Note: “Pneumatica” is a term taken from 1 Cor. 12:1 and 14:1, intended in this series as a general term for Spirit-empowered ministry and its particular manifestations. This series aims to examine how different New Testament writers present this aspect of the Lord’s plan for His Church.
The gospel according to Matthew presents Jesus as the anointed King. It begins by recounting His royal heritage (1:1-17) and continues with Herod’s jealousy toward the One “who has been born king of the Jews” (2:2). When He begins His public ministry, He proclaims “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17).
Not surprisingly then the people see that He “was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). Authority (exousia) is a key term in Matthew to characterize Jesus’ standing, His teaching, and in most evident way His power over nature, disease, death and demons. Leave it to a member of the occupying force to get it with crystal clarity, when most of Israel missed it:
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. (Matthew 8:8-10)
Another kind of occupying force understood Christ’s authority all too well, as the demons themselves had to beg to be commanded by Him (8:31).
Jesus Himself explicitly linked His authority over sin to His exercise of acts of divine power:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matthew 9:6)
Note how Matthew expresses the reaction of the crowds:
When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8)
“To men” he writes, not for a moment minimizing that Jesus Christ is Himself God, but pointing out that as the anointed King expressing the kingdom of heaven on earth, He was Man–the epitome of man: the Son of Man–under the authority of God. He exercised authority because He was a man under authority given to Him.
Disciples as Deputies
“Men,” plural, also because in the Father’s plan, Jesus not only received authority, He deputized others with His authority:
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 10:1)
He taught His disciples not only to understand and pass on His teaching, but to do the works of power that He was given authority to do (as He would later make explicit in John 14:12). This was essential to what it meant to be a disciple:
It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:25)
He assured them in acting as men under His authority, they would resemble Him in power, but also would face the same opposition from hostile elements. Why would they also be called “Beelzebul”? Because Jesus’ disciples exercise overt spiritual power, as He did. His enemies could not deny the power, but attributed it to Satan (9:34), not to the authority of God, not to the kingdom of heaven.
This first mission was practical training for them, an arrangement of limited duration–and of limited scope. It foreshadowed and prepared them for a more vast and ongoing mission later, but for the moment, His instructions were:
Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. (Matthew 10:5-8)
How they knew how to do all this, Matthew does not tell us. But they were disciples (mathetai), learners. In addition to learning from Jesus, and seeing His example, He was now having them learn by doing. The trip was not an end in itself, but preparation for what they would be doing after He would leave. Though His instructions were, then and there, to remain within Israel, it would not always be so limited, as He made clear they would eventually “be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18). Thus the plan was not for the twelve alone, but for all the other disciples after them–until the time of His return:
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:21-23)
They were told–and since we too are disciples, we are told–to rely on the Spirit of God–to communicate both to us and through us. Pentecost would enable what He says here. Note that “extrabiblical revelation” is not merely allowed–it is commanded:
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19-20)
Faith as an expression of authority
John would later tell us “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). No one can claim to have done this more literally than Peter, who is the only human apart from Jesus we know to have walked on the water. He did it poorly, to be sure, but he did it. And he understood enough that this was possible–but only possible–as a man under authority:
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. (Matthew 14:28-29)
Authority. Remember? “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Authority is a key to Spirit-empowered ministry. Power is a function of authority, and authority a function of Jesus specific command through the Holy Spirit. A man under authority, even He did only and all He was commanded and authorized to do (John 5:19; 14:10). He was always listening. He means for us to be always listening, as the Spirit has given so that Jesus would speak to us, command us, through Him (John 16:14-15).
And this is foundational to faith as Jesus means it, obedience to a specific command, and confidence in that command to empower obedience where He has commanded it, because the authority is God’s. He showed us this with an extreme example, followed by an even more extreme teaching–which He means His disciples to take seriously:
In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:18-22)
Understand, He means we can remove a mountain not if we simply feel like it and somehow “have faith” in the power of prayer, but when acting as “one under authority.” He expects us to believe that even a mountain goes if we say go, if He has commanded us to do this–and we have confidence in the power of His authority. Remember again, this clear understanding of authority is the “faith” he saw in the centurion.
Lest we miss it here, Matthew brings us back to understanding authority in the next verse. Jesus’ authority is from heaven–the kingdom of heaven–thought the leaders of the Nation missed it:
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-27)
The irony, and also the mystery of God’s plan is that the Nation–whose legitimate King was Jesus–did not recognized His authority, for the most part. Their rejection, however, was an effective cause of the kingdom of heaven spreading to the nations, the gentiles.
Authority and the nations
So whereas He sent his twelve disciples out on a limited mission to “only the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” the ongoing mission given to His disciples has no such limitation. Like that first mission, however, Jesus sends out His disciples as people under authority:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
Those words, the great commission, are so familiar, that we might miss how they fit into Matthew’s gospel and its themes.
- Jesus, the Son of Man, under authority, sends out his disciples under authority. He thus wants them to have full confidence in the power of His authority, preaching the good news and doing the works He trained them to do, such as healing the sick, casting out demons. This is just what the first disciples did, as we see in the book of Acts.
- He wants them to continue the work among the nations, which He began within Israel. This is what the first disciples did, as we see in the book of Acts.
- He wants his disciples to make more disciples, who will then following His instructions, make yet more disciples. As disciples, they will also do His work, under His authority, in His power.
- This is a mission well beyond the lives of the first disciples, the apostles, not in any way dependent on their lifespans, as disciples are self-replicating. All of them, all of us, are people under authority, and He wants us to understand, believe, and act on that authority, as the apostles did.
- He assures them–and us–that He is with us, not meant as some kind of sentimental reassurance–but as an assurance of His active presence, ongoing communication through the Holy Spirit, His continuing to do His works through us, in the power of His authority. And this, Jesus says, continues “to the end of the age.