By Elizabeth Prata
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18).
What does this mean, exactly? Let’s look into the nature of the word authority and what it means when Jesus says He has been given all of it.
Authority is a common word, we’re all used to saying it and think we understand what it means. I am a school employee under authority of my top Administrator in the building, she is under authority to the Superintendent, and he is under authority of the School Board, who is under authority of the people who elect them…? Things get muddy as we examine who has real authority, who can wield it, and to what extent.
Police have authority. We have seen if we are stopped at the traffic stop, the law officer has the power of the law behind him to ticket us or even arrest us, if the law is being broken. So where does the authority rest? In the law, or in the person enacting the law? Where does it come from?
Pilate was governor of the Roman province of Judea, given authority over the people in the province by the Roman Emperor himself. Pilate was the highest person. Or so he thought.
Pilate learned the answer to that question of whence authority comes at the Trial of Jesus. Jesus remained silent under the questioning of Pilate, which aroused this response from Pilate-
So Pilate said to Him, “Are you not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” (John 19:10).
Hmmm, hold up there, Pilate. You do not have as much authority as you’d thought. Jesus replied:
Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over Me at all, if it had not been given to you from above; for this reason the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin.” (Matthew 19:11).
Authority comes from above? John Gill explains,
Authority meaning, “not from the Jewish sanhedrim, whose court of judicature was in the temple, which was higher than the other part of the city; nor from the Roman emperor, or senate of Rome, the higher powers; by whom Pilate was made governor of Judea, and a judge in all causes relating to life and death; but reference is had to the place from whence he came, and to the decree and council of God above, and the agreement between the eternal three in heaven. Christ speaks of a power he had against him, that is, of taking away his life; he had no lawful power to do it at all; nor any power, right or wrong, had it not been given him by God.”
God is the sole authority. Nothing happens on this earth or in heaven or under heaven, that God does not plan, ordain, and execute. As RC Sproul famously said, “There is not one maverick molecule in the universe.”
No, we’re not robots, but that is the nature of Divine Providence. It’s a mystery how God merges what we do with His plan to get what He wants done. God is the Sovereign of the Universe, solely.
So when Jesus declared to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18), he was declaring that a transfer of authority had been executed. Jesus had been the submissive Son in His incarnation. Jesus constantly said He did nothing on his own volition but only the will of the Father (John 5:19).
The Father, pleased with His Son, resurrected Him and gave Him all authority. Commentators and translators use the word power interchangeably with authority. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and-
“Hereby he asserts his universal dominion as Mediator, which is the great foundation of the Christian religion. He has all power. Observe,
(1.) Whence he hath this power. He did not assume it, or usurp it, but it was given him, he was legally entitled to it, and invested in it, by a grant from him who is the Fountain of all being, and consequently of all power. God set him King (Psalm 2:6), inaugurated and enthroned him, Luke 1:32. As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompence of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him), and partly in pursuance of his design;
he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him (John 17:2), for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation. This power he was now more signally invested in, upon his resurrection, Acts 13:3. He had power before, power to forgive sins (ch. 9:6); but now all power is given him. He is now going to receive for himself a kingdom (Luke 19:12), to sit down at the right hand, Psalm 110:1. Having purchased it, nothing remains but to take possession; it is his own for ever.” Source- Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1775). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Authority is being wrestled away from many entities, governments, people, or jurisdictions these days. Authority is an important concept, and we here in the US especially like to think the people have authority through voting, or protest, or passive resistance or even as in some cases, military usurpation. We like to think we have authority to come and go, to make our decisions, to change outcomes by voting. But we have been shown, like Pilate, that our only authority comes from above. As our government becomes more and more authoritarian, it’s good to remember this.
Government heads around the world are giddy with glee in wresting power and authority away from the people. The people cry out but to no avail in many cases. Germany, Italy, Australia, Austria, Canada…governments are taking more authority than is wise.
It’s a time to remember what Jesus said- no one has any authority than has been given by the One above. A person might be living in a nation where the people are suffering under the hammer of heavy authority, but this authority has been given to that government for God’s purposes. his purposes are always good. It is hard to live with, yes, but remembering that God is good and His purposes accomplish good things, may help ease the sting a bit.
and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, (Acts 17:26 see also Job 12:23).
In fact, if you look at even a fairly recent map of the world, you will see boundaries have shifted, old nations are changed, new nations are born. In fact, just 20 years ago there were 230 nations, but now in 2021 there are 193. The world’s countries are not as stable as they look on a map with their borders as heavily drawn black lines, seemingly giving indication of permanence.
It might be good to remember that Jesus holds all authority. The mystery of Providence is that He raises up nations, He raises up Kings and Governors, He puts them down, He manages our daily lives. Rather than this being a startling concept, as it would be if a human sinful person possessed such authority, Jesus is perfect. He is Good. His authority is righteous and eternal. Whatever happens on earth with government or individually, it is solely ordained by Christ Himself.
Other verses about authority of Jesus- rest in these, and take heart. All authority has been given to Jesus!
The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all. (John 3:31).
“You have said it yourself,” Jesus answered. “But I say to all of you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64)