RdR Christian Church


Matthew 21:23-32 :: The Authority of Jesus

Posted by JC Cooper on

Matthew 21:23-32 :: The Authority of Jesus Challenged

Matthew 21:23-32 - When Jesus returned to the Temple and began teaching, the leading priests and elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”

24 “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. 25 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?”

They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 26 But if we say it was merely human, we’ll be mobbed because the people believe John was a prophet.” 27 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.”

And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30 Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. 32 For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

Story Setting & Culture

  • 33 AD in Jerusalem, which is under the oppression of the Roman Empire
  • Jerusalem is buzzing with Jewish travelers from all over the Mediterranean region coming into the city to celebrate the Passover
  • Jesus has recently entered the city of Jerusalem, during Passover week, being hailed as Messiah and the Savior King. The Jews are hoping Jesus is the king that will restore Israel to the glory days of David and Solomon and end Roman oppression.
  • The first place Jesus visits is the Temple, which is a sacred and historical place of worship for the Jews. Jesus continues to visit and teach in the Temple during the Passion Week.


  • To better understand Passover we need to go to an earlier part of God’s story. Over 1,000 years before God called a people, Israel (Jews) out of slavery and oppression in Egypt. A leader named Moses was the instrument of God’s power and love as he obediently brought the Israelites through very difficult circumstances.
  • Specifically Passover refers to a time when God’s 10th and final plague on Egypt was about to take the life of every firstborn child and animal as God passed through the land. Exodus 11
  • However, God made a way for his people, the Israelites, to be spared from this terrible plague. Each household was to take a lamb, slaughter it, and to smear the blood over and on the sides of the doorway. Exodus 12:1-13
  • The Passover Festival/Celebration is a specific command from God so that the Israelites would never forget how God delivered them out of slavery by His strength alone. Exodus 12:14-28
  • God honors his promise. The Egyptians lose all their first born children, including Pharaoh’s son, but God passes over the Israelites. Exodus 12:29-32
  • The Passover story in Exodus certainly points to Jesus as a foreshadowing of His mission as the Passover Lamb.

The Temple in Jerusalem

  • The Temple’s importance actually dates back to the time of Moses when God delivered the nation of Israel out of the oppression and slavery inflicted by Pharaoh in Egypt. At Mount Sinai God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, but he also gave Moses other laws for living, which included specific instructions to build a place of worship called the Tabernacle. Exodus 25-30
  • The Tabernacle was a mobile structure (large tent) roughly divided into three parts:
    • The courtyard
    • The Holy Place
    • The Holy of Holies (most Holy Place)
  • The Tabernacle was a physical place where God was worshiped and present, people brought sacrifices and offerings, and where the Levites (Tribe dedicated to serve in the Tabernacle/Temple) in a variety of capacities including Priests, choir, etc.
  • The Tabernacle was made from animals skins and fine cloth, gold, silver, bronze, and special wood.
  • For several hundred years the Tabernacle was a place where God was worshiped and wherever God’s people were led God was present with them and rested in a “cloud” within the Holy of Holies.
  • King David’s son Solomon was instructed by the Lord to build a permanent structure, The Temple, in Jerusalem at a place called “The Threshing Floor of Araunah.” 2 Samuel 24
  • The Temple was so beautifully made and extravagantly built (during the height of Israel’s power and wealth as a nation) it was considered an architectural wonder of the world. To see a visual representation according to 1 Kings 5-7: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiF-wObznds
  • The Temple was created for the purpose of worshiping God, of knowing his presence is with his people, and the result of experiencing this is healing from sin and joy from relationship with the living God.
  • Jesus chases out the business being done in the Temple and returns it to a hose of prayer and healing for the sick, blind and lame.

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

  • The hearts and attitude of the religious leaders, which was most likely an official delegation sent by the High Jewish Council (Sanhedrin – Mark 11), demanded to know by what authority Jesus was both teaching and exercising miracles.
  • The religious leaders knew Jesus had authority because they are witnesses to his powerful signs and wonders.
  • The demand of the religious leaders is more about credentials than it is about whether or not this is God’s authority. Jesus is not a student or disciple of any great Rabbi nor is he part of the education systems the religious leaders have dedicated their lives to. Their question to Jesus is the modern equivalent to: Where did you go to university and what are your post graduate degrees?
  • Interestingly it is specifically Passover week. Passover was instituted when God delivered the Israelites from the oppression of Pharaoh.

Exodus 5:1-2 - After this presentation to Israel’s leaders, Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh. They told him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.” “Is that so?” retorted Pharaoh. “And who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.”

Like in the Old Testament where God’s authority was being challenged so it is here with Jesus and the religious leaders.

  1. In this passage we will understand and witness the seriousness of the religious leaders sin and opposition to Jesus, which effectively leads them into judgment.
  2. The importance of Jesus’ authority in relationship to our lives today.

JC Rugby Authority Story (listen/watch sermon)

What’s at stake in Jesus’ authority?

  • The authority of Jesus is very important! Jesus was sent by God the Father to live a perfect life, die for the sins of many, and be raised to new life so that he may receive all glory and honor and ransom and redeem the lost. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform signs and miracles of God’s power and authority breaking in on the earth. The authority of Jesus is a testimony of God’s redemptive work in the spiritual and physical realms and also in the unseen and seen world.
  • Jesus authority is a significant theme in Matthew:
    • People were amazed at the authority Jesus taught with (Matthew 7)
    • Jesus’ authority recognized by the centurion soldier (Matthew 8)
    • Jesus exercises his authority to heal the paralyzed man and forgives him of his sins (Matthew 9)
  • Ultimately Jesus’ authority must be confirmed through the resurrection in order to create the Church.
  • Genesis 1 gives us the account of creation and how in and through Jesus (John 1) the entire world was brought into existence. We witness the story of God’s authority over all things throughout the Bible.

 Matthew 28:18-20 - Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 John 20:21-23 - Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

  • The authority of Jesus has been given to the church and it is through this authority we are to embody, practice and live like Jesus. We are not merely imitators we are image bearers with the authority of the risen Savior!
  • Jesus’ response to the religious leaders is brilliant and it forces them to admit their lack of authority in an inability respond to Jesus’ question.
  • Jesus chooses to use John the Baptists ministry rather than his own. John called Jesus “The Lamb of God who takes away the win of the world” (John 1:29) acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:34).
  • John also preached the same message as Jesus “Repent of your sins and turn to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
  • To acknowledge John’s ministry from God meant the religious leaders would need to affirm Jesus’ authority. To reject John’s ministry as from God would be political suicide. The religious leaders take the easy way out and their foolishness and cowardice is exposed.
  • In response to arrogance and demand Jesus refuses to share his authority. However, to those with a heart of submission, repentance and love for God he joyfully commissions and empowers his followers with all authority.


Jesus’ authority is God’s authority.

Jesus’ authority validates his teaching. Jesus can be trusted.

Jesus’ authority can both heal the sick ad forgive sin.

 The Parable of the Two Sons

  • A practical story with spiritual significance specifically aimed at the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and a warning to all who do not bear fruit in God’s Kingdom.
  • Jesus riding the donkey in Jerusalem, cleansing the Temple and the withered fig tree were significant acts of Jesus fulfilling prophecy as the Messiah, but most would not have recognized these intentional actions of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus uses his excellent teaching skills to make clear to the religious leaders their own hypocrisy and lack of faith.
  • Who is it in this story that really serves the Father? Which of the two sons bears fruit?
  • One son says he will work, but never does. This is considered lip service and is worthless because nothing every gets accomplished and there isn’t true submission and obedience.
  • The other son says he won’t, but eventually does go to the field and work. This is considered obedience (albeit delayed), and does bear fruit because there is action and work being accomplished.
  • The “sinners” Jesus was eating and drinking with are being saved not because of their credentials or because of their personal piety and religious appearance; the sinners were being saved because they were not hypocrites. They gave their lives to Jesus and it transformed their hearts and minds to come under the reign of King Jesus.
  • Repentance is an essential fruit of following Jesus. Those with repentant hearts will receive the Kingdom of God.
  • Like the withered fig tree that gave the appearance of having fruit, so the religious leaders and those like them will perish.

Do we obey, repent and bear fruit in season or are we pretenders knowing the truth but refusing to submit to the reign of Jesus?

Tags: authority, jesus, parable, religious leaders, sons