Matthew 21:23-32 Jesus: The Absolute Dictator

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Jesus:  The Absolute Dictator

What right do you have, Jesus, to come to the world and demand that everyone stop what they are doing and take notice?  What gives you the authority to upset the apple cart and our tranquility and give us a new code by which to live?  Who do you think you are?  The Father had spoken to the Jewish people and they promised that they would follow him.  However, they didn’t follow through on what they said.  They developed a religious system that talked about The Father, but not to the Father.  They developed a system that demanded external behavior management but did not demand internal transformation.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were fervently keeping the rules and upholding justice and they rejected you.  The whores and the drunks had heard about the Father but saw him manifest in you.  With nothing to lose, the thieves and liars put themselves under your personal authority and you cleaned them from the inside out.  Although they had initially said no to The Father, they said yes when they saw the Father  in the Son.

Help me to see that my own authority is not so precious.  Help me to see that I can be confident as long as I am a servant of you.  I don’t even write a servant of your ways.  I do not want a code or a rule book, primarily.  I don’t want to modify my behavior and create a better life based on what you have said to do.  I want to know you and serve you and then live a transformed life as an outworking of relationship.

Christian children are trying to live moral lives, but in the assessments that Wheaton Academy has done and I am doing, we find that Christian children have a basic morality that is akin to their Muslim, Buddhist, and Atheist friends.  However, the sound doctrine that should motivate good behavior is missing.  I pray that the children, including my own children, would rediscover your absolute authority.  I think many children in America think that they can elect you or defeat you as leader every four years.

NB:  Although Jesus allows us, in this life, to choose him freely, the consequences of our free choice are absolute.  Although, in our fallen state, we might resent it, Jesus is absolutely right and good and by virtue of that alone has absolute authority.  The right always has authority over the wrong.  This is why we discipline children and tell them that they must do the right thing.  If doing the right and the wrong had equal authority, we would lead them into ambivalence.  In fact, in this postmodern relativistic society we have corroded authority because we do not have the moral absolutes of good and evil or right and wrong.  Many current movies and books have us create our own path by choosing from experience.  But what if one person was The Way?  What if one person was The Good, The Right, The Standard?  If that person exists, then everything should be subjected to him. 

To some this would sound like Hitler or Mussolini.  However, I think that the objection against absolutes authority because Mussolini or Hitler abused absolute authority is mute.  They were wrong.  They were in many ways evil.  The New Atheists are trying to establish authority by proving that they are right and good and that religious belief (especially Islamic) is wrong at best and possibly evil.  They do not have authority because they are wrong.  So, because many people have established authority and have been wrong, we are loathe to give anyone authority.  However, many movies have the hero establish a relationship with a wizened mentor because he is proved to be right.  Luke Skywalker submits himself to the authority of Obi-wan.  The Fellowship of The Ring submit themselves to the authority of Gandalf.  The apprentice acknowledges that their perspective is limited and ceases to trust in their own understanding.  They submit their way to the more perceptive master who is able to teach them wise lessons from their years.  Jesus is the master with the infinite perspective.  He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  Surely, we should bring ourselves under his tutelage and hang on his every word.  Will you bow the knee to the ironic authority of the skepticism of our age, or will you bow the knee to the enduring absolute of the ages?


  1. What question did the leaders ask Jesus in Matthew 21:23?
  2. How does Jesus reply link him and John?
  3. How are the two sons like those asking the questions and those who follow Jesus?
  4. Why does Jesus have the right to be the absolute authority?
  5. What prevents people from bringing their lives under his absolute dictatorship?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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