Summary: In understanding and submitting to Jesus authority, Matthew 21:23-32 shows us: 1) The Confrontation (Matthew 21:23), 2) The Counter Question (Matthew 21:24–27), 3) The Characterization (Matthew 21:28–31a)

Matthew 21:23–32 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. 28 “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.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 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. 32 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. (ESV)

The road to hell is paved with good intentions is a proverb or aphorism. It is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote, "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs" (hell is full of good wishes and desires). From our own experiences and observations we can see that many individuals may do bad things even though they intend the results to be good. A good example is the economic policies of the 1920s. These were intended to be a prudent response to the economic turmoil following World War I and the Wall Street Crash but they resulted in the Great Depression and World War II in which millions of people suffered and died. Studies of business ethics indicate that most wrongdoing is not due directly to wickedness but is performed by people who did not plan to err. We rely on proper authorities in Government, the Military, Business, and other fields to exercise their expertise in things we do not have the day to day expertise. (

The question of proper authority was important for the Jews of the day. They held that they were the people of God, and they therefore detested their Roman overlords. Of necessity they submitted to them, but they did not believe that the Romans had the right to govern them. They were God’s own people, and their human lords were God’s high priest and those associated with him in the appointed assemblies, the great Sanhedrin and the lesser councils throughout the land. People like John the Baptist and Jesus presented problems because they did not fit into this picture. They were not like the Romans, who ruled unjustly but had the military backing that enforced their demands. And they were not like the high priests and other officials, who because of their official position were regarded as authoritative persons by official Judaism. What authority, then, did they have? (Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (532–533). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.)

People in North America pride themselves on their own autonomy, which is a word properly defined as the combination of auto (self) and nomos (law or authority). In essence, the more we become our own authority, or literally, law unto ourselves, we assume, the happier we seem to be. In things of belief, regardless of our intentions, when we become our own authorities, we by definition, reject God and His authority.

In Matthew 21, the conflict in this encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders was over the issue of authority, specifically Jesus’ authority, which they questioned and which they feared would threaten their own positions of authority. Regardless of their or our intentions, when we fail to submit to Jesus’ authority we set ourselves up for ruin. Using the modern phrase it is “What the Road to Hell is Paved with”. In understanding and submitting to Jesus authority, Matthew 21:23-32 shows us: 1) The Confrontation (Matthew 21:23), 2) The Counter Question (Matthew 21:24–27), 3) The Characterization (Matthew 21:28–31a)

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