Col 2:15 (NIV) And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
1 Cor 15:24 (NIV) Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
Civil, Servant, and "Spiritual" Authority
Scripture makes a distinction between civil and a new type of authority, servant authority, and often contrasts the two--allowing civil authority to continue in this world until the end of the age, but forbidding it in the church.
We know how the kingdom of this world works: power, the "pecking order", money, dominion, class distinctions, titles, status, etc. Should such practices be permitted in the kingdom of God? What is the destiny of those who "exercise authority", "lord it over", and "want to be first"?
The question is important today because many Christian sects have adopted the world's practices and teachings of power structure, calling it "spiritual authority". What does Jesus think of this? Is this teaching Scriptural?
First: How Is The Christian To Interact With Civil Authority?
Rom 13:1,3-4,6 (NIV) Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established... Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing... This is why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.
1 Pet 2:13-14 (NIV) Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
Temporary, Practical Submission To Worldly Authority Versus Eternal Submission To God
Luke 20:20-25 (NIV) Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: "Teacher... is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" He saw through their duplicity and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
John 18:36 (GLT) Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have fought that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here."
When (And Only When) Not To Obey The Authorities Of This World
Acts 4:19 (TEB) But Peter and John answered them, "You yourselves judge which is right in God's sight, to obey you or to obey God."
Acts 5:28 (NIV) "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name..." Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"
The Simple Authority Structure Of The Kingdom Of God
Mat 28:18 (NIV) Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
1 Tim 2:5-6 (NIV) For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all men...
Eph 1:21 (NIV) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but in the age to come.
Phil 2:10-11 (NEB) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow--in heaven, on earth, and in the depths--and every tongue confess, "Jesus Christ is Lord", to the glory of God the Father.
1 Cor 8:5-7 (Phi) For though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth--gods and lords galore in fact--for us there is only one God, the Father, from whom everything comes, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom everything exists, and through whom we ourselves are alive. But this knowledge of ours is not shared by all men...
1 Cor 8:7 (NIV) But not everyone knows this...
God's "Servant Authority" Is Not Of This World
Luke 4:18 (Jer) "The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free..."
Luke 9:1-2 (NIV) When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Authority Over What?
Luke 10:17-20 (NIV) The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."
Richard Halverson: "Evangelicals seem to want power only so they can accomplish their agenda, which is not a Kingdom of God agenda. They want a spiritual revival so they can be more materialistic... But the surest way for this to be a better world is for people to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The model for Christian leadership in America today is not the entrepreneur, not the CEO--it is the suffering servant, Jesus Christ."
A Completely New Kind of Authority
John 13:3-8 (NIV) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
Richard Foster: "Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest, there is trouble over who is the least. That is the crux of the matter for us, isn't it? Most of us know we will never be the greatest; just don't let us be the least. Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others' feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness."
Now You Know...
John 13:12-17 (NIV) When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
Spiritual authority is authority to serve, authority to put yourself last, authority to say no to the world's ideas of self-promotion. Christ has told us His secret... and we are authorized to imitate Him. To obey Christ means putting yourself at the whim of the needs of others, to give up your rights and humble yourself, leaving the promotion and control up to God.
The Mysterious "Nicolaitans?"
Rev 2:6 (NIV) "But you have this in your favor: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."
Rev 2:15-16 (NIV) "Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."
Except for these two verses, there are no other writings or historical references to a group of people called the "Nicolaitans". Nonetheless, speculation runs wild as to who is being referred to, what beliefs they might have held, etc., as can be seen by scanning the footnotes of most any study Bible. There is only one Nicolas ("ruler of the people" in Greek) mentioned in Scripture, in Acts 6:5, who was a man of God "authorized" by the Twelve to wait tables, interestingly enough... Considering Jesus's strong admonishments, it would be nice to know who these "Nicolaitans" are to see if their "teachings" and "practices" are still around. Is "spiritual authority" repackaged "Nicolaitan" doctrine?
An Attempt To Explain Who The "Nicolaitans" Might Be
It would be odd for Jesus to put such emphasis on the teachings of the "Nicolaitans" in the Revelation if there were no corresponding emphasis earlier in his ministry. May I suggest that "Nicolaitans" is simply an untranslated word, or "transliteration". The Greek word nikao means 'to prevail, overcome or conquer' (example Rom 12:21). laos means 'the people'. So, English translators could have just as well translated the word nicolaitans 'those who prevail over the people' or 'overcome the people' or even 'lord it over the laity', instead of transliterating it into an obscure, confusing, proper noun. The verses would then translate as follows:Rev 2:6 (DVP) "But you have this in your favor, you hate the practices of 'those who lord it over the laity', which I also hate."
Rev 2:15-16 (DVP) "Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of 'those who prevail over the people'. Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."
Does This Correspond With The Previous Teaching And Emphasis Of Jesus?
Luke 22:24-27 (NEB) A dispute arose between them about which should be reckoned the greatest, but he said to them, "Among pagans it is the kings who lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are given the title Benefactor. This must not happen with you. No; the greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves. For who is the greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely? [...by worldly standards.] Yet here I am among you as one who serves!"
Mark 10:42-45 (Phi) so Jesus called them all to him, and said, "You know that the so-called rulers of the heathen lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free."
Even if you don't see the suggested connection of these texts with the so-called "Nicolaitans", do not miss the clear teaching of Jesus concerning those who wish to "lord over" in His kingdom.Mat 20:25-28 (NIV) Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and that their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Let's Imitate The World!
1 Sam 8:4-7,9,19-20 (NIV) ...The elders of Israel... said to him, "...Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king... Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."... But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations..."
The Desire of The Flesh for The Authority of This World
Jer 5:26-29 (NAS) "For wicked men are found among My people, they watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap, they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great [NIV: powerful] and rich. They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. 'Shall I not punish these people' declares the Lord, 'On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?'"
Jer 5:30-31 (NAS) "An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?"
God's People Embrace The Authority of This World and Call It "Spiritual"
Jer 23:10 (NIV) ...The prophets follow an evil course and use their power unjustly.
Eze 34:4 (NIV) You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick, or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
Gal 2:2,6 (NIV) [Paul:] ...But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders... As for those who seemed to be important--whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance--those men added nothing to my message.
Mark 12:38-40 (NIV) As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the Law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market-places, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
The Carnal Mind Will Never Understand Servant Authority
Mat 21:23,27 (NIV) Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?..." Then he [Jesus] said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
John 19:10-11 (NIV) ...Pilate said: "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."
Are We Not Carnal?
To justify our disobedience to Scripture, often the following verse is trotted out by the "Nicolaitans" among us to oppose repentance to God's perspective:2 Pet 2:10 (NAS) and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed...
But the authority being despised here is the authority of God by those who are self-willed, carnal, and unrighteous. God has stated clearly that He is the only spiritual authority, and thinking otherwise is a forbidden sell-out to His lordship. And we should know better...1 Cor 3:1-4 (NKJ) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal?
The carnal, stiff-necked rebellion in us refuses to recognize true authority and prefers to boast in men. This tendency God would skewer with His word and truth, but the flesh "don't like it". Real, servant authority makes the "Nicolaitans" among us extremely angry, for it exposes their sin in sharp relief. (Our commentary within verses [in brackets], as always.)2 Pet 2:10 (Amp) And particularly those [the carnal, the unrighteous] who walk after the flesh and indulge in the lust of polluting passion, and scorn and despise [real, servant] authority [as in Mat 21:23-27, above]. Presumptuous and daring--self willed and self loving (creatures)!
Richard Foster: "The authority of which Jesus spoke is not the authority of the "pecking order". We must clearly understand the radical nature of Jesus's teaching on this matter. He was not just reversing the "pecking order" as many suppose. He was abolishing it. The authority of which he spoke was not an authority to manipulate and control. It was an authority of function, not of status... The spiritual authority of Jesus is an authority not found in position or title, but in a towel.
Advice About How To Practice And Recognize Real Authority
Mat 23:10-12 (Phi) "And you must not let people call you 'leaders'--you have only one leader, Christ! The only 'superior' among you is the one who serves the others. For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion."
1 Pet 5:3 (Phi) You should aim not at being dictators but examples of Christian living in the eyes of the flock committed to your charge.
Authority To Do What?
Heb 13:17 (Phi) Obey your leaders and recognize their authority. They keep constant watch over your welfare, and they have great responsibility. Try to make their work a pleasure and not a painful burden--that would be of no advantage to you.
Heb 13:17 (GLT) Yield to those taking the lead of you, and submit, for they watch for your souls, giving an account, that they may do this with joy...
Servant Authority: To Help/Feed/Heal, Not To "Lord"/Order/Control
2 Cor 1:24 (NIV) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
2 Cor 13:9-10 (NIV) We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in the use of authority--the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.
Mark 9:35 (NIV) Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
John 21:17 (NIV) ...Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
We have been authorized to imitate Christ, authorized to serve, to meet the needs of others. Often this means assuming a position in the eyes of men, but we are not to revel in this. If we find ourselves in a position of man-made authority, we should do everything with the intent to serve, even if that means making decisions for others. We are to imitate the Chief Shepherd, who will return shortly to have a word with some unfaithful stewards who have exploited, philandered, and "lorded it over" the flock.1 Pet 5:2-4 (NIV) Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Shepherds serve the sheep, wolves clothe themselves with so-called "spiritual authority" and serve themselves...Acts 20:28-31 (NIV) "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from among your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning you night and day with tears."
Extra Stuff on Servant Authority