By What Authority Are You Doing These Things?

by Heath Rogers

"Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ˜By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?'" (Matthew 21:23).

A study of authority in religious matters is very important. It lies at the center of everything we believe, teach, and practice as individual Christians and collectively as a local church. Every religious question is fundamentally a question of authority. However, there are many religious-minded people who never stop to consider the question of authority and its application to their beliefs and practices.

Authority is "the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action, or make final decisions" [Webster's New World Dictionary, page 94]. Authority has to do with jurisdiction. It is the right to tell others what to do, expect them to do it, and punish them if they don't.

The chief priests and elders who confronted Jesus were asking a legitimate question. Jesus had caused a great disturbance in the temple. He had overturned tables where men were conducting business and drove people out of the temple (Matthew 21:12). These things were being done with the approval of the Jewish leaders. What right did Jesus have to disrupt these practices and remove them from the temple?

Although some may not like the idea of one having power over them, we realize there is a need for authority in different areas of our lives. We need legitimate standards of authority in society. Someone must set forth laws of conduct, and someone must enforce these laws. Otherwise, we would struggle to exist in a "law of the jungle" environment where the strongest impose their will by force. We need standards of authority in schools. Otherwise, no education can take place. We need standards of authority in the workplace and the home. Without recognition and respect for authority, we have chaos.

This need for authority must be applied to religious matters as well.

"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor" (Psalms 8:3-5). As a man contemplates the creation around him, he realizes there is a Creator more powerful than himself. The authority of this Creator is implied in the opening verse of the Bible. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). All authority belongs to God by right of creation. We must recognize and respect this authority. "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ˜Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay?" (Romans 9:20-21).

The question asked of Jesus by the chief priests and elders could be asked of us regarding our practices as well. By what authority are we doing the things we are doing, and who gave us the right to do these things?

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