By What Authority

Luke 20:1-8
1One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

This is just one of those scenes. You can see it play out in your sanctified imagination. Jesus is in the temple, preaching and teaching the people. The elders approach Him with a question that is both insulting and shows a distinct lack of understanding. Jesus rarely gives a straight answer to the questions they ask Him. This time, the subject is authority. The elders gather together in a little circle to discuss their tactics and realize that they are between the proverbial rock and a hard spot. There is no good answer for them to give. I would love to have witnessed their angst. This question from the Sanhedrin comes at a time when Jesus’ authority has been well documented and the people listening to Him preach do not seem to need an answer to this question. For the general population, His authority has been well established. It must also be pointed out that this conversation takes place in the Temple. Divine presence comes to divine presence to signal the profound shift that is about to occur in the cosmos.

Jesus takes his rightful place in God’s house as the authoritative Teacher of God. But his legitimate claim to be the Teacher is seen by the religious leaders as the most serious threat possible to their own (claimed) authority. By taking his stand in the temple, Jesus asserts that his authority is that of God himself. Jesus carefully answers each attempt by the Sanhedrin to trap him. In the process, the hearer receives Jesus’ final teaching before the passion narrative begins.
Just, A. A., Jr. (1997). Luke 9:51–24:53 (pp. 753–754). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

As Jesus lobs this question at the elders, He brings up John the Baptist – the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry. This reference forces all of His listeners to go back to the beginning of His public ministry and remember all that He has done in the previous three years. This question is strategically placed in the narrative. Up to this point Jesus has displayed openly His authority over illness, the demonic, nature, and even death, so this question from the elders is ridiculous as best. It is in fact so ridiculous that Jesus refuses to even be distracted by the question and engaged in the conversation.

It’s good for us to read this question for ourselves as well and meditate upon where we place our own actions and behaviors when it comes to the authority of Christ. If He is the ultimate and supreme authority, then He is also powerful enough to deal with our guilt and sin. This Authority is the One who just a few short days after this conversation will take our sin to the cross and once and for all deal with its consequence eternal death. The subject of Jesus’ authority is important and dealt with throughout His ministry on earth. Because of that pure authority, we are saved.