1. This text is paralleled at Mk. 11:27-33 and Lk. 20:1-8. It happened on Jesus's last full working day, Tuesday of Holy Week. It has been called the most crowded day of His life.
2. While Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple He was approached by members of the Sanhedrin, the chief religious council of the Jews. There were chief priests, scribes and elders. They had the right and responsibility to protect the religious life of the Jews. But, on this occasion, they misused their privilege for an evil reason. This incident is similar to the time (Jn. 1:19) they inquired of the Baptist: "Who are you?"
3. They ask two questions which have the word "authority" in common. The words "these things" in the first question refer to His entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1-11), cleansing the Temple (vss. 12-13), healing the people (vs. 14) and teaching the people (vs. 23).
4. Jesus had answered both of these questions for the last three years. His miracles proved that He was the Son of God. His Words had proved to the people that His Father had sent Him to save mankind. The Jewish officials knew the answers to these questions. They meant only evil.
5. They asked Jesus two questions. He asked them only one in return. Jesus was laying a trap for His enemies. It is a principle in the OT that evil men become victims of the traps which they set for others. See Prov. 28:10; 26:27; Ps. 7:15.16; 94:23; Dan. 6:24; Esther 7:10.
6. By the term "baptism of John" Jesus meant the entire theology of John the Baptist, namely his teaching and his baptism. John preached repentance and forgiveness of sins just as Jesus did. John preached the Gospel just as Jesus did. John's baptism forgave the people's sins. John's theology and baptism were the same as that of Jesus. They stood or fell together.
7. "From heaven" means "divine". "From men" means "not divine". The Jewish authorities knew the answer to Jesus' question. But they had rejected John before Jesus came. Read Jn. 1:19-28. The testimony of John left them cold and indifferent. They rejected both John and Jesus. Read Mt. 11:16-19. The people did nothing but complain about both of them.
8. First they came to Jesus with an evil intention. When Jesus asked them a question they revealed two more flaws in their character:
a. They refused to admit that John's baptism was from heaven because in that case Jesus would have asked them: "Then, why did you not believe in ME?"
b. They were afraid to say that John's baptism was from men because they were cowards. They were afraid of the people who considered John a prophet. One sin leads to another sin. Sin is endless.
9. Now comes a third sin. They lied. They said: "We don't know." They did know. But their own sins of denial and their fears of the people caused them to lie. They are of their father, the devil, the father of lies. Jn. 8:44.
10. There is a further sin which is not stated here but which is implied. Mk. 11:18 and Lk. 19:47, which happened on the previous day, tell us that the chief priests and the scribes were trying to destroy Jesus. Note how these unbelievers are following the devil as he is described in Jn. 8:44. The devil causes unbelief, deceit, lies and murder. The light of God's Word exposes his evil and then he flees. In the final analysis the devil himself is nothing but a coward. He, like the Jewish authorities, is very powerful and has the power to work destruction. He, like the Jewish authorities, roars and makes a big noise. He, like the Jewish authorities, is very cunning and smart. But the person who trusts in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and strength, can and does conquer Satan and all his hosts. Read Eph. 5:16; I Pet. 5:9; James 4:7. The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. I Jn. 2:8. Jesus destroyed him who had the power of death, the devil. Heb. 2:14. The devil, the accuser of Christians, has been thrown out. Rev. 12:10. If we are armed with the Word of God, Satan flees. Mt. 4:1-11.