By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology
In Part 1, we had a somewhat detailed look at the “yoke” imagery in the Old Testament, which frequently referred to oppressive human governments in contrast to God’s gracious form of government. Out of this contrast, a further contrast between the structure of the first-century church based upon the fatherhood of God, and contemporary church structures rooted in modern democratic forms of human governance, becomes a little more obvious. In particular, this is a contrast between governance rooted in modern individualism versus the more tried and tested biblical form of governance based upon family relationships.
The Yoke Jesus Offers
As a result of understanding this “yoke” imagery as speaking of governance, it is quite feasible to understand the yoke that Jesus is offering in Matthew 11:25-30 as speaking of the yoke Jesus Himself embraced as a human being under the rule of the Father, but not as the beast of burden in the yoked relationship. In the yoke imagery, the beast of burden did all the hard work, while the farmer yoked to the beast directed the service of the beast and controlled how that service was undertaken. The farmer had the authority, wore the pants so to speak, within the yoked relationship to the beast, usually an ox. Hence, the people in the Old Testament were yoked like oxen to their oppressive kings/rulers.
Jesus, on the other hand:
- had the Father hand over all things to Him, even though the Father is Lord of heaven and earth (Matthew 11:25-27; compare John 3:35; 13:3; 1 Corinthians 15:27);
- had been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18; compare John 5:22-27; 17:2; Colossians 2:10; Hebrews 2:6-9);
- only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19);
- claimed that it was the Father living in Him who was doing all the works Jesus performed (John 14:10); and
- only spoke the Father’s words (John 14:24).
Jesus was yoked to His Father in intimate relationship, proclaiming the coming of the “kingdom” (e.g., Mark 1:15), that is, God’s kingdom, the rule of the Father that Jesus Himself, as the Son, shared in. Jesus as the Son of Man, representing the new humanity in Him, therefore demonstrated the Father’s “yoke” which was not oppressive and burdensome like the yoke of human rulers
The Yoke Jesus Himself Wore
I firmly believe that the yoke Jesus offers in Matthew 11:29 was in fact the very yoke Jesus Himself wore as a human being in the service of God’s kingdom, because:
- the Holy Spirit now speaks to us as Jesus’ present-day disciples whatever He hears the Father and Son say (John 16:13), just as the Spirit spoke to Jesus what the Father was saying;
- it is the Spirit who guides us and does all the work, both in evangelism and in maturing believers (e.g. John 16:8-11; Acts 1:8; 4:8, 31; 8:29, 39-40; 9:31; 13:2-4, 9-12; 15:28; 16:6-10; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 10; 6:11; 14:23-25; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18; Galatians 3:1-2; 5:22-23; Romans 8:13, 26-27; 15:17-19; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 3:16-17; 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:6-7); and
- it is the same Spirit Jesus was anointed with in power to do good and heal all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38).
This explains why Jesus stated that it was His yoke. This also explains why, in my opinion, Jesus’ yoke was easy, and His burden light! With the Father doing all the work through the Holy Spirit, the Christian community through their relationship with Jesus are yoked to the ultimate power and authority in the universe.
This Yoke Was Offered to Us Communally
I am convinced that the yoke Jesus offers us was offered to the whole community of His disciples, not just to the twelve disciples, or to individual leaders or believers, because:
- the second-person plural “you” is used consistently throughout Matthew 11:7-30;
- in Matthew 11:7, Jesus had been addressing the crowds concerning John the Baptist, and there is nothing to suggest in the chapter that Jesus had turned from the crowds to address only the twelve disciples as leaders;
- Jesus was calling out to all who would come to Him in Matthew 11:28; and
- the yoke speaks of the governance of the whole people of God under the gracious rule of the Father.
Hence, what arises for followers of Jesus is not some form of a democratically-structured government which is based upon individualism where individual desires, needs and insights are held in fluid, and at times strained, tension with the desires, needs and insights of the larger groups within the community — this results in various forms of political power struggles within church congregations, and across church denominations.
Instead, a Christian community should be embracing the powerful yet gracious rule of the Father through the Son by the Spirit as a shared experience where the Father does all the work, for the yoke Jesus embraced with the Father as a human being He offers to us as His community of disciples. It is then, and only then, that the Christian community can ever do even greater works than Jesus Himself did (John 14:12), for Jesus was only one man in a very large world.
Contemporary Church Governance
My experiences of church leadership and governance leave me in no doubt which form of government operates almost universally in Australian churches. I have found that church leaders to some degree or another:
- expect their congregation to commit to the vision either the head pastor/minister or the inner core of leaders determines for the church;
- tend to make decisions concerning the church for and on behalf of the congregation without full congregational involvement and approval, even where churches are supposed to be governed by congregations democratically;
- tend to resist the giftedness of the whole congregation in order to protect their own status as the more gifted ones in the assembly, which in turn enhances their own prestige, and garners respect and authority;
- determine in advance how each meeting should be conducted and ordered;
- seriously struggle to facilitate the supernatural manifestation of the Spirit in church meetings so that church members are genuinely built up and matured into Christlikeness; and
- have absolutely no idea how the greater church community can ever come to one mind on any one thing, let alone all things (note 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:2 and 1 Peter 3:8 in the light of Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:16).
Furthermore, it is rather obvious to me that this present democratic-style rule of the church by privileged office-bearers within the various church leadership structures is not causing the church to impact our nation in any significant way, hence the contemporary church right across the Western World has been in a serious and steady decline, despite the mega-church phenomenon. Burnout and depression among Christian leaders/ministers throughout the Western World is at epidemic levels — this is not the rest Jesus offers us. Things need to change!
Restructuring Under God’s Governance
For me, personally, the way forward is to restructure how we do church so that Jesus Himself personally guides and directs us as the Head of His Body through the charismatic giftings across the whole local Christian community, which is facilitated and safe-guarded by all five ministry giftings, not just pastors and teachers. This is, in my understanding, the clear meaning of Ephesians 4:11-16, Ephesians 2:19-22 and Colossians 2:19 in tandem with passages like 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. I have experienced such a manifest, supernatural presence of Jesus in the midst of the congregation on some rare occasions where Jesus Himself dynamically, in person, in the here and now, speaks and acts in the midst of His people.
I am therefore convinced that this can occur regularly when a careful reassessment of leadership structures is implemented on the basis of family, not some form of democracy rooted in individualism. It is time for the church to address its disunity, come to one mind on all things, and grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ as sons of the Father together in one household. More on how that can be achieved another day.
It is time to embrace the true yoke Jesus offers, and carefully with humility and appreciation cast off the yoke Christian leaders have put on their respective congregations by not allowing those leaders to solely determine what is best for the Christian communities they oversee. Then, and only then, will the secular community outside the church sit up and take notice, so that eventually, we won’t be such a joke to them anymore.
To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.
Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.
Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell. He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life. In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide. He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.
Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.