The Bible cites a brief incident where Jesus challenged powerful people with a simple but profound question they could not or would not answer. Can you? ♦
It’s popular today to “challenge authority” and “speak truth to power.” Sounds noble and courageous to do so. Actually this is not new and can be traced back throughout history where the powerful have been challenged and even unseated by their subjects via unrest and revolution. Certainly where injustice and heavy-handed leadership or governance are in play there is an opportunity for bold challenge and honest, though often dangerous, confrontation. Think French Revolution or the American Revolution to cite a couple of examples.
But injustice and totalitarianism are fairly easy to identify and call out.
Truth is another matter. As they say, like beauty, Truth is in the eye in the beholder. Or so many would think. In the political world, the Left and the Right each have their own very strongly held truths. In the religious world, Islam and Judaism and Christianity each also have their own perspective on truth.
So What is Truth?
Actually over 2,000 years ago the Roman governor over the province of Judea asked Jesus this very question: “What is truth? retorted Pilate.” (John 28:38) This was in response to a very intriguing conversation between the governor and Jesus after the Jewish leaders had concluded their quick trial and now sought the approval of the Roman local ruler to crucify this threat to their established power.
Here’s the full dialogue:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 18:33-38)
Yes, Jesus actually claimed that Truth is somehow tied to His own life and even purpose. This presents a challenging problem for all thoughtful, fair-minded, truth-seekers and truth-speakers.
Christ’s Authority Challenged
Speaking of Truth, there’s a brief incident recalled in the New Testament during Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem where He challenges powerful people with a simple but profound question they could not or would not answer. Here is the passage:
Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8)
Jesus shrewdly handled the Jewish leaders who were dealing in treachery, lies, and self-preservation. He asked a very telling question about John the Baptist, the one who had heralded the coming of Jesus, the Son of God. Later, with His own disciples after His miraculous resurrection, Jesus schooled them specifically about His authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
In fact, Jesus made several bold claims about His authority:
- Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’” (Hebrews 10:7)
- Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)
- “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (John 8:18)
- “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23)
- “So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:28)
- Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
- Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)
The Jesus Challenge
This issue cannot be swept under the rug. I find it curious how anyone can acknowledge the historical existence of Jesus as a good man and teacher and yet not wrestle with these very profound statements He himself made about who He is and why He came. That curiosity is compounded when people profess belief in other faiths, or no faith, or in natural material origins/cause that contradict the specific words of this God-Man, Jesus the Christ, who presents and represents Truth and the ultimate challenge to all of humanity.
It’s a challenge that changed the world and the course of human history.
How do you deal with the truth, power and authority of Jesus?
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything…in every way. – Ephesians 1:18-23