Jesus—His Life and Message: Authority
June 16, 2015
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Authority
(You can read about the intent for and overview of this series in this introductory article.)
As believers, we are well aware that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins so that we could be in relationship with God. When we read the events of Jesus’ life, we know the whole story from beginning to end. Because of this, we can miss the sense of awe and wonder that was felt by those who heard Him speak and witnessed His life. When we read of His miracles, we’re not surprised or shocked, as we know that Jesus had authority and power to perform them. Those in Jesus’ day, on the other hand, didn’t know what we do now about Him. It wasn’t clear to them initially who He was, and it only became clear gradually, as they heard Him teach, as they witnessed the miracles. Even then, for the most part they were slow to understand and believe.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus revealed who He was through His teaching and actions. He didn’t outright proclaim Himself the Messiah or the one mightier than John the Baptist.1 However, through what He taught, the healings and other miracles He performed, His symbolic actions, and His descriptions of His relationship with the Father, He made it possible for those with listening ears and seeing eyes to slowly grasp His true identity. One of the ways He revealed Himself and His purpose was by means of His authority in His teaching and actions.
In all the Synoptic Gospels, we’re told that those who heard Him teach were amazed at His teaching. Luke’s Gospel states:
They were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.2
They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.3
The scribes were the experts in the Mosaic Law, and were responsible for its interpretation and application. They were the established guardians of legal tradition, the authorized teachers of the Law, who because of their training and office had a right to expect the people to accept their legal rulings.4 Their authority was based on their formal training and familiarity with the earlier interpreters of the Law, so they appealed to those who came before them. An example is often used regarding the great Jewish teacher Hillel who died when Jesus was a boy: He had spoken on a matter all day, yet the other rabbis did not receive his teaching until he said, “Thus I heard from Shemaiah and Abtalion.” For the scribes, the continuity of tradition was what gave the authority to settle issues.5 Besides knowing the written Scripture and its interpretation, they were also authorities on the oral traditions, referred to by Jesus as the “tradition of the elders.”6
Jesus didn’t receive the formal training that the scribes had, yet He had learning. His authoritative teaching wasn’t based on what others had previously taught. He taught with an inherent authority, one based on who He was and on His Father.
The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”7
We see this authority in the 73 times He used the phrase “Verily I say to you.” The Greek word amen is translated as verily, assuredly, truly, I tell you the truth, I assure you, in various English translations. Throughout all four Gospels, Jesus used this phrase to emphasize the significance of the words He was about to speak. In essence He was saying, “You must listen to what I have to say, because the words that I speak are not mine; they are the very words of God!”8 (In the Gospel of John, it’s always doubled: Truly, Truly.) This usage of truly in the manner Jesus used it is unparalleled in Jewish literature.9 Jesus alone used this word to introduce and strengthen the statements He made. He always followed it with, “I say to you.” It was His way of making the point that these were definite truths.
A single phrase, the frequent and emphatic “Verily I say unto you,” is enough to set Jesus as a teacher in a class apart from either prophets or scribes. When a prophet spoke with authority, it was as the messenger of God; and the message which he had to deliver was properly introduced by the formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” When the scribe spoke authoritatively it was to declare what Scripture or tradition had to say. When Jesus speaks with authority the formula is “I say unto you.”10
Jesus, as God’s Son, spoke with the authority of His Father.
Jesus’ authority was shown both in His teaching and in His powerful deeds. Throughout the Gospels we read of numerous miraculous acts at the hand of Jesus. These include specific healings of a variety of diseases and illnesses such as blindness,11 leprosy,12 paralysis,13 fever,14 and hemorrhaging.15 Besides specific healings, we are given summaries of His healings in different places:
They brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.16 Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.17 They sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.18
Jesus generally healed people without praying to God or invoking His name. He had the inherent authority to heal. (The one exception was when He prayed to His Father for the benefit of others just prior to raising Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”19)
Jesus used an example of His authority to heal in order to prove that He also had the authority to forgive sins. When a paralytic was brought to Him, Jesus told him:
“Man, your sins are forgiven you.”20 The scribes and Pharisees present thought to themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”21
Jesus asked His question to make the point that if He had the authority to heal the paralytic, then He also had the authority to forgive sins. The scribes understood that only God could forgive sins, which is why they said Jesus was blaspheming.
The logic of the question is easy to follow: it is easier to say something that cannot be visually verified than to say something that can be visually substantiated. The easier claim from the observer’s point of view is the claim to forgive sins, since one cannot prove it wrong. The issue is this: Is Jesus’ claim an empty word or the real thing? Does Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness have God’s word and power behind it? … The man’s being able to walk home attests to his healing, and it should cause the observer and the reader to reflect on what this healing says about Jesus and what Jesus’ claim to have authority over sin really means.22
Jesus shows through His ability to heal that He also has the authority to forgive sins.
The centurion whose servant was in need of healing expressed the concept of Jesus’ authority to heal. When Jesus said He would come to the man’s house to heal the servant, the centurion replied:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”23
The centurion understood that Jesus was operating under the authority of the God of Israel, in the same way that he was operating under the authority of his military superiors.24
We read that Jesus cast out unclean spirits through His authority as well:
They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”25
Besides healings and exorcisms, the Gospels tell of Jesus’ power and authority over nature. He calmed storms and winds with His command;26 He twice multiplied a handful of loaves and fish to feed thousands of people who had been listening to Him;27 and He raised the dead.28 Jesus’ manifestations of power and authority caused those who witnessed them to ask the key question, “Who is this man”?29
The same question is raised in some of Jesus’ statements, such as how He was “the Lord of the Sabbath”;30 how He was given authority to execute judgment;31 how He is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done;32 and how whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.33
God’s Son came into the world in order to save those who believe in Him from the ultimate effects of sin. He made it possible for us to be filled with the Spirit of God, lead lives which glorify Him, and dwell eternally in God’s presence. It wasn’t immediately evident to those who knew Jesus in His lifetime who He was. Throughout His ministry, His disciples and others asked “Who is this man?” and only gradually did they come to recognize that He was the Messiah. It can be difficult to understand how some of those who were awed by the sick being healed, the multitudes being fed, and many other miracles, didn’t become His followers, but clearly, many didn’t. Yet over time, those who not only saw His miracles but also listened to what He taught began to understand and believe, and they changed the world.
They knew Jesus; they witnessed the authority of His words and deeds. They told others about His life, death, and resurrection, and in turn others also believed. The Gospel writers recorded some of Jesus’ words and events within their Gospels, preserving them for all following generations. As the Gospels are read today, the question is still asked: Who is this man? We who have come to know Him understand that He is God incarnate, who laid down His life for us and radically changed our lives forever. It’s up to each of us who has been blessed with faith to share Him with others.
As He said to His first disciples, He still says today:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.34
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16.
2 Luke 4:31–32.
3 Mark 1:22. Also Matthew 7:28–29.
4 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 298–99.
5 Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount, 145.
6 Keener, The Gospel of Mark, 90.
7 John 7:15–16.
8 Hawthorne, G. F., Amen, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 8.
9 Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 34.
10 Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, 106.
11 Matthew 9:27–30; 20:29–34.
12 Matthew 8:1–4.
13 Matthew 9:2–8; 8:5–13.
14 Matthew 8:14–15.
15 Matthew 9:20–22.
16 Matthew 4:23–24.
17 Matthew 15:30–31.
18 Matthew 14:34–36.
19 John 11:41–44.
20 Luke 5:20.
21 Luke 5:21–26.
22 Bock, Luke 1:1–9:50, 485–86.
23 Matthew 8:8–10.
24 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 315.
25 Luke 4:36.
26 Mark 4:36–41; Luke 8:24; Matthew 14:26–32.
27 Matthew 14:16–21; 15:33–39; Mark 6:34–44; 8:1–9; Luke 9:12–17; John 6:5–13.
28 John 11:39–44; Luke 7:11–16; Matthew 9:18–19, 23–26; Mark 5:22–24, 35–43; Luke 8:40–42, 49–56.
29 John 4:29; 9:16; 10:20–21; Luke 5:21.
30 Mark 2:28.
31 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man (John 5:26–27).
32 Matthew 16:27.
33 John 5:24.
34 Matthew 28:18–20.