Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
To figure out how to exercise God’s dominion over our personal worlds in a godly way, we must prioritize our Heavenly Father’s kingdom. Of course, every kingdom has the “laws of the land” that every subject must follow, and our Father’s Torah rules His kingdom on earth. Therefore, His kingdom and commands are to be our top priority.
Jesus instructs His followers how to subdue and rule as our King intended. His teachings specifically address the persistent problems in our human nature that cause us to misuse our dominion mandate. Those two problems have to do with our hearts and wills, and thankfully, these two problems are changed fundamentally through the New Covenant. However, proper teaching is needed to train Jesus’ regenerated followers how to rule themselves and not try to dominate others. This training is like upgrading a computer by replacing obsolete hardware (heart, spirit) and then loading software to run the device as the designer intended (the internalized Law/Torah of the New Covenant).
While all four Gospels contain Jesus’ teachings about how our King’s laws constrain and direct our heart and will, I would like to focus on Matthew’s Gospel for examples because it highlights Jesus’ affirmation of the King’s Law, the Torah, and its proper interpretation and application in our lives.
What’s most remarkable about Jesus’ teachings is His emphasis on the Torah’s intent, the spirit, as opposed to the letter of the Law. Jesus’ clarification of the Torah in Matthew 5-7 provides tremendous help for the New Covenant disciple to exercise our Subdue and Rule Mandate and not let it slide into Conquer and Dominate.
Jesus begins with two of the Torah’s Ten Commands, “You shall not murder” and “You shall not commit adultery” (Matthew 5:21, 27). Jesus’ explanation doesn’t question the Torah’s command but how it was interpreted by His contemporaries whom He had just referred to in the previous verse (NKJV Study Bible commentary). As His Father’s Son and part of the Godhead, Jesus knew the precise intent of the Torah and how it was to be understood and applied. What’s essential is interpretations for both commands address what’s in our heart as the cause for the sinful action that results.
Inward anger easily leads to reproaching (raca, empty head) and insulting (fool, impious/godless person), and anger can often lead to outward verbal and physical abuse, even murder. Inward anger starts when we believe someone has violated our world, pushing their dominion where it doesn’t belong – into our domain. A biblical example of this would be King Saul’s perception of David as a growing threat to his reign. When the women sang: “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands,” Saul was furious and resented this song. “‘They credited tens of thousands to David,’ he complained, ‘but they only credited me with thousands. What more can he have but the kingdom?’” (1 Samuel 18:7-8). Saul’s anger quickly erupted into verbal abuse (1 Samuel 20:30) followed by attempted murder (1 Samuel 20:33, 19:9-10), the same progression against which Jesus cautions His disciples.
Likewise, with adultery, Jesus taught the outward act begins with lust in our heart (Matthew 5:28). As with anger, the implications of harboring lust are so severe Jesus hyperbolically tells us to do whatever is necessary to prevent us from getting to the terrible end-stage. This prevention, of course, begins with strict oversight of our hearts. King Solomon recalled his father, David’s, wise words, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Of course, David knew this firsthand because he let his eyes and heart wander ending in the Bathsheba debacle, which led to both adultery and murder. David’s exploitation of Bathsheba is also a prime example of the Conquer and Dominate drive as David willfully stepped over God’s moral boundary and exerted his royal power (dominion) to take Uriah’s wife for himself (2 Samuel 11).
To prevent the inevitable terrible consequences, Jesus teaches His followers to subdue and rule the only human “turf” or ground (adamah) we “own” – the domain of our heart and body for which we are solely responsible. Later in Matthew, Jesus teaches us that defilement is more than ritual contamination. True defilement comes from within us (Matthew 15:19-20), and it’s noteworthy that in Jesus’ list of inward things that defile us, evil thoughts precede murder and adultery.
Jesus’ teaching that minor thoughts lead to major actions (especially in the drive for personal control) echoes the earlier Torah command noting the same progression, “But if someone hates his neighbor, lies in ambush for him, attacks him, and strikes him fatally…” (Deuteronomy 19:11). Conquering and dominating other people begins in the human heart. However, if the human heart is made right, the battle to control our dominion drive is much easier to align with God’s word.
The next section of Jesus’ Torah teaching to learn from is about retaliation (Matthew 5:38-42). Retaliation is a classic Conquer and Dominate response to someone infringing or encroaching, or usurping our “domain,” either in a real or perceived way. However, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is not about revenge, but a law of compensation for a wrong. Rather than giving His people carte blanche for payback, this command set strict limitations on compensation (Bruce). Without limits, retaliation for a wrong under the Conquer and Dominate thirst for reparation can easily escalate into a blood feud that quickly surpasses the original wrong (Bruce).
Jesus’ explanation prevents escalation from the start by teaching us to willingly and graciously refuse the “right” of redress when wronged, even if we believe our right is sanctioned by the Torah and fueled by our sense of vengeance. Jesus drives home His point by setting up an extreme scenario, being wronged by an “evil (poneros, wrongful, malignant, malevolent, wicked) person” (Matthew 5:39). Although our attacker might be evil, wicked, mean, and nasty, which to us would warrant a justifiably harsh response, Jesus issues a surprising command. “Don’t retaliate at all,” He says to his disciples. “Don’t harbor a spirit of resentment; if someone does you an injury or puts you to inconvenience, show yourself master of the situation by doing something to his advantage. If he gets some pleasure out of hitting you, let him hit you again.” (Bruce).
For the record, Bruce notes that Jesus is not advocating allowing oneself to be abused and remain to take it. The “abuse” scenario should not be understood literally, just as Jesus’ recommendation to pluck out one’s eye or cut off one’s hand (Bruce).
While this is an extreme example, typical of rabbinic hyperbole, it’s the same argument for the examples which follow; “If you are to resist retaliating in an extreme situation, then you most certainly should resist retaliating in the case of lesser situations where bodily harm is not a factor. Such examples include “personal attacks (v. 39), legal suits (v. 40), government demands (v. 41), and financial requests (v. 42)” (NKJV Study Bible commentary on 5:39-42). If we cooperate when compelled, we gain the advantage in the situation, subdue and rule ourselves, we extend grace to the offender (who is exerting dominance) and demonstrate the kingdom of God in action.
Jesus Himself modeled this during His crucifixion to fulfill His Father’s will. Jesus taught His disciples not to let personal discomfort at any level justify using their Subdue and Rule Mandate for their ends. As my dear friend Naomi once said about her walk with Jesus, “There’s a greater call on my life than my comfort.” Conquer and Dominate in the above scenarios would urge us to resist and even retaliate with force when others impose upon us. A godly subdue and rule attitude would take control of the situation through gracious submission to glorify our God as His imager rather than launch a retaliatory Conquer and Dominate attack against the other person, bringing shame to our King.
Jesus extends this further with His command to love enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Jesus brings His corrective to the popular teaching of His day. While the Torah commands God’s people to love their neighbors, it doesn’t command us to hate our enemies. Jesus again reaches into the human heart to reset us.
An enemy is often seen as someone who’s a threat to us. Rather than oppose our enemy threat by human hatred, which could lead to violence (as He pointed out before), Jesus gives us a better way to “neutralize” the threat. Again, it has to do with subduing and ruling ourselves, not the other person, as Conquer and Dominate would. Jesus’ command to love our enemy requires significant effort to push down (subdue) and control (rule) our personal feelings for God’s sake and interpersonal peace. But as we do so, the threat often dissipates, and our enemy becomes our neighbor. As F. F. Bruce puts it, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend.” Jesus took the Torah and expanded it in ways that showed how to approach people and situations as our Heavenly Father would, so “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).
One of the tragic consequences of the Fall through the misused dominion mandate is humanity’s sentence to “life at hard labor.” Whereas Adam and Eve had all their sustenance continually within reach in Eden, after the Fall, humanity would quickly learn how difficult it is to produce for themselves under their own dominion and strength apart from God’s help. Thus, a new “crop” was planted after the Fall – anxiety – and from then on, humanity would “sweat” about their future provisions.
This inborn deprivation anxiety fuels our drive to utterly gain control of our “domain” and grip it tightly, even if it means gaining and maintaining material security in ungodly, selfish ways. When we’re faced with the desire for physical security, some people become workaholics to the detriment of their lives and families. Workaholics often strive to amass great fortunes and become greedy, miserly, and hoarders, blinded to the needs of those around them.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:16-34 (see also Luke 12:22-34) is His antidote to this universal root anxiety. As usual, Jesus begins with the heart. To short-circuit our dominion drive from being used unilaterally and “illegally” to ease our anxiety over provision, Jesus shows the connection between the heart and personal treasure and the importance that both be focused on God, not this earthly realm (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus isn’t talking figuratively but literally, as illustrated by His instructions in vv. 22-23. “The eye is the lamp of the body” is an idiom connected to another idiom, “If your eye is healthy/if your eye is bad.” The Greek word for “healthy” is haplous, meaning “single, clear,” and it’s sometimes translated idiomatically as “good.” Idiomatically, having a “good eye” means being generous because a good eye is always open and looking for someone to help. A “bad eye” is obviously the opposite, meaning being stingy or miserly. A bad eye shuts itself so it can ignore the needs of those around it. By extension, we can say a “bad ear” is deaf to the cries of the poor and those in need.
The idiom “Your whole body will be full of light/dark” refers to how we reveal God to the world through our actions. Jesus echoes this in Matthew 5:16, “…let your light (God’s revelation) shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” For many people, the only revelation of God they will see is through our good actions as we image Him as His righteous viceregent.
Jesus’ point in this idiom-rich teaching is how we regard material goods reflects whether or not our hearts are focused and set on God, and how we handle our God-given treasure shows who we serve, God or self, for we can’t serve both simultaneously (Matthew 6:24).
This teaching goes to the “heart” of how we should exercise dominion as God’s New Covenant people. Fear should never motivate our Subdue and Rule Mandate. Jesus teaches us, “Don’t let anxiety over sustenance or the desire for security through material goods drive you. Trust that your Heavenly Father takes care of His entire creation, including you. Don’t let the ‘sweat of your brow’ get in your eyes and blind you. Lay down your struggle for dominion over your daily supply. Let your Heavenly Father take the lead and do it for you. Focus instead on living your Father’s way as His representative, and He will care for you. In other words, “you mind your Father’s business, and He will mind yours” (Matthew 6:25-33, author’s paraphrase).
Learning to trust God at this foundational level prevents our Subdue and Rule Mandate from being used as Conquer and Dominate for obtaining “our daily bread.” Jesus reinforces this through His model Lord’s Prayer. He placed the pursuit of God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6:9-10) and requests for daily sustenance immediately following (6:11). This is the Edenic ideal of a heart set on God first.
Another way the Conquer and Dominate drive manifests is when we judge another person, which Jesus addresses in Matthew 7:1-6. Whether this judgment is based on someone’s words or deeds, we, as the “judge,” are assessing the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the one we’re judging. In the process, we’re getting close to infringing on, even usurping, two domains that definitely do not belong to us – God’s domain of moral standards and the accused person’s domain of their heart and motives.
As in the original Genesis 1-2 commands, our dominion drive is inescapably linked to a moral standard. At first, God’s morality was the standard. But when humanity threw off God’s moral standard, personal thoughts, emotions, and desires became the standard by which we rule our personal domain. As we work to bring a measure of control over our world according to our standards, we often encounter others doing the same according to their moral standard. And even if both of us are committed to God’s word as our ethical criteria, differences in interpretation and application sometimes clash. This difference frequently leads us to judge the other person because “they are not living according to my moral guidelines (‘as I understand God’s word’).”
In that instance, when our Conquer and Dominate drive kicks in, then we, as the “judge,” attempt to “help” the other person by correcting their “moral shortcoming.” Just as the murder/adultery escalation moves from heart to voice to action, ungodly judging can escalate from an affront to active fault-finding and criticism, even over minute matters. What Jesus asserts in Matthew 7:1-2 is that while we’re allowed, even encouraged to judge, we’re not to judge in an unrighteous manner. If we attempt a self-righteous “in-speck-tion” of another’s slight failure or even a perceived failure, we can end up ignoring our own glaring moral fault (Matthew 7:3).
When we judge another person, we must realize that judging their fault may actually be a usurpation of their inner domain by assigning motives or thoughts to them that aren’t there. Judging the inner person belongs to that person and the divine Judge who created them, for He alone knows the “thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) and “I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10).
Jesus teaches us to mind our own lives first and then be very cautious about how we attempt to help another’s moral struggles (Matthew 7:5). Our dominion mandate doesn’t give us a free pass to be the final judge of another person, especially their inner thoughts, feelings, or attitudes. The proper exercise of our Subdue and Rule Mandate involves us taking responsibility for our piece of the world (our lives) alongside everyone else and not attempting to “rule over” another’s domain as their judge. As Jesus reminded His disciples, we all stand together under one Judge who will use our judgments as a basis for His judicial proceedings with us (Matthew 7:2).
Along with a heart that aligns with our Heavenly Father’s heart, Jesus teaches us to have a will aligned with our Father’s will. As before, Jesus set the example, and he is our model to copy. Jesus only spoke or acted according to His Father’s will. And since a disciple is to become like their rabbi (Luke 6:40), Jesus teaches us to follow His example of putting our Heavenly Father’s will before our own in our lives and service to him. The way to do this is by accepting and faithfully obeying His Father’s word.
Jesus asserted this when He used an idiom well-known to the people of his day, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” To reiterate, “taking the yoke” meant accepting God’s Torah as the only authoritative guide for one’s life. In doing so, Jesus’ disciples affirmed God’s dominion over their lives, with His will superseding their wills. As the Author and embodiment of the Torah, and knowing His Father’s will precisely, Jesus could accurately interpret and apply the Torah according to His Father’s actual intent to “fulfill the purpose for which it was given” (Bruce). And although the phrase “My yoke” expressly referred to the Torah, for the New Covenant disciple, it includes all of God’s guidelines, instructions, laws, and commands revealed in His word.
But it’s not enough just to know God’s will. Jesus also taught that active obedience to His Father’s will was crucial for any of His disciples. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21-23). As I shared before, in the case of the Subdue and Rule Mandate, God’s word as His revealed will is essential to guide us as we seek to control and direct our dominion drive.
However, there are specific teachings where Jesus teaches us how to work in a pre-Fall shoulder-to-shoulder manner rather than the top-down hierarchical post-Fall manner. These teachings clearly show us that the dominion mandate should never be used over or against other people.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Fifth Edition
Bruce, F. F., The Hard Sayings of Jesus
Nelson’s New King James Version Study Bible
Pastor Jay Christianson
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