Authority: Life and Ministry



21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out,24 What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”   25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:21-28).

The effectiveness of Jesus ministry over demons was immediate because they recognised in his holiness an immediate relationship with their Creator and Judge.1)This is especially clear when spirits recognise Jesus as their Judge “And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”” Matt 8:29 This basic or foundational authority of Jesus is even more radically revealed in his ability to forgive sin.

5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:5-12 ESV)”.

This great sign reveals that the authority operative in Jesus is functionally equivalent to the authority of God, nothing stands outside his authority to command submission. The key to Jesus’ supreme authority however does not lie in the exercise of his divine nature but in his choice of lowliness.2)See Appendix 2: Jesus’ Authority as God.

What Paul says of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:6-7 ESV) must be taken with the utmost seriousness. The incarnation, the eternal Word becoming sinful flesh (John 1:14; Rom 8:3), is an incomprehensible sacrifice. In leaving behind his eternal glory and becoming mortal man Christ depended entirely upon the Holy Spirit for his supernatural deeds; ““But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”” (Matt 12:28 ESV).

On various occasions we see Jesus praying, for this was part of his journey of growing as a human being (Luke 2:40).  We read of how he “looked up to heaven” e.g. when he multiplied the loaves and fishes, when he healed the deaf and dumb man, and when he raised Lazarus from the dead (Matt 14:19; Mark 7:34; John 11:41).


We read how “that even winds and sea obey him?”” (Matt 8:27), likewise, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27) and the disciples obeyed Jesus by following him when they were called (Mark 1:16-19). A hint as to the source of Jesus unparalleled authority comes in his encounter with the Roman centurion. “5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matt 8:5-13 ESV).

Because the centurion was under the authority of the Roman Emperor, all the resources of the Empire stood behind him. Similarly he recognised in Jesus works someone who was stood obediently under the supreme authority of God.3)In his human state Jesus is subordinate to the Father; this should not be equated with inferiority.


“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”” (John 12:49). He could boldly say, ““If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”” (John 15:10 ESV).

In submitting to the will of his Father through the power of the Spirit (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38) Jesus sensed how all creation was dependent upon God for its existence and ongoing life (Matt 6:26-30; 10:29); it was from his utter dependence upon God as Father that his authority to command both nature and men proceeded.

Jesus’ dependence upon God was not submission to some external influence, it was limitlessly intimate.

Here we come to the climax of our understanding of the nature of true spiritual authority. 

The authority of Christ, and so our authority e.g. as senior pastor, elder, evangelist, prophet, Christian person etc., does not come from relative position in a hierarchy but is a manifestation of being indwelt by God. “8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”(John 14:8-11 ESV).


Jesus expressed this emphatically. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel….I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:19-20, 30 ESV)


This presence was not bland or neutral, it was deeply intimate;“and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””(Luke 3:22 ESV). The intense pleasure of the Father was the source of the authority of the Son and drew forth his willing obedience. Such a pleasured authority however was immediately tested.

Satan’s first temptation struck at the core of the nature of the authority of Jesus:

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.””(Matthew 4:3 ESV). 

Christ’s love for the Father was so great that he would never do anything that would cause him displeasure.

There was no possibility that he would wrongfully or selfishly use his authority in the wilderness.

Jesus himself exposed the difference between fallible human authority and that which comes from above:

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say,‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”(Matthew 21:23-27 ESV)

The authority which comes from man, such as that of the rulers of the Jews, keeps its recipients in the stronghold of fear, for what man gives man can take away. The call of God and his gifts however are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).

Some time ago I was in a largish meeting of pastors and other Church leaders. Sensing that something was amiss in the meeting, I prayed for an opportunity to say something. This came, and the message was not well received by the facilitators of the group. When I sat down someone close by remarked to me that I was “fearless”. This was definitely not true, but I would rather fear and obey God than seek the fickle approval of man. Fear of the heavenly Father and fear of man are mutually exclusive. Jesus stood outside this tension because he was a fully obedient Son.

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References   [ + ]

1. This is especially clear when spirits recognise Jesus as their Judge “And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”” Matt 8:29
2. See Appendix 2: Jesus’ Authority as God.
3. In his human state Jesus is subordinate to the Father; this should not be equated with inferiority.

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