The Terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11)


Many people picture God as a scary bookkeeper recording everything they say and do. They fear that on Judgment Day he’ll shame them by playing the dirty tapes of their secret lives.

As we saw in a recent article on the Bema Seat, this caricature is far removed from reality. God is not counting our sins against us. Because of Jesus we can have confidence on the Day of Judgment (1 John 4:17). You have nothing to fear.

So what are we to make of Paul’s words in the verse that follows the one about the Bema Seat?

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. (2 Cor 5:11)

Some translations say “the terror of the Lord,” as in, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (KJV). What terror?

Pretty much every commentator says this is referring to the terror of hell and wrath. “Because hell is frightening, we have to persuade men to trust in Jesus.”

However, there are a few of problems with this. First, it’s the fear of the Lord, not the fear of hell. God is not hell. Second, it is Paul who knows this fear, and Paul never went to hell. Third, there’s no bad news in the good news.

Jesus said, “Repent and believe the good news,” not “Repent because of hell.”

To tell men that God loves them but will he fry them forever if they don’t love him back is both illogical and unscriptural. Jesus never did it, and Paul’s not doing it here.

So what is the fear (or terror) of the Lord that motivates Paul to preach and persuade others?

The fear of the Lord

Everyone knows about fear. Fear has been around since Adam hid in the bushes. “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid.” Fear is a fruit of sin. It’s the one thing that keeps us from enjoying life and approaching God. I like what Bill Johnson says about fear:

The biblical command repeated most often is: Do not fear. Why? Fear attacks the foundation of our relationship with God… our faith… Fear is also a decay of the heart. It attracts the demonic in the same way as bitterness and hatred.

Source: When Heaven Invades Earth

When it comes to God, fear is not good for us. Fear elicits two responses: fight or flight. Do you think God wants you to run away from him? Do you think he wants you to fight him?

If “fear of the Lord” means running away or fighting him, something doesn’t add up. We need a broader definition of fear, one that is based on scriptures such as these:

(The women) departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy (Matt 28:8)

Fear with great joy? That doesn’t sound like your everyday kind of fear.

Full of fear, they praised God, saying, “What marvelous things we have seen today!” (Luke 5:26, GNB)

They didn’t have a little fear but a lot, and they were happy. They were bouncing off the ceiling with joy because Jesus healed a crippled man.

Then the church enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit… (Act 9:31)

Fear and peace? Fear and encouragement?

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The beginning of wisdom

As Jesus explained, to fear the Lord is to worship him. It’s not being afraid, as Adam was, but being thrilled and awed as you realize that God is good and he is good to you!

Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days. (Hos 3:5)

Hosea prophesied that Israel would be startled by God’s goodness. The context was the unconditional and undeserved love he showed to his faithless wife. That’s how much God loves you, only more so.

His love is great, his grace is hyper, and his goodness is off-the-scale.

When you see it your jaw will drop, your knees will shake, and your heart will tremble.

Adam’s fear caused him to run from God, but the fear of the Lord causes you to draw near in awestruck reverence. Adamic fear, or being afraid of the Lord, is a bad thing, but Biblical fear, or the fear of the Lord, is a good thing. The latter cures the former; the fear of the Lord is the antidote to fear.

When you see God as he truly is, nothing scares you. When you have trembled in awe-struck adoration at his goodness and your knees have buckled under the weight of his glory, the problems of life are reduced to nothing. You realize that, “God loves me! God is for me! Who can be against me?”

Now we begin to understand why the same apostle who said, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again” (Rom 8:15), also said this, “Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (2 Cor 5:11). He was talking about two different things; a fear that causes you to run from God and an awe that draws you near.

So here is my paraphrase of Paul’s words:

Since we know what it is to fear the Lord (since we have tasted the goodness of God who loves us and wants to bless us), we try to persuade others (that he is good and longs to be good to them). (2 Cor 5:11)

Are you persuaded?


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40 Comments on The Terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11)

  1. Thanks! Very will taught from a biblical perspective.

    • Dale Mark // May 8, 2022 at 12:16 am // Reply

      You need to balance this with Christs’s letter to the 7 churches of Asia Minor. Is Christ pleased for instance with a Sardis church? There is also the scripture in Romans which says there is none righteous, no not one, there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, that they all have become corrupt and none does good. The salient part is: “there is no fear of God before their eyes”. For believers there is peace and yes confidence and not shrink away from him in shame at his coming. But please recall the separation of sheep from the goats: “Depart from me you cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. Elsewhere Paul says examine yourselves whether you be in the faith, test yourselves. Why?

      • As I say in the article, many commentators seem to equate the fear of the Lord with the terror of hell. You seem to be of that persuasion. God is not hell.

  2. Sanish J Thottan // May 19, 2016 at 12:45 am // Reply

    agree 100% our father in heaven is a loving God and never keeps records of our mistakes or sins also all the content of this letter reveals the true nature and love of God law grace mixture believing Christians does not know this I enjoy all your posts and its helping me to know about this Gods love more and more and its giving me peace and joy thanks a lot brethern

  3. Again! This post is exactly what I needed. I was processing with the Lord this morning and I felt Him say, “Don’t be afraid of Me.” This is spot on confirmation what He spoke to me. Thank you, bro!

  4. It doesn’t make much sense to resist the truth that God is only good to us. So I’m not sure why I did for so long, but I am persuaded. Thank you for faithfully persuading us of His goodness.

  5. Daniel Fewster // May 19, 2016 at 2:35 am // Reply

    Thanks for being so clear on this subject, Paul. I especially appreciate how you do not shy away from verses that at first glance seem to suggest a counter-intuitive message from that of what the gospel of Jesus revealed. Thanks for exposing and explaining the seemingly contrasting verses in the bible. In doing so, and in keeping with the context, you show how a better, more full explanation is required for many “hard” verses rather than just shrugging and saying “but that’s what it says!” You truly have knowledge, but more importantly you have understanding. You rightly divide and discern the word of God. God bless you.

  6. Yes! Yes! Yes! I am fully and wonderfully persuaded! Thank you Paul for clarifying this tricky theme of “Fear of the Lord” so helpfully – all I want to do now is thank and worship Him for how amazing He is. Boy He’s good !

  7. Brandon Petrowski // May 19, 2016 at 3:07 am // Reply

    Seems this theme is a message God is seeking to spread around. Here is a copy of an email devotional I received today also, from Joseph Prince.

    “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
    Isaiah 54:9–10
    God Will Never Be Angry With You
    The good news of the gospel is that God will NEVER be angry with us. He only has to tell us this, but He wanted us to be so sure that He swore in His Word that He would never be angry with us again.
    Today’s verses are from Isaiah 54, which is right after the famous messianic chapter of the sufferings of Christ in Isaiah 53. Therefore, Isaiah 54 is spelling out the triumphs and spoils of His sufferings.
    Do you know why God will never be angry with us again? It is because of what Christ has accomplished for us! On the cross, God poured out all His anger on the body of His Son. Jesus exhausted all the fiery indignation of a holy God against all our sins. And because our sins have already been punished, God, who is a holy and just God, will not punish us today when we believe in what Christ has done. God’s holiness is now on your side. His righteousness is now for you, not against you. You are His beloved, in whom He is well pleased because of Jesus’ finished work!
    When you believe this truth, you will have the confidence to face every challenge with boldness, knowing that you have God’s unmerited favor on your side!

    • Wow!! I believe God is showing all of us this scripture today praise God!! I woke this morning and the Lord lead me to study Isaiah 54:9_10 and then I googled it under Joseph prince because I love him😇 and his sermons! And then I was lead here!! I so love when God gives Conformation! Letting us know we are all His family and on the right track!! Praise Abba and thanks for sharing this e-mail from Joseph prince… and thank you escape to reality! I agree 100% with everything you post and your books God Bless you😇.

  8. Religion makes us fear EVERYTHING!!! I grew up like that and it is very hard to shake it off. The more I learn about grace my unfounded fears dissipate. I am here to say that YES! God’s love is nothing to be afraid of and eternal hell is only for those who deny Christ..deny that there is a Jesus Christ..deny forgiveness and redemption. What have I to fear (be afraid of) as a Christian?

    I enjoy reading your messages. I have hope that my understanding of grace will grow and that I will “fear” God in a healthy and more productive way so that spreading “the good news” will become easier as I live my life in a “fearlessness” that is Godly.

  9. Amazing! Deeply humbled by your work🙏🏻

  10. Amen! Jesus clearly confirmed to fear the Lord is to worship Him. Compare Matt 4:10 to Deut 6:13. In Matthew, Jesus responded to the devil and quoted a verse in Deuteronomy. If you notice, Jesus changed the verse from fear to worship.

    Love these posts, you’re on point my friend!

  11. Glen Lautt // May 19, 2016 at 3:57 am // Reply

    Many of us grew up believing God was damning us for every sin even though we were also taught that He forgives us. The message was very confusing to me and left me wondering if I was saved some days and others not. Thank you for your Grace teaching that brings such freedom!

    • Glen I grew up the same as you, believing God was judging us for every single sin, but loving us at the same time, and it made trusting Father very difficult, actually I would say, impossible. Fear ruled my life. Bless God, I found this site, and there are many Grace preachers you can find on the net now too. Bertie Brits has some great sermons on True forgiveness, and Anguish in the heart of God, these truths bring our heart to a place of rest, where we get to see what an Awesome Father God we really do have. Peace, and thank you Paul.

      • Beatrice // June 1, 2016 at 7:36 am //

        Thanks for sharing your experience. I also erroneously was taught that God was judging me for every single sin (I see our friend Glenn Lautt in the comment above had the same experience). I lived in constant fear of bringing a curse on myself for any little misdeed and that it was my responsibility to “correct” the wrongs I committed in order for the curse to be removed. Thank God I am now 100% free from this bondage. Jesus is all about blessing and loving us, not cursing us. I have “escaped to reality.”

  12. This insight makes Proverbs 9:10 ring even more true:
    “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

    Reading this blog is truly an escape to reality. Thanks.

  13. I don’t have the words to describe God’s awesome AMAZING grace!!! I stand in awe of You.

  14. I stumbled across “Shipwreck your Faith” that Paul wrote a few years ago while dealing with a bad experience coming from a church! I was at the end and felt so abandoned when my eyes were opened to God’s grace and love through what he had to write. I have been following E2R ever since and even though it has been a slow journey I feel a great weight lifted and a new spirit of peace. Thanks!

  15. Mary Erickson // May 19, 2016 at 12:58 pm // Reply

    I like all that you write. Thank you for helping to understand these verses. I have a question: I heard someone say as he was telling the story of Moses that God killed the first born in Egypt. That really bothered me. How do we explain that story?

  16. It makes sense to replace ‘to fear’ in this context with ‘to be in awe of’. So Paul’s writing could read as “Since we know what it is to be in awe of the Lord, we try to persuade others”

  17. Ruth Coulthard // May 19, 2016 at 7:05 pm // Reply

    Thank you

  18. ♡♡♡

    This fear topic use to trip me up years ago. Thank you for the clarity. As always you rock Paul! Thank you!


  19. Ernest Baiden // May 21, 2016 at 12:56 am // Reply

    Hi Paul, Thanks for such a liberating truth. I am battling a misunderstanding of a scripture in connection to God’s Judgement. Its 1 Peter 1:17. Now i know we are not to fear judgement because of the finished works of Christ but i cant get understand the true meaning of 1 Peter 1: 17. Will God judge or repay us according to OUR works or according to the finished works of Christ. Does this scripture contradict the truth that we are not saved by our works?

    • You can find my take on that passage in the Archives>Scripture Index.

      • Jhay Mens // May 28, 2016 at 12:53 pm //

        Please I have question but I don’t really know where to ask you personally so I decided to ask you over here. It is somehow far away from this topic or you comment above. I preach radical grace but I don’t really get this if we have been redeemed from the curses why did Paul curse anyone who preaches any different gospel

      • Hello Jhay, is it Paul who is doing the cursing or is he declaring the result of their false gospel? Gal 3:10

  20. Dr. Ellis, keep up the good work of the LORD in your Holy Spirit-inspired revelations! People like you are unique. We are aware of what the Devil and his agents can do to scuttle your work. We will, and have always been, praying for you.

  21. Absolutely spot on and beautifully explained Paul!

    That should get you the Nobel prize for ‘peace! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  22. Samuel Oladokun // May 23, 2016 at 4:58 pm // Reply

    Not, Sir!
    Not with references such as Hebrews 10:31 – “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”; the preceding verses; and Luke 12:5 that ends with “Fear Him … Fear Him.”

    • Colleen G // May 26, 2016 at 3:00 am // Reply

      Context clears away falsehoods. In both the context of fear is that those who reject Jesus or becoming like the Pharisees, hypocrites who looks godly on the outside but inwardly are spiritually dead.
      If you are a child of God there is no fear.

    • John campbell // May 27, 2016 at 11:00 am // Reply

      Actually and specially the context of Hebrews 10:29 speaks to those like what you express by not believing in the New Covenant BLOOD of Christ…it is speaking to you…..
      What has Jesus NEW Covenant blood done for you …..?
      Read the entire book of Hebrews and the surrounding chapters/ verses of Hebrews 10 for BIBLICAL New Covenant revelation….
      God richly bless you!

  23. blessed too much

  24. A:
    Yes, Jesus did talk about the reality of hell — in fact, He talked about it more than any other person in the Bible. He warned, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

    Did He say this simply to scare us? The reality of hell should frighten us, because not one word in the Bible about hell would ever make you want to go there — not if you take it seriously. The Bible speaks of hell as a place of absolute loneliness and despair and hopelessness. It calls it a place of “darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).

    But Jesus didn’t talk about hell just to scare us. He talked about it instead because He wanted us to know that God has provided a way of escape! Listen: God doesn’t want you to be separated from Him forever. He loves you, and He wants you to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Unlike hell, heaven is a place of joy and peace and freedom from all the fears and pains of this world. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

    Don’t gamble with your soul, and don’t turn your back on Jesus. Instead, by faith turn to Christ and commit your life to Him. He alone gives us hope — hope for today, and hope for eternity.

  25. I don’t know if this was mentioned but when Paul speaks about “the terror of the Lord and persuading men”, he has an evangelistic view in mind. Who does Paul need to persuade ? Not Christians, since they already believe in Christ and are not subject to terror. However the terror of the Lord is relevant for the unbeliever, not that terror should be the motivating factor for conversion but it does bring some sobriety to the issue of salvation and what is at stake.

    All people, Christians and unbelievers will stand before the Bema seat, Christians will be rewarded and unbelievers will be punished. This is the same event as the white throne judgement. This is the parable of the sheep and goats coming to pass. While Christians will enjoy reward from God, unbelievers need to be persuaded to put their faith in Christ because of the inevitable wrath of God that is coming. Since Paul understands the wrath of God, aka the terror of the Lord, he persuades men to believe in Christ. This is the meaning I get from this passage.


  26. I hope I get to shake your hand in heaven..I have to hand it to you, you do a great job of taking on bible scriptures that otherwise would be used to pressure fear on people. I was one of them, I was borderline hospitalized because of how scared I was that I was going to hell if I did one more thing wrong. Everything I did was either a cancellation or an acceptance into heaven. I think living in that kind of torture is worse than hell.. Anyways, Im a taxi driver in Washington in the U.S., A guy who owned a truck had that same picture that you have on the top of the page and had it printed so largely it covered the whole side of his commercial truck. on it it said “And they flaunt their sin, God will not be mocked, STOP SINNING”. The guy I was driving was with his wife, and when he looked over and read it, I could read the fear on his face, it was the same look of fear I have had all my life. Im tired of self righteous people instilling fear, though I dont know the guy who owned the truck, thats not the all..not even close..

    anyways, great post, as usual.

  27. Jared Westendorp // September 20, 2017 at 6:46 am // Reply

    Thanks. This post changed my perspective about this verse. I went back through the chapter reading the before and after verses and it made sense. It seemed to also make sense to be talking of scary fear because, speaking of unbelief, it says in verse 10 that us humans will get judged according to the evil done (unbelief in the work). At the beginning of verse 11 it speaks from a past knowing of scary fear. So putting this altogether it says that he is seeking to comfort those scared out of their wits that God is bringing the hammer down. I guess this is just a paraphrase of your paraphrase but I wanted to just say thanks.

  28. I absolutely love this post! Thank you! Can I also derive from this, that God is not longing to be good to us but rather is longing for us to SEE him as good to us because he is Good? I ask this because my tendency is to think that he is waiting on me for something in order to be good me… I know, that’s my twisted, default thinking. Anyway, thank you!

  29. Started reading 2 Cor 5.10 in my quiet time this morning… panicked…. quickly turned up E2R scriptural index…. arrived at above article… read article and comments…. relaxed… thanked God and am now restabilized! 🙂

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