Matthew 21:23-32

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The context of this story is that the chief priests and elders were angry at with Jesus because of his prophetic action in cleansing the Temple. So they question him about authority. The source of their question—“By what authority are you doing these things?”—is that Jesus had no official authority and they did.

Their question had a lot of animus. As with their later question about paying taxes to Caesar, they are trying to get Jesus in trouble. If he says, “From God,” he will liable to charges of blasphemy and if he says, “From men,” he may be guilty of a crime or, at least, will be discredited in the eyes of the people. Their question is a response to Jesus’ demonstration in the Temple that was highly critical of the chief priests and the elders who administered the Temple complex. Jesus’ action is clearly a prophetic demonstration. It wasn’t really breaking the law, but it was a public attack on the authorized administration.

Jesus responds to the chief priests and elders with his own question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Their unwillingness to answer the question is because the people thought that John’s authority came from God. The  implication of Jesus’ question is that his does as well. But he doesn’t want to say that outright because they could then charge him with blasphemy.

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