Open Matthew 7:28-29.
Matthew 7:28-29 (my translation)
28 When Jesus finished his message, the crowds were astounded at how he taught. 29 He was instructing them authoritatively, not as their scribes.
“We need to teach with authority. Be like Jesus, not like the Jewish scribes,” the preacher said. I was only a college student at the time, but it sounded good to my young ears. What could be wrong with encouraging us to follow Jesus’ example?
That preacher missed the whole point. The crowd’s reaction raised the question who Jesus thought he was. What authority did he think he had? He wasn’t exegeting Scripture as Bible scholars do. He was redefining God’s decrees: “You’ve heard it said …, but I say to you …” Jesus acted as king. He set the laws of the kingdom. That’s a whole different level of authority to any preacher or teacher.
This blog interprets Scripture for our time. But I can’t change Scripture. I have no authority to say, “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your enemies,’ but I say to you it’s okay to kill them if necessary.” I’m a commentator, not the king of the kingdom.
After listening to the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds asked poignant questions about Jesus: “Who is this? What authority does he have to do this?” Soon the disciples are asking, “What kind of person is this?” (8:27). Remarkably, an agent of Rome recognizes Jesus’ regal authority (8:9).
The point of Matthew’s narrative is that we realize who Jesus is. He’s the king. He restores heaven’s reign over the earth. That is the gospel — the good news of the kingdom of heaven, with Jesus as heaven-appointed ruler. The culmination of Matthew’s Gospel is the announcement that Jesus has received all authority — in heaven and on earth (28:18-20).
My role is to give allegiance to King Jesus, not pretend I have the authority to set the rules of the kingdom. There is a derived authority the king gives his followers. He alone sets the commands, but he commissions delegates to instruct the nations to yield to his authority and observe his commands (28:19-20).
We need to use that delegated authority as carefully as Jesus did. He made no demands to force people into submission the way worldly powers do. He exercised his authority so sensitively that people missed it. The kingdom theme is the subtext of the Gospels; yet it’s so subtle that we miss it. The Gospels keep pressing us to ask, “Who is this? What is his authority?”
Recognize him! He’s the anointed ruler. He’s the long-awaited king from David’s line. He’s the one who restores the promised blessing of God’s reign to the nations (1:1). He’s the one who undoes the captivity of earthly powers (1:17). He’s the divine ruler living among his people (1:23). He’s the king (2:2). He’s the ruler who shepherds God’s people (2:6). He’s Jacob’s Star (2:10). He’s the new exodus (2:15). He’s the ruler who seems to be no one from nowhere (2:23). And that’s just the first two chapters of Matthew!
Every phrase, every paragraph, every story, every theme in Matthew’s Gospel reveals who Jesus is. Like the crowds who listened to his Sermon on the Mount, be astounded as his royal authority dawns on you.
What others are saying
Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 1992), 134–135:
Strikingly, Jesus quotes Scripture in his sermon only to reinterpret it, he cites no human authorities or tradition, and he speaks with directness and confidence that he himself is bringing God’s message for a new era in human history. Such preaching reflects either the height of presumption and heresy or the fact that he was a true spokesman for God, whom we dare not ignore.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 298–299:
To set the authority of his teaching in contrast with that of the scribes is a bold claim, since the scribes were the authorized teachers of the law who in virtue of their training and office had a right to expect the people to accept their legal rulings. … Whereas scribal rulings were based on the tradition of earlier interpreters of the law, Jesus has in 5:17–48 set himself up as an authority over against that interpretive tradition, on the basis not of a formal training or authorization but of his own confident, “I tell you.” … When to that remarkable claim is added Jesus’ assumption that he himself is the proper object of people’s allegiance and the arbiter of their destiny (5:11–12; 7:21–23, 24, 26), the crowd’s astonishment is hardly out of place. W. D. Davies’ comment … “The Sermon on the Mount compels us, in the first place, to ask who he is who utters these words.”
John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1985), 216:
In the Sermon on the Mount there are five direct references to God’s kingdom. They imply—though with varying degrees of clarity—that he himself had inaugurated it, and that he had authority to admit people into it and to bestow on them its blessings.
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