23. And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him, saying By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee that authority? 24. And Jesus answering said to them, I also will ask you something, which if you shall tell me, I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.25. Whence was the baptism of John? From heaven, or from men? But they thought within themselves saying, If we shall say, From heaven, he will say to us, Why then did you not believe him? 26. But if we shall say, From men, we dread the multitude, for they all hold John for a prophet.27. And answering Jesus, they said, We do not know. And he saith to them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
27. And they come again to Jerusalem; and while he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, come to him.28. And they say to him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee that authority to do these things? 29. And Jesus answering said to them, I will also ask you something, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.30. Whether was the baptism of John from heaven or from men? Answer me.31. And they thought within themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, he will say, Why then did you not believe him? 32. But if we say, From men, they dreaded the people; for all reckoned John that he was truly a prophet.33. And they answering say to Jesus, We do not know. And Jesus answering saith to them, Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
1. And it happened on one of those days, while he was teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel, the chief priests, and scribes, with the elders, came upon him, 2. And spoke to him saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee that authority? 3. And Jesus answering said to them, I will also ask you something, and answer me.4. Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? 5. But they reasoned within themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, he will say, Why then did you not believe him? 6. But if we shall say, From men, all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John is a prophet.7. And they answered, That they did not know whence it was.8. And Jesus said to them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Matthew 21:23. By what authority doest thou these things. As the other schemes and open attempts to attack Christ had not succeeded, the priests and scribes now attempt, by indirect methods, if they may possibly cause him to desist from the practice of teaching. They do not debate with him as to the doctrine itself, whether it was true or not -- for already had they often enough attacked him in vain on that question -- but they raise a dispute as to his calling and commission. And, indeed, there were plausible grounds; for since a man ought not, of his own accord, to intermeddle either with the honor of priesthood, or with the prophetical office, but ought to wait for the calling of God, much less would any man be at liberty to claim for himself the title of Messiah, unless it were evident that he had been chosen by God; for he must have been appointed, not only by the voice of God, but likewise by an oath, as it is written, (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:21.)
But when the divine majesty of Christ had been attested by so many miracles, they act maliciously and wickedly in inquiring whence he came, as if they had been ignorant of all that he had done. For what could be more unreasonable than that., after seeing the hand of God openly displayed in curing the lame and blind, they should doubt if he were a private individual who had rashly assumed this authority? Besides, more than enough of evidence had been already laid before them., that Christ was sent from heaven., so that nothing was farther from their wish than to approve of the performances of Christ, after having learned that God was the Author of them. They therefore insist on this., that he is not a lawful minister of God, because he had not been chosen by their votes, as if the power had dwelt solely with them. But though they had been the lawful guardians of the Church, still it was monstrous to rise up against God. We now understand why Christ did not make a direct reply to them. It was because they wickedly and shamelessly interrogated him about a matter which was well known.
25 Whence was the baptism of John? Christ interrogates them about the baptism of John, not only to show that they were unworthy of any authority, because they had despised a holy prophet of God, but also to convict them, by their own reply, of having impudently pretended ignorance of a matter with which they were well acquainted. For we must bear in mind why John was sent, what was his commission, and on what subject he most of all insisted. He had been sent as Christ's herald. He was not deficient in his duty, and claims nothing more for himself than to
prepare the way of the Lord.
(Malachi 3:1; Luke 7:27.)
In short., he had pointed out Christ with the finger, and had declared him to be the only Son of God. From what source then do the scribes mean that the new authority of Christ should be proved, since it had been fully attested by the preaching of John?
We now see that Christ employed no cunning stratagem in order to escape, but fully and perfectly answered the question which had been proposed; for it was impossible to acknowledge that John was a servant of God, without acknowledging that he was Himself the Lord. He did not therefore shelter arrogant men, who without any commission, but out of their own hardihood, take upon themselves a public office; nor did he countenance, by his example, the art of suppressing the truth, as many crafty men falsely plead his authority. I do acknowledge that, if wicked men lay snares for us, we ought not always to reply in the same way, but ought to be prudently on our guard against their malice, yet in such a manner that truth may not be left without a proper defense.
Baptism denotes here not only the sign of washing, but the whole ministry of John; for Christ intended to draw out a reply, Was John a true and lawful prophet of God, or an impostor? Yet this mode of expression contains a useful doctrine, Is the of John from God, or from men? For hence we infer, that no doctrine and no sacrament ought to be received among the godly, unless it be evident that it has come from God; and that men are not at liberty to make any invention of this nature. The discourse relates to John, whom our Lord, in another passage, raises, by a remarkable commendation, above all the prophets, (Luke 7:26, 28.) Yet Christ declares that his baptism ought not to be received, unless it had been enjoined by God. What, then, must we say of the pretended sacraments, which men of no authority have foolishly introduced without any command from God? For Christ plainly declares by these words, that the whole government of the Church depends on the will of God in such a manner, that men have no right to introduce any thing from themselves.
But they thought within themselves. Here we perceive the impiety of the priests. They do not inquire what is true, nor do they put the question to their own conscience; and they are so base as to choose rather to shuffle than to acknowledge what they know to be true, that their tyranny may not be impaired. In this manner, all wicked men, though they pretend to be desirous of learning, shut the gate of truth, if they feel it to be opposed to their wicked desires. So then Christ does not allow those men to go without a reply, but sends them away ashamed and confounded, and, by bringing forward the testimony of John, sufficiently proves that he is furnished with divine power.