Thursday, April 26, 2012

“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me”: Intertextuality between Matthew 28:18 and the Old Testament

One of the most significant post-resurrection appearances of Jesus has to be the meeting that took place in Galilee. Missing Judas Iscariot, the eleven disciples “went to Galilee, to the mountain about which Jesus had commanded them” (Matt 28:16). There they saw that Jesus was alive, but even then some of them found it hard to believe that Jesus had been resurrected (Matt 28:17). On seeing Jesus, they worshiped him. Then, as Jesus approached them, he uttered these remarkable words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matt 28:18).

By saying that all authority—not just some authority, but all authority—in heaven and on earth had been given to him, Jesus was effectively claiming to be on par with God. It was the same as saying that he was the King of the universe!

Had the resurrection gone to his head? No! Jesus understood that his resurrection had proven that he was the fulfillment of at least two very important Old Testament prophecies. In saying that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him, Jesus was interacting in particular with Dan 7:13–14 and Ps 2:8–9. That Jesus had these verses in mind can be surmised on the basis of the intertextual connections between Jesus’words in Matt 28:18–19 and these particular Old Testament texts.

The prophecy of Dan 7:13–14 talks about one like a son of man who goes up to heaven on a cloud into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive authority to rule over the whole world as the king of an eternal kingdom. The expression son of man is Jewish idiom for a human being. According to this prophecy, therefore, we have a particular human being who would be appointed by God to be the king of the whole world. By saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of this Son of Man prophecy of Dan 7. The intertextual connections are especially apparent in the original LXX version of Dan 7:14 (as opposed to the translation of Theodotian), which includes the words ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία authority was given to him and πάντα τὰ ἔθνη all the nations. Jesus echoes these words in Matt 28:18–19 in saying ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία all authority has been given to me and μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη make disciples of all the nations.

Concerning Ps 2:8–9, the intertextuality centers on the common use of the word ἔθνη in the LXX of Ps 2:8, as well as the conceptual similarity between the two texts in the idea of the Messiah ruling over the nations. In Ps 2:8–9 God instructs the Messiah, following his establishment as king in Zion, to ask God’s permission to receive authority to possess the nations of the world. By saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”in Matt 28:18, Jesus was also claiming to be the fulfillment of this prophecy of Ps 2 where it is previewed that the Messiah would receive the nations as his possession.

Christ’s lordship is closely linked in the Bible to his resurrection. In Matt 28:18 Jesus linked his resurrection in with the prophecies of Dan 7:13–14 and Ps 2:8–9 in order to highlight the connection between his resurrection and his lordship. By coming back alive from the dead, Jesus has shown himself to be the one chosen by God in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy to be King over all. To be clear, Jesus’ resurrection means that he is King over the whole world. This makes sense: being able to conquer death, Jesus is the king who is able to lead the human race in victory against the forces of evil (whose greatest weapon is death). By defeating death, Jesus can lead the human race back to regain the eternal life that was lost in Eden. An important aspect of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is the necessary conclusion that Jesus is the King and Lord of all. Jesus is the one who goes before us, leading redeemed humanity to victory over sin and death.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Great to read such articles digging deeper into scripture; I've come across this recently - it seems that according to Boyarin, the term “Son of God” was already part of the idea of the Davidic Messiah as king of Israel - God Bless


Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks for your comments, abdelmasih.

I reckon that Psalm 2:7 has to be the key Old Testament verse behind the use of the phrase Son of God as a term for messiah (especially during the time of the New Testament).

Many blessings!