Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Revelation 14:7 calls the human race to “fear God,” but I’m not sure I understand that phrase. What does it mean to fear God? And how do I know that I fear Him?
Fear is perceived by some as a negative emotional experience that should not play any particular role in our relationship with God. It is certainly true that fear is a strong emotion, which creates deep anxiety and tends to paralyze the individual, often making him or her ineffective. But fear is also an internal reaction that is followed by a specific course of action on the part of the individual who experiences it.
Obviously, no one would want to relate to a God perceived as a threatening, destructive being. Nevertheless, the Bible provides several reasons for fearing the Lord. I will mention only three of them.
1. God’s Majestic Presence.The fear of the Lord is based on the fact and recognition of the greatness and singularity of God. He is indeed a fearful being, a terrifying presence. His theophany, that is, His visible manifestation, inspires fear, even terror, among those who experience it, because their lives seem to be endangered (e.g., Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Gen. 16:13).
This is a natural reaction to God’s majestic presence. His unique holiness is beyond our comprehension, and we fear that which we do not understand. For instance, the disciples “were exceedingly afraid” after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9:2-6, RSV).
To help eliminate anxiety, God says “Fear not” (e.g., Gen. 15:1; Judges 6:23). This is an invitation to trust the Lord, to come closer to Him, to find in Him loving concern rather than intimidation. Thus the phrase “fear of the Lord” expresses in the Scriptures the idea of trusting the Lord. The reaction of an individual to God’s fearsome presence is submission to Him.
2. God’s Powerful Deeds. God is active in history, and His powerful actions make those who witness them afraid. During the exodus from Egypt the Lord miraculously delivered His people from the Egyptians. As a result “the people feared the Lord” (Ex. 14:31). Jesus’ healing miracles (e.g., Luke 7:16; 8:35), as well as His power over nature (Mark 4:41; John 6:19), inspired fear in the hearts of the people. This is the fear that results from being confronted by the incomprehensible.
Since God’s actions are of a salvific nature, the fear that they elicit results in praising and worshiping Him. Thus to fear the Lord is to praise and trust Him; and those who do so are the ones who fear the Lord (Ps. 40:3; Luke 7:16). They are also the ones who rejoice in the Lord (Ps. 64:9, 10).
3. God’s Righteous Judgments. This is closely related to God’s powerful deeds, because His judgments are actualized within history. His judgments against the nations create fear and terror among them (Ps. 9:19, 20). But those who fear the Lord in the sense of trusting Him find in His judgments a manifestation of His righteousness and His saving power, and they worship Him (Rev. 15:3, 4).
There is in the concept an element of dread motivated by the majesty and greatness of a God who is beyond our comprehension in His being and in His actions. But those who fear Him discover that they can trust Him, that He is not a threat to their existence, but the exclusive source of their salvation. They do not run away from Him terrorized and anxious; rather, their reaction is one of submission to Him in obedience to His loving will.
The Bible defines the individual who fears the Lord as a person who obeys God’s will and praises and worships Him (Deut. 8:6). The emotional element is never totally eliminated, but the reaction to it is one of submission and fellowship with a God who is greater than any of us, who yet speaks to us and says “Fear not, trust in me.”
In Revelation 14:7 the call to fear the Lord is given in the context of a conflict between God’s followers and the forces of evil. Humankind is invited to recognize God’s majesty and the great salvation that He provides for us through Christ, and to submit willingly and obediently to His loving will.
The verse goes on to add that fearing God is extremely important because “the hour of his judgment has come” (RSV). The implication is clearly that those who fear the Lord do not have to fear the final judgment. They know God as their loving Saviour.