Each of the Gospel accounts, in one way or another uses the Crucifixion scene to communicate that Jesus is the true King of all. Yet, John takes a particular interest in the authority of Jesus during his trial and all the way through his death. This theme at the Cross is not new to John’s Gospel. In fact, he begins his Gospel declaring Jesus’ Godhood. (John 1:1) Still, John the Theologian marks out Jesus’ authority as a defining feature in the event of the Cross. But authority over what and to what purpose?
Authority over Himself
Of all the people over whom Jesus has authority, we are first shown in this narrative, that Jesus has authority over himself. We notice it in first his silence before Pilate. “[Pilate] said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.” (John 19:9b) More specifically, he had control over of his tongue. This is the mark of wisdom. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21) Secondly, we notice his self-authority over his own cross. “[A]nd [Jesus] went out, bearing his own cross”. (John 19:17)
At first glance this may not seem significant. However, the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all make note that at a point, Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus with his cross. In the Gospel of John, that fact is omitted to convey, this writer believes, the self control and authority Jesus carries over this entire episode from first to last.
Such self control, one may think, should be self evident and not needed to be emphasized as a virtue in the Man of faith. Yet it is for this very fact that it is emphasizes. That is to say, self control, as the fruit of the Spirit surpasses mere wisdom or will power in the common sense. Jesus’ self control is altogether miraculous given the true authority he has to exercise it against evil. Yet, out of love, he restrains himself.
Authority over Others
As we continue, his authority extends over the Gentiles/the Rulers of this World, as represented in Pilate. (John 19:9-11a) Further, his authority extends over the Jews/Jewish Rulers, as well as, over declaring who is a greater sinner than whom, both of whom are represented in Caiaphas the High Priest who handed Jesus over to Pilate. (John 19:11b) Lastly, in regards to his relation to people, we see his authority over the Church, as he commits his mother to the disciple whom he loves and the disciple to her. (John 19:26-27)
Since we all, who by faith are baptized into Christ and have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are now disciples whom he loves, this committal of believers to each other in love and unity (particularly the committal of his Mother to us beloved disciples and we to her), are distinguishing marks of Christian discipleship and evangelism. As it is written, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35) and again, “[May all who believe in Jesus] be one…so that the world may believe [God the Father] sent [Jesus]” (John 17:21b)
Authority over the Things of God
In John 19:28b, Jesus says, “I thirst.” Without the context we may be led to think as readers, that Jesus here was at a place where he in fact did not have self authority or self control. After all, when we thirst (especially if we are being crucified!), we are in need and unable to satisfy ourselves from within ourselves. However, John tells us that Jesus statement was not about his need at the moment but rather the Scriptures’ need! “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst’.” (John 19:28) Jesus, having knowledge the time is present and authority to bring the Scripture to life, speaks and Scripture is fulfilled in the hearing of those present. What manner of man can determine and knowingly perform the prophecies Scriptures?! None but Jesus, the God who wrote them.
As the Synoptics bear witness to the vulnerability of Jesus in bearing his own Cross but John does not, so also where the Synoptics show a vulnerability of Jesus on the Cross, John does not. John portrays Jesus as the One with authority over his own life and death. In John 19:30 we read, “[Jesus] said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Jesus decided when it was finished. Jesus decided when to give up his spirit. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18)
Jesus is fully authoritative over the situation. Why then not stop the entire event? In short, all of the authority of Jesus is most clearly when he is crucified, or, as he had described it previously, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)
Authority to Give Life
At this point we begin to turn from what authority Jesus has to why he has it. Jesus’ purpose is to manifest his glorious authority in his ability to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given him. (John 17:2). And that eternal life is to know God and Jesus whom God has sent (John 17:3). To know Jesus is to know him as authoritative. Indeed, his authority is a loving Shepherd’s authority; and he wields it for his sheep. Jesus then, on the Cross, as a protective staff, makes manifest his true love and authority by banishing the wolves whose aim is to devour the sheep. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Before Thy Cross Lord, we bow down in worship!