Mark 11:27-33 – The Riddle of Jesus’ Authority


Mark 11:27-33


The chief Jewish authorities try to make Jesus justify himself, but he cleverly evades their questions with a question of his own.


In light of the radical nature of Jesus’ rejection of the practice of buying and selling in the Temple (see Mark 11:12-25 The Sign of the Fig Tree and Business in the Temple Courtyard), it comes as no surprise that the Jerusalem authorities confront him. The group that questions him consists of three groups related to the Temple: the chief priests, who ran the Temple sacrifice; the scribes, who were trained in writing and Jewish legal interpretation; and the elders, who were keepers of Jewish tradition. These three groups were in charge of the Temple and the religious practices associated with it, and so they had the authority to decide whether things like buying, selling or moneychanging were allowed in the Temple courtyard. Their source of authority is clear; the source of Jesus’ is hidden. Jesus’ actions directly challenge the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and so they return the challenge by asking him to clarify why he believes that he has the right to do what he has done.

Jesus’ response reveals a new aspect of his identity. Previously he had shown himself to be part of the prophetic tradition, a teacher and a miracle worker. As messiah, Jesus entered into the role of the strong man who freed people from Satan and from disease and death. In Jerusalem, Jesus plays the “trickster” for the first time. Rather than meeting the challenges to his authority directly, he dodges with cleverness. The question that he poses for his challengers paralyzes them and allows Jesus to depart without laying his cards on the table.