The issue in Mark 11:27ff is one of spiritual authority and leadership. It was close to Passover and Jerusalem was overflowing with pilgrims who had come up for the feast. Jesus and His disciples were there. He had gone into the temple and disrupted the corrupt merchandising that was going on. Israel’s leaders were threatened by His actions as well as His rising popularity and “began looking for a way to kill Him, for they feared Him” (v. 18).
When Christ showed up the next day, the leaders confronted Him. It was clearly their intent to take Him down a notch or two in the eyes of the people. Their reach exceeded their grasp.
Their strategy was simple. Since they were the entrenched spiritual authority and leadership, they would question Jesus’ authority. After all, they hadn’t given Him authority so that made Him a rebel and an insurrectionist—something Rome did not tolerate. They would expose Him for what He was and that would be that. So, they confronted Him and asked, “By what authority are You doing these things? . . . Who gave You the authority to do this?”
There’s deep irony is all of this because the Sanhedrin (the highest court of Jewish law composed of the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders), hadn’t submitted themselves to God’s authority for quite some time. They had become a law to themselves and that’s never a good thing. So, these disobedient, lawless ones were now confronting the sinless Christ concerning His “rebelliousness!”
Jesus brought up John the Baptist—was he a prophet operating under God’s authority or was he just one of the many deluded pretenders who showed up from time to time? The leadership of Israel had not submitted to his baptism (Luke 7:29-30)—even kingdom seekers like Nicodemus has been swayed by their disobedience (see John 3:1ff). Therefore, they couldn’t say he was a prophet of God without indicting themselves. But if they said he wasn’t a prophet, they would have lost face with the people who knew he was.
And with that, the discussion of Jesus’ authority came to a crashing halt before it ever got started. No matter what answer they gave, they would be exposing themselves rather than Jesus.
The whole idea of spiritual authority sounds strange to many today. We are so rooted in individualism—especially in spiritual matters. No one tells us what to do, thank-you. Undoubtedly, some of this is the result of abusive practices a few have perpetrated in the name of Jesus. That’s sad, shameful, and scary. But the abuse of something by a few (be it marriage, parenting, teaching, etc.) doesn’t make it wrong for the rest of us. Spiritual authority and leadership are a critical component of healthy community. It was true in Jesus’ time and it is true in ours as well.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17)