Mark 11:27-33 (NIV): They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Jesus was not in the least surprised when He was accosted by the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders, demanding where He got off believing that He had any authority to do the things He had been doing. This was more than just a challenge to His clearing out the temple. That was just the final straw.
They were still seething about the triumphal entry, with the crowd declaring as their Messiah someone that they were completely unwilling to endorse, and Jesus not doing anything to stop them. After all, they were the ones who were experts in the Holy Scriptures, especially those having to do with the Messiah. The regular people were ignorant and easily swayed by charisma and appeals to their emotions.
The cleansing of the temple, of course, was particularly galling to them. They had approved all of the activities that were taking place in the Court of the Gentiles, activities that Jesus violently denounced as outright affronts to God and His agenda. And that basically amounted to a denouncement of themselves.
And then there was the fact that Jesus was teaching the crowds that gathered around Him by the hundreds, even in the temple complex. Jesus had no credentials, no diploma, but the people flocked to Him rather than to them, even calling Him Rabbi. And you could add to that that His teachings were far too often aimed directly at them!
With all of those things burning in their minds, they challenged Him to state before everyone around Him the source of His so-called authority to do those things. They had credentials, they had tradition on their side, since they held the office of religious leadership.
This was not, by the way, just an idle challenge. It contained a very clever trap. Jesus, they knew, could produce no credentials from any of their approved institutions, so He could not claim that as a source of His authority. And if He said that God had given Him this authority, they were ready to pounce. How could He prove that? Anyone could say that. And those whom God himself had assigned to positions of leadership (themselves) definitely did NOT agree that He had any authority from God to challenge them, to change things, to stir up dissention. When Jesus was left speechless in the face of this logic, as they were sure He would be, all of those listening to His teachings would abandon Him at once, pulling His fangs, and leaving Him vulnerable, without popular support.
But, of course, Jesus knew their hearts, and cleverly saw the trap that they were laying out for Him. So He redirected the whole debate. If it was a matter of authority coming from man or from God, He would challenge them on the same issue: “John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?”
All eyes expectantly turned back on the leaders. They were unwilling to admit that John’s baptism was from heaven, especially since so many of John’s denunciations of sin were aimed right at them. (cf. Matthew 3:7-12) But the people believed that John was a prophet sent by God, and a martyr to boot! If they told Jesus directly that they believed that John had no heavenly authority, that he was a charlatan, not a prophet, misguided, not a martyr, these people, some of whom had been baptized by John, would rise up and stone them!
They wouldn’t give John credibility by proclaiming him a prophet; they wouldn’t put themselves at rick of losing credibility (or even losing their lives) by denying it. So they ended up seeing the trap so carefully laid out for Jesus snap closed around their own heads. And they were reduced to a feeble, “We don’t know,” which, of course, released Jesus from the game.
Father, how much simpler it is to trust You than it is to fight against You; simply trusting in Your word for the truth that it is. All through history, no one who sets themselves against You or Your Messiah ever came out on top. And they still don’t today. Even when they succeed in taking out some of Your people, they still lose. You and Your kingdom still reign supreme, and those whom they killed are still alive with You forever. Praise Your glorious name! Amen.