Summary: Anytime I, or you, pare Jesus down to a figure that we can be comfortable with, we are guilty of murdering him.
There was one club in college that never enticed me to join; that was the Debate Club. My heart beats rapidly enough raising an objection in a meeting! The excitement of public debate is not the kind I care for. I am the kind of person who thinks best at least two days after hearing an argument, not on the spot. Jesus’ enemies are about to learn that he, on the other hand, is a master debater. Three times they will try to trap him, only to find themselves caught in his trap.
27 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.
Jesus and his disciples spend the night in Bethany and travel into the city each morning. Most of his time is spent on the temple mount in the temple courts. The 35 ½ acre mount is surrounded by walls lined with porticos. These porticos are often the scene of religious classes and discussions. Jesus, no doubt, is conducting his own teaching classes for his disciples and the crowds who gather around. Also joining him are the various religious leaders and teachers who regard him as a dangerous enemy.
Why do the leaders not like Jesus? Mark tells us in verse 18 that they feared him because of they way he amazed the crowd. He embarrassed them numerous times publicly, performing miracles in such a way as to shame them for their attitudes and even pronouncing curses on them. They regard him as dangerous because of his influence over the people, an influence they want to have. They certainly consider his teachings and actions dangerous enough to disrupt order and invite further interference by the Roman authorities. Yesterday’s eruption in the temple was proof enough of that.
It is time now for them to take control of the situation and reassert their own authority. It is time to show who’s boss! The best starting place is to challenge his right to disrupt the market area in the temple. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
The temple authorities must have been really upset over that episode. No doubt there were critics of the market place in the temple. I could easily imagine John the Baptist sharing his opinion. There was a whole religious sect called the Essenes that outright rejected the temple, believing the system had become so corrupt. But we don’t know of anyone else having the audacity to knock over the tables and stalls in the middle of the workday, or at least getting away with it like Jesus did. It is one thing to have convictions; it is another to show such disregard of the religious authorities on their turf. So again, “Who gave you, Jesus, the authority to do what you did?”
29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”
Jesus is not resorting here to a mere evasive tactic. “Gee, I can’t answer this question; I’d better ask one they can’t answer either.” We see this often; we do it often.
“Where did you get that letter?”
“Where did you get that picture?”
“You tell me first.”
“No, you tell me first.”
His answer did relate to their answer. John had testified that he possessed even greater power than John; that he possessed the power of the Holy Spirit. John testified that he saw the Holy Spirit come in the form of a dove and baptize Jesus, i.e. anoint him with authority and power.
If the inquisitors responded that John had authority from heaven, then Jesus, as they knew so well, would have retorted, “Then why didn’t you believe his testimony about me, and, by the way, repent as he called you to do.”
They really didn’t believe John was a true prophet. At least they didn’t want to believe, because his opinion of them had been the same as Jesus’. But they were smart enough (or cowardly enough) to consider the effect of a denial in front of a crowd. Remember that the temple courts would have been crowded.
33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Until a basis can be established to determine who has authority, there certainly is no point in debating the matter. And Jesus certainly is wise enough to avoid the manipulations of his enemies to make him look like an egotistical madman claiming authority for himself and perhaps upsetting the Roman authorities. Indeed, Jesus is clever enough to shut the mouths of his opponents.