Jesus, Head of the Church

Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and was enthroned in majesty. This refers to His return to shared authority and glory with the other members of the Trinity. In His human incarnation, Jesus did not cease to be God but He voluntarily laid aside the exercise of some of the rights and privileges of Deity in humble submission to the Father. Having proceeded from the Father and having returned to Him, Jesus assumed again the glorious exercise of all the attributes of God and is as involved in our lives today as He was with His disciples when He was physically present on earth. One expression of His present ministry is His headship over His church.

Paul reminds us that the church is not primarily an organization but a living organism, the body of Christ on earth, For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ … Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (I Cor. 12:12,27).

The church is the body of Christ on earth and, He (Christ) is also head of the body, the church (Col. 1:15-18). In what ways does Jesus exercise Headship over His church?

1. Jesus exercises Headship over the church as the Good Shepherd who watches over His flock, the High Priest who prays over His flock, the Lord our Bread and our Provider, nourishing His flock. Just as the universe is held together in Christ (Col. 1:17), so is the church. The church is that gathering of people whom Christ our Redeemer has delivered from the kingdom of darkness, over whom Christ our King rules, whom Christ our Head directs and blesses.

2. Christs headship of the church denotes union. 

As we said, the church is a living organism. Jesus said, I am the vine, you are the branches (Jn. 15:5) and we are growing up, Into Him who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body (is) being fitted and held together” (Eph. 4:15,16). That is so much more than an organization. Christ is joined to His church in spiritual union and it is His life that gives life to the church. It is His wisdom that gives light to His church. He invests His authority in His church. He gifts and empowers His church. He flows His mercy, grace and truth through His church.

Apart from Jesus, the church has no meaning as a community, no life and no direction. We are growing in Christ, because of Christ and toward Christ. We have been raised with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We are therefore exhorted, If then, you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-3).

Since this is so, and since the church is in organic union with Jesus as a body to its Head and as branches to a vine, then all demonic powers and principalities are to be trampled by a faithful, praying, witnessing church. When Jesus sent the disciples out to minister, they came back rejoicing, Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name (Luke 10:17).  

Jesus responded that He had given them authority over the powers of darkness but then He added, Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven (Lk. 10:19,20). Don't merely rejoice in shared authority with Jesus. Rejoice in the relationship, the union of our lives to His life and kingdom, from which our authority derives.

3. Jesus is Head over all things to (for) the church (Eph. 1:22).  

Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, upholding the universe by the word of His power, seated, Above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph. 1:21). God has put all things in subjection under His feet (Eph. 1:22). Though Christ’s authority is not yet visible over all things, it is still true authority. Though many in the world are in rebellion against the royal Headship of Jesus, He is still Head over all. 

He rules over all things, is Head over all things to (or for) the church, that is, for the sake of His church. The church is joined in union with the Head of all things. The church that is joined in union with Jesus is also raised up with Him and seated in heavenly places with Him (Eph. 2:6). 

Raised with Christ means that we are already sharing in His resurrection life. Seated with Him refers to our union with Him, our deliverance from the power of this present age to dominate and enslave our lives and speaks of our present experience of the age to come.

Seated with Him also refers to His invitation to share in the exercise of His authority. As we pray and intercede for people, families, churches, cities and nations, as we proclaim and live the truth with words and works of mercy, as we enthrone the Lord in holy praise and worship, we are exercising and releasing the authority of Jesus into our time and our history.

4. Jesus expresses His fullness through His church, Which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:23).

Just as the fulness of God the Father dwells in Christ, so the fulness of Christ fills His church. He imparts and overflows the fulness of His life into and through His church. He expresses, displays the fulness of His glory through His church: For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete (full), and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col. 2:9,10). The phrase have been made complete, is one word — pepleromenoi  which is related to the noun pleroma. Christ is the pleroma, the fulness of God and in His pleroma, His fulness we are made fully complete. Pepleromenoi is a perfect tense verb meaning that our completeness in Christ is eternal. In union with Christ, we share in the life of God and are brought into the fulness, the completeness which God intended for humanity.

The fulness of Christ overflows into His church, fills His church. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth … For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace (Jn. 1:14,16). The church is the fulness of Christ in filling out the ministry of Jesus on earth. As Jesus the Head provides spiritual life, empowerment, wisdom, direction and gifts to His church, the church then goes forth and carries out the will of Christ on earth.

Though God is sovereign, Almighty, He has chosen to limit the exercise of His sovereignty in some things, calling the church and empowering the church to express His sovereignty through the ministries of prayer and witness and praise and mercy. This is not to say that Jesus would be incomplete without His church. God is not dependent on His creatures for anything. But the church is that living organism through which, in holy union, Jesus has chosen to release His power, proclaim His gospel, lavish His grace, display His glory and fulfill His purpose on earth. He provides fulness of life to His church, reveals His purpose to His church. The church then carries out that purpose, fulfilling the ministry of Christ on earth.

In another sense, the church is the fulness of Christ in anticipation of all the universe gathered into Him. All the universe flows from Christ and unto Christ: For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created by (through) Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:16,17). All things will someday be summed up, gathered up in Christ (Eph. 1:10). For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Rom. 11:36). The church, already joined to Christ, expresses the fulness of Christ and points toward that time when Christ will fill all in all (Eph. 1:23).

However, we need to be humble when we consider the church as the body of Christ on earth. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul reminds us that spirit and flesh are often at war. Historically, the church has sometimes been fleshly (self willed) and too proud, too corrupt and too bound in dead tradition to obey the spiritual Head of the church.

Though the church is Christ’s body on earth, we are not a sinless body and must be careful not to regard every decision and action of the church as an expression of God’s purpose. God has chastised His church in the past and will continue to correct His church. There are times when the Lord says to His church, as He did to the church at Ephesus, Repent ... or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand (Revelation 2:5).  

There are times when Christ says to the church that has excluded Him, Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in (Rev. 3:20).

To the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, I will spit you out of my mouth ... You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked (Rev. 3:16,17). To that same church Jesus said, I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see (Rev. 3:18).  

The Galatian church was the body of Christ but Paul asked, You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? (Gal. 3:15). He called members of the Corinthian church babies (I Cor. 3:1). The Bible warns, Judgment must begin at the house of God (I Ptr. 4:17).

Yet for all its history of imperfection, the church is still Christ’s body (I Cor. 12:27), the pillar and groundwork of the truth (I Tim. 3:15). As Christ in His incarnation clothed Himself with human flesh, so He now clothes His ministry on earth with His church.

One of the early church fathers was bold to say, “Even as through the body the Savior used to speak and heal, so aforetime through the prophets and now through the apostles and teachers ...  And at all times in His love to man God clothes Himself with man for the salvation of men, aforetime with the prophets, now with the church,” (Clement of Alexandria, quoted by J.A. Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, quoted in The International Bible, vol. 10, p 638).

5. Jesus is continually guiding and guarding His church. 

He knows each church intimately. He presents Himself in the Revelation as the One who stands in the midst of the lampstands (which represent the churches, Rev. 1:13,20). That is a way of saying that He is present in His church. 

He sent individual letters to seven of the churches (see Rev. 2 and 3). To those churches, Jesus said, I know your deeds ... I know your tribulation ...  I know where you dwell …”  (Rev. 2:2,9,13). He presents Himself to each of those seven churches in a way that is unique to the way they need to encounter Him. He knows His church.

He also personally, intimately knows each person within each church: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me (John 10:27). It is His promise that we will be able to hear Him, enabling us to follow Him. Therefore He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all the truth (John 14:13). He has provided His church with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teaching pastors for the upbuilding and guidance of the church (Ephesians 4:11). His promise to all who love and follow Him in faith is that, I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you (Psalm 32:8).

Though He warns, rebukes and disciplines His church, He does so out of holy passion for His beloved, His redeemed who will someday be presented to Him as a holy bride. He calls and corrects, that we might turn and be restored to His purpose: Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent (Rev. 3:19)

He guards His church and though the saints are persecuted even unto death, nothing can take us out of His hand or rob us of the eternal life which is His gift: I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand (John 10:28) 

6. Jesus preserves unity and holiness in His church.

This was His prayer the night before He died for us: Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17). Jesus continually seeks to sanctify His church because there can be no unity without holiness and there is no holiness apart from the truth as defined in holy Scripture.

The Lord continues to pray for the unity of His church because it is a representation to the world of the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You ... I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity (John 17:21,23). 

Jesus prays for unity because the church is a living organism, the body of Christ on earth and can only operate at full potential when it is in union with Christ our Head and when the various members of the body are connected in a loving, organic unity with one another. Therefore the Apostle Paul wrote I Corinthians 12, comparing the necessity of unity among the members and organs of a human body to the necessity of unity among the members of the church. The Lord exhorts us through Paul, that we should be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

7. Jesus perfects the members of His church.

The church is composed of individual members whom Paul reassures with these words: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phlpns. 1:6).

Perfect may also be translated fulfill, complete (epiteleo: to finish, make perfect; from the root telos: the conclusion, ultimate, uttermost). Telos is also the root of, You shall be perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). The goal of this good work which the Lord is performing in us is that we would attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (perfect / teleios) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness (pleroma) of Christ (Eph. 4:13). God defines our maturity in terms of the fulness of Christ.


Therefore Paul reminds us that as we look to Christ, we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). John reminds us, Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure (I John 3:2,3). 

We will someday stand before the Lord with a body perfectly designed for eternity — a body like Jesus had after His resurrection; and with a perfectly sinless spirit, spotless with the purity of Jesus; and with a mind recreated in the perfect fulness of intellect and creative capacity which God purposed for a human being.

8. Jesus gifts His church.

Jesus has promised to gift His church with all the spiritual gifts necessary to fulfill His commission to the church. Therefore, When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives and He gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8).

Even as a body has a variety of members performing a diversity of functions, so Christ has gifted the various members of His body on earth so that His ministry can be extended throughout the nations. The Apostle Paul wrote, Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (I Cor. 12:4-7). The word manifestation or expression is phanerosis from the root phaino which means to shine. Phanerosis is related to phanos which is the Greek word for lantern. To each is given a shining expression, a lantern of the Spirit.

Jesus provides the church with the spiritual giftings needed to function as His body carrying on His ministry on earth. This is done through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Each member of Christ’s church is gifted in some way for the expression of Christ’s ministry through the church. These ministries are as practical and necessary as administration and as profound as teaching. The Apostle Paul directs us to exercise our gifts according to the grace given to us (Rom. 12:6).

Jesus also gifts His church with wisdom and revelation. Paul prayed that the Lord would give the church a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (Eph. 1:17). A spirit of wisdom and revelation points to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit and the need for a humble, teachable spirit in each of us. Of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). 

Notice that Paul is not praying that the church would have wisdom and revelation in a general or unfocused way. There are many things we do not need to know. But he prays that we would have wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (of Christ). In Proverbs we are told that the beginning of wisdom is the knowledge of God. Jesus claimed to be the source and ultimate expression of truth, I am the way, and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Paul says that in Christ, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).

Knowing God, having wisdom to live and fulfill His purpose, arriving at new and deeper revelation in the Lord, these are gifts from God, gifts which God is willing to share with all who earnestly seek Him. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:5). Call to Me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know (Jere. 33:3).

God delights in revealing Himself to those who seek Him but we must seek. And those who seek Me diligently will find Me (Prov. 8:17). Even the Holy Spirit cannot teach us unless we seek, or, to use an Old Testament expression, incline our ears. How do we incline our ears? By bowing the head. That is the posture of a humble, teachable person.

9. Jesus empowers His church.

Before He ascended on high, Jesus promised to endow His church with supernatural power through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Paul reminded the Corinthian church that the Gospel did not come to them in words only but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (I Cor. 2:4,5).

Paul prayed that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:18-20).

Paul prays that we would know the surpassing greatness of (God’s) power which was exercised in raising Christ from the dead. This same power raised us from death to life, translated us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God and lifted us from corruption and dust into heavenly places and resurrection life. This power now energizes us and enables us to live out our relationship with Christ and accomplish His ministry assignments.

Paul also prayed, Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20). That power is evident in our redemption, in our consecration, in the workmanship of God in our lives and is shared with us and released through us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Note the different words used in the New Testament in reference to the power of God. Dunamis is a word used to describe the greatness of His power: miraculous power, mighty work, abundance, strength, the ability to accomplish purpose. Dunamis is used in Luke 1:35 to describe the promise of God working His purpose in Mary, The power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Dunamis is used in Luke 9:1, as the Lord gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. It is the promise of the Father to the church in Luke 24:49, that we would be clothed with power from on high (and in Acts 1:8). Dunamis is used to describe the witness of the apostles (Acts 4:33); and the return of Jesus (Matthew 26:64). Dunamis describes the saving power of God (I Corinthians 1:18 and 2:5) and the works of Jesus (Matthew 11:20-23 and Acts 10:38).

Energeia is used to describe the power of God in the resurrection of Jesus (Ephesians 1:19), according to the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. It describes the enabling of Paul’s ministry (Ephesians 3:7); and the working of God in the life of the church (Ephesians 4:16). Energeia is power at work.

Kratos is a word used to describe the eternal dominion or power of God, To whom be honor and eternal dominion (everlasting power) (I Tim. 6:16). Kratos is power that conquers. It is Paul’s desire for the church, that we would be strong in the Lord and in the strength (kratos, power, dominion) of His might (Eph. 6:10).

Ischys can be translated forcefulness, might, power: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (ischys) (Ephesians 6:10). It is used in reference to God as in the preceding verse or as an attribute of angels (2 Peter 2:11); but also used of people in the way we are commanded to love God, with all your strength (ischys) (Mark 12:30).

It is by the power of God that we were redeemed from death to life, from the darkness of the dominion of Satan to the light of Christ’s kingdom. It is this power that keeps us, consecrates us, enables us to serve and is on display in us and through us as we live to God’s glory. It is Jesus, Head of the church, who empowers us.

10. One final expression of Christ’s Headship over His church is that through the church, Jesus offers to a lost world the precious gift of salvation, the opportunity to enter into reconciled relationship with God through faith in Christ.

This is Christ’s commission to the church, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt. 28:19,20a). 

This is Christs gift to the world through the church: And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give (Matt. 10:7,8).

In one of Peter's early sermons, he proclaimed that Jesus grants repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31). Repentance, the capacity to turn to God with a sincere change of heart leading to God’s forgiveness of our sins, is a gift which Christ offers the world through the preaching of the church. Peter later declared that we have received a faith (2 Peter 1:1). Faith is God’s gift to all who turn to Him in true repentance (see also Eph. 2:8). 

Jesus, Head of the Church, continually guides, preserves, perfects, gifts and empowers His church. Through the church, the body of Christ on earth, Jesus offers a lost world the wonderful gift of forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God.

Study Questions

1. What are some of the ways that Jesus exercises Headship over His church?

2. If the church is an organic union of believers in Christ, what does this mean, that in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col. 2:10)?