Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-27)
The Necessity Of Authority
It was clear that Jesus of Nazareth was not like any teacher the people had seen. His teaching was with the voice of authority that no man could challenge. He did not seek to please men. Jesus spoke the way of God in truth caring not about anyone or regarding the person of men. When the Jewish leaders came to Him, they recognized the power of His teaching as one of authority. They also recognized the two elements of authority necessary to establish truth: first, the need for authority; second, the need for authority to be given by a higher power.
In the Roman world, authority was very clear. The only way the officials could hold together the empire was to establish clear boundaries of authority. Kings and governors ruled over the land of Canaan because authority had been given to them by higher powers in the Roman government. The Jews felt the sting of this authority as it had subjugated the nation of God under the rule of harsh taskmasters. Roman rule was evident in every part of life and going beyond this authority was the peril of death.
Answering the question of the Jewish leaders, Jesus establishes the character of authority. There are only two kinds of authority: that which proceeds from heaven and that which comes from man. No other kind of authority exists. The rule of law among men is necessary for nations to exist. Men have established boundaries since the beginning of time as they carve out their lands to distinguish them from their neighbors. Rule of law establishes the conduct of the citizens. The Jews also recognized the law of God and the need for authority in matters of worship to the Lord. However, they had changed the law of God to fit their own desires corrupting the will of the Lord to carnal desires.
Jesus placed authority on its proper level. Authority is necessary. Without it, there would be anarchy. Heaven established the first authority as the word of God was spoken to man. The Lord allowed man to establish a body of authority to properly govern the people. There can be no other authority. The baptism of John was either from God or from man. Not willing to be shown ignorant, the Jewish leaders simply refused to answer. This did not change the fact of authority and that John’s baptism was from God. Jesus taught a powerful lesson on the requirement to establish everything by authority.
The religious world is filled with every imaginable denomination of faith devised by man. In blind ignorance, many act as if religious diversity is pleasing to God. In churches throughout the land, there is no understanding of authority or the need for authority. The beliefs, practices, organization and plans of the church are not based upon what the Bible says but what the whims of the people want. When authority is removed from the teaching of God, it becomes the authority of man. Why are there so many churches? Simple. There is no authority. When there is no authority, anarchy reigns. Anarchy is disorder or chaos and it is easy to see with so many different kinds of churches why the Bible is so hard to understand. Man refuses to establish authority from the Bible alone.
Authority is necessary. The basis of judgment will be on one authority – the word of God. All of the authority of man will be gone. There will be nothing left to appeal to but the word of God. It will be then that most people will recognize the importance of authority.
Authority permeates, guides, shapes our lives. The acceptance of authority is the acceptance of what is given by those who have more than we. (Paul Tillich, The New Being, 1955)