16 June 2012

Luke 20:1-8

"Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?" (v. 2)


The actions of Jesus, prior to the dialogue in this passage, have shown him to act with authority. He rode into Jerusalem to people cheering and praising the Messiah (Luke 19:29-40), he criticised the practices within the temple and in so doing attacked the high priest (the most senior figure) and here he is now preaching the gospel (good news of the kingdom) in the temple courts (Luke 19:41-48).

The chief priest, the scribes and the elders were part of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews. It was these people, the religious aristocracy, who approached Jesus. They were questioning where he got his authority to act and speak in the way that he did. If Jesus directly answered that his authority was from God then they could charge him with blasphemy and arrest him.

However, Jesus responds to their question with another question, which was a common style of debating in the rabbinic tradition. He refers to John the Baptist and asks from where he got his authority. The response can either be from God or not from God. If the Jewish leaders say that John's authority comes from God then they have to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, for it was John who proclaimed the Messiah and baptized Jesus. So if the Jewish leaders accept John's authority as from God, Jesus does not need to answer their question for they already have their answer. Alternatively, the Jewish leaders could have responded that John's authority was not from God. However there was a large following for John and the Jewish leaders would have been concerned about an outcry from the people. They were more concerned about public opinion than they were about what concerns God and feared a backlash from the people that could damage their own authority. Because they had backed themselves into a corner they could not answer either way so chose to say that they did not know. As they had refused to answer Jesus' question he could openly choose not to answer theirs.

To Ponder

To what extent do you live as though Jesus has the highest authority in your life?

Are there times when you are like the Jewish leaders, being more concerned about what people may think than you are about the concerns of God? How can you overcome that?

Bible notes author

Meg Prowting

After having studied theology at university, Meg went on to teach religious studies in a large secondary school. She now works for the Connexional Team as the youth ministries development officer, where she enjoys the opportunity to work with young people and their workers/leaders..