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Earthly authority; those who rule over others in order to keep society stable and orderly. Only God is the sovereign ruler of all. When human governments exalt themselves above God, they go beyond their legitimate function in society <Dan. 5:32>. In Bible times God exercised government through many persons and institutions.

Jesus taught that earthly governments exist by God's will <John 19:11> and are legitimate as long as they do not take over the role reserved for God alone <Mark 12:13-17>. <Romans 13> discusses human government as ordained by God. <Revelation 13>, on the other hand, discusses it as degenerate and demonic. Christians live in the tension created by the fact that governments can be good <Romans 13> or evil <Revelation 13>. When governments promote good and suppress evil, they fulfill their Godgiven function <1 Pet. 2:11-12>. But if government exalts itself as sovereign over all life, then it has overstepped its bounds and is a handmaid of evil.

(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)