By Whose Authority?

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By whose authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
MARK 11:27-28

EARLY TUESDAY MORNING, A LARGE DELEGATION—PRIESTS, elders, and Caiaphas in the full attire of High Priest—approaches Jesus where he and his twelve disciples are walking in the far corner of an outer temple court.

The delegates have chosen the early hour with purpose; few pilgrims are gathered around to hear Jesus.

When Caiaphas stops, the entire delegation halts with him. The showdown begins—dozens of Jerusalem’s most powerful men face a handful of peasants.

Caiaphas, tall and lean as a savage dog, stares across a distance of twenty paces at the prophet from Nazareth. To any other Jew in the land, such a hostile glare from the highest religious authority would have been like a roar from God Himself.

“Let me be clear in front of all these witnesses,” Caiaphas states. “I am not suggesting you are a mere Haggadist, a teller of legends and stories. No, I am declaring that you actually teach. Do you deny this?”

Jesus lets a half smile touch his face. He understands. It is a question of great importance.

Teaching was traditional, handed down from teacher to disciple, who in turn, once granted authority, passed on the same teaching, unchanged. The most respected scholars were those who recited every teaching, word forword—nothing lost, nothing added. In any discussion, the ultimate appeal was always to an authority, whether to a famous teacher or to the Great Sanhedrin. Anyone who disagreed with the set authorities was either an ignorant scholar or a rebel who faced banning. Unauthorized teaching was simply not permitted.

Jesus nods. Yes, the nod says, he has been teaching in the temple.

Caiaphas triumphantly springs his questions. “By whose authority are you doing these things? And who gave you the authority to do this?”

The questions are phrased to perfection. Now it will not appear that the leaders are challenging this popular man; instead, they are merely protecting the people by verifying his background. After all, if Jesus has done everything attributed to him, the elders must confirm that these acts are not of Beelzebub, the Devil who opposes God.

By Whose Authority?By whose authority are you doing these things? And who gave you the authority to do this?

Caiaphas licks his lower lip, anticipating one of three answers. While unlikely, if Jesus actually says Beelzebub, the priests have every right to take him to the temple wall and hurl him into the valley below.

If he quotes a great Jewish teacher as his authority—the revered Hillel, for example—then the people will lose faith in him, for the true Messiah would not be lesser than another man.

The possibility of the third answer, claiming authority from God, gives Caiaphas an anticipation so strong the muscles on his belly tremble. If they hear this answer, they will stone him as a heretic before any crowds can form to protest and protect him.

By whose authority are you doing these things? And who gave you the authority to do this?

Jesus stares back. He knows the High Priest’s mind. Silence makes tension.

“I will ask you one question,” Jesus finally replies. He begins so casually, listeners might guess this is simply another matter of teaching to be discussed. “Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven? Or from men?”

Abruptly, Jesus raises his voice.

“Tell me!” he commands. His face, gentle and amused, has stiffened to match the sudden anger in his voice. It is as if an invisible mantle of power has been placed upon him, as if Jesus is now judge and the delegation on trial.

Caiaphas actually takes a half step back. And hates the peasant for it.

“We cannot say from man,” an elder whispers to Caiaphas with sudden panic. “Once this gets to the people . …”

Caiaphas does not need the sentence completed. The crowds believed John the Baptist was a prophet sent directly from God. If they answer that John the Baptist’s power was from man, the people might riot.

“Nor can we say from heaven … ” the elder continues, ” … for then he will ask why we don’t believe him and his teachings.”

“I have duties at the altar,” Caiaphas says in a low voice to the elder.”Debate this among yourselves to keep him waiting. Then tell him we don’t know the answer to his question.”

Caiaphas makes his face a mask of peaceful contemplation. But thoughts of murder—savage murder with his own hands—heat his mind.

Caiaphas cannot fool himself, let alone anyone who has observed the last few minutes. Word will reach all ears. The mountain had come to the prophet. The great ruling authority of hundreds of generations of religious tradition had challenged a solitary, uneducated peasant carpenter—and lost.

Walking away is retreat. For Caiaphas, the battle has not become personal.

As he leaves the courtyard, he vows silently to use all his wealth, power, and cunning to end the peasant’s life.

From The Carpenter’s Cloth: Christ’s Journey to the Cross and Beyond by Sigmund Brouwer

Taken from