Matthew 21:25
The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?
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(25) They reasoned with themselves.—The self-communing was eminently characteristic. The priests and scribes had, in dealing with the mission of John, halted between two opinions. At one time they came to his baptism (Matthew 3:7); at another they said, “He hath a devil” (Matthew 11:18). They watched the ebb and flow of a public reverence which the death of John had deepened, and dared not repudiate his character as a prophet. They were reluctant to admit that character, for this would have involved the necessity of accepting the testimony which he had borne to the work and office of Jesus.

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.And Jesus answered ... - Jesus was under no obligation to give them an answer.

They well knew by what authority he did this. He had not concealed his power in working miracles, and had not kept back the knowledge that he was the Messiah. He therefore referred them to a similar case - that of John the Baptist. He knew the estimation in which John was held by the people, and he took the wise in their own craftiness. Whatever answer they gave, he knew they Would convict themselves, and so they saw when they looked at the question. They reasoned correctly. If they should say that John received authority to baptize from God or from heaven, he would directly ask why they did not believe him. They professed to hear all the prophets. If they said, "Of men," they would be in danger, for all the people believed that John was a prophet.

The baptism of John - For an account of this, see Matthew 3. The word "baptism" here probably includes all his work. This was his principal employment; and hence he was called the Baptist, or the "Baptizer." But our Saviour's question refers "to his whole ministry." "The 'ministry of John' - his baptism, preaching, prophecies was it from God, or not?" If it was, then the inference was clear that Jesus was the Messiah, and then they might easily know by what authority he did those things.

From heaven - By divine authority, or by the command of God.

From men - By human authority.

25. The baptism of John—meaning his whole mission and ministry, of which baptism was the proper character.

whence was it? from heaven, or of men?—What wisdom there was in this way of meeting their question will best appear by their reply.

If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?—"Why did ye not believe the testimony which he bore to Me, as the promised and expected Messiah?" for that was the burden of John's whole testimony.

See Poole on "Matthew 21:27".

The baptism of John, whence was it?.... By the baptism of John, is meant the ordinance of water baptism, which was first administered by him; from whence he took the name of John the Baptist: and the doctrine which he preached concerning it, and previous to it, and even the whole of his ministry; which is denominated from a principal part of it, and which greatly distinguished his ministry from all others: and the question put by Christ concerning it is, whence it was? by what authority did John administer the ordinance of water baptism, which had never been administered before by any? who sent him to preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, a doctrine the world had never heard of before? who gave him a commission to discharge the several parts of his ministry, which he performed in such a wonderful and powerful manner? did he receive his authority

from heaven, or of men? that is, from God or man? as the opposition requires; and as it was usual for the Jews to call God by the name of "heaven": in this sense it is used by them, when they say (b), that such have no part in the world to come, who affirm, that the law is not , "from heaven", that is, from God; which is exactly the phrase here: and when they observe (c), that care should be taken that a man does not pronounce , "the name of heaven", that is, God, in vain: and when they tell (d) us of a certain man that built large buildings by the way side, and put food and drink there, so that everyone that came went in and eat, and drank, , "and blessed heaven"; that is blessed, or gave thanks to God; and when they speak of (e) , "death by heaven"; that is, death which is immediately inflicted by God. So when Christ here asks, whether John's baptism was from heaven, or of men, his meaning is, whether it was of divine institution, and that John acted by divine authority, and commission; or whether it was an human device of his own, or of other men, and that he took the office of preaching and baptizing upon himself of his own head, or by some human appointment: to this he requires a direct answer, as is said in Mark, "answer me"; whether it was from the one, or from the other,

and they reasoned with themselves; either "within themselves", as the Arabic version renders it, "in their own minds", as the Syriac; or they took some little time and privately conferred together, what answer they should return; when they argued the point among themselves,

saying, if we shall say from heaven; if we shall return for answer, that the baptism and ministry of John were of divine appointment, and that he acted by a divine authority,

he will say unto us, why did ye not believe him? why did not ye believe the doctrine that he preached? and receive the testimony that he gave concerning the Messiah? and why were ye not baptized by him? why did ye reject the counsel of God against yourselves? They saw plainly, that if they owned the divine authority of John's baptism and ministry, they must allow Jesus to be the true Messiah, John bore witness to; and consequently, that it was by a divine authority he did what he did; and then there was an end of the question, and is the very thing that Christ had in view,

(b) T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 27. 3. Vid. ib. fol. 19. 3. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 99. 1.((c) T. Bab. Megilla, fol. 3. 1. (d) Abot. R. Nathan, c. 7. fol. 3. 2. (e) Ib. c. 11. fol. 4. 1. Vid. ib. c. 14. fol. 4. 4. & 5. 1. & c. 27. fol. 7. 1.

The {m} baptism of John, whence was it? from {n} heaven, or of men? And they {o} reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?

(m) The preaching of John is called by the figure baptism because he preached the baptism of repentance, etc.; Mr 1:4 Ac 19:3.

(n) From God, and so it is plainly seen how these are set one against another.

(o) Beat their heads about it, and mused, or laid their heads together.

Matthew 21:25. τὸ βάπτισμα τὸ Ἰ., the baptism as representing John’s whole ministry.—ἐξ οὐρ. ἢ ἐξ ἀνθ., from heaven or from men? The antithesis is foreign to legitimist modes of thought, which would combine the two: from heaven but through men; if not through men not from heaven. The most gigantic and baleful instance of this fetish in modern nines is the notion of church sacraments and orders depending on ordination. On the same principle St. Paul was no apostle, because his orders came to him “not from men nor by man,” Galatians 1:1.—ἐὰν εἴπωμεν, etc. The audible and formal answer of the scribes was οὐκ οἴδαμεν, in Matthew 21:27. All that goes before from ἐὰν to προφήτην is the reasoning on which it was based, either unspoken (παρʼ or ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Mt.) or spoken to each other (πρός, Mark 11:31); not likely to have been overheard, guessed rather from the puzzled expression on their faces.—οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε: the reference here may be to John’s witness to Jesus, or it may be general = why did ye not receive his message as a whole?

Matthew 21:25. Τὸ βάπτισμα, the baptism) i.e. the whole mission: cf. further on in the verse, “οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε;” “did ye not believe?”ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, from heaven) i.e. from God. An instance of Metonomy of a reverential character.—διελογίζοντο, they reasoned with themselves) That is an evil mind which, instead of looking at the truth in a divine matter, assumes that which suits its purpose.—αὐτῷ, him) sc. bearing witness in My favour.

Verse 25. - The baptism of John (τὸ βάπτισμα τὸ Ἰωάννου). By "the baptism which was of John" Christ means his whole ministry, doctrine, preaching, etc.; as by circumcision is implied the whole Mosaic Law, and the doctrine of the cross comprises all the teaching of the gospel, the chief characteristic connoting all particulars. From heaven, or of men? Did they regard John as one inspired and commissioned by God, or as a fanatic and impostor, who was self-sent and had received no external authorization? Now, two facts were plain and could not be denied. The rulers and the people with them had allowed John to be a prophet, and had never questioned his claims hitherto. This was one fact; the other was that John had borne unmistakable evidence to Christ. "Behold the Lamb of God!" etc. (John 1:32-36), he had said. He came and asserted that he came as Christ's forerunner; his mission was to prepare Christ's way, and had no meaning or intention but this. Here was a dilemma. They had asked for Jesus' credentials; the prophet, whose mission they had virtually endorsed testified that Jesus was the Messiah; if they believed that John spoke by inspiration, they must accept Christ; if now they discredited John, they would stultify themselves and endanger their influence with the people. They reasoned with themselves (παρ ἑαυτοῖς). The somewhat unusual introduction of this preposition instead of the more common ἐν implies that the reflection was not confined to their own breast, but passed in consultation from one to another. They saw the difficulty, and deliberated how they could meet it without compromising themselves, seeking, not truth, but evasion. Why did ye not then (διατί οϋν: why then did ye not) believe him? i.e. when he bore such plain testimony to me. This appeal could be silenced only by denying John's mission, or asserting that he was mistaken in what he said, Matthew 21:25
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