After Christ had risen, and just before He charged the disciples with their responsibility, He made a very profound statement. He said, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). That is a very plain and absolute statement of truth, and it has never been altered in any way. If the truth of that one statement could sink into our souls and we could grasp the significance of it, it would resolve every question on authority that we have. All authority is in Christ! It has never been delegated by Him to any man, group of men, or organization. He received authority from the Father, and He retains that authority today. The only one who has authority in Himself is Christ.
To have authority vested in a person means that the authority is independent and may be used in an independent way apart from consultation or approval of higher or coexistent authority. If we consider natural authority for a moment, it will help us to see the difference between natural and spiritual authority. Natural authority is received from a man or group of men, and then quite often is delegated within certain limits. For example, a military commander receives a commission from his country, and with that commission comes certain responsibilities and the authority to carry them out. Within the limits given, he makes certain decisions and exercises authority to carry out his responsibilities. He need not consult higher authority in carrying out these duties as long as he stays within the limits and is able to fulfill the tasks given him. In carrying out his responsibilities, he may further delegate authority to others who will act in a similar manner within further limits. Each one answers to his superior, but exercises authority in himself within certain limits.
Spiritual authority, on the other hand, works entirely opposite to natural authority. (It is mixing the two that causes so much trouble.) When Christ said "All authority has been given to Me," He did not follow that with "and now I give you authority." Instead, the command was given to go and do certain things. The authority speaking, however, was Christ. He was in charge, so to speak. We see the same principle in other scriptures. For example, Christ said, "I will build My church," He retained the responsibility and authority, and this is what provides the assurance that He will not fail. If He had given the task to some man or group of men and they failed, the church would fail. But He has assured that it will not fail, because He is the one doing the building.
The thing people noticed about the teaching of Christ when He began His public ministry was that "He was teaching them as one having authority" (Matthew 7:29). When He healed the paralytic, He said "...that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." In Ephesians 4:8 we read that He ascended and gave gifts to men. Notice that Christ was the one who gave the gifts, not a man, nor a group of men, nor an organization, nor the church. He is the giver of gifts. He is also the one who heals. If spiritual authority was delegated to men, there would be some who had received authority to heal, able to heal whomever they wish and clean out the hospitals. But Christ retains that authority in all circumstances.
There are many other areas that demonstrate that all authority is in Christ, but perhaps these are sufficient to encourage each one of us to search the scriptures and settle the issue once and for all. All authority has been given to Christ, and He has not delegated any of that authority in any situation to anybody. He retains it all, and this is the central dividing line between natural and spiritual authority. Spiritual authority is centered in Christ, and it pertains to things of the spiritual realm, that is of the new man. Spiritual authority is seen in the church, for that is where Christ is Head. It encompasses every aspect of the life of God, and affects every area of the life of the spiritual man. It is not just in heaven, but on earth also, and works out in very real areas as we shall see. But in every application that we consider, let us continually bear in mind that spiritual authority is always centered in Christ.