THE QUESTION OF JESUS’ AUTHORITY
This conversation follows hard on the heels of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-16), and the symbolic withering of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-20). “Who gave you the right to do such things?” demanded the Temple authorities, and the leaders of the people (Matthew 21:23). Effectively, ‘Who do you think you are?’
Jesus answered their question with a question (Matthew 21:24), a sound teaching device used by the Rabbis. He could have said, ‘Ask Peter, he knows’ - but such things are only revealed by ‘My Father which is in heaven’ (cf. Matthew 16:16-17). But to ask about the authority of John the Baptist put the ball firmly back into the court of His questioners (Matthew 21:25).
The real question, after all, is who do we think Jesus is? (Matthew 16:15). And, more importantly, who is He to us? On the answer to that question hinges our whole salvation, informing both our understanding and our lifestyle.
John had said, ‘Repent you all: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2). Asked who he was, John answered that he was the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord (John 1:23). Pointing to Jesus he declared, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).
The people understood this (Matthew 21:26), yet the priests and religious leaders chose not to (Matthew 21:25). Their ‘politically correct’ refusal to answer Jesus stripped them of their own supposed authority, and He refused to answer them while they were in that state of mind (Matthew 21:27). A very sad state of affairs indeed.
Now it was Jesus’ turn to pose a question, based on a simple parable. We must adjust our teaching method to suit the audience we have. “But what do you think?” asked Jesus (Matthew 21:28).
The picture was familiar: a man with two sons and a vineyard (Matthew 21:28). A son who was impertinent: who refused to go and work in the vineyard at his father’s bidding, but afterwards “repented,” and went (Matthew 21:29). Then the other son, who made a show of his obedience: “I go, sir,” but went not (Matthew 21:30).
The word translated “sir” in this place (Matthew 21:30) is elsewhere translated as ‘Lord’:
Jesus says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21).
Well, which one did the will of his father? They could not deny it: the seemingly intractable one. Then came the shock: “the publicans and the harlots” are going into the kingdom of God before you, religious leaders (Matthew 21:31).
John came in “the way of righteousness” (Matthew 21:32) - which is the way of God - but the “chief priests and the elders of the people” (Matthew 21:23) did not believe him. However, “the publicans and the harlots” (Matthew 21:32) - representatives of all outsiders - did believe. And seeing this, the religious leaders still refused to repent.
There is still time for true repentance, and amendment of life: but in the meantime it is the doers of the word, not hearers (or even speakers) only (James 1:22) who are partaking of the spiritual fruits of the vineyard.