I will also ask you one thing, and answer me: The baptism of John; was it from heaven or of men? (Luke 20:3 & 4)
Was the baptism of John from heaven, or of men?
Interesting question. Was John the baptist a prophet? Was he sent from God, or was his ministry ‘of men’?
The context of this question is a showdown between Christ and the Pharisees; Jesus had entered Jerusalem in the official capacity as its Messiah. He had ridden into the city on an unbroken colt fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah, many who were present honored, and worshipped Him as the Messiah as He came. He had entered the temple and cast out the merchants and money changers, allowing no business to be conducted while he was there.
The Pharisees, enraged at His acting the role of Messiah under their gaze approached Him as He taught in the temple, and demanded to know who had given Him authority to behave this way (it certainly wasn’t them!).
The Sanhedrin was the organizational structure of the Jewish religion in charge over the whole of Israel. They had been instituted by God under the ministry of Moses (see Numbers 11)!
Who was this fellow acting as the Lord of Israel, and who gave Him this authority in the sight of their ultimate authority?
They had Him now! How coukf He answer this question? If He had the hubris to declare outright declare Himself Messiah, they could stone Him for blasphemy. If He admitted He had no one had ordained Him, it would prove to the people that they were the rightful authority.
So Jesus puts a question to them: John the Baptist – where did his authority come from?
John, as everyone knew, was a righteous man whatever else he was. So righteous, in fact that he had been put to death for calling out the King’s scandals and calling him to repent. They were heinous sins which everyone knew about but which the priesthood had conveniently turned a blind eye to. John had been willing to lay down his life to call the king to repentance. He was a godly martyr.
But was his ministry from heaven? Or was it ‘of men’?
What does this phrase: ‘of men’ mean exactly?
Had John been ordained by the Sanhedrin? Had they given him ‘authority’ with their organization to call people to repentance? To baptize? Had the Romans sent him? The Herodians? Was there some earthly organization that John submitted to?
Or was his ministry ordained by God?
Well… that’s a bit of a pickle for the Pharisees, isn’t it? If John was a godly man (which all the Jews agreed he was), and operated like a priest without being appointed by men… then the ‘authority’ of their organization meant nothing, didn’t it? Only authority which came directly from God mattered in that case.
Really though, it wasn’t QUITE as simple as that, either. John had called the Sanhedrin a brood of snakes, and called on them to repent as well (Matt. 3:7-12). Not only was John not appointed, ordained, or sent by any man, John had also de-legitimized their authority with his message.
According to John, the Sanhedrin was abusing their authority (if they still had any), and their heritage: from Abraham the patriarch, to Levi (the priesthood) would not save them, but in fact that they would be cut off and cast into the fire except they repented and believed in Jesus Christ. John didn’t justify their purported spiritual authority by preaching in the temple; he was a voice crying in the wilderness.
I will also ask you one thing, and answer me: The baptism of John; was it from heaven or of men?
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘from heaven;’ He will say, ‘Why then believed ye him not?’ But, and if we say, ‘Of men;’ all the people will stone us, for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.'”
And they answered that they could not tell whence it was.
And Jesus said unto them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:5-8)
Jesus was not alloted authority by the Sanhedrin (indeed, in the end they would kill Him, for they sought to maintain their control), nor by any man. John the Baptist, His forrunner was given authority by no man.
The institutions, and organizations of man to hold and maintain authority, but their authority is granted by the people on the basis of consensus. Just as the Pharisees knew that their own authority would be lost immediately, and that thepeople would turn on them as a mob and stone them, they understood that their authority was only in place by the concensus of men.
This shows an interesting contrast with John, who preached the message of repentance DESPITE the fact that it offended people unto violence. DESPITE the fact that he would be killed for it.
They sought to maintain control, and balked at declaring a message which may cost them their reputation, and their life. Was their authority from God, or ‘of men’?
What Christ teaches us here (among other things) is that True authority is derived from God, alone. They say: How dare Jesus ride in as Messiah, He taught: how dare THEY act like they have authority over the vineyard of God, when their position is held in place not by God, but by public opinion.
Has God called you to do something? Then He has given you the authority to do it.
Just as in the days of Christ the fear of man inhabits many, many churches. We can look to our history and justify our own organization as initially instituted by God (just as the Sanhedrin could), but what we need is authority which comes only from God. Organizations we have in abundance; concensus doctrine and theologies galore… where is the voice crying out in the wilderness?
The baptism of John; was it from heaven or of men?