"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."
Jesus' apostles were not to allow the fear of persecution to suppress the word they had been given privately. Instead, they were to disperse it publicly. The only being that should be feared is Almighty God who can "destroy both soul and body in hell." If any disciple is tempted to yield to the fear of persecution, Jesus reminds him of an even greater fear--the fear of divine judgment! The must cruel of physical persecutions cannot compare to the eternal suffering that will be endured by those who neglect their God-given duties.
There are those who mistakenly believe this passage teaches that hell will not last forever for the wicked. The Greek word rendered "destroy" in this context does not refer to annihilation, as affirmed by some (cf. Matt. 9:17; 10:6,39,42; Luke 15:4). It refers to the utter ruin of one's spirit and resurrected body in hell (cf. John 5:28,29). But, for something to be ruined or spoiled does not mean that it now ceases to exist! If the Greek word used here did mean "annihilate," then one could reasonably conclude that it meant the same in the other passages also. But, consider how ridiculous these other passages become when the word "annihilate" is substituted for the Greek word used here. Does it make any sense to call a broken wineskin annihilated? If a sheep is lost, is it annihilated? If so, why would the shepherd go looking for it? Not only is the doctrine of annihilation false, but it actually encourages ungodly living! Many would not have any motivation whatsoever to live righteously if the worst thing that could happen to them would be to fade off into nothingness.
Jesus emphasized the omniscience of God to further encourage His disciples as to why they shouldn't be afraid of persecution or injustice. Not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from God's will! Thus, we should reason that if an essentially worthless sparrow doesn't die without His notice, how can a disciple be persecuted and die without Him knowing it? Additionally, God knows us so well that He even has an accurate count of the number of hairs we presently have. Humans, since they are made in God's image, are of more value than all the birds in the world. In other words, even if a faithful disciple falls by the hand of man, God is with him, and his death is a blessing instead of a calamity (cf. Phil. 1:21ff).
One who believes in Christ and is not a coward should confess Him freely before others. To confess Jesus is to adopt His cause and stand firm before the opposition, regardless of the cost or difficulty. It must be understood that one may deny Christ with his actions (or lack thereof) without ever speaking a word against Him (e.g., John 12:42,43).