Jesus is often depicted as powerless, or as seeking to give up his power. Representative is this quote from a recent article:
One of the things that defined Jesus’ ministry was that his authority never sprung from an (earthly) title he held, nor did he cling to power. In fact, he gave it up at the cost of his life, which of course, changed everything. Real authority doesn’t spring from an office, a title, or power. It springs from humility, love, and a clear sense of how the Kingdom of God is advancing in the world.Carey Nieuwhof, 12 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2022 and the Post-Pandemic Era
You can see that Nieuwhof tries to be nuanced, saying that Jesus had real authority that came from a heavenly title, and that his death changed everything; but his use of the word “power” is imprecise at best. What does it mean to say that Jesus’ authority did not come from power? What kind of power did Jesus give up?
A better way to describe Jesus’ releationship to power is to say that he does not need inferior forms of power, because his power comes directly from God. He has the power to calm storms, raise the dead, feed thousands, and forgive sins. His earthly titles (e.g. son of David, king of the Jews, rabbi) carried real authority because they were backed by God’s power and authority. And because of his humble obedience to God, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). Today he is seated at the right hand of God with all authority in Heaven and on Earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules the nations with a rod of iron, commanding the rise and fall of empires, guarding his church with legions of angels, killing and bringing new life.
Hannah predicted a king like Jesus. Her song teaches that the Lord has the power to undo any inferior form of power: bows (1 Samuel 2:4), bread and children (1 Samuel 2:5), life (1 Samuel 2:6), wealth and positions (1 Samuel 2:7). His power is greater than anything else in the world, because He created the world (1 Samuel 2:8). Those who are faithful to God will be guarded by His power, and the wicked will be destroyed by it; and this is more important than human strength (1 Samuel 2:9). This is the power that will allow God’s anointed king to defeat all of his enemies and judge the ends of the earth (1 Samuel 2:10).
Jesus is not the first king anointed by God and strengthened by His power. Samuel anoints Saul, turning a coward into a warrior until the Spirit leaves him. Samuel anoints David, and the Lord sustains him when he appears to be powerless. Hezekiah is saved by the angel of the Lord, and Josiah is commissioned to bring repentance and judgment. Their earthly titles carried real authority to the extent that they were backed by God’s power.
Jesus fulfills this pattern to the greatest extent possible. As the sinless Son of God, there is no doubt that the power of God will guard him and strengthen him. He receives the nations as his heritage (Psalm 2:8) and waits for God to make his enemies into his footstool (Psalm 110:1). He has no need for earthly wealth or friendship with Caesar, because God’s power is more than sufficient.
In the kingdom of God, the righteous are blessed by the power of God. By the power of God the poor receive the kingdom of heaven, those who mourn are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied (Matthew 5:3–6). Receiving hardship for Jesus’ sake is a blessing because of the reward that God will give (Matthew 5:10–12).
I write this, in part, to avoid the bad applications that some make from Jesus’ apparent powerlessness. Nieuwhof’s point in the passage quoted above is that it is okay if people do not respect the office of pastors or of other leaders, because our authority comes from our character. I could agree with this if I qualified it enough, but what Nieuwhof seems to be saying is that leadership positions do not carry inherent authority, and I think this is wrong. Kings, pastors, and CEOs are appointed by God, and rule with some of His authority. Even bad leaders like Saul or the Pharisees should be respected because of their position (1 Samuel 24:6, Matthew 23:2–3). Jesus did have positions and titles, and they were no less powerful when they were not respected by the world. When Jews did not obey the King of the Jews, it was their loss.
Should Christians seek earthly power? Yes, but not as an idol. The blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1–14 are all forms of power, and God blesses us with them in this life and the next. It would be wrong to not desire these good blessings from God, and it is equally wrong to seek them apart from God’s blessing. Power usually only comes to those who seek it, and there is no reason to leave most of the world in the hands of the devil when Jesus is reigning from heaven. Christians should gladly receive “earthly” forms of power from God and use them for His kingdom, and they should also rejoice when they are persecuted by the powers of the world. Though we do not need bread, land, children, money, or political power, it is good when God puts these things in the hands of the righteous. They will all be ours some day, so we can gladly receive them or patiently wait for them. God shows his power both by giving these blessings and by working in their absence. Hannah celebrates that God powerfully takes the powerless and makes them powerful in every way. Jesus does this as he casts out demons, heals the lame, and gives his Apostles the keys to his kingdom. God’s power doesn’t stay in Heaven, and avoiding power does not makes us spiritual. God made man and told him to take dominion of the earth, and the Son of Man has been fulfilling this mission for 2000 years.