Jesus’ authority isn’t forced; it’s experienced by living in his story.
The most joyful parade of King Jesus’ life was the day he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowd acclaiming him as their heaven-sent king: hosanna to the son of David, arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9).
But Jesus’ authority is so different to those who claim power in this world. Last time someone entered Jerusalem in the name of a superpower, it was a Roman general:
Pompey and his army besieged Jerusalem and the Temple, and in the ensuing siege, the city was badly damaged. Aristobulus’ faction was massacred inside the Temple precinct itself, and Pompey himself violated the sanctity of the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies.
— Adam Kolman Marshak, “From Pompey to Hadrian,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 40.
Jesus also went to the temple — not to violate it, but to call the city to honour the seat of God’s reign over the nations. He confronted what was wrong, but Jesus doesn’t pummel the world into submission the way earthly rulers do. He warned his servants of the temptation: You know how the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their high officials exercise power over them. 26 Not so with you! (Matthew 20:25-26).
Why? For Jesus, authority is God-given, not enforced on people. That’s why his authority arrives slowly: it’s received by revelation (Matthew 16:17). It grows like a little seed (13:31-33), as people discover the humble king coming in the name of the Lord (21:1-9). His authority challenges the existing order that is showy but fruitless (21:12-22). It depends on divine appointment, so he’s not desperate for human recognition (21:23-27).
So, Jesus confronted Jerusalem’s leaders not with swords but stories. Their authority is a fiction if God has given authority to his Christ.
By what authority are you doing these things? they demanded (21:23). Three stories overturn their authority:
- The parable of the two sons challenges their public persona of obedience to the Father, and their presentation of Jesus as the leader of the disobedient (21:28-32).
- The parable of the tenants challenges their claim to be God’s managers when they reject the heir (21:33-46).
- The parable of the wedding banquet challenges their restrictions on who belongs at the king’s table (22:1-14).
The content of these stories radically overturned their claims to divine authority, but pause to let Jesus’ method sink in. The pen is more powerful than the sword. Swords fall to stories. The word shapes the world. What is comes from God’s decree, Let there be …
God decrees the reign of his anointed, so no other claimants can countermand it. Not the false sons in the vineyard. Not the self-serving managers of the vineyard. Not the unresponsive guests of God’s Providence. The heavenly sovereign manages his earthly realm. He removes the servants who misrepresent him, and raises up his Son.
The good news of the kingdom is embodied in stories. It’s embodied in the incarnate Son. It’s embodied in the people who live in him (the body of Christ), the living stories of his restorative kingship.
Jesus knew. Matthew knew. The world knows through the people who live in his story. That could define everything the church is and does.