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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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POWER.—The term indicates the efficient force by which personal commands and the claims of law receive obedient attention and fulfilment.

In Authorized Version of Gospels ‘power’ is used with about equal frequency to represent two words in the original, δύναμις and ἐξονσία. These words are thus distinguished by Grimm-Thayer:—‘δύν. power, natural ability, general and inherent; ἐξους. primarily liberty of action, then authority—either as delegated power or as unrestrained, arbitrary power.’ Cf. also Cremer, s.vv. In Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , except in the three cases named below, ‘authority’ is given as the rendering of ἑξουσια, usually in the text, sometimes in the margin. Luke 22:53 retains ‘power’ without any marginal alternative; John 1:12 gives ‘right’; John 10:18 retains ‘power,’ but has ‘right’ in margin.

1. Power in the personal life of Christ.—During His earthly ministry, in the impression made both upon His disciples and upon the hostile Pharisees, as well as upon the mass of the people, there is abundant testimony to the transcendent personality of Christ. With this accords also the estimate concerning Him in the Acts and the Epistles. A vague attempt at assimilation likened Him to one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14), and Herod saw in Him the risen John the Baptist (Mark 6:16), but otherwise His life and character were ever recognized as unique and beyond comparison (see Awe). In His works of healing, wrought on mind and body, the evidence was open to all (Mark 5:15, Luke 9:43). It was the same with His teaching (Matthew 7:29). In dealing with the most venerated religious precepts and traditions, He acts with the ease and freedom of original authority, noting limitations and supplying enlarged meanings and higher applications (Matthew 5:33-48). He rejects the offer of world empire (Luke 4:6; Luke Luk_4:8), and warns those whom He sent forward to tell of His approach not to rejoice even in the exercise of His delegated power (Luke 10:20). The same qualities of range and originality are recognized in His sympathy with the outcast and suffering (Luke 7:34; Luke 13:11, John 11:35), in His knowledge of the heart and its temptations (Luke 5:20; Luke 7:47, John 4:18), and in His controversies with the Jewish leaders (Matthew 22:15-46). A still deeper insight into the uniqueness of His character is afforded by what was involved in following and serving Him (Luke 14:25-35, John 14:12; John 15:8). His works were stated by Himself to have been wrought in God (John 14:10), who also had sent Him (John 9:4, John 16:28); and His day had been foreseen by Abraham (John 8:56) and Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2), and by the prophets generally (Luke 24:27). His Kingdom was to be coextensive with the world and its nationalities (Matthew 8:11; Matthew 26:13; Matthew 28:19, John 10:16; John 17:20). The gift of His life, offered freely and apart from external constraint, was to be the bond of union among His disciples (Matthew 26:26-28, John 15:12-13), and was to be the power that would draw the world unto Him (John 3:14; John 12:32). The impression thus made upon His disciples became in turn the testimony which they gave to the world—‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). See Authority of Christ.

2. Power in the Kingdom of Christ.—Christ declared of His Kingdom that it was not of this world (John 18:36). Those worldly kingdoms were of the sword, established by and for physical dominion. As every created thing must, by the inward necessity of that condition, come to an end, so those kingdoms would perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52). His Kingdom, on the other hand, did not rise from beneath, but descended from above, having its origin in the eternal thought of God, the Kingdom of heaven. With the first grasp of this meaning, its administration was spoken of as different from the law of a carnal commandment, being ‘the power of an endless life’ (Hebrews 7:16).

In the prophetic intimation of its advent through the mediation of the sorrows of Zion, the essential character and tendency of this Kingdom, the requirements of its citizenship, the extent of its dominion, the motive of its statesmanship, its estimate of heroism, and its rewards of service, were all so new and conflicting, that there seemed to be two Messiahs, one who should reign and deliver, and one who should serve and suffer (Isaiah 53; Isaiah 59:16-19; Isaiah 61:1-3). Only the accomplished fact was able to reveal, and in new areas of its expansion is still revealing, that for such a Kingdom the anointed Head must needs have suffered in order to enter into His glory (Luke 24:26). The new and wonderful element that made its citizenship not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man (John 1:13), consisted in this, that whereas in the kingdoms of the world there had been an ever-ascending scale of power, man living unto himself, and governments existing for the sake of the governing classes, so there was in this Kingdom a correspondingly descending scale of service in which all those features were precisely reversed. Whereas previously in religion men were the supplicants, and sacrificed unto their deities, and propitiated them by gifts and promises of devotion, in this Kingdom God Himself was the chief sacrificer, offering His only-begotten Son; and the Almighty sought to reconcile the weak unto Himself (John 3:16; John 3:18; John 12:27; John 18:37), with this leading fact of the Kingdom all the others followed in complete agreement. He who would be accounted greatest must qualify for that distinction by becoming the servant of all (Matthew 20:26; Matthew 20:28). Women are declared to excel in faith (Matthew 15:28), discernment (Matthew 26:13), and courageous sacrifice (Mark 12:41-44). Little children are regarded with reverence, and the loving trust of a child’s heart gives direction to the wise, and appoints the duties of the great (Matthew 18:3-4; Matthew 19:14). The constitution and aspirations of the Kingdom, as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, not only surpass all similar requirements of government, but seem to invert all that the world had hitherto counted great and noble. The innermost instinct of empire, the white ensign of this unique Kingdom, is the joy of harmonious relationship to the will of God. Government is by beatitudes. The crucifixion of self for the sake of others is the recognition mark of its people. This pervades all gradations of its society, for He who is on the throne emptied Himself, and what is done unto the least is regarded as done unto Him (Matthew 25:40). Instead of pride and ambition, the lust of power and possession that had created and controlled other dynasties, its regalia and administration are entrusted to the poor in spirit who claim no homage. The dispensing of the beatitudes is given to those who have become acquainted with grief and discouragement, whose necks have felt the pressure of the harsh forces and sharp limitations of life. Here also for exalted office there is the partaking of the Divine nature, but it is reserved for the pure in heart. So rich is the provision for its subjects, that even the cry of hunger becomes a feast, and to bear a burden and cross with Christ is an immediate Paradise. By its connexion with the One Name of which the OT spoke it fulfilled the vision of the prophets which Judaism had obscured, and, on the other hand, included in due place and proportion those gifts for physical need and circumstance that had been the crown and consummation of Gentile desire (Matthew 6:33). These are both represented in the familiar and venerated form of prayer which in its first part lifts the language of our possession above all gifts to God Himself, but makes it treason for His Church to covet the Name, the Kingdom, and the Will. In its second part it encourages the claim of our continual frailty, ignorance, and dependence.

Again, the same principle of looking and stooping downwards and of uplifting what is beneath is the main subject-matter of the parables of Christ. The power that is seen exemplified in them is the counterpart of what is set forth in the Sermon on the Mount. Under various aspects, in whole or in part, they unfold the meaning of discipleship, the power of the Kingdom, and the dangers that attend its service. Here also, to be in the Kingdom is beatitude; and when this privilege of entrance has been prevented by any cause whatever, the regret over the one wasted life and its great opportunity is described as weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28).

Thus in His life and death, in His teaching and labours, Christ conformed to the beatitudes of the Kingdom, and afterwards entrusted its advancement to His disciples. ‘Come unto me—take my yoke—learn of me,’—salvation, self-devotion, sainthood,—these were the steps into the Kingdom, and the power of its service.

In His last message to the disciples our Lord gave two special commands about the Kingdom they were to establish and extend in His name. This communication was accompanied by a touching and solemn act of covenant, and endeared by the mention of all that He had been and would be to them. The first concerned the loyalty to Himself that was to carry with it the invincible power of the Kingdom. It was, ‘Abide in me and I in you’ (John 15:4). In His cherished presence they would know His purpose, and that would be their way of power. This presence, however, could be granted only where they loved one another as He had loved them (John 15:12). It was in vain to go out to the conquest of the world unless this base of operations was safeguarded. They were to tarry in Jerusalem until it became in each heart a conscious experience beyond the reach of doubt or discouragement. This enabling supernatural power of the Kingdom came to be called the grace of God. In 1 Corinthians 13 its essential meaning is breathed forth as from a vase containing the fragrance of what is no longer visible. Its power within the heart is exhibited in Romans 8, and its energy of diffusion in Romans 13.

The second charge affected the world that was to be His possession, the nations that were to bring each its special riches and glory into His Kingdom (Matthew 28:19-20, cf. Mark 16:15). It was His greatest commandment, and is therefore the greatest test of love to Him. He recognized the right and claim of the world to wait until it received sufficient evidence that He had been sent to be its Ruler. He warned His disciples that the only evidence that could carry such conviction would be the sight of a Church so filled with the spirit of His Kingdom and so devoted to the fulfilment of His command, that all things would give way in order to the presentation of that proof. The world that will say the Church is one will say that Christ is Lord (John 10:16; John 17:21-23).

See also art. Force.

Literature.—W. Arthur, Tongue of Fire, ch. ix.; A. Maclaren, Holy of Holies, chs. vi. viii.; Mason, Conditions of our Lord’s Life on Earth (1896), 84; W. N. Clarke, What shall we think of Christianity? (1899), 106; Forrest, Authority of Christ.

G. M. Mackie.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Power'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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