The biblical understanding of authority
The subject of “authority” is one of those sensitive issues that is often viewed with controversy or cynicism in today’s society. The nonconformist revolution of the 1960’s, together with the widely publicized scandals in government, helped to promote a trendy, stylish disregard toward ethics, laws and authority figures. However, despite these popular secular attitudes, authority remains as a very important institution to God, one which is critical for Christians to understand in order to properly relate to Him and His system of values.
To begin with, God places a high value on authority because He is the one who created it. The Bible says that all authority comes from and originates with God. He is the absolute source of authority in the universe, and has delegated His principle of authority to mankind to maintain order in the world. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).
God’s Word says that followers of Christ should be obedient to secular laws and government, because according to scripture, secular authority is intended to be a “minister of God for our good” (Rom. 13:4), and serves His purpose of keeping law and order on the earth (1 Pet. 2:14-15). The Apostle Paul wrote, “…submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).
Delegated Authority is Limited in Three Ways
- The scope of the authority is limited to the area of the authority given to them by God. God does not require us to obey delegated authorities outside the legitimate sphere of their authority. This is why wives are urged to “be submissive to your own husbands” – not to all men (1 Pet. 3:1; Eph. 5:22). For the same reason, it is inappropriate for parents to tell their adult children who they must marry, or for civil authorities to tell their citizens what religious beliefs they must hold, or for church authorities to tell Christians what jobs they may take.
- There is no such thing as autonomous delegated authority. All delegated authorities are under God’s authority. This is why when scripture addresses those under delegated authority, it also addresses those in delegated authority in the same passage and reminds them of their responsibilities before God.
- God’s design for all delegated authority is to serve (Mk. 10:41- 45; Rom. 13:4). Even though God often permits wicked people to hold positions of delegated authority, the scripture condemns the abuse of that authority for the purpose of exploitation or oppression, and God will personally call them to account for their actions.
Since submission to authority is basic to Christian Life, it is important that we understand that all authority is a God-given institution, and all types of authority are related. The Lordship of Christ is the highest source of authority that we must answer to (Matt. 28:18), but God has also ordained at least three other categories of subordinate authority in the world that we must also submit to:
(1) The Family – Children are to obey their parents (Eph. 6:10). The wife is to cooperate with her husband, which is the head of the family (Eph. 5:22-24, 1 Tim. 2:12), and the husband is to submit to Christ and love his wife (Eph. 5:23,25).
(2) The State – We are to cooperate with those authority figures and obey the local and federal laws of the land, within the boundaries of God’s laws (1 Pet. 2:13-14).
(3) The Church – Christians are to submit to the headship of Christ which is exercised through His Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and Church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20, Heb. 13:17).
God has established these authorities as the “delegated” extensions of His authority. If we resist cooperation, we are in effect, resisting God’s own authority and Lordship. This is why Paul told wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).
How Jesus exercised his authority
The authority of the Lord Jesus may be studied from various vantage points, e.g., his eternal authority before the universe existed, his incarnate authority as God’s Son in the present order of things, and his authority as it will be after this material world has been obliterated.
Christ’s Authority as Creator
One aspect of Christ that is not appreciated, even by many Christians, is his role in the original creation. In the opening lines of Scripture, Moses declared that: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The Hebrew term for “God” is a plural form (also v. 26 – “us” and “our”; cf. 3:22).
This is the first biblical hint of the triune Deity, known in the New Testament as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, John declares that the eternal Word became flesh, and: “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that has been made” (Jn. 1:1, cf. v. 14).
Paul likewise alludes to Jesus’ role as Creator (Col. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 8:6b), as does the writer of Hebrews (cf.Heb. 1:2b).
Christ the Sustainer
In addition to the Lord’s creative capacity, he is involved in sustaining the present order of the created universe.
Paul contended that it is by the authority of Christ that “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, ESV). Further, Jesus, in connection with his creation role, is said to “uphold all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3).
Were it not for the sustaining authority of the Son of God, our universe would come apart at the seams!
Christ’s Incarnate Authority
In discussing the authority of Jesus during his earthly sojourn, it is important to understand something of the nature of Christ’s in-the-flesh existence.
Though he maintained his full divine nature as the Son of God, for the love of others he made the decision to not “grasp” (hold on to) his status of “equality” with the Father (in the matter of authority). Instead, he “emptied himself” (a voluntary act at a definite point in time) of his sovereign independence, assuming the role of a “servant” (literally a “slave”) (Phil. 2:5-10).
His exercise of authority, therefore, was subservient to, and consistent with, that of his Father’s (cf. Jn. 5:30; 6:38). This is what the Lord had in mind when he spoke of the “authority” that was “given to” him by the Father (Jn. 17:2).
His divine authority “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7) is important to understand as we engage this study. From this vantage point, let us reflect upon various uses of his authority as “the Son of man.”
Conditions of Nature.
Jesus was able to exercise supernatural authority over the forces of nature.
When the Lord was in a boat with his disciples on the Sea of Galilee, a storm “came down” upon that body of water (695 feet below sea level—an environment facilitating violent weather). The waves were crashing over the vessel, covering it, and it began to be filled with water. The disciples, though experienced fishermen, were terrified. They awoke the Lord, who was asleep in the stern, and cried out for his help.
Christ “rebuked” both the wind and the sea, and immediately the wind ceased, and there was a “great calm” upon the water (Mt. 8:23ff; Mk. 4:35ff; Lk. 8:22ff). The verbal forms denote an instant state of being. A. T. Robertson noted that ordinarily a sudden drop in wind does not create an immediate calm of the water (I.69).
When entering Jerusalem a few days before his death, Christ and his disciples came to a fig tree at the roadside. It was leafed out, but had no fruit; this was strange since fig trees bore the fruit first, then came the leaves.
The Lord saw this as an opportunity to rebuke the Hebrew populous. Spiritually speaking, the corrupt nation feigned the appearance of productivity but was barren—even on the verge of murdering the Messiah. Christ thus spoke to the tree saying, “Be without fruit forever more.” Instantly the tree withered away, beginning from the roots (Mk. 11:12-14).
Jesus’ authority, even over nature, was phenomenal.
The authority of the Lord was evidenced by his total control of living creatures.
When Christ and his disciples were at Capernaum, those who collected the temple tax inquired of Peter as to whether his teacher (Jesus) paid that tax. The apostle replied affirmatively.
Later, however, Jesus made an important point to the apostle. A son was exempt from paying taxes to his father; as the Son of God, therefore, the Lord was free from the temple tax.
Nonetheless, to avoid causing others to stumble, he instructed the apostle to cast a hook into the Sea of Galilee; the first fish caught would have a coin in its mouth sufficient for the tax covering both Christ and Peter. The Lord brought a specially prepared creature to the apostle’s hook.
The healing miracles of Jesus involved of a wide variety of ailments, e.g., leprosy (Mt. 8:2ff), congenital blindness (Jn. 9:1ff), restoration of a severed ear (Lk. 22:50-51), deafness and impediment of speech (Mk. 7:32ff), etc.
In this connection it is appropriate to mention that one aspect of the Savior’s miracles was to establish his authority.
At Capernaum the Lord encountered a man afflicted with palsy, who had been brought to Christ on a stretcher by four friends. Seeing their faith being demonstrated, Jesus said to the crippled man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
The Lord thus explained his supernatural act.
“That you may know that the Son of man possesses authority on earth to forgive sins (he said to the sick of palsy), I say to you, Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Mk. 2:10).
There were three cases during Christ’s ministry when he raised people from the dead—the daughter of Jairus (Mt. 9:18-26; Mk. 5:21-43), a widow’s son (Lk. 7:11-15), and Lazarus of Bethany (Jn. 11:43-44).
In addition, there is the subtle suggestion that in some way, the Lord was instrumental as well in the resurrection of his own body (cf. Jn. 2:19).
Demons (not “devils” KJV) were evil spirits (Mt. 12:43-45) under the control of Satan. These were permitted to inhabit the bodies of some people during the earthly days of Christ and his apostles.
The New Testament clearly indicates that demons were under the ultimate control of the Savior. Demons tormented a man who lived in the country of the Gerasenes. When Christ expelled the evil spirits from the unfortunate man, the demons asked the Lord’s permission to enter a herd of swine nearby. Even they acknowledged the Messiah’s authority (Mk. 5:6-7).
A consideration of the New Testament evidence reflects the fact that Christ exercises authority over these heavenly beings. In speaking of the coming day of judgment, Jesus himself declared:
“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity” (Mt. 13:41).
Prophet Ezekiel’s challenge to bad leaders Ezekiel 34:1 – 8; 11 – 16
As a result of this poor leadership, the nations was scattered from the land, language indicative of the exilic state of the nation in Ezekiel’s day (vv. 5–6). Again, rather than offering protection and guidance, Judah’s shepherds saw the people as personal property to be used and discarded whenever expedient. Instead of self-sacrificial watch care, Judah’s shepherds sacrificed the people to hold their own power, privilege, and prestige (v. 5). As the people scattered, there was no one to search them out and draw them back to place of security and peace (v. 6).
In the absence of good shepherds, the flock of God was scattered and plundered (v. 8). The passage seems to beg the question, “If Judah’s shepherds are taken away, who will guide the people?” Quite simply, the Lord will step in and remove the false shepherds from their office so that they can no longer feed themselves at the flock’s expense (v. 8). In the place of wicked shepherds, God will come to protect and guard His own. Because of all their evil, God’s word of judgment comes upon the shepherds as He stands against the wicked and unrepentant (v. 9–10). Ezekiel uses the same language used in God’s denunciation of Jerusalem (5:8), and was typically used against the enemies of Yahweh.