Authority over the Earth
When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them dominion (authority) over the earth. This was not just personal authority over their own lives; it was an institutional authority. To establish dominion over the earth, they would have had to establish institutions. God had already established the family. They would also need to establish schools to teach their children. Universities would be needed to develop and expand knowledge of the earth. To produce the food and clothing and other things needed to support life on the earth and to exercise dominion, they would need tools and equipment. Business institutions would be needed to develop and own this capital equipment (They would not have needed civil government if they had not sinned). They would exercise authority over the earth through these institutions. This challenge is often referred to as the cultural mandate.
When Adam and Eve sinned, it changed all the potential and future authority that would be exercised by the institutions that they and their descendants would establish in the future. Instead of being exercised according to God's will, it would be exercised according to the will of those who held positions of authority in these institutions. The effect of sin was that these people would be slaves of unrighteousness (Rom 6:20). Their authority would serve unrighteousness.
The fall did not just effect the relationship between God and man. It changed the shape of authority in all the institutions on the earth. All the authority they would exercise in the future passed out of God's will. It passed from the Kingdom of God to the Kingdom of darkness. Satan's kingdom has a spiritual and an institutional dimension. The fall was primarily a transition of authority in each of these areas.
When Satan was tempting Jesus, he showed him all the "kingdoms of the world" and said, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me" (Luke 4:6). Satan is usually a liar, but because he was boasting, he was partially speaking the truth. Note what he said had been given to him: "all authority of the kingdoms of the world". This is why the history of the earth has been dominated by evil. Most of the authority in the institutions of the world has been given to Satan and has not been taken back.
However, God had a solution to this problem: Jesus. His death, resurrection and ascension totally changed the "authority" situation in heaven and on earth. The church has not fully understood this truth. Consequently we have not fully understood the great commission that Jesus gave to the church. He began by saying,
All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me (Matt 28:18)
There goes that "authority" word again. We need to understand the implications of Jesus statement. Why did all this authority have to be transferred Back to him? The statement implies that he had it and then lost it. This is true. After the creation, Jesus had authority over all creation, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When they created Adam, they gave authority (dominion) over the earth to him. Jesus no longer had it. It belonged to the one created in his image. When Adam sinned, he passed authority on the earth to Satan. That is why Jesus had to get it back.
A major purpose of the cross was to take back the authority over the earth, which Satan had stolen. The basis for Satan's authority was sin. Jesus' death destroyed that authority because his death and his blood dealt with sin, removing the basis for Satan's authority.
When his ministry on earth was complete, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the father, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. The father placed everything under his feet (Eph 1:20-22). This is why Jesus was able to say that all authority in heaven had been given to him.
What has happened to Jesus Authority?
This raises a question. If Jesus has all authority on heaven and earth, why is there still so much evil in the world. The answer is that Satan is a cheat, who does not play by the rules. Since the ascension, he has no legitimate authority in heaven or on earth. He has been thrown out of heaven and has no place there (Rev 12:8), but he has been able to continue to exercise authority on earth as a trespasser. The legal basis for his authority on earth has been removed, but he continues to exercise it, because no one has taken it of him. He has lost the legal right to his authority, but he will not give it up until he is forced to give it up.
Who will take this authority off him? God will not do it because he gave authority over the earth to man. Man gave Satan the authority, so man must take it back. Jesus established the legal basis for it to be taken back. Man now has to take back the authority that Jesus has legally won for him. This explains spiritual warfare. It is not just a personal thing, where Satan tries to make life difficult for us. It is a battle for the earth, which belongs to Jesus, but which Satan refuses to give up. Man, in the church, as the body of Christ, must force him to give it up. The great commission is the key to achieving this.
The Great Commission
The great commission has two parts
- Go and make disciples of all nations
- Teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.
The first part is simple. If people continue in sin and do not know or accept what Jesus has done, then they remain under the power of the evil one. Preaching the gospel is the key. As people repent and believe, they are transferred from being under his authority, to be under the authority of Jesus.
The second part of the commission is more challenging. It talks about obeying Jesus' commands. That means surrendering to his authority (that word again). The church must teach Christians to live under the authority of Jesus (discipleship). They must allow him to be Lord of their personal lives. If they do not to live in obedience to Jesus, they will continue to sin, and the devil will be able to take back authority in their lives. Therefore the discipling of new Christians is really important.
However the second part of the great commission requires much more than this. Disciples must also be taught to obey Jesus wherever they exercise authority in the institutions of the world. All Christians holding authority in the institutions of the world must be taught to do what Jesus commanded. They must be taught to acknowledge his authority.
The salvation of Jesus extends everywhere that sin has gone. One of the worst effects of sin was on the authority in the institutions of the world. It should have been exercised in obedience to God, but it passed to the evil one. The challenge of the great commission is to take all that authority back into obedience to Jesus. We do this by teaching Christians in their institutions to exercise their authority in obedience to Jesus. As this happens, the part of the institution, where the Christian exercises authority, becomes part of the Kingdom of God.
The church has not taken this latter part of the great commission very seriously. It has concentrated on the first part the commission: winning souls for Jesus. The institutions, which have authority in the world, have mostly been ignored. The only institutions to be brought into obedience to Jesus are the family and the church. There has been some interest in schools. However, all the other institutions like business, universities, and the civil government have been seen as being outside the scope of the great commission. As a result, the institutions with the greatest authority have remained as part of the world system, which does not acknowledged the authority of Jesus. However, they don't remain neutral.
Wherever there is a power vacuum, Satan moves in. Satan exercises his authority by force (authority from below). If Christians don't take back the authority that belongs to Jesus, he will hold it by default. If we don't establish the Kingdom of God, he will hang on to his authority.
There is great emphasis on "harvest" in the modern church. This is good, but if we just complete the harvest we have failed. We will not have completed the second part of the commission. Jesus' claim to all authority in heaven and earth will be just empty words. He is counting on his church to make his words a reality. If we don't establish his kingdom on the earth, we will have failed him.
The first part of the great commission is important. People cannot be taught to exercise their authority in obedience to Jesus, if they have not received his salvation. Teaching them to obey Jesus will be a waste of time. Preaching the gospel is really important. However, it must be followed by the second part of the commission. The church must follow up the harvest, by teaching the nations to obey Jesus. This includes teaching them how to exercise their authority in the institutions of the world in obedience to him.
The harvest is not an end in itself. A farmer does not work hard just because he enjoys harvesting. He does the hard work of the harvest, to get the grain to make bread or feed his animals. If the grain had no value, then the farmer would not bother completing the harvest. In the same way the church is not fulfilling its purpose, if it completes the harvest, but does not go on to bring all things under the authority of Jesus.
Victory in Battle
When an army is in battle it is not just enough to conquer territory.
- defensive positions must be established
- supply lines must be put in place
- a chain of command must be established.
- military governors will be appointed.
- people who live in the compound territory are gradually assimilated into the conquering kingdom.
- new institutions that are loyal to the new king must be established.
If these things are not done, the conquering army will eventually be forced out. In the same way a church, which does not complete both parts of the great commission will eventually be defeated.
Return to the Kingdom of God.