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According to What Authority? Did Jesus Believe He Spoke With Divine Authority? (Bonus Section)

SERIES INFO: This series of blog articles will include topics (and bonus sections) I couldn't fit into my book Reintroducing Jesus: Uncovering Jesus of Nazareth in the Misinformation Age.

What Jesus says and does in the Gospels was so unusual and jarring (and even infuriating), he’s often challenged about where he found the mountain-high pile of guts to say and do such things.

For example, Jesus drives the money-changers and vendors out of the temple in Jerusalem—even flipping their tables and chasing them with a homemade whip. He quotes from Isaiah, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer,” but Jesus accuses them of making it a “den of robbers” (Luke 19:45–46; Matthew 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17. Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7). This is such a shocking act that the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews, questions Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:27–28)

Jesus shrewdly avoids answering the question in this instance, but earlier he does say something shocking about his authority. He says he has authority over God’s Sabbath day, even declaring himself “lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8; Luke 6:5; Mark 2:27–28). If Jesus is claiming to be Lord over God’s Sabbath, who’s he claiming to be?

Jesus believed he held divine authority—making himself equal with God. In other words, he declared things only God has the authority to declare. He assumes his words hold the same weight as God’s words.

This is seen clearly in Jesus’ “but-I-say-to-you” statements in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21–48). This is where Jesus quotes an Old Testament teaching or a popular interpretation of an Old Testament teaching and then follows with, “but I say to you…” It should be noted that Jesus wasn’t changing God’s law with his “but-I-say-to-you” statements, but interpreting them correctly and drawing out their full significance. After all, just before this, Jesus literally said that he didn’t come to do away with God’s law, but to fulfill it! (Matthew 5:17) The important thing to note is that by saying “but I say to you,” Jesus is speaking on his own authority. He’s not quoting the Old Testament. He’s not quoting a respected rabbi. He’s not passing on what God commanded him to say as prophets do, saying, “So says the LORD…” No, he’s saying, “I’m telling you…”

He does this again and again in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard… But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… You have heard… But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart… You have heard that it was said… But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Is it no wonder that Matthew ends the Sermon on the Mount by telling us, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes”? (Matthew 7:28–29)

Both foe and friend recognize the fact that Jesus was teaching with an authority higher than a prophet, priest, or any of the religious leaders of his day. In fact, Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner admitted in an interview that he was so disturbed when reading Jesus’ words, he wanted to ask Jesus, “Who do you think you are—God?” [1]

[1] Quoted in How God Became Jesus, Chapter 3: “Did Jesus Think He Was God?” by Michael Bird. Kindle. Loc 1033.


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