Jesus is again in the temple with his disciples. He is teaching publicly. He had previously cleansed the Temple of the traders and money changers. He explained to the gathered crowd that the Temple is the house of the Father, and place of prayer. He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. People listened to him, admired him and trusted him. He supported own teaching by actions. His listeners felt in their hearts that the one teaching them had great power, and possessed a love that reaches beyond the law, lending credibility to his teaching. The chief priests, scribes and elders of his time listened and waited to ambush him with issues. They asked themselves by what authority he rewrote and interpreted their traditions. They were furious, although they didn’t show it. They politely engaged in dialogue with him, convinced by the teaching and creation of the law, and of the provisions within their remit of action, with Jesus having appeared from nowhere and interrupted their agenda. They asked him direct and open questions, but not with any intention of hearing the truth, but rather to humiliate him before listeners and embarrass him in front of everyone. “By what authority dost thou these things?” (Mk 11:28) Who authorized him to clean the Temple from the traders and money changers, to heal on a Saturday, or to teach people in the Temple? From the first day of appearing in the synagogue until then, Jesus had been under scrutiny, both his actions and his teachings, and always questioned. His teachings were questioned: exorcising evil spirits, raising dead, friendship with tax collectors and prostitutes, innovative and powerful teachings. Before the people they wanted to look well-intentioned, with childlike curiosity; people who expected an honest response to questions that were well thought out in advance. They were convinced that every possible response would compromise him before his listeners; that every possible answer would be a reason for their judgment. Never in their wildest dreams could they have anticipated Jesus’ counter-question: “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?” (Mk 11:29) They immediately realized they had fallen into a trap from which they could not escape with any dignity. A negative response would enrage the people who held John to be a prophet. A positive response would reduce their eminence, because if John was God’s minister, they should have already listened to him and converted.
Jesus recognized John’s role, letting him baptize him, and John revealed to everyone Jesus’ messianic mission. On this occasion in the Jordan river the Holy Spirit descended unto him, and all present heard the Father’s voice: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.” (Matthew 17:5) Thus Heaven itself had sanctified and confirmed his mission.
This was supposed to be the pinnacle of their vindictive actions and endeavors; their desires to get rid of Jesus, and finally end his life on earth, so that they may continue undisturbed holding people in subjection and ignorance, in fear and slavery.