The Authority of Jesus Christ
Proper respect for authority is vital to the life of any society, or to the life of its various parts, but I fear that such respect is fast becoming a vanishing quantity in our modern complex civilization. In the home there must be a proper recognition of authority if civilization is to endue; authority in the home has been by the Lord vested in the parents.
Authority must be recognized and emphasized in our schools if the school system is to accomplish its purpose in the state. The citizens must recognize the authority of civil law if that state is to continue. But above all, there must be recognized in religion and society the divine authority of Christ as the Son of God.
It is said concerning the reaction of the people to the sermon on the mount. "When Jesus had finished these words the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Matt. 7:28-29). This authority began to be challenged by the chief priests and elders during the lifetime of Jesus. It is written, "And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching' and said, By what authority did thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?" (Matt. 21-23).
Now this question was within itself perfectly legitimate; there was nothing wrong in raising the question. The fact is, however, they were not honest in it as evidenced by the things which followed. "And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one question, which if ye tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men? And they reasoned with themselves saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us. Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, From men ; we fear the multitude; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, We know not. He also said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things" (Matt. 21:23-27). By their own admission, they proved themselves dishonest.
The authority of Jesus Christ has been questioned or under attack ever since, both by honest men and by men not honest. For nearly two centuries now the authority of Christ and the inspiration of the Bible have been subject to attack, not by infidels and atheists only, but by certain schools of religious thought as well; men who claim the religion of Jesus Christ, but who deny His authority over them. The question of Christ's authority is among the foremost questions of importance today; therefore such a study should prove of great profit to all of us.
One prominent writer on religious subjects has said, "One would not dare to say that the quest for some final authority in faith and order is the only key to the two hundred and something varieties of Protestantism, hut taken broadly it is the most covering single explanation." I believe this, friends, to be correct. The real causes of division among those professing Christianity have been from its birth, questions of authority rather than of interpretation. The question is a vital one. We ask, To who shall we go as our final court of appeal in matters religious? Shall it be a divine authority as vested in Jesus Christ, or a human authority with no divine sanctions?
The two corruptions from which Christianity, has suffered most during its history have been philosophies of men and human leadership. Philosophy would substitute speculations for a simple truth in God's word; while human leadership would divert man's allegiance from God and divide his affections between the human and the divine.
Even some liberal theologians have recognized the absolute need for authority in religion if religious life is to thrive. One, of the past generation, has well stated the matter when he said:
There has never yet existed in the world a strong religious faith, which has not spread at some DECISIVE point or other, to an EXTERNAL AUTHORITY, Jesus Christ appealed to the authority of the Old Testament, ancient Christians to the evidence of prophecy, Augustine to the Church and Luther himself to the written Word of God. Only academic speculation thinks that it can eliminate external authority; life and history show that no faith is capable of convincing men or propagating itself, which does not include obedience to an external authority, or fails to be convinced of its absolute power. The only point to determine is the rightful authority, and to discover the just relationship between external and internal authority" (Adolph Harnack, HISTORY OF DOGMA, Vol. V, p. 82)
It is this very thing we seek to do: "determine the rightful authority" and"discover the just relationship between external and internal authority."
But of what do we speak when we speak of authority? Authority may be thought of as the right to command and to enforce obedience, the right to act officially. Authority may be primary, delegated, or usurped. All authority is Primary, inherent, original with God. All authority other than that inherent with God is either delegated by Him or usurped by one who claims to have received it from Him.
Two illustrations from the Old Testament illustrate this position. We call attention to Moses the Lawgiver and to Saul the first king over Israel. To Moses was delegated certain authority of the law, but be was subject to God. God was the author of the law and the final judge in every matter of obedience thereunto. The right to command and expect obedience belonged to God. The authority of Moses was solely that delegated to him by Jehovah. Only one time did Moses fail to honor God by recognizing that relationship to God and authority, and because of that failure he failed to enter Canaan.
When Israel asked to have a king that they might be like nations about them, Samuel, the prophet-judge of that time, protested. Whereupon Jehovah said to him, "Harken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, was selected their first king. The authority still belonged to Jehovah, who delegated certain powers to the new king, but with restrictions and conditions. Saul later rebelled against the authority of Jehovah, usurping certain powers unto himself, whereupon God rejected him and his seed after him, appointing another king. Here we have seen an example of original authority, delegated authority, and usurped authority.
In this present dispensation God addresses men in and through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2), through whom He has expressed His will and presented His terms of reconciliation in clear, unmistakable language; language from which there can be no appeal and to which nothing many be added nor anything subtracted. Through Moses God spoke of the coming of this last prophet, His Son, and of the absolute authority He should exercise. "I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee;" said Jehovah, "and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him" (Deut. 18:18-19).
This is a clear and definite declaration of Jehovah with regard to the words and authority He should delegate to this prophet "like unto Moses." After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter declared that the prophecy had been fulfilled in Christ, when he said, "Moses indeed said, A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you from among your brethren like unto me (i.e., like Moses) ; to him shall he hearken in all things whatsoever he shall speak unto you. And it shall be that every soul that shall not hearken to that prophet, shall be utterly destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days" (Acts 3:22-24).
It is no wonder "the multitudes were astonished at his teaching" when they heard Him as He "taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." He could speak with authority, for He was God's chosen spokesman, speaking the words of God. Apparently the people were hungering for a message that carries with it conviction, and that carried authority back of it; and I believe that many today are tiring of the sentimental babblings of modernism and are looking for a religion that carries with it the conviction of authority ,in authority not of men but of God.
However, Jesus recognized that back of His message was the authority of God. Said He, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing; for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doetb in like manner" (John 5:19). Again, "My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me" (John 7:16). And again, "Jesus therefore said, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak these things" (John 8:28). And upon another occasion, "For I spake not from myself; but the Father that sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12:49). And finally "The word which ye hear is not mine, bu; the Father's who sent me" (John 14:24).) These statements from the lips of Jesus accord perfectly with what God had said through Moses, quoted above (as recorded in Dent. 18) "1 will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him."
The transfiguration of Jesus symbolized the passing of the old regime spoken through Moses and the Prophet, and the superseding of former revelations by the word of the Messiah. Present on that occasion, besides the three apostles who accompanied Him, were Moses and Elijah. Moses represented the law as its giver, Elijah represented the prophets. The time had been when their voice, as God spoke through them to men of a former age, had been the voice of authority. The time had now come when they should yield up that authoritative voice and hear Christ. At the suggestion of Peter that three tabernacles be made, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, God spoke to them saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ve him" (Matt. 17:5).
Of this memorable occasion, Peter wrote a long time afterward, saying, "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we Made know unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Pet. 1 :16-18).
After His resurrection from the dead, and just prior to the ascension, Jesus declared to the eleven apostles, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you: and lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:18-20). Note two things in this statement: First Jesus Christ claims "ALL authority in HEAVEN and on EARTH;" and then He charges the disciples to "Teach them to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever I commanded you." This settles the question regarding a final appeal to authority; it all belongs to Jesus Christ. This leaves no authority for those before the Christ nor to those this side of the Christ, either as an individual or as groups of individuals in convention or conference.
As the Savior of men, now crowned King of kings and Lord of lords, with all authority, Jesus calls upon men to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and then to observe in life ALL things commanded and taught by Him. This, friends, is our message still to you today. Won't you bow the knee to King Jesus and walk in His way?
Truth Magazine IV:10, pp. 230-232