Coming up to Mark 11:27-33, we see that they arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” The Chief Priests were in charge of worship in Jerusalem’s Temple. They were also part of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling Jewish council. Teachers of the Law were Jewish scholars of the day, and though their authority was strictly human and traditional, they too were members of the Sanhedrin. Then there were the Elders, who were lay leaders of the Sanhedrin.
Problem #1: Jesus just finished (the day before?) with recognizing the Chief Priests’ failure to uphold their authority by God in terms of the Temple. They also believed that everybody else was under them. Here’s the thing though. If the highest power is tainted and darkened, then those under them also take on their characteristics. Jesus said in verse 24 to take on God’s character. These men were not doing this.
Problem #2: They should have recognized Jesus’ authority long ago. Either they did and rejected it, or their own pride and status’ blinded them from “seeing”.
Problem #3: They were the Sanhedrin, yet they were afraid of the people? That’s like the Supreme Court being afraid of the people, which is a sign of a failed court system, as well as, in the Sanhedrin’s case, a failed religious system.
The officials, as members of the ruling Jewish council, believed themselves to have had the highest authority. And so by Jesus doing these things without their permission, they figured He was out of line and acting as sort of a religious outlaw. So when they asked Jesus about His authority, they had already put themselves above Him in their eyes. But when Jesus asked them His question, they (“the highest Jewish authority”) were afraid to answer. For one answer would reveal them as hypocrites, as well as rebels against God, while the other answer would cause them to lose favor among the people. Either way, Jesus showed them that they really are NOT the highest authority in Jerusalem.
Problem #4: I actually thought it was interesting that when they discussed the answer, it was like they knew the answer, but rejected the Truth because they didn’t want to be rebuked for being wrong with John the Baptist. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” It’s like they were actually more afraid of being wrong. We could look at a bunch of scenarios about this, but it’s just interesting to me because flat out rejection of the Truth, especially when it looks you straight in the face, follows the same path as one who continues to lie. This explains why Jesus refused to tell them any Truth…they probably wouldn’t accept it anyway.
- What are some examples you can think of where people have flat out rejected proof of something? Even with the evidence, why do you suppose they continued to reject it?
- Has your authority ever been challenged? How did you respond?
- Why do you suppose Jesus didn’t answer them directly?
- How did their trickery backfire on them?
- What’s the greater priority in your life, praising God, or praising men? Reflect on your answer with what the Bible says.