Matthew is detailing the impact Jesus’ sermon has had on those who heard Him, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
This might be the single kindest thing that Matthew says about the teachers of the law. That through all of their misunderstanding of the purpose of Scripture, the scope of Scripture and the power of Scripture, they did not also misunderstand the authority of Scripture. So when Jesus teaches as someone who has the same and even greater authority as Scripture, He clearly stands out from them. The teachers of the law never put themselves on the same footing as the Scripture.
Rightly so, for everyone in Jewish society knew that Scripture had authority. The very first chapter of Genesis tells us that God spoke all things into existence, so the Jews knew that God’s Word had and has power! Indeed, the One who speaks it has all authority and all power! So His written word must be understood as having much more authority than the written edict or law of any earthly king or government, and it must be treated accordingly.
The teachers of the law knew they had God’s Word and so could speak for His Name, but they also knew that they should not misappropriate that authority. To speak from His Word with the authority of God is to speak in His Name, not merely for His Name. That may be a subtle difference, but it is a most profound difference. It is not something to take lightly. Indeed, to speak in His Name without first hearing directly from Him would be a misuse His Name: something God specifically warned His people about, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” It was the third commandment, and all Israel knew it. Indeed, how could God hold them guiltless, if they would claim to speak in His Name and then speak even the smallest thing in error? To speak in the Name of God but not speak rightly is to be guilty of contempt in God’s court. At least the teachers of the law understood that fact. They may have shared ‘learned opinions’ of His Word, but they did not share them as through they were God’s own opinion.
To be a teacher you only need know more than your students know. To be an expert you only need to know more than the teachers of the subject know. To be an authority you need to be the creator and sustainer of the subject you have authority over, or have authority imparted to you by the creator and sustainer of the subject. Only then can you say, “It is like this,” and never be wrong.
This is something Christ can do with confidence. So He teaches with authority. He shares His opinion of how to understand God’s Word as though it was God’s opinion, and He does that without inconsistency, because Christ is God. To that end He has said repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago […], but I tell you…” The only other people who ever spoke with that kind of authority were the prophets, who heard directly from God and only then said, “Thus says the Lord…” Jesus is clearly also a prophet, who also says prophetic things, fore-telling as well as forth-telling. But He is more than a prophet. He created all things (John 1:3) and He sustains all things (Heb 1:3). He is literally THE authority, and all who hear Him speak are not the authority.
Every preacher and teacher of the Scripture must surely know that, and every disciple of Christ and witness of Christ must know that too. Amen.
Christian teachers and preachers must not rule by authority, but guide and direct by the power of truth and love and the force of example. Let no pastor be a pope.Jean Paul Friedrich (aka Richter)
Teaching the authoritative Word of God should never be taken lightly. It is an honor and a privilege, but it is also a test. A test of our ability to discern between our own thoughts and the Spirit’s leading, “for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”