Mark 11:27-28: 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?”
Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus again left the city after his Monday clearing of the temple. He returns on Tuesday and enters the temple courts, which were a series of open areas that surrounded the main temple buildings. It is in these courts that Jesus receives a series of challenges by the ruling Jewish authorities of the day: the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were religious political parties (there would have been no separation of religious and political authorities in this society) who held different interpretations of how to live out what we would call the Old Testament. Members of both parties (and others) formed a central temple council called the Sanhedrin. And one thing these parties did agree upon: this Jesus of Nazareth was a threat to their power.
The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record a series of challenges to Jesus from various parties in the Sanhedrin while He is in the temple courts on Tuesday. They ask by what authority He has cleansed the temple and is teaching in “their” temple courts, as Jesus would not have had the traditional credentials of a rabbi. They try to trap him with political issues such as the legality of paying taxes (Mark 12:13-17), and the issue of resurrection (a disputed question in that day as in ours, Mark 12:18-27). When Jesus silences each of these challenges, they turn subversive and look for a way to arrest him (Mark 12:12).
Not only does Jesus respond to each of the presented challenges, He makes statements and challenges of His own against the ruling parties who were exploiting their position for personal gain. Some of Jesus’ most well known teachings come from this part of the gospel:
- The Parable of the Tenants ("Matthew 21:33-46":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2021:33-46&version=NIV, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19)
- Give (or render in the King James) to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s ("Matthew 22:21":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2022:21&version=NIV, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25)
- The Seven Woes ("Matthew 23":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2023&version=NIV)
- The Sheep and the Goats ("Matthew 25:31-46":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2025:31-46&version=NIV),
- The Parable of the Talents (or bags of gold) ("Matthew 25:14-30":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2025:14-30&version=NIV and Luke 19:12-27)
- The Greatest Commandment ("Mark 12:28-34":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2012:28-34&version=NIV)
- The Parable of the Wedding Banquet ("Matthew 22:1-14":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2022:1-14&version=NIV)
- The Signs of the end of the age ("Matthew 24":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2024&version=NIV, Mark 13, Luke 21:5-36)
In addition to responding to the challenges that Jesus is presented with, we can see that He is aware that time is short, and that there is much that He desires to teach the crowd. This will be the last time that Jesus teaches in public.
In considering the concept of Jesus’ authority, we can see today how little has changed since the First Century. The authority of Jesus is still questioned in the hearts and minds of people everywhere, if not rejected outright. We see books and websites dedicated to the “fact” that Jesus never existed at all! We see others claim that He was a good teacher, but nothing more. His teachings and commands are marginalized by Christian and non-Christian alike. Against these slights and rejections we see Jesus reply “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, [they] will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak for myself” (John 7:16-17). As those who claim to follow God’s will, let us prayerfully consider how we might better submit ourselves to Jesus’ authority during this Holy Week.