We need to keep in mind that all the events described in chapters 11 and 12 of Luke’s Gospel occurred in the context of the disciples coming to Jesus and asking him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). The context of the model prayer is not to acquire our own personal needs, because our heavenly Father already knows about them, and, as a good Father, he will take care of them without our having to ask. Rather, the context of Jesus’ model prayer is our request for the Kingdom of God to come and for God to rule here as he does in heaven (Luke 11:2).
The problem is that the lights of the nation (the Jewish leadership) are spiritually blind and cannot help the people to properly respond to Jesus. In fact, they work in order to establish the opposite. That is, they wish to hide or destroy Jesus, who is the Light of the world, (Luke 11:33-36). Jesus then drew the proverbial line in the sand, as it were (Luke 11:23), showing that he and the Jewish authorities, the spiritually blind leaders of the first century AD (cf. Matthew 23:16, 24), were involved in spiritual warfare and were on opposite sides with respect to truth. These men were even at this time hounding and goading Jesus, as he taught his disciples (Luke 12:1), doing so, in an effort to trip him up, hoping they might accuse him of evil (Luke 11:53-54).
Jesus tells us that the enemies of the Gospel are unable to hurt believers, beyond taking their lives (Luke 12:4). On the other hand, God is able not only to take a person’s life in judgment, but is also able to continue to punish that person beyond this present life (Luke 12:5).
During the first three years of the Church, the Jewish authorities tried to get control of the movement begun by Jesus by sending in men to spy out what the Church leaders were doing. Ananias and Sapphira were two of those spies (Acts 5:1-11). The power of God made their works known to the Apostles, and God judged them by taking their lives at the word of Peter (Acts 5:3-5, 8-10).
The context of Luke 12:4-5 isn’t that Jesus threatens believers to force them to preach the Gospel. Rather, he told his disciples not to fear folks whose power was limited to this world. They were to hold God in awe, because his power is unlimited. God is able not only to kill (punish) folks in this present world, but is also able to punish wicked people after death. Jesus’ words, far from being a threat to his friends, are meant, rather, to be an encouragement that their lives had great value before God. God holds everyone’s life in his hands, and he is the final Judge of all things. Therefore, wickedness committed against the Lord’s servants will be avenged, both in this life and in the next.
Jesus’ mention of fear (G5399) in Luke 12: 7 seems to point to the fact that his disciples were at this time afraid of what was taking place. National authority can be very intimidating. The Greek word is in the present imperative and contains the negative command (“fear not”). This usually means to stop doing something that is already occurring, so the disciples, witnessing the tactics of the Pharisees and lawyers (cf. Luke 11:53-54), as they tried to disrupt Jesus’ teaching (cf. Luke 12:1-5), may have been afraid even at the time of Jesus’ teaching.
Therefore, Jesus words are meant to encourage his disciples. If God is for them, who can really stand against them and succeed (cf. Romans 8:31). The Psalmist said the Lord lays out a table for his sheep in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5). The picture there is that the shepherd removes all the poisonous plants in a grazing field before taking his sheep there to feed, and all this is done in the presence of the wolf and the lion who watched for an opportunity to prey upon the sheep. Our table is indeed prepared before our enemies, but the Lord is for us, so who could ever stand against us?