Jesus has a question for me. Actually, He has a lot of them. When He asks them, I am compelled to face up to how much I have to learn. Learning (being a disciple) requires answering lots of questions. Jesus is my Master. He wants to know.
The reverse is also true. It isn’t my job to ask Jesus trick questions. Jesus is the teacher, I am the student. The religious elites here didn’t want to learn anything. They wanted to kill Jesus. The disciples of Jesus, however, always wanted to learn and had lots of questions for Jesus. Jesus answered them all.
They came again to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the religious elites [chief priests, the scribes, and the elders] came and asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do these things?”
Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; then answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism from heaven or of human origin? Answer me.”
They discussed it among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ ”—they were afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought that John was truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” | Mark 11:27-33 (Christian Standard Bible)
Here are some key ideas:
- A question of authority: As the official guardians of the Law, the members of the Sanhedrin had both the right and the responsibility to investigate anyone who claimed to be sent by God; and that included Jesus. However, these men did not have open minds or sincere motives. They were not seeking truth; they were looking for evidence to use to destroy Him. Jesus knew what they were doing, so He countered their question with another question and exposed their hypocrisy.
- Why take them all the way back to John the Baptist? For a very good reason: God does not teach us new truth if we have rejected the truth He has already revealed. This basic principle is expressed in John 7:17: “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself” (NASB).
- “Obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge,” said the British preacher F.W. Robertson. The Jewish religious leaders had not accepted what John had taught, so why should God say anything more to them? Had they obeyed John’s message, they would have gladly submitted to the Messiah’s authority, for John came to present the Messiah to the nation.
- The religious elites were caught in a dilemma of their own making. They were not asking “What is true?” or “What is right?” but “What is safe?” This is always the approach of the hypocrite and the crowd-pleaser. It certainly was not the approach of either Jesus or John the Baptist.
- Jesus did not refuse to answer their question; He only refused to accept and endorse their hypocrisy. He was not being evasive; He was being honest.
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mk 11:1–33). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 151). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.