Jesus, The Dividing Line, Part 1

Matthew 10:32-42

In Matthew 10, Jesus called His twelve disciples and sent them out as apostles on a mission to preach the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 10:1-7). He gave them specific instructions for that mission in Matthew 10:5-16. Then in the rest of the chapter Jesus expands His instructions beyond just the twelve to all who will be His disciples and ambassadors in this world.

He told them to expect opposition. He said He sends them out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16). He says there will be times when His followers will suffer at the hands of men for their connection to Him—sometimes being called derisive names (Matt. 10:25); sometimes being arrested and dragged before the authorities (Matt. 10:17-18); sometimes being driven from one city to another by persecution (Matt. 10:23); and sometimes even being put to death (Matt. 10:21). He said we will be hated by all for His name’s sake (Matt. 10:22).

But Jesus also commanded us not to be afraid. He assures us that we will one day be vindicated (Matt. 10:26). He tells us not to fear those who can kill our bodies but cannot kill our souls (Matt. 10:28). He reminds us that our heavenly Father watches over us and greatly values us (Matt. 10:29-31).

So, on the one hand, we should expect fierce opposition from a hostile world, and on the other hand, we should expect loving care from our heavenly Father. And both of these experiences will be for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s all because of our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the great divider of humanity. Everyone in the human race falls on one side or the other with Jesus. Either we are with Him, or we are against Him (Matt. 12:30).

Jesus is the dividing line. He is the dividing line in heaven. He is the dividing line on earth. He is the dividing line of our affections. And He is the dividing line of our actions.[1]

1. Jesus is the dividing line in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).

First, Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Look at Matthew 10:32-33 where Jesus says: “32 Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32-33). Here Jesus speaks of two groups of people, those who confess Him and those who deny Him.

A. Confess Jesus on earth, He will confess you in heaven

The word translated “confess” (homologeõ) is one that means to “say the same” thing as another or “voice agreement” with him. “Before men” emphasizes the public character of this confession.[2] To confess Jesus means to agree and say the same thing about Jesus—who He is, what He has done, and what He has taught. It is to declare our relationship and loyalty to Jesus Christ openly, willingly, and publicly. It is a declaration of your true belief which carries with it the dedication to live according to your belief. Your true confession will be demonstrated by your actions. The verb is in the future indicative case meaning it is not just a confession that happened once a long time ago.[3]

The Bible says we should publicly acknowledge Jesus with our mouths. Romans 10:9 says: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” You can’t be saved without believing in your heart, but true faith will also result in confessing with your mouth. There is no such thing as a secret Christian.

How do we confess Jesus before men? The most obvious way is openly proclaiming that we have placed our faith in Him. One of the very best ways to do that is baptism. When you follow Christ in being baptized, you are making your primary public confession of faith in Christ. But if you belong to Christ, your confession never changes and you will have many opportunities to confess Jesus before men. Peter writes, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you . . .” (1 Peter 3:15). When someone asks us why we have hope in times of trial, or how we can have such joy or show such love, it’s an opportunity to tell them about our Savior Jesus. Defend the biblical truth about Jesus. Claim His teaching as truth.

We also confess Jesus before men when we take a moral stand in obedience to Christ and His word. We confess Jesus is Lord when we stand for biblical truth. In our culture and time that may mean standing up for biblical manhood and womanhood, standing for the biblical standard for the family, and standing against sexual immorality, racism, or abortion. Stand on biblical truth, then tell them why—it’s because I belong to Jesus Christ.

From the context of Matthew 10, we know that confessing Jesus before men may result in hostility from men. They may call us names or even persecute us and kill us. But here is the good news: though the world may hate us and disown us, our heavenly Father will receive us. Jesus said (Matt. 10:32), “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus will confess us before His Father in heaven. There is no better news than that. No suffering upon this earth will ever come close to the glory and the eternal joy of having Jesus Christ claim us as His own on that great day of judgment! We will never regret any suffering or shame before men, so long as we will be able to hear the Lord of glory look upon us and say, “I confess this one to be Mine, Father.”

But the opposite is true also …

B. Deny Jesus on earth, Jesus will deny you in heaven

Matthew 10:33 says that if you deny Jesus before others on earth, Jesus will also deny you before His Father in heaven. To disown Jesus is to reject Him as Lord and Savior. It is to disclaim association with Him. For Jesus to disown those who disown Him is not being mean or petty. He is just confirming in heaven what you have already said on earth. When you reject Jesus here on earth, you are basically saying, “I am not with Jesus.” And when you do that, Jesus disowns you before the Father, saying, “I am not with him or with her.”

What is it that might tempt us to deny Jesus before men? If you read the passages that proceed these two verses, you see that Jesus Himself anticipated the cause. It’s fear – the fear of men. Jesus said, “Do not fear them” (Matt. 10:26).

How do we overcome the fear of men that may tempt us to deny Him? Greg Allen suggests that the answer is found in what Jesus says about Himself in this passage.[4]

Consider the exalted terms Jesus uses to present Himself here. He claims that God is His Father, making Himself to be God’s unique Son! On another occasion when Jesus does that John records “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God,” (John 5:18). What’s more, He claims that, as the Son of God, our eternal destiny hinges on whether or not He “confesses” us or “denies” us before the Father.

In a similar passage, Jesus contrasted the greatness of His majesty with the wickedness of the age in which we are to testify of Him. He said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). How foolish it would be to be ashamed of the Lord of holiness and glory, before a generation that is adulterous and sinful! How foolish it would be to deny our Savior before men, when He promises to come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels!

I believe we will be tempted to deny our Lord to the extent that we take our eyes off Him and focus on the hostilities and objections of people instead. And by contrast, we will be emboldened to confess Him to the extent that we take our eyes off men and keep them focused on His divine majesty instead.

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Jesus says in Matthew 25: “31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.” (Matt. 25:31-33).  What an amazing picture! Jesus on His throne with all of humanity separated before Him—the righteous on His right, the unrighteous on His left. Jesus concluded that the unrighteous “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Which side are you on?

Can you think of any greater horror than to stand before the Son and have Him deny you before the Father? Can you think of a greater horror than for Him to point to you and say, “Father, I deny knowing this one”?

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Your eternal destiny in heaven depends completely on your relationship with Jesus while you are here on earth.

Now, I don’t want to leave this first point without addressing the question: What can I do if I have denied Jesus?

We must be honest. All of us have had times when should have confessed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, many times when we have had the chance to take a bold stand for Him, but we have failed to do so. We chickened out. We feared men rather than God. And while we may not have openly “denied” Him, we have often refused to confess Him as clearly, forthrightly, and actively as we could have.

What will happen to us? Will the Lord now deny us before the Father? Here, we have the example of the apostle Peter who denied our Lord horribly. He had boasted that He would never deny the Lord. He said, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will not deny You” (Matt. 26:33). But it wasn’t long afterward that Peter denied Jesus three times. He even dared to curse and swear; saying with an oath, “I do not know the Man!” (Matt. 26:74). Shouldn’t Peter expect the Lord to look upon him and say the same to His Father, “I do know know the man!”? Could anyone do worse than Peter?

And yet, the clear testimony of the Scriptures is that the Lord forgave him. Even before Peter denied Him, Jesus told him that he would do so. The Lord told him that He had prayed for him; and said, “. . . when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Matt. 22:34). After his denials Matthew records that Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:75). And when the Lord rose from the dead, the angel told the women at the tomb, “. . . tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee . . .” (Mark 16:7), making a point to mention the very disciple that had denied Him! Both Luke (Luke 24:34) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:5) tell us that the Lord made a special post-resurrection appearance to Peter alone. John records that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus restored him three times, saying “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

The Bible shows that Peter went on, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to become a great leader of the early church, one of the most esteemed of the witnesses of our Lord, and eventually a martyr for Christ considering it an honor to suffer and die for the name of the Lord that He had, at one time, denied (Acts 5:41).

Here’s the point. Peter denied the Lord, but he didn’t live a life of continual denial. He repented and was forgiven. We can have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Peter, the cowardly disciple who denied the Lord, will be gladly confessed by the Son of God before the Father on that great day of judgment. He may have denied Him but he repented and confessed with the rest of his life.

There is always hope for those of us who, in fear of men, fail our Lord and deny Him but who then confess our failure to Him, repent of our denial, and then go on to bravely confess Him before men in the power of the Holy Spirit. If He forgave Peter, He will certainly forgive you.

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Second, we see that …

2. Jesus is the dividing line on earth (Matt. 10:34-36).

Jesus tells us “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34).

Jesus is not giving His followers justification for taking up the sword against unbelievers. Sadly, some in church history have misinterpreted His words to suggest the aggressive advancement of His kingdom through violence. But that’s not at all what Jesus means. In fact, when Peter took up a literal sword to defend Him, Jesus rebuked Him and said, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Jesus isn’t speaking giving a literal sword to His followers. Rather, He is using a sword as a symbol of that which cuts and divides His followers from other people that they would have otherwise been connected to. The sword does not refer to violence but to division. This becomes clear when you look at the parallel saying in Luke 12:51 where Jesus says: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” Why does Jesus use the image of a sword? Because a sword divides. It cuts things in two.

Now, the Jewish people expected that when the Messiah came, He would bring peace. One of the great Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament is in Isaiah 9, which says: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end
.” (Isaiah 9:6-7). In Luke 2 we read that the night Jesus was born the angels appeared to the shepherds and proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).

So, which is it? Did Jesus come to bring peace or not? It’s true that His coming into this world will result in ultimate peace, but that peace will come in the long term when Jesus returns. In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking in the short term of His disciples’ experience as those sent to proclaim His kingdom in this world. And that experience will not be peaceful. It will be divisive.

And look at the level to which that division extends. Jesus says that His coming brings about division at the most fundamental level of human relationships. He quotes Micah 7:6 and says, “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’” (Matt. 10:35-36). The word translated “set” in verse 35 literally means “to cut into two parts or cleave asunder.”[5] Micah prophesied about the divisions that would come between those who follow God and those who do not. Jesus applies that word of prophecy to His own coming and says that He will become a dividing line even among families.

Jesus is the dividing line. He brings a sword that cuts both ways. One brother believes, another rejects. A mother follows Jesus, a father goes his own way. Sisters part ways over the gospel. Some of our closest friends and family will not understand why we follow Jesus. They may resent us and our Lord. Some may be openly hostile to us.

Did you know that Jesus experienced this firsthand? Even His own brothers did not believe in Him and opposed Him (John 7:2-9). And even His own people thought He was out of His mind, and sought to lay hold of Him thinking He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21). Some of us have experienced this firsthand as well. It’s a very painful reality. Following Jesus will sometimes cost us our families. And for some, it will even cost more. Remember what Jesus said earlier in Matthew 10:21? “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.”  

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven, and Jesus is the dividing line on earth. Being neutral towards Jesus is not an option. You are either for Him or against Him. You might be able to sit on a fence, but you cannot sit on a sword. You are going to have to choose one side or the other.

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Jesus is the dividing line on earth. And then, thirdly …

3. Jesus is the dividing line of our affections (Matt. 10:37-39)

The point is that Jesus must be the supreme object of our affections. We must love Jesus more than family, more than self, more than life. We will just look at the first part of this today and get the rest next time.

A. We must love Jesus more than family

First, we must love Jesus more than family. Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt. 10:37).

Do you love your family? I hope so. You’re supposed to. That’s the whole reason Jesus even brings it up. Out of all your earthly relations, your family has the highest claim. And yet as important as family relationships are in the Bible, Jesus comes first. Jesus isn’t saying you should love your family less. He is saying you should love Him more.

In Luke 14, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Now, don’t think to yourself, “Well what do you know? I’ve been obeying the Bible all along! I can’t stand my family!” Jesus isn’t commanding us to “hate” our family members, He is commanding us to love Him more. When we are forced into a position where we must choose between following Jesus or appeasing the objections of our family, we must choose Jesus every time. Our love for Him must be so complete and supreme that it makes any other love look like “hate” even the natural love we would feel toward our father and mother, wife or husband, or son and daughter.

If you are hesitant to come to Christ or to identify with Him by public profession or obey the command to be baptized, then look closely at this verse. Jesus says that those who love a family member more than Him are not worthy of Him. The idea here is that they are not deserving of belonging to Him and being honored by Him. To belong to Christ is a privilege so precious that no other relationship can compare. It is a duty so imperative that no other duty is more important.

C.T. Studd was a missionary to China in the late 1800’s. When he was engaged to be married, he was worried that he and his fiancée, Priscilla, might become too preoccupied with each other and that they would lose sight of Jesus in the process. So, he wrote a little poem for Priscilla and asked her to recite it every day:

“Jesus, I love Thee, Thou art to me,
Dearer than Charlie ever could be.”[6]

Jesus is the supreme object of affection, and we must love Jesus more than father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter. We must love Jesus more than family.

Jesus is the dividing line. He demands to be first in our lives, above our own comfort and peace, above our most cherished human relationships. It seems like a lot to ask. But remember who demands this of us. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God who left the tranquility and glory of heaven to come to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh. He is the Savior who bore our sins in His own body on the cross. He suffered and died for us. He loved obedience to His Father more than His own life.

When we see who He is and how much He has loved us, is it unreasonable that He would ask that we love Him in the same way? How could we not follow such a Savior, and give Him first place in our heart’s love?


[1] Ray Fowler, Jesus and Division, I adapted Fowler’s outline and drew from some of his points in this sermon.

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 412–413.

[3] Scott Harris, Who is a Disciple? – Matthew 10:32-42, 

[4] Greg Allen, The Eternal Stand,

[5] Larry Pierce, Outline of Biblical Usage,

[6] Quoted by Ray Fowler, Jesus and Division,

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