[Note: The following is the prepared text for a Bible Study given to the Portland congregation of the United Church of God on September 28, 2022.]
This is a busy time of year for all of us as we prepare for the Feast of Tabernacles and for those of us who speak and prepare messages it especially a busy time. I hope you are all enjoying your fill of meat in due season as we talk about the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His rule on this earth. Nearly a year ago I spoke to you all about the Household Codes and how it is that the relationships we deal with in the family are a mirror of the relationships that we have with regards to God and Jesus Christ, and that authority on earth in the household is representative of the authority that exists in heaven, and that our earthly lives are preparation for the performance of relationships that will go on for eternity. At the end of that message I state that there were implications of these codes and relationships that went beyond the household to authority in the religious and civil world, the realms of church and the realms of politics, both places where authority exists over us as believers and as a residents or citizens of various nations and states and other political communities. I stated that it was not my intention to get further into that sort of material at that time. I wish to do so now.
However, in talking about civil and religious authority, it is not my intention merely to discuss that which is often discussed, our need to honor and respect authority. Rather, my intention today is to discuss this subject matter with you all here today in a matter that is perhaps a bit unusual, but in a way that is relevant to all of us here today, speaker as well as listeners and viewers. When I speak of civil and religious authority, I do not speak merely to people who are under that authority here and now, though we are all under various authorities at present and always will be. I also speak, though, to people who all expect to be in those positions of authority as kings and priests of the Most High God in the world to come. In speaking about kings and priests, therefore, I do not merely speak to the obligations that we owe to those people who rule over us, whether poorly or well, but I also speak to people who are in training to exercise that authority over others in the future, and it is this preparation for the future millennial rule of Jesus Christ and the eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth to come as part of God’s king that I wish to provide today.
Twice in the Bible, believers are promised authority as both kings and priests, in passages that mirror each other and that should all be familiar to us. It is worthwhile before we go into unfamiliar territory about what the Bible has to say about kings and priests, though, that we discuss these familiar places and ground ourselves in what we know well as we learn about things we may not know as well. Therefore, let us begin our discussion of the biblical role of kings and priests with those two passages that promise those offices to us as believers and that show the relevance of these subjects to all of us, regardless of how modest or humble our status may be on earth at present. The first of these passages is in Exodus 19:1-8. Exodus 19:1-8 reads: “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. “
We see from this passage that the offices that God had prepared for Israel as kings and priests was a conditional blessing. It was conditional on their obedience to all that God commanded and their faithful keeping of the covenant with Him that He was about to establish with them on Mount Sinai. Israel’s failure to obey God’s laws and commandments is notorious, a sad refrain that appears over and over again throughout the wilderness experience, throughout Israel’s experience with the judges, and throughout their subsequent history under kings and as a scattered diasporic population. But had Israel had a heart to follow God’s ways, God promised that they would be a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Their failure to obey God does not make God’s promises of no effect, it merely means that what was gloriously offered to the entirety of ancient Israel is only to be enjoyed by that comparatively small body of people who faithfully obeyed God and kept their covenantal relationship with Him.
Similarly, we see this same promise given to the Israel of God in 1 Peter 2:4-17. Some of these verses are familiar to us as connecting to this earlier promise given in Exodus 19, but it is also noteworthy to examine what responsibilities are placed on believers in the conditional promise that has been given to us today as believers. 1 Peter 2:4-17 reads: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
What are the conditions of our receiving the status of being a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation? Obedience to God is here included as well, a reminder that just as the promise was conditional to ancient Israel, so it is conditional to us. Yet something else is also included here. It is not only obedience to God’s moral laws that we are obligated to, but also respect for and honor of authority. However much authority is perverted by evildoers in high offices, the purpose of authority have always been to enforce God’s laws and God’s ways on a rebellious humanity who sins against God and men and whose evil ways must be restrained by the coercive power of authorities. We are not naturally inclined to do what is right, and therefore others are given authority to curb this bent towards evil that exists with us. Yet our attitude towards authority should be transformed by the knowledge that we are not only subject to authority but also in training and preparation to exercise that same authority over others. We respect offices of authority, regardless of the fitness of those who presently serve in those offices or who did so in the past, not because those authorities are superior to us but because by respecting the offices we preserve the honor of those offices for when we hold them ourselves. In honoring those people in positions of authority, we set the example for how we should ourselves be honored as those to whom offices of authority have been promised by the Eternal God Himself, who cannot lie. It is not merely the interests of others that we serve by giving them the honor and respect that those who hold offices of authority have always intensely craved, but we serve our own interests as well in so doing.
The commandment of honoring those in authority has been consistent in the Bible from the beginning, but it has always included within it some element of self-interest that has not always been recognized. Let us, for example, read the expanded commandment to honor parents in Deuteronomy 5:16. Deuteronomy 5:16 reads: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Here we see that even the fifth commandments, the original commandment to honor those in authority over us from birth until adulthood, and who we are to continue to honor after that, includes elements of self interest. God promises us long life as well as life being well with us in the land God has promised for those who honor their father and mother. God understands that honoring other people is not easy for us, and provides us with self-interested motives to do that which reflects God’s own character. There is another way that this commandment is self-interested, and here I speak mainly to those who are younger. Children and teenagers are asked to honor not only their parents but also adults in general and to treat them with respect. However difficult it is to do so, it is important to remember that there is self-interest in this, because we all expect to live long enough to become adults whom others will be expected to respect and honor in time. We are expected to develop patterns of honor and respecting others in the full expectation that we will live long enough and well enough to receive this honor and respect back to us from others. In honoring other people we encourage a culture of honor and respect that will repay us in the same currency that we have paid to others. In denying this honor and respect to others, we cultivate an atmosphere of contempt and disrespect that we will also be repaid in.
From the beginning, the commandment to honor authorities was expanded to honor all authorities. We find this, for example, in Exodus 21:17, immediately after the ten commandments are given, we are given a warning of the severity of the command to honor our parents. Exodus 21:17 reads: “ “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” In the very next chapter, Exodus 22:28, we read an expansion of the commandment to honor parents to authorities in general. Exodus 22:28 reads: “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” We know specifically that this latter expansion of the fifth commandment still applies to Christians today because the Apostle Paul applied it to himself in Acts 23:1-5. In Acts 23:1-5, we see Paul confessing that he had indeed broken this particular command: “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ””
Why are we not to revile kings and priests? Surely there are a great many people, past and present (to say nothing of the future) who have held offices poorly and been generally corrupt and immoral people. This is not a problem that our generation has discovered in the world, but it has long been the case. Paul calling a corrupt high priest a whitewashed wall may seem like light criticism compared to what we would want to call our corrupt leaders in the city of Portland or Salem or Washington DC, but we are prohibited from reviling and cursing and speaking evil of those who role in church and state in our present world for a very simple reason that they are simply warming seats for us. In refusing to curse and revile the unworthy holders of high offices, we do at least some small part of preserving the honor and respect for those offices that we wish to maintain for the time in which we expect to be far more worthy holders of those same offices of authority. We will not cut the ground of the honor and respect that is owed to those in authority because those people now in authority are going to be replaced in the world to come by us, and we will properly expect and demand to be respected in those offices ourselves, and so we owe that same honor and respect to the offices, because in so doing we honor ourselves ahead of time.
Having discussed the self-interest that is involved with the command to honor those in authority, it must be briefly recognized that sometimes the duties that we owe to authority are not always in our immediate self-interest. In Acts 24:22-27, we see the relationship between Paul and Felix, the governor of Judea at the time. Acts 24:22-27 reads: “But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.”
Although we see that Paul honored the authority of Felix and was treated as an honorable prisoner by Felix in turn, Paul’s obligation to promote obedience to God’s ways on the part of a corrupt heathen Roman governor acted against his immediate self-interest in getting out of prison. Felix, whom Josephus viewed as having “the nature of a slave,” as an imperial freedman given office due to imperial favor, is not someone that the historical record indicates was very successful in living in righteous or self-control, and someone who might have had a lot of reasons to be wary of being reminded of the judgment to come, as has often been the case for corrupt people in authority, did not want to hear the standard to which he would be held as a ruler, and was quite willing to behave corruptly and leave Paul in prison even though Paul was innocent of the crime for which he had been accused of attempting to stir up sedition in the temple.
Even in those places where the Bible commands honor and respect to those in authority, there is also a responsibility being placed on those offices that people who hold positions of authority do not always recognize. Let us look at two such places in the Bible where the command to honor authorities is mixed with the responsibility that such authorities have to God. First, let us look at Deuteronomy 17:2-20. This entire chapter deals with the honor that we owe to authorities on different levels, so let us explore each of these aspects separately. First, let us look at Deuteronomy 17:2-7 and look at the respect that is owed to the criminal justice system and to the punishments given to evildoers. Deuteronomy 17:2-7 reads: ““If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones. Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you.”
How is the criminal justice system to be administered? We see here. When people are witnessed to have behaved wickedly and treacherously, they are to be convicted on that testimony after a diligent investigation and are to be punished, the witnesses leading the way in enforcing the punishment on the evildoers, and so evil is to be put away from among us. In putting away evil and in properly honoring and respecting a criminal justice system that operates according to God’s laws and ways and is not biased or selectively applied only to work against the enemies of the present regime respect for law and order and the institutions of justice are maintained within society. The law is enforced fairly, and so people are trained to honor and respect a law that is even-handed and just in its application.
After this is done, Deuteronomy 17:8-13 discusses the role of and the honor due to priests in Israel’s system of government. Deuteronomy 17:8-13 reads: “ “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.”
What is the role of priests in the civil authority of Israel? They are to be judges, adjudicating difficult cases that are too hard for ordinary Israelites to understand based on their knowledge of the law of God. These priests, more educated in biblical law and its application, are called upon to make those difficult judgments of what is right and wrong and what sentences apply in those difficult times. It is worth noting that God commands that the decisions of the priests is to be respected and followed on pain of death, and to presumptuously reject the authority that God has set in place is viewed as being worthy of the death sentence. God does not tolerate the anarchical system by which each individual person considers themselves to select their own system of right and wrong and avoid having to deal with the struggle of being in harmony with one’s neighbors. This passage makes it clear that God expects that the authority of priests and judges in difficult matters of law is to be respected.
The third and final passage within Deuteronomy 17, in verses fourteen through twenty, discusses the law concerning kings, the third aspect of civil government explored in this chapter. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 reads: ““When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”
There are a few elements of this brief law concerning kings that are important to recognize for us as we think about our own kingship in the world to come. God claims the right to choose rulers, and those rulers are to be among one’s brethren and not foreigners and strangers. Those rulers have quite a few restrictions placed upon them–they are not to be militaristic and seek to multiply military equipment or trust in the strength of their armies. Nor are they to put high taxation on the people to multiply the amount of money that the government has to work with, nor are they to behave as Solomon did in trusting the diplomacy of the harem to marry many wives that would turn away the heart of a ruler from God’s laws and ways. Indeed, they are commanded to copy by hand the law for themselves and are held responsible for obeying it, and for maintaining a humble attitude of equality with those people whom they rule over. And just as people are promised long lives through the honor they give to parents and by extension other religious and civil authorities, so too kings are promised a long life if they maintain a humble attitude in their offices of authority and do not depart from the right or to the left from the laws and commandments of God in their rule.
We see this same combination between the responsibility that believers have to honor those in authority and the statement about the accountability that rulers have to God in the most famous passage in the New Testament that deals with matters of rulership, and that is Romans 13:1-7. Romans 13:1-7 reads: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
As believers we have committed ourselves to honor and respect God’s authority and expect to receive as blessings for that faithful obedience positions of authority and honor in God’s kingdom. Those who hold positions of authority, whether here or now or in God’s kingdom, are his servants (ministers, as Paul says) and are worthy of being honored and respected for their offices alone, apart from any personal virtue they may or may not possess. Those who are rebellious against authority and hostile to the just claims of authority to be honored and respected will not in turn be honored by God with authority and honor themselves. We must honor others if we want to be honored ourselves, and we must respect others to be worthy of the respect that we seek. It is not only fear of punishment for being seditious and rebellious that we obey the law and respect those in authority, but because a basic law-abiding attitude is an aspect of God’s laws that we have all committed ourselves to obey as baptized believers. And those authorities who rule ourselves are not the ultimate authorities, but are themselves accountable to God for how they rule, whether well or poorly, justly or unjustly. Let us not forget, after all, that the Roman emperor whom Paul commanded the Roman believers to honor was Nero, who would later unjustly command some of the recipients of this book to be put to death in gruesome and horrific fashion, if the Roman historical sources can be believed.
Given the honor and respect that is commanded towards those in authority, it is important also to recognize that the Bible also records a great deal of criticism of those who are ambitious for power and who hold their offices corruptly. Let us first look at the parable that Jotham, the only surviving legitimate son of Gideon, speaks concerning the rule of his murderous half-brother Abimelech, who unsuccessfully sought to make himself king with a power base at his birthplace of Shechem. In Judges 9:7-15 we read this political parable. Judges 9:7-15 reads: ““Listen to me, you men of Shechem,
That God may listen to you! “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ “Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?’ “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’”
This parable is one of the Bible’s bluntest and harshest condemnations of the ambition that has always led those who lack productive talents or personal honor to seek the offices of authority. The trees, symbolic of the people of Israel, ask four trees to rule over them. Three of those trees decline the office of kingship because it is more worthwhile for them to continue serving in beneficial ways to provide olive oil, figs, and wine to praise God and bless the lives of mankind rather than to rule over others. It is only the worthless bramble who seeks power to give himself honor that he would not otherwise have through his faithful and productive service. And so it is often with humanity, in that human beings who are the most insecure and lacking in character that seek the honor of office most intensely in order to give them honor and respect that they do not deserve from their personal virtues or the development of God-given talents exercised in service to God’s people.
Similarly, the abusive tendencies of Israel’s kings would be prophesied by Samuel when Israel asked for a king in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. 1 Samuel 8:10-18 details the abuses of the rulers of Israel as follows: “So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.””
In pointing out these oppressions that Israel would have to suffer, let us note what sort of behaviors Samuel (and God) condemn in political leaders. For one, the militarism of drafting citizens to serve in the military is condemned here. In addition to that, the expansion of the federal bureaucracy so that people who could be doing productive work for the well-being of the ordinary people are instead serving rulers and their pleasure. Similarly, Samuel condemns the theft of property through the seizure of the land of ordinary citizens to increase the royal domains as well as the theft of income through excessive taxation. And rather than being the servants of the people and of God as God had commanded, wicked and corrupt rulers throughout history have tended to view the people as their servants instead. As bad as Israel would have it, the depredations of corrupt rulers has gotten far worse in the last hundred years or so than what was promised here. As tyrannical as Israel’s and Judah’s kings were, the corrupt regimes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with their restraint of freedom, desires to micromanage the lives of people, and their rapacious taxation and wholesale slaughter of many tens of millions of people in order to seek the security of their satanic ideologies makes the mere petty tyrants of ancient Israel out to be rulers of a libertarian paradise by comaprison.
Nor are religious leaders exempt from this harsh criticism. Let us see what is written in Zechariah 11:15-17. Zechariah 11:15-17 tells us about foolish shepherds, religious leaders who were not living up to their obligations to the people of God: “And the Lord said to me, “Next, take for yourself the implements of a foolish shepherd. For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces. “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who leaves the flock! A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; his arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded.”” Let us note what qualities are held by the foolish shepherd–he seeks merely to fill his own appetites and not to serve the flock, to feed believers with spiritual food from the Bible, to care for the outcasts, to seek the well-being of the young, or healing those many who have been broken by the unjust and cruel world in which we live. Those who hold offices and authority who fail in these obligations and instead abandon the flock are promised the sword of God’s own personal judgment.
Let us look for our final passage today what the early Church of God had to say about that notoriously corrupt religious authority, the disciple Judas Iscariot, whose name has become a byword for treachery. Acts 1:15-22 gives both criticism of Judas and also a discussion of the biblical solution to bad leaders. Acts 1:15-22 reads: “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.” (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’ “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.””
The Bible does not give us the option to disrespect offices of authority, and we, who are in training to be kings and priests, would be foolish in the extreme to tear down respect and honor for those offices which we expect to hold in the future. Even the treachery of a Judas is not enough to diminish the biblical honor and respect that is due to an office, namely a disciple (and later an apostle). Instead, God’s judgment vacates that offices and leaves room for another to take his place. And that is indeed the response that God holds for the unworthy holders of offices in general. Those who are corrupt and wicked face God’s judgment and will be removed, ultimately so we believers can hold those offices in a godly and worthy fashion. It remains therefore for us to prepare ourselves through cultivating obedience to God and the development of the character and attitude that allows us to rule better than the wicked leaders we see all around us at present.
We have ranged far and wide in the Bible in our discussion of the offices of kings and priests in the Bible and of our obligations to those who hold those offices. Let us summarize the larger points so that we can keep in mind what it is that we need to cultivate to fulfill our godly obligations to authority as well as better train our character and attitudes to be able to hold positions of religious and civil authority within the kingdom of God. First, let us note that offices of authority have always existed and will always exist. God is a God of order and decency and there is always a structure provided that allows for the maintenance of order. Honoring God also means honoring the structure in which God leads us. As believers, we have all committed to obeying God’s laws, and those in authority have the responsibility to live by govern by and enforce God’s laws within the boundaries of the offices they serve in. The same law which promises us positions of authority as God’s chosen people in the world to come and which gives us the grounds by which to examine ourselves and those around us by God’s eternal and unchanging standards also commands us to honor and respect those in authority. Honoring those whom God has placed or has allowed in positions of authority not only pleases these authorities and honors God as the ultimate authority but also serves our self-interest as those who will serve in positions of authority in the future if we do not already here and now. Those in positions authority remain subject to God and to God’s laws and ways and will be judged for failing to serve God’s people and remain in obedience to God. God’s Word is not naive or ignorant about the low state of character of those who serve in leadership in the present evil world or have throughout human history, but the character of those who are in office at present or who served in offices in the past is irrelevant to the honor and respect that we owe those offices whose unworthy historical or present holders are merely warming seats for us to rule for eternity. Let us hope that we are all are able to develop the proper attitude and godly character through obedience to God’s laws–including those laws which command that we honor and respect those in authority–so that we are able to receive those offices upon the establishment of the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ and rule for all time in the New Heavens and New Earth still to come.