In this passage a question rises about authority. Who has authority? What is the origin of the authority?
The chief priests and scribes wanted to know from whence Jesus received the authority to do "these things". At the end of the previous chapter he had for the second time in about three years cleansed the temple. Then in the first verse of the present chapter he assumed the place of a teacher in the Temple.
The chief priests and scribes obviously believed they had authority to question Jesus' authority. Jesus, instead of answering them outright, put another question on the table. It was a question that also addressed the issue of authority. It was a question about the baptism of John. " . . . was it from heaven, or of men?" Did John's baptism have divine authority or merely human authority. It mattered! It was a question that put the religious leaders on the horns of a dilemma. To answer one way was to condemn themselves. To answer another way was to be condemned by the people. Answer: We cannot tell whence it was.
Jesus seizes on their indecision and trumps their perceived authority by refusing to answer from whence he derived his authority. The fact that Jesus engages the religious leaders concerning the issue of authority indicates that he understood the importance of establishing authority. In this case it was not Jesus who exceeded his authority by acting but the religious leaders by asking. In an attempt to call Jesus on the carpet they had the rug pulled out from under them.
Issues of authority are a relevant part of our every day life.
Who has authority?
From whence is the authority derived?
What, if any, are the limits on authority?
Are there competing authorities?
Are there over-lapping authorities?
What are the boundaries of jurisdiction?
Is there a higher authority?
How we answer these questions concerning the different areas of life will determine our decisions. The choices we make will ultimately be judged by He who has all authority and whose rule has unlimited jurisdiction.