We cannot tell - Simplicity gives a wonderful confidence and peace of mind; but double dealing causes a thousand inquietudes and troubles. Let a man do his utmost to conceal in his own heart the evidence he has of truth and innocence, to countenance his not yielding to it; God, who sees the heart, will, in the light of the last day, produce it as a witness against him, and make it his judge.
We cannot tell, said they; which, in the words of truth, should have been, We will not tell, for we will not have this man for the Messiah: because, if we acknowledge John as his forerunner, we must, of necessity, receive Jesus as the Christ.
They who are engaged against the truth are abandoned to the spirit of falsity, and scruple not at a lie. Pharisaical pride, according to its different interests, either pretends to know every thing, or affects to know nothing. Among such, we may meet with numerous instances of arrogance and affected humility. God often hides from the wise and prudent what he reveals unto babes; for, when they use their wisdom only to invent the most plausible excuses for rejecting the truth when it comes to them, it is but just that they should be punished with that ignorance to which, in their own defense, they are obliged to have recourse.
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.
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.
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 272.1Read in context »
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 593.3Read in context »
The twenty-first chapter of Matthew, telling of the journey of Christ to Jerusalem at the time of His triumphal entry, is a powerful chapter, and one that we need to study and understand. We need to take warning from the lesson of the pretentious fig tree that bore no fruit. It represents those who profess to serve God, whose names are on the church books, but who bear no fruit in their lives to the glory of God. My heart is longing to see the Man, who was despised and rejected, crowned and seated upon His throne.... UL 78.2Read in context »