Luke 20:1-8 – The Authority of Jesus is Challenged (Sep 24th)

Message Notes:


Ask your group members about a time when they have asked a question and someone has responded to them with a question. Did it make them mad, angry, or confused? Or, if your members are parents, ask them about how they try to educate their children. Do they answer every question that is asked, or do they help guide them to the answer through asking as series of questions? In today’s passage, Jesus’ opponents have an easy question to ask him, but he gives them a difficult response. 


Synopsis:  Jesus’ dramatic arrival in Jerusalem provokes the religious leaders to question his credentials, but Jesus turns the question around on them.

As a logical outcome of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, the religious leaders again rejected Him, and conflict arose. Jesus had upset the normal “religious” atmosphere of the temple, which led the religious leaders to question His authority. Luke sought to remind his readers once again of the hostility of official Judaism toward Jesus. This leadership group of chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders has already been encountered in the first passion prediction in Luke 9:22 and in 19:47, where a synonymous term is used. As a result Luke’s readers knew that this group was ultimately responsible for Jesus’ death. They represented official Judaism, for they represented Jerusalem (cf. 13:33–34; 19:14). This reference also prepares the reader for their complicity in the trial (cf. 22:67–68; 23:10). Nevertheless the reader also knows that they were but instruments in God’s sovereign plan.


  • Jesus is now in serious confrontation with the leaders in Jerusalem.
  • When they questioned his authority, he implicitly claims the same divine authority as John the Baptist.


READ Luke 20:1-8 and answer the questions below:

Where was Jesus according to v. 1?

Who came up to talk to him? What did they ask?

How did Jesus respond to them?

What was their response to Jesus’ question? 

What did Jesus say to them as a result? 

The religious leaders asked Jesus where His authority came from. The chief priests were the temple officials; the teachers of the Law, often called “scribes,” were made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees; and the elders may have been laymen who were political leaders. They asked two questions: By what authority was He acting, and who gave Him this authority? (Luke 20:2) The first question dealt with the kind of authority Jesus was using. Was He a prophet, a priest, or a king? No doubt the words doing these things referred to His cleansing the temple. The second question dealt with who was backing Him. Did Jesus believe that He was acting on His own or was He acting for some group?

Jesus responded with a question. He asked them about the authority behind John’s baptism. The religious leaders had disapproved the baptizing work of John, for John had humiliated them and had taken away some allegiance from their religious system (Matt. 3:7–10). Because the crowds venerated John the Baptist, the religious leaders were afraid to deny his authority and therefore refused to answer Jesus’ question (Luke 20:7; cf. 19:48). So Jesus therefore refused to tell … by what authority He had cleansed the temple. The implication was that He was doing His work with the same authority—God in heaven—by which John the Baptist baptized.


Use the information from the text and the commentary notes below to help discern responses to the following questions. 

  • Why do you think the religious leaders in Jerusalem asked Jesus about his power and authority?
  • Why do you think Jesus brought John the Baptist into the conversation? What do you think he had to do with Jesus’ authority?
  • Why do you think Jesus refused to tell them about how source of authority? 

Closely associated with the temple cleansing is the question of Jesus’ opponents concerning his authority to do this. While teaching in the temple, Jesus was challenged by a deputation of chief priests, scribes, and elders about his authority for cleansing the temple, as well as other activities. Jesus responded in this controversy story with a counterquestion about the source of John the Baptist’s authority. Was it from God or not? The opponents were thus placed upon the horns of a dilemma, for if they answered that John’s message came from God, Jesus was likely to say, “Then why did you not repent and be baptized by him?” (literally believe in him). On the other hand if they denied that John was a prophet, then the people, who acknowledged him as such, would be so angry they might stone them. In light of these unacceptable alternatives, Jesus’ opponents refused to answer his question and feigned ignorance. In response to this hypocritical refusal, Jesus declined to answer their question, for any further discussion with them would have been useless.

Cultural/Historical Background

The whole of chapter 20 is set in the court of the Gentiles, a past public area (some 33 acres) surrounding the temple building, which Passover time would be crowded with pilgrims from all over the Jewish world, and in which a teacher could gather a crowd. The chief priests, scribes, and elders (the same three groups Jesus has predicted will reject him in Jerusalem according to 9:22, were the three groups that made up the Sanhedrin, the council of Israel, which was under Roman occupation had been granted authority to regulate local affairs as well as strictly religious responsibilities. The temple area was their power base, and Jesus was infringing on it.


What do you think Luke wanted his audience (as well as us) to know about this exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem? In other words, what can we learn from this passage?

Read Matthew 28:18-20. This passage is the end of the story regarding Jesus’ power and authority. We are we supposed to do based on the truth that Christ is in control?

From where do you seek your authority? In other words, how do you know that what you believe is true? How can you be more focused on proclaiming Christ’s authority in your life to those around you?     


20:1 One day. Compare 19:47. He was teaching … and preaching the gospel. No difference in the content or substance should be seen in these two verbs. For their combination cf. Acts 5:42; 15:35; cf. also Luke 4:15, 18. What Jesus was teaching and preaching is not stated, but Luke would have expected his readers to assume that it was the material found in Luke 4–19 and the subsequent chapters of Luke and Acts. Chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders. Compare 9:22; 22:66. This looks like an official delegation representing the leadership of Israel, i.e., the Sanhedrin. Their purpose in coming is clear from 19:47–48.

20:2 By what authority. This is emphatic. The source of Jesus’ authority is already known to Luke’s readers. He manifested such authority because he is the Son of the Most High (1:32, 35), the Christ (2:11, 26), the Holy One of God (4:34), the Son of Man (5:24), the Son of David (18:38–39), and Israel’s King (19:12, 15, 38). These things. Because of its proximity, the temple cleansing is clearly one of “these things,” but the plural (tauta) includes more. No doubt for Luke’s readers and for these religious leaders this included such things as Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (5:24; 7:49), to heal on the Sabbath (6:6–11; 13:10–17), and to demand total allegiance (9:23–24, 57–62; 14:26). Who gave you this authority? The same question is now worded more pointedly. Together with the previous question, this becomes an example of synonymous parallelism.

20:3 I will also ask you a question. Jesus answered the hostile question with a counterquestion.

20:4 John’s baptism. This reference to John’s baptism includes not just his act of baptizing but his whole ministry and message. From heaven. “From heaven” is a circumlocution for from God. Compare 15:18, 21; John 3:27; Dan 4:26. From men. This asks if John’s ministry had simply a human point of origin, i.e., if it was not from “heaven.” Compare Acts 5:38–39.

20:5 They discussed it among themselves. This is better translated as an ingressive aorist, “They began to discuss this.” The discussion is best understood as a whispering among themselves rather than an unspoken reflection within each of them. Compare Luke 20:14. If we say, “From heaven.” The opponents recognized the first horn of the dilemma. If they answered affirmatively, they faced the charge that they did not believe in John, i.e., did not repent and submit to his baptism. Compare 7:28–30.

20:6 But if we say, “From men.” The second horn of the dilemma is not discussed. This opened them up to the hostility of “all” the people (note the hyperbole) because the people acknowledged John as a true prophet. The reader, of course, knows that John’s authority was “from heaven” (1:76; 7:26, 28–30). Will stone us. This threat of being stoned is unique to Luke. This probably should not be interpreted as an example of hyperbole, for the volatility of the people made something like this quite possible. Another possible interpretation is that by claiming John the Baptist was not a true prophet, the Jewish leadership would have been liable to the penalty for false prophesy—“stoning” (Deut 13:1–11). On the other hand the implication might be that by claiming John the Baptist was not a true prophet, the Jewish leadership would be guilty of false witness and liable to that punishment the falsely accused would have received—in this case stoning as a false prophet. The latter two suggestions probably would have been too subtle for Luke’s readers.

20:7 To avoid the dilemma, Jesus’ opponents claimed ignorance. Even if their claim of ignorance was sincere, this would indicate that they, the religious leadership of Israel, were incompetent to decide such a basic religious issue as whether a man was truly a prophet. Yet it was not ignorance but insincerity and hypocrisy that shaped their answer.

20:8 Neither will I tell you. Discussion with such biased and hostile people was worthless, so Jesus ended the conversation (cf. Luke 22:67–68). Compare Prov 9:7–8a.

Posted in Group Notes, Luke 14, Luke: A Jesus for Everyone