The authority of Jesus came into question in this chapter. You might notice the way the story has changed. Jesus is no longer trying to stay hidden. He has engaged in open confrontation with the most powerful people of the land. And those authorities naturally questioned who Jesus was and how he considered himself to be in a position to challenge them.
“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
We are a people who care deeply about authority, even in our fractured society. Some say the governmental authorities need to step up and enforce law and order. They need to carry out the rules of the land. Others say a certain moral authority – one that actively protests and disrupts culture in the name of equality – should govern everyone’s actions. They are happy to claim this moral authority supersedes whatever legal authority the government has.
And the two sides banter back and forth. Who gave you the authority to do what you are doing? Our authority is more authoritative than yours!
Jesus declined to enter into that kind of argument. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders all had significant authority in Jerusalem. They found Jesus in the temple – the seat of their authority. He was operating on their turf. But just the day before, he had claimed that it was his turf! “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations,” he said.
And the chief priests and the scribes and the elders wanted to know who gave Jesus the authority to do these things. Just who did he think he was?
The authority of Jesus is a central feature in the Gospel of Mark, which is aimed at making sure we know Jesus is the Son of God – the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. When Jesus began teaching back in Galilee, the people were astonished by him – “for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).
Jesus cast an unclean spirit from a man and the people were amazed. “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).
Jesus also claimed authority to forgive sins, just when the scribes were questioning whether he was a blasphemer pretending to have the power of God himself (Mark 2:10).
The disciples didn’t use the word “authority,” but that certainly was core to their question when Jesus calmed the powers of nature with a word. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
And now the chief priests and the scribes and the elders no longer needed to go to Galilee to try to figure out who Jesus was. He essentially had come to their living room and sat down and claimed he owned the place.
Authority is something they coveted. You could see that in their response to Jesus’ question about John the Baptist. If the leaders tried to discredit John, the crowds were liable to turn on them. The preservation of their own authority was their chief objective.
And they came across as weak. True authority always makes the pretenders look weak.
In our own lives, the desire for authority – we sometimes like to call it control or autonomy – can be a driving concern. Sometimes, we can create the illusion that we do have authority in our lives, that we are in control. And then something happens, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social implications of it, and we realize how little authority we actually have.
But Jesus poses a challenge to all worldly authority, whether it is a government or a social order or someone claiming superior moral standing (Philippians 2:9-11). And Jesus poses a challenge to us. It doesn’t take long before he is sitting in the living room of our lives – our little temples – and claiming that space as his own. Will we submit to his authority in our lives?
A question for your day: Are there any areas of your life where you have not submitted to the authority of Jesus Christ?