“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:10)
Amazing and wonderful things marked Jesus’ ministry. Jesus revealed authoritative and insightful teaching with God’s word, healed multitudes, and helped people reconcile with God and one another. Jesus ignited a passion for the messianic hope and waged intense spiritual warfare, all to announce the Good News that God’s kingdom was opening up in a new way.
And yet, not everything was roses and sunshine. In the Gospels, we often read of Jesus clashing with the Jewish leaders; the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. At times, it seemed like the leaders were fighting Jesus every step of the way to His ultimate goal, the cross.
Why? The root goes back to the beginning.
The Fall created a clash of kingdoms – God vs. humanity, the King vs. His rebellious viceregents. According to the original creation hierarchy, God alone reserved the right to subdue and rule human beings. We humans were created, equipped, and appointed to subdue and rule God’s creation, but never one another.
The King’s viceregents were to stand side by side before their King and obey His rules. Without a reign, there are no rules; without rules, there’s no reign. Therefore, God’s reign and His rules are inexorably linked.
But the rebels refused the King’s reign and rules. (How’s that for some crazy alliteration?) After the Fall, human beings became their own rulers and created their own rules by which they sought to bring the world under control and manage it. After all, the Fall didn’t neutralize the irrevocable Subdue and Rule Mandate with its drive for dominion.
Without God’s rigid boundary that limits humanity’s Subdue and Rule Mandate to the creation and its creatures, people quickly turned against one another to force others under one’s self-determined reign and rules. In other words, Conquer and Dominate.
When Subdue and Rule is separated from God’s reign and rules, it becomes Conquer and Dominate.
And the battle’s been waged ever since on multiple fronts.
But then God stepped in to begin the restoration process, returning us to our original Eden design. When humanity proved incapable of rehabilitation from Adam to the Tower of Babel (which He knew wouldn’t work anyway), God found a man, Abraham, who demonstrated the capacity to trust God and obey His word. Through repeated tests and trials, God forged with Abraham the foundation of a new people on earth whom He could teach to trust Him. Over time and through many troubles, He brought forth the nation of Israel and the Jewish people.
But once again, human nature mucked things up as it always does. God’s people continually struggled with His Reign and Rules. That didn’t surprise the Lord, who knew it would happen (Deuteronomy 31:16). Yet, God faithfully continued to work with them so He could bring forth the King’s Son, the Restorer of All Things, Jesus.
Why did the Jewish establishment clash with Jesus? Because Jesus was His Father’s kingdom in human flesh. He was the walking Kingdom of God, the perfect image of the King, and flawless in obedience to the King’s rules. Jesus is the mirror image of the Ruler and His Rules.
Fallen human nature rebels against God. Because Jesus represented His Father’s Reign and Rules, the Torah and the Throne, it was natural for unredeemed and unregenerated people, including God’s Chosen People, to recoil from and resist the spiritual Truth that Jesus was revealing to them. “Jesus spoke to them again: ‘I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). Jesus’ purpose was to reveal and restore what had been lost in the beginning – the Reign and Rules of His Father’s Kingdom. “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness” (John 12:46), and Jesus’ mission was to accomplish what was impossible for human beings to do – make the return to their King and His kingdom possible. But the Good News is “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).
However, even as the light of God’s truth blazed forth in human form on earth, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (1:11). Many not only did not receive Jesus, but they also outright rejected Him. Why? Because under our Subdue and Rule Mandate, we must protect our turf.
The Subdue and Rule Mandate moves us to identify our domain in life, take hold of it, bring it under control, and supervise its ongoing operation. As long as we subdue and rule according to our King’s character and His rules, all goes well. It’s when we push God off His throne in our lives, take a seat, and start taking control based on our reign and rules the Subdue and Rule mandate becomes Conquer and Dominate, especially when that which intrudes into our “domain” is seen as a threat to our kingdom.
This dynamic is what we see in the clash of the kingdoms between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Generally speaking, the leaders ruled the nation and saw Jesus as a threat to their dominion and domain. He was a spiritual interloper who preached God’s kingdom in a way that would replace them as the ruling authorities over the Jewish people, for the Messiah was God’s promised King over His people. Therefore, to maintain control over their domain, the leaders moved into Conquer and Dominate mode to challenge the threat, the Messiah-wannabe from Galilee.
In the previous part, we looked at how the leaders sparred with Jesus over the Torah, the King’s Rules. The following chapters show how the leaders brazenly challenged Jesus’ claim to Israel’s throne.
Jesus And The Leaders Clash Over The Throne
Jesus’ presentation to Israel at His baptism was a pivotal event during which His Father announced the inbreaking of His kingdom in a radically new way. Before the Fall, God’s kingdom began to fill the earth as His viceregents set about to bring creation under their King’s dominion. After the Fall, the Conquer and Dominate form of the dominion mandate erupted, and violence filled the earth as God’s viceregents began to play by their own rules and turned on one another.
After the Flood, humanity began to multiply again, and strong men arose (e.g., Nimrod, Genesis 10:8) and began gathering followers, creating great kingdoms. They built cities as their urge for dominion spurred them on (Genesis 10:10). Given humanity’s drive to dominate others, one reason to develop cities and establish domains is that people are more easily controlled in designated areas and people seek secure confines in which to live, even if it means surrendering control to a leader. Over time as the power to gather and control people waxed and waned in localities and regions, kings and kingdoms rose and fell with others to take their place as the Conquer and Dominate drive pulsed through humanity.
In Daniel 2, God revealed a statue to king Nebuchadnezzar as he lay in bed mulling over the future (Daniel 2:29). Nebuchadnezzar was likely thinking not only about his future but the future of the Babylonian kingdom, which he was enlarging and strengthening. How long would his mighty kingdom endure after he was gone?
The stunning aspect of the dream is that it not only revealed the Babylonian empire’s future but also revealed a succession of major human empires from Nebuchadnezzar’s day to the end of human dominion on earth. As Nebuchadnezzar would soon learn from his esteemed Hebrew Prophet Daniel, the line of human dominions will come to a crushing end as God Himself establishes His kingdom on earth. “In the days of those kings, the God of the heavens will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44).
Jesus’ appearance on earth and reveal at the Jordan River were the initial shocks to the rulers of the earthly and spiritual realms that God’s plan for His final kingdom was in motion, centered on Jesus. The response was immediate! Upon hearing of the birth of Israel’s future king, Herod launched a seek-and-destroy operation in Bethlehem against the threat to his dominion (Matthew 2:16). While this can be considered a political attack, given the nature of Jesus’ purpose – to free God’s people from the kingdom of darkness and deliver them into His Son’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13) – this was a clash of dominions on a cosmic scale, human/satanic vs. God.
Likewise, shortly after Jesus was revealed at His baptism for who He was (Luke 3:21-22), and He announced the inbreaking of God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:17), the leadership’s Conquer and Dominate drive began to move against him. To people steeped in the drive to Conquer and Dominate, any threat to their dominion is existential. On a larger scale, God’s kingdom threatens earthly human dominion on earth and the “ruler of this world,” Satan’s, control. Therefore, Jesus became the focal point of the “God’s approaching dominion” threat against rebellious humanity’s dominion over the earth.
The “Torah” aspect addressed in the past chapter examined the conflicts over whether God’s word or man’s traditions takes dominion. The “Throne” aspect addresses the conflicts between God’s reign and peoples’ drive to rule. The clash between Jesus and the Jewish leadership can be directly attributed to a clash of dominion drives – Jesus’ following the godly Subdue and Rule Mandate as his Father’s representative and the Jewish leaders following their corrupted Conquer and Dominate drive.
When we read the Gospel narratives through this lens, we clearly see these conflicts in the events involving challenges to Jesus’ authority, refutation of Jesus’ kingdom signs, rejection of Jesus’ messianic claims (as Israel’s King), challenge to his priestly actions (as Israel’s High Priest), questioning Jesus’ qualifications (the final week questions), and the Caiaphas’ interrogation.
The conflicts between Jesus and the leadership are often read in a harsh light, as in Jesus good, leaders bad. However, such disputes between the Jewish religious leaders were not unusual. Saldarini writes, “…we must emphasize that despite Matthew’s highly negative view of the Jewish leaders, their behavior, analyzed according to conventional social norms, was neither unusual nor evil… Matthew has not disguised the fact that many of the questions asked by the Pharisees and scribes are legitimate matters for discussion in first-century Judaism… All of these disputes over Jewish law and the disputant’s status and authority in the community are normal conflicts found in any society.”
Although disputes were common between the Jewish teachers and leaders, there was an obvious animosity toward Jesus that rose in a crescendo to the momentous climax of His trial before Caiaphas. We’ll examine the most significant confrontations to show the increasing clash between dominions – God’s and man’s – and how the corrupted dominion drive provoked Jesus’ opponents to eliminate the threat to their political and religious control.
Saldarini, Anthony J. Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community
Pastor Jay Christianson
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