Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
It’s clear therefore that Jesus has given authority over demons and diseases to disciples for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost. What is the extent of this authority?
Popular teaching directs us, among other Scriptures, to Ephesians 2:6.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…
Since we are now seated with Christ (presumably at the right hand of the Father in heaven), that would signify that we have equal authority to Jesus Christ himself. And Jesus now has all authority.
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
According to popular teaching therefore, believers have ALL authority. In addition to inviting skeptical snickering from conservative evangelicals, this teaching would be difficult to demonstrate in practice. Authority on earth should be demonstrable, and not simply stated in theory. If we say we have authority over our pet dog, we should be to demonstrate it by commanding our dog to sit after which he or she actually sits.
If indeed believers have ALL authority, moreover, we should be able like the Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father to perform supernatural feats whenever and wherever we would like. That is the nature of authority. When we “say the word,” it is done. But it is of course clear that we do not have all authority like Jesus; we cannot perform any miracle we would like at any time of our choosing. If we did, we would be God.
Either believers have ALL authority in every area of existence (like Almighty God Himself), or they do not. It is a binary proposition without a third alternative. If we want to appear reasonable, we might want to state that we do not have all authority like God Himself. Therefore we must have LIMITED authority or a MEASURE of authority. If so, exactly how much authority do we have? And to what areas is that authority limited? If we say that being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms we have ALL authority, that means we now have authority in EVERY area of existence on earth. But that does not sound reasonable at all. (Like God, do we have the authority to determine the day of our birth and the day of our death?) Therefore let us say that believers have been given A MEASURE of authority on earth, authority which is limited certain areas.
So we might want to back off a bit on our claim which insists that in the area of healing the sick and casting out demons we have equal authority to Jesus Christ. When Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons in the gospels, he did it quickly, without a single failure, and usually with a word. That, however, is not the experience of most believers. Many of us fail to heal the sick as Jesus did. And when we do succeed, it often takes more than just “a word.” How would we explain that?
We could of course say that it’s because, like the disciples in Matthew 17 who failed to heal the epileptic boy, we have little faith. But I personally would hesitate to venture in that direction, blaming the believer for having little faith every time we fall short in performing miraculous healings exactly as Jesus did in the gospels. In doing so we would lose credence in the sight of more traditional evangelicals. We might moreover even create some division in the body of Christ if we stubbornly cling to what might be considered the “extreme” position in our teaching that in Christ we have ALL authority.
As argued above, either we do have all authority, or we do not. Most if not many would agree that that we in fact do not have all authority. If that is the case, then exactly how much authority do believers have in Christ?
We instead teach that we have been given a measure of authority over diseases and demons. We also hold that not every disciple has been given exactly the same measure of authority. Apostles might have a greater level of authority than non-apostolic disciples. The measure which we are actually given may depend on our specific calling. And we believe that it is possible to grow in authority.
We see authority as analogous to the “talents” in the familiar parable in Matthew 25.
Matthew 25:14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” (KJV)
The man distributed the talents to his servants each according to his own ability.
In the same way, the Lord gives authority to his servants each according to his or her calling. Therefore different disciples might have varying measures of authority over diseases and demons. But just as it is possible to grow in faith, in understanding, and in holiness—maturing in every area of our relationship with God—it is possible also to grow in our authority over diseases and demons.
Returning to Matthew 25, we see…
19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
…28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ 29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. (NASB)
Luke 16:10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. (NASB)
Based on this we can reasonably conclude that he who is faithful with a small measure of authority will be faithful also with a larger measure authority. If we are faithful to use the Lord’s authority over disease and demons to heal the sick when sharing the gospel with the lost as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, then the Lord knows we will be faithful with a larger measure of this authority.
Therefore it is possible for a believer to grow in this kind of authority and power. As we grow in this way, the Lord can use us to do greater miraculous works leading to greater fruitfulness for the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Other areas of authority for believers according to Scripture
In Matthew 8 Jesus rebuked the wind and storm which had threatened the boat carrying him and his disciples. The storm then subsided. Just before that he rebuked his disciples for crying out to him in fear of the storm. Based on this and two other similar instances where Jesus rebuked his disciples for failing to perform as he expected, we can reasonably conclude that Jesus was expecting the disciples to rebuke the storm just as he did. Disciples therefore have a measure of authority to rebuke storms, especially when they threaten the advance of the gospel, for example, in open-air evangelistic events. This has in fact taken place repeatedly in the ministries of disciples who have trained with us.
John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
In August 2017 Houston was deluged by Hurricane Harvey. One evening during that historic weekend when 25” of rain had been forecast, the rainwater began to threaten our home, flooding the street in front of our home and then inching up our sidewalk—-inexorably—toward our front door. I knew that unless I did something, our house would soon be underwater and we would face loss and extreme inconvenience. Click on Hurricane Harvey in Houston: a testimony of miraculous deliverance to read what happened next. Therefore when our personal safety or that of our loved ones is involved, it is justifiable to use the authority the Lord has entrusted to us.
In Acts 13 Paul was opposed by the sorcerer Elymas when he was sharing the gospel with Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus. Led by the Holy Spirit Paul rebuked the sorcerer authoritatively, and immediately he went blind. Upon witnessing this amazing teaching about the Lord, the proconsul believed in Jesus. When led by the Holy Spirit, disciples have authority to remove obstacles for the advance of the gospel.
In summary, disciples have been given a measure of authority in some areas to be used primarily when we are preaching the gospel. What is the exact extent of this authority? Scripture does not define it precisely. In certain (but not all) situations it is to be applied at the leading of the Holy Spirit. This authority is generally not to be applied for personal gain or convenience.
Certain disciples might be given “special authority” in an area of ministry where they may have a special calling for the advance of the gospel, for example, as an apostle or an evangelist.
Just as we can grow in faith and in other areas of a disciple’s walk with the Lord, we can also grow in supernatural authority and power.