Question: What does Jesus mean when He says in Matthew 10:33, “whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven”?
Down through the centuries these words of Jesus have caused so much disagreement in the church as to whether or a not a person can “lose” his or her salvation. Ironically, Jesus’ intent was to encourage His followers in just how deeply we are loved by our heavenly Father! The key to understanding verse 33 actually springs from this whole concept of God’s love for us and our love for God.
The word translated from the Greek as “disown” or “deny” is “arneomai,” which means “to contradict,” to “disavow,” to “reject” or “abnegate” (i.e.: deny, refuse). The straightforward meaning of His teaching is clear: those who acknowledge Jesus, even in the face of persecution or death, Jesus will likewise acknowledge before His heavenly Father.
On the other hand, those who deny or disown Jesus because of persecution or the threat of death will be denied and disowned by Jesus in the presence of His heavenly Father. He will do this because the threat of suffering and death has demonstrated that such people love their earthly existence more than they love Jesus, the giver of eternal life.
The context of verse 33 is like an artist’s photo. Picture this in your imagination: the people Jesus referred to as “those who will kill the body” (v. 28) are like powerful river rapids in the photo that will dash people on its rocks without mercy. Those rapids represent people who would injure and even kill Christians for being followers of Jesus.
But the picture also shows that the rapids themselves plunge over a sheer cliff, and an underground canyon swallows up the entire river. This canyon represents God—“the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (v. 28). Even from just the photo it can be clearly seen that the drop into the canyon is far more terrifying and deadly than the rapids.
Then, running across the powerful waterfall, just below the edge of the falls, is a sturdy bridge. It is the bridge of God’s love in Jesus Christ. He will not allow any who belong to Him to be carried away into the inescapable depths. “Do not be afraid,” of the rapids, Jesus says (v. 28), because they are nothing compared to falls and the canyon. Stay on the bridge; remain in Jesus. God loves you. He knows you and loves you so intimately that He keeps track of every hair that washes down the shower drain. He has provided a way over the falls, even if the rapids sweep your body away.
In the foreground, in extremely sharp focus, verse 33 is a question in statement form: which do you love more, your body or Jesus? You will travel the path of that which you love most to its very end.
John 6:40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.