5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
And the original:
5 ὑποδείξω δὲ ὑμῖν τίνα φοβηθῆτε· φοβήθητε τὸν μετὰ τὸ ἀποκτεῖναι ἔχοντα ἐξουσίαν ἐμβαλεῖν εἰς τὴν γέενναν· ναί, λέγω ὑμῖν, τοῦτον φοβήθητε. 6 οὐχὶ πέντε στρουθία πωλεῖται ἀσσαρίων δύο; καὶ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπιλελησμένον ἐνώπιον τοῦ Θεοῦ· 7 ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ τρίχες τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν πᾶσαι ἠρίθμηνται. μὴ φοβεῖσθε· πολλῶν στρουθίων διαφέρετε.
The context here is encouragement in the face of opposition and persecution (vv. 2-5). The principle is that we ought to fear God more than men, since the worse men can do is kill us physically (v. 4), while God has the power not only to kill physically, but then to also cast the dead person into hell (v.5).
Because Jesus doesn’t distinguish between the body and the soul or spirit here, we could see perhaps the notion that the suffering of hell, and, reasonably, the glory of heaven, involve a kind of physical body and are not merely abstracted, spiritual events. But that may be reading too much into the Lord’s words (or absence thereof!). The main point is that once we submit to a sovereign God, we need not fear the actions of men against us since they can’t do anything that God won’t allow them to do. Even persecution is part of God’s plan and subject to His full control.
And then we come to the words of Christ about sparrows and the hairs of our head. His point is clear: God has complete control over the life of even the least valuable (insignificant creature). In the understanding of the Jews of the time, a sparrow (a generic term for a family of small birds) would be the cheapest animal bought at the Temple for sacrifice. Like us today, they wouldn’t have readily thought of God being intimately involved with small birds, and yet this is what Jesus tells us: God provides even for them.
But Jesus is not giving ornithology lectures here. What He is saying is that, if God will provide for the needs of a small, insignificant animal, how much more will He provide for us? Isn’t it a sad truth that God’s children, with all the rich resources and wonderful promises that their Father gives them, still address/look at/deal with life’s problems as if there is no God? As I write this, I’m unemployed. I’ve spent a few days having cracked myself, behaving and reacting as if I had no Father in heaven who knows everyone of my needs and has promised to make everything turn out for good for those who love Him. Well, this is where a Bible verse must become life – otherwise it just stays a Bible verse, a series of meaningless letters.
Finally, a point on the value of people above that of animals. It’s clear here that Jesus uses a value comparison between his audience (humans) and sparrows. It’s a hard notion for those who dive head first into animal rights crusades and activism – God Himself, Creator of humans and animals alike, states clearly that humans have more value than animals. Why? Because they are the only creature that has been made to the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).