We are looking at the interactions between the Jewish leaders and Jesus during the last week before the crucifixion. After Christ overturned the money changers tables in the Court of the Gentiles in the temple precincts, the chief priests and leaders felt that the situation was getting out of their control with the crowd hanging on to Christ’s every word (Luke 19:48). Their jealousy and fear of losing their financial empire made them acknowledge that their efforts to stop Christ’s popularity had little effect. They said, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him” (John 12:19). They decided to undermine the people’s faith in Christ’s spiritual authority by asking Him about His certificate of ordination to be a Rabbi. What religious school had taught Him, and under whose authority was He doing these things? Of course, they knew He had attended no seminary/yeshiva and that He had no formal authority from men. This tactic, they thought, would discredit and undermine the people’s faith in Him. Before the multitudes of people, they interrupted His teaching:
1One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2"Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?" 3He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?" 5They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' 6But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet." 7So they answered, "We don't know where it was from." 8Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things" (Luke 20:1-8).
The religious leaders thought they had Him. All the people looked on, awaiting Jesus’ response. The Lord replied with a question for them. If they answered His question, He would answer theirs. "The baptism of John; was it from heaven or from men?" (v. 4). This put the religious elite into a difficult position because they rejected John the Baptist’s preaching of repentance for Israel (Luke 7:29-30). The Lord used the question to expose the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. In commenting on this passage, William Barclay writes:
He asked them to answer the question, "Was the authority of John the Baptist human or divine?" The point is that their answer to Jesus' question would answer their question. Everyone knew how John had regarded Jesus and how he had considered himself only the forerunner of the One who was the Messiah. If they agreed that John's authority was divine, then they had to agree that Jesus was the Messiah, because John had said so. If they denied it, the people would rise against them because John the Baptist was perceived as a prophet. Jesus' answer asks the question, "Tell me—where do you think I got my authority?" He did not need to answer their question if they responded to his.
The religious leaders were humiliated when Jesus would not answer their question. What could they say? They hadn’t believed John’s message about repentance and being ready for the Messiah, but they also knew most of the people in the audience had. They did not want to risk inciting a heated debate, perhaps leading to mob reaction. They had to back down before all the people. The lesson for us is to not harden our hearts against the Messiah but to believe and trust Him. He has all the authority in the world. Keith Thomas
Shortened from the more extensive study at the following link: The Parable of the Vine-Growers.