Rising Tensions

Matthew 21:23-27

It is day 2 in Jerusalem. Jesus arrives at the Temple in the morning, and the Jewish leaders are waiting for Him; they are ready to challenge Him. What they probably didn’t understand, was that they were playing the wrong parts, for as the religious leaders of the chosen people of God, they should be rolling out the red carpet for their Messiah, but instead of doing that, they are playing to role of Satan’s stooges, Satan’s shills, giving a voice to his challenge of the Son of God. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that what Matthew has revealed about their thinking here, is fascinating; it speaks volumes…

The Jewish leadership had adopted a political strategy!

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (21:23)

When a politician has a ticklish problem, he will respond to it directly… by changing the subject. This strategy actually has a name: “controlling to narrative”. Thus, instead of speaking to the messianic identity that Jesus so clearly assumed the day before, they ask Him who authorized His actions. If Jesus answers their question, then they will have the upper hand in what follows; an allegation of wrongdoing.

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait:

Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (21:24-25a)

This is Jesus’ counter move, and with it, He threw their maneuver right back in their faces. Their sidebar is nothing less than fascinating:

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’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” (21:25b-26)

If you doubted me in my application of politics in this discussion, you really need to change your mind at this point, for any novice can see the politics in this thinking. The leaders have found themselves in a lose – lose position, so they do the honorable thing; they lie.

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” (21:27a)

Jesus has just won their first round:

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (21:27b)

Even so, Jesus isn’t finished talking on this subject, and seizing the initiative, He will tell them three parables (21:28-22:14) in which He will assert His authority indirectly. We will be looking at the three parables one at a time, but as we do so, I hope you will remember the setting and context of what has just happened, for it is only by doing so that you will see the full picture of what is happening in this incredible scene. We will begin on Monday morning, see you then!

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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11 Responses to Rising Tensions

  1. This has been a fascinating post/series. Thanks Don!

  2. dwmartens says:

    It has impressed me for some time that if Jesus’ challengers had answered Jesus’ question correctly, they would have also correctly answered their own question they had posed to him! John’s authority to baptize (with his message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”) was from the same source as Jesus’ authority. I wonder if they caught that point.

  3. Jesus kept pushing them and pushing them and pushing them until they finally showed their true colors.

  4. Pingback: Speaking in Parables Again | The Life Project

  5. Pingback: Parable of the Tenants | The Life Project

  6. The wonderful thing about reading Matthew is knowing he speaks directly to his Jewish audience, and knows they will understand those specific politics.

    • Don Merritt says:

      True, and yet in the early church, for both Jew and Gentile, Matthew’s account was by far the best known, and the most often mentioned or quoted by the early leaders in their writings.; interesting.

  7. bcaudle77 says:

    What a scene, simply awesome! Praise God for His wisdom and understanding. We can learn so much from reading this stuff

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