A Question About Jesus Authority

A friend once asked Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in science, how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day.  She wasn’t so much interested in what he had learned that day, but she always inquired … More


Jesus returned to the temple for the third time this week (v. 23). At the end of one of His teaching sessions the chief priests and elders challenged Jesus by what authority He was doing these things;  which probably was in reference to His triumphal entry into the city. In their own view they are trying to protect their laws and traditions and maybe were thinking about when He rejected tradition and overthrew the tables of the money changers. They already knew what authority Jesus claimed and would not accept it. They only wanted to get Him to state His claims so they could deny His authority and trap Him in some misstatement.

Argumentative questions are born out of pride. They stir up debate and controversy over conflicting points of view and force the listeners to take sides. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the basis of His authority, He exposed their divisive intentions, presenting truth about Himself through parables. In response to their question, Jesus asked them a question (v. 24). He asked about John’s baptism as to where it came from (vv. 25-27)? Was it from heaven, or from men? The Sanhedrin did not dare say John’s authority came from heaven because then they should have believed him. If they said it was from men they knew the people would be upset with them. They preferred to plead ignorance so Jesus also refused to answer their question.

Then Jesus gave them a parable about two sons and a vineyard (vv. 28-32). The vineyard speaks of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5) and the two sons represent the two classes of people in that nation; the self righteous religious people, and the publicans and sinners. The first, the publicans and sinners, initially were somewhat positive but later rejected Him. This must have stunned these religious leaders as they stood condemned and the tax collectors and prostitutes were commended.


Jesus was a master at answering people’s questions by asking questions. I can think of several times when it would have been better if I had asked questions instead of making statements.

Matthew 21:23-32 (English Standard Version)

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?" 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. 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?' But if we say, 'From man,' we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet." 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. "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him."

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