Question: "What is the meaning of exousia in the Bible?"
Answer: Exousia is a Greek word most often translated as “authority” or “power.” It is especially used in terms of moral influence. Exousia can also be thought of in terms of jurisdiction or dominion over a certain realm, right, privilege, or ability.
Exousia is used in Matthew 7. Verses 28–29 say, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority [exousia], and not as their teachers of the law.” The word is also used in Matthew 9:6 when Jesus demonstrates that He has “authority” to forgive sins by healing a paralyzed man. The word is again used in Matthew 21:23–27 when the chief priests and elders question Jesus’ authority. Interestingly, in Luke 4:6 it is exousia with which Satan tempts Jesus. However, in Ephesians 1:18–23 we see that Jesus is far above all authority, dominion, and power. Colossians 1:15–20 and Colossians 2:10 also affirm the supremacy of Jesus. True exousia is His.
When Jesus commissioned His disciples, He gave them a measure of authority, too. In Mark 6:7 Jesus gives the Twelve authority, or exousia, over impure spirits when He sent the disciples out to preach.
Ephesians 2:2 talks about the “ruler of the kingdom [exousia] of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” But this is not a ruler we need fear. Ephesians 3:10–11 says, “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we struggle against those powers or authorities. But it also assures us that God has given us spiritual armor for the battle and that we can be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. Colossians 1:13–14 encourages, “For he has rescued us from the dominion [exousia] of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 2:15 tells us that Christ has “disarmed the powers and authorities [exousia]” and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” We battle a defeated foe because we serve the One who has authority over all (see also 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 and 1 Peter 3:21b–22).
Paul uses exousia when talking about the “right” the apostles had to receive financial help from those they served (1 Corinthians 9:1–18; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). He also uses the word in talking about a potter’s “right” to form his clay as he wishes (Romans 9:21)—a picture of God’s right to make and mold us.
Exousia is used in Romans 13 and Titus 3:1 in the context of governmental authority. It is also used in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10 to talk about the authority God gave Paul for building up the church.
Exousia is used multiple times in Revelation discussing the power and authority given to various players in the end times. It is also used in Revelation in reference to the ultimate authority of Christ. Revelation 22:14 is a great encouragement: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Ultimately, believers will be given the right, or exousia, to eat from the tree of life.