BRIEF INTRO: As we look into these passages, we notice Something odd. The questions that the chief priests, scribes, and elders are asking Jesus are the wrong questions! Rather than asking, “by what authority are (you) doing these things?”They should have asked each other, “why aren’t (we) doing these things?”
Have you ever asked the wrong question? In some ways, I can relate to this problem. If you are married, you understand what I mean. I am not using that example to be sarcastic or discourteous towards our spouses, but it is within such a relationship that we are most prone to realize that we have struggled in much the same way.
The problem here, however, is that they are asking the wrong questions of the Lord, not a spouse. And in so doing, they reveal that they are ignorant of the truth, self-serving, and hypocritical because they are not genuinely seeking to understand but instead want to “destroy Him” (v. 18).
Remember, back in vv. 15-16, Jesus cleansed the temple. He cast out (drove away) those people that were changing the “Roman money the pilgrims brought to Jerusalem into the Tyrian currency (closest thing to the old Hebrew shekel), since the annual temple tax had to be paid in that currency.” He turned over the seats of those selling the doves. These things originally were done for the “convenience” of the pilgrims, but had defaulted into a money-making scheme. They should not have been done inside the temple court.
So by His cleansing of the temple, Jesus directly challenged their authority since it was by their authorization that these things took place within the temple. That is one reason they want to destroy Him (v. 18) and why they would not answer Him (v. 33).
27 And they *came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple area, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders *came to Him, 28 and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” 29 But Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.” 31 And they began considering the implications among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 32 But should we say, ‘From men’?”—they were afraid of the [a]people, for they all considered John to have been a real prophet. 33 Answering Jesus, they *said, “We do not know.” And Jesus *said to them, “Neither am I telling you by what authority I do these things.”
FOCUS ONE: Jesus has “all” authority
Within those verses, I highlighted the main issue; what authority does Jesus have to cleanse the temple? How drastic the cleansing was the previous day certainly got their attention. That is why all three groups are present this day in the temple when Jesus returns (v.27). With intentional laser-like focus, they approach Him and ask the question, “by what authority? Their hope was that by His answer Jesus would be brought into disrepute (rejected by the people) with the people and thereby clear the way for their arresting Him.” But once again, Jesus turns their intentions back on their heads! “You answer my question first, then I’ll answer yours” (v.28). Jesus is the master of debate!
The question He asks is about whether or not God was behind John the Baptist’s mission. Think about the implications. “John had clearly testified to the divine source of Jesus’ mission. If they recognized the divine authority of John’s mission, they would be forced to recognize Jesus’ also and His cleansing of the temple as the legitimate exercise of His authority.”
The implications were obvious. It was too much for them to handle. So, they reasoned among themselves how to wiggle their way out of answering it. “We do not know” (v. 33). One commentator has said of their reply, “to save face they pleaded ignorance.” I can relate to that as well.
So Jesus, upon hearing their response, refuses to answer their question. Even so, They got the answer, didn’t they?
12 And He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and put a [a]fence around it, and dug a vat under the wine press and built a tower, and leased it to [b]vine-growers and went on a journey. 2 And at the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive his share of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. 3 And they took him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 And again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. 6 He had one more man to send, a beloved son; he sent him to them last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those vine-growers said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’8 And they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the [c]owner of the vineyard do? He will come and put the vine-growers to death, and give the vineyard to others.
FOCUS TWO: Jesus has divine authority as the Son of God
Now Jesus begins to speak in parabolic language and, in this way, answers the question of His authority. It seems logical that these religious leaders are the “them” referenced in (12:1; cr. 12:12). The parable is easy to understand once we recognize the key components.
The “man” represents God. The vineyard symbolizes Israel, possibly the leaders of Israel. Slaves are the prophets, and the “beloved son” is Jesus.
Jesus, in using this parable, is in some way relating to the history of Israel. They rejected and killed the prophets of God, and they rejected and killed the Son of God (Acts 7:52). In sending the son the parable underscores the serious view of the owner of the vineyard.
To draw out the parable’s meaning, Jesus asks them a question (funny in a way, cr. 11:33), and then answers it Himself. His answer is frightening-judgment is coming! (Most bible scholars believe this happened in A.D. 70 at the fall of Jerusalem when the Romans destroyed the city and sacked the temple).
10 Have you not even read this Scripture:
‘A stone which the builders rejected,
This has become the [a]chief cornerstone;
11 This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the [b]people, for they understood that He told the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.
FOCUS THREE: Jesus has divine authority as the chosen cornerstone of God
The observations we make are amazing when we take the time to look. How much have we missed in our reading of the Bible? This study and what we are observing is simply one case of that very thing. At first glance, Jesus did not answer their question (11:33). But that is not the complete picture we see in this section. He did not answer them “outright,” but take notice that in the parable we just looked at, and now by citing Psalm 118:22-23, He is giving them a clear, understandable answer to their question. They understood His answer (v. 12)!
In quoting those verses in Psalm 118, Jesus is speaking of Himself as the Stone. Like in the parable before this, He (the Son) was rejected. But in this quote, we learn that what was rejected has become the key component that holds the building together. This “stone” language was very familiar in early Christianity, as shown by Acts 4:11 and 1st Peter 2:7. Something counted as worthless (like a particular stone) becomes invaluable (and now it holds the building together)!
The application of the Old Testament quote was unmistakable, but once again, the leaders could not grab hold of Jesus to destroy Him (11:18) because they were afraid of the people. This is the second time in these two chapters that we are told they fear the people (11:18; 12:12).
And so what else is there to do when your opponent has the better hand, and you fear the reprisal of the crowd? “and so they left Him and went away” (v. 12).
The Expositors Bible Commentary, pg, 730