Why is it important to know what God's opinion is about governments and their rulers? Because God is sovereign. And this doesn’t just mean that God controls all beings and all things, but also that He possesses full rights over all things, including over the civil authorities.
This is why God presents Himself in the Holy Scriptures as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Those who rule the nations are under His authority and derive their authority from Him, even when they do not recognize it.
That is what Paul teaches in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (vv. 1-2). Earthly governors possess authority because God invested it in them. In John 19:11 the Lord Jesus says to Pilate: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Pilate’s authority, ultimately, is not derived from Caesar, but from God Himself. This scriptural truth has far-reaching repercussions.
First, it implies that God alone has the right to define the function of rulers and to limit their authority.
What are human governments supposed to do? How far does their authority extend? What standard of justice should they cause to prevail? How are rulers supposed to to behave? The only one who can respond to these questions is God Himself, since it is He who instituted civil authority.
Second, this means that national rulers do not possess absolute power, since their authority is delegated, subordinate to the authority of God.
One of the most powerful rulers of antiquity was Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king; but when this king started to be overcome by his pride, Daniel had to remind him of this truth from the Scriptures: “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory” (Daniel 2:37 NKJV). The authority that rulers possess is an authority which has been delegated to them.
But this also implies that national rulers are responsible before God for the exercise of their authority and one day will have to give an account before Him for the stewardship with which they were entrusted. In Romans 13 Paul refers to magistrates as “servants of God.” Even though they do not recognize themselves as such, that is what they are, servants of God Almighty, called to perform a specific task for the common good.
That is why the first duty of a ruler is to submit himself to the authority of God. In Psalm 2:10-11 David says: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise [the idea is to act with discretion, instead of opposing God, submit to Him]; be warned, O rulers of the earth [allow yourselves to be taught]. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (ESV).
The God of Scripture is sovereign; He possess full rights over everything created, including human governments. His sovereignty even extends to the kings of the earth. And as His ministers, we have the responsibility to proclaim what He has revealed in His Word concerning these things.
In our next post we will look at the common grace of God and human governments; in order to consider what a ruler should be like, according to the general principles of God’s Word.
© by Sugel Michelén. Originally published on the author’s blog Todo Pensamiento Cautivo, as La soberanía de Dios y los gobernantes humanos. Translated into English with permission by Penn Tomassetti. You can reproduce and distribute this material, as long as it is without charge, without altering its content, and with recognition of its author and origin.