Author’s Note: It’s been said that familiarity breeds unsuspecting unfamiliarity. This series is meant to help your God-given imagination to see things that might feel familiar, but perhaps can be new again: the true events of the last week before Jesus’ death. These posts are adapted from a sermon, and were written with two texts for study: the Gospel accounts and The Final Days of Jesus by Köstenberger and Taylor.
Jesus is back in the Temple and the religious leaders have a plan—it’s time to trip Jesus up in front of the crowd. Their goal is to discredit Him, shame Him or quiet Him. It’s time to show the people who’s really in charge.
As Jesus walked into the Temple, “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”’ (Mark 11:27–28)
“Tell us Jesus, who do you think you are? We are the ones with authority here in the Temple—we are the high priests.”
Jesus responds: “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
In hushed tones they said to one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”— they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:29–33)
Got’em. You can see it—they were afraid of the people, so they punted. This is happening in real time in public because they want an audience. They want to get the crowd back, but it’s not working, and now everybody is paying attention.
Jesus leans in with three parables, all pointed at the priests, scribes and Pharisees—and they aren’t subtle. He brings the parables of the two sons, the tenants and the wedding feast. They’re each a sermon in themselves, so hear this—they all point to the religious leaders as unbelieving, treacherous, disobedient and outside of the kingdom. Jesus is exposing their hypocrisy and pronouncing judgement just as publicly as they questioned His authority.
Can you imagine the crowd at that point? What level of shaming, jeering, disdain or shock do you hear in the air? Or was it just awkward silence and hard stares?
What color is the rage in the hearts of the priests? They can’t find a good way to arrest Jesus without inciting a riot. They are afraid of the mob but they want the hearts of the people. They’re stuck. They keep trying to trick Him into incriminating or discrediting Himself. There are legal and theological questions put before Him, all tricks with the end goal of Roman arrest or religious heresy.
Jesus answers them all perfectly. He answers with the wisdom of God and leaves them speechless, some of them awed, but most doubling down with resentment and anger.
At this point, Jesus seems ready to be done with it. He leans in again with His own question:
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:42–46)
With the priests and Pharisees silenced, Jesus lets them have it in front of the crowd.
He spends 36 verses, which takes just under five minutes to speak out loud, putting them on blast. He pronounces seven woes with specific accusations about their character, sin and condemnation. And He does it in the temple, in front of the crowd, to their faces.
Jesus, talking to the priests, scribes and Pharisees in front of the crowd and His disciples, makes statements like this:
“Woe to you, for you tie up heavy burdens on people’s shoulders, but you won’t bear them.
Woe to you, hypocrites, you shut the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.
Woe to you, who appear clean on the outside, inside full of greed and self indulgence.
Woe to you, who are like a tomb, white washed, respectable—and full of dead men’s bones.
Woe to you, snakes. How are you going to escape being sentenced to hell?”
Jesus isn’t playing anymore. He didn’t come to align Himself with the priests and Pharisees. There are no more veiled statements or subtle parables—they’ve poked enough for today, and the day is ending with everyone clear about where Jesus stands: the old way of life in the temple is over, and the priests, scribes and Pharisees were just put on notice that their time is up.
What do you feel, standing in the crowd? After hearing Jesus say all that to these so-called Holy Men? How tense is that room?
And what would you feel if you were the priests and Pharisees? You can’t even get a word in. You just want this guy to shut up and go back to the sticks. Now He’s in your face in front of everyone and He’s reading your mail. Every shame you hide, every sin you minimize or justify, and He’s dropping truth bombs all over your self-made kingdom.
They feel threatened. Cornered. Insulted. Red faces, tight jaws. Some of them are confused, some near to truth, but all of them are blind. And they don’t like feeling like this. They’re not used to feeling like this.
That evening, Jesus heads home with His disciples. And while they walk back to Bethany, a group of men stay in town, meet up in the dark of night, behind locked doors, and start talking.
You know this kind of talk. The airing of complaints, of frustration, of mounting anger and wounded pride. Air swirling with “How dare He? Who does He think He is? Doesn’t He know who I am, who we are? Someone needs to shut Him up. Did you see the way the crowd looked at Him? The way they looked at us. This is getting out of hand.”
And then a plan comes together. A plan to make Him be quiet, to make an example of Him and to teach the crowd who to follow.
They can’t arrest Jesus with everyone in town, it’d be too risky. He’s too popular. The quickest they could do it is after dinner on Thursday. The Passover meal will be over, and people will be sleeping off dinner or leaving town to get out ahead of the traffic. With the crowds lessening, under the cover of darkness, they can put things into motion that will make Him pay.