A lion who was caught up with mastery of the jungle decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. "Who is the king of the jungle?" the lion demanded. The bear replied, "Why you are, of course." The lion gave a mighty roar of approval. Next, he went to the tiger. "Who is the king of the jungle?" he roared. The tiger quickly responded, "Everyone knows that YOU are, O mighty lion." The lion swelled with pride. Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and leveled his question: "Who is king of the jungle?" he challenged. The elephant grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him in the air five or six times and slammed him against a tree. Then he pounded him on the ground several times, sat on him once, dipped him in the lake, and dumped him out on the shore. The lion, battered and bruised, struggled to his feet, peered at the elephant through his good eye, and said, "Look, just because you don't know the answer is no reason to get mean about it." -Max Anders, 30 Days to Understanding the Bible in 15 Minutes a Day (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 83.
That lion has made up his mind, and he has his opinion. Because of that, when evidence to the contrary is presented to him, the only way he can process it is, The elephant didn't know the answer--and he just got upset about it. We can become so much like that lion. We can become so convinced that our opinions and our positions are right that when confronted with evidence to the contrary, it is as if we are determined not to let the facts get in the way of our opinion, and we hold our ground. We will see in our study this morning that the leaders of Israel had their opinions and they were not going to let any evidence to the contrary convince them otherwise.
As we have seen in our previous studies, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. He has, by His actions, announced His identity as Israel's Messiah. He rides into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, in fulfillment of prophecy, as the people praise Him shouting the Hebrew phrase hoshiya na, which means: "Save us." When He arrives at the temple He literally brings the house down. Up to this point, the principle source of opposition to Jesus has been from the party of the Pharisees, who seem to have been dogging the heels of the Savior from very early on in His ministry:
And the Pharisees were saying to Him, "See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" (Mark 2:24 NASB)
It is at the Lord's disruption of the temple that we see the torch of opposition to Jesus being passed from the Pharisee party to the Jewish religious and political leaders, the "priests, and the scribes and the elders." There is a reason for this. For one thing, the Jerusalem leaders may not have been overly concerned with Jesus' ministry and influence in the outlying parts of Israel, but only became threatened when Jesus invaded their territory, including the temple.
The coming of Messiah to His temple is not an unexpected event, for the prophet Malachi spoke of it when he wrote:
"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1 NASB)
Thus, the Lord did come to His temple to possess it. He began by purging it of those who had perverted its purpose. Jesus was acting not only according to His Father's will, but also in accordance with the prophecies of Scripture.
Time line: The beginning of chapter 11 was Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where He declares Himself to be King. This is what we often refer to as Palm Sunday. This is the Sunday before the crucifixion, so we are now inside the last week of Jesus' life. He comes in and declares Himself to be King. Sunday night He goes out to Bethany which was just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem. Monday morning He comes into town, sees the fig tree, curses it, and goes on into Jerusalem. He cleanses the temple and spends the day there. Monday night goes back out to Bethany. Tuesday morning He passes the fig tree. They have a conversation about the fig tree which is now withered and has died. They move into Jerusalem back to the temple. It is now Tuesday in the temple where we pick up the story:
And they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, and scribes, and elders came to Him, 28 and began saying to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" (Mark 11:27-28 NASB)
Jesus had returned to Jerusalem. He was "walking in the temple," probably on Solomon's porch. This was an area on the east side of the Court of the Gentilesone of the most beautiful areas of the Temple. Above was a richly ornate roof, supported by a forest of huge Corinthian columns, each rising almost forty feet. The view was that of the Kidron Valley, which dropped below to a depth of 450 feet. It was breathtaking. You would imagine it was more than a little tense there that day after all the disruption that Jesus caused the day before. And out come "the chief priests, the scribes and the elders." These are the three groups that made up what they called the Sanhedrin, which was a group of 71 that basically functioned as we would think of the Supreme Court. They were the highest authority in the nation of Israel.
Wikipedia says this about the Sanhedrin:
A Sanhedrin (Hebrew: "sitting together," hence "assembly" or "council") is an assembly of 23 judges Biblically required in every city. The Great Sanhedrin is an assembly of 71 of the greatest Jewish judges who constituted the supreme court and legislative body of ancient Israel. The make-up of the Great Sanhedrin included a chief justice (Nasi), a vice chief justice (Av Beit Din), and sixty-nine general members who all sat in the form of a semi-circle when in session. "The Sanhedrin" without qualifier normally refers to the Great Sanhedrin. When the Temple in Jerusalem was standing (prior to its destruction in 70 CE), the Great Sanhedrin would meet in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple during the day except before festivals and Shabbat.
The Sanhedrin was comprised of three groups. First, the chief priests, with the high priest as president, were primarily members of the Sadducees, having gained position through hereditary lines. This was a very imposing delegation made up of Caiaphas, the high priest, and Annas, his father-in-law, who was regarded as virtual high priest. Second, the scribes were the keepers of hidden knowledge, the great interpreters of the Scripture. It was knowledge alone which gave their power to the scribes. Scribes composed the Pharisaic party in the Sanhedrin. The third group was the elders who differed from the other two in that their position arose as "heads of the most influential lay families" in Israel. Wealth and influence rather than knowledge or priestly office secured their seats (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 235-236, 222-223).
The religious and economic elites of Israel ruled over their temporal existence by serving as combination of judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government.
Zondervan notes that, "In AD 6...when Judea was made a Roman province, the Sanhedrin and its president, the high priest, were granted almost exclusive control of the internal affairs of the nation...It is during the period of the Roman procurators (AD 6-66) that the Sanhedrin came to possess the greatest power and jurisdiction of its history, although the Jewish authority was always ultimately answerable to the Roman governor."
Just how far the Jews were allowed to run their own affairs under the jurisdiction and control of Rome is very difficult to say, but it would appear that the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem had the power of capital punishment as seen in the stoning of Stephen:
And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel. 7:1 And the high priest said, "Are these things so?" (Acts 6:15-7:1 NASB)
And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:58 NASB)
In about AD 30 the Great Sanhedrin lost its authority to inflict capital punishment:
Pilate therefore said to them, "Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law." The Jews said to him, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death," (John 18:31 NASB)
Just in case you are wondering why there were 71 members of the Sanhedrin, the Mishnah explains this in Sanhedrin 1:6 where we see that the appointment of the seventy elders of Israel in Numbers:
The LORD therefore said to Moses, "Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. (Numbers 11:16 NASB)
This was taken to be an appointment not of leadership but of a judiciary to which was added the person of Moses which made it seventy-one.
We can be fairly certain therefore, that from the moment that Jesus allowed the crowds to begin to proclaim Him as their Messiah, and even more certain that from the time He began to oppose the collection of revenue with which the family of the High Priest lined their pockets, there was little that they could be expected to do but to oppose Him and seek to remove Him forever from their midst.
Luke tells us that Jesus was teaching and preaching the gospel:
And it came about on one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, (Luke 20:1 NASB)
So in the middle of His teaching, members of the Jewish Sanhedrin interrupted Him with questions about His authority. This is the only instance in Mark's gospel of the Sanhedrin approaching the Lord. What appeared to be the height of rudeness on their part would have been considered within their rights as the chief authority in Israel. Instead of bringing Jesus to their court to try Him when they had no solid evidence, they approach Him directly to try and achieve their objective of destroying Him by finding something in His teaching which can be judged.
So here Jesus squares off with the Sanhedrin. He was facing the people whose cherished institutions He had begun to dismantle. He was pronouncing an end to all their structures and activities. The temple was the hub that held Israel together. Without it there would be no holy city, priests and elders and kings, and the start of this has been set in motion by the Lord. It has all run its course. God was about to make all things new.
For three years this delegation had been hearing aboutor had seen for themselves the life and activities of the rabbi Jesus. They would have known of the blind seeing and the deaf hearing; the crippled beggar has been leaping for joy; the leper cleansed; a child possessed by an evil spirit had been delivered; hundreds of cases like that. The dead had been raised; thousands of hungry men had been fed from five loaves and two fishes; the teaching of Jesus had filled the land. People were repeating to one another His teachings and parables. This was what the women talked about at the well, and the elders as they sat at the gates of the cities. People had been amazed at his authority; that is one of the themes of Mark's gospel. Many were saying that he must be the promised Prophet, the Messiah. The land was buzzing with discussion about Jesus of Nazareth, and now He had arrived at Jerusalem after a long and much publicized journey there.
As Jesus was teaching He was surrounded by this antagonistic Jewish leadership; they were regarded by the people of the land as the fountainhead of religious knowledge, and yet when they met Jesus in the temple they didn't say, "May we be your disciples? Give us new life! Show us the glory of God! Teach us the truth!" These are their words: "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?"
There was no joy in a single one of the 71 men of the Sanhedrin at what was being done by the Savior. Christ had been displaying His power over creation, over man, over the devil, over sickness and over death itself. He made Galilee a new and happy place, thousands of lives had changed, but these petty-minded men wanted to know one thing, "Who gave you authority to do what you've been doing?" The whole religious system was rotten to the core with its religious activities and veneer of piety and aura of sacred tradition in this building that had to be maintained however corrupt it was.
So they ask, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" I want us to think about that question for a minute. I think it is interesting. Jesus came in the day before to the temple and the courtyard, and He confronted them. He flipped over tables as He quoted from the Scriptures:
And He began to teach and say to them, "Is it not written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS'? But you have made it a ROBBERS' DEN." (Mark 11:17 NASB)
That is a very strong accusation. I would like to think if a very well known, well respected Christian teacher came in here and totally disrupted what we were doing and quoted Scripture that confronted what we were doing, that we would be able to turn around and have some sort of a biblical response to that. In other words, I hope we could biblically defend what we are doing. But you notice the Sanhedrin made no attempt to defend themselves at all because frankly, they were busted. They had no defense, and they knew that. They knew that what they were doing was contrary to the Scriptures. They had no defense, and when you have no defense, what do you do? You deflect. You figure out a way to change the subject.
It should not have been difficult to guess the authority of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist had already declared the presence of God's kingdom and had declared Jesus Christ to be the awaited Messiah of the kingdom. Jesus had fulfilled the signs of the Messiah, i.e., preaching the good news, healing broken lives, liberating the demonized, proclaiming the triumph and judgment of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Do you remember from our earlier studies that in Jesus day there were two types of rabbis? The first were called Torah teachers. Torah teachers were people who were considered masters of the Torah which meant they knew the first five books of the Bible by memory. Secondly, they were master teachers; they could use parables and alliteration. They were recognized by the community as teachers of God's Word. A Torah teacher could only teach what the community believed was right. They could not come up with new teachings.
In Jesus' world there was also a small group of what are called Rabbis with semikhah. We know of about a dozen of them by name that lived from 30 B.C to A.D. 70. They were not common, and they didn't exist in Judea.
How do you get semikhah? You had to have the Tanakh memorized, as well as the Mishnah, and be a gifted teacher. You also had to have two other Rabbis with semikhah publicly put their hands on your head and declare from God that you had God's authority. When that happened, you were considered a Rabbi who could make new teachings. Over and over in the New Testament people came to Jesus and asked Him, "Where did You get the authority to say that?"
and began saying to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" (Mark 11:28 NASB)
What they were asking was: Who gave you semikhah? Who were your two Rabbis?
There is a Jewish Rabbinic technique, that is commonly used to this day, where they begin a debate or dialogue with a question; and the response from the group is in the form of a question. The question that comes is first of all an answer to the first question, and it also extends it to a deeper level.
And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. (Luke 2:46-47 NASB)
Jesus was asking questions, and they were amazed at His questions. We see many times in Jesus' teaching ministry that He responded to a question with a question. And in His question was the answer. That is what Jesus is doing in our text. They asked:
and began saying to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" (Mark 11:28 NASB)
To this Jesus responded in the typical Rabbinic fashion with a question:
And Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. "Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me." (Mark 11:29-30 NASB)
He asked, Did John get his authority, his semikhah, from God or man? Now remember His question answered theirs. Their question was where did you get semikhah? And His question to them was, where did John get semikhah? What did He just tell them? I got semikhah from John. When did John declare God's authority being in Jesus?
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 "This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' (John 1:29-30 NASB)
John the Baptizer was no friend of the Jewish leadersnotice what he said to them:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matthew 3:7 NASB)
Preaching like that awakened Israel and the people knew that the gift of prophecy, withheld for centuries, had been restored. Look at what Mark tells us of John's popularity:
And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5 NASB)
There was a huge revival movement. This is confirmed by Josephus, the Jewish historian, when he says: "Many flocked to him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words...."
In order to understand the significance of what was happening, it is important to picture this tremendous scene. Some commentators estimate that there could have been between 200,000 and 500,000 people who participated in John's ministry in this way. Mark is not describing the appearance of a half dozen people who followed John. This prophet came on the scene in such a striking way that after the Spirit of God had prepared the people's hearts, the whole nation recognized John as a prophet, and the leaders even feared him after his death because of the people's high regard for him as a prophet.
To help you see the way John was viewed you have to understand that the trip from Jerusalem to the Jordan River was not just a little hike. It was 20 miles from Jerusalem to the Jordan, and it was a 4,000 foot drop. Imagine a 20-mile, 4,000 foot drop trip down to the river. As hard as that was, the trip back was doubly hard. This mass of people was making this incredible journey to identify with the message of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the coming of the Christ.
As the Sanhedrin stood in the temple questioning Jesus, they were surrounded by people who had been baptized by John, who would not be pleased to have their cherished baptism called into question, and it would remind many that Jesus and His disciples had baptized alongside him.
John the Baptist didn't go near the temple. He didn't mention the rituals of the temple or paying the temple tax. He demanded the sacrifice of a broken heart and the giving of oneself wholly to the Lord. What is more, it was when John had baptized Him that Jesus Himself had been anointed with the Spirit. A voice from heaven had also spoken on that occasion confirming the Savior's status, God's own Son. John further identified Jesus as the promised one, for whom Israel had waited more than two thousand years; Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John and Jesus were sent by the same God. Jesus spoke in the highest possible terms of John, that there was no one under the old covenant greater than him. Jesus wouldn't allow anyone to drive a wedge between himself and John. They stood together in solidarity, the servants of God. Jesus believed the whole message of John. He knew that God had sent John. So here is the question again, "John's baptism - was it from heaven, or from men?" Was John self-appointed? Or did God send him? "Tell me! Answer me!" Jesus says.
And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Then why did you not believe him?' 32 "But shall we say, 'From men'?"-- they were afraid of the multitude, for all considered John to have been a prophet indeed. (Mark 11:31-32 NASB)
They don't want to lose influence. That is the most important thing in their lives, to hold on to the power they have. So if they replied to Jesus that John's baptism was from heaven, they would be confirming Jesus in his position, and they would be acknowledging themselves as defiant unbelievers for not going to the river Jordan and being baptized for their sins. So they couldn't say, "We certainly believe that John was sent from heaven." But neither could they say that John was a deluded and self-appointed speaker, that he was a wild man who dressed funny and ate funny because he'd spent too much time in the heat of the desert. He had a touch of the sun and represented no one but himself. That would have discredited them in the eyes of the crowds who esteemed John as a prophet and considered him to be a martyr who had died out of faithfulness to his divine calling.
And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Mark 11:33 NASB)
What could they do? They told a lie. They said, "We do not know." Of course they knew. They believed that John was a mere man, that God hadn't sent him. That is what they really believed, but they wouldn't say those words because they feared man. Thus they revealed themselves as being opposed to God's authority.
This confrontation took place in front of thousands of people. This is Passover, so the temple courtyard would have been packed. In this moment of truth, the best this group of wise, religious, discerning men can say is, "We don't know." How angry they must have been. They had been made to look utterly foolish. They had come with a great show of authority in front of the crowd, who always looked to them for religious guidance, and now had had to admit that they could not tell whether someone was from God, even when it was such an obvious case to the crowd as John the Baptizer. And they knew that by implication Jesus' authority had been vindicated in front of the crowd. All knew that He and John had ministered alongside each other.
Jesus told them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." If they could not admit the divine authority in John's message and ministry, then they surely would not accept the fact of Christ as the Messiah from God.
What is going on here? Somewhere along the way, these religious leaders stopped pursuing truth and became more interested in simply defending their position. This was just simply about winning. This was about entrenching their opinion. This was about not losing face. They eventually dug themselves in so deep they had nowhere to go. I have seen this over and over again. I have seen it in marriages. I have seen it in the work place. I have seen it over and over and over again in the church. People form an opinion. Along comes some evidence to the contrary and that is the moment of truth: Am I teachable? Am I open to receive that? But instead they dig in their heels, and they dig a little deeper. Then comes a little bit more evidence, and they dig a little deeper. Now it is not about truth anymore. Now it is not about accurate information. Now it is just about winning. It is about saving face. Now it is about my pride. Pretty soon I dig myself in deeper and deeper and deeper, until I have backed myself in a corner. I have dug myself in such a hole, I have nowhere to go. I have created my own prison. All caused by pride!
Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling. (Proverbs 16:18 NASB)
A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor. (Proverbs 29:23 NASB)
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. (1 Peter 5:5 NASB)
The sad truth is that this group of religious leaders fleshed out these verses. They were blinded by their pride. Don't let pride cause you to get rigid. Don't let it cause you to become unteachable. Don't dig in and stop learning or stop growing. Don't become like these Jewish leadersreligious and blind. Paul warned the believers in Rome about pride:
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3 NASB)
Who is this command to? The Roman Christians of the first century. Does it apply to us? Does God want us to have sound judgment? Yes! It would be nice to think that this verse is cultural and has no significance to us. Or to say that times have changed, we don't have a problem with pride today. But have times changed? No, this exhortation is to every believer. No one is immune from exaggerated self-importance. This is a natural human tendency. Denny said, "To himself, every man is in a sense the most important person in the world."
This was certainly true of the Sanhedrinthey had become blind guides:
"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.' (Matthew 23:16 NASB)
Believers, examine your heart. Have you become blind to the truth? Is your pride causing you to reject truth? We must always be a humble, teachable, responsive people if we are going to be like Jesus. And it is like Jesus that we are called to be:
the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:6 NASB)
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