“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
The problem? The clash of dominions. Who has the greater authority? In a perfect world (from which we came and to which we’re returning), no person has the right to exercise God’s authority and power over another person. But that changed after the Fall.
In the recorded events of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus functions as the perfect human viceregent under His Father’s reign and rules according to the original design. He subdued and ruled the physical and supernatural world and its creatures in sync with His Father’s will. As His Father designed, Jesus never forced another person to submit to His authority. Instead, Jesus invited everyone, the influential and inconsequential by worldly standards, to willingly join His movement and submit to His Father’s kingly authority. Once aligned with Him, Jesus taught His followers the divine royal laws and invited them to train and work alongside Him to extend His Father’s kingdom in the world as a precursor to the New Covenant’s launch.
We also see the Jewish leaders attempting to Conquer and Dominate Jesus as a person according to the post-Fall paradigm. They continually demanded that Jesus submit to their authority and rules regardless of whether or not they were aligned with the Father’s will and ways. But Jesus repeatedly sidestepped their attempts to bring Him under their control while calling them to submit to their Heavenly Father as His kingdom was about to break forth in a new way.
In this part, we’ll look closely at how and why the Jewish leaders challenged Jesus’ authority, supernatural signs, and messianic claims. What it boils down to is “Who will submit to whom?”
Dominion: Jesus’ Authority Challenged
Jesus’ authority and its source were quickly recognized and immediately questioned not long after the start of His public ministry. For example, when Jesus exercised His Father’s dominion by healing the paralytic who was lowered through the roof (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26), the people “glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). The witnesses were “astounded” and filled with “awe.”
The point of the account is about God-given authority. Precisely as He had done with His original viceregents, Adam and Eve, the Father delegated His authority to His Son (John 14:10) along with the power to accomplish His work (via the Holy Spirit, Luke 4:18-19). To complete the subdue and rule trifecta, Jesus followed His Father’s will to carry out His Father’s work perfectly (John 5:30; 8:28).
Since Jesus is one with His Father, He is the walking kingdom of God on earth. So, naturally (and supernaturally), Jesus would carry the same kingdom authority as He taught and ministered. Only by the Father’s authority and power was the paralyzed man healed and forgiven of his sins.
However, the Pharisees and scribes present at the paralytic’s healing questioned “in their hearts” about the extent of Jesus’ authority when He pronounced the man’s sins forgiven, for “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). That was a big mistake on their part. As if Jesus doesn’t know what people are thinking. You can’t hide things from God or the person with access to God’s mind.
So, Jesus presented a test to counter their thoughts. He asked the leaders whether it was easier to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk?” To the human mind, it would be easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” for there’s no outward sign to show that sins were indeed forgiven. Saying “Get up and walk” to the paralyzed man would be the more difficult, if not impossible, choice because it would demand the difficult proof of a walking paralytic to back up one’s declaration.
Jesus’ proposed test was based on a greater-to-the-lesser style of argument. By pulling off the more difficult task of healing the paralyzed man, Jesus proved He had the authority to do the admittedly “easier” task, pronouncing the man’s sins forgiven. But if you think about it, there’s a subtle twist on why Jesus did this.
If only God could forgive sins (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21), then by doing the greater thing, healing the man, Jesus proved He could do the lesser thing, pronouncing a man’s sins as forgiven, which is actually the greatest thing, forgiving the man’s sins as only God could and thus proving His divine credentials.
Game, set, and match.
Jesus’ declaration and healing work demonstrated His authority to the onlookers’ amazement! He declared His dominion authority over the spiritual and physical world and proved it to His accusers’ dismay. This is just one of many instances in the Gospels where the Jewish leadership challenged Jesus’ authority to speak and act as He did.
Dominion: Jesus’ Signs Refuted
I’m continually amazed and encouraged at the scope of Jesus’ authority and power as His Father’s perfect viceregent over our material world and the supernatural world as it interacts with people. For example, when Jesus cast out demons from people.
Such control over the spiritual world amazed the people and angered some leaders. “The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and, ‘He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons.’” (Mark 3:22). Rather than rejoicing over Jesus’ merciful and mighty deliverance ministry, the attending scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus as competition. Dang it! Jesus was infringing on their turf! Deliverance ministry was their purview. How would this affect their sons’ deliverance ministry? This unassuming and unknown usurper comes along, infringing on their ministry and doing it with greater ease than they (Luke 11:19). At the heart of the conflict is the validity of Jesus’ signs as genuine manifestations of God’s kingdom. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).
Ah, we come to the crux of the matter. Who is really in control? The leaders or God? Is it about the leaders’ kingdom subduing and ruling their domain of God subduing and ruling those in His domain?
To be fair, the leaders had a legitimate responsibility. No matter how great or profound a supernatural sign may be, like healing or deliverance, the Torah states that signs are not the final word that qualifies a person as God sent and authorized. Moses warned the Israelites at Mt. Sinai against believing in signs alone, “If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
God requires that they follow Him, fear Him, keep His commands, listen to Him, worship Him, and hold fast to Him (Deuteronomy 13:4). Even though Jesus spoke with authority and produced signs to prove His authority, the Jewish leadership was in their right to examine Jesus as to whether He would point people toward God or lead them away into idolatry. You really can’t blame the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. They knew their history all too well. Around 931 B.C., the unified Israelite kingdom was cleaved in two because of King Solomon’s idolatry (1 Kings 11:11-12), and the northern and southern kingdoms were destroyed and exiled primarily due to idolatry (Israel c. 722 B.C., 1 Kings 7:7-20; Judah c. 586 B.C., 2 Chronicles 36:14-21).
Furthermore, in the days of the Maccabees (c. 167 B.C.), many of the Jews once again surrendered to idolatry to save their necks or to assimilate with the Greeks who had invaded their land and seized control (see 1 Maccabees 1:10-61). After three years of battles and civil strife, the Jews reclaimed their Temple that had been defiled with idolatry by the Greeks, cleansed it, and reconsecrated it and themselves to God. By Jesus’ day, even though the Jews had held fast to God, Judea lived among nations steeped in idolatry that continually confronted the Jews in their daily life. Naturally, they would be on the alert against idolatry.
So, if a prophet appeared doing signs, miracles, or wonders, it was the leaders’ responsibility to check out the person and their message. Was the person God-sent or not? If the prophet appeared to be God-sent, did his words confirm it by pointing the people to God, or was he a wolf in sheep’s clothing trying to lead Israel away from God and toward idols? If so, was this person a deceived anomaly or a specific God-allowed test as Moses had prophesied? As you can see, this was a grave matter requiring intense scrutiny by the leaders.
When Jesus showed up with striking signs, miracles, and wonders, the leaders sprang into action. But there’s a big difference between doubt, being not sure of the truth, and unbelief, refusing to believe the truth when clearly revealed. Despite Jesus’ words that affirmed God’s word and His actions that confirmed the truth, the leaders refused to believe Jesus because He proved to be an increasing threat to them and their control over the Jewish people. As the leaders’ Conquer and Dominate drive kicked in, it affected their judgment as they tried to discern whether or not Jesus, the prophet from Galilee, was from God.
Truth be told, Jesus really was God’s promised test, “to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:3) or whether the leadership loved themselves and their personal circle of control more than God. That same test also comes to us daily as we wrestle with ourselves over whether we’ll follow Jesus by submitting to His word and will to direct our lives rather than our own.
But how could the leaders properly discern what Jesus was doing when the leaders themselves were blind and deaf (Matthew 13:14-15)? Their spiritual blindness and deafness prevented many of the leaders from perceiving the kingdom of God at all. When Jesus took dominion over demons and expelled them, the Pharisees and scribes openly acknowledged His authority but credited the source of that authority to God’s enemy rather than to God Himself. Not good.
It’s ironic that the very leaders who God had tasked to exercise His dominion over His people and keep them focused on Him could not see the Father’s dominion working through Jesus and that they were the ones steering their people away from God after the manner of the Deuteronomy 13 false prophets.
It’s also painfully ironic that the demons recognized Jesus’ authority and obeyed Him while the leaders who claimed to serve God did neither. The leaders rejected Jesus’ act of dominion over the demons and diminished the Father’s rule by attributing Jesus’ work as a manifestation of Satan’s authority. Jesus, however, asserted that His work must be by God’s authority, for why would Satan work against his dominion? Wouldn’t that weaken his kingdom and bring it down? And if Jesus were driving out demons by Satan’s power, wouldn’t that indict the leaders’ familial exorcists who were driving out demons successfully? Therefore, if the leaders’ sons were driving out demons by God’s dominion, so was Jesus. And if Jesus was doing so, God’s kingdom was right in front of them, demanding that the leaders submit to their heavenly King (Luke 11:17-20).
It’s interesting to note in Luke that some of those who watched the demon’s expulsion and heard the mute man speak also demanded a sign from heaven, God’s domain (Luke 11:16). What an insult that was. What audacity for the King’s viceregents to demand their King prove Himself to them!
But the sign had already been given. God’s kingdom shined forth as Jesus subdued and ruled demons out of the afflicted man. And yet, despite the mighty sign, they asked Jesus to perform a sign to confirm His divine credentials. Isn’t this eerily similar to the contest of dominions between Satan and Jesus in the wilderness, where signs (stones to bread, throw yourself down) were demanded from Jesus to prove his bona fides? Had Jesus capitulated, He would have submitted Himself to Satan’s dominion by obeying. And if Jesus refused to submit to Satan’s request, Jesus certainly would not submit to a similar request from fallen human beings living under Satan’s dominion.
It was natural and expected for the leaders to challenge Jesus’ authority and the validity of His signs. But the leaders went wrong in rejecting the truth of Jesus’ authority and the signs which verified it. Jesus demonstrated His authority and power, crucial to back up His claim as Israel’s Messiah. That claim was a direct challenge to the leaders’ dominion, and the dominion stakes grew larger. If Jesus indeed carried His Father’s authority and power, then these confirm His Father’s affirmation during Jesus’ presentation to Israel at John’s baptism, “This is my beloved Son (Israel’s Messiah), with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Dominion: Jesus’ Messianic Claims Rejected
“The Jews surrounded him and asked, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly’” (John 10:24). “They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I do tell you, you will not believe” (Luke 22:67). Why didn’t the inquiring Jewish leaders and Jesus’ fellow Jews believe His messianic claim?
John asserts this was part of God’s discipline and plan for His people (John 12:40). Paul claims their eyes were veiled due to hard hearts (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). Along with Gentile unbelievers, they were blinded by “the god of this age,” Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4). Despite the evident and remarkable kingdom signs performed by Jesus, “…they did not believe in him” (John 12:37).
However, not everyone rejected Jesus as Messiah. “Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers” (John 12:42). But the control the leadership held over the synagogues with the threat of ex-communication (a Conquer and Dominate tactic to keep people in line) prevented many Jews from affirming Jesus as Messiah (John 12:42-43).
But the King will have His way. In Jesus’ day, many Jews shook off their leader’s control and willingly submitted to God’s kingdom rule through Jesus. And despite the people of Israel’s two-thousand-year reluctance and fear over embracing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, their sovereign God will draw His people back under His dominion so that eventually all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-26).
In the next part, I want to highlight three things related to the Subdue and Rule Mandate that have affected the Jews’ acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts