"By What Authority?" Matthew 21: 23-27

“By What Authority?”

Matthew 21:23-27


This Week’s Core Practice: Single-mindedness- I focus on God and His priorities for my life.

Matthew 6: 24, 31-33“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Scripture: Scripture: Matthew 21:23-27

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.

The Message of this Passage: The earlier part of this chapter tells of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (vv. 1-11) and his cleansing of the temple (vv. 12-13). The cleansing of the temple brings on the confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests and elders in today’s lesson. Members of the Sanhedrin come to Jesus as He teaches in the temple. Knowing that His actions are a claim to authority over the temple, they want Him to reveal the source of His authority. Only two options are possible: God or man. As usual, they do not want the truth; rather, they only want to trap Him. If Jesus claims human authority, He can be arrested for blaspheming God and His temple. On the other hand, if Jesus claims divine, royal authority, Rome can execute Him for treason. To use current human reasoning, Jesus is in a no-win situation.

Jesus answers with a question of His own, a common practice in rabbinic debate. Using an argument, in which a part (in this case, baptism) is used to represent the whole (John’s ministry), Christ asks His opponents about the authority behind John the Baptist (vv. 24–25). If they call John a prophet, they condemn themselves for not following him or Jesus, whom John proclaimed. But to say John’s authority is from men is to face the crowd’s anger. Which now puts them in a no-win situation so they refuse to answer.

Thus, John MacArthur writes, “Jesus exposes their own lack of any authority to examine Him” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,164). And since they have no standing, Christ has no need to answer them.

Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, saying that “those who imprison the truth they know, in unrighteousness are justly denied the further truths they enquire after.” When we, like the scribes and priests in today’s passage, refuse to submit to the evidence in front of us, we are left with no right to expect further revelation of the truth. Obedience today is the prerequisite for fuller knowledge of the things of God tomorrow.

For Personal Reflection and Discussion:

  • What is the context for Matthew 21: 23-32. What was the purpose of the religious leaders questioning Jesus about His source of authority for teaching?

  • Why were they doing this publicly?

  • When is answering a question with a question, rude? When is doing that beneficial?

  • Is an individual obligated to answer all the questions posed to him? Why or why not?

  • Why were the religious leaders afraid to give an honest answer to Jesus? Why were they afraid of the people?

  • Does fear of people’s response sometimes dictate what I say? Do I make decisions with a view to preserving my position and power?

  • Among believers, authority can be misused. Jesus used his divine authority, not to dominate, but to serve. How do I use the authority I have?

  • What is the danger of giving a dishonest answer to legitimate questions?

  • Why does Jesus give such a strong condemnation of those that give lip service to God? (Hypocrisy).