The Authority of Heaven

A major theme of Jesus’ ministry during the last week of His life, from Palm Sunday up to His trial, was the coming judgment upon Israel and her leaders (Mat 21-25). His cleansing of the temple (21:12-17) and cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22) foreshadowed that coming judgment which took place in 70 A.D. when the Roman armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem along with its people and temple. The judgment Jesus foreshadowed by His actions and previewed in His parables (21:33-44, 22:1-14), He clearly predicted would happen before that generation passed away (24:2, 34).
In the passage before us now (21:23-32), Israel’s leadership questioned Jesus’ authority. They confronted Him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” These things would have included cleansing the temple, healing in the temple, and probably His teaching in the temple. In the tradition of rabbinic debate, Jesus asks them a question promising to answer theirs if they answered His. He asked them where John’s ministry was from which put them in a predicament. If they answered, “from heaven,” why did they not believe John, repent of their sins and receive Jesus as their Messiah-King? To answer Jesus’ question, “from heaven,” they would in essence also answer their own question of the source of Jesus’ authority! If they answered “from men,” they would be at odds with the people who believed John to be a prophet of God. In the parable that follows (vv.28-32), Jesus rebuked them for not repenting and believing John’s message like the tax collectors and prostitutes who were entering the kingdom of God before them.