There are several places in the gospel of Matthew, as well as in the rest of the New Testament, where Jesus is said to have authority. For Matthew, this seems to be an important point that he is trying to convey to his readers. This article will try to define just what that authority is and what its implication is for believers today.
The word translated into English as authority is the Greek word exousia. Exousia means authority, power, or right. We might say that a person who has authority has the ability to give direction to other people. Generally, that authority is limited to specific areas, but sometimes it is more comprehensive.
When my children were very young, I had the authority to control much of their lives. That authority lessened as they grew and is now essentially gone. At the end of my working life, I managed a project, and with that I had the authority to give direction to a group of people. My authority here was limited. I could tell them what to work on and how I wanted it done. But I had no ability to give any other direction to them.
I also have been under authority. At work, I was always under the authority of my boss. Their authority was limited to workplace issues, but within that arena I was responsible to them. While I was in the Navy I was under a more comprehensive authority. It was not absolute, but it reached into most areas of my life. And I remain under the authority of the civil authorities of my country. I am responsible to follow the duly established law, and if I fail in that responsibility, I suffer the consequences.
A Biblical Example of Authority
In Matthew 8:5-13 we find a good example of authority. In this account, a Roman centurion came to Jesus, asking for the healing of a servant. When Jesus asked about going to the centurion’s home to heal the servant, the centurion responded with a statement on authority. He was a man who was himself under authority and had others under his own authority. When he gave orders to those under him, they were carried out. And, implicit in his comments, when he received orders from those over him, he carried them out.
The centurion knew that with authority comes the right to command, and the power to see that the commands are carried out. But the centurion did not say this just to brag about his own authority. Rather it was an acknowledgement that he recognized the authority of Jesus. He knew that Jesus had both the right and the power to give healing to his servant. And that he could exercise that power wherever he was.
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Authority as a Teacher
Chapters 5-7 of the gospel of Matthew contain what we commonly call the Sermon on the Mount. And at the end of this extended section of Jesus’ teachings, Matthew says that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:28-29).
Most teachers in Jesus’ day would generally reference other teachers from the past. Someone said this, or someone else said that. Seldom would you hear one express their own interpretation of the Scripture. But Jesus did not do that. Much of his teaching, especially early on, was in the form of “you have heard that it was said, but I say unto you. . .” And that was what the crowds found so amazing. His teaching was not based on the authority of some other noted teacher. Rather he taught as one who was an authority on the Scripture. And indeed, as the author of the Scripture, he would be the ultimate authority on interpreting the intent of the Scripture.
Authority to Forgive Sins
In Matthew 9:1-8 we find the story of a paralyzed man brought to Jesus by his friends. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven. And when challenged by the religious elite of his day, who equated sin and sickness, he healed the man to demonstrate to them his authority to also forgive sins.
The crowds are amazed that God has given this kind of authority to a man. The authority to forgive sins was rightly observed to belong only to God. But God had given that authority to Jesus.
Authority to Heal the Sick and Cast out Demons
In Matthew 10:1 Jesus commissioned his disciples and sent them out to the surrounding towns. And as a part of that commissioning, he “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
In order to be able to give that authority to his disciples, Jesus must also have had that authority. And he demonstrated that repeatedly in all the gospel accounts. Wherever Jesus went, he healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. This was what the centurion, mentioned above, had come to believe. That Jesus had this authority over sickness and evil spirits.
Authority Over the Creation
In Matthew 8:23-27 we find Jesus and his disciples in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee. During the crossing, a severe storm blew in and the boat was in danger of sinking. The disciples, in fear, woke up the sleeping Jesus. And he responded by rebuking the wind and waves. In response, they become still. The wind quit blowing and the sea became calm, and his disciples were amazed that the wind and waves had obeyed his orders.
While the word “authority” is not used in this account, it is very obviously implied. Jesus issued a command to the wind and waves, and it was obeyed – instantly. You might also see this authority over the creation in his ability to walk on water and in using just a few fish and loaves to feed a multitude of people.
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His Teaching About Authority
Jesus demonstrated his authority in many ways: over the Scripture; in forgiving sin; in healing and casting out demons; and over the creation. We might be led to believe that the exercise of authority is all about the use of power. But, in the kingdom Jesus is establishing, there is a twist. The power to rule within the kingdom is not what we would expect.
In Matthew 20:20-28 we find James and John, along with their mother, coming to Jesus and asking for the places of honor and authority when he comes into his kingdom. This did not go over well with the other disciples, and so Jesus had a talk with them about authority in the kingdom.
In this world, those who are thought to be great exercise authority over other people. The more authority you have over others, the greater you are thought to be. But it is not to be so in the kingdom. Rather, it is those who serve who are greatest. And Jesus, the one who had all authority, demonstrated this by washing the disciple’s feet, and by dying on the cross on behalf of a lost and dying world.
The Source of Authority
During Jesus final week before his crucifixion, he spent every day in Jerusalem, frequently in the temple courts. And on one of these occasions, he was challenged by the Jewish religious leaders about his authority to do what he was doing (Matt. 21:23-27). They considered themselves to have authority over the temple complex and all that took place within it. And it was clear to them that Jesus was acting under an authority other than theirs.
Jesus declined to answer their request for the source of his authority, likely knowing that it would only result in even more controversy. But clearly Jesus knew that he drew his authority from the Father above (John 14:9-10).
At the end of Matthew, Jesus appeared to his disciples and gave them what we today call the Great Commission. And he preceded this commission with the statement that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). And that authority included the ability, and right, to commission his followers to continue the work that he started.
Based on the authority of Jesus, the church has the authority to go out into the world, making and teaching disciples. Our authority to act in this world is a delegated authority, given to us by the one who has all authority.
Authority Delegated to His Followers
The commission Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 was not to them alone. This commission was given to his church as a whole. That commission also grants us the authority to carry it out. We have the authority to take the gospel out into the world around us. And we have the authority to make disciples, leading the lost to know their creator and redeemer. And we have the authority to help disciples grow in maturity and faithfulness to our Lord.
But with that authority comes responsibility. We are responsible to the one who has granted that authority to us. We need to be faithful to the task he has given us. With faithfulness comes reward. But unfaithfulness leads to disaster (Matt. 25:14-30). So, let us be faithful to the responsibility we have been given, acting under the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.