Jesus said some audacious things. Let’s take a quick look at a few examples. We’ll grab one from each Gospel just to be fair.
“Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” – Jesus, Matthew 13:17
Jesus was speaking to his disciples, and he basically said that Isaiah and Ruth and all of their other favorite faith heroes would have loved to switch places with them, because they got to hang out with him. He boldly claimed to be the high point of history, God’s feature attraction after centuries of previews. Pretty audacious, huh?
“Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” – Jesus, Mark 9:41
Those words are pretty audacious, too. Jesus claimed the title “Messiah” for himself, which is no small thing. And he said that he is so important that people will receive rewards and blessings for treating his friends well.
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Jesus, Luke 23:43
Jesus spoke these words to the terrorist dying on the cross next to his. He had the audacity to declare himself in charge of the heavenly guest list, and to announce that heaven was open to a guy whose only qualification for entrance was that he had asked Jesus to put in a good word for him.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” – Jesus, John 8:51
That statement was so audacious that the people who first heard Jesus say it immediately accused him of being demon possessed. They pointed out that some pretty swell folks like Abraham and the prophets died, so Jesus would have to be pretty crazy to claim that doing what he said would make people death-proof.
Audacious words, huh? But none of those statements are really the point of today’s post. We’ll come back to those specific audacious sayings in the future and examine them in further detail. But for now, I’d like for you to notice something about the way Jesus said all of them. Did you catch the repeating phrase? Look again, and notice how Jesus began each of the four statements:
“Truly I tell you…”
In the Gospels, that phrase is the drumroll before several of Jesus’ major announcements and pronouncements. It was a catchphrase of Jesus, a way that he signaled that people better be paying attention because it was about to get good.
Even people who are skeptical about how reliable the Gospels are in conveying the actual words of Jesus have no doubt that he really used that phrase. It shows up too many times in too many independent sources to be made up. And it is not a phrase that any follower of Jesus used later in the New Testament, so we know it is not just a “church saying” that somebody wrote into the Jesus story.
The phrase shows up 79 times in the Bible. All 79 times are in the Gospels. All 79 times, the phrase is on the lips of Jesus.
The word translated “truly” is the Greek word amen. That’s right – Jesus started all of these sayings with the word we usually use when we are wrapping up a prayer and we want to let God know we are bringing it in for a landing. The Greek language actually just hijacked the word amen from Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. It comes from a word meaning “confirmed” or “verified.” It is a word normally used at the end of a statement to affirm its validity. Jesus distinctively used it to begin his statements.
So what Jesus does with the word “truly” in that unique phrase is unprecedented. But what is really mind-blowing is what he does with the “I tell you” part of the phrase. Jesus uses the phrase to claim an audacious amount of authority.
Other rabbis of Jesus’ day buttressed the authority of their words by quoting other recognized experts. Their teaching would be full of “Rabbi Hillel tells you…” or “Moses tells you…” or “the teaching of the elders tells you…”
Jesus came along and simply said, “Truly I tell you…” No need to quote any other authority. There was no higher authority he could quote. Jesus just quoted himself.
He didn’t even say, “thus says the Lord” like the Old Testament prophets did. He just said, “thus says ME!”
Jesus used a phrase 79 times in the Gospels that made it clear that he believed that his words had weight and value and impact and importance simply because he was the one saying them.
“Truly I tell you…”
Don’t you love the audacity of that?
Want to explore further?
- Grab a Bible (one with Jesus’ words in red would make things easier). Pick a Gospel, and scan Jesus’ words until you find an example of him beginning a statement with the phrase, “Truly I tell you…”
- Go to biblegateway.com and type the phrase “truly I tell you” in the search bar. Scroll through several examples of Jesus using the phrase, and notice the variety of statements with which he used that unique prelude.
- Read the audacious claim Jesus made about his words in Mark 13:31.
- Ponder what it means for your life today that Jesus claimed that his words have such authority.