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Mark 11:33

ESV 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."
NIV So they answered Jesus, "We don’t know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
NASB Answering Jesus, they *said, 'We do not know.' And Jesus *said to them, 'Neither am I telling you by what authority I do these things.'
CSB So they answered Jesus, "We don’t know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
NLT So they finally replied, 'We don’t know.' And Jesus responded, 'Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.'
KJV And they answered and said unto Jesus. We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
NKJV So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

What does Mark 11:33 mean?

The chief priests, scribes, and elders in Jerusalem have asked Jesus where His authority to clear the temple of non-worshipers comes from. Jesus challenges them to answer their own question by asking them if John the Baptist's message is from God, or if John made it up. John validated Jesus' identity as the Messiah, so if the religious leaders affirm John, they affirm Jesus, as well. If they deny John, they run the risk of losing the respect of a multitude of people who believe John's message of repentance. To make matters more acute, many people who followed John are in Jerusalem for the Passover.

The religious leaders claim they do not know if John's message was true or not. This is a lie: the men speaking do not believe in what John the Baptist said. So far as their view goes, they "know"—really, they "think"—John was false. This hypocrisy and cowardice marks them as unworthy of serious discussion. If they will not take a stand on what they otherwise claim to be true, Jesus will not engage with them. Some may truly be puzzled. Others know exactly what is going on: "Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God" (John 12:42–43).

In short, this response shines a harsh light on the deep hypocrisy of these religious leaders. Their highest priority is maintaining power and influence; they won't stand up for what they believe is true if it means losing political clout. Before we respond in arrogance and judgment, we should note this temptation is just as much a snare for modern believers as it was for the Pharisees.

In the next story, a parable of tenants who reject the servants and the son of the landowner, Jesus indirectly answers their question (Mark 12:1–12). His authority is from the landowner: God. The religious leaders reject Him because they want to keep the resources that the landowner temporarily put in their stewardship. Over the years of Jewish history, they have rejected all the landowner's messengers, the pre-Messianic prophets, including John the Baptist. Soon, the landowner will return and "destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others" (Mark 12:9): God will allow Jerusalem to be destroyed, remove the influence of Judaism, and give His blessings and authority to the church.

The religious leaders understand the parable full well and respond in the only way they know how: figure out how to arrest Jesus without the crowd knowing.
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