“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)
The priests had been authorized by God to lead and direct the matters of the Jewish temple. The elders of the Jews were regarded as the authorized leaders of the Jewish community. These two groups, which clearly had authority to perform their various religious tasks, now approach the man Jesus who the day before had authoritatively entered the temple and overturned the tables of money changers as well as the seats of the pigeon-sellers. As they now approach Him the day after He “cleansed” the Temple He acts as though the temple belongs to Him, and in the Temple He now teaches with unequaled authority.
These authorized leaders now approach Jesus with the question, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? They ignore the fact that from His baptism onward Jesus had been conveying the source of His authority. Many thus realized Him to be the Christ, the Son of God, and that from these two “positions” Jesus possessed authority never seen before. As the Christ, the Son of God, He had authority in and over the Temple. But what had the Christ, the Son of God been given special authority to accomplish? Was His authority only given so He would “clean up” the Temple both with His actions and with His teaching?
When He first cleansed the Temple at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus actually conveyed what He had been given authority to accomplish: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (Jn 2:19). In this veiled statement He was describing His death and resurrection. Later, when Jesus spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd, He specifically used the word “authority” to describe His central work: I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (John 10:17,18). In this statement Jesus explains how He had been given the charge and the authority by His Father to lay His life down and then to take it up again.
Forty days after completing His authorized work to die and rise again, Jesus explains His omni-authority in His final “commission” spoken to His Apostles: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Mt 28:19). Truly after His resurrection, having entered His State of Exaltation, the man Jesus has been given the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow. As a man He now fully uses the omni-authority He always possessed as the Son of God.
And what does this man with infinite authority do? He uses this authority to institute Christian Baptism. We should all the more appreciate and treasure what Baptism is, for Christ now identifies Baptism as primary in relation to what He has been authorized to accomplish and create. Looking at what led up to Christ’s institution of Holy Baptism we should not be surprised at the importance of Christian Baptism, for John was authorized to baptize, performing this pre-sacrament as preparatory for Holy Baptism. And Christ’s very death and resurrection—the primary action Christ was authorized to perform—accomplishes salvation and this salvation is foundational to and miraculously conveyed in this wondrous washing. The Apostles’ writings explain much more about this Christ-empowered Sacrament. Indeed, as Jesus explains in this “Great Commission”, disciples are made through Holy Baptism.
Those who doubt the power and deep meaning in the Baptism performed by pastors may ask, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? Answer: The omni-authority of the crucified and risen Christ has authorized these things to be so.