Jesus - The Power of God
Fr. Thomas Hopko · May 22, 2009
As Fr. Tom continues his series on the Names of Jesus, he examines the word "Power" and how it applies to Christ.
We [are meditating] and [thinking] upon the various names and titles of Jesus in the Scripture, in the New Testament, which titles, of course, are then used by the Christians, certainly the ancient Christians in their worship, in their liturgy, in their address to God and to Christ and to the Holy Spirit, or, we could even say, their address to God the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ, in and by the Holy Spirit, or relating and speaking directly to Christ as the Son of God who is the only-begotten of the Father, who is the Christ because the Spirit of God is upon him. We have all these names and titles.
Right now we want to just think a bit about the title “the Power of God” or “Power of God” or “God’s Power.” In [the] Greek language, there are several different words for “power,” and there are different nuances or connotations of meaning of the word “power” in English. We have to know that if we read the New Testament in English, very often you’ll have the word “power” that is used, but we [cannot always] catch the nuance except by the context.
Very simply put, the word “power”—in the sense of the usual meaning of the term “power,” like a powerful person or a powerful animal or “power,” like if we use the term “dynamite,” dynamite which exudes incredible power; power is a kind of a force—that word in Greek would be “dynamis.” In the Slavic languages, it would be “sila,” the power.
There’s another term that’s often translated “power,” and that is the term “exousia” in Greek. In Slavic languages, that word would be “vlast’.” And that is the term “power,” not like force, like brute force or dynamite power, but that is power in the sense of authority.
Probably it would have been better and clearer to us who have to read the Scripture in English if the translators, whenever they had the term “exousia” would translate it “authority”; and whenever they have the term “dynamis” would translate it “power.” Then we would have pretty much an idea without having to look at the context, [to know] exactly, literally, what those words mean.
So, for example, when in Matthew it says, the risen Christ says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given unto me,” that’s “exousia.” That means: “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It’s the power that a king would have over his subjects, or a ruler would have over his slaves. That’s what “exousia” means. It’s power as authority. Or when it says in Scripture that Jesus has power over the living and the dead, that as the Lord of the living and the dead, he has power. Well, that’s exousia, that’s authority.
Very often, Jesus is speaking as one with authority, like: “Who is this man? He’s not like the scribes and Pharisees. He speaks with…” You could say “power” or you could say he speaks with “authority.” And then usually in English there, they would have the term “authority.”
So we have to be careful about these two words: power, meaning power in the usual English sense of the word; and then power as one who sits in power and has power. But even there, the usage is not totally consistent, because a powerful ruler can be called someone who has a dynasty, and even in the Greek language, you have the word “to reign” and “to hold power over people” coming from that particular root: “dynataō” or “dynastēs” or “dynatos.”
Here, when it speaks in the Scripture about the one who is mighty, that would be called “ho dynatos.” For example, in the Magnificat, Mary speaks about “he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49): ho dynatos, the mighty one, the powerful one, the silnyĭ boh, in Slavonic.
And here it’s interesting to note also that in [the] Greek language, the word for possible, the word [meaning] that something would be possible, would be the term “dynatos,” and then impossible would be “adynatos.” So, for example, when the Scripture wants to say that “with God there is nothing impossible,” it’s “adynatos.”
So the possibility, you see the word “to have possibility, to be able to do something” is exactly this word with the same root: the one who has the power and the one who doesn’t have the power. So when it says that all things are possible to God, that’s “dynatos,” and he is “ho dynatos,” the powerful or the possible one.
But we have to see, also, that there’s a couple other words. There’s the word “kratos” which can mean strength or power. That’s where you get words like the Pantokrator, the Almighty One. And “kratos” probably would be best translated as “might.” So, for example, in church we could say, “For yours is the might, to you belongs all kratos, hoti sou estin to kratos kai hē dynamis kai hē doxa,” the kratos and the dynamis: the might and the power. So that’s another word.
And then there the word, also, “ischyros” which means “strong.” So, for example, when we sing the Trisagion in church, we sing, “Agios o theos”: holy God, or the God holy; “agios ischyros”: holy and strong or holy, strong one or holy, and usually we say “mighty”: holy mighty, but that’s ischyros. And then, of course, in the Trisagion, you have “athanatos,” immortal. So you have “ischys,” which means strong or mighty, a verb to be able or to have the strength to do something is “ischiō.”
So we have dynamis, we have exousia, we have kratos, and we have ischyros or ischys. These are different words that we have.
Right now, however, we want to focus on the term “dynamis” because that term, “dynamis” as “power” [is our focus], power in the sense of force or might, in the sense of… Well, you see, you’ve always got to say “in the sense of,” but I think maybe in English the best thing would [be to] say “dynatos” in the sense of dynamite, because that’s where we get our English word “dynamite,” which means “has incredible power.” Well, that term is used as a title for Christ in the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, the first letter. I believe, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the only time that Jesus would be called dynamis theou, the power of God.
Let’s read that part from the I Corinthians again, because it’s connected with the conviction that Jesus is the Wisdom of God. In I Corinthians, the first letter to the Corinthians—we’re familiar with this [or] we should be—that the Apostle Paul begins the letter by saying that the Gospel of God that comes to the world is the Gospel of Christ, and that Paul came to preach this Gospel.
And it’s very interesting that he said he preaches it, “not with eloquent widsom of this world,” and the reason that he says that he does not preach it with the eloquent wisdom of this world, human wisdom or human rhetoric, he says, “Lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Actually, the King James there simply says, “Lest the Cross be,” simply, “emptied” or “made empty, made vain.” And actually in that sentence in Greek, there is no word “power.” It just simply says, “Lest the Cross should be of no effect,” like King James, or “Lest the Cross be empty.”
But the meaning is certainly clear: lest it be emptied of its power, lest the Cross be rendered powerless. In other words, if the Gospel is dependent on human wisdom and human rhetoric and human speech and eloquence, then the Cross has no power. You don’t need it, and the Cross is actually emptied of its power.
Of course, one of the things that the Apostle Paul is insisting on in all his letters, certainly, for example, the Letter to the Galatians, is that the Cross would not be emptied of its power, that for Christians God’s power would be the power of the crucified Christ, the power of the Cross. That would be where God’s power would be revealed and shown and actualized and fulfilled and perfected. In Christ, but always in Christ as stavromenos, Christ crucified. Christ is always the crucified Christ for the New Testament generally, and for the Apostle Paul, of course, in particular.
In this first Corinthian letter (I Corinthians 1:18), the Apostle Paul says that the word of the Cross is just foolishness, it’s folly—the Greek word is “mōria” where you get the term “moronic”—to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved, he says, this very Cross is dynamis theou, the power of God. He said, for those who are being saved—it’s a nice present participle continuing: not who have been saved, but who are in the process of being saved, sōzomenois hēmin dynamis theou estin, the Cross is the power of God. So he calls the Cross “theou dynamis,” God’s power.
But then as we read on, and rooting on in, I’ll be using here the RSV again, it says, “Has not God, through Christ crucified, made foolish the widsom of this world, and has he now also made powerless the power of this world?” That’s its weakness, its foolishness, its silliness. And then he goes on to say, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach, namely Christ crucified, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs…” and, of course, that means signs of power. God has to show, by actual acts and signs, that he is the powerful God. He is the ho dynatos, the powerful one, the ho krataios, the mighty one, that he is ischyros, the strong one. It has to be shown by his signs, by what he acts.
Then the Apostle says, the Greeks, the Gentiles, they want sophia, they want wisdom. He said, but we preach Christ crucified, skandalon to Jews—stumbling blocks, scandal, impossible, outrageous—and to Gentiles or to Greeks, foolishness, folly. Then he continues (I Corinthians 1:24): “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks”—and here you have it—“Christ, God’s power, Christ, God’s wisdom”: “Christos (or “Christon,” in that sentence; it would be [in the] accusative case) to those who are called—tois klētois Ioudaiois te kai Ellēsin—both Jews and Greeks—Christon theou dynamin kai theou sophian—Christ, God’s power and God’s wisdom.”
In that particular sentence, if we are being very technical, we see that there is no definite article. It doesn’t say the power of God or the wisdom of God. However, it’s certainly the case that throughout Scripture and of course in the Church’s prayer and liturgy, it would be said that Christ is the hypostatic wisdom and even the hypostatic power of God, that the power of God, or God’s own power is expressed perfectly in his Son. The powerful God expresses his power in his Son who is his Logos, who is his Word, who is his Image, who is his exact expression, who is everything that he is, not being him.
And here we have this kind of theological principle that has been elaborated by the Church Fathers, certainly people like Gregory the Theologian, in his theological orations, where Gregory would say, with Basil and the other Gregory and generally speaking this became a patristic teaching of ancient Christianity, that everything that God is, that is expressed in person, personified or hypostatic form, in his Son, the second Person of the Trinity who becomes a man: the man Jesus of Nazareth.
So the claim would be that Jesus of Nazareth, being both divine and human, being both God and, as we will reflect in the days to come, being a real human being, really anthropos, really a man, the man, you have God’s qualities and God’s characteristics, God’s idiomata to use the Greek word, his properties, shown in personal form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth himself.
For example, even before the Cappadocian Fathers, before Gregory and Basil and the other Gregory and then later John Chrysostom and the further Fathers, even before them you have Athanasius the Great, who in some sense was even the teacher of the Cappadocians and the further Fathers. All Fathers after Athanasius in Christian history consider themselves disciples of Athanasius and followers of Athanasius, and we even do today!
Well, St. Athanasius, in his fights against the Arians who denied the divinity of Christ, and in his most famous treatise On the Incarnation of the Word of God, the fact that the Son of God and Word of God, God’s only-begotten, his Logos, his Wisdom, literally becomes flesh and becomes the man Jesus, St. Athanasius makes it a kind of a principle that’s followed forever by Orthodox Christians, namely, that the one God is the Father of Jesus, and who and what and how that one God is is revealed on earth in the person of Christ, the Son of God in human form.
Then Athanasius would say that one God, the Father of Jesus, is the one God, the only God, the only God there is. And therefore he would say that the oneness of God, the unity of God is shown forth in the one Son, and there can be only one Son of God because there is only one God. And Christ shows the unity of God. And as St. Basil, the disciple of Athanasius, will say later, “God is one and even Trinity, in nature, not in number.”
One and three being numbers, apply only to created reality. They do not apply to God, strictly speaking. But we have to speak of one God so that we would know we’re not polytheists. We don’t think that there could be many gods, and it’s even impossible that there would be many gods. If there was God at all, that God has to be one. But if that God, who is God, expresses himself perfectly, then his self-expression has to be one.
So Athanasius would say the unity, the oneness of the one God, is expressed in the one Son, the one Christ. Then he would go further: if that God is the living God, then the life of that living God is his Son. So Jesus will be called “the Life,” and we will meditate on this in days to come.
If this one living God is the true God, then the truth of the true God, personally, will be shown in the person of his Son, again Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God on earth, the incarnate Logos will be the Truth, and we will speak about Jesus being the Truth.
If the one, true, and living God is the wise God, then the Wisdom of this wise God, the sophia is again personified, actualized, given to us, in the person of Christ.
For today, for now, what we want to see, what we want to try to understand, is that the same thing is true about power. If the one, true, living God is powerful, if he is all-mighty, or, to use the language of scholastic textbooks, omnipotent, if that God is omnipotent, if he is the one who is potent…
And it’s very interesting, by the way, that in [the] Latin language, the word “potent,” which means “powerful,” also means “possible,” like if you’re “impotent” you don’t have the power and you don’t have the possibility, and the term “potestas” which means “power,” also is the word for “being able,” just like in Greek. Remember I told you that “dynatos” means “power,” the powerful one, but “dynatos” also means “possibility,” having the possibility. So it’s the same thing in Latin with that particular verb, it means if you are powerful, then you are able, you have the possibility.
But what we want to see here, now, what we’re trying to [say] on our subject, is that the ominpotent God, the all-possible God, the God to whom all things are possible in heaven and on earth, is the all-powerful one, but the power of that all-powerful God, for Christians, is Jesus Christ. And St. Paul says it specifically; we just heard it: Christos estavrōmenos, crucified Christ, Christos theou dynamis kai theou sophia, Christ crucified, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, God’s Power, God’s Wisdom.
When we think about power in that sense, not in the sense of authority, not in the sense of having authority over creation or over life or death, not in the sense of strength or just simply being strong, but being powerful, having that power, that dynamis, that dynamite, so to speak, we find that many, many times referred to Christ in the New Testament. That he has power. He has not only authority over demons, for example, but he has power to cast them out. He not only has authority over the winds and the waves, but he has the power to quiet them down. He not only has authority to forgive sins, but he’s got the power to forgive [them]. Has the ability, he has the capability, the possibility of doing it, enacting it.
He not only has the authority, but he has the power. This power is spoken of a lot, about Jesus in the New Testament. For example, an example that cannot possibly not come to mind is when, in the Gospels, for example, in the Gospel according to St. Mark—it’s also in [Luke,] I believe, but in Mark, certainly—you have this case where Jesus shows that he has power and authority over life and death by raising the dead, raising Jairus’ daughter, raising the only son of the widow. He’s got that power.
But there’s also that place in the Gospel (Mark 5:22-43) where, when Jesus is going to this house because the little girl has died and he’s going to go there and show his power by raising her from the dead, this was the daughter of Jairus, when he’s going there, the story is interrupted in the Gospel narrative when a great crowd gathers around him and there’s a woman who had a hemorrhage, a flow of blood for twelve years, suffered many things under many physicians and spent all she had and grew even worse. She broke the taboo laws of her time by going out on the street when she was unclean with that blood flowing out of her, hemorrhaging, and she gets into the crowd and she hears about Jesus, and she thinks, “Well, this is my chance.” So she goes against all convention, gets out there, and she just touches his garment. She just touches the hem of his garment, and she says, “If I just touch even his garments, I shall be made whole, I shall be healed.” Or, literally, it says, “I shall be saved.”
Then it says, she does it and immediately the hemorrhage ceased and she felt in her body that she had been healed of her disease. So she felt a kind of power come into her, right? And then it says:
Jesus, perceiving in himself that power, dynamis, had gone forth from him, he immediately turned around and said, “Who touched my garments?”
The disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” and he looked around to see who had done it.
But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. (Your faith has saved you.) Go in peace and be healed (be saved) of your disease.”
The expression there is very important for our topic right now: “He perceived that power had gone out of him.” In other words, that power is in him. And this is a very interesting case, because he doesn’t lay on hands, he doesn’t spit, he doesn’t anoint, he doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t say, “Do you want to be healed?” The woman is totally anonymous, and she doesn’t do anything but touch—not even him, but his garment, the fringe of his garment, it says, the hem of his garment.
And then he says, “I know that power went out from me,” so he is a kind of incarnate power. He’s a walking power. Now, of course, our understanding is that Jesus regulates that power. He knows when to show it, how to show it, when to reveal it, when not to reveal it. For example, another example would the the Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John are taken up on the mountaintop and they see him transfigured and they see all the energy and the splendor and the glory and the light of God shining from him. Well, we could say, that was always in him. That’s the way he always was. And I don’t think we would say with some people that it was always there, people just didn’t see it, that in fact he was always walking around, shining with power exuding from him and people just didn’t know it. I think you’ve got to [understand], if you interpret the text the way it’s given to us, it was there but he wasn’t showing it. He was hiding it. He was not giving it, but it was always there.
Therefore we would say about Jesus, not only that he has power, but that he is power, and that the power that he has is the power that he is, that the power that he shows forth is the power that actually belongs to him. It is his own. And in St. John’s Gospel, the theological Gospel, he makes that point several times. He says, for example… Pilate will say, “I have the power to crucify you. I have the power to let you go.” Jesus says, “You would have no power at all if it weren’t given to you from above.” But then he himself says that he has the power to lay down his life. In St. John’s Gospel he says it specifically: “I have the power to lay down my life. I have the power to take it up again.” He doesn’t exercise that power in the way that we usually think he could, simply by raising up the dead person, for example, like Lazarus, but he’s got it.
So when he doesn’t exercise it, it’s because he chooses not to exercise it, not because he doesn’t have it. It’s his. In the theological Gospel of John, he says he doesn’t even have to pray to God for it. It’s always his. In St. John’s Gospel, he says that he and the Father are one. He said that the Father has given everything that he is to him, that he really is what the Father is in his Sonship and even in and through his humanity, because the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the son of the Virgin and lived on earth.
So he’s got all of that. And so, for example, I believe it’s in Matthew when they want to take up swords when he’s in the garden—well, it’s generally in the Gospel—he says, “Put those swords away.” He says, “Don’t you know I could call twelve legions of angels and wipe you all out if I wanted?” He’s got that power. In fact, he didn’t have to call twelve legions of angels; he could just wipe them out himself, as it will say in the Holy Scripture, in St. Paul, in the Thessalonian letter, and in the Book of Revelation: he could slay them by the breath of his lips, that his word is even a powerful reality, a two-edged sword that cuts through the bones and marrow and so on.
Everything that Jesus is is a power. And then, of course, this is extended to all the other qualities: his wisdom is a power; his truth is a power; his light is a power; his glory is a power. Everything is filled with power, that very power that he himself is, because Christ is God’s Power. In fact, in one kind of poetic rhapsody of St. Gregory the Theologian—I tried to find it, to be honest; I tried to find it and I didn’t want to keep looking, but I know it’s there—even poetically calls Jesus Christ “the Father’s right hand.” He says, “He is the Father’s right hand.” Because the right hand of God is glorified in strength. The right hand of God is filled with power. The right hand of God overcomes the enemies. In fact, even when the priests in the Orthodox Church, and the bishops, vest for the holy Liturgy, when they put the cuffs on their hands, they say, “Thy virtue, O Christ, is glorified in strength. Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorified in power.”
And by the way, the word “virtue” in Latin, that is the term for power: “virtue has gone out of him,” power, in that sense. And by the way, “powers,” like “dynamis” and “virtues,” those are also the names of one of the ranks of angels: the powers, the principalities and powers.
But Jesus is the Power over all the powers of creation, all the created powers are under his power, and he is the power of God. So Gregory the Theologian says, “He is the Father’s right hand. He not only sits at the Father’s right hand, but he is the Father’s right hand. He is the very power of God, and he has that power.
What we also want to see is this: it is certainly the teaching of holy Scripture, and the Apostles and the prophets in prefiguration, and certainly the holy Fathers, that when we think of divine power, we have to confess that if it just came to power—to create the universe or to destroy the universe or to crush the enemies or whatever—God has it. God has it, God is it, God is not without it.
But there’s a couple things we’ve got to think about when we think of that. Number one is: God has that power, and he could annihilate everything if he wanted to. But sometimes people will say that if God does not have the power to do absolutely everything that he would want to do, then he’s not really powerful.
And then what they do—the new atheists do this, by the way: Hitchens and Dawkins, in their books, The God Delusion by Dawkins and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Hitchens, and I hope at some point to reflect on the radio about these books, the new atheistic books—but one of the things that they say, thinking that they’re very clever, is that they try to prove how illogical belief in God is by saying this.
They’ll say, “If God is all-good, and he cannot make creatures good, then he is not powerful. And so if he is not powerful, he is not God, according to you guys, because your God has to be powerful.” Then they would say, “However, if God has the power to make all evil people good, and he doesn’t use that power, then he himself is not good.” So they try to build up what they consider to be a prediction that somehow disproves the existence of God. They’ll say, “If he has no power over evil creatures, to make them good, he’s not all-powerful, and if he has the power and doesn’t use it, then he’s not good.”
Now, our answer to that would be, “Hey, wait a minute. You’ve got to understand several things. Number one is: God is all-powerful, and one of the expressions of his power is to create people free, to make spirits free, to make human beings free. And once God decides to have human beings and to have angels, then God is ready to risk having creatures over which he has no power, except, if he wanted to, to destroy them, just to annihilate them. Oh yeah, he could do that. He could also have power over, well, let’s take human beings. He could have power over our bodies, to send us diseases or something like that.
But [that] is the Christian teaching, I believe it is the Christian teaching, and not all Christians hold this, by the way. There are some Christians who believe that if you don’t say that God can make every rotten, sinful person into a saint by his own power, even against the will of that person, then God is not really sovereign. Some Christians say that. I won’t say what their title, their name of that kind of church is, but there are churches who claim that the sovereignty of God is total. They even say that the impotence of creatures is total. We’re totally depraved.
But then they say that God makes an unconditional election of some of us that we can do nothing about. Then [they say] that he atones only a limited number that he wants to, and then he gives irresistible grace to those people, that cannot be fought against, and then they become holy and they can never fall away again because there’s the perseverance of the saints. The acronym for that teaching was TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of those made holy by God.
We ancient Orthodox Christians, following ancient Christianity, do not accept that at all. Why not? Because we believe that God, in his power, used his power to make free creatures. And once he makes those creatures, it’s not only that he will not violate their freedom, once he makes them, he cannot. He has to only deal with them as he can, to try to get them to love him, to follow his truth, to rejoice in his light, to delight in his life, but he can’t force by power anybody to do that. God has no power to make a person who does not want to be holy and true and beautiful and good to be so.
Creatures who have freedom and are spiritual creatures made by God’s power to be free can stand over against God forever and ever and ever if they so choose. Some people think that creatures will not resist God forever. Other people, following Scripture, think that some creatures will, and God can do literally nothing about it. He could take on their sin; he could forgive it. He can die on the Cross. He can do all kinds of things, but he has no power to compel them to believe.
And here I think it’s very important, if we’re really, strictly speaking, not to say God will not violate our freedom—or our free will, our aftexousian, the authority that we have over ourselves, the power that we have over ourselves—not only he will not, but he cannot. It would be as illogical as when I was a freshman in college, taking a course in theology and a Catholic school. There were people who said, “God is not all-powerful because he cannot make a rock bigger than he can pick up” or “God is not all-powerful because he cannot make a square circle.”
Well, that was the first time I learned the term “ontological.” The teacher of theology said, “A square circle is an ontological impossibility. It’s an absurdity. A rock bigger than God can pick up is also an absurdity.” He called it an ontological absurdity, and I ran to the dictionary after class and looked up the term “ontological.” “Ontological” means “according to its being.” So you cannot have a circle that would be square, because it would no longer be a circle.
You cannot have a square that could be circular, either. You cannot have a triangle that would have four sides. These are all absurdities. And to say that God can’t make a triangle with four sides is to speak gibberish and stupidity. But I believe it’s equally stupid—excuse me for the word—it’s equally foolish and wrong to say God could make a creature holy even if that creature didn’t want it. Because if you have a free creature, like an angel or a human being, then God gives up that kind of power, by making that person in the first place.
Now we could add one other thing, though, about divine power. And that is, that the real power of God that Christ himself is is not the power of brute force. It is not the power of compulsion. What is it? It’s the power of love. It’s the power of life. It’s the power of light. It’s the power of wisdom. It’s the power of truth. It’s the power of beauty. It’s the power of mercy. It’s the power of total humility to identify with these free creatures in order to save them by every possible powerful means that are in God’s power if that could possibly be the case.
What we have to say here in conclusion, when we meditate on Christ as the Power of God, is this great paradox: that the power of God, for what it really is, vis-a-vis human beings and angels and creatures, is not a power of brute force; it’s the power of love and truth and beauty and glory and wisdom, peace. And that’s why we say in church, “O Christ, the Wisdom and Word and Power of God, O Christ who is our peace and our power.” It’s that kind of power.
So the paradox is that, as St. Paul will say about himself and about all Christians and about God himself, “God’s strength, God’s power, is made perfect in weakness.” And he said that in II Corinthians 12. He said when he was praying for power over that messenger of Satan that was sent to harass him, the thorn in the flesh, he asked God three times to take it away, and God said no, and God said, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” And then the Apostle Paul says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Here we could apply this to Jesus Christ our Lord himself, the incarnate Son of God, the Logos in flesh, because what does Jesus do? What does God do through Jesus? He shows through Jesus the power of his love, the power of his truth, the power of his wisdom, the power of his glory. And Jesus shows that power by becoming meek and lowly and powerless and identified with those who are in the power of evil in order to deliver them from that power.
So what the paradox would be is this: in the crucified Christ who is God’s power, it is God’s power that is being shown. When Christ is crucified and becomes sin for us and becomes curse for us and dies for us, that is God expressing his divine power. That is God using power as power ought to be used: to create life and not death, the power to make life and not death. And when we think of human power, very often we think of the power to kill, the power to destroy, the power to annihilate, the power to crush, and, alas, we human beings use that kind of power all too often, the power to shame, to make people squirm, to feel pain. Well, God uses his power to do just the opposite, and he uses that power, we can say, paradoxically, by not exercising that kind of power any more.
When the sons of Zebedee said, “Let’s call down fire and wipe out this village that didn’t accept you.” He said, “That’s over, boys. That’s over. God is going to show his ultimate power now.” And as Mary says in the Magnificat, the ultimate power of God is when he looks upon the abject poverty and powerlessness of his handmaiden and becomes incarnate in her womb as a baby and becomes human.
Jesus says, “Learn from me. I am praïs, meek, and tapinos stē kardia, powerless in heart, empty of power.” And it even says in the Scripture that Jesus, though he has everything, has totally nothing. Being rich, he became poor. Being the wise one, he became a fool as far as this world is concerned. He emptied himself, poured himself out, divested himself of his power and—here’s the paradox—that very divesting of power is the powerful act of God.
That’s why we can say that Jesus destroyed Death by the power of God. The troparion, tone two, in the Orthodox Church: “When thou didst condescend unto death, O Life immortal, thou didst slay hell by the power, by the dynamis, of your theotis, your Godhead.” And by the way, St. Paul says that that dynamis and that theotis should be seen by creatures in everything that exists, and the reason we don’t see it and the reason we’re blind and ignorant and in darkness and death is because we choose ourselves and not God, and refuse to praise and glorify God.
But we sing in church, “When thou didst condescend unto death, O Life immortal, thou didst slay hell by the power of thy divinity.” And we sing it all the time during the Paschal season: “Christ is risen from the dead, from among the dead, trampling down Death by death.” So the amazing thing is that God shows his power by dying, and the power of God destroys Death when Jesus dies, and that the humiliation of Jesus and his self-emptying as the suffering servant of God is the expression of God’s power. It is how God’s power acts. That is God doing his thing. That is ho dynatos, the mighty one, showing his might by destroying Death through the act of total humiliation, condescension, and, of course, the most important four-letter word: love.
His is the power of love, and he loves us to the end, and he takes on all of our weakness and our powerlessness. And he gives up all of his power. In fact, I think we have to say that if God did not act to raise Jesus from the dead, Jesus would have stayed dead. Again, that’s an ontological absurdity and a casus irrealis and it’s just a plain stupidity. He came to destroy Death, and he knew that his death would destroy Death, and it would be the power of God that would destroy Death, and that power of God is who and what he is himself, and he expresses that power ultimately.
He shows his other kind of power. He shows it. He raises the dead; he casts out the demons; he quiets the storms; he calms the winds; he multiplies the loaves. He shows that he has the power. He shows himself transfigured with the very power and glory of God on the Transfiguration mountain. But ultimately he wants to reveal God’s ultimate power, and that is the power of love that’s stronger than death and destroys Death by dying and taking that death upon himself.
So that’s why, not only do we say, “Christ is God’s Power,” but we say Christos estavrōmenos, the crucified Christ, Christ crucified, is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. And the Wisdom and the Power of God go together.
Just one more thing that we’re going to meditate on, probably the next time, is that when Jesus was at the Passion, and before Pilate—in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; it’s in all four Gospels—they ask him, they’re asking him questions: “Are you the chosen? Are you the blessed? Are you God’s Son?” And he says, “You know that I am.” In Mark he even says, “I am. Egō eimi.” He uses that term, which is, in fact, the divine name. When they said, “Are you the Son of God?” he says, “Egō eimi. I am.”
But also, what we want to see—and this is important when we think of the divine power—is that in the garden, Jesus says, “O Father, all things are possible to you. Dynatos. You have the power. Don’t let me die. Don’t let me be crucified.” And God says, “No, you have to die.” In other words, this is the way that I’m going to show my power. Then when he’s in front of the high priest and they ask [him], “Are you the Son of God?” and he says, “I am,” and then he says… Well, let me just read it as it’s actually written (Mark 14:60-64).
The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make when I speak to you? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power, dynamis, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? We have heard the blasphemy.”
So it’s interesting that at the Passion, Jesus refers to his power. “You will see the Son of man”—and we will talk about what “Son of man” means—but, “You will see the Son of man coming in power, seated at the right hand.” And “to be seated at the right hand” means “to be in power.” And that’s what he says: “You will see the Son of man in power. You will see him as God’s Power.” And then they say that’s blasphemy, and they decide to kill him.
The same thing is in Matthew. The same thing is in Luke. The same thing, in its own way, is in John. Let’s just listen to Matthew (Matthew 26:62-65).
The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so, but I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man, seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his robes and said, “He has stated utter blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy.”
And they crucify him. So the very last words that Jesus speaks to the high priest [are]: “You will see the Son of man, seated in power, at the right hand of power.” And that Son of man, Jesus himself, is indeed, according to the Holy Scripture and the theological understanding, he is himself the Power of God. Christ crucified: God’s Wisdom, and God’s Power.