THE AUTHORITY OF GOD, CHRIST, & THE APOSTLES
Everyone is subject to authority today. Many are employees and are thus subject to the authority of their employers. All of us, whether we want to be or not, are under the authority of our government. There is authority that by choice we put ourselves under, and there is authority that we find ourselves subject due to circumstances.
The Authority of God
There is one authority to which all people are subject. Man is subject to this authority whether he wants to be or not; he is subject to it no matter where he lives. This authority is the authority of God.
Authority can be either inherent or delegated. The word inherent means “intrinsic.” It, according to the dictionary, exists “in someone or something as a natural and inseparable quality, characteristic, or right.” It is an indwelling essence or characteristic. Delegated authority, on the other hand, is authority which is given, or appointed to or by another.
God possesses His authority inherently or intrinsically. This means that He received His power from no one; it did not come to be. God has His authority simply BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS.
Consider some reasons why God inherently has authority. First, He is the creator of the universe. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The Creator does not need to obtain his rights from that which He has created. Second, God is the owner of all things. Psalm 50:10-12 says, “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine . . . for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” Finally, God is the sustainer of all (note Acts 17:25-28). We need God: He does not need us.
Sometimes a person will ask, “Who gave God the right to tell man what do?” The person who asks this question does not understand the inherent nature of God’s authority. As we have seen, His authority was given to Him by no one. Further, no one can deny Him His authority. We must be willing to submit to God’s authority.
The Authority of Christ
Let us now consider the authority of Christ. It is very clear that God recognized the authority of Christ. At the baptism of Jesus, God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mt. 3:16).” On another occasion, at the transfiguration, God said the same thing (Mt. 17:5), but He added “hear ye HIM.” They were to hear Christ as opposed to Moses and Elijah who had appeared with Jesus on this glorious occasion, as the Law of Moses was to soon be done away with (Col. 2:14). Also, according to Matthew 16:17, it was God who had revealed to Peter that Jesus was His son, and God bore witness to His divinity (Jn. 8:18).
Consider what Jesus Himself had to say. When Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, he told certain Jews, “. . . My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me (Jn. 7:16).” He later said, (Jn. 8:28)“ . . . I do nothing of myself; but as my father hath taught me, I speak these things,” and “. . . the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works (Jn. 14:10).”
Men recognized the authority of Christ. People were astonished at his doctrine and noted that, in contrast to the scribes, He taught “as one having authority (Mt. 7:28-29).” In Matthew 16:16, Peter said of Him, “. . . Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Please also note also Jn. 6:68-69.) The centurion, who was involved in the crucifixion of Jesus, said, after Jesus’ death, “. . . Truly this man was the son of God” (Mk. 15:39), and Thomas, seeing Jesus after his resurrection, with reverence said, “My Lord and My God. (Jn. 20:28).”
The devils, or demons, also understood his authority as James 2:19 says that even they “believe and tremble.” When Jesus was in the country of the Gergesenes (Mt. 8:29), demons, who had possessed two people, cried out to Jesus, “. . . Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?”
Various other passages reveal the authority of Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, but before his ascension, He said, in sending the apostles out to teach God’s Word that all power, (authority) was given to Him in heaven and in earth (Mt. 28:18-20). The Bible also teaches that Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). His headship of the church certainly carries with it authority. Hebrews 1:1-2 further reveals that God had spoken unto the fathers by the prophets, but “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” In another passage we learn that God told Moses he would raise up a prophet (Deut. 18:18). Peter quoted these words in a sermon in Acts 3 and applied them to Christ. Peter said ( v. 22), “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.”
It is very important to understand the authority of Christ, and we must be subject to His authority.
The Authority of the Apostles
It is clear that we are to be subject to the authority of God and Christ. Many people, however, fail to understand the authority of the apostles. Many think that today we only need the words of Jesus to guide us. This thinking is seen with some who place a great deal of emphasis on the red letter edition of the Bible —an edition in which all of the words of Christ are in red. They might say, “If it isn’t in red, I don’t accept it.” Christ certainly has authority, but we must understand that authority also resides with the apostles.
Jesus always taught the truth, but He did not teach all of the truth during His personal ministry. We do need the words of Jesus, but we also need the teaching of the apostles and other inspired teachers.
During Jesus’ personal ministry, He told the apostles that after he left, the Holy Spirit would be sent by God, and He would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all things that he had taught them. John 14:26 says, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Jesus said (Jn. 16:8b) that when he left, the Comforter (or Holy Spirit) would be sent, and “… he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave the Great Commission in which he told them to go and preach the gospel to all nations (Mt. 28:18-20, Mk. 16:15-16). He also told them to go and tarry at Jerusalem, and they would be endured with “power from on high,” and revealed that He would send the promise of His father upon them (Luke 24:49-52). This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost a short time later (Acts 2); the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the first gospel sermon was preached.
Further, Jesus told the apostles that they would be given the “keys” to the kingdom of heaven. After speaking of the church being built, Jesus said to Peter (Mt. 16:19), “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Later, in Matthew 18:18, he said the same thing to all of the apostles. A key is symbolical of “authority.” The apostles would have the authority to “bind” and “loose.” They did not have “legislative” power, but, guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles had authority to carry out heaven’s decisions. They announced heaven’s will to mankind.
Paul, in II Corinthians 5:20, referred to himself and the other apostles as “ambassadors for Christ.” The word ambassador means “one who is entrusted with a message from one sovereign to another.” This office is one which entails great respect. An ambassador carries on the business of the sovereign in the way that he would conduct that business if he were present. The apostles functioned as representatives for Christ to mankind. It was “as though God did beseech,” (v.20) the Corinthians through them, and the purpose of their work was so that man might be reconciled to God (v. 20b). Thus, the apostles spoke for Christ.
Paul, in Ephesians 6:20, while in Roman imprisonment, referred to himself as an “ambassador in bonds.” He was an ambassador, but it is interesting to note that he, as an ambassador, had been imprisoned. For the Romans to treat Paul in this way, was to greatly insult the great king whom he served.
The apostles were representatives of God and Christ. There were, consequently, serious repercussions to rejecting their message. In John 13:20, Jesus told the apostles, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.”
In Matthew 19, the apostles had just witnessed the rich young ruler refusing to sell all that he had. This prompted Peter to ask, “. . . we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” Jesus told them, “. . . Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus has ascended to heaven to His throne, and He will be seated on it at the day of judgment (Acts 2:31-35; Heb. 1:13; Mt. 25:31; I Cor. 15:24-28). The period of regeneration started on Pentecost (Acts 2) after the ascension when the gospel was preached. The people heard the Word and obeyed it, and this period will continue until the end of time. The twelve thrones and twelve tribes are not literal. The twelve tribes sustain no literal relationship to the apostles. This figure is used to refer to the true Israel which is the church (Rom. 9:6, Gal. 3:29). The apostles are our judges as, guided by the Holy Spirit, they revealed the mind of Christ to mankind. They told us what “truth” is on matters of faith and practice. During their lives, they judged in person; now we have their written communication (the Bible) so they still judge us in this sense as God’s Word is our standard.
After the church was established, we learn that it was the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42), not the teaching of Moses, which the early church continued in. Paul said, in Philippians 4:9, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
In conclusion, it is clear that authority in religion is very important, and God and Christ serve as our authorities. In addition, we must recognize the role of the apostles as our authority for today as well.