A Question Of Authority

A Question Of Authority: Mark 11:27-33
Pastor John Nicholas
Sunday January 3, 2021

In the narrative of this most Holy week John had preached the last two weeks about two particularly important events.  One was the cleansing of the temple.  Jesus cleansed the temple.  He had cast out those who had turned the house of prayer into a house of commerce.  Those who had supplanted the love of God for the love of money.  This was the second time that Jesus had thrown these men out of the temple courts (John 2:13-17).  All driven by His zeal for His house.  That the temple should be kept pure because it represents God’s presence among the nation of Israel.  It is a statement to the world about God’s holiness.  And the nation of Israel, instead of being a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, had instead shown that they had prostituted their beliefs to the highest bidder for the most gain.

John 2:13-17 (NASB)

First Passover—Cleansing the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”

This figured into the next morning when they passed the fig tree that had withered.  Jesus had previously taught about the lack of figs on an outwardly ripe tree showed the truth about the state of the temple in Israel and about Israel themselves.  That they were whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but only offering decay and death on the inside.

Jesus finished this teaching, the apparent loss of hope, with one on faith.  In faith about what God has done and what He will continue to do.  To have trust in Him and not in the fallen nature of man.


Jesus’ Authority Questioned

27 They *came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders *came to Him,

As we read in Mark 11:19, their typical mode of operation was to spend time in the city during the day and then leave and then retire to Bethany most likely staying with Lazarus (the one He raised from the dead).  When they went into Jerusalem, they would spend their time at the temple.  Not surprisingly because, as Jesus states, this is His Father’s house.  And it makes sense considering the week that we are in.  Jesus consistently modeling holiness for the disciples and those around Him.

Mark 11:19 (NASB)

19 When evening came, they would go out of the city.

And this day, after seeing the fig tree and after He taught them on faith, they again arrive at the temple.  The place where Jesus desired to be.  His house.  His temple.  The sacrifice daily going to the place where sacrifices would be made.

Jesus, walking in the temple courts, where just the day before he had overturned tables and driven out the money changes.  Where just the day before He had caused, for lack of a better term, a ruckus. And He is back.

Interestingly enough we should not assume that Jesus was skulking around, acting like He does not want to be seen.  And I am certain He is not walking into the temple courts arrogantly.  But I am certain that Jesus has come back into the temple as one who owns the place.  He is the creator and this is His temple.  Every time He steps into the temple He is examining the condition of His house of prayer.  He is looking to see if this temple is representing the Triune God.  and He is more than likely walking around the court of the Gentiles or Solomon’s porch.  A reminder, from Christmas Eve, this was the temple that was built by Herod the Great.

And the presumed owners, members of the Sanhedrin (not the entirety).  All three groups mentioned individually by the definite article.  Those who have been given charge, presumably,  via the commands of Moses so long ago see Him and His disciples walking around.  Again.  The day after the big conflation.  Naturally as the caretakers they decide to go up this group of problem makers.


28 and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

The shopkeepers have come.  They need an answer for the uproar that has happened.  Of course they probably know nothing about the teaching of the fig tree, and as a result they cannot perceive their own state.  In their minds they are performing God’s work as He would have it.

You can almost see the fingers being pointed at Jesus.  The accusatory looks on their faces.  Perhaps the holier than thou countenance.  The supposed leaders of Israel.  The ones that are supposed to the be the shepherds standing there.  In reality the ones that truly think that they are shepherding the nation.  But we know, that they are not shepherding the people of God.  We remember when the 5,000 were fed that Jesus looked upon them and had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34).

Mark 6:34 (NASB)

34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.

The people of Israel were being taught about commerce in the temple courts instead of being taught about the holiness of God.  what was being taught was a message of confusion to the people that needed God.  They were truly sheep without a shepherd, the truth of God is obscured by the actions in the temple.  Those that were to teach them about the creator and grow them in their love for God and all that He had done are failing at their role.  Jesus had come in twice now and had removed the barriers between this false teaching and a righteous and a holy God.  Think about how many countless people had been taught, through observation of the buying and selling in the temple, that this is what God is like, this is what He wants from us.  One can only imagine that the judgment upon these men would be heavy.  And in a few days, he will prophesy the destruction of the temple.

These men who are responsible for what is happening in the temple are the ones with the disgusted looks on their faces and the fingers pointing at Jesus.  Jesus who upset their apple cart so to speak.  They want to know how He has the right to do what He did.

Let’s take a moment and think about their question of authority.  More than likely it is primarily pointing to the event of the day before, throwing all those people out.  But on a secondary level, it is not the first time that Jesus’ authority has been questioned.  One need only look back to Mark 2:7 where they questioned His authority to forgive sins.  Furthermore, when we look at the behavior of the scribes in Mark 3:22 they want to attribute his authority as one under possession of the devil.  In other words, these men have a hard time, due to hardness of heart, for not only seeing Jesus for who He truly is but attributing His works as coming from God.

Mark 2:7 (NASB)

7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Mark 3:22 (NASB)

22 The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”

How dare you come in here and do this.  You don’t have the right.  When in actuality He has every right.  Just like He had the right with the fig tree.

Who gave this authority to you, where did it come from?

A trap.  Mark 11:18 tells us that they were seeking to destroy Him.  They are thinking that the way Jesus answers this question will give them the authority to dispose of Him.

Mark 11:18 (NASB)

18 The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.


29 And Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.

Jesus is using a rabbinical technique of the time.  He responds with a counter question.  Interestingly, the representatives of the Sanhedrin tolerate this.  What we see in their toleration is likely driven by their fear.  Not a fear of Jesus but a fear of the people.  Jesus is still very popular but this will change in a few short days.  But at this time they are on the wrong side.  So this question is tolerated.  Still thinking that they will answer it and they can still trap Jesus and in turn get rid of Him.


30 Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.”

These men are now caught between a rock and a hard place as will be demonstrated shortly.  Jesus has come back at them with a question not to show how tricky He can be but with a question that judges them on their authority to judge.

Jesus’ question about John’s baptism is quite poignant.  We understand that John was not authorized by the Sanhedrin to perform baptisms in the wilderness.  He was however prophesied about in Malachi 3:1, and Malachi 4:5.  That John would be another Elijah.  He would be the voice in the wilderness calling people to repent and have forgiveness of sins.

Malachi 3:1 (NASB)

The Purifier

1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 4:5 (NASB)

5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.

Turn to Luke 1:5-17.  This is the call of John.  Filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb.  Called to bring the people’s hearts back to God.  A call from heaven.

Luke 1:5-17 (NASB)

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division,

9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.

11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.

16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.

17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

One could almost picture John, out there in the camel hair vest, looking in the direction of the temple saying look this is not what God wants.  What God wants is a contrite heart and humility.  God does not desire the buying and the selling of animals from sacrifice since the system has been prostituted.  It no longer represents a sense of humility and guilt because of sin.  Instead, it is business.  Buy your animal and get your sins forgiven.  We all win. John on the other hand says repent and believe.

So John’s call was not one from the authorities in the temple and his message was not what was taught by example at the temple.  But one that was bound in the humble heart of the penitent.

So was John’s baptism from heaven or men.  His message was from heaven.  And then on a more specific item, we see how Jesus’ authority also came from heaven during His baptism by John.  In Mark 1:9-11Luke 3:21-22, and Matthew 3:16-17 the baptism testifies to this along with the three members of the trinity being present also.

Mark 1:9-11 (NASB)

The Baptism of Jesus

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;

11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22 (NASB)

Jesus Is Baptized

21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened,

22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17 (NASB)

16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,

17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Therefore the question with the answer will demonstrate whether or not these members of the Sanhedrin have the authority to judge authority.


31 They began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’

32 But shall we say, ‘From men’?”—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet.

Now the crux of their issue.  They came to catch Jesus and they have now been caught.  They immediately see the issue.  Although perhaps for not the most correct reasons.  Look at the answer.  Heard by Peter, and all the other disciples.

They were discussing amongst themselves.  A crisis has developed.  A question that they did not expect.  If they say his authority came from heaven, they are in big trouble.  Because then it will show that they, the Sanhedrin, do not listen to the words received from God.  They would be saying that yes John’s baptism was from heaven, and not only did we not participate, but we did nothing to stop his execution.

Essentially, if they say the baptism is from Heaven then they are showing that they have no authority to judge since they have ignored the authorization from Heaven.  They are effectively negating their position.  And they would be doing it in front of a bunch of witnesses here in the temple courts.

The other way they could answer is by saying that the baptism that John received was from men.  But this is problematic on several levels.  Not the least of which is the fact that they did not authorize it and if they didn’t who would have?  They would be saying that there is a higher human authority above themselves to authorize this baptism.  Further negating any authority that they have.

Additionally, if they say it is from men it will create a big issue with the people.  The text says that they were afraid of the crowd.  All those around and gathered there.  John was popular and he was seen, rightly, as a prophet.  As we noted earlier the Sanhedrin did not view John as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 3 and 4.  As a result, they are in an untenable position.  The crowds will be in an uproar if they say from men because the crowds know that he is a prophet.

The members of the Sanhedrin are left in an unanswerable situation.


33 Answering Jesus, they *said, “We do not know.” And Jesus *said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

As a result, they say that they do not know.  They have given up their position of authority with their, arguably, cowardly response.  Some of the same people who accused Jesus of being in league with the devil.  Now unable to respond.  They have been set back in their place.  Ineffective.

And Jesus rightly refuses to answer them.  As a result, His divine authority is asserted.

Jesus had taught the disciples, through the fig tree, about the state of Israel

Jesus had cleansed His temple of those things that were not part of the House of Prayer

And now He was back at the temple

And they want it to stop

But Jesus has shut them down with regard to authority

The Sanhedrin had been faced with the truth and they could not stand

In fact they had acted in a way that was dishonest

They were hardened in heart

Theirs was a question of authority

They were questioning their creator and did not recognize it

Colossians 1:15-16 (NASB)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

All the things that Jesus did were under the divine authority of the Father.

Who do you say that I am?

Mark 8:29 (NASB)

29 And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter *answered and *said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

The question of authority comes to us too

Do you believe the testimony of the scripture witness

Does Jesus have claim to me?

Is He the authority over my life?

When there is a conflict between what I want and what He says who wins?

Is my heart hardened towards Jesus?

Is it hardened towards the active sin in my life?

Have I lost my love for my Savior?

Have you refused to answer Jesus?

Pray, Observe, Apply.

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