Jesus, John, and the Pharisees


Why were the Jewish leaders afraid to say what they thought about Jesus? Why were the Pharisees so concerned with what the crowd thought?

Mark 11:20-33


It was no coincidence that Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree (11:12-14, 20-22) took place on His way to meet the Sadducees and Pharisees. This living parable set the stage for the confrontation to come. In the tense debates with these religious leaders, Jesus would amplify the truths He introduced under the fig tree’s barren branches.

When Jesus arrives in the temple, it does not take long for the religious leaders to approach Him with a challenge, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do them?” (11:28) This was not the first time Jesus had been asked this question, and His response is not an evasion of the issue but a way of getting to its heart. “Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you a question; answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men? Answer Me”’ (vv. 29-30).

That put the challenge where it belonged—with the religious rulers, that they might finally deal with questions they had publicly avoided for years. Despite John’s and Jesus’ forceful intrusions into their spiritual domain, the rulers had yet to state whether they believed these men to be from God. If we need proof of the myopia and spinelessness of their spiritual leadership, surely this will suffice!

Jesus is urging the leaders to a decision, but once more they back away. “And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “From men”?’—they were afraid of the people, for all held that John was a real prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know”’ (vv 31-33).

If the rulers had been willing to acknowledge where John came from, they would not have had any trouble acknowledging Jesus. But if they refused the voice crying in the wilderness, they would refuse the greater voice crying in the temple. Jesus’ answer—“Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v. 33)—reveals His awareness of their insincerity. He knew the scheming and posturing that characterized every word they spoke and the self–serving motives that guided every move they made.


  • Why were the Jewish leaders afraid to say what they thought about Jesus?
  • Why were the Pharisees so concerned with what the people thought?
  • How did Jesus “intrude” on the Pharisees “spiritual domain”? Was Christ wrong in doing this? Why?

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