The Authority of Jesus Challenged

The Pharisees Question Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus – Public Domain

Reading the Word

Matthew 21:23–27 (ESV)

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Understanding and Applying the Word

When Jesus entered the temple, he was confronted by the religious leaders. They wanted to know on what authority he was acting. In effect, they were saying, “Who gave you the right to do what you are doing?” After all, Jesus was in the temple, and this was the domain where the religious leaders held authority. They sure had not given him the permission!

In response, Jesus trapped the leaders. The crowds were there and they were listening, so Jesus asked about the authority of John the Baptist’s ministry. The religious leaders did not approve of John either, but the people held him as a prophet sent from God. The religious leaders knew if they denied John’s ministry the crowds would turn on them. They also knew that if they admitted John was sent by God they would be admitting that they had resisted God’s prophet. So they answered, “We do not know.” In reply, Jesus told the leaders that since they were not going to answer his questions, he would not answer theirs.

Jesus’ ministry was stamped with the authority of the Father. At his baptism, the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my Son. Listen to him.” Jesus performed many miracles to show that his words were backed by the authority of God. And Jesus continually pointed the people to the word of God to show that all he said was true. But that was not sufficient for many because his authority pushed against their own. This is really the root of mankind’s problem. We desire to be our own authority and do not want to submit to God. Adam and Eve disobeyed in the garden of Eden because they thought that doing so would make them “like God, knowing good and evil” and not having to follow God’s commands. People today do not like that God says that many of the things we do are wrong and are sinful and that we need to repent and call out for forgiveness. “Who are you to judge me?” is the cry.

Jesus came in full authority preaching the message of repentance and forgiveness. Who will submit to him?

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Questioning Jesus

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Reading the Word

Matthew 21:23–27 (ESV)

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Parallel Texts: Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8

Understanding and Applying the Word

The last time Jesus was in the temple he had driven out the money changers and those selling pigeons. So when Jesus returned, the chief priests and elders were quick to confront him. Who did Jesus think he was? Who gave him the authority to do the things he was doing? After all, the temple was under the authority of the priests.

When Jesus heard their questions, he responded with a question of his own. He asked the priests and elders, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From Heaven or man?” The priests and elders refused to answer this question because no matter how they would have answered it, they would have been in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they would admit that John acted on behalf of heaven (i.e. God), which means they should have listened to him. On the other hand, they would deny that John was a prophet and anger the people who believed John. Since the leaders would not answer Jesus, he refused to answer them.

If the priests and elders had been willing to acknowledge the source of John’s authority, they would have also known the source of Jesus’. John’s entire ministry emphasized that Jesus would come and he would be greater than John. The leaders were unwilling to see this even after all they had witnessed through John and also through Jesus. They had heard the teaching, witnessed or heard about the miracles, but they refused to believe. Their hearts were hardened to the truth.

Today, many have hardened their hearts towards Jesus in much the same way. Many refuse to see Jesus for who he is because they do not want to, regardless of the truth that is available. What should we do? We must continue to share the gospel and pray that the Lord would soften their hearts and open their eyes.

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