We saw in our last study that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple—His driving out the moneychangers and sellers of animals from the Court of the Gentiles—put Him at odds with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They set out to destroy Him, but they had difficulty figuring out what to do because the ordinary people were eager to hear our Lord (Luke 19:45–48). As we see in today’s passage, however, their initial failure to do away with Jesus did not keep them from trying again.
Luke 20:1–2 indicates that one day, Jewish leaders, including “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders,” came to Jesus as He was preaching in the temple and asked who gave Him the authority to “do these things.” They understood that Jesus’ actions to purify the temple implicitly declared that He had the right to determine what was right and what was wrong in the worship of God’s people. Such a right belongs only to our Creator or His appointed representative—namely, the Davidic Messiah. We see this in the Lord’s delivering of prescriptions for worship and in the work of David, Solomon, and other good kings of Judah to establish and maintain the right worship of God in the temple (e.g., see Ex. 20:4–6; 1 Chron. 22–29; 2 Chron. 29). Essentially, the leaders wanted to know whether Jesus was willing to explicitly claim to be the promised Son of David and King of the Jews, possibly because they could then take that information to the Roman governor, who would not take kindly to a rival to Caesar.
Jesus answered His opponents with a question of His own, asking them whether John the Baptist’s baptism was from God or from men (Luke 20:3–4). This put them in a bind. If they acknowledged that John was sent by God as a prophet, they would have to answer for why they did not believe John when he told them that Jesus was the Messiah and Savior (v. 5; see 3:1–22). On the other hand, if they were to say that John was sent by men, the people would stone them because they recognized John as sent from God (20:6). Not wanting to be trapped either way, they claimed ignorance, so Jesus refused to answer their question (vv. 7–8).
The calculating approach of the leaders implies that they really did know that John was from God and thus that their refusal of Jesus was a conscious rejection of the truth so as to maintain their own position as authorities. Rather than embrace the truth in repentance, they refused to confess it, becoming more hardened in their sin.