(Re)Vision Leadership Part 1

What would leadership look like if we understood the being of leadership as much as the doing of leadership?

The prefix ‘re’ in the Latin means ‘again, back’ and the word ‘vision’ in the verb form means to ‘imagine’. From these understandings, one could infer that the re-vision means to ‘again imagine’ or put another way to ‘imagine again’.

One opportunity that I see in leadership is to imagine again how Jesus led from his being, which informed his doing. One way that we see this in scripture is, Jesus as Wisdom personified.

As Wisdom personified, Jesus was the messianic sage the children of Israel had long awaited.[1] Describing the context within which a Jewish audience would comprehend the Word’s personification, Craig Keener concludes that “the personification … makes sense. The Old Testament had personified Wisdom (Prov 8), and ancient Judaism eventually identified personified Wisdom, the Word and the Law (the Torah), sometimes identifying them with each other (e.g., Sirach 24:1, 23; Baruch 3:28–4:1).”[2]

Witherington agrees that the view of Jesus as sage is both possible and compatible with his personification of Wisdom.[3] This role is confirmed by his dominant teaching style, which is similar to that of Jewish sages before him. Witherington writes that in all four Gospels “even a conservative estimate” would find that “at least 70% of the Jesus tradition is in the form of some sort of Wisdom utterance such as an aphorism, riddle, or parable.”[4] Some scholars note characteristics that Jesus’s parables share with those of other Jewish sages, including introductory formulae, similarity of length and structure, common topics, and varied “approaches to interpretations.”[5]

Jesus’s sapiential speech was also vastly different from that of the sages before him. Recipients of traditional wisdom teachings were typically among the wealthy, whereas Jesus was a man of the poor. Carole R. Fontaine notes that wisdom teachings normally supported existing societal institutions, were intended to be observable in creation, and were backed by authoritative language.[6] Yet Jesus chose a plebian audience and “taught a Wisdom that entailed a counter order … often … a Wisdom from below, not one that propped up the status quo or supported the values of the wealthy few.”[7]

Jesus further broke with the status quo by teaching in narrative meshalim,[8] which was uncommon among other sages but falls under the prophetic modification of wisdom. Jesus not only taught about wisdom but saw himself as being a mashal.[9] Witherington explains how Jesus’s view in this regard extended beyond that of all other prophets:

What is especially daring about the idea of Jesus taking the personification of Wisdom and suggesting that he was the living embodiment of it, is that while a prophet might be seen as a mashal or prophetic sign, no one, so far as one can tell, up to that point in early Judaism had dared to suggest that he was a human embodiment of an attribute of God—God’s wisdom.[10]

As Wisdom, Jesus embodied the very Kingdom message that he taught.[11] According to Leander E. Keck, “Jesus is himself a parable.”[12] Keck adds that “Jesus preferred parables not merely because he found them useful but primarily because there is an inner connection between the parabolic mode of speech and the mode and motive of his work.”[13]

With “the kingdom of heaven … at hand” (Matt. 4:17), both Jesus’s words and person provide the way by which one repents. In his embodiment of Wisdom, a future hope becomes a present-day reality, with the reign of God fundamentally shifting the way one lives. “Unlike the commonplaces of much wisdom tradition, which says the world will always go on as a place in which the fools repeat the same mistakes, Jesus sees the coming of the Reign of God as an opportunity for radical change.”[14] Thus, Jesus the paracletic leader facilitated learning through his actions and by speaking to his audience via “indirect speech” that “required concentration and rumination to be understood.”[15] Even as he connected with his audience through the use of the ordinary and familiar in his teachings, Jesus’s infusion of meaning regarding these things invited his listeners to “re-envision reality.”[16]

Jesus demonstrates what it means to be fully human. One aspect of his example involves leadership. In full Trinitarian cooperation, he fulfilled his mission as the incarnate Son of God, being fully dependent on the Holy Spirit to do what the Father sent Him to do. As the quintessential paracletic leader, Jesus modeled the Spirit-led approach of coming alongside others and facilitating change through his words and actions. The promise of Jesus to his current and future disciples—“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 NIV)—is fulfilled through his ongoing presence by way of the second Paraclete, the Holy Spirit.


[1] Shailer Mathews does a wonderful job examining the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. See Shailer Mathews, “The Jewish Messianic Expectation in the Time of Jesus,” The Biblical World 12, no. 6 (December 1898): 437–443, [2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), sec. [John]1:1–18, Kindle. [3] Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000) 158–159. [4] Ibid., 155–156. [5] Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 58–68. [6] Carole R. Fontaine, Traditional Sayings in the Old Testament: A Contextual Study (Sheffield, UK: Almond Press, 1982), 150–151. [7] Witherington, Jesus the Sage, 201. [8], s.v. “proverb,” accessed June 17, 2020, The Hebrew meshalim means “proverb.” [9] Witherington, Jesus the Sage, 201; italics mine. [10] Ibid., 204. [11] “βασιλεία (basileia). n. fem. kingdom, reign, rule, dominion. This word typically means dominion or rule. This is a general word for ‘kingdom.’ The NT often speaks specifically about the kingdom of God—the loving, redemptive rule of Israel’s God that is being put into place through the ministry of Jesus. The gospel is the news of this kingdom; when Jesus begins his public ministry, he preaches (kēryssō) ‘the gospel (εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion) of God,’ saying, ‘the kingdom (basileia) of God has come near. Repent and believe in the gospel (euangelion)’ (Mark 1:14–15). Matthew speaks repeatedly (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) of Jesus proclaiming (kēryssō) ‘the gospel (euangelion) of the kingdom (basileia),’ and Luke similarly speaks repeatedly (Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16) of Jesus proclaiming the good news (euangelizomai) of the kingdom (basileia) of God.” Chris Kugler, “Gospel,” in Lexham Theological Wordbook, ed. Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, and Rachel Klippenstein (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), Logos Bible Software 8. [12] Leander E. Neck, A Future for the Historical Jesus: The Place of Jesus in Preaching and Theology (Minneapolis: First Fortress Press, 1981), 244. [13] Ibid. [14] Pheme Perkins, Jesus as Teacher, Understanding Jesus Today (New York: Cambridge Press, 1990), 44. [15] Witherington, Jesus the Sage, 159. [16] Ibid., 187.