Because truth and evidence were on Christ’s side, He spoke with great authority. Matthew 7:29: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority. . .” (NIV). And Luke 4:32 adds: “His message had authority” (NIV). Now in what did His authority lie? And how can we recognize the voice of true authority?
Did Jesus base His authority on His claims? No, He is the One who inspired the warning against accepting mere claims (1 John 4:1-2). When John inquired if He really was the Messiah, Jesus didn’t just say, “Yes, I am.” He offered evidence to John (Matt 11:4-6). Did He base His authority on miracles or a show of power? No, it was Jesus who inspired the warning, “Don’t trust miracles if they are not associated with the truth” (Deut 13:1-3). In fact, He even turned the crowds away when they were following Him for the miraculous food and the miraculous healing (Matt 14:22; Mark 6:45; John 6:15). How Jesus must have been tempted to use His power when He was winning so few! He knew the people were expecting a Messiah who would come with great physical power to drive off their enemies and establish an earthly kingdom. But He wouldn’t do it. It would have misrepresented the truth about God’s way of exercising His authority.
Did Jesus base His authority on His loud voice and bombastic manner, as is so customary of many evangelists today? Just read the gospels. The people marveled at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Blessed are the humble in spirit. Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:3, 5). You simply cannot shout those words. People who shout don’t teach things like that. Christ’s manner of speaking must have been as music to His audiences.
Was His authority based on a dazzling display of who He really was? He really was the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, worshiped by all the angels. Yet on the road to Emmaus, He didn’t reveal who He was until He had led them through the Scriptures and until their decision was based on evidence, not on His authority as a person. Note the marvelous understanding of the Emmaus road experience in the following:
Jesus did not reveal Himself in His true character to them, and then open the Scriptures to their minds. . . . He maintained His disguise till He had interpreted the Scriptures, and had led them to an intelligent faith in His life, His character, His mission to earth, and His death and resurrection. He wished the truth to take firm root in their minds, not because it was supported by His personal testimony, but because the typical law, and the prophets of the Old Testament, agreeing with the facts of His life and death, presented unquestionable evidence of that truth. When the object of His labors with the two disciples was gained, He revealed Himself to them. (E. G. White, 3SP 214)
You see, Jesus spoke with authority because He always told the truth. And some of those who heard Him also perceived it to be true. To them He spoke with great authority. But He did not speak to everyone with authority. Some said He had a devil, because of the way He presented His Father. But Jesus spoke with authority to everyone who recognized that His words were in full harmony with the truth revealed in God’s Word. And when John the Baptist received the report of what Jesus was saying and doing, he said, “That fits Isaiah perfectly. Yes, He is the one” (based on Luke 7:22).
The ultimate authority then is the truth. It is God’s only means of persuasion, the only safe basis for our trust. In many and various ways, God has revealed the truth to us and then has invited our questions and our examination of Him. For three and a half years God lived among us to demonstrate His way of using and exercising authority and power.
As a result, many people despised Him as weak, just as the Old Testament had predicted they would (Isa 53:2-4). They were looking for someone who would lead them mightily against their enemies. They wanted miracles. They wanted free food and free healing. They didn’t want the kind of person the real Messiah proved to be. Nor did they like His picture of the Father.
But some people respected Him. They recognized gentle Jesus as the supreme authority. I think that’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:5). Meekness is not weakness, though it is widely misunderstood that way. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). Because, you see, only the meek, only the gentle, would be safe to admit to the kingdom, the kind of kingdom that will be governed the way Jesus exercised His authority and power during those three and a half years.
Or do you think He will act differently in the hereafter? It’s true. He thundered many times in the Old Testament. But those were all emergency measures. For three and a half precious years, He finally got to run His kingdom on this planet the way He will do it in eternity. It didn’t work, did it? Well, it worked for a few. It worked with the meek. They loved it. And the poor people heard Him gladly. But most people did not appreciate this kind of government.
Which raises the question with us—which kind of government do we prefer? Under which kind of government do we feel most secure; a powerful tyranny, or the gentle exercise of authority and power that Jesus demonstrated for three and a half years? Obviously it would not be safe to admit people who do not respect the authority of truth spoken softly in love. Blessed indeed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).
I myself prefer a God who is infinitely powerful, to be sure, but an equally gracious person who values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of his intelligent creatures. With that kind of God, our love, our trust, our worship, and our willingness to listen and obey, may be freely given. It would be a pleasure to live with a God like that. That is the quality of life in the hereafter that has been reserved for us. We can throw it away if we wish or we can be convinced by the evidence that this is the kind of person our God really is. We can find Him worthy of our trust. Personally, I am convinced that God has more than amply demonstrated that He is precisely the kind of a God He claims to be.