Power Under Authority

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Leaders in the ancient world were far more dependent than rulers today on delegation. Though no one can be physically present in many places at once in order to conduct business in person, it is possible nowadays to pick up the phone, send an email or even make conference calls. Thanks to information technology, questions, answers, updates and decisions can travel enormous distances instantly.

spartan warriorNot so in times past. To control an organization back then, agents would be indispensable. Trusted individuals were needed who could be commissioned and dispatched to remote regions in order to conduct business on behalf of their lord.

Put yourself in the shoes of a king or merchant sending one of your servants out to negotiate a complex treaty or contract in a world where there was no way to maintain regular contact with them. Depending on how far they traveled, it could take days, weeks or even months for a message from them to get back to you. The lord wouldn’t even know the outcome of the mission until long after the matter was already concluded.

As a consequence of this, in order to get things done with any degree of efficiency, the agent would have to be empowered with enough of his lord’s authority to be able to make decisions “on the spot,” there and then, in the event that something unforeseen should turn up. The relevant people, whether troops, finance officers or lower- ranking envoys, would have to cooperate with the agent’s orders, as though it was the voice of the king himself speaking! Second-guessing was not an option.

This had an impact on the way people thought and, as a consequence, the language they used. The same principle of agency continues even today. Have you heard the newsreaders talk about Bush going to war with Saddam? Yet, in spite of the tough talk, Bush was tucked safely away in Washington and Saddam was hiding in a hole! They have never met in person. Instead, they sent other people’s children to do the fighting on their behalf.

How important is all this to understanding the Scriptures? We can learn a valuable lesson from the most improbable of men — someone who Yahushua commended for his great faith. He was, all things considered, most unlikely to gain any approval at all from the Jewish Messiah, being in the service of the occupying power and a Roman centurion at that! Yet Yahushua declared this man’s faith to have no parallel, even in Israel. A compliment indeed!

He had appealed to Yahushua to have his servant healed. Nothing unusual there. What seems to have delighted Yahushua so much was the explanation he gave of the rationale which lay behind his request. “Lord,” he said, “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” On what basis had he come to believe that the word of Yahushua carried so much authority? He goes on to explain: “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:8-10).

“Lord,” he said, “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” On what basis had he come to believe that the word of Yahushua carried so much authority? He goes on to explain: “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this!’ and he does it”
(Matt. 8:8-10).

If there was one thing this individual understood very well it was the principle of delegated authority. He simply took what he knew from his life experience and applied it to Yahushua and the Lord marveled! The centurion was streets ahead of the religious authorities.

His great faith was based upon the fact that he recognized a parallel between his relationship to his emperor and Yahushua’ relationship to his God. Both he and Yahushua were men whose authority was derived from their obedience to their overlord. Since they were pursuing their masters’ and not their own agenda, they had been empowered to act in their stead. In other words, a person would be promoted to a place where they were in authority over others to the extent that they were under the authority of their own master. No one in his right mind would empower a man who could not be trusted to pursue his boss’s agenda. The centurion clearly attributed Yahushua’ spiritual dynamic to his utter dedication to the Father’s will.

Perhaps the centurion had also heard talk of how Yahushua claimed to act in his Father’s name, which in the ancient world meant exactly the same thing as conducting business as a sent agent (a shaliach). What we do know is that he saw in Yahushua an authority from Yahuwah with the power to tell sickness and demons to “Go!” and to summon the breath of life back into a lifeless corpse.

Faith in Yahuwah seems always to have depended on identifying His true agents and obeying them accordingly. This is the only wise policy for us all.

It was Moses’ concern before he presented himself to the elders of Israel in Exodus chapter 4 that they should understand that it was Israel’s God who had sent him. Likewise Elijah in 1 Kings 18:36. Notice Yahushua’ words at the graveside of Lazarus in John 11:41-42. He prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me” — that they may know and understand that I am your unique commissioned agent.

If you wanted to describe such a person in a Jewish way you would say that they had been “oiled.” Most people prefer the term “anointed” because it sounds more sophisticated and a lot less messy. But throughout the Hebrew Bible, whenever Yahuwah set a person apart as an agent to fulfill a particular purpose, whether to rule His people as a king, intercede as a priest, or even be a patriarch like Abraham, he would be spoken of as an “anointed one” or messiah (see Ps. 105:15). As time progressed and Israel grew in the knowledge of Yahuwah’s foreordained plan they came to anticipate someone who would be Yahuwah’s ultimate agent, supremely empowered and supremely obedient. They referred to this individual, appropriately enough, as “the Messiah.”


N.T. Wright sums up their expectation: “It is clear that whenever the Messiah appears, and whoever he turns out to be, he will be the agent of Israel’s God. This must be clearly distinguished from any suggestion that he is in himself a transcendent figure, existing in some supernatural mode before making his appearance in space and time” (Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 320).

This is the beating heart of what it means to believe that Yahushua is the Messiah and is therefore the fountainhead of New Testament faith. All our dealings with Yahuwah and all Yahuwah’s dealings with us are mediated through the one “authorized dealer” of spiritual things, the man approved of Yahuwah, Yahushua of Nazareth. The simplicity of our creed, as distinct from the hair-raising complexities of later Trinitarianism, which really destroy the agency principle, is worth repeating. May our children never forget that “There is one God, and one mediator between that God and man, the man Messiah Yahushua” (1 Tim. 2:5).
This is a non-WLC article written by Alex Hall (Focus on the Kingdom, Volume 8, No. 10, July, 2006)

We have taken out from the original article all pagan names and titles of the Father and Son, and have replaced them with the original given names. Furthermore, we have restored in the Scriptures quoted the names of the Father and Son, as they were originally written by the inspired authors of the Bible. -WLC Team