Luke 20 v 2 – 3 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?”
When Jesus chased the merchants from the temple, he did something that his enemies would need to reply to, if they were to maintain their hold on the people. This came soon enough in the form of a challenge to his authority.
According to the thinking of the chief priests, Jesus had no official authority. If he admitted it, they would be justified in arresting him.
But the first question that should be asked of any preacher or teacher is not where he got his mandate, but whether what he was saying was true. Then secondly, they should have asked whether what he did in the temple was spiritually valid. Is it something that should have happened? They should have asked whether Jesus had spiritual authority not whether he had some kind of human license.
By now a lot of the people sided with Jesus and the temple authorities needed to be careful because the common folk may well have had enough of the corruption that went on in connection with the temple sacrifices. The tactic they chose was to question his official authority as opposed to spiritual or moral authority.
Jesus answered them in a brilliant way. John the Baptist had declared Jesus to be the Messiah and the people held John in very high esteem as a prophet of God.
Now the Pharisees, Sadducees, priests and theologians had refused to heed John’s message (Matthew 3 v 7). So when Jesus asked them if John’s baptism was from God, they were in an awkward position. To say it was not, would be to invite a riot. To say it was, would be to admit not only that Jesus was the Messiah, but also to condemn themselves for not responding positively to John’s message.
Thus they replied that they did not know. But if they did not have enough discernment to decide about something as important as the message of John the Baptist, then they were truly unfit to be religious guides to the people.
This ignorance was a pretence. They deliberately blurred the truth and therefore received no answer from Jesus about the matter of his authority.
We should note that often when people are confronted by the truth they will prefer to appear puzzled and uncertain, to get out of the corner. But they are lying. The truth is that they reject the message thus disqualifying themselves as leaders. More than that, they disqualify themselves from eternal life. How brilliant Jesus was in answering his enemies. Let none of us be discouraged by the attacks we receive upon our faith. Be steadfast in the truth.