence, His love for me and His hatred of my sin, would correct my life. I would walk with integrity. Church is a practice place for such a sense.


There I am reminded of God’s mercy and the power of His love. There I am conscious of Him. My worship should reflect that abiding sense if it will serve the purpose it was intended to serve. Oh, how hollow the worship that speaks of God’s mercy, holiness and majesty while conducted in a way that promotes forgetfulness of the fear of God!


Abraham was tested on his fear of God—after he had fallen by fear of man and doubt of God. Ge 22:12.


Hebrew midwives feared God. Ex. 1:17


Obadiah feared God. 1Ki 18:3, 12


Job Feared God. Job 1:1, 8, 9; 2:3


Moses, the friend of God, feared Him at the bush     Ex 3:6


Egyptians fearing God prepared for Passover                        Ex 9:20


Temple builders feared God                                       Hag 1:12


Hezekiah feared God                                                  Jer 26:19


Through Mercy

If some readers question how, practically, the fear of God could or should impact their daily routine, Leveticus answers that the fear of God is the basis of community kindness, racial harmony, and social reforms.


In the following verses the Fear of the Lord enforces our duty to the deaf, the blind, the aged, the poor, the slave, the employer, the king and all men generally.


Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear yare thy God, I am the LORD. . . .Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear yare thy God, I am the LORD. Le 19:14, 32

Ye shall not therefore oppress one another, but thou shalt fear yare thy God, for I am the LORD your God. . . .Take thou no usury of him, or increase, but fear yare thy God, that thy brother may live with thee. Le 25:17, 36

Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour, but shalt fear yare thy God. Le 25:43

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing phobeo God: Col 3:22

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear phobeo God. Honour the king. 1Pe 2:17

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear phobos of God. Eph 5:21

Where mercy, inspired by the fear of God, was not shown, judgment will be.


And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear yare not me, saith the LORD of hosts. Mal 3:5


This was, in fact, the source of the devastating judgments on Amelek. The feeble, the tired, those that could not keep up the pace of the marching Israelites, were attacked by Amelek’s soldiers. God refused to forget this affront on his weak ones. He prefaced his command to destroy the nation with a reminder:


How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared yareh not God. De 25:18


Men were to “fear” their parents. This is, naturally, reminiscent of the 5th commandment—to “honor” them.


Ye shall fear yare every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths, I am the LORD your God. Le 19:3

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence entrepo: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? Heb 12:9


Messengers of God, speaking for Him, were due great respect. God worked to establish this respect in the case of Joshua, Moses and Solomon.


On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they feared yare him, as they feared yare Moses, all the days of his life. Jos 4:14

And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared yare the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment. 1Ki 3:28


The authority of the state, says Paul, is also that of a “minister of God.” This is why we pay taxes, obey laws. Government is due “honor” and “fear”.


For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid phobeo of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid phobeo; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. . . . Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear phobos to whom fear phobos; honour to whom honour. Ro 13:3, 4, 7.


Family government is not less enforced in scripture than civil order. And the verses that characterize the ideal relationship in terms of fear have doubtless been twisted (as in the case of Vashti, Es. 1:20) to justify wicked family administration. Still, uncorrupted as they are found in scripture, they carry authority.


Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. . . . Let every one of you [husbands] in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence phobeo her husband. Eph 5:22, 33


Peter draws on the illustration of Sarah as the mother of the faithful. He qualifies the command by saying that obedience is only doing “well” when their fear is not “with any terror.” NKJV. He buttresses the command against perversion by calling husbands to return due honor to their wives as “weaker” vessels.


[Have] your chaste conversation coupled with fear. . . .Let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid phobeowith any terror [NKJV] ptoesis  Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 1Pe 3:2-7


The order of society, in societies that permit it, encompasses the relation between servants and their masters. Here too the apostle applies the touch of reverential fear. And here, too, it is a figure of the obedience we owe “unto Christ.”


Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear phobos and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Eph 6:5

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear phobos; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 1Pe 2:18


Fear for the Wellbeing of Others

Paul and Moses, the same two men that expressed willingness to die eternally for their flocks (see Ex 32:32; Ro 9:3), also had “fear” for their wellbeing. Ex. 2:14; 2Co 7:5. In the case of Moses we know “he feared” for the success of his mission, for Hebrews is very clear that he did not fear “the wrath of the king” when he fled Egypt (Heb. 11:27).


If we question regarding the nature of Paul’s fear his words answer that he feared that Satan would succeed in confusing the believers with complex arguments. He feared that his hopes for the church would be disappointed through the destructive power of interpersonal conflicts.


But I fear phobeo, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 2Co 11:3

For I fear phobeo, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: 2Co 12:20


He feared that his own work for the believers would be overthrown through these combined forces.


I am afraid phobeo of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. Ga 4:11



Fear of Men; Fear of Death – the Worldly Fear


Recently a minister with whom I am conducting a church plant commented that there are “only two fears in the Bible, the fear of God and the fear of death.”[1]


His observation is well grounded. The fear of man—ranging from a fear of torture to a fear of rejection or reproach—forms the larger part of this mysterious force in our life. Such worldly fear competes vigorously with conscience. Many men have wanted to do right but have opted to do wrong for fear of being made a laughingstock.


Not a few would-be martyrs have renounced their faith at the last hour when threatened with inhuman tortures. If only they had understood the fear of God! If they had only observed that worldly fear prompted the basest acts of the saints and tainted their holy lives with crime!


Isaac    Gen 26:7

Josh and Caleb            Num 14

Samuel and Eli            and Saul and David 1 Sa 3:15; 15:24; 21:11-13

David’s response: Ps 3:6; 27:1

Solomon’s response: Pr 29:25.


Just as men are exhorted to fear the Lord, they are warned against the fear of men.


Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear yare ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. . . .I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid yare of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass. Isa 51:7, 12.


The Pharisees feared men. They were paralyzed by the thought of stoning. Many times their murderous plans were dismissed in the face of Christ’s popularity. Among themselves they were willing to admit why. “We fear phobeo the people.” Matt. 21:26. In both cases it was the multitude’s respect for a prophet that retarded their plans. See Mr 11:32. They, and others, feared being stoned. See also Acts 5:26.


The Pharisees even had a misguided fear of God. They feared Jesus “because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.” Mr. 11:18. This was really a fear of “the multitude” as was shown by their willingness to kill Jesus if the multitude could be moved to support them. Matt. 21:46; Mr. 12:12; Lu 20:19; 22:2.


Their fear of man guided their policies in controlling men. They designed plans that would dissuade men such as themselves. They had “agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.” The plan worked on persons like the parents of the healed blind man. They neglected to ascribe honor to Jesus for their son’s healing “because they feared phobeo the Jews.” Joh 9:22.


Perhaps the saddest cases of worldly fear in the Bible are those that dampened brotherly love and doused the fires of companionship. Peter and Barnabas, fearing a class of legalists from Jerusalem, “withdrew and separated” themselves from baby converts. Paul rebuked them. He too, when a baby Christian, had felt the sting of fear-induced cold shoulders. Gal. 2:12-18; Ac 9:26.


Would God we could say that the fear of men had only served to repress the plans of God’s enemies. But in truth, God’s believing children are often hushed by their fears. “Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear phobos of the Jews.” Joh 7:13.


After Christ’s bleeding, Joseph took courage enough to care for the body—but not openly befriend Christ’s cause. He asked for the body “secretly for fear of the Jews.” A week later the disciples were still meeting secretly. The doors “were shut” “for fear of the Jews.” John 19:38; 20:19.


To confess these instances is not to defend them. The apostles and Joseph could never accomplish their work for Christ until their worldly fear had been displaced by the fear of God. Isaiah was commanded to condemn the fear of confederated evil. Is. 8:12-13.


Until this worldly fear raked the soul no longer men were still subject to bondage and needing to be delivered. Deliverance of this nature Jesus offers. He came to “deliver them who through fear phobos of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Heb. 2:15.


Fear Not[2]

The fear of God may at times be confused with the fear of death—when a man is afraid of dying at the hand of God. This fear is legitimate for the unconsecrated. A healthy fear of judgment belongs appropriately to that class that have spurned heaven’s offer of peace.


But it has no place in the lives of those who are victorious over death, those who have been delivered from the “fear of death” and from the bondage to which it subjected them. Heb. 2:15. An abject dread of God’s ferocity betrays the presence of the counterfeit fear of God. This fear is no reverential submission. It produces no fruits of holiness.


Rather, it constrains the frightened one, cowers him into forms and voluntary humility.  When God has appeared to his people, the glory of the scene has often produced a twinge or more of the faulty fear (See Re 1:17). When God has punished his enemies or demonstrated his power over life and nature even conscientious men have trembled at the thought of their own future at His hand.


And in both cases the words from the Spirit to the faithful have been “Fear not.” The Comforter has proffered, especially through the prophet Isaiah, the sweetest offers of freedom from fear.


[Many, many other “fear not’s”]—Perhaps a list.


The Jews trapped by the Egyptians at the shore of the Red sea were told to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. The story serves to illustrate the relation between the fear of death and the fear of God. Only one will predominate. Note the how faith and godly fear followed on the heel of the marvelous deliverance.


Ex 14:13, 31 And Moses said unto the people, Fear yare ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day, for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. . . .And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians, and the people feared yare the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.


When their fear of God became mixed with unfounded terror God used Moses to separate the two fears, to alleviate the terror while promoting reverence-inspired obedience. “And Moses said unto the people, Fear yare not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear yir-ah may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” Ex. 20:20.  See Jud 6:23.


The writings of Peter, John, and Paul all exhorted men to have courage in the face of persecution and opposition. “Happy are ye” said Peter. “God has not given us the spirit of fear” chimed Paul. “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer,” added Jesus through the Revelation. We are raised above death by the hope of the resurrection. 1Pe 3:14; 2Ti 1:7; Re 2:10.


Isaiah certainly is the gospel prophet in the realm of “fear not.” Seven times God spoke through him precious promises as reasons God’s people should not fear. “I am with thee;” “I am thy God”; “I will strengthen thee”; “I will uphold thee”; “I will hold thy right hand”; “I will help thee”; “I have redeemed thee”; “I have called thee by name; thou art mine”; “I will . . .gather” thy scattered children; “I have chosen [you]”; “You will not be put to shame”; “thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth”; “thou shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood.”


And with all these promises Jehovah soothed “Fear thou not.” Isa 41:10, 13, 14; 43:1, 5; 44:2; 54:4.


Jesus articulated reasons for letting go of our fear. He explained that God is so acquainted with the minutia of our life as to have numbered our hairs! “Many sparrows” said he, are insufficient to equal your value in His sight to cares for each of them. “Little flock,” he consoles, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Believing ones, “behold, your King cometh.”


“Fear Not.” Lu. 12:7, 32. Jo 12:15.


It was left to John to state these reasons most succinctly. Why should we not fear? On what basis can we rest secure? Because God loves us and we love Him. His constant care calms the torment stirred up by worry.  Where worry reigns, where fear of death controls, the soul is still under construction. Love has not completed his[3] work.


1Jo 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth phobeo is not made perfect in love.


From sermons heard in many congregations one might suppose that the fear of God is a negative result of not knowing Him. In defense of these speeches one could point to the passages in this section. It is certainly true that being afraid of God is spoken of in negative terms in scripture.


On the other hand, passages illustrating inappropriate fear are few. They are the overly-worn other side of the “fear not” coin.


As a simple example, take the case of the servant that hid his master’s talent in the earth.


For I feared phobeo thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. Lu 19:21


The passage demonstrates that a distrust of God’s kindness is fatal to effort. Even Peter became speechless under its influence. Mr 9:6. Such fear is a type of unbelief. Where it is sowed only ill can be reaped. This is the fear that is cast out by a comprehension of God’s love.


Fear of Judgment / Superstitious Fear of God


At least one case of a righteous man fearing the judgment of God can be drawn from scripture. Moses did.


For I was afraid yagor of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the LORD was wroth against you to destroy you. But the LORD hearkened unto me at that time also. De 9:19


His fear stands apart from the others under this heading for its unselfishness. To be afraid of the judgments coming on the guilty that we love—this is a godlike attribute.


But fear of Judgment in the Bible is generally a quality of the transgressors themselves. Their fear, while justified, does not justify them. There is no positive reward for recognition that justice is coming your direction.


Such existed in the Egyptians when Israel was escaping and waters were rushing in on them from all sides. It existed superstitiously in the Philistines when they heard that the Ark of the Covenant had been brought into the Israelite camp. Saul felt its terrors when a masquerading demon told him he would soon die. Pilate felt it increase when his conscience confirmed that Jesus was the Son of God. Jer. 32:21; 1Sa 4:7; 28:20; Joh 19:8.


Paul described the fear and its cause for existence.


But a certain fearful phoberos looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. It is a fearful thing phoberos to fall into the hands of the living God. Heb. 10:27, 31.


This fear may have a saving quality if it can motivate a soul to seek safety in Jesus.


And others save with fear phobos, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Jude 1:23

Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear phobos. 1Ti 5:20


But its final manifestation will come too late. When men call for rocks to fall on them—it will be for fear of the Lord.


Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear pachad of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty. . . .And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear pachad of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. . . To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear pachad of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. Isa 2:10, 19, 21.

They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid pa–chad of the LORD our God, and shall fear yare because of thee. Mic 7:17


Good hope for those that feared God wrongly: I Sam 12:14-24; Ge 3:10; 1Ch 13:12; 2Sa 6:9; 1Ch 21:30; Ge 18:15


That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear phobos*, Lu 1:74


Ec 12:13  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.


Note: This study is drawn from a more exhaustive collection of Biblical thoughts on the fear of God. The larger collection may be requested from the author by writing [email protected].






[1] Michael Woods, extemporaneous talk on the fear of God January 25, 2005 in Arkadelphia, AR.

[2] “Fear Not” references are included as a way of illustrating by contrasts what “Fear God” means. They are not, however, listed exhaustively. “Fear Not” is one of the favorite messages of the prophets and the Spirit who inspired them.

[3] Would you rather a “her” or an “its”? I chose “his” to shrink the disconnect between love and God, a being viewed always by masculine pronouns in the New Testament.

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