Life of Christ 151
It is Tuesday morning. Jesus will die tomorrow afternoon. He and His Apostles have no sooner arrived at the Temple then they are approached by some of the Sanhedrin. And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority? (Matthew 21.23)
In the tyranny of the rabbinical world in which Jesus moved tradition was everything. This was because a rabbi was trained by another rabbi who was trained by another rabbi in a chain going back supposedly to Moses. A good rabbi was a cistern from which not a drop leaked. In other words, he simply held what he was taught by his mentors and tutors. Thus, everything he said was approved by an unbroken chain of authority.
Jesus, of course, was not a good rabbi at all (in this sense). He skewered tradition. He was not just a reformer; He was a revolutionary .(see Jesus the Revolutionary) In the rabbinical system it was vital to be credentialed or ordained by some other group of rabbis. Jesus had none of this for His doctrine did not come from man but from God. He had already had to deal with this in His ministry (see A Synagogue Full of Wrath) but it rears its head again in the Temple the day before He dies.
The Sanhedrin is furious with Him but they still feel themselves unable to move against Him in the open light of day for fear of His popularity. (Matthew 21.46) Some genius comes up with the idea of disputing Jesus' right to teach since He had plainly never been authorized or credentialed by any other rabbi. And if He cannot furnish these credentials (which, of course, He could not) they feel that the crowd will lose some of their awe of Him and this will allow the Sanhedrin more room to operate in their campaign to take His life.
Jesus, as He so often did, brilliantly answered their question with a question. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? (Matthew 21.24-25) In other words, was John credentialed from Heaven alone or by some human rabbi?
This puts the Sanhedrin in a box. They realize the people accepted John the Baptist as a prophet. Additionally, since he is now dead, he has all the weight of sympathy behind him as well. The Sanhedrin cannot say John had credentialed himself or the people would lose respect for the Sanhedrin. Nor can they say John was credentialed from Heaven alone for John had clearly and publicly pointed Israel toward Jesus. In other words, if John was authorized from Heaven then so was Jesus in every respect.
The members of the Sanhedrin have no choice but to refuse to answer. This gives Jesus all the justification He needs to likewise refuse to answer their question. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21.25-27)
Jesus 1, Sanhedrin 0.