Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”
“All authority and heaven on earth has been given to Me.” Christians are probably familiar with these words of Jesus. I think we all feel comfortable that Jesus has authority in heaven. But what about the second part – on earth? With all the world in disarray, as it often is, can we say that he’s really in charge here on earth?
Well, let’s ask ourselves this first: where does God live? In heaven? Yes. Is that all? No. He lives on earth, too. In you. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). He’s talking about the people of the Church.
So, what does this tell you about how Jesus exercises his authority in heaven and on earth? It’s not just that he rules earth from heaven. He actually exercises his authority on earth — through the Spirit of God in the Church. If you are in the household of God, He lives in you, and He rules the earth through you.
Now this might seem surprising, because we usually think of ourselves as under the authority of Christ, which is true. Ephesians 1 says that God raised Jesus to the highest authority in heaven and earth, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named.”
But watch what it says next: “And God put everything under His feet and made Him head over all the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
What is the point of this passage?
Christ is the head, and we the church are his body. The head directs the body. I ask you, how does your head exercise its authority? — through your body. It gives commands to the hands, to the feet, to the mouth, etc.
The same is true of Christ and His church. He is the head, we are the body. He exercises his authority through us. And yes, the body is under the head, just as we are under the authority of Christ. But under the body are the feet – and Paul said, everything is under his feet. Follow from top-down: Christ, the head, over his body, the church, and under his feet, everything.
God’s chain of command is Christ over church over everything.
This truth has tremendous consequences for our lives and our Christian witness. Let’s talk about these consequences by looking first to scripture, since this truth has tremendous implications for how we interpret the verses that teach us how to relate to authority. Traditionally, when Christians want to learn about authority, we look to Romans 13: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is from God. The authorities that exist have been appointed by God.”
Many, but luckily not all, Christian teachers throughout the ages have taught that this means unlimited submission to any and all governing authorities, with no conditions and no exceptions. But this assumes that these authorities, appointed by God, are not themselves subject to the head, and even the body – it assumes they are not under his feet. This is incorrect. Is the church alone under the headship of Christ, while everything else isn’t? Of course not. All people are subject to God, even those people whom He’s appointed to authority. Remember the chain of command in Ephesians: Christ over church over everything. If you’re not Christ, and you’re not his body, then you’re everything else – and that puts you under his feet.
This means that all rulers are under not just to the authority of the Lord in heaven, but also his authority on earth – in the church.
What am I saying? — that the church exercise authority over the governments of nations? Isn’t that what the Catholic Church did in the old days before the Reformation? Actually, isn’t that even what some Protestant Churches did during the Reformation, and beyond, like in the American Colonies? Weren’t those governments under the authority of the church?
In fact, wouldn’t it be an accurate reading of Romans 13 to say that, since it says that God appoints the authorities, and we have established that God rules through the church, then the church should appoint the authorities?
Am I sounding like a medieval Pope, or what?
Well, I’m not done. Because the answer to this question, shockingly, is yes…with some caveats. You’ll be relieved to know that the caveats come from Jesus Christ, and before you get the idea that I’m saying churches should take over the government, let me dispel that! I’m not advocating for that at all — because Jesus Christ does not advocate for that at all.
And yet he is very clear, when he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me,” that he expects his Kingdom authority to be exercised by his saints in the church over the nations – because his next words are, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Teaching them to obey.
Not forcing them.
If you want Kingdom authority, you must teach, not force.
Do you see? Jesus rules the earth through the teaching of the church. And the teaching of the church, the good news, is Christ himself. The church proclaims him through her preaching, reveals him in her teaching, and communes him through her prayers – and as we walk together in our fellowship of faith working through love, we are all “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18).
In the church, through her teaching, we are partaking of Christ — we are drinking the cup he drinks, and we are baptized in the baptism he is baptized with. We are not forced to do this, but taught how to do this.
Jesus called two brothers among his 12 apostles who were particularly tempestuous, so much so that he nicknamed them the Sons of Thunder. They ask Jesus to give them a special authority in His kingdom. They want to “sit at his right hand”.
But Jesus waves away this request, saying it is not his place, but the God’s, to make such appointments to authority. He asks them, “Can you drink the cup I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” He is asking, “Are you willing and able to imitate me, and obey my teaching?”
Did you catch the power of that? Only God appoints to authority. Nonetheless, if you want Kingdom authority from God, you must be taught by Christ. It’s that chain of command again!
And he continues: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their high officials impose their authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is the key. When you have Kingdom authority – you don’t lord it over anyone. You don’t impose. You don’t make demands. You don’t make slaves and servants out of your people. If you’re doing those things, you’re not from the Spirit of Christ, and therefore you’re not exercising the authority of His Kingdom.
If you want Kingdom authority, you must teach, not force.
If you want Kingdom authority, you must be taught by Christ.
If you have Kingdom authority, you don’t lord it over anyone.
The world is not a perfect place. We usually blame our politicians for that. But as Christians, we must reconcile with the Bible truth, that their authority isn’t just from our God, and beyond our control — but their authority is subject to our own authority in the Kingdom. Therefore, you can either blame politicians, or take responsibility for the role God has given us in the world. God Himself has entrusted to His people, the church, the Great Commission – to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us. In short, He’s made it our job, not politicians’, to administer his authority – through the teaching of the church.
There are often two camps when it comes to politics. There are those who want more freedom than security from the government, and those who want more security than freedom from the government. They can be found on both sides of the American aisle. Both consider their interests more than just a personal preference, but a profound matter of justice.
The church should fall into neither of these camps. The church should recognize that we can have it both ways – we can have our cake and eat it too! — because whether we personally want more freedom than security, or whether we personally want more security than freedom, Jesus has taught that both freedom and security are gifts from God, who is Just and happy to provide both for man’s well-being. Remember, the glorious freedom of the children of God – he sent His Son for this purpose. And remember the lilies of the field – God provides for everyone today, and doesn’t want us to worry about tomorrow. Freedom and security can’t be promised by man, but God gives all these things in abundance.
The Bible shows clearly that when ruling authorities forget this truth, and wander from God, injustices plague the land. And it is at these times that God activates his people through his chain of command: prophets arise, preachers and teachers whom God sends to revive, restore, and reform. Christ, the head, flexes the muscles of his body – and that’s how he puts things back under his feet, and sets them right, through the church. Not through political campaigns and elections, though we are blessed to have the democratic process – but what use are they when people have forgotten that God is our King, and are strangers to his love?
“The LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment. He rules the world with justice; He governs the people with fairness.
“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.”
His name is Jesus Christ, and we trust in him, for he has never forsaken his church. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to him. He is our head, we are his body – and for our sake, he died so that we may put everything under our feet. And that we will do, not lording anything over anyone like worldly rulers do, but by teaching Christ; by being taught by him; in short, by walking in God’s love, and bearing witness to it in every aspect of our lives. That is Kingdom Authority. Amen.