“By What Authority?” — The Claims of Messiah

Recently, I wrote on a question the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus the Tuesday before His death, and His answer, “Render unto Caesar….” (here and here).  I’ll follow that by looking at some other interactions our Lord had that day.

The first question of the day came from the religious authorities in Jerusalem — “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?”  We’ll start by looking at “these things” — the Lord’s claims to be the promised Messiah.

Matthew 21:23

23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

As we look at “these things,” three especially stand out — Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, His willing acceptance of the praise of the people, and His cleansing of the temple.

The Triumphal Entry

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Matthew 21:6-8

6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.

The manner of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (riding on a donkey’s colt) proclaimed Him as the promised King, the Messiah.  The prophecy was well known to every student of the Scriptures.  By choosing to enter the city as described by Zechariah, Jesus claimed to be the promised One, the Messiah.

Accepting Praise

Luke 19:38-40

38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.
39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.
40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

Matthew 21:15-16

15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,
16 And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

Religious leaders (the Pharisees going into Jerusalem, the chief priests in the temple) objected to the words used to praise our Lord.  He was called “King,” “Son of David” (a title for Messiah), the One who “cometh in the name of the Lord,” etc.

Jesus responded, in both cases, that the titles were perfectly appropriate.  He said God would work a miracle (stones speaking), if needed, to proclaim Him.  God had put perfect praise in the children’s mouths!  This was an indirect but very clear claim to be the Anointed One (Messiah) of God.  No ordinary Jew would accept such praise and claim it was from God.  Jesus was either Messiah or a blasphemer.

The Cleansing of the Temple

Malachi 3:1-3

1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

Matthew 21:12-13

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

The chief priests had authority in the temple.  They regulated what happened there, and they controlled (and profited by) the buying, selling, and currency exchange in the temple.  (Rabbinical writings from the time speak of the “Bazaar of Annas,” the disreputable marketing in the temple by the family of the high priest.)

Jesus disturbed their business, but more, He challenged their authority.  No king had  authority in the temple over the priests — Uzziah (II Chronicles 26) had learned that.  The only authority over them was the One described in Malachi 3, “the Lord whom ye seek.”  Messiah would come to the temple to purify worship and the priests.  When Christ cleansed the temple, He did what only Messiah had legitimate authority to do.

To the Jews, who knew the Old Testament so well, Jesus might as well have set up a huge billboard outside the temple, saying, “I am the Messiah, the King, the Promised One.”  But He did more, for He not only claimed to be Messiah.  When He ignored their objections over the praises of the children in the temple, healed and taught there, and more than anything, when He cleansed THEIR temple, He claimed authority over THEM.

Who Authorised You?

“By what authority doest thou these things?  and who gave thee this authority?”  It is little wonder they decided on this question.  They couldn’t challenge His compassionate healing, the moral quality of His teaching, or the spiritual holiness of cleansing the temple.  But they COULD go after the technical question of authority.

If the Sanhedrin (the council), the chief priests, even the Pharisees, hadn’t accepted Him, who gave Him the authority to behave like this, to claim to be Messiah?  He wasn’t a student of Hillel or Shammai or any other great rabbi.

They were sure He had no answer.  No one had given Him authority.  He was just a loose cannon, a self-appointed upstart.  Moses had warned about miracles from false prophets, so His miracles proved nothing.  It was their right, their responsibility, as shepherds over the people, to demand an answer.  He couldn’t answer this question, and if He dodged it, He would be discredited in the eyes of the people.  They knew they had Him now — He’d gone too far in His claims, with no authority for them.

In the morning, when He came again to the temple, they asked for His authorisation.

Next:  “By What Authority?” — Jesus Answers the Question

Series Summary with links to further articles: “Passion Tuesday” / Crucifixion Tuesday

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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2 Responses to “By What Authority?” — The Claims of Messiah

  1. Ruth Gleason says:

    I don’t want to wait for “the more to come”.

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