Matthew 21:23-27 Part 2

In the house where God had chosen to make His Presence known, (that man-made replica of the Throne-Room/Glory Cloud), in the room where He sat between the cherubim as righteous Judge and Giver of mercy – right outside of that most holy room stood the world’s Ransom, the Perfect Lamb, the One Who had come to be the true Tabernacle.  As John wrote in his Gospel:


“and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”


Jesus Christ our High Priest was in the man-made shadow of the Tabernacle of God, performing the functions of the High Priest – teaching the people.

Please see that Jesus never entered the inner sanctuary of the temple, the “holy of holies”, that was a copy (or an imitation) of the real One.  As Hebrews chapter nine, at verse twenty-four says,


“…For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are but copies of the true, but into heaven itself (the Throne-Room) now to appear in the Presence of God for us.”


Our Lord was not a Priest Who was born of the Levitical tribe, but of the tribe of Judah.  And He was a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, to whom Abraham paid a tithe of all that he had.  You see, a tithe is paid to the one who has the authority to receive it.  So the one to whom the promise of God to the Church was made (Abraham), paid the tithe to the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek!  The Church, in Abraham, paid the tithe to Christ – the High Priest of the Church!  So the High Priest is the one Who has the authority in the Church; and that High Priest is Christ!

And the Royal High Priest would, in a few days, enter the Holy of Holies not made with hands, having made a perfect sacrifice.  As Hebrews seven, twenty-seven says,


“This He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”


He “obtained a more excellent ministry” than did the Levitical priests, who were but a pattern of things to come.  Jesus Christ was the fullness of the priesthood, and the tabernacle and the sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant.

This was Tuesday before Friday – which was the Day of Atonement, in which the high priest would (this one time in a year) enter the holy of holies and present the blood of the sacrifice for all the people.  And at about that same time, this Man Jesus Who was now standing outside the sanctuary teaching the people, would be crucified; and the Offering, the High Priest, the Offerer, and the tabernacle would find their reality in this one God/Man.

His life had been spent in grief at the lying vanities and the net spread for Him (Psalm thirty-one) – the slander and reproach, being cut off and separated out for reproach and disgrace, blamed and accused and humiliated….  The alien wolves pounce on Him with blood and flesh on their fangs – full of cunning, deception, guile, intrigue; contriving in subterfuge, strategy, evasion and duplicity; double-tongued men maneuvering in concealment of their hypocrisy to trap and ensnare their prey….  A portrait of them is in the Psalms – Psalm eleven being an example.

Without conscience, and without any consideration of what was true, but only out of self-interest, the elders and high priests of Israel approach Jesus to surround Him and ensnare him in a net – a trap.  All the forces of evil and hypocrisy were gathering to oppose and destroy Him. (Psalm two)The elders of the people and the high priests of the temple set themselves to trap Him by questioning His authority; and the crowds of people following Him would see Him be logically and theologically shamed.  They would see the superiority of Israel’s leadership and reject this man.

The “rabble” of Israel wanted to make this new “cult” figure their messiah/king!  And if they were somehow able to do that, then this “Galilean” would rule over the nation as its King and bring the wrath of Rome!  And He would be the Prophet/authority of the Law and replace the Sanhedrin as the theological authority.  And He would replace the high priest and collect the tithe of all the people!  The money!

So, in the minds of the elders of Israel, this was a legitimate “coup” attempt, and He had to be stopped.  And if they couldn’t entrap Him in His Own words, and belittle Him and humiliate Him before His followers, then He would have to be eliminated!  (In secret, of course… at night!)

So they approach Him while He’s teaching, in front of the crowds, and ask Him two questions:  “By what authority do you do these things; and who gave you this authority?”

The Pharisees, as you can see, don’t debate with Christ concerning His teaching – His doctrine.  They’ve tried that before when they sent out delegations to Galilee.  And on each occasion He publicly shamed them with regard to their knowledge of Scripture!  “Have you not read…?” He said.

And they can’t attack Him on the basis of His miracles, either!  Hundreds upon hundreds of people had been recipients of His wondrous works – confirming His Kingly authority over demons and over the creation itself!

And the miracles themselves were 1) judgmental and 2) condemnatory of the Pharisees who had caused the very conditions which Jesus was reversing!  (The effect of the leadership!)  Those who had been made prisoners of pharisaical authority were being set free!  The blind were made to see; the deaf were made to hear; the lame leapt for joy; the lepers were made clean; those claimed and possessed by demons were released; prisoners were set free!  Entire Gentile City/States were set free according to the sign of Jonah!  (Gadara, for example.)

So the elders didn’t attack Jesus on His doctrine or His miracles; they intended to reveal to everyone that He had no authority to do what He was now doing!

In the first place, the elders of Israel anticipated a sign from God to them, that they could judge as authentic, that Messiah/King had arrived!  In other words, God would present His Priest/King to them, with signs in the heavens, for them to verify His authenticity!

And, in addition to that, according to the elders’ interpretation of Malachi (in the last chapter of the Older Testament), Elijah would return before Messiah, and Israel would repent of its sin and be healed at his preaching.  Then Messiah would come.

And the two questions which the elders asked Jesus had to do with those two events.  The first – “By what authority do you do these things?” – referred to signs in the heavens from God that this was Messiah.  The signs were then to be interpreted by the elders, and Messiah was to be verified by them.

The second question – “And who gave you this authority?” refers to Elijah; for, in their opinion, that prophet was to be resurrected/reincarnated, and sent by God as a forerunner for Messiah; and the mantel of authority was to be given to Him by Elijah!

So, thinking that neither of these things had occurred (according to their interpretation of Scripture), the trap for Jesus was sprung.  The clear intimation of these questions is that Jesus had a lying spirit – that He was an imposter who had stoked the emotions of the people into following Him.  No matter what He had done, and no matter how smart He was, the elders of Israel had not seen the signs they were looking for; and therefore they had not verified the presence of the Messiah!

So with haughtiness and insolence, these blind hypocrites opposed the Lamb of God in His Own Father’s house; and they sought to lead the people against Him to their own destruction!

This is the way of hypocrites who come into authoritative positions, isn’t it?  The greatest abusers of authority are those who assert their authority the most rigorously!  And they are the ones who become the most protective of it when it’s challenged!  And that’s especially true when real authority is present!

And what I mean by that is God’s authoritative Word!  When personally perceived authority (read – “autonomy” – from God’s Word) is threatened by God  and by His revealed Word, then the prideful, arrogant self-esteem puffs itself up in antagonism – to contend with it!

And that’s what’s going on in this scene!  The blind, hypocrite leaders of Israel are arrogantly, pridefully opposing God’s Messiah/King/Prophet/Priest in the very place which was the man-made imitation of the Throne-room of God!  The very place which also foreshadowed His body – the Church!

And the questions with which they are attempting to entrap Him reveal their absolute blindness and their hostility to the Truth!  With regard to their first question concerning Jesus’ authority, He had been appointed by oath from God the Father!  Psalm two:


“Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.  I will declare the decree:  the Lord hath said unto Me, ‘Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.  Ask of Me, and I shall give the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.’”


Psalm one hundred ten:


“The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’”


This was repeated by the writer to the Jewish Christians in dispersion, in chapter seven of Hebrews, speaking of the Old Testament priesthood:


“They were without an oath from God,” he said.  “For those priests were made without an oath; but this One with an oath by (God) Who said to Him, ‘The Lord swore and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’”


And all of this and more was confirmed by the voice of God the Father on the Mount of Transformation,


“This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well-pleased.  Hear Him!”


This is the One after the order of Melchizedek, to Whom Abraham paid tithes.  The tithe is to be paid to the One with the authority to collect it.  This is the One.

And He is the One with the authority to teach in the temple of God, as Isaiah said in chapter two as he prophesies concerning the Messiah, the Word of God:


“And it shall come to pass in the last day, that the mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths:  for out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’”


So it is to the house of God that the nations will flow, to learn from the High Priest – Jesus Christ!  And the House of God shall be a house of prayer, says Isaiah – the true sacrifices of God’s people to the glory of God!  It is the Church which offers the sacrifice of prayer in the Name of Christ – not the blood of bulls and goats!

So Jesus Christ had been confirmed by oath from God, prophesied by the prophets, and confirmed again by the voice of God the Father – with Moses and Elijah as witnesses!  And Jesus had even performed the “miraculous” things, which were signs of the coming judgment upon Israel!  And still the Pharisees ask Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?”  After all these things, they still wanted a sign from heaven for them to verify.  People are still requiring personal signs from God.  But in the face of all these revealed Words from God, that’s a need arising from personal arrogance.

Now, with respect to the elders’ second question, “And who gave you this authority?” the implication is that Elijah had not yet appeared as the forerunner to the Messiah – according to their interpretation of the prophecy of Malachi!  So, that being the case, how could this Man Jesus be Messiah!

But the Scriptures confirm that John the Baptist was the latter days prophet after the order of Elijah that Malachi prophesied!  And, as the Scriptures prophesied, he baptized with the baptism of repentance for the nation!

And when he was questioned by the Pharisees, John put himself under the One Who came after Him thereby transferring the mantel of authority!  He told them, “I am not even worthy to unloose His shoe-latchet!”  And when Jesus came to be baptized, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!”

Then, following Jesus’ statement to him concerning the fact that they must “fulfill all righteousness”, John baptized Jesus with the baptism of righteousness and judgment, acceptance and rejection – salvation for those who belonged to Him and condemnation to those who did not!

Yet, with all this confirmation that Elijah had come, and that Jesus was the One Who came after him – the Lamb of God/Messiah/Prophet/Priest/King of Israel, the blind guides of Israel still ask, “And who gave you this authority?”  The very ones – the teachers and priest of Israel – who were supposed to be leading the people and instructing them, and who were to be watching for the signs of the Messiah, were actually opposing all the prophecies of Scripture, all the confirmations from God, the appearance of the prophet John the Baptist, and the appearance of the Messiah Himself!

And the questions that they thought were so deviously crafted and cunningly structured to entrap this imposter were, in the light of all the obvious confirmations of the Presence of God’s Messiah, transparently absurd and ridiculous.  Like a present-day political situation, these men were so blind that they just had no idea how absurd they and their questions really were.  As God said in Psalm two, He found hilarity in their foolishness.

Now, here’s their strategy.  As we said, they needed to show their superiority and their authority to the crowds of people.  And to do that, the people had to see Jesus shamed and ridiculed logically and theologically.

So the first point of their strategy is, should Jesus refuse to answer them upon being questioned, He would then be judged (and here’s the Latin term) “nihil dicit” – having said nothing.  Refusing to answer!  Because silence, upon being challenged by the court, was a mute, or tacit, confession of guilt!  (In this case, being a usurper of authority)  If this crowd witnessed Jesus silent under the challenge of the elders of Israel, there would have been shame and embarrassment, and the elders would win!

Secondly, should Jesus answer them and plead authority from God, He’s already placed Himself under their questioning, which automatically recognizes their authority to question Him – point one; and, point two, they could then charge Him with blasphemy and require Him to produce a sign from heaven as proof!

Then, if Jesus refused to produce the sign (which would have been a manipulation of God the Father, and which, again, would bolster the authority of the elders), then they could turn to the crowd and accuse Jesus of being an imposter!

And, just as an aside here, even if He did produce a sign from heaven, the elders would still win, since they are the ones who required it of Him for them to verify!

And then, thirdly, should Jesus say that His authority was from men (Caesar, kings, governors, Sanhedrin, anyone), they would require Him to produce the proof!  They hadn’t authorized Him, and they were the authority in Israel.  It would be one earthly authority against another earthly authority; and the people would recognize that the Sanhedrin were the judicial authority in this nation.  And again, just by having responded to their questioning, Jesus would automatically have submitted Himself to them.  Then they could turn to the crowds in victory, and tell them to go home and have nothing more to do with this man.

So this was their strategy.  With deception and guile, and with zeal inspired of Satan himself, the blind hypocrites of Israel set what they think is an inescapable trap for the Son of God.  They were “ready” to invalidate any proof that Jesus might venture to offer.  And that is pharisaical methodology, isn’t it?  Whatever is said, no matter what it is, the pharisee will use human wisdom and logic to invalidate it – even if it’s true!  Especially if it’s true!

These leaders didn’t even consider what was true – would not believe the prophets, would not recognize the confirmations, and certainly wouldn’t acknowledge the miracles (since they were judgmental events).  But they would only affirm what was, in their opinion, their own best interests.

Before we stop this morning, leaving Jesus’ answer until next Lord’s Day, let me just quickly mention the other side.  Although there are many, many who would neglect, and even oppose, the Truth of their own supposed best interests, there are, as the writer to the Hebrews proclaims, a “cloud of witnesses” – an expanse of countless numbers, of those who have laid aside every weight, and the sin which so ensnares us, to “run with endurance the race which is set before us.”  Men (and women) who would not turn from Christ for any reason! – who would not give up one point of Truth for any reason!  The Hebrews’ author sorrowfully gives only a list of fifteen of that great cloud of Christ’s witnesses from the Old Testament Scriptures.

But in the history of the Church there have been countless others who, by the grace of God and the ransom paid by Christ, and by virtue of being reborn in Him, have acknowledged the Truth, repented of sin, and walked with Christ under the authority of His Spirit!  And they do not fear men; they will not compromise the Truth; their eyes are upon the glory of God rather than on their own interests; and when they die their hope is in the resurrection of Christ!  One such, for example, was John Knox, the great preacher from Scotland, who, under threat of death if he preached the Gospel, said, “My life is in the custody of Him Whose glory I seek….”

It is your duty this morning to be one of that great cloud of witnesses.  Your substitute, your ransom for sin, has died and has arisen!  And now you must humble yourself and repent of your own iniquity, be reborn in Him, and reject all your connections with this old world order, and with your old Adamic humanity!

And then will you stand in the Truth against ridicule and humiliation?  Will you stand against lying hypocrites who would scheme and threaten to destroy you?  Will you stand against the pressure of family?  Or would you give up precious and sacred ground for your own best interests?

Next Lord’s Day we will address that issue of standing strong in the Power and Might of Christ our Lord, and the defense of the Faith – as we take up Jesus’ answer to the elders of Israel.