Fearing What Might Happen: Matthew 21:23-27

Focus Passage: Matthew 21:23-27 (CEV)

23 Jesus had gone into the temple and was teaching when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him. They asked, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus answered, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things. 25 Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”

They thought it over and said to each other, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 26 On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.” 27 So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”

Read Matthew 21:23-27 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During one of the times Jesus was visiting the temple, the religious leaders challenged Him with the question about where He received His authority. This is an important question for each of us to answer because it is foundational for who Jesus is to be for each of us.

However, it was important for Jesus to not answer this question, because either way He answered, He would negatively impact His ministry. By answering truthfully, Jesus might bring about a premature end to His ministry at the hands of these religious leaders. By lying, Jesus would have sinned and also He would have lost credibility from the crowd who believed Him to be from God.

Jesus responds with an equally unanswerable question: Who gave John the right to baptize? It is in Jesus’ counter-question that we see the exact same two possible answers that Jesus could give in His own response to the leaders’ challenge.

Whether Matthew asked people later, or whether he overheard their discussion, he includes what the leaders discuss. When they pull away to discuss how they should answer, they realize they are in trouble. They concluded that, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.” (v. 25b-26)

On one hand, the biased belief of the leaders tied their hands from responding that John got his authority from God. If they admit that God gave John the authority, then Jesus would have an opening to challenge them on why they didn’t believe John.

But on the other hand, the popular opinion of the crowd was that John did receive authority to baptize from God, and if they claimed otherwise, they weren’t sure if they would still be alive that evening.

The leaders’ fear of the people and their unbelief in John kept them from responding truthfully to Jesus.

What I find interesting is that fear of what might happen stopped these leaders from responding. A riot over a question Jesus asked would not benefit His ministry. A riot and mass stoning of the leaders in Jesus’ presence would be a very bad sign to the Romans looking at the situation. And the leaders pride and ego stop them from answering to please the people.

Fear holds many people in a similar way today. Many people are trapped by the fear of what might happen. This fear is crippling because it is often over-exaggerated and rarely ever accurate. This fear stopped Jesus from sharing the truth about where He received His authority – which helped Him finish His mission – but it is a fear we must all conquer when wrestling with the question about who Jesus is for us.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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