Bible kevinroosecomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 20:1-8

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

1 One day, as Jesus[a] was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

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The dialogue in this reading took place the Wednesday before our Lord’s crucifixion.

The day before He cleansed the temple, described in last week’s post.

Jesus spent these last few days teaching and healing in the temple. The Jewish hierarchy confronted him (verse 1). In analysing the King James Version of this confrontation — using the words ‘came upon him — Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us that their manner was meant to intimidate (emphasis in the original):

II. That his enemies are here said to come upon himepestesan. The word is used only here, and it intimates,

1. That they thought to surprise him with this question they came upon him suddenly, hoping to catch him unprovided with an answer, as if this were not a thing he had himself thought of.

2. That they thought to frighten him with this question. They came upon him in a body, with violence.

John MacArthur agrees:

Ephistēmi is the Greek verb.  It means “to attack, to come upon, to pounce on.”  It’s inevitable.  They can’t contain their outrage.  And they’re trying to restrain themselves, and they do it by forming a question that masks their real hostility in a sort of theological case.  But they come after Him with a vengeance. 

He says that it is important that we understand that those who approached Jesus had very different theological outlooks on Judaism but that they all agreed in opposing Him:

Please notice, it is the chief priests and the scribes with the elders.  It’s really important.  The chief priests would encompass the high priests, the one that was immediately under the high priest, kind of a captain of the priests from which high priests were selected, who had responsibility to oversee just about everything.  Then there would be ranking orders of priests, priests who were over the priests who were doing their two-week service there per year.  There were all kinds of authorities and dignitaries.  They’re collectively represented in the chief priests. 

Then the scribes represent the theologians.  Many of them were Pharisees.  Not all of them were Pharisees, many of them were.  And the elders would be the remaining ones, including – the chief priests would be made up of mostly Sadducees, the elders would be some Sadducees, probably some from the Herodians, some from the Pharisees, they would constitute the Sanhedrin, the group of 70 men who were the reigning group over the affairs of religion. 

So a delegation comes to Him of this collective body.  And what is so interesting about it is this.  These are divergent groups.  The Sadducees had their own views.  The Pharisees had very diverse views.  The Herodians had their own views, very diverse again.  They are all very diverse groups who agree on one thing:  We want this man dead.  The whole religious establishment is unified on this account.  All divergent groups are commonly united in the desire to kill their Messiah.  If that doesn’t tell you how far from God Judaism was, I don’t know what would.  They couldn’t agree on much, but they could agree on this.  They wanted Jesus dead.  It’s a good lesson.  All false religions have their own diversities, but all false religions agree in taking a position opposite the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They ask Him what authority He has to ‘do these things’ (verse 2). MacArthur explains what these words refer to:

What has caused them to ask this question is the cleansing of the temple.  That’s “these things.”  How dare you take over this place?  “These things” meaning the triumphal entry, the claim that you are willing to accept as the Messiah.  You come in, You clean the place out, and then You take it over.  By what authority?

Jesus responds with a question (verses 3 and 4), the classic way of teaching and used in good rabbinical dialogue. In this instance:

Jesus is not evading the answer, He’s unmasking their hypocrisy. 

He had backed them into a corner and they had to consider their answer about John the Baptist’s ministry (verses 5 and 6). They themselves never went to be baptised. They considered themselves above baptism, which traditionally was given to Gentiles converting to the Jewish faith. These men had their earthly power and authority already. They did not consider they had any reason for personal repentance of sin.

They also could not criticise John the Baptist because the people rightly considered him as a prophet. Indeed, he was the first prophet they had had in four centuries. Although he appears only in the Gospels, he is the one who bridges the Old and New Testaments. The people grasped his message; the hierarchy did not. Yet, because of his popularity, these men dared not say he preached from earthly authority for fear of a backlash from the crowd.

Therefore, the chief priests, scribes and elders responded that they did not know the source of John the Baptist’s authority (verse 7). They took a safe — and stubborn — option when they actually knew that it was divinely inspired. They just denied it. It was too threatening to their privilege. The Gospels, especially John’s, record many similar confrontations.

So Jesus ends this encounter by saying that He will not state anymore by whose authority He does ‘these things’ (verse 8).

Henry concludes (emphases mine):

(3.) It is not strange if those that are governed by reputation and secular interest imprison the plainest truths, and smother and stifle the strongest convictions, as these priests and scribes did, who, to save their credit, would not own that John’s baptism was from heaven, and had no other reason why they did not say it was of men but because they feared the people. What good can be expected from men of such a spirit? (4.) Those that bury the knowledge they have are justly denied further knowledge. It was just with Christ to refuse to give an account of his authority to them that knew the baptism of John to be from heaven and would not believe in him, nor own their knowledge, Luke 20:7,8.

MacArthur says:

The confrontation led to the counter-question, and finally the condemnation.  This is one of those really sad, sad statements.  “Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’ ”  That is just tragic.  Jesus is saying essentially, “Based on what you’ve done with the information you have, I’m not giving you any more.  It’s over.” 

They rejected all the light willfully, no reason to give them more.  This is judgment on the religious leadership of Israel, judgment.

He explains that this also happened in the Old Testament:

There comes a time when God says, “I have no more to say to you.”  Isaiah reiterates it, Isaiah 63:10, “They rebelled, they grieved His Holy Spirit: therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy.  He fought against them.”  Jeremiah chapter 11, very similar, a couple of verses, verse 7 and 11, “For I solemnly warned your fathers in the day that I brought them up from the land of Egypt, even to this day, warning persistently saying, ‘Listen to My voice.’ ”  They didn’t.  Verse 11, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘I’m bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them.’ ” 

I pray that none of us ever rejects our Lord, causing God to leave us to our own devices — ultimately, eternal condemnation.

Next time: Luke 20:20-26

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