The Rejection Of The King And His Authority


The Rejection Of The King And His Authority


The Rejection Of The King And His Authority

Matthew 21:23-22:46

Main Idea: Jesus' authority has been and continues to be questioned and rejected by some people due to sin and unbelief, but His vindication can be seen in His death, resurrection, and final restoration.

  1. Some Question Jesus' Authority.
    1. These questions often come from unbelief.
    2. These questions often come from misplaced fear.
  2. Some Reject God the Father and His Authority.
    1. The rejection of one of His sons.
    2. The rejection of some of His servants.
    3. The rejection of some of His invited guests.
  3. Jesus' Rejecters Often Have Underlying Motives.
    1. Some are power hungry and prideful.
    2. Some are worldly and wannabes.
    3. Some are secularist and materialist.
    4. Some are deceived "experts" and cold-hearted "scholars."
  4. Jesus Questions the Questioners and Rejecters.
    1. Am I the Christ?
    2. Am I the Son of God?
    3. Am I the King of your heart?
  5. Some Reject God the Holy Spirit and His Authority.
    1. His words through the prophets are rejected by some.
    2. His words in the Bible are rejected by some.
  6. His Authority Will Be Rejected by Some, but Finally Proven.
    1. God the Son's Final Authority Will Always Be Rejected by Some.
    2. King Jesus' Deity and Authority Was and Will Be Finally Proven.
      1. Through divine rejection
      2. Through divine resurrection
      3. Through glorious restoration288

The one true and living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is perfect. He alone deserves our full submission, allegiance, and trust as our good and perfect authority. Scripture is absolutely clear on this point, and the child of God should take great comfort in this truth. However, the idea of authority isn't a pleasant thought for everyone.

As we think about the concept of authority, we need to remember how many people have been deeply wounded and even abused by authority figures. Many people have been taken advantage of or mistreated by a person they trusted and submitted to, whether it's a parent, a sibling, a friend, a spouse, a teacher, a boss, a government official, or a religious leader. Great suffering results from this kind of mistreatment. We gratefully recognize that God's grace is sufficient to meet this kind of hurt; He is a refuge for those who suffer (Ps 46:1). In contrast to the abusive authority we're all too accustomed to on earth, God uses His authority for the ultimate good of His children. Therefore, we can trust Him and submit fully to Him without any reservations. And when we do, we will find the joy and the peace that comes from submission to such a glorious heavenly Father.

Matthew has made clear up to this point in his Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ, the Promised One that the entire Old Testament pointed forward to. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His kingdom is eternal. Yet, even in light of these glorious truths, not everyone responded to such authority with submission.

Some Question Jesus' Authority

Matthew 21:23-27

We see this recalcitrance in the case of the chief priests and elders. Jesus knew that God the Father had given Him the authority to do everything He had done up to this point in His life and ministry (John 5:19-29). Matthew 21 has already presented several aspects of this authority: Christ came to Jerusalem and received praise and worship from the people, cleansed the temple, and taught in the temple courts. These actions led the religious leaders to ask, "By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority?" (v. 23).

At root, the religious leaders were questioning Jesus' authorization or prerogative to do what He did. They essentially asked, "Is it from God or from man?" Today people still wonder whether Christianity is from God or whether it is just another man-made religion. Lest we think these289 were just innocent questions by the religious leaders, remember that they had already rejected John the Baptist's message (v. 32); these questions often come from unbelief. They had already rejected earlier revelation from God, so their rejection of Jesus was not altogether unexpected.

Unbelief isn't the only reason people question Jesus' authority. These questions often come from misplaced fear, which is what we see in verse 26. Instead of fearing God, which the Bible says is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), these leaders had an unhealthy fear of man. This misplaced fear is what led them to question Jesus, and it leads many people to question Jesus' authority today. The question for us is, Will we let unbelief and the opinions of others control us, or will we submit to God and His Son Jesus Christ?

Jesus responded to the questions of the chief priests and the elders by posing a question of His own. To force their hand, He asked them whether John's baptism was from heaven or from man (v. 25). John had made Jesus' identity as the Messiah clear, and the people respected John as a prophet. Therefore, the religious leaders couldn't reject John, or the people would turn against them. However, if they claimed that John's authority was from heaven, then they would be guilty of rejecting God, since they denied that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus knew that His question would uncover their hearts. Their professed agnosticism—"We don't know"—in verse 27 was simply a smoke screen.

Some Reject God the Father and His Authority

Matthew 21:28-22:14

After seeing Jesus' authority challenged in verses 23-27, Matthew gives us three parables: the parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32), the parable of the Tenants (21:33-44), and the parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1-14). In these parables we see that some reject God the Father and His authority.

The Rejection of One of His Sons

In the parable of the two sons in verses 28-32, a father gave the same command to his two sons, but their reactions were completely different. We see the rejection of one of his sons, in this case the second son, which becomes a picture of the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus essentially asks the same question that He posed earlier in 21:25 concerning John's baptism, though now He draws their hearts out through a story. As the master teacher, Jesus exposed these hypocrites. Again Jesus refers to290 John the Baptist in His response, pointing out their rejection of John's ministry. The tax collectors and prostitutes were represented by the first son, the one who eventually repented in this parable.

It's quite astonishing to consider who is identified in this parable as being obedient to the father. Women who were slaves to sex (prostitutes) had experienced a radical transformation by submitting to God through John's ministry. They were previously trying to find thirst-quenching satisfaction in people, but now they found it in the living water that only comes from the King's cup. Men like Matthew, the author of this Gospel, were changed from greedy tax-collectors to lavish givers. Yet the religious leaders, who had seen great changes in people through God's grace, still refused to believe. Sure, with their lips they said they loved God, but their hearts were far from Him. They ultimately failed to follow His will. They were like the second son who said "yes," but their lives said "no." This is a story of dead faith without works, a topic James' epistle speaks to (Jas 2:14-26). To put it another way, this is a story of confession without repentance and submission. While some people genuinely turned from their sin and trusted in God, the chief priests and elders merely gave verbal affirmation to Him; there was no real repentance or submission.

The Rejection of Some of His Servants

In verses 33-45 we read the parable of the Tenants. Jesus also told this parable to draw out what was in the hearts of the religious leaders. In this parable, a master, symbolizing God the Father, came looking for fruit from his servants in the vineyard. He sent his slaves to get this fruit, but they were beaten, killed, and stoned (vv. 35-36). He then sent his son, but they killed him too, supposing that they could take his inheritance. Jesus follows this story up by asking in verse 40, "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?" The religious leaders answered emphatically: "He will completely destroy those terrible men... and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest" (v. 41). Once again, Jesus has gotten these leaders to admit their own guilt, though they didn't initially recognize it. These Jewish leaders in Jesus' day were doing the same thing many in Israel had done throughout the Old Testament. God's spokesmen were persecuted and even killed throughout Israel's history; three days later, they would kill God's Son.45291

To the emphatic response of the religious leaders, Jesus replies by quoting Psalm 118:22-23: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes." The implication from this quotation is that God had planned the rejection of His Son, the "cornerstone." The kingdom would be given to "a nation producing its fruit" (v. 43). This "nation" would be the church, the body of believing Jews and Gentiles. For those who rejected the Lord's cornerstone, Jesus warns of judgment: "Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!" (v. 44). Matthew tells us in verse 45 that the religious leaders realized that Jesus was talking about them, and that they wanted to arrest Him; nevertheless, because of their fear of man—"they feared the crowds" (v. 46)—they waited.

Israel's leadership was supposed to be caring for God's vineyard (Isa 5:2), but instead they had rejected God and the prophets He sent. Most significantly, they had rejected God's Messiah. And this rejection was not only because of the fear of man; this is a story of selfish anger and greed. These leaders loved themselves more than they loved God and others. Their hearts were filled with greed, and they wanted the vineyard and everything that came with it. Verse 38 pictures them as grasping after the inheritance, for they lusted after power, control, and authority in God's kingdom. They wanted it so badly that they were willing to kill the Master's Son in the process. This parable would be played out vividly in just three short days when they crucified the Son of God, the very Son the Father had sent to save Israel.

The Rejection of Some of His Invited Guests

At the beginning of chapter 22 Jesus tells another parable. This parable pictures a wedding feast, but the theme is still rejection. It pictures the patience of God the Father as the king continually calls on people to enjoy the feast he has prepared for his son. When the king's servants were rejected by the invited guests, the king sent other servants, and these servants were also rejected, and eventually killed (v. 6). In his anger, the king "destroyed those murderers" and went and burned their city down (v. 7).46 Afterward, the king sent out others who gathered "both evil and good" until the wedding hall was filled (v. 10). However,292 the king found one man who had no wedding garment (v. 11), so he ordered the man to be thrown into the "outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 13). We need to hear in this parable the call of God the Father. He wants us to be with Him forever in His kingdom, to enjoy Him and all His good and perfect gifts. But apart from His grace, we refuse, just like this unprepared wedding guest. This is a story of ingratitude, rebellion, obstinacy, complacency, and anger.

We also need to see that this is a story of nominal Christianity. This wedding guest did what many people do today: they profess Christ while their lives show no evidence of saving faith. Such people are ungrateful to God, and their obstinacy when confronted reveals a deep-seated rebellion against God's authority. They have no joy in God, no real desire to read or hear His Word. They continue to pursue the fleeting and empty false joys that this world has to offer, but they end up miserable and angry at God. In the end, this is a story of eternal rejection. This wedding guest, and nominal Christians in general, reject God, until He finally rejects them. They are rightly punished and cast into darkness forever. The Bible speaks of excruciating pain in a place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 13). This horrifying judgment is the direct result of rejecting God. Oh, how we need to hear the King's gracious invitation and come to Him in repentance!

In the next two sections of Matthew 22 it becomes obvious that

Jesus' Rejecters Often Have Underlying Motives

Matthew 22:15-40

In verse 16 those sent by the Pharisees were trying to flatter Jesus. Meanwhile, they waited for the opportune time to trap Him in His words, which was precisely the point in their question about paying taxes to Caesar. If Jesus told them to pay taxes, then they could either make Jesus out to be idolatrous, given that Caesar's image was on the coin, or they could portray Him as upholding a tax system that many Jews vehemently resented. However, if Jesus had refused to pay taxes, there would surely be consequences for such insubordination to the Roman Empire. Jesus responded by saying that they should pay taxes (even to a pagan government like Rome's in the first century). God's kingdom is not of this world, and though we have certain responsibilities as earthly citizens, our entire lives should be devoted to His service. Paying taxes doesn't have to indicate one's ultimate allegiance.293

Of those who reject Jesus, some are power hungry and prideful, like the Pharisees in this account. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is laid out in Matthew 23, as Jesus offers a blistering critique of these self-righteous rulers. They did not want to submit to Jesus because that would have meant losing power in the eyes of the people; their egos would have been crushed. This happens today as well, as some reject Jesus because they want to retain power over their lives and over the lives of others. They may claim to know God, but they are really two-faced hypocrites.

Not only are some who reject Jesus power hungry and prideful, but some are worldly and wannabes. Verse 16 says that it was the followers of the Pharisees who were sent to question Jesus—Pharisee wannabes, if you will. Along with these social climbers, the Herodians joined in to question Jesus (v. 16). In many ways, the Pharisees and Herodians would have been opposed to one another in economic and political matters, but they were united in their opposition to Jesus. These Jewish Herodians had a strong allegiance to Rome and the rule of Herod (hence the name Herodians). They too were wannabes—Herod wannabes. Love for the world and the things of this world led them to reject Jesus and His authority. This is a huge temptation for us as well today, as the American Dream is often chosen over Christ and biblical Christianity. We must guard against a love for anything that supersedes our love for God, His Son, and His kingdom.

In verses 23-33, we see of Jesus' rejecters that some are secularist and materialist. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or the afterlife. They were the wealthiest members of the Jewish ruling body called the Sanhedrin. In a sense, we could say that they sought to have their "best life now" by living for the present. This background is important as we consider their question about a woman who had had seven husbands. This is a curious question from a group that didn't believe in the resurrection and the afterlife, a question clearly intended to trap Jesus. Jesus responds by telling them that earthly marriages are not eternal (v. 30). This may sound like bad news if you're in a good marriage, but we can be assured that the relationship we have with our Christian spouses now will be even better in the next life. In the resurrection we who know Christ will be joyful and fulfilled in the eternal presence of God. In that day there will be no sorrow or sadness (Rev 21:4), and all our relationships will be perfect.

In verse 31 Jesus continues His answer and proves the Sadducees wrong. He quotes from Exodus 3:6, which is significant since the294 Sadducees only believed that the first five books of the Old Testament—known as the Torah or the Pentateuch—were authoritative. When Moses wrote these words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been long dead. But God was still their God, and He is the God of the living. Therefore, Jesus makes clear that God was still in relationship with these patriarchs, and that these men would one day be resurrected as God had promised. Yet the Sadducees' secular and materialistic mind-set had blinded them to the truth of the resurrection and the truth of who Jesus is.

Finally, we see in verses 34-40 that some are deceived "experts" and cold-hearted "scholars." The man who approached Jesus was a supposed "expert in the law," but he had actually missed the One to whom the entire Bible was pointing, since Jesus was standing right in front of him. This lawyer was deceived, and though his head was full, his heart was cold. He sought to test Jesus by asking Him about the greatest commandment. Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, known to Jews as the Shema. Faithful Jews would have cited the Shema daily, and they also would have known the command in Leviticus 19:18 to love one's neighbor. Even though this lawyer knew these truths, he missed their application. Had he fully loved God with all his heart, he would have recognized Jesus and loved Him. Yet he was rejecting Jesus instead, attempting to trap Him with a question.

Jesus Questions the Questioners and Rejecters

Matthew 22:41-46

In the last section of Matthew 22, the tables are turned on the religious leaders. Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 to show that the Messiah would not only be the son of David, which all good Jews would have recognized, but also the Son of God. He was forcing them to see that David himself spoke to this mysterious reality in Scripture. The Messiah would be both human (an heir of David) and divine (David's Lord). The Pharisees had no reply when Jesus put this truth before them. This Messiah who was both human and divine was standing before them, and His wisdom had confounded them. Three questions from Jesus arise here, questions that the Pharisees needed to answer, and questions that we need to answer:

  • Am I the Christ? Do we believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah?
  • Am I the Son of God? Do we believe that Jesus was more than just a prophet? Is He, in fact, divine?295
  • Am I the King of your heart? Have you submitted to Jesus, not only with your head but with your heart?

Some Reject God the Holy Spirit and His Authority

Matthew 22:43-44

After seeing the rejection of the Father and the Son, we see that some reject God the Holy Spirit and His authority. In verse 43 Jesus said that David was "inspired by the Spirit," referring to the Spirit's inspiration of these prophetic words by David in Psalm 110. In addition, the Pharisees had previously rejected John the Baptist's message. So His words through the prophets are rejected by some. Similarly, His words in the Bible are rejected by some today, for people continue to disbelieve the Spirit-inspired words of the Old and New Testaments.

His Authority Will Be Rejected by Some, but Finally Proven

Matthew 27-28

In the end, we shouldn't be surprised by the rejection of the Jewish leadership in this passage. God the Son's final authority will always be rejected by some, a truth that will be played out through the end of Matthew's Gospel (see 27:1-2, 24-26). Jesus' authority will eventually be rejected both by leaders and by followers, including the chief priests, scribes, elders, experts in the law, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and even the Roman Governor Pilate. Those who followed these leaders, both Jews and Gentiles, also rejected Jesus and agreed to His crucifixion.

Despite the nearly universal rejection that we see in this passage, King Jesus' deity and authority was and will be finally proven (see 27:45-28:10). Though it may seem strange, Jesus' final vindication comes through divine rejection (27:45-50). All of us have experienced rejection before, whether by parents, siblings, friends, or certain groups of people. At a deeper level, we have all feared being rejected by God. Some are even haunted by that fear—a fear of dying and facing God, only to be rejected by Him. I sympathize with you, but even better, Jesus sympathizes with you. He knew what it was like to be rejected.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but Jesus' identity and His authority to forgive sins were proven when He was forsaken by God the Father on the cross. Jesus lived a perfect life and then died as a substitute for our sins. He was rejected on the cross, forsaken by God the Father (27:46),296 so that we don't have to be rejected by God the Father when we breathe our last breath. In Christ, we can be forgiven and received as children by God. We don't have to fear death, eternal darkness, eternal weeping, or the just judgment of God. Jesus was judged for us; He was rejected so that you and I could be accepted.

Jesus' deity and authority were decisively demonstrated through divine resurrection (28:1-10). Jesus is alive and He has defeated sin, death, the grave, Satan, and eternal judgment for you. Jesus' authority and deity will finally be proven through glorious restoration. Christ the King will return at some point in the future and make all things new (Rev 21:5). He will restore this broken creation.

In light of these truths, the question becomes, How will you respond to King Jesus today, His work and His authority? The one true and living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is perfect. And He alone rightly deserves our full and ultimate submission, allegiance, and trust. He is our rightful, good, and perfect authority. Will you surrender to Him today?

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Define submission in your own words.
  2. What current ideas or popular philosophies in our culture reject the idea of submission?
  3. How would you counsel someone who rejected God's authority because of bad experiences with authority figures?
  4. How does the fear of man result in rejecting Christ's authority? Describe how you've seen this play out in someone's life.
  5. How might Matthew 21:28-32 be an indictment on nominal Christians, that is, those who profess Christ but do not truly know Him?
  6. How would you summarize the warning in the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-14?
  7. What were the underlying motives of those who questioned Jesus in Matthew 22:16-40?
  8. What is at the root of all rejection of Jesus? (Hint: Read John 3:19-21.)
  9. Explain why Jesus' question in Matthew 22:41-46 would have been perplexing to these Jewish leaders.
  10. How would you respond to someone who said they rejected the authority of God's Word but they loved Jesus?

This was Tuesday of that last week of Jesus' life, sometimes referred to as "Holy week." Jesus' crucifixion would occur on Friday of this same week.


Some commentators think that the reference to burning the city in Matt 22:7 may have in view (at least as a partial fulfillment) the burning of Jerusalem when the Romans destroyed the city in AD 70.