It is Lent, an appropriate time to think about the final days of Jesus before his death. I am using the book, The King of God’s Kingdom, to help me think about this.
In this book David Seccombe makes much of the tradition that Jesus spent much of his last week teaching in the temple. We cannot know the exact sequence of events. But the reports that the authorities and rabbis sent representatives to ask Jesus questions and test him is credible. There were questions about paying taxes to Rome, about Leverite marriage and the resurrection, and about the greatest commandment.
Particularly the episode in Mark 11:27-33 seems to fit into the last week:
They came again to Jerusalem. While Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the experts in the law, and the elders came up to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question. Answer me and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from people? Answer me.” They discussed with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From people – ’” (they feared the crowd, for they all considered John to be truly a prophet). So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (NET Bible).
The disciples were staying with Jesus outside the city in Bethany. During the day they came into Jerusalem and Jesus was walking among the Passover throngs in the temple courts when an official delegation caught up with him.
We do not know what exactly what “these things” are that Jesus needs authority for. For those who put the incident with the money changers during this time, that would be on the minds of the officials. But also it could be healing the sick and raising the dead, parading into Jerusalem accompanied by a crowd, or saying disturbing, apocalyptic stuff about the fate of the temple or the last judgment. Or, since experts in the law are among the questioners, the question might be about Jesus’ authority for breaking the Sabbath or coming into the temple after eating with the impure.
(There is a manuscript variant that inserts 11:26 just before this passage, a verse that is left out of most translations. It just repeated Mark 6:15 about forgiveness. But it might mean that early interpreters thought the question was about Jesus’ authority to forgive sin.)
Jesus doesn’t give them a straight answer. He puts them into a quandary. They do not want to comment on John the Baptist’s authority. Their question was not sincere, so Jesus answers with a question that perplexes them. He won’t answer their question and they can’t answer his.
This tends to show that even this late in his ministry, Jesus was not openly declaring himself as Messiah. He was still speaking in riddles so far as the orthodoxy police were concerned.
Perhaps after the experts in the law had gone away, Jesus challenged them before the crowd. How can they teach about the Messiah that he is David’s son (Mark 12:35)? Psalm 110 seems to assert that the Messiah is Lord over even David.
The teachers thought of the Messiah as another king in the line of David. He was David’s successor. But, to Jesus, the Messiah was more than that. This is what disturbed the authorities. According to Seccombe they could dismiss him as mad or sit at his feet and redefine their expectation for the Messiah and Israel–or they could decide to destroy him.