“even as You gave Him authority over all flesh” (John 17:2)
The ministry of Jesus was one of authority, and this concept was the cornerstone of all He said and did. 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 He 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 didn’t their scribes 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 then made Jesus so different?
It should be noted that early on Jesus was generally considered as one among many rabbis. John the Baptist, from a family of priests, would have been considered a rabbi as well. In Jewish culture, these rabbis 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 never, under any circumstance, did even the greatest rabbi make a claim to change a commandment, adapt a teaching of Scripture, or give a new teaching. Their job was to 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”.
He said things like, “you have heard. . . but now I tell you . . .”
He said things like, “whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”
He said things like, “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”.
So while others of His day were often adding more and more and more complicated details and demands to the law, He was simplifying it.
While His contemporaries were writing volumes of rules that were to be followed to the minutest detail, he was saying “Love God, love people”.
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. He knows every word and syllable. Who can claim to know a book better than the author who wrote it?
Jesus 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 to have authority to cast out demons, to heal sickness, to control natural forces, and furthermore claims the ability to pass this authority on to others (see Matthew 9:6 and Matthew 10:1). 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.
And 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 –
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 incarnate, and everyone knew it.
But not everyone liked it.