“All power is given unto me” (Matthew 28:18)
Many of the sayings of Jesus are paradoxical in nature. In other words, they appear to contradict. Note: they do not actually contradict, but they appear to; that’s the nature of a paradox.
The statement above is one such paradox. If Jesus is divine as he claimed to be, how can he possibly receive authority from someone else?
1. Jesus is the co-Creator. The Bible claims that Jesus was “in the beginning with God” and that nothing was made without him (John 1:2-3; cf. Colossians 1:16). By him all things consist – a word that involves the idea of being put together like a puzzle (Colossians 1:17). He maintains these things by his authoritative word (Hebrews 1:3).
It seems from those words that he already had “all authority.” How much more authoritative can you be than Creator of the material universe? How does one go from being the authoritative voice behind the Creation, to being the recipient of authority at the hands of another?
There is no contradiction at all. These words of Jesus imply something that is not specifically stated here – his humility.
2. Jesus became a man. People debate whether “life” begins at conception, or sometime thereafter. Christians believe that human life begins at conception. Jesus is the one person for whom this is not true, but it’s not because his life began sometime after conception. Rather, he has always existed. He said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The person we know as Jesus, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit around 2,000 years ago to a human mother, in a body of flesh, had no beginning. He has always been.
There was a time that you and I didn’t exist. There was never a time that he didn’t. You and I began at conception. Jesus simply changed. Paul wrote that he “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:5, KJV). Or, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ESV). So not only did he have every right (read: authority) to remain in his heavenly form, he also loved us enough to give it up.
So he “made himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7), “emptied himself” (ASV). I don’t know which translation is best, but I like how the ESV reads, “he made himself nothing.” There is the crux of the paradox: he who was everything, willingly made himself nothing. He willingly gave up his heavenly authority.
3. Jesus became a perfect Son. It is often said that there is nothing someone can do to “earn” heaven, and that is true for all of us – except Jesus. Jesus earned it. None of us can look at God and say, “You owe it to me!” But Jesus was perfectly sinless. He always pleased his Father, and never failed. He was the perfect Son. He earned the right to be called the Son of God, and God declared it to the world by raising him from the dead (Romans 1:4).
As a result, the Father ushered him back to heaven. Jesus now:
- has a seat at God’s right hand (Acts 2:33),
- intercedes for his brethren (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25),
- continues to atone for our sins (1 John 1:7-9),
- gives marching orders to his sanctified ones (i.e., he is the head of his church, Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 1:20-22),
- as the God-man (1 Timothy 2:5), is the judge of all men (John 5:22).
All Jesus gave up, he received again – and more so.
As an added benefit, he will now have those who obey the gospel and live faithfully as his friends for eternity (Hebrews 2:9-10).