Jerry C. Brewer
The Bible often speaks of one doing something when, in fact, others did that thing under his authority. When Jesus was asked to heal a centurion’s servant, he approached the man’s house, but
…the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself; for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: wherefore neither thought myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it (Luke 7:6-8).
The centurion’s meaning was that Jesus could heal his servant by His authority without actually being present in his house. The same kind of language was used of Jesus baptizing His followers.
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized…Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come unto him (John 3:22, 25-26).
But John later records that, “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) he left Judea and departed again into Galilee” (John 4:1-3).
The centurion in the first instance above was said to do something when his servants carried out his order, acting under his authority, and Jesus was said to baptize more disciples than John, although Jesus did not do the actual baptizing. His disciples did the baptizing under His authority.
Now, consider the Great Commission. In recent years it has been claimed that this commission was not given to all Christians—either in the first century or today—but to the apostles only. The fact is that it was spoken to the apostles (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). But does this mean that the church today is under no obligation to obey this command? The New Testament was not written to us, but its precepts are still binding on us today because it was written for us.
For instance, Paul’s command to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us,” (2 Thess. 3:6), was written to the church at Thessalonica. Does that mean it is not applicable to churches today? Of course not! It was written to Thessalonica for the church in all ages from an apostle whom Jesus styled a “judge” of “the twelve tribes of Israel” in Matthew 19:28. Apostolic authority is Christ’s authority and when we obey apostolic authority, we obey Christ.
Before He ascended to the Father, Jesus said to His apostles, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to be witnesses for Jesus—His only witnesses, there are none today—and their authority as His witnesses would extend to the end of time. When they spoke by inspiration as they were empowered, it was as though Jesus Himself spoke (2 Cor. 5:20). Thus, the apostles were “under authority” from Christ and their teaching was Christ’s teaching.
After the establishment of the church in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2) there was a great growth of its numbers, attended by a great persecution against it by the Jews. That first persecution culminated in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr to the Cause of the Lord (Acts 7:54-60). Prior to this, the Cause of the Lord had been restricted to Jerusalem, but this event and the persecution that followed caused members of the church to flee the city. One of the most significant passages relating to our topic is found in these words: “…and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (emphasis JCB) …Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4). That the Holy Spirit had Luke to add, “except the apostles” is significant. When faithful Christians went everywhere in Judea and Samaria—where Jesus said the apostles would be witnesses—the apostles were still in Jerusalem. Yet, it can be said that the apostles preached “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” just as “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus baptized not, but his disciples).” The apostles were, indeed, witnesses to Jesus in Judea and Samaria without ever going there themselves. Where did those scattered brethren get the message they preached? From the apostles. What they preached was the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42), which was “under authority” of the apostles, and confirmed the apostles’ testimony by miracles (Acts 8:6-7, 12).
Although they never left Jerusalem, the apostles were also witnesses “unto the uttermost part of the earth” when those who were scattered abroad,
…traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of the men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:19-20).
When tidings of this came to the apostles’ ears in Jerusalem, they did not go to Antioch themselves. Instead, they sent Barnabas “under their authority.”
To insist that the Great Commission is not for us today is to repudiate the authority of Christ expressed through His apostles. He sent them “under authority” and they, in His name, sent others “under authority” and we are as much under the authority of Christ and His inspired apostles today as was the church of the first century.