On the basis of his authority, he commissioned his people to go and make disciples among every people group on earth. This is an impossible commission if it were not for the promise that he is with them forever. The doctrine of the supreme authority of Christ not only upholds the work of the church, it is the central message that the church preaches. “Jesus is Lord” is good news!
Joey Shaw is the International Field Office Director for the Austin Stone Community Church and a regular contributor at Verge. Joey and his family live outside the United States where they serve unreached peoples for the glory of Christ.
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By Joey Shaw
B&H Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Joey Shaw
All rights reserved.
The Supremacy of the Son's Authority
Crowned with treasures, green glories
Hardly moved by Sirocco's
Thick blow. Like Franklin trophies
Each leaf sounding greed's echoes.
None venture bark this tree's frame —
Brown, dirty, bane, a man's cut.
But envy not this hound's name,
His vain life's worth hardly Phut.
Roots sound Brother Leader's mort,
Ravaging the desert's drought.
Each day piercing his old fort,
Like rebels' bids for spoil's clout.
Stiff and dead this fair tree's source.
Cold, packed in to the freezer.
He that ruled lies with, perforce,
Alexander and Caesar.
Everybody who follows Jesus will encounter a myriad of "authorities" that directly challenge the authority of Christ. These other "authorities" may be parents, teachers, bosses, presidents, institutions, religions, or ideologies. In order to stay firm in devotion to Jesus, we must believe that he has supreme authority over all. The doctrine of the authority of Jesus upholds the work of his church. So we begin this book considering why we believe Jesus Christ is the supreme authority in the universe.
A growing number of our Austin Stone disciple-makers among the nations are experiencing regular suffering. Some have been evacuated under threat of being killed by terrorists. Some have had car engine shrapnel go through their kitchen window from a nearby explosion aimed at killing Christians. They have been held at gunpoint, harassed, robbed, interrogated, put in jail, and accused of false crimes. In addition, some live under the daily threat of kidnapping, extortion, murder, sexual harassment, sickness, and eviction. They constantly have to move their young families from home to home, dealing with many difficulties in obtaining visas and incarnating among unreached peoples. They face endless unknowns about their work and future, and on top of that, they must raise their own support to do this work. One of these "Goers" wrote of his experience in North Africa:
After settling with my family in North Africa, we realized that the neighborhood we moved into was a drug trade neighborhood. So we had to walk in front of our children to make sure they didn't step on needles. That wears on you. We had active gangs among us. One night, they took over our street. I was threatened to my face with a machete. I saw fistfights or knife fights about three to five times a week. Often these fights happened under our apartment window. We watch the Arab Spring protests and riots from our kitchen window as they happen in our neighborhood. We fall asleep to gunfire most nights, often machine gun fire. My wife has been grabbed on her behind. My sons have been harassed. On my team we've had one guy held at gunpoint. Another guy had about ten armed militia men harass him and search his house. Our women have been verbally and physically harassed by men. On top of that we live under threat every day of kidnapping, assassination, robbery, and harassment. Every single day.
I do not write all of this to elevate our global workers, or to boast in their resilience, but rather to pose the question, "What motivates a person to risk for the cause of making disciples of Jesus Christ?" Or, "What motivates people to shift their resources, make practical sacrifices, and refocus their energy on making disciples of all nations?" We might ask the same type of question about a church: "What motivates a church to send out their best people to the ends of the earth where they will face a myriad of sufferings and even death?" The doctrine of the authority of Christ is at the heart of the answers to these three questions. We have found that the more people cherish the doctrine of Christ's authority, the more they are willing to risk and endure along the way.
The Exousia of Jesus
In Matthew 28:18 Jesus uses the Greek word exousia, which most English translations translate as "authority." Exousia is a common New Testament word; it occurs 102 times in the New Testament. The ESV translates exousia with the words "authority, power, right, jurisdiction, charge, disposal, control, claim" and "domain." Together these English translations give us a deeper sense of what exousia means in the context of the New Testament. The Gospel writers use the word exousia forty-four times in thirty-four verses. Twenty-eight of those are in reference to Jesus. When not applied to God the Father or Jesus, exousia in the Gospels always refers to governing rulers and, once, to supernatural darkness that was given "power" during the crucifixion.
The word exousia has a long history of usage in ancient Greek. In religious texts, the word "shows a strong preference for supernatural authority, whether divine or demonic, or for the investiture of royal authority." Exousia normally refers to the royal, free, and magisterial authority of God or for kings, priests, Israel, the covenant, Jerusalem, or other supernatural powers such as Satan, all of which derive their authority directly from God. Important for our understanding of exousia in the Gospels, the pre-Christ religious and nonreligious texts use exousia or its Hebrew equivalents to emphasize that the "authority" is either supernatural or directly God-given. Thus, the Gospel writers clearly intended to represent the authority of Jesus as stunning and unique because they use exousia so frequently in reference to the man Jesus Christ.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Gospel writers' use of exousia to distinguish Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The concept of the exousia of Jesus is central to understanding the very nature of Jesus. I agree with professor James Edwards who states, "I should like to suggest that the essential and distinctive characteristic of Jesus is to be found in his exousia and that his authority is perhaps the most significant example of implicit Christology in the gospel tradition."
Honest readings of the Gospels will not allow any denigration of the supremacy of Jesus Christ. As will be discussed in more depth in chapter 9, the exousia of Jesus could not be more relevant to a postmodern age that has tried numerous iterations of sidewinding scholarship to diminish the glory of Jesus. Modern and postmodern raves to "re-discover" Jesus as impotent and non-supernatural are futile. Again, James R. Edwards states, "Evidence of Jesus' consciousness of divine sonship and exousia appears in all layers of the gospel traditions ... as well as in Paul. Its recognition not only makes the Gospels intelligible but also is the primary reason why the quest for the non-messianic Jesus remains unsatisfied." At the center of the Gospel writers' argument for Jesus' supreme glory is their promotion of the supreme exousia of Jesus Christ.
How Is the Son's Authority Supreme?
The authority of Jesus Christ is supreme because it is innate, foretold, real, founding, unimpeded, empowered, exclusive, and legitimate. Let's look at each of these descriptions of his authority.
Innate. Jesus is supreme over all other authorities because his authority is not only given to him by his Father. It is also innate to himself as the second person of the Trinity. It is intuitive for a monotheist to associate supreme authority with God. He is the one sovereign ruler of all existence. He says, "I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God" (Isa. 45:5 esv). But what about the Son of God? He too is fully God. He is the "son ... given to us" in Isaiah 9:6 who is the "Mighty God." On his shoulders the "government," or authority, rests. And his throne will last forever (Isa. 9:7).
Foretold. When we wait for something, we communicate that the worth of that thing is greater than the expense of the wait. This is why we commonly say, "It was worth the wait!" Waiting does not make something special; it demonstrates that something already is special. It would be strange for a mother to say of her newborn, "Oh, the baby is nice, but not worth the nine months of waiting!" No, a child is worth every day of that nine-month wait. This is because the baby has an intrinsic worth greater than those nine months of waiting.
The Messiah has been foretold and awaited from the beginning of human existence. And Jesus the Messiah was worth every minute of waiting! God organized the very genealogy of mankind in preparation for the coming of Jesus (Matt. 1:1–17). The Old Testament awaits an authoritative Messiah who will forever sit as the divine Son on the throne of David at the Father's right hand and have all enemies under his feet (Ps. 45:6–9; Dan. 7:13–14). This Messiah will be sent from God to speak God's words to the world (Deut. 18:18; Isa. 7:14). He will have the strength of God to bring justice, righteousness, and salvation to the nations (Isa. 9:7; Jer. 23:5–6). He will triumph over all of his enemies, including death (Pss. 16:10; 49:15). His kingdom will be forever (Dan. 2:44–45; 7:13–14, 27). He will be worshiped and obeyed as Lord by all the kings and nations on earth (Gen. 49:10; Ps. 22:27–28; Isa. 49:7).
Awaiting something magnifies the worth of that thing. The degree to which something is waited for is the degree to which that thing is magnified. Jesus is magnified as the most supremely worthy Person because his first coming was the most awaited event in the history of the world. What joy and relief there must have been among the angels when the Savior was born in Bethlehem. It is fitting that at the birth of the most awaited person in the history of the world the angels would burst out of heaven singing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven!" (Luke 2:14). We can almost imagine the angels saying to themselves, "Jesus was worth the wait!"
Real. Most of us have likely encountered a person who is a real know-it-all with colleagues, and especially subordinates, but completely useless when the boss shows up. This can be aggravating, especially if he or she has no real authority over you. The authority is not real, but only a figment of the person's imagination.
Jesus was not a magician, a con man, or a wannabe leader. His authority was not imagined by him, the apostles, or the church. His authority is supreme over all others because it is real, and he spoke of it and demonstrated it in a real way. This is clear in the first direct reference to Christ's authority in the New Testament:
Then they went into Capernaum, and right away He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority. Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, "What do You have to do with us, Jesus — Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!" But Jesus rebuked him and said, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit convulsed him, shouted with a loud voice, and came out of him. Then they were all amazed, so they began to argue with one another, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." News about Him then spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee. (Mark 1:21–28)
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue near the beginning of his ministry. The religious teachers and leaders as well as the people were still getting introduced to this unusual rabbi. This was the carpenter, Jesus son of Mary, after all. They noticed immediately that Jesus was not a typical religious leader, "because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority" (Mark 1:22).
Scribes were expert interpreters and teachers of the Scripture, but their authority rested on the Scripture, not in themselves. Scribes were only interpreters of God's authority through the law. Being only human, they could not claim universal knowledge of God and his law. Their commands to others were more like pleading, because they had no authority or power to make others obey them.
Jesus spoke so differently from the scribes, with an unprecedented completeness of knowledge and with authority and power over creation. He spoke with the authority of a divine command. Whereas scribes obtain their authority through reference to the tradition of the fathers (Mark 7:8–13), Jesus receives his authority directly from the Father (Mark 1:11). He was not just an impressive teacher who mastered the law, he spoke as the one through whom the law was created. He knew it intimately, like a painter knows his own painting.
When Jesus speaks and rules today, he does so as the one who created all things, "in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him" (Col. 1:16). When the Father through Jesus said, "Let there be light," there was light. Likewise when Jesus commands his people, "Don't be an unbeliever, but a believer," as he did to the apostle Thomas, his people respond with belief saying, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27–28).
Jesus is the only one who could ever say, "You have heard that it was said ... But I say to you" (e.g., Matt. 5:17–48). No scribe or leader could ever say that with even the slightest legitimacy! This would be blasphemy for any religious leader of the time to say. The Old Testament prophets prefaced their inspired words with, "Thus says the Lord." But Jesus begins his statements with, "Truly I say to you," or in Greek transliteration, "amen amen lego hymin." In Jewish custom, saying "amen" at the end of a prayer, statement, or blessing signified personal agreement with the will of God. But as the very "Amen" of God (Rev. 3:14), the "yes" of God to all of his promises (2 Cor. 1:20), Jesus could legitimately preach with the authority of God himself. Jesus is the only person in history who has the legitimate right to say "Amen" at the beginning of his sentence, rather than at the end.
Is it possible the people were just fooled by a charismatic man with an impressive grasp of the Scriptures and reason? Perhaps the Gospel writers and the apostles were fooled as well. That may be a reasonable charge, except that Jesus didn't merely speak with authority. He did not merely teach. He also healed, and he did so with the authority of God alone. His power proves the authority of his words.
Immediately after Jesus astonishes the people with his teaching, a man with a demonic spirit appears in the synagogue. And whether as a defensive strategy or instant submission, the demon cries out that which is actually true of Jesus: that he is of Nazareth and that he is the Holy One of God. After Jesus casts out the demon, the people are amazed again, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him" (Mark 1:27). They had seen with their own eyes that Jesus had real authority. He was a "Prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people" (Luke 24:19).
The people had encountered new teachings before. Exorcists had appealed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob perhaps, or to a host of other deities through Hebrew history. But the people had no category for a man like Jesus. Jesus did not appeal to a deity; he did not employ a spell or technique. He spoke. And with that word, the demon obeyed. As Martin Luther wrote in one of the greatest hymns ever written, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God":
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
Founding. One of my favorite titles used for Jesus in the New Testament is the Greek word archegos. It is used four times, always referring directly to Jesus, and there are three senses in which it is used.
Excerpted from All Authority by Joey Shaw. Copyright © 2016 Joey Shaw. Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Gaze and Proclaim,
Chapter 1: The Supremacy of the Son's Authority,
Chapter 2: "Has Been Given to Me",
Chapter 3: The Son's Authority as Prophet, Priest, and King,
Chapter 4: "Go Therefore",
Chapter 5: "Make Disciples",
Chapter 6: The Cross and Courageous Obedience,
Chapter 7: "I Give You Authority",
Chapter 8: "You Will Receive Power",
Chapter 9: "I Am with You Always",
Chapter 10: The Redemption of Authority,
Conclusion: Abiding in the Authoritative Christ,