By What Authority Are You Doing These Things?

Matthew 21:19b-43; Mark 11:20 to 12:12; Luke 20:1-19

Tuesday the twelfth of Nisan

DIG: How did Yeshua use the withered fig tree as a teachable moment for the twelve apostles? What details of prayer did the Master give His talmidim? Why did the leaders of pharisaic Judaism challenge Christ’s authority to teach? How did they view His theological training? In reality, what training had Jesus actually received? From Whom? Why did the Lord bring up John the Baptist? Why was that a problem for the religious leaders? What was the Meshiach trying to say in the story of the two sons? What is the one main point in the parable of the rebellious tenants?

REFLECT: Our spiritual actions speak louder than our words. How does YHVH look at you today? Are you a tenant of the LORD’s vineyard? Do you have Yeshua as the cornerstone of your personal faith in God? Are you producing the kind of fruit that is pleasing to the landowner, our Father in heaven? Have you been wearing the wedding clothes of salvation that He offers to all?

The cleansing of the Temple challenged the Sanhedrin (see Lg – The Great Sanhedrin) who had certainly authorized the money changing and the sale of sacrificial animals. So what right did the maverick Rabbi have to challenge their decree? Jesus was either superior to the Sanhedrin or He was a rebel who would be sentenced to death. As a result, Tuesday was the main day of examination and led to a confrontation in the Court of the Gentiles.

Singing at the Temple: From the Talmud Tractate tamid we know exactly which Psalm would have been sung on which day of the week in connection with the daily burnt offering in the Temple. It is surprising how closely each of the Psalms coincides with the singing of these daily readings. It was on this day, of all days, that the Levitical choir sang Psalm 82 in the Temple on the occasion of the daily burnt offering. In this Psalm the judges of Isra’el were called to put an end to their injustice, since they themselves would then fall under divine judgment. The Levitical choir, with instrumental consort from the Temple orchestra [Levitical Musicians at the Nicanor Gate] sang:

Elohim stands in the divine assembly; there with the judges, He judges. “How long will you go on judging unfairly, favoring the wicked? Give justice to the weak and fatherless! Uphold the rights of the wretched and poor! Uphold the rights of the wretched and poor! Rescue the destitute and needy; deliver them from the power of the wicked!” They don’t know, they don’t understand, they wander about in darkness; meanwhile, all the foundations of the earth are being undermined. This is My decree, “You are judges, sons of the Most High all of you. Nevertheless, you will die like mortals; like any prince, you will fall.” Rise up, Elohim, and judge the earth; for all the nations are Yours (Psalm 82:1-8 CJB).1273

On Monday, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had no buds on it and used His action as a teachable moment for His talmidim. It was a perfect symbol of Isra’el, full of promise but producing nothing (see Iu – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree). Now as they went along on Tuesday morning the twelfth of Nisan the apostles saw the fig tree withered from the roots and they were amazed. Peter remembered what had happened the previous day and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered! How did the fig tree wither so quickly (Mattityahu 21:20; Mark 11:20)?

Christ used the incident not only as a prophetic picture of national Isra’el but also as a lesson in personal faith. He replied: Yes! I tell you that whoever does not doubt in his heart but trusts that what God says will happen can say to this mountain, “Go and throw yourself into the sea!” and it will be done (Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:22-23 CJB). A mountain in the Scriptures represents a kingdom or an empire. This was a powerful visual lesson as they stood on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Dead Sea to the west. Anything is possible with ADONAI in the picture.

Yeshua affirms the omnipotence of the LORD and the power of prayer when He promised: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Don’t reduce this grand statement to the category of new cars and paychecks. Don’t limit the promise of this passage to the selfish pool of perks and favors. The fruit ADONAI assures is far greater than earthly wealth. His dreams are much greater than promotions and proposals.

Jesus wants you to fly. He wants you to fly free of yesterday’s guilt. He wants you to fly free of today’s fears. He wants you to fly free of tomorrow’s grave. Sin, fear, death. These are the mountains He has moved. These are the prayers He will answer. That is the fruit He will grant. This is what He longs to do.1274

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mt 21:21; Mk 11:24-25). This is a tremendous promise and truth but it must also be tempered with what God says about the details of prayer. ADONAI cannot sin and will not endorse any activity that breaks the laws of His moral universe (James 1:12-16). But on the other hand, we are told by YHVH that we will receive such answers to prayer when we ask for things according to His will and not necessarily based on our own desires (First John 5:14-15).

Therefore, Christ was clearly giving a practical picture of first-century Isra’el as well as a teaching on the power of prayer. For the record, there is no mention of the Twelve or Jesus Himself ever moving a literal mountain. There are similar expressions used in the Talmudic literature to teach similar truths. The rooting up of mountains is a phrase used to describe something impossible (Tractate Sanhedrin 24a and also Mattityahu 17:20). Consequently, we must see Yeshua’s statement as a common form of rabbinic hyperbole to express an important point.

There are many mountainous challenges that face all of us at different times, yet with ADONAI’s presence in our lives, there is power for change and victory. The apostles took careful note of the implications. We, too, can see amazing answers to our prayers when they are aligned with the will of God through Jesus Christ.1275

After this teaching, Jesus walked straight to the Temple. It had been three years since He had turned over the tables of the moneychangers (see Bs – Jesus’ First Cleansing of the Temple at the Passover), and He did it again the previous day (see Iv – Jesus Entered the Temple Area and Drove Out All Who Were Buying and Selling). Only this time the Meshiach didn’t need a whip fashioned out of cords, and He is no longer an unknown rabbi.

While many in Isra’el welcomed Jesus during His entrance into Yerushalayim, it is clear that many were still not convinced. The controversy continued to build as some of the religious leaders in the City of David continued to question the Messiah in the second stage of interrogation. In their system, teaching required previous rabbinic authorization. Jesus had no formal rabbinic training; however, God taught Him (see my commentary on Isaiah Ir – Because the Sovereign LORD Helps Me, I Will Set My Face Like a Flint).

It was a day of confrontation and heated discussion. After the dramatic cleansing of the Temple the previous day it was not surprising that the religious leaders confronted the troublemaking Rabbi again. They arrived again in Jerusalem and for the moment Christ ignored the moneychangers and the men selling doves. Jesus entered the Temple courts and selected a spot under the shaded awnings of Solomon’s Colonnade [Solomon’s Colonnade] and begins to teach. But while Jesus was teaching the people and proclaiming the Good News, the foremost teachers of the Great Sanhedrin, immediately interrupted Him and asked: Tell us by what authority you are doing these things? This did not happen by accident. Their united plan was probably agreed upon during the previous night.

The interrogators who stood before the Rabbi from Nazareth were not merely common pharisaic leaders, but the judges of Isra’el, the leading religious minds in the nation. Their goal was to use their intellectual skill to make Jesus appear foolish. Another asked: Who gave you the authority to do this (Mattityahu 21:23; Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1-2)?

It has long been a common practice within Judaism that one must have some kind of rabbinic ordination to establish one’s religious authority. It was never enough to merely quote one’s own views. A qualified teacher would need to substantiate his opinion with reference to other scholars who hold such a view as well. The Hebrew word for authority means to connect or draw close; therefore, the ordination ceremony of kings, priests and rabbis was symbolized by the laying on of hands, connecting other leaders by affirming the call to duty of the newly ordained. These questions by the religious leaders implied that Yeshua was unqualified to teach because He taught in a manner different than all the other rabbis. It was, however, not only the content of His teaching, but also His manner of speaking with authority on theological issues that would normally need the affirmation of other rabbis that infuriated them (Matthew 7:28-29).1276 You would have thought that by this time anyone witnessing Messiah’s miracles would have been convinced of His messiahship, but unbelief never has enough proof.

Yeshua’s response comes, again in classic Jewish form, by answering their question with a question of His own. If they answered His question sincerely, He would be more than happy to reciprocate. Jesus took them back to the ministry of John the Immerser and his baptism of repentance. He replied: I will also ask you a question. The religious leaders had probably spoken with the Pharisees who had traveled to Galilee the previous year and they considered Jesus merely clever. But they think the Nazarene uneducated, unread and hope to lure Him into a theological trap.

Answer Me, said Jesus, and I will tell you by what authority I AM doing these things. John’s baptism - was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell Me (Matt 21:24-25; Mark 11:29-30; Luke 20:3-4)! These were the supposed experts on the Torah, the best educated in the entire nation of Isra’el. Surely they would have no trouble answering Him. In modern terminology, He put them on the spot. Now they were stuck! They began discussing it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet” (Matthew 21:26; Mark 11:31-32; Luke 20:5-6). Check mate. Jesus remained silent. The religious big-shots hadn’t given Him an answer yet and the crowd knew it. It was becoming clear that they were no different from the Pharisees who unsuccessfully tried to trap Messiah in Galilee. Once again they are on the defensive. Their trap failed miserably.1277

After pondering the consequences, the phony Pharisees answered Yeshua by simply professing ignorance to save face: We don’t know where it was from. In response, Jesus said: Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things (Matthew 21:27; Mark 11:33; Luke 20:7-8). Since they were unwilling to take a stand one way or another, Yeshua responded that He didn’t need to tell them the answer to their question either.

One would think the unresolved question about Christ’s rabbinic authority would have ended the confrontation with the Temple leadership. But Jesus continued to challenge the members of the Sanhedrin by telling two parables that gave an insight into spiritual truth. Then He began to speak to them in parables, saying: What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” “I will not,” he answered, but later, to his credit, he changed his mind and went. There is a clear spiritual allusion here. The phrase later changed his mind is the same as the common word for repentance (Hebrew: shuwb). Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but his words did not match up to his actions and he did not go into the vineyard. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered (Mt 21:28-31a). It was clear to the chief priests, Torah-teachers and elders that the first son was the one who pleased his father. Although he had started reluctantly, he ultimately responded with obedience. Jesus affirmed that their answer was correct, but He surprised them with a direct application to His previous question about John.

The Jewish leadership, hostile towards the Galilean Rabbi, was like the second son who said: I will, but thought “No.” Many Israelites who had lived in the mire of sin repented during this period. They were like the first son who said, “No,” but afterwards thought, “Yes.” Yeshua said to them: Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For Yochanan the Forerunner came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did (Matthew 21:31b-32a).

The door of repentance is always open, but Christ had a somber warning for the religious leaders. They were in danger of judgment because even after they saw the mercy of Ha’Shem they did not repent and believe John’s testimony that Yeshua was the Messiah (Mt 21:32b). Sinners would enter the kingdom of God, while the apostate religious leaders will not. Obedience will reveal those who are heirs to the Kingdom (First Samuel 15:22). The gates of repentance are always open, yet God is the final Gatekeeper. So according to this parable, it is not so much where we start, but how we finish.1278

The crowd was in awe and the religious rulers were stunned into silence.

Without even letting the apostate leaders pause to catch their spiritual breath, Yeshua told another parable with authority, saying: Now listen to the parable of the rebellious tenants. There was a farmer who planted a vineyard. The Jewish leadership knew that the vineyard represented Isra’el from Isaiah 5:7 where the owner of the vineyard was God the Father, the vineyard is Isra’el, and the tenants were the Pharisees.

Here, the farmer put a wall around the vineyard, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. The wall and the tower were important for protection, and the winepress for harvesting the crop. Then he rented it to tenants, delegating the responsibilities of his vineyard to them, and then went away on a long journey. When the harvest-time came, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the crop. This would normally be a simple transaction as part of the agreement between the landowner and the tenant. But, in a major twist in the story, the tenants rebelled and seized his servants – this one they beat up, that one they killed, another they stoned (Matthew 21:33-35 CJB; Mark 12:1-3 CJB; Luke 20:9-10 CJB). The first servants represent the prophets in the pre-exile period (Second Chronicles 36:14-16).

It’s not like this kind of dispute had never been heard of before. The Talmud addresses a similar case where some tenants could actually claim ownership of a property if they could prove their undisputed possession of it for three years (Tractate Bava Batra 3:1). In this parable it is clear that the tenants were attempting to take the vineyard away from the farmer and his servants.

Then the farmer sent other servants to them, more than the first group, and they killed them – some they beat up, others they killed (Mattityahu 21:36 CJB; Mark 12:4 CJB; Luke 20:11 CJB). The second servant represents the prophets in the post-exile period. They treated the second group of servants as shamefully as the first.

Yet the farmer sent [another]; this one they [also killed] (Luke 20:12 CJB). The third servant represents John the Baptist.

The Jewish leadership had killed the prophets, now they would kill the Son. He still had one person left, a son whom he loved; finally, taking extreme measures, the farmer sent him to them, saying, “I will send My beloved son, surely they will feel shame before (Greek: entrapesontai) him” (Matthew 21:37; Mark 12:5-6; Luke 20:13). The hope was not that the tenants might treat his son kindly, but rather in his presence they might feel ashamed of what they had done and give up their rebellious acts. Any other result was inconceivable to him. All of which goes to show the depth of human depravity and what lengths it will go to hold on to its sin. In using the words a son whom he loved, our Lord may have had in mind the words of the Father at His baptism: You are My Son, whom I love; with You I AM well pleased (Mark 1:11b).

But when the shameless tenants saw the son, they said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him (Mattityahu 21:38-39 CJB; Mark 12:7-8 CJB; Luke 20:15a CJB). Apparently the murderous group was still conscious of the Torah in the midst of their crime, as they remembered the commandment not to desecrate the land with death. So they attacked the son outside of the borders of the property – and then they killed him (Tractate Oholot 2.1)!1279

Building to the climax of the parable, Jesus asked the penetrating question: Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They answered Him, and said that the farmer would destroy those tenants and rent out the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop when its due. When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid” (Matthew 21:40-41 CJB; Mark 12:9 CJB; Luke 20:15-16 CJB)! Their answer was self-incriminating because it revealed their own spiritual blindness.

Isra’el and her spiritual leaders were called to be God’s special vineyard (see my commentary on Isaiah Ba – The Song of the Vineyard). In the commonly known Isaiah parable, ADONAI is said to have checked on His vineyard (Isra’el) expecting a good crop of grapes (like justice), but it yielded only bad fruit (like bloodshed and distress). But Yeshua’s parable added a new wrinkle. The original tenants were either beat up, killed, or stoned, and the vineyard subsequently rented out to other tenants. As the evil tenants considered the meaning of His conclusion, Jesus emphasized that the rejection by the original tenants should have had a familiar ring to them.

Yeshua looked directly at the chief priests, the Torah-teachers, together with the elders and said to them, “Have you never read in the TaNaKh: The very rock which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This has come from ADONAI, and in our eyes it is amazing (Psalm 118:22-23 CJB; Mt 21:42 CJB; Mk 12:10-11 CJB; Lk 20:17 CJB; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4 and 7). Once again, as in the earlier part of this chapter, the quote was from the Hallel chanted at the major festivals. This had national and individual application for Isra’el. In particular, Yeshua focuses on the apostate religious leaders (the builders of Judaism) who ironically rejected the very cornerstone of their faith (Yeshua as King Messiah). One can only imagine the ridiculous thought of the Holy Temple trying to stand without the very cornerstone of the foundation. No way Moshe!

Whoever falls on that stone, Yeshua, will be broken to pieces, his pride will be done away with, and in his humiliation he may recognize his sin and need for forgiveness, so that he repents. But if he persists in his own way, apart from God, and the stone falls on him, he will be crushed to powder, totally destroyed (Mattityahu 21:44 CJB; Luke 20:18 CJB).1280 The Messiah will be a point of contention between the Jews who believe and those who do not. That specific Jewish generation was crushed in 70 AD.

Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God (the vineyard) will be taken away from you (the current leaders) and given to the kind of people that will produce good fruit (Matthew 21:43 CJB). Covenant, or Replacement Theology, teaches that God took the Kingdom away from the Jews and gave it to the Gentile Church. Obviously, that is not what is taught here by the Scriptures. There are too many verses affirming that while Isra’el may be largely in unbelief regarding Messiah, His Covenant promises are secure (Jeremiah 21:31-36; Romans 11:1-5, 25-29). Rather, He is warning that Jewish leaders who do not look out for God’s interests will be deprived of sharing in His rulership; and this task, with its rewards, will fall to a different Jewish generation at the end of the Great Tribulation (see my commentary on Revelation Ev – The Basis for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ).1281 Therefore, the message is not replacing Isra’el here, but a postponement of the fulfillment until all Isra’el is saved (Romans 11:26) and ready to receive the true King Messiah. The one main point of the parable of the rebellious tenants is that the Kingdom was being taken away from that specific Jewish generation, but it would be given back at a future time when all Isra’el demonstrates true repentance.

 

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