Who speaks for Jesus?
Today, a cacophony of voices claims to speak for the “real Jesus.” The chapter titles of The Jesus Quest by Ben Witherington capture the essence of those contrary voices:
- Jesus the Talking Head
- Jesus the Itinerant Cynic Philosopher
- Jesus, Man of the Spirit
- Jesus the Eschatological Prophet
- Jesus the Prophet of Social Change
- Jesus the Sage: The Wisdom of God
- Jesus: Marginal Jew or Jewish Messiah?
Which of these contradictory voices speaks for the real Jesus? Mark 3.7–19 offers two vignettes in answer to that question. Let’s take a close look at both.
In Mark 3.7–12, the demons speak for Jesus. This vignette is a summary statement about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. So powerful were Jesus’ deeds that people from all throughout the region came to see him: “he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’” It is not surprising that the devils recognize God’s Beloved Son. They are, after all, very good theologians, having once served God in heaven. What is surprising is Jesus’ response to their orthodoxy: “he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.” Why the concern for secrecy? Did Jesus reject the devils’ testimony because it was false? No. It was true. The problem was that they had wrenched theological content from its ethical context. The devils proclaimed Jesus’ sonship only when he exercised power against them. The crowds might mistakenly come to equate divine sonship with power. And if Jesus had the power to expel demons from bodies, might he not also have the power to expel Romans from the Holy Land? Neither the devils nor the crowds equated Jesus’ divine sonship with humility, servanthood, and the cross. But Jesus did, so he commanded the demons to shut up.
In Mark 3.13–19, the apostles speak for Jesus. Jesus “appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” In other words, Jesus appointed apostles so that they might carry out his ministry when he was gone. Notice that they engaged in the same activities as Jesus: authoritative preaching and powerful deeds. But now notice that the first thing Jesus called the apostles to do was simply to “be with him.” The devils feared Jesus from afar; the disciples loved him up close. Through daily observation, they saw what it meant for Jesus to be God’s Beloved Son. They saw him taken to the cross. They saw him raised from the dead. They were eyewitnesses to his manner of life.
In time, of course, those apostles and their associates left us the books of the New Testament. As we consider the cacophony of voices claiming to speak for the “real Jesus,” we should listen to their voices first and foremost. And then we should follow Jesus, the Servant Son of God.