Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Matthew 21:23

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

By what authority doest thou these things? - The things which the chief priests allude to, were his receiving the acclamations of the people as the promised Messiah, his casting the traders out of the temple, and his teaching the people publicly in it.

Who gave thee this authority? - Not them: for, like many of their successors, they were neither teachers nor cleansers; though they had the name and the profits of the place.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 23-27

See also Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-9.

Matthew 21:23

When he was come into the temple - That is, probably, into the inner court - the court of the Israelites.

They took this opportunity of questioning him on this subject when he was not surrounded by the multitude.

By what authority … - There was a show of propriety in this question. He was making great changes in the affairs of the temple, and they claimed the right to know why this was done, contrary to their permission. He was not “a priest;” he had no civil or ecclesiastical authority as a Jew. It was sufficient authority, indeed, that he came as a prophet and worked miracles. But they professed not to be satisfied with that.

These things - The things which he had just done, in overturning the seats of those that were engaged in traffic, Matthew 21:12.

Matthew 21:24, Matthew 21:25

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 21:26

We fear the people - They feared that the people would stone them (Luke). Such an unpopular sentiment as to profess that all that “John” did was “imposture,” would have probably ended in tumult, perhaps in their death.

Matthew 21:27

We cannot tell - This was a direct falsehood. They could have told; and the answer should have been, “We will not tell.” There was no reason but that why they did not tell. The reason, probably, why they would not acknowledge that John was a prophet, was that, if they did, they saw he could easily show them by “what authority” he did those things; that is, by his authority as Messiah. John came as his forerunner, pointed him out to the people, baptized him, and bore his public and solemn testimony to the fact that he was the Messiah, Matthew 3:13-15; John 1:29-34. If they acknowledged one, they must the other. In this way our Saviour was about to lead these crafty men to answer their own question, to their own confusion, about his authority. They saw this; and, having given them a “sufficient” answer, there was no need of stating anything further.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
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.
Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 272-4

This chapter is based on Matthew 21:23-32.

“A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir; and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.” COL 272.1

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 593-4

The Pharisees were utterly perplexed and disconcerted. One whom they could not intimidate was in command. Jesus had taken His position as guardian of the temple. Never before had He assumed such kingly authority. Never before had His words and works possessed so great power. He had done marvelous works throughout Jerusalem, but never before in a manner so solemn and impressive. In presence of the people who had witnessed His wonderful works, the priests and rulers dared not show Him open hostility. Though enraged and confounded by His answer, they were unable to accomplish anything further that day. DA 593.1

The next morning the Sanhedrin again considered what course to pursue toward Jesus. Three years before, they had demanded a sign of His Messiahship. Since that time He had wrought mighty works throughout the land. He had healed the sick, miraculously fed thousands of people, walked upon the waves, and spoken peace to the troubled sea. He had repeatedly read the hearts of men as an open book; He had cast out demons, and raised the dead. The rulers had before them the evidences of His Messiahship. They now decided to demand no sign of His authority, but to draw out some admission or declaration by which He might be condemned. DA 593.2

Repairing to the temple where He was teaching, they proceeded to question Him: “By what authority doest Thou these things? and who gave Thee this authority?” They expected Him to claim that His authority was from God. Such an assertion they intended to deny. But Jesus met them with a question apparently pertaining to another subject, and He made His reply to them conditional on their answering this question. “The baptism of John,” He said, “whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” DA 593.3

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