Sunday, October 13, 2013

What does Jesus mean when he says he has all authority?

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Matthew 18:18-20

All power, or all authority, is quite a claim. Perhaps Alexander the Great imagined he had all authority; history certainly seems to indicate that the Caesars did. But of course, we look back at these rulers and realize that all authority was certainly limited even though it may have a wide expanse. Consider the claims the resurrected Christ was making. All power included authority over disease and death, over principalities and powers, and over earth and creation itself, much more than our worldly leaders have ever attained.

When the serpent presented himself to Eve, and beguiled her to sin, the serpent, Satan himself, took over ownership of both man and the earth itself. We know this because thousands of years later Satan tempts the Christ, and one of the things he offers Jesus is the rulership of the earth: “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus did not dispute the power of Satan to give him the kingdoms of the world. Rather he pointed to Satan that worship was reserved for God alone.

Before the cross, it is written in Luke, Jesus sweat great drops of blood. Chafer suggests that, “. . .it would seem, Satan attempted to take that life before it could be offered for the sins of the world.”1 Was Satan attempting to destroy the life of Christ before he could go to the cross? No one is certain that this is the case, but we know that when Peter tried to dissuade his Lord from the cross verbally, the Lord turned to him and rebuked Satan himself. There is little doubt that Satan was trying everything he could to maintain his ownership of the earth.

Is it not interesting that Jesus claims all power (or all authority) when he has been resurrected from the dead? Many scholars think that this sacrifice of a righteous man for the world wrested the possession of the earth away from Satan. When Jesus cried out, “it is finished”, he really meant that it was finished. The work of God redeeming his lost world was done once for all. No more was man irredeemable; now it was possible for the grace of God to manifest himself to a lost world. Why then do we still see a world in the control of Satan? The New Testament makes it apparent that we are awaiting the carrying of the sentence out; it is like a courtroom where the death penalty is given by the judge, and yet, there is still sometimes many years before the penalty is exacted.

While we are waiting for that penalty to be exacted, Satan is alive and well on planet earth, to coin the title of a book. Paul tells us that he is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air”, suggesting that his dominion is everywhere upon the earth. Nonetheless his days are numbered, and the extension of time that we have now, is referred to as the age of grace, where the mercy of God is extended to mankind for but a brief time in the annals of eternity. We preach Christ to a lost world, in hope that some of them might hear, and receive mercy before that sentence falls.

As I am writing this little piece, I have running through my head the lyrics of Keith Green, “Well, I believe in Jesus and what he said he's gonna do
He'll put an apple in your lyin' mouth and cook you in a sulfur stew, ooh
One that'll never be through, is it soup yet? No!”2 I think Keith Green captured the idea of what is happening perfectly. We know from Job that Satan roams the earth, and has access to the Father, but we know from the New Testament that his days are numbered. He has been found wanting, and the judgment pronounced by God is inescapable. John tells us in Revelation that when he is finally cast down to the earth, his wrath will be great, for he will know that he has but a short time.

Which is part of what “all power” means, I think. In one way, Satan’s sentence is immutable, having been set from eternity past in the mind of God. But there is another part to the power of God, which I believe ought to be more meaningful. I rejoice to know that Satan, and much of the evil of the world will be judged. I dearly love to know that there is coming a time of, as the heralding angel cried, peace on earth and good will toward man. But I think all power, or all authority, means something far more to us, especially those of us who are facing decaying bones and multiplying wrinkles. There is no power anywhere in the universe to stop Christ from doing that which he intends. And he intends to save me. He intends to save you, if you have so believed him. We can even journey into that dark hall of death, knowing that death itself cannot conquer the intentions of Christ.

All of the saints of history will come together in the greatest reunion ever held, and like other reunions, they will have much to share with one another about their very different living experiences. We will be so ourselves, yet so unlike what we were. For the first time we will see ourselves as God sees us, and our reflections will shine like the face of God himself. We will be what we ought to be, what God intended from the beginning to make of us. And that ain’t bad!

But meanwhile, back on earth, and facing the world that is yet filled with darkness, we can know that nothing, NO THING, shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. If we truly knew what complete conquerors he made of us, would we not be filled with more boldness to speak of the unshakable love who has found us?

A final word? I was thinking about all the martyrs for Jesus, which must number in the hundreds of thousands now, if not the millions. The all-powerful God, Jesus has allowed these many dear saints to give their lives for daring to believe him. How the supremely powerful God must care for those who have given their all for the One who gave his all that we might live! What mercy he must have prepared for these martyrs, which Revelation reminds us, are to be given special love and attention throughout eternity as they stand before the Lamb of God, who will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It could not be better than that! That which we see as tragedy of the worst sort, as we see saints butchered for their faith, is turned into the sweetest melody of heaven, as God, the all-powerful, uses his authority not to undo their sacrifice, but rather to honor their sacrifice with all of his powerful mercy. And that is quite a lot of mercy!

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38, 39

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-05-21). Satan: His Motive and Methods by Lewis Sperry Chafer (Unexpurgated Edition) (Halcyon Classics) (Kindle Locations 120-121). Halcyon Press Ltd.. Kindle Edition.
2. Green, Keith. Dear John Letter

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