Mark 11:27-28- Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?”
The word “authority” is not an unfamiliar term to anyone. We all understand authority on some level, and either exercises it or have it exercised over us. Parents exercise authority over their children, police exercise authority over criminals and citizens, pastors exercise authority over their flock, and rulers exercise authority over nations. Some exercise with righteousness, while others rule with unrighteousness; yet we all have learned, through living, the power of authority!
Such was the case with this confrontation of the Pharisees with Jesus. The Pharisees had witnessed Jesus’ life and ministry for the past several years. They knew that He exercised a lot of authority over the people. They watched as crowds gathered around Him, followed Him, and sought Him out. They understood Jesus carried a level of authority they had never come up against until He showed up. So as Jesus walked into the temple, they met Him and decided that it was time for a confrontation.
Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?”Mark 11:27-28 NKJV
The Greek word for authority in our key text is “exousia.” This word carries a variety of meanings that depict authority, which is understandable because authority is seen in many different ways.
As we have gone through the book of Mark we have seen Jesus exercise His authority on several different levels, and we have seen the Pharisees challenge it. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus begins His ministry of teaching.
And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.Mark 1:22 NKJV
The very first encounter the people have with Jesus’ teaching, they note that He taught differently. His teaching session was filled with authority. Not by Him stating His authority, but the way He taught the scriptures wasn’t from a position of a learner, but from the position of the Author. And they could tell the difference, although they had little to no education themselves.
After Jesus finished teaching, a person possessed by a demon came into the temple and began yelling, disrupting the service. But Jesus told the demon to be quiet, and to come out of the man. The demon obeyed Jesus, and the man was set free.
Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”Mark 1:27 NKJV
The people didn’t quite know what to make of Jesus, but they knew that it was different from anything they had ever experienced. Jesus begins to heal the sick, open blind eyes, cleanse lepers, expel demons, and the crowds grew overnight! There was nothing this Jesus couldn’t do, including the forgiving of sins. And as the Pharisees watch and listen, they are not happy about it.
Then Jesus did the unthinkable. He made light of the Sabbath traditions and was teaching His disciples, by example, to do the same. So the Pharisees decided to test Jesus, to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. They arranged for a man with a withered hand to be in the temple when Jesus arrived, and when He saw the man, Jesus responded to the challenge of His authority.
Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent.Mark 3:4 NKJV
Jesus was pretty upset with them because of the hardness of their heart, but it didn’t stop Him from restoring the man’s hand. After He healed the man’s hand, the Pharisees were so angry that they decided to plot with the Herodians to destroy Him. Not because He healed the man on the Sabbath day, but because He took authority that they felt He had no right to possess.
At this point, the gauntlet has been tossed, and the Pharisees went away knowing that a Man of authority had overruled their authority and they had to do something about it or be destroyed.
The Pharisees operated in traditional authority, “the authority of the eternal yesterday”, according to Webster. As religious leaders of the Jewish faith, they were able to exercise authority over the people in the synagogue and in their personal lives. But Jesus, in just a few short weeks has demonstrated charismatic authority (influence from personal strength and charisma), reverent authority (as a result of His compassion for the people), and expert authority as He expounded on the truths of God, to name a few.
All of this troubled the Pharisees. They had never seen anything like it! They have watched Jesus and have seen and heard of some pretty amazing things, but because of their hatred of Him and their anger over His influence with the people, they didn’t care about the good He was doing for others!
If you will recall at the beginning of Mark 11, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey. He was hailed as King. He went into the temple and threw out the moneychangers, turned over tables, and ran off the animals they were selling.
Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”Mark 11:15-17 NKJV
This was a different type of authority Jesus exercised. Jesus was on their turf, overthrowing that which they had approved. He was uprooting their authority with a claim that outweighed their traditional authority. This was His Father’s house and based on this truth, He had the legal authority, the right, to throw them out of the temple! So when they asked their question, it was in response to His challenge of their authority in the temple. Jesus offers this response to their challenge:
“I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.”Mark 11:29-30 NKJV
One commentator called this an evasive tactic on Jesus’ part. However, I disagree. He wasn’t avoiding their question, He was challenging them by asking a question He knew they would not want to answer.
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ ”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.”Mark 11:31-33 NKJV
John was indeed a prophet. But Jesus was more than a prophet. In acknowledging that John the Baptist was truly from heaven, they would have been admitting that they rejected the Lamb of God of whom John testified, the Messiah whose path he made straight! They couldn’t do that. Neither could they say that John was purely operating by the will of men. They saw the trap for what it was, so they declined to answer by saying they didn’t know, or could not tell.
Therefore, Jesus responds to them:
“Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”Mark 11:33b NKJV
I’m out of time and will have to leave it here! But since this isn’t the end of the Pharisees attack on Jesus and His authority, neither is it mine. Until next time, Wonderful Jesus!