A Disciple Confesses the Lord
Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. (10:32–33)
In addition to emulating his Lord and not fearing the world (see chap. 20, on Matt. 10:24–31), a true disciple openly confesses Christ before the world.
In his book I Love Idi Amin ([Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1977], p. 112) Festo Kivengere, a leading evangelical minister in Uganda, tells the history of persecution and martyrdom of Christians in that country. In 1885 three Christian boys, ranging in age from eleven to fifteen, were forced to give their lives for Christ because they would not renounce their faith in Him. The king was adamantly opposed to Christianity and ordered the boys’ execution if they did not recant. At the place of execution the boys asked that the following message be given to the king: “Tell his majesty that he has put our bodies in the fire but we won’t be long in the fire. Soon we will be with Jesus, which is much better. But ask him to repent and change his mind or he will land in a place of eternal fire.” As they stood bound and awaiting death they sang a song that soon became greatly loved by Christians in that country as “The Martyrs’ Song.” One verse testifies,
O that I had wings like the angels,
I would fly away and be with Jesus.
The youngest of the boys, named Yusufu, said, “Please don’t cut off my arms. I will not struggle in the fire that takes me to Jesus.” Because of the boys’ testimony that day, forty adults trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, and indirectly countless more converts were won to the Lord over a period of many years. By 1887 a large number of other Christians were martyred, many of them inspired by the fearless, loving testimony of those three boys. None of those martyrs knew much theology or much about the Bible, because most of them were illiterate and all of them were relatively new believers. But they had a deep love for Jesus that they refused to hide, no matter what the cost. As is nearly always the case, those who died were replaced severalfold by new converts who came to Christ because of their testimony.
Everyone is an inclusive term that gives a sober warning to all would-be and all professing believers for careful self-examination. A person’s willingness to confess Christ before men determines Christ’s willingness to claim that person before His Father. Paul eagerly confessed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). He was not ashamed to acknowledge the person and work of Christ because His is the only message that offers salvation and hope to a corrupt and dying world.
Throughout the history of the church, believers who have been unashamed to confess Jesus before men are those the Lord uses to bring others to Himself. Whether it is through preaching, teaching, personal witnessing, or the courage of martyrdom, those who confess Him boldly and unapologetically before the world not only are the Lord’s most faithful disciples but also His most effective disciple makers.
Confess means to affirm and agree with. It is not simply to recognize a truth but to identify with it. Even the demons, for example, recognize that God is one (James 2:19), but they by no means confess God, because they are His implacable enemies. We do not confess Christ simply by acknowledging that He is Lord and Savior but by acknowledging and receiving Him as our Lord and Savior. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord,” Paul says, “and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:9–10). Outward confession with the mouth is a reflection of genuine belief in the heart.
Men, like everyone, is universal. A true disciple is willing to openly identify with Christ wherever he is, whether before a fellowship of other believers, a group of serious inquirers, or a hostile crowd of unbelievers. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). To the faithful church at Pergamum, the Lord said, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13).
Near the end of his life Paul wrote to his beloved Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6–7). But a few verses later he spoke of Demas, who “loved this present world, [and] has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (v. 10). Demas had been a faithful helper of Paul’s, but when persecution became severe, he held the things of the world too dear to give them up (cf. Matt. 13:22). Hard times are the test of faith. The church does not lack for supporters when it is popular and respected; but when the world turns against it, its fair-weather friends are not to be found.
Believers can be silenced by much less than persecution. Simple embarrassment or friendly ridicule has closed many Christian mouths. It is sometimes easier to stand up to vicious physical injury by a hostile government than to stand up to unbelieving family and friends who would never do us physical harm.
Every believer has lapses of faithfulness, which is why the Lord’s promise of 1 John 1:9 is so dear: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Peter denied the Lord, but he could not live with his denial and he went out and wept bitterly. His heart was broken because he had so terribly failed and grieved His Lord. Timothy was Paul’s most promising protege, yet years after he had himself become a leader in the church, Timothy apparently had become reticent about openly proclaiming the gospel. Paul therefore admonished him, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8).
Peter and Timothy had lapses of faithfulness, but feeling shame of the gospel and of the Lord was not their normal attitude. Those whose lives are characterized by confessing Christ, in name and in obedience, are those whom Jesus will also confess … before [His] Father who is in heaven. What an incredibly wonderful thought, to know that all Christians will stand before the Father … in heaven and hear Jesus tell Him that they are His, that He claims them because they have claimed Him!
When Pliny was governor of the province of Bithynia, in northern Asia Minor, he wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan trying to explain why he had been unsuccessful in stamping out the sect called Christians. He had tried arrest, fines, imprisonment, beatings, torture, and various forms of execution in order to get them to renounce Christ and to burn incense to Caesar as an act of worship, but to no avail. In trying to excuse himself before the emperor, he said, “None of these acts, those who are really Christians can be compelled to do.” Even a pagan ruler knew that a person with such unflinching conviction must be a true believer.
The negative side of Jesus’ warning is sobering: But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. This warning applies to a person who makes an outward profession of Christianity but turns away when hard testing comes.
It is possible to deny Christ before men by silence, by failing to witness for Him and trying to be an unnoticed Christian—whose friends and neighbors, and perhaps even family, would never suspect of being a believer. It is also possible to deny Christ by actions, living like the rest of the world lives, with no higher standards or values. It is possible to deny Christ by words, using the world’s profanity, vulgarity, and blasphemy. It is possible to deny Christ in many ways that are short of verbally and publicly renouncing Him.
The future tenses in verses 32–33 tell us that Jesus is speaking of future judgment. In that day, those who confess Him, He will also confess, and those who deny Him, He will also deny.
The difference between true and false discipleship is a much-repeated theme in Matthew. Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Later during the sermon He distinguished between false disciples, who go in the wide gate and travel the broad way, and true disciples, who enter by the narrow gate and walk in the narrow way (7:13–14).
He spoke of those who bear good fruit and those who bear bad fruit (7:16–20) and then said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ ” (vv. 21–23). Immediately after that He distinguished between the person who builds his religious house on the sand of man’s wisdom and is destroyed and the person who builds on the rock of His Word and is saved (vv. 24–27).
In chapter 13 Jesus gives the parables of the sower, of the wheat and tares, and of the dragnet (vv. 1–30, 47–50), all three of which illustrate distinctions between true and false faith. He pictured the judgment of the nations at the end of the Tribulation as the separation of believing sheep to His right and unbelieving goats to His left. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Matt. 25:34).
The sheep are those who not only identify themselves with Him but who, by their public confession of Him and their daily obedience to His will, reflect His own love and compassion by serving others in His name (vv. 35–36, 40). They confess Christ by their words and their actions, by loving as He loved, reaching out as He reached out, caring as He cared. The all-essential hallmark of being a true disciple of Christ—and therefore of truly confessing Christ—is to be like Christ, our Teacher and Master (10:25).
In the story of the sheep and goats Jesus went on to say, “Then He [the King] will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’ ” (Matt. 25:41). Although pagans, agnostics, atheists, and every other kind of unbeliever will face the same eternal fire, Jesus was not talking about such people in this illustration. He was speaking of those who claimed to be His followers and who will say to Him on the day of judgment, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” (v. 44). Like Judas, they professed Him but they did not genuinely confess Him. They claimed Him as Lord but they never belonged to Him; they had not trusted in Him or obeyed Him.
I believe that Jesus was continually concerned about Judas, whom He knew did not believe and whom He therefore could not confess before the Father. Judas is the classic example of a professor who is not a confessor.
Every conscientious pastor at times becomes anxious that some people in his congregation may not truly know the Lord and will wake up in eternal damnation, although they may be active in church activities and live moral and seemingly selfless lives.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 2, pp. 226–229). Chicago: Moody Press.