There seem to be two reasons for this unwillingness to confess Jesus Christ: fear and love. It is fear of men instead of God and love of the praise of men instead of the praise of God.
The fear anticipated something bad happening in the future, i.e. being put out of the synagogue. The love is past-tense. They already knew what it was like to be praised by men, and they liked it. They wanted the pleasant things from men and did not want unpleasant things from them. In other words, they were concerned about the opinions of the world and, in this particular instance, that part of the world that controlled the existing church.
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Written November 17, 1977.