When Jesus commissioned the disciples, "He called...and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." Mk 6:7 When He sent them to make disciples and teach, it was with the announcement that all authority had been given unto Him, and He would be with them. When Jesus called them as disciples, He prepared them. When He sent them out as apostles, He authorized them to go in His Name.
There are likely no more confusing terms in all of Scripture than authority. We tend to take it terms of the world's idea that I have authority, I can tell you what to do. I can further enforce my will on you in so far as I can do that from the exterior. You must either obey me or face the consequences that I bring to bear.
This is a fair understanding of the authority of the Law. It is also why the Law fails to bring about the perfection of those who live under the Law. We might say that it is the authority of Satan as we see it pointed out in Luke's account of the Temptation of Christ. "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours."Lk 4:6ff Satan says, in effect, "If you will bring in the Kingdom of God through the Law, I will give you free reign in the creation. We do not like the sound of those words from the lips of Satan, but they tell us something about the shape of the playing field.
They were the same words that the Jews spoke, "If you will be the Messiah we want, we will accept you, enthrone you, and follow you to see you destroy the yoke of the Romans." The echoes can still be heard from parts of the church that want to make people follow some preconceived idea of God to the exclusion of all others. The thrust today of those who would lump all of the world's religions into one lump because there is one God sounds the same call.
The truth is that Jesus rejected the temptation to become master of the world's governments. He had something more in mind; and the meaning of authority was to be changed, and conformed unto God's definition. Authority was no longer to be external in operation. It was to bring about an inner change that would enable people to move in the will of God rather than an external coercion to force people into the will of God.
I recall a teaching that became extensive in the Florida area some years ago, about spiritual authority. It picked up the idea that every person needed someone over them to tell them what to do. Those who bought the system found themselves a shepherd under whom they could live with the sure knowledge that they would never come under judgment if they obeyed their shepherd. If they were misled their shepherd would have to take the heat from God.
My reaction to the teaching was almost violent. I was under the impression that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, had been raised from the dead, and His sheep knew His voice. Why then, did I need another shepherd? I had always shied away from the title of shepherd that members of the flock would use when they referred to me. I was not the shepherd. If anything I was a bellwether, one of the old sheep that knew enough to stay close to the Good Shepherd. I was not even to be a sheep dog, going around yipping at the heels of the sheep. I was one of the flock, sharing with others the access to the One Shepherd who both knew us and loved us.
The teaching did give me occasion to go back and search the Scriptures for the use of the terms for authority. I have always been fascinated by the fact that the Greek word for authority is exousia, a construct word composed of ex, and ousia. Ex means out of. We are familiar with its use over doors where we read Exit, or the way out. Ousia is a word meaning substance. It refers to the properties of any given object . When the church settled on the formulation of the Holy Trinity, they spoke of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as being homo-ousia, of the same substance. They were not, as some wanted to say, homoi-ousia, of like substance. Consequently they wielded the authority of God out of their Godness. They were God. The three were a Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead.
When we consider Christian authority in the same light, we see that we have authority that is grounded in what we are, not in what legal power we wield. If we are a King, we have authority to act out of our Kingliness. We cannot, because we are a King, wield Christian authority. We must be a Christian to wield Christian authority. We may also be a King, but the two authorities are grounded in different qualities of being
Perhaps we can see it a little clearer if we would look at the prologue of John's Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God... All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made....He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; but to as many as received Him, He gave the authority to become the children of God." Jn1:1,3,11-12 John proclaims the entire Gospel in the prologue. The rest of the text is commentary on what we find here.
To find a part of the commentary on this passage, we may look at chapter three. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, because he doesn't want anyone else to see him talking with Jesus. Not all of the Jews were willing to condemn Jesus, but they knew that the rest would not hesitate to condemn anyone caught with Jesus whom they first condemned. Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus is a teacher come from God, and Jesus responds with a statement that seems to have nothing to do with the opening statement. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Jn 3:3
Nicodemus tries to deal with that statement in the flesh, and finds it impossible to grasp, so Jesus reiterates what He has says, and adds a bit for clarity. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Jn 3: 5-6
What Jesus is saying, in effect, was, "If you are going to wield the authority to become a child of God, your ousia (substance) must be changed. You must become spirit because God is Spirit." When we have been changed, we can act out of the new substance. There is no evidence that there was not a spirit in Nicodemus. The problem seemed to be that it was oriented toward the flesh and the Law. There was an interior change needed to reorient toward God; and that change was to be made by the Spirit. John discusses that at greater length in Chapters 14-16, which culminates with the great High Priestly prayer of Jesus in Chapter 17 were we are all to be one with God and with one another.
When we are made one with Jesus, when we find that He does, in fact, dwell in us and we in Him, we are authorized to do what He sends us to do. Ah! Now we can go out and tell people what to do, and make them do it - for their own good, of course.
Not quite! That is not the what Jesus did. When we read the opening Chapter of Mark, we get a run down on what Jesus did with authority. We also find that what He did, He also authorized us to do in His Name.
When John, the Baptist had been thrown in prison, Jesus came into the regions of Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God, saying, "The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the Gospel." Mk 1:15 It was not when you die, you can go to heaven. It was not shape up or go to hell. It was the Kingdom of God has come to you. Repent, turn around and look in the right direction, know the King, and you will find that the good news is not something about the Romans and the Jews. It is something about the reign of God in our lives, here and now. It is something about our being brought into the presence of the God of the entire universe to become His children by adoption and grace.
Jesus had the authority to preach the Kingdom of God because He knew the Kingdom of God. He knew the King. At His baptism, the voice from heaven had said, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." Mk 1:11 It was at that point that divine authority was committed to human flesh. It is notable that Jesus did not threaten anyone with external authority, but sought to invite them into the Kingdom of God to hear the good news.
The next act of authority was to call Peter and Andrew, James and John to be His disciples. They were to be His followers. They were to learn from Him about the authority they would later wield. When He called, the call was simple, "Follow me, and I will make and I will make you to become fishers of men." There was no coercion. There was invitation.
The call of God seems always to be by invitation. I can never remember a time when God threatened me with damnation if I didn't do what He told me to do. I can remember a number of times that He invited me to participate in some task with Him. It has always appeared to me that the authority to call disciples is something we exercise for God, but something God exercises through us.
I love to ask the question of how many people Peter saved with his sermon on Pentecost. There will invariably be someone who will say three thousand, which gives me opportunity to point out that Peter did not save anyone on Pentecost. Peter preached and God added. When we exercise the authority of Jesus to call disciples, we must also remember the statement, "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." Jn`6:65
Our occasion for calling disciples is not an effort to go out and do something for Jesus. It is our effort to allow Him to be present in us and through us, calling those whom He wills to follow Him. His authority is still the unimposing love that we see as He reaches out to the fishermen by the lakeside.
As He taught in the synagogue, He taught as one with authority. He was not in the mode of citing previous teachers with connections back to Moses. He was teaching with the authority of one who knew the Kingdom, saying, "The Kingdom of God is like.." The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who sowed seed, and went in and out, and it grows up, firsts the blade and then the ear and then the full grain in the ear." The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, when it falls into the ground..." The Kingdom of God is like a dragnet..."
There was neither a string of reputable names nor a threat as to what needed to be done. It was simply this is what it is like. The people were amazed. What He taught must have had the ring of truth from one who was not a noted student of the other rabbis, at least as far as we know.
Before He could get out of the synagogue he was confronted by one possessed by an unclean spirit who came yelling that He knew who He was, and asking if He had come to destroy them. He said very simply, "Shut up, and Come out!" That may be a bit different from most translations, but it is descriptive of what happened. The reaction of the people was, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority, He even commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." Mk 1:27
It is significant that while He commands the unclean spirits and they come out, He does not command the host to do anything. In the account of the return of the seventy in Luke's Gospel, Jesus says, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you." Lk 10:19 He had not given them authority over any person to exercise authority over them. He had given them authority over the spirits to set the persons free.
When Jesus went to the house of Peter, He healed his mother in law so that she might be free from the disease that caused her fever, and that she might get about her intent in the household of serving the guests. That is not so much a proclamation that women are supposed to be servile, as an indication that healing is to enable us to do what we are supposed to be about. The healing of the body establishes the ousia, or substance as capable of being expressed in action. I am a servant. I have the authority to serve when I am well enough to serve.
The last expression of authority that Jesus manifests at the beginning of His ministry in Mark, and repeats over and over throughout the Gospel, is found at the beginning of Chapter two. The four come bringing the paralytic on the stretcher. They can't get to Him from the outer fringes of the crowd, so they show their ingenuity and persistent faith by going up on the roof and removing the tiles, so they can let the man down into the living room on his pallet.
Jesus turned and saw their faith, and turned to the man and said, "Your sins are forgiven." The Pharisees took issue with that exercise of authority. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" I would ask the same question; and Jesus, who knew what they were thinking responded. "It doesn't matter what I say to heal this man, but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." He turned to the man and said, "Take your bed and go home." He could forgive sins because He was authorized to forgive sins. He, in turn has authorized us to exercise the same ministry of the forgiveness of sins.
When we evaluate the nature of the authority Jesus wielded, we find that it was always an authority beneath a person to set them free from bondage, or to lift them up and move them toward wholeness. It was not the same authority that many evangelists use in His Name. There was no threat to those who came to Him, there was only the manifestation of His healing love that reconciled the people to Abba and the wholeness Abba intends for all of His children.
There are additional authorities cited in Scripture. In Romans thirteen Paul writes, "Be subject to the higher authorities." He is writing about the government, and points out that the purpose of government is to maintain order in the society. Those who are in power are agents of God for the purpose of maintaining this order.
I would point out the martyrs who were put to death for their faith were always subject to the higher authorities, but they were not always obedient. They were subject to the authorities, but they were obedient to God. The early document relating the martyrdom of Polycarp, a legendary student of St. John shows us a Christian who was taken into custody because some zealot had disturbed the peace of the officials. The officials of the area tried to find a way for him to be set free. The ironic truth is that the zealot recanted, and Polycarp was burned. He was subject, but refused to be obedient at the cost of denying his faith.
What many people overlook at the beginning the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians is the gift of confession. The early Christians gave great honor to those who, when confronted with the court's demand to curse Jesus and offer incense to Caesar, would say, "Jesus is Lord." That was the indication that they were filled with Holy Spirit. They were subject to the higher powers, but they were obedient to the Spirit.
When Jesus stood before Pilate, the same scenario is seen. Pilate says, Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and authority to crucify you?" This translation of John 19:10 is rare. All of the English translations that I have seen, translate the word exousia, as power, but the Greek text still reads authority, and shows no alternative readings in the footnotes. As a result, the translation is mine.
Jesus replied, "You have no authority at all, except it be given you from on high..." Authority comes from God alone. It is to be noted that the difference between the authority of Satan, in the Old Creation, under the Law, is vastly different from the authority of Jesus, in the New Creation, under grace. Perhaps that is why those who translated this particular passage used the word power instead of authority.
I cite this passage to point out that the authority of the world carries with it the power to impose judgment on the one over whom it is exercised. The authority of Jesus, when it is exercised in the power of Holy Spirit, does not have the same capacity to impose. It must be exercised in love, and love does not impose. It does carry with it the power to effect change within the person toward whom it is exercised.
The authority I am called to wield as a Christian has nothing to do with the imposition of judgment. It has to do with the healing and restoration of the people of God who are willing to receive ministry grounded in the authority of Jesus Christ. The two must be recognized and honored if we are to avoid the confusion that we see in the churches today, where the ministry is seen as wielding authority over the laity, and in some cases have robbed the laity of their own ministry rather than using the authority of Jesus to set them free to exercise the ministry to which God has sent them.
While there is a necessary element of external authority involved in the government of the church, it must be seen as that which offers an orderly body in which the freedom of Holy Spirit to direct the lives and ministries of the people may be found. If we are to fulfill the commissions of Jesus to the church, we must be aware of what it is we are sent to do, and the nature of the authority we are sent to wield.
The passage in which this issue is made amply clear to anyone who reads it is Mark 10:42ff. "And Jesus called them to Him and said to them, 'You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men
exercise authority over them. But is shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.'"
That is not a passage to exhort the Christian to go out and become relevant to the world by doing what the world asks. If that were so, then certainly Jesus would have been more attentive to the Sanhedrin, and less attentive to Abba. He would done what they had asked, to demonstrate His servant hood. He would have called a troop of destroying angels to rout the Romans, and what? There would have been no cross. He would have, in effect yielded to the temptation of Satan to wield the power and the glory of the Kingdoms of the earth, rather than the Kingdom of God.
That was not the case because Jesus did not come to serve the world in the manner that the world would demand. He came to serve the world in the purpose for which Abba sent Him into the world. He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. He served us as Abba designed the service. He wielded an authority that did not bring people into further bondage, but set them free from the bondage in which they found themselves. He was not subject to the will of man, but to the will of God.
When we decide to walk as disciples of this one who bore the Sin of the world, that we might be set free from Sin, then we must be willing to face the same rejection that He faced. If the world hated Him, then they will hate us. If we are to be relevant to the world, we must find our direction, not from the world, but from the One who created it.
When we turn from prayer as the source of our initiative in the world, and seek our direction from the world to which we have been sent, we yield to the Temptation of Christ to do God's things, the world's way. The truth is that we cannot truly be tempted as He was tempted until we have made some contact with Holy Spirit, so that we know that we are not left alone in the world. We can know God, and we can be led by the Spirit. We are not dependent on the world for the wisdom we need to do God's work.
I recall the time in which I realized this difference in the nature of the authority of Jesus and the authority of the world. I was serving on one of the Diocesan Boards, and was having a great deal of difficulty seeing how our actions were enhancing the lives of those whom we were to be supporting in ministry. It dawned on me that I had never had anyone ask me what I needed to better serve the Lord in the place where I was serving. They had always simply told me what the program was going to be, and asked me to support it.
I had never been able to make a program run in my parishes. They always seemed to be structured for another congregation. They did not emerge from the communities that I served. They were not the product of our own prayer. I sometimes wondered whether they were the product of prayer at all. I had seen them grow out of small group discussion and news print.
One particular time, I decided to wait after the meeting to speak with the Bishop, and let him know that I did not see anyone exercising the authority of Jesus in my part of the church. The issue was engaged only briefly, but it enabled both of us to see the difference between the two authorities. He had sent me to seminars and workshops to learn how to organize my skills and my parish; but he had not given me the strength to do what I could not do. He had not enabled me to develop a prayer life that would bring me into a closer relationship with God. He had not given me any insight into the reality of God's revelation of Himself to the church.
That does not mean that I disliked him or thought him to be a bad bishop who should have been drummed out of the lodge. I loved him. I prayed for him. I enjoyed the conversations that I had with him. I was in most cases able to obey him within my own limitations. Perhaps that was the area the difference might be seen. There were some things he asked that I could not do, and his authority was not of the sort that would set me free to become obedient, even when I chose to do so.
I have become convinced that only when we hold the authority of the world to a minimum, and exercise the authority of Jesus to the maximum will we get about His business of serving the world in God's will. The authority of the Kingdom is an inversion of the world's image of authority, but it is the only authority that is able to effect the changes in His people that will enable them to obey.
When I have a grasp of the authority of Jesus and have decided that I am going to walk with Him rather than under the authority of the world, I must also see that I need power. I am not able on my own power to do any of the things that He has sent me to do. The last charge Jesus laid on His disciples had to do with power. " And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed in power from on high." Lk 24:49
When we have settled the issue of authority, we must go on to see what power He has bestowed upon us.