Category Archives: Bible Study

Of Passion and Power

 

In this Series

Building on a recent post where we looked at the development of a Kingdom Leadership Paradigm through the teaching of Jesus, in this post we’ll look at how the Gospel of Mark presents contrasts between the predicted passion (sufferings) of our Lord with His disciples desire for power and authority.  This overview will, hopefully, further elucidate the paradigm that was introduced earlier.

In Mark’s divinely inspired gospel account, we find our Lord prophesying of His imminent death on three separate occasions.  In each of these passages there is a general pattern followed: the prophecy, the reaction, a correction, and a new paradigm.  In each of the prophecies, the Lord describes His being handed over to men (elders, scribes and priests), suffering unto death, and subsequently His resurrection.  Typically, the reaction by the disciples provides evidence that they’ve misunderstood the nature of Christ’s predicted suffering and instead move to assert, posture towards, or request positions of power.  These misunderstandings are then followed up by a rebuke or correction by the Lord, who then subsequently establishes of a new way of looking at kingdom relationships, particularly as it relates to authority.

Prophecy #1

The first of the passion prophecies comes in Mark 8:31

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Subsequent to this announcement, the self-appointed spokesman of the disciples, Peter, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  We need to pause here and consider the weightiness of this situation.  Jesus has just announced to His disciples that His life will soon end in suffering and death, followed by the prophecy of His three-days resurrection.  Peter, obviously disliking or disagreeing with this prophecy, asserts himself as the authority over Jesus, essentially attempting to establish His own superiority prior to Jesus’ death, “And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

In turn, this garners its own rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan.”  This scene is especially striking when we consider that just prior to his rebuke, Peter had made his familiar statement that Jesus was the Christ (Mark 8:27-30).  Following upon His rebuke of Peter, Jesus, having laid down the pattern of suffering to come in His own life, then sets forth the expectation of suffering and self-denial for those who would follow after Him

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

This statement on the necessity of self-denial for the followers of Christ is a further statement on the Kingdom Paradigm that inverts the normal societal structure.  In this case, whoever wants to live, must die.

Prophecy #2

Next, we arrive at the second prophecy of Jesus’ death in Mark 9:30-32

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Following in the the steps of their self-appointed leader after Jesus’ earlier prophecy, the disciples again do not understand what Jesus is saying regarding His death and again, we find them jockeying for power following the predicted passion of our Lord

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34

Here in these first two passages under our consideration, the contrast could not be more striking.  Jesus announces His pending suffering, death, and resurrection and the disciples are concerned with earthly authority and power, perhaps even as it relates to who would be in charge after Jesus’s death.

Once again we find a rebuke coming from our Lord and a reordering of expectations (Note the related event in Mark 10:13-16)

35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Mark 9:35-37

With this particular correction Jesus reverses the assumed order of societal structure, leadership, and ambition i.e. last will be first.  In order to drive this point home, He places a child in their midst.  Just after this, Mark 10:13-16, Jesus again uses the physical example of a child to establish the point that one must be child-like to enter into the Kingdom.

Prophecy #3

The third prophecy that our Lord makes, concerning His passion occurs in Mark 10:33-34

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As if having nothing better to say on the matter, the disciples once again prove that they do not yet understand what Jesus is prophesying, rather they are more interested in seeking individual power and authority.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37

Notice the contrast between the predicted suffering of Christ and the power-play by two of the disciples.  After commenting that the disciples would likewise follow the Lord in suffering, and noting the indignation of the other disciples, the passage shifts towards another example of the overturned structural norms, specifically patterns of authority.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Perhaps here in this final passage we have yet the strongest statement on the nature of leadership and authoritarian structures within Christ’s Kingdom.  Specifically, Gentile leadership is held up as an example of dysfunctional leadership, namely that of a top-down authority which our Lord directly contradicts by His establishment of servants being leaders.

In Mark’s gospel account, the contrast between suffering and servanthood with exaltation and authority could not be more striking.  With this, as with our previous post, we may clearly see that Jesus was reordering priorities, ambitions, and the nature of authority or leadership. His new Kingdom Paradigm establishes how we are called to live in our Christian communities and how we are called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

A Kingdom Leadership Paradigm

 

In our Lord’s earthly ministry, there is much that could be commented on from the records that we have in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John.  In fact, it is this latter gospel account that informs us that had everything about Jesus’ ministry been written down, there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them.  However, there is one particular theme about Jesus’ ministry that touches everything else He had to say and came to do, a theme that we’ll summarize as a Kingdom Paradigm (pair-a-dime).

A paradigm, in it’s most common meaning and usage, is defined as a clear or typical example, properly speaking an archetype or pattern.  Under the administration of the Old Covenant, there were certainly patterns and examples as well, but those reach their completion in Christ Jesus.  Not only did the Lord come to fulfill those old patterns and examples, but by establishing a kingdom paradigm, He came to upset or alter how we view this world and each other in His Kingdom.

Perhaps more than the other gospels, Matthew is intent upon describing and defining the Kingdom of God (properly, the “Kingdom of Heaven”).  This is summarized with the verse highlighting the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”  Additionally, the founding principles of this Kingdom Paradigm are found in Matthew 5:1-7:29, which is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount.

By the time we reach Matthew 18 in the account of our Lord’s ministry, we are given the Kingdom Paradigm regarding relationships in the Christian Community.  One aspect of these relationships that’s specifically addressed is leadership and authority within the community.  The baseline for this particular facet of the Kingdom Paradigm comes by way of a question asked by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1)  Depending on how Jesus answered this question, would define for us the paradigm, or pattern, of the kingdom.

Notice our Lord’s response below

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of themand said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

This instruction on humility, as the entrance requirement into the kingdom, sets the tone for the next three chapters which outline and describe the nature of kingdom relationships, including kingdom leadership.  Likely because Jesus had yet to fully open their eyes to this unfolding paradigm, the disciples fail to grasp the simplicity of this reordering, that one must become like a child, and are given second opportunity to comprehend it in the chapter that follows

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”15 And he laid his hands on them and went away. Matthew 19:13-15

Reiterating the statement made earlier on a humble child being the greatest in the kingdom, on this occasion the disciples were given a tangible example, but again failed to fully comprehend the message.

A third example for the establishment of this new Kingdom Paradigm, comes by way of a parable, but nevertheless brings us to the same conclusion.  This parable, referred to as the “Laborers in the Vineyard” is found in Matt. 20:1-16 and addresses the principle of equality in the Kingdom, regardless of when someone enters.  Jesus’ concluding statement on this parable serves again to highlight the paradigm we’ve been discussing, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16

A fourth example for this re-ordering of cultural structure and one which lands more clearly on the nature of leadership in the Christian community, builds on both the two earlier passages where Jesus indicates that that one must become like a child to enter the Kingdom and the third passage, where last is first and first is last.  This particular example comes from Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Such a request from a misguided, albeit well-intentioned mother, harkens our minds back to the opening question in this section from Matthew’s gospel account, “Who is the greatest?”  This question had already been answered, those with the humility of a child are the greatest.  The low are high, the high are low.  The rich are poor, the poor are rich.  The last are first, the first are last.  This is the Kingdom Paradigm and it most certainly applies to leadership, the servants are the leaders.

While we will look at this particular passage from Matthew 20 in greater detail in a follow-up post, suffice it to say that the Kingdom leadership paradigm, outlined here by our Lord, was  contrary to the nature of worldly leadership then, “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority” and it is contrary to the nature of worldly leadership now.  Summarily, kingdom leadership is not top-down, authoritarianism, but bottom-up, servant-hood.  This, as we will see, is not the same thing as the popular, modern notion of a servant leader, or more clearly that  leaders serve.  Instead, it is that your servants are your leaders.

Jesus’ Kingdom Paradigm is intended to cause us to view the world through an upside down or inverted kingdom lens.  What the world perceives as the proper ordering of society is power, class, or wealth.  And what they perceive as the proper ordering of leadership is authority and domination.  What Jesus establishes as the paradigm for the Christian society is to be like a child.  In kingdom leadership it is humility and service.  The very pattern for this is His own life-giving service (deaconing = [diakoneo] – more on this later) which stands as the ultimate paradigm for the kingdom and the model for how we relate to one another in our Christian communities.

 

 

The Meat of Melchizedek: Christ as High Priest

 

In the seventh chapter of Hebrews, the Author returns to the discourse begun in chapter 5 on Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9-10), before it was broken off with a rebuke and warning against apostasy (Heb. 6:4-6).  There we saw how he had a desire to communicate something about Melchizedek, but had to restrain the discussion due to the spiritual immaturity of the audience, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” (Heb. 5:11)

Then, after the warning, towards the end of chapter 6, Abraham is held up as an example of faithfulness and patience in waiting on the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Interestingly, and a further example of the masterpiece that is Hebrews, Abraham is not simply a random figure to emulate.  Instead, it is with Abraham that we are re-introduced to Melchizedek from Genesis 14.  Here, in Hebrews 6 and 7, the placement of Abraham in the flow of the passage serves to transition into the discussion of the mysterious figure of Melchizedek as we arrive at the meat of the author’s sermon, namely the High Priesthood of Christ.  However, this transition point from Abraham to Melchizedek to Christ the High Priest is nothing less than hope in the promises of God, which gets a name, “we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Heb. 6:19-20

Chapter 7 begins with the  re-introduction to Melchizedek

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham appointed a tenth part of everything.  He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.” Hebrews 7:1-2

Here, the context brings us back to Genesis 14 and reminds us that Melchizedek was a king-priest who met Abraham after the return from war.  The scene was a skirmish of four kings verses five.  Two of the five kings were those of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The armies led by the four kings took all of the possessions of these two cities, including Abraham’s nephew, Lot.  When Abraham received word, he led an army of 318 men to bring back all the possessions that had been stolen, including Lot.

Upon Abraham’s victorious return, he was met by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who greeted Abraham with bread and wine (perhaps a topic for another day).  Additionally, Melchizedek blessed Abraham saying

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” Gen. 14:19-20

In return, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything, commonly called a tithe.  By way of contrast, the king of Sodom requested all of the people, but said that Abraham could keep the possessions.  Consider this, the king of Sodom, whose meaning should be obvious, requested the people, again for obvious reasons, but will reward Abraham by allowing him to keep the possessions.  Abraham’s response is noteworthy

“I have lifted my hand[c] to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” Genesis 14:22-24

Thus, the end of the Scriptural account of Melchizedek.  Nevertheless, God saw fit to use the pre-Israelite king-priest as a type of priesthood for Christ.

Returning to Hebrews 7, we gain some additional context and insight on the person of Melchizedek.  We find that he is

  • King of Righteousness
  • King of Peace (Salem is the early name for Jerusalem)
  • No record of mother/father or geneaology
  • No beginning or end
  • Resembling the Son of God
  • Continual priest[hood]

These characteristics of Melchizedek serve the purpose of introducing the typological relationship with Christ.  Note also that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God.  In this relationship that is about to be unfolded for us in the seventh chapter of Hebrews, we actually see that although Christ is after the order of Melchizedek, it is this mysterious figure that actual resembles the Son.  This means that the Son of God is the Archetype, Melchizedek is the type, and Christ as High Priest is the antitype.  Wow!

Progressing further into the chapter, we see the discussion on tithing, mentioned above, that serves to highlight the superiority of Melchizedek over Abraham.  In Hebrews 7:4-10 we find this recap of the event from Genesis 14 where Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek.  The facts are not simply recited, but are used to establish a principle, namely that Levi, head of the Levitical priesthood, was in the loins of Abraham, thereby Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek.  Through this example of seminal headship, the principle of the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood is established over the Levitical priesthood, paving the way for the discussion of Jesus Christ, a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Verse 11 begins this transition by showing the futility of the Levitical priesthood to attain perfection, or completion, or we might even say salvation.  Because this was inherent in the law, and subsequently the Levitical priesthood, there was a need for a new priesthood and by necessary consequence a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12).

This brings up an interesting point in the passage as the author likely feels the tension from his audience, who at this point would be questioning how Jesus could be a priest, since He was from the tribe of Judah and not from the tribe of Levi.  The answer comes in Hebrews 7:16 by declaring that Christ’s priesthood did not come by way of bodily descent, or genealogy, “but by the power of an indestructible life.”

This statement, indestructible life, sets up a second Old Testament reference of Melchizedek, but this time from Psalm 110:4b, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”  The link forms between the basis for the new priesthood, indestructible life, and the statement of ordination from the Psalm, a priest forever.  This allows for the “better hope” to again be brought up from chapter 6:19.  Again it is stated that by this better hope, now given a fuller meaning of the High Priesthood of Christ, we are able to draw near to God, which would have been prohibited under the Old Testament law.

Finally, the last section of this passage that brings to the forefront the change in priesthood from Levi (Aaron) to Melchizedek (Christ) is the basis for the change, namely the promise of God.  Woven throughout the discussion from Abraham in chapter 6 to Melchizedek in chapter 7 has been the foundation of God’s promise.  Not only that, but His faithfulness in guaranteeing the promise by an oath.  This brings us to a second citation from Psalm 110:4, only this time the first part of the verse is referenced in order to highlight the promissory nature of the verse, The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

With this statement of God’s oath, we are introduced to another “hook word,” covenant (7:22), which will be the subject of the upcoming chapter.  Finally, Hebrews 7:23-25 offers a word of conclusion culminating with the pinnacle of this newly defined priesthood, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

The establishment of Christ’s priesthood, associated with the New Covenant, after the order of Melchizedek is critical to establishing its superiority over the Levitical priesthood, associated with the Old Covenant.  Oh the wisdom and knowledge of God to create an obscure figure,  Melchizedek, like the Son of God, and use him for the model of a superior priesthood, namely that of the One Mediator between God and Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the entire series on the Book of Hebrews, see the Scriptural Index link.