Who Are The ‘Fearful’ In Revelation 21:8?


‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.’ Revelation 21:8 KJV

In both the ‘Authorized’ and the ‘Revised’ versions of the New Testament the word ‘fearful’ is the rendering of the Greek word ‘deilos’, which occurs just three times.

It is used twice to describe the mental state of the disciples of Jesus during the storm on the Sea of Galilee and once here in the Revelation. However, the word is used in two very different situations.

1. Let us remember that there are times when being ‘fearful’ is a perfectly natural and understandable reaction.

For instance, if we had been with those disciples in the boat that stormy night on the Sea of Galilee, I do not doubt that we would have shared their fear! Mark 4:37-40.

2. There are also other times when we should be ‘fearful’.

Our Lord himself, in Matthew 10:28, tells us that we need not fear those who are able to kill our bodies but, in Luke 12:5, He even says, “I will warn you whom to fear; fear him, who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!”

We understand, of course, that he is speaking about God. Hence, in 1 Peter 1:17, we are told to ‘pass the time of your sojourning here in fear’. This ‘fear’ is ‘reverential fear’ and very different from the physical terror felt by those men in the boat.

These three verses alone establish the fact that to be ‘fearful’ is, in itself, not a sin. Everything depends on the nature of the fear. Therefore we must look more closely at the word in Revelation 20:8 to determine what it means.

Now, I think I may be correct in assuming that our questioner uses the ‘King James’ or ‘Authorized’ version. However, virtually all later genuine translations of the New Testament render ‘deilos’ in a different way.

I use the words ‘genuine translations’ to distinguish them from the numerous editions of the New Testament which, for one reason or another, are really only modifications of the ‘King James’ version.

Twenty-one of the forty or so translations, both ‘ancient and modern’, I have examined, including several foreign language translations, give the meaning of ‘deilos’ as ‘fainthearted’, ‘timid’ and ‘craven’, whilst most of them use ‘cowardly’.

And I must admit that I was very surprised to discover that the translation made by Nathaniel Scarlett also uses the word ‘cowardly’. This translation carries the date, ‘January 20th, 1798’!

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon tells us that in the verse we are studying the word describes ‘Christians who through cowardice give way under persecution and apostatize’, whilst Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon reveals that, in classical Greek, among its many usages the word ‘deilos’ even meant ‘good for nothing’!

This indicates that, in certain circumstances, ‘deilos’ carries a moral significance, and this becomes quite evident when we compare Revelation 21:7-8.

The 21st chapter of the Revelation is one, which we naturally love to read, describing, as it does, the glories of the New Jerusalem. Let us notice that it also tells us who will be admitted to the ‘heavenly city’ and who will be excluded.

We see that, in contrast with the ‘conquerors’ who are allowed to enter and who are mentioned in Revelation 21:7, the chapter refers to, the ‘fearful’, in Revelation 21:8.

These are not non-Christians as might at first be supposed but are members of the church who, displaying cowardice in the time of testing, have turned and run away, or have simply given up the fight and surrendered to the enemy.

They are regarded as being unfaithful and are therefore listed with the various classes of immoral and unclean people, to whom entrance is denied.

It must be obvious to any thoughtful reader that the doctrine of so-called ‘eternal security’, often referred to by such expressions as ‘once saved always saved’, and ‘once in grace always in grace’, is not supported by this passage, nor by any part of God’s Word.

The message is this, it is not enough to begin the race, we must finish the course. It is not enough to enlist in the Lord’s army, we must ‘fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life’, 1 Timothy 6:12. We must remain loyal to the end. The words of Paul come readily to mind in this connection.

‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ 2 Timothy 4:7-8