THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS IS QUESTIONED
Matt 21:23-32 And when He was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto Him as He was teaching, and said, By what authority doest Thou these things, and who gave Thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it, from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And He said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. (Also see Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)
Having received lodging for the night in the village of Bethany (Vs. 17), Jesus returned to the temple of God to resume His teaching to the multitudes as well as to the Jewish leaders that always seemed to be present. We know from numerous scriptures that coming into His presence was for one reason only, and that reason was to find sufficient, blaspheming fault with Jesus' teaching and miraculous works, that would warrant His death by execution. Indeed, the lesson text tells about one of those occasions. While Jesus was teaching the people in the temple, the chief priests and the elders (Mark addedthe scribes) confronted Jesus with one of their many fault-finding questions. The elders, as used here, refer to the members of the high court of the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin. Also, more often than not, we find the Pharisees included with these other descriptive titles of the Jewish leadership.
These leaders came before Jesus in the temple (probably in the inner court of the Jews where it was less crowded) posing this question to Him: By what authority doest Thou these things, and who gave Thee this authority? On the previous day, Jesus had cast out all of the merchandise traders and money changers from the temple, saying that they had desecrated the house of prayer and had made it a den of thieves (Matt. 21:12-13). Jewish leaders, according to biblical historians, had licensed and given their approval for these merchandizing activities to take place in the temple, and, by allowing them to do so, they gained considerable profit. It was probably this act by Jesus that prompted these leaders to wonder why He had done this thing without first gaining their permission. I suppose that there were a number of priests or members of the Sanhedrin that could have given Jesus permission for cleansing the temple. These leaders probably knew this was not done, therefore they asked this question, "What was your authority to do so, and who gave it to you?"
These Jews had always questioned Jesus' authority as coming from God. They cast doubt on the new prophetic doctrine He taught and attributed the miracles He performed to Satan. Therefore it was to be expected that these Jewish leaders would not admit Jesus to be the promised Messiah and the Son of God, nor did they believe that God gave Him the authority to cleanse the temple of the various traders found on its premises. He answered their question on authority with this questioning statement: I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell Me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it, from heaven, or of men? By His reply, Jesus knew that regardless of their answer, these Jewish leaders would convict themselves. All three gospel writers that recorded this event gave their reaction and reply in very similar words: And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.
The Jewish leaders knew the opinion of the people was that they believed John the Baptist was a prophet of God. This, they knew, was not the answer they must give. However, if they admitted that John was sent by God, they could not deny the message he taught that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God. Therefore they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. Since they would not give Jesus an answer, He avoided the question posed to Him by which they thought they could accuse Him of blasphemy, convict Him, and sentence Him to death. Therefore He replied, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. Of Jesus, John the Baptist said I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (John 1:34). This fact these Jewish leaders knew, but because of their self-righteousness, they openly lied to Jesus in order to cover their sinful pride. Human wisdom, to protect their man-made beliefs, as it did in this instance, often needs fabricate lies to deny the authority of Christ Jesus.