Back-pedal now to AD 30 and let’s look at the incident in bold above faithfully recorded in Matthew’s eyewitness biography of Jesus. Two power groups are there - all burdened with their own interests. Who are they? First, the chief priests (with religious and political power), second, the seniors (the great and the good). In AD 30 their position and their authority is waning terribly because of Jesus. He is giving sight to the blind and making the lame walk. Angrily they demand, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
In reply they’re asked by him, “I likewise will ask from you one word and if you say that to me then I likewise will say to you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where was it? From heaven or from humans?”
What’s all this about John’s baptism? Well, a year or two earlier, John the Baptist had captivated the minds and hearts of tens of thousands who flocked to him to hear God’s message urging them to turn from their sinful lives and seek forgiveness from the LORD God. Huge numbers responded and, to say so, were baptized by John in the Jordan river.
The Jerusalem authorities were being asked a simple question. “Did John’s message and his call to people come from above or not?” They all put their heads together to decide. But, like the journalist mentioned earlier, they only thought about the effect that alternative answers might have. They had no interest in objective fact – no interest in objective truth. Was John from God?
If they answered “from above”, they reasoned, Jesus would ask them, “Why then didn’t you follow him?” (The authorities hadn’t – they weren’t sorry for anything like “sins” and certainly would never publicly admit any secret guilt.) If they said “from humans” the people wouldn’t respect them anymore because they were all convinced that God had sent John to call them to change their minds. So, both power groups agreed. They would all say that they didn’t know where John’s baptism came from. They were agnostics.
Who can be relied upon in this deceitful world? Does anyone speak – and live out - the truth? Even the question that these respected authorities asked of Jesus wasn’t asked so as to get to the truth. By asking Jesus to state by what authority he was doing good they hoped to nail him for blasphemy. They hoped his answer – that he was the Son of God - would make their plans to kill him much easier. Maybe a journalist had recommended the question.