Matthew 21:23
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?
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(23) The chief priests and the elders.—St. Matthew and St. Luke add “the scribes,” thus including representatives of the three constituent elements of the Sanhedrin. The character of the teaching is further specified by St. Luke, “as He was preaching the gospel”—proclaiming, i.e., the good news of the kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, and the law of righteousness.

By what authority . . .?—The right to take the place of an instructor was, as a rule, conferred by the scribes, or their chief representative, on one who had studied “at the feet” of some great teacher, and been solemnly admitted (the delivery of a key, as the symbol of the right to interpret, being the outward token) to that office. The question implied that those who asked it knew that the Prophet of Nazareth had not been so admitted. The second question gave point to the first. Could He name the Rabbi who had trained Him, or authorised Him to teach?

Matthew 21:23-27. When he was come into the temple, the chief priests came — Who thought he violated their right: And the elders of the people — Probably, members of the sanhedrim, to whom that title most properly belonged: which is the more probable, as they were the persons under whose cognizance the late action of Christ, in purging the temple, would naturally fall. These, with the chief priests, seem purposely to have appeared in a considerable company, to give the more weight to what they said, and, if need were, to bear a united testimony against him. As he was teaching — Which also they supposed he had no authority to do, being neither priest, nor Levite, nor scribe. Some of the priests, (though not as priests,) and all the scribes, were authorized teachers. By what authority doest thou these things — Publicly teach the people? And drive out those who had our commission to traffic in the outer court? Jesus answered, I also will ask you one thing — Who have asked me many: The baptism — That is, the whole ministry; of John, whence was it? — Whence had he his commission? from heaven, or of men? — Did God or man give him his authority to act and teach? This question reduced the priests and elders to an inextricable dilemma: and they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, &c. — They considered, on the one hand, that if they should acknowledge John’s mission to be from God, it would oblige them to acknowledge Christ’s authority; John having more than once borne testimony to him as the Messiah. On the other hand, if they denied John’s divine mission, they did not know but the people, who stood listening to Jesus, would stone them; for they generally believed John to have been a prophet, many of them had submitted to his baptism, and at present not a few held him in high esteem on Christ’s account. Wherefore, as matters stood, they judged it safest to answer that they could not tell whence John’s baptism was. And he said, Neither tell I you — That is, not again in express terms: he had often told them before, and they would not believe him. Thus, by the question which he put to them, he obliged them to confess that they had not been able to pass any judgment upon John the Baptist, notwithstanding he claimed the character of a messenger from God, and they had sent to examine his pretensions. This in effect was to acknowledge themselves incapable of judging of any prophet whatsoever. “Ye are come,” said he, “to inquire into the proofs of my mission. I agree to submit myself to your examination, on condition that you tell me what your determination was concerning John. Was he a true or a false prophet? You say you do not know. But if you were not able to form a judgment concerning John, how can you take upon you to judge me?” In this light our Lord’s question, in answer to theirs, appears to have been formed with the greatest wisdom; because, whether the priests replied in the affirmative or in the negative, or gave no reply at all, they absolutely condemned themselves. See Macknight.

21:23-27 As our Lord now openly appeared as the Messiah, the chief priests and scribes were much offended, especially because he exposed and removed the abuses they encouraged. Our Lord asked what they thought of John's ministry and baptism. Many are more afraid of the shame of lying than of the sin, and therefore scruple not to speak what they know to be false, as to their own thoughts, affections, and intentions, or their remembering and forgetting. Our Lord refused to answer their inquiry. It is best to shun needless disputes with wicked opposers.See also Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-9.

Matthew 21:23

When he was come into the temple - That is, probably, into the inner court - the court of the Israelites.

They took this opportunity of questioning him on this subject when he was not surrounded by the multitude.

By what authority ... - There was a show of propriety in this question. He was making great changes in the affairs of the temple, and they claimed the right to know why this was done, contrary to their permission. He was not "a priest;" he had no civil or ecclesiastical authority as a Jew. It was sufficient authority, indeed, that he came as a prophet and worked miracles. But they professed not to be satisfied with that.

These things - The things which he had just done, in overturning the seats of those that were engaged in traffic, Matthew 21:12.

Mt 21:23-46. The Authority of Jesus Questioned and the Reply—The Parables of the Two Sons, and of the Wicked Husbandman. ( = Mr 11:27-12:12; Lu 20:1-19).

Now commences, as Alford remarks, that series of parables and discourses of our Lord with His enemies, in which He develops, more completely than ever before, His hostility to their hypocrisy and iniquity: and so they are stirred up to compass His death.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned, and the Reply (Mt 21:23-27).

23. By what authority doest thou these things!—referring particularly to the expulsion of the buyers and sellers from the temple,

and who gave thee this authority?

Mark hath before this, Mark 11:18, And the scribes and chief priests heard it, that is, his turning the buyers and sellers out, and overturning the tables of the money changers, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his doctrine. Then he saith, Matthew 22:27,28, And they come again, to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? Luke saith, Luke 19:47,48: And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, and could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. It is plain that our Saviour went every night to Bethany, and returned to Jerusalem every morning, and daily preached in the temple. And Luke saith, the people were very attentive to hear him; in the Greek it is, hung upon him, hearing him. They were also much affected with the miracles which they had seen him working. So as the scribes and the elders feared him, saith Mark. This possibly might be one reason why they made no opposition to our Saviour, driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, viz. for fear of the people; for we must remember they were a conquered, tributary people, and traded the jurisdiction of the Romans, under whom, though they had a liberty for the exercise of their own religion, yet they had not such a power as before; it was not lawful for them to put any to death, John 18:31. And for the preserving of their own liberty, they were obliged to take heed of causing any tumults for matters concerning their religion. So as what they did of this nature they did by craft, rather than plainly and openly attempting it, Mark 14:1. It is likely they might have some previous secret counsels what method to take, mentioned both by Mark and Luke. The method, it seems, which they agreed upon, was first to send to him, to know by what authority he did those things, and who gave him such authority. This is mentioned both by Matthew and Mark. They sent such a message to John, John 1:19-21. They had often questioned him about his doctrine, and had gone by the worst, he justifying his doctrine to their faces. For the truth of his miracles, it was so evident that they could not question that; They therefore now only question his authority to preach. The question was captious enough, for if he had said, By a Divine authority, they would probably have accused him of blasphemy. For a human authority, they knew he had none, according to their rules for order, for they came from the court that should have given them such authority. Our Saviour well enough understanding their design, gives them, who would not understand his Divine mission by his miraculous operations, a wary answer.

And when he was come into the temple,.... The day following the cursing the fig tree: for the withering of it, and the notice the disciples took of it, and our Lord's discourse with them about it, were not in one and the same day, as is clear from the account the Evangelist Mark gives; but on the morning that Christ had conversed with his apostles by the way from Bethany to Jerusalem, concerning the strength of faith in prayer, and the success of it; when they were come into the city, and to the temple, whither he directly went, and entered upon his work of preaching to the people,

the chief priests and elders of the people came unto him. The "chief priests" were not the high priest, and his "sagan", or deputy, but the principal of the priesthood, who were chosen from the rest of their brethren, to sit in the sanhedrim; and "the elders of the people" were the laity that were chosen from among the people, to be members of the same grand council: in this sense the Jewish writers interpret the word "elders", in Deuteronomy 21:2 "thy elders, and thy judges"; that is,

"thy elders, who are thy judges: it is a tradition, R. Eliezer ben Jacob says, , "thine eiders; this is the great sanhedrim" (a).

The other Evangelists Mark and Luke add to these, Scribes, who also were a part of this great assembly; so that the principal members of it, if not the whole sanhedrim, came in a body together, if possible, by their presence and authority, to daunt Christ, discourage his ministry, bring it into contempt with the people, and stop his proceedings and success. And this they did

as he was teaching; the people, that is, preaching the Gospel to them, as Luke explains it: he was instructing them in the things relating to himself, and his kingdom, dispensing the mysteries of his grace, the doctrines of regeneration, justification, and salvation. Mark says, it was "as he was walking in the temple": and at the same time teaching the people, who flocked about him in like manner, as the Peripatetic philosophers taught their scholars walking: whence they had their name,

And said, by what authority dost thou these things? that is, drive out the buyers and sellers out of the temple, which greatly provoked them, their own gain and interest being concerned therein; and perform these miracles of restoring sight to the blind, and causing the lame to walk; which he had very lately wrought in the temple; and particularly preach these doctrines, the work in which he was then engaged:

and who gave thee this authority? They do not object to his doctrines, or dispute whether they were true or false; nor examine his miracles, whether they were of God, or of the devil: in these points they might fear he would be able to put them to silence and confusion, of which some of them had had an experience before; but they proceed in another way, in which they might hope for success, and attack him about his commission and authority under which he acted, whether he pretended to derive his authority from God, or from men: by this they designed to ensnare him and hoped they should gain their point, let him answer in what form he would. Should he say that God gave him the authority to do these things, they would charge him with enthusiasm and blasphemy, urging, that it was wickedness and presumption any man to pretend to be sent immediately from God; since the order of the priesthood, and of teaching was fixed, and none were to take upon them the office of a priest, or of a teacher of the people, but by their appointment; or none were called and sent, but through them, or by their means: and if he should say, that he had his authority from men, they would confront him, and absolutely deny that he had any from them, who only had the power of giving men an authority of preaching in the temple; wherefore he must be an usurper of this office, and a turbulent, seditious person, that sought to destroy all order, civil and ecclesiastical,

(a) T. Hieros Sota, fol. 23. 3. Jarchi in Deuteronomy 21.2.

{6} 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 {k} authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

(6) Against those who neglect the doctrine and bind the calling and vocation to an ordinary succession, going about by that false pretext, to stop Christ's mouth.

(k) Or by what power.

Matthew 21:23. Comp. Mark 11:27 ff.; Luke 20:1 ff.

Διδάσκοντι] while He was engaged in teaching.

ἐν ποίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ] in virtue of what kind of authority. Comp. Acts 4:7. The second question is intended to apply to Him who has given the authority; the first is general, and has reference to the nature of the authority (whether it be divine or human).

ταῦτα] these things, cannot point merely to the cleansing of the temple (Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus), which is too remote for such special reference. As little can the teaching by itself be intended (Grotius, Bengel), that being a matter in connection with the ministry of Jesus about which the Sanhedrim was comparatively unconcerned, and for which He did not need a higher authority. We should rather say that, in their ταῦτα, the questioners mean to include all that up till that moment Jesus had done and was still doing in Jerusalem, and therefore refer to the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the miraculous healing and the teaching in the temple, all which, taken together, seemed to betoken the Messianic pretender. Comp. de Wette, Bleek, Weizsäcker, p. 532; Keim, III. p. 112. The members of the Sanhedrim hoped either to hear Him acknowledge that the ἐξουσία was divine, or presumptuously assert that it was self-derived, so that in either case they might have something on which to found judicial proceedings against Him. They seem to have been a provisional deputation of the Sanhedrim appointed to discover a pretext for excommunicating Him. Comp. John 1:19.

Matthew 21:23-27. Interrogation as to authority (Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8), wherewith suitably opens the inevitable final conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the people.

23–27. The Authority of Christ is questioned

Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8.

23. By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?] The second question is not a mere repetition of the first, Jesus is asked (1) what kind of authority He possesses—human or divine? (2) By whose agency this authority was bestowed? No one had a right to teach unless “authority” had been conferred upon him by the scribes.

Matthew 21:23. Προσῆλθον Αὐτῷ, κ.τ.λ., came unto Him, etc.) This was the solemn[926] question, which occasioned the final trial.—οἱ ἀρχιεπεῖς, the chief priests) who considered their right to be invaded.—λέγοντες, κ.τ.λ., saying, etc.) The morose scepticism of His adversaries now at length demands credentials for the Son and Heir’s caring for His vineyard; see Matthew 21:37-38. They thought that Jesus had no call to teach, since He was neither a Priest nor a Levite.—ποίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ; by what authority?) divine or human.—ταῦτα, these things) sc. teaching; cf. διδάσκοντι, as He was teaching, and Mark 11:27.[927]

[926] Solennis quæstio, “Their customary question.” Acts 4:7; Acts 7:27.—ED.

[927] τίς, who) viz. of the order of the chief priests, or other rulers?—V. g.

Verse 23-ch. 22:14. - Our Lord's authority questioned: he replies by uttering three parables. (Mark 11:27-12:12; Luke 20:1-18.) Verses 23-27. - First attack, referring to his late actions: and Christ's answer. Verse 23. - When he was come into the temple. The conversation recorded here belongs to the Tuesday of the Holy Week, and took place in the courts of the temple, at this time filled with pilgrims from all parts of the world, who hung upon Christ's words, and beheld his doings with wonder and awe. This sight roused to fury the envy and anger of the authorities, and they sent forth sections of their cleverest men to undermine his authority in the eyes of the people, or to force from him statements on which they might found criminal accusation against him. The chief priests and the elders of the people. According to the other evangelists, there were also scribes, teachers of the Law, united with them in this deputation, which thus comprised all the elements of the Sanhedrin. This seems to have been the first time that the council took formal notice of Jesus' claims and actions, and demanded from him personally an account of himself. They had been quick enough in inquiring into the Baptist's credentials, when he suddenly appeared on the banks of Jordan (see John 1:19, etc.); but they had studiously, till quite lately, avoided any regular investigation of the pretensions of Jesus. In the thee of late proceedings, this could no longer be delayed. A crisis had arrived; their own peculiar province was publicly invaded, and their authority attacked; the opponent must be withstood by the action of the constituted court. As he was teaching. Jesus did not confine himself to beneficent acts; he used the opportunity of the gathering of crowds around him to preach unto them the gospel (Luke 20:1), to teach truths which came with double force from One who bad done such marvellous things. By what authority doest thou these things? They refer to the triumphal entry, the reception of the homage offered, the healing of the blind and lame, the teaching as with the authority of a rabbi, and especially to the cleansing of the temple. No one could presume to teach without a proper commission: where was his authorization? They were the guardians and rulers of the temple: what right had he to interfere with their management, and to use the sacred precincts for his own purposes? These and such like questions were in their mind when they addressed him thus. Wilfully ignoring the many proofs they had of Christ's Divine mission (which one of them, Nicodemus, had long before been constrained to own, John 3:2), they raised the question now as a novel and unanswered one. Who gave thee this authority? They resolve the general inquiry into the personal one - Who was it that conferred upon you this authority which you presume to exercise? Was it some earthly ruler, or was it God himself? Perhaps they mean to insinuate that Satan was the master whose power he wielded - an accusation already often made. They thought thus to place Christ in an embarrassing position, from which he could not emerge without affording the opportunity which they desired. The trap was cleverly set, and, as they deemed, unavoidable. If he was forced to confess that he spoke and acted without any proper authorization, he would be humiliated in the eyes of the people, and might be officially silenced by the strong hand. If he asserted himself to be the Messiah and the bearer of a Divine commission, they would at once bring against him a charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65). Matthew 21:23
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