This week’s lessons teach that proclaiming the gospel is a requirement for Christians.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Jesus begins with his authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is no weak authority, because the one who spoke it is no weak master. He is the risen Lord, and “all authority in heaven and on earth" has been given to him.
That all authority in heaven has been given to Jesus could mean merely that the authority he was to exercise on earth would be recognized in heaven also, and if that is the case, it would be an affirmation of Jesus’ divinity. Authority like that could be nothing other than Jehovah’s authority. Yet there is probably more to Christ’s statement than this. For one thing, when the Bible speaks about heavenly “powers” or “authorities” it usually means spiritual or demonic powers. When it speaks of Christ’s victory through his death and resurrection it usually also has those powers in mind.
We think of Ephesians 6:12, which says of the Christian’s warfare: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Or Ephesians 1:20, 21 which tells us that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
When we put Christ’s announcement in that context we sense that what he is talking about is not so much an acknowledgement of his earthly authority in heaven but rather that his authority is superior to and over all other authorities whether spiritual, demonic, or otherwise. His resurrection proves his authority over any power than can possibly be imagined. Consequently, we do not fear Satan or anyone else while we are engaged in Jesus' service.
Second, Jesus announces that he has authority over everything on earth. This has several dimensions. It means that he has authority over us, his people. How can it be otherwise? If we truly are his people, we have come to him confessing that we are sinners, that he is the divine Savior, and that we have accepted his sacrifice on our behalf and have pledged ourselves to follow him as Lord. That is hypocrisy if it does not contain a recognition of his authority over us in every area. Jesus told his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). If we are not obeying Jesus, we are not his friends. Worse than that, we are not even Christians. Clearly, Jesus’ authority extends to the work we are called to do, including what is demanded by the Great Commission. It is because we are under Jesus’ authority that we are to take his gospel to the world and “make disciples" of the nations (v. 19).
Again, the declaration of Christ’s authority on earth means that he has authority over those who are not yet believers. That is, his authority extends to the people to whom he sends us with the gospel. If follows, on the one hand, that Christianity is to be a world religion. No one is outside the sphere of his authority or is to be exempt from his call. On the other hand, this is also a statement of Jesus’ ability to bring fruit from our efforts, for it is through the exercise of his authority that men and women actually come to believe and follow him.
John Stott Summarizes this well: “The fundamental basis of all Christian missionary enterprise is the universal authority of Jesus Christ, ‘in heaven and on earth.’ If the authority of Jesus were circumscribed on earth, if he were but one of many religious teachers, one of many Jewish prophets, one of many divine incarnations, we would have no mandate to present him to the nations as the Lord and Savior of the world. If the authority of Jesus were limited in heaven, if he had not decisively overthrown the principalities and powers, we might still proclaim him to the nations, but we would never be able to ‘turn them from darkness to the light, and from the power of Satan unto God’ (Acts 26:18). Only because all authority on earth belongs to Christ dare we go to all nations. And only because all authority in heaven as well is his have we any hope of success."1
1 John R. Stott, “The Great Commission” in One Race, One Gospel, One Task: World Congress on Evangelism, Berlin 1966, Official Reference Volumes, ed. by Carl F. H. Henry and W. Stanley Mooneyham (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1966), vol. 1, p. 46.
What is the real understanding behind Jesus’ authority?
What does Jesus’ authority mean for us?
Why can we confidently share the gospel with the lost?
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