23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. Matt. 21:23-27
There is no surviving evidence that Messiah went through any kind of ordination to become a “teacher.” The chief priests and elders of the people were the ones who controlled who was ordained. They don’t recognize this guy as one of their pupils.
So, in this passage they were wanting to know if Jesus’ “papers” were in order, so to speak. Jesus had been teaching and healing within the temple compound itself; a job the elders considered to be theirs alone, so they naturally wanted to know who he is. It was, they thought, a cleaver way to question this man’s authority.
Messiah’s answer was to proffer a far more astute question about authority, by questioning their respect for the popular “teacher,” John the Baptizer. His question exposed the elders cunning and cowardice. So, when they pleaded ignorance, they stood self-condemned of being unable to judge such matters. If they could not judge John’s authority, by what standard could they judge Jesus’? He was, after all, the man John called—
. . . the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:9b
Next Week: The Fig Tree