The Chief Priests Question Jesus Authority

(Luke 20:1-8)

In this section of scripture we see the chief priests and scribes question Jesus authority. They really did not care about his authority but were looking for opportunities to trip him up in his words so as to condemn him. But Jesus would have none of that and his approach to these men questioning his authority is just brilliant.jesus teaching in the temple

Jesus’ Question

Jesus said to the chief priests and scribes when they questioned his authority, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” (Verses 3-4)

Now while this could be seen as a simple negotiation ploy or a delaying tactic, it was very clever and it drove to the heart of the chief priests and scribes question. They wanted to know by whose authority Jesus was teaching, preaching and doing his many works. So Jesus basically asked them what they thought about the authority of John the Baptist. He could have restated the question he asked them as, “By whose authority do you think John the Baptist preached and taught?”

The point at issue was whether Jesus had the authority to do what he was doing. Jesus turned it around by asking the chief priests and scribes to put up or shut up as to the authority by which John the Baptist spoke.

The Trap

It was clear the chief priests and scribes knew they were in a trap. They were caught between a rock and a hard place so to speak. Either way they went in answering Jesus’ question they would be found wanting. If they said John’s authority was of God, then Jesus would ask why they chose not to believe him.

Also because John the Baptist had born testimony to Jesus as being the Son of God and the one who was to come, then it would be clear to the chief priests and scribes that he too should be believed and not opposed. That is, if they accepted John’s authority was from God, then so too Jesus’ authority was from God.

But if the chief priests and scribes said John’s authority was not of God but of men, then they would have to contend with an uprising from the people who all held John to be a prophet. And he was a prophet. Jesus himself said, “The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.” (Luke 16:16) And he also said when speaking of John, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Luke 7:26)

So it was evident by Jesus testimony that John was a prophet and indeed the last of the old prophets prior to the commencement of the New Covenant. So if the chief priests and scribes suggested he was not a prophet, they would have had an uproar from the people as it was evident that John spoke from God.

The Outcome

So not knowing which way to jump, they decided to take the easy path and not answer saying they did not know from where John’s authority came. They decided to sit on the fence and do or say nothing.

If there is anything the Lord cannot stand it is fence sitting. We are called to make a decision. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) It is evident then that if anyone is not for Jesus they are opposed. You cannot have a foot in both camps. A decision must be made at some point when the question is asked, “Where do you stand?”

We also see the Apostle John write in Revelation 3:14-22 about the church at Laodicea, how they were found to be neither cold nor hot. They were trying to take a lukewarm path and were neither for nor against Christ. And what was the result? In verse 16 of that section he writes, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Pretty graphic description of how the Lord felt about fence sitters.

So we see that because the chief priests and scribes chose this lukewarm path, they too were denied an answer to their question. I am certain that if they had answered either way, Jesus would have shown them the truth. But because they didn’t they got nothing, except the teaching that even making no decision is a decision, but not one that can move you forward.

If we consider the church at Laodicea for a moment, had they been either cold or hot, they could have been instructed. Even if they made bad decisions they could learn from them. But because they were bland, there was nowhere to go.

A lesson for us

So we too can take a lesson from the actions of the chief priests and scribes as wellas from the church at Laodicea. When the question is asked of us regarding the Lord, be prepared to make an answer. Stand for something. If what you are standing for is wrong, then in time the Lord can convict you of that and teach you what is right.

So you also need to be ready to listen and learn as well. If there are things you are not 100% sure about, that’s OK. The Lord will open those thinsg to you if you continue to seek. He promised if we seek we would find, and sometimes when we find the truth it can be hard, for sometimes the truth may go against the grain of what we have believed for a lifetime. Consider the apostle Paul and how his life was turned around from what he thought was the truth to the real truth that is in Jesus Christ. If we are sincere, the Lord will help us through.

(Picture sourced from

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