Following from the cursed fig tree, the story links how the judgement to come will fall on Israel and her leaders – who have rejected both John and Jesus.
Here the chief priests, scribes (teachers of the Law) and elders confront Jesus about his cleansing of the temple. They represent three groups of Jewish leadership. Their question continues to bring to a head the underlying question of the whole Gospel – who is this Jesus?
The hiddeness of Jesus’ identity remains for those resistant to him. Jesus’ answer connects his and John’s missions within the eschatological coming of the kingdom of God. Just as John died at the hands of Herod Antipas, so Jesus would also die at the hands of those with political and religious power who rejected his message and mission. It is the tragedy of Israel rejecting her Messiah and his forerunner and in doing so, rejecting the authority of God in whose will and purpose both have come.
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”