Jesus’ Response to the Question of His Authority in Matthew 21 -- By: Gene R. Smillie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 162:648 (Oct 2005)
Article: Jesus’ Response to the Question of His Authority in Matthew 21
Author: Gene R. Smillie


Jesus’ Response to the Question of
His Authority in Matthew 21

Gene R. Smillie

Gene R. Smillie is a theological education consultant with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Wheaton, Illinois.

In the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry before His sufferings and death, religious authorities challenged Him by asking, “By what authority do You do these things, and who gave You this authority?” (Matt. 21:23).1 At first Jesus responded by not answering them, in fact refusing to answer (v. 27). With Jesus’ curt dismissal the matter was apparently concluded.

What followed this reveals that in fact the matter was not finished. By telling three parables one right after the other (21:28–22:14) Jesus subtly provided an answer to both their questions, “By what authority?” and “Who gave You this authority?” The first parable contrasts two sons; one obeyed his father and the other did not. Those listening to the story were likened to the one who did not obey. In the second parable the same listeners were compared with evil tenant farmers who not only refused to render the true owner of the “vineyard” his due but also killed the owner’s son (whom Jesus identified as Himself), thus incurring the wrath of the father. In the third parable the son in the story was magnified to an even higher status, the son of a king, to whose wedding banquet many were called, but few responded, and even fewer were chosen. Each of these parables features a father, a son (or sons), and response to the father’s authority.

Also in Matthew’s narration that followed those three parables Jesus’ unequaled ability in rabbinic debate served as a response to the question of His authority. As one challenger after another came up to test Jesus and was sent slinking off in ignominious defeat, Jesus’ authority was clearly demonstrated (22:15–46).

The Context of Matthew 21:27

One of the preliminary tasks of exegeting this passage is to identify the antecedents of “these things” (ταῦτα) mentioned in verse 23. What are “these things” that Jesus had been doing, about which He was being challenged? The incident of Jesus driving out the moneychangers a day or two before (vv. 12–13) is usually viewed as the most likely antecedent. However, of the ...

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