“. . .even as You gave Him authority over all flesh” (John 17:2)
Authority. This is a word that means something. Yet we live in a world where true authority is hard to find. One news outlet says one thing, while another news outlet says something else. There seems to be little agreement on anything, and every argument has ‘experts’ to back up their way of thinking.
In this environment, a true authority on any topic can be difficult to determine and leaves us feeling lost and adrift, not sure what to think or who to believe. When we look to Jesus, we see something completely different. We see truth, honesty, and authority.
Jesus Was Seen as One with Authority
The ministry of Jesus was one of authority, and this concept was the cornerstone of all He said and did on earth. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus preached what is often referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” It was here that He laid the groundwork of who He was and what His ministry was all about. After hearing Him, the Bible states that the people were “amazed,” “for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes”(Matthew 7:29).
The real question here is why their scribes didn’t teach with authority. Weren’t they the authority of their day? Weren’t they the ones responsible for bringing the laws of God to the people? Weren’t they the ones who were supposed to have the answers to theological questions? Of course, they were.
What Made Jesus So Different?
It should be noted that early on Jesus was generally considered as one among many teachers or rabbis. John the Baptist, from a family of priests, would have been considered a rabbi as well. In Jewish culture, these were teachers who gathered disciples around themselves and taught the law as they had been taught it. These men were well-known, respected, and had great influence. But these teachers never made a claim to change a commandment, adapt teaching of Scripture, or give new teaching. Their job was to teach, interpret, explain, give commentary, lend wisdom, and call to action; not to create.
In their teachings they would avoid error and draw their authority by quoting from someone considered above themselves, by using a phrase such as “the Scripture says,” or “Rabbi so-and-so once said,” or “the doctors of the law say.” They typically kept their topics to matters close to previous writings and teachings. Jesus spoke differently. Much differently.
He spoke on matters that deeply affect every aspect of how we live, what we live for, and how we interact both with one another and with God. He said things like,
- “I have come to fulfill the law.”
- “. . .you have heard. . . but now I tell you . . .”
- “. . .whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”
- “. . .do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
While others of His day were often adding more and more and more complicated details and demands to the law, He was simplifying it. His contemporaries were writing volumes of rules that were to be followed to the minutest detail, but He was saying “Love God and love people.” This is what led the people to speak to His authority.
What Does it Mean to Have Authority?
The very word ‘authority’ has its root in the word ‘author.’ One who writes. One who creates.
An author is the highest expert on a book because he is the one who wrote the book. The author knows every word and syllable. Who can claim to know a book better than the author who wrote it?
Jesus was not just interpreting a book that someone else had written, He was writing the book before their eyes. And unlike anyone they had ever seen or heard before, Jesus alone appeared to have the authority to do so.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus claims authority to cast out demons, to heal sickness, to control natural forces, and furthermore claims the ability to pass this authority on to others. We see this authority at work in Matthew 9:6, “. . .But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’” And in Matthew 10:1, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness”.
If that wasn’t enough, He claims the authority to forgive sin, an authority reserved for God alone (see Mark 2:10). Not even the High Priest claimed this degree of authority for himself. This was all unheard of and well outside the bounds of any typical teacher of the law. To every other teacher of the Law, this was unacceptable.
Essentially, by claiming this authority, Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of prophecy, including Daniel’s prophecy recorded in Daniel 7:14.
“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
Jesus was claiming to be the promised Messiah, God incarnates, and everyone knew it. He was claiming an authority that no one else could claim, and He still holds that authority.