We often do not think of Jesus as brilliant; a man with a very sharp mind. But he was. (I am indebted to Dallas Willard who brought this trait of Jesus to the church’s attention.)
After Jesus condemns the Temple (see “Jesus goes postal” below), the representatives of the Sanhedrin confront Jesus, asking him by what authority he did the radical things he did…like ransacking the Temple precincts. With this question, Israel’s ‘Supreme Court’ hopes to trap Jesus. If Jesus says, “I’m acting on my own,” he is in trouble. If Jesus says, “I’m acting because God gave me authority,” he’s still in trouble. He can’t be acting as a maverick and he cannot say he’s acting as Messiah. How will Jesus answer these powerful ones who are in charge of the Temple and its activities? Jesus’ brilliance comes into play.
Banking his reputation, even his life on just one question, Jesus asks it. “The baptism of John–was it from heaven or from men?” Amazingly intelligent. Jesus in effect says, “I’ll rest my future in your hands by giving you an answer to your question if you will give me an answer to my one question.” One question is all that stood between Jesus and his arrest by the Temple authorities. One question. How confident is he?
The religious Court mulls Jesus’ question over, and realizing that he has them trapped(!), answers, “We don’t know.” What?! The Sanhedrin can’t reach a decision on the legitimacy of John the Baptist?! That’s their job. That’s one of the reasons they exist. John the Baptist was a national phenomenon (see Mark 1:4-5). The Sanhedrin was commissioned to investigate charlatans, fakes, leaders-of-the-people-astray, and they can’t answer Jesus about John the Baptist. Talk about egg on their faces. Who are these dumbos?
So, Jesus doesn’t answer the Sanhedrin’s question on their terms and under their pressure. He does however answer them on his terms and with his story…the parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1-12).
Why did Jesus stare down Israel’s Supreme Court? Why would he risk his future on their answer to his question?
He did it to liberate the Temple, dare I say God, from the confines of Israel’s “me only” religion. Jesus declared that the Temple and all it stood for was over. Finished. A ‘new temple’ was present: Jesus. His temple would, indeed, be a place of prayer/worship for all nations. That includes the impaired, the women, the Gentiles, the tax-collectors, the lepers, the marginalized of every nation in every age. There is no respect of persons with the Living God.
Jesus was kind; he was sacrificial; he was good. Jesus was also very, very smart.
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