Questioning the Questioners: 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!

On one of Jesus’ trips to the temple, He is challenged with a question about where He got His authority. This question is significant, because at this later stage of His ministry, Jesus cannot afford to slip up in a way that would make Him lose credibility.

But while the Pharisees question was a trap, Jesus responds with an equally trapping counter question. Mathew tells us that Jesus responded by saying, “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. Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?” (v. 24-25a)

In my mind, Jesus responds without even missing a breath. He promises to answer them if they answer a question for Him. It is as though Jesus had been waiting for them to ask this question, and Jesus may have been surprised that it had taken this long.

The question Jesus gives is almost identical, but it is about someone else – John the Baptist – and it is focused in on the same issue: authority.

The Pharisees discuss their possible responses and realize that they are trapped by their unbelief and by the crowd’s opinion. By asking a counter question, Jesus successfully avoided answering a question that would have either damaged His reputation, or prematurely ended His ministry.

We can learn from Jesus that sometimes countering a challenging question with a different question is the best response we can give. While Jesus could have answered with a direct statement, or even with an indirect one, neither option would have been the best response in this case. Sometimes, the right question shared at the right time is the best response we can give.

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