What they call “The Great Commission” was the original Declaration of Freedom. It brought God’s authority to the oppressed.
What Genius We Have!
Its glory is the genius—one blueprint explaining both personal growth and wholesale revolution, in 50 words or less. The Saints own this genius, it’s ours, and nobody else can imitate it, although some tried.1 It really is the Great Decree, not the Great Commission, because it decrees His universal authority—He doesn’t commission it, or hope for it—and He establishes that universal authority through the Saints by empowering them with universal authority:
Jesus told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
First and foremost comes authority. The universe revolves around it. “There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him,” it says (1 Cor. 8:6). “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now” have serious authority issues (1 Cor. 8:7a). Really, everyone has serious authority issues, and it shows across the globe and handicaps everyday life.
All wars are waged over authority. (Not religion—what a bizarre claim the New Atheists make by skipping two centuries of bloodshed from atheist regimes! Hello?) Still, in peacetime authority defines human suffering, “when a man lords it over others to his own hurt!” (Eccl. 8:9) Everyone is crushed by authority, both Stalin’s victims and Stalin, by the his own authority. Authority is mostly negative, and still, “one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.” (Eccl. 5:8) From the bottom up, authority crushes. U.S. Presidents come to office full of energy, and leave worn down. It “corrupts absolutely,” as secular wisdom says, with good reason.
Authority is a royal farce, said Jesus. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called‘Benefactors’.’” (Lk. 22:25) Yes, “Benefactors” push us around. Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s bloody dictator, stunned the world in a televised interview. “All my people love me! They would die to protect me!” he said. Meanwhile, he sent helicopter gunships to slaughter “my people” in the streets!
We hate it, something is wrong with it, but we need authority. Qaddafi is better than anarchy, as the French Revolution proved (we could, but won’t blame atheism, even though atheism was the official faith of the revolution, and Christians were slaughtered mercilessly). That so-called revolution was a bloodbath of random violence that degraded into anarchy. They wanted no kings, leaders, or any constraints over “Lady Liberty”, the great statue they erected in Paris and worshipped. Tired of kangaroo courts and beheadings by the tens of thousands, people welcomed salvation from Napoleon, a dictator.
“The King bears not the sword in vain.” (Rom. 13:4) God mandates authority (and taxes!) for our protection. “Because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God.” (Rom. 13:6) The problem is not authority—which is so necessary—but the power authorities use.
Colonel Qaddafi and Napoleon established authority by overwhelming force. Even as I write, it seems Qaddafi will retain his authority because he owns tanks and helicopter gunships, but the rebels do not. Even if he holds on, his authority is so fragile, Qaddafi can only keep it by overwhelming force. If he loses that edge, if someone else comes with greater force, he’s dead, dead, dead! The people he thinks “will die to protect me” will jump ship.
Benevolent authorities and virtuous authorities command a strong following because their authority is legitimate. People submit from the heart. There are not many examples of this, but perhaps Abraham Lincoln will do. There may still be some resentful Southerners (the descendants of plantation-owners, maybe?) who still curse his name, but the vast majority of Americans praise his name today. The same is true of Martin Luther King. However, both men faced incredible slander, reviling, opposition and hatred in their day, and why is this? They struggled over authority. Lincoln stripped away the authority of plantation owners over slaves, and King stripped away the authority of whites over blacks. Only after they were assassinated was it clear to (nearly) everyone how virtuous and benevolent their leadership was. Too bad they can’t come back to life.
But Jesus did come back to life, right? He is a pristine example of benevolent and virtuous authority, if anyone is. Even Richard Dawkins vocalizes respect for Jesus Christ (however reluctantly). One of the most astonishing facts about the New Atheists is their unwillingness to attack Jesus Christ.
Colossians is a study in the authority of Jesus, the King of Kings. In it, God proclaims a transfer of authority:
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Colossians 1:13
Who can justifiably criticize the kindness and virtue of Jesus Christ? At the center of His mission, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” he said (Mark 10:45). In Colossians we see how this becomes the source of something great and enduring:
because of the hope laid up for you in the heavenlies,
of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel. Colossians 1:5
At Central Teaching, we will be studying how this new authority works in our lives, and the hope it brings.