Atonement and Power

I was reading through the book of Mark the other day, and I could not help but notice a pattern. Several times when Jesus talks about his crucifixion the surrounding context is about power.

The first example is Mark 8:31-35. In v34 Peter correctly responded to Jesus’ question about who he was. This is Jesus’ first mention to the disciples about his death at Jerusalem. This close correlation is not by accident. It tells us that Jesus going to the cross was a defining characteristic of himself as Messiah. This is the time Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to convince him that this isn’t what happens to the Messiah. Jesus accuses Peter of not being interested in God’s things, but men’s interests. Then Jesus says his followers must deny themselves and carry their cross. And whoever wishes to save his live must lose it. Several verses later Jesus mentions that some of them standing there will not die before seeing the Kingdom in power. Peter’s response seems very typical of the Jewish people. They seemed to want a warrior Messiah, surely they supported such false-Messiahs like Bar Kochba that led a violent revolution. Therefore Peter’s rebuking of Jesus is talking about power, the power of the Messiah. Jesus says that Peter is interested in the power of men, not God’s. Since Jesus is talking about his going to the cross. And then Jesus tells them they will see the Kingdom power and takes them up on a mountain to show them. Jesus seems to be constantly contrasting Kingdom of God power with worldly power.

In they very next chapter, 9.31, Jesus again tells them about his crucifixion. They are still perplexed by this statement and discuss it amongst themselves for the rest of their journey. When they arrive, Jesus turns and asks them what they’ve been discussing. They don’t answer him, but the Scriptures state they were discussing who the greatest would be. “The Greatest” is a position of power. Jesus sits them down and tells them that the greatest is the servant of all. And he brings a child and tells them you must receive me as this child. The disciples are still thinking that the power of the Kingdom of God is like worldly power. Jesus tells them that power in the Kingdom looks like serving people, and like being a child. Children know nothing of deceitful rulers and abusive power.

Again in the next chapter, 10.33-34, Jesus tells them he is going to die. This is when John and James come to Jesus and ask to be on his left and right side in the Kingdom – positions of power, second and third in the Kingdom. Jesus replies by asking them if they will be able to suffer like he is about to! In Jesus’ mind, the ability to rule is intimately involved with how much you can suffer. John and James wanted to be a part of Jesus’ glory. Surely they think of the lavish palaces of Herod and other rulers of their time. They aren’t thinking like Jesus is. Again Jesus’ reply is that to be great you must be the servant and slave to all.

Those three passages are pretty much the only ones about the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. I don’t think it is a coincidence that they all revolve around power. Jesus is repeatedly trying to shed the disciples idea about a warrior Messiah that Israel wants. I suggest in Atonement Pt 5 that Jesus’ death can be seen in light of a sacrifice for Israel’s belief and longing for a warrior Messiah, and his proclamation of judgment on Israel is for the same thoughts. Jesus’ death and even his ministry is here to reshape our idea of God’s idea of power, of Kingdom power. We are not supposed to “lord it over, as the Gentiles do”.

The question now is why? I think the answer lies in Jesus’ ministry. We’ve often said that God has a special place in his heart for the poor. Why? I think because God gave mankind stewardship, a position of power, over the world. Mankind is fallen and broken. They abuse power and oppress people all over the world with their power. God does not do this with his power – we understand he has been gracious with us all along. Jesus as Messiah did not abuse his power, rather he used his power to reach out to the needy and oppressed. As a result of man’s brokenness other men and the world have received essentially the wrath of fallen people. They’ve received the short end of the stick every time. And God is not happy about that. That is why Jesus preaches about a reversal of fortunes “Blessed are the poor in Spirit… Woe to those who are rich”. Therefore, if we want to imitate God, imitate Jesus, be a vision of ruler-ship in the coming Kingdom, we will serve, restore the oppressed and needy, and show the world how power is supposed to be used.


3 responses to this post.

  1. John,

    I think the key to understanding the power of the cross is that only by going to the cross do we die to ourselves (our egos) and allow Jesus to truly live through us.

    Paul wrote, “”I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

    Roman Catholics will give up many things “for Lent” but as sons of God we are called to give up all for Christ. That is why any preaching that is truly of God MUST point to the cross. We are called to overcome ALL, but the first thing that has to be overcome before any other thing, is the principal thing that resists God, which is our own fallen self, our carnal mind that is an enemy of God. Going to the cross is the process of allowing our carnal mind to die to it’s own ambition and live for Christ.

    There is an excellent book called “The Crucified Ones” by Charles Elliot Newbold that I recommend you obtain. It’s free of charge. It used to be online but you can obtain a written copy just by writing the author and asking for it. Here’s a link with details if you’re interested.



  2. Posted by JohnO on February 6, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Well, my whole point about “power” was that Jesus’ thinking about power is radically different even from us Christians. We cannot think to use hierarchical power in the same way the world does and imagine we are acting as Christ. I don’t know if that entirely came across, or you just weren’t commenting on that 🙂


  3. Well I wasn’t ignoring that part, just commenting on this sentence you wrote, “Then Jesus says his followers must deny themselves and carry their cross. And whoever wishes to save his live must lose it.”

    I should have mentioned that in my comments. I do agree with your comments on the use and abuse of power in the world. Larry Meguiar would call what we sometimes go through “Suffering the Contradiction”. We have to suffer the contradiction of the cross experiences before we can come into our calling. Joseph did, Jesus did, and so will we. And ultimately everything will be reversed. The poor will be rich, and the rich poor. Restitution will have to be made, so we’d better make sure we don’t need to make restitution before the kingdom fully manifests.

    More here on that if you’re interested.


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