Matthew 21:25

ESV The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
NIV John's baptism--where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?' They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'
NASB The baptism of John was from what source: from heaven or from men?' And they began considering the implications among themselves, saying, 'If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’
CSB Did John's baptism come from heaven, or was it of human origin? "They discussed it among themselves, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Then why didn't you believe him? '
NLT Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?' They talked it over among themselves. 'If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John.
KJV The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?

What does Matthew 21:25 mean?

Some chief priests and elders of Israel have asked Jesus a pointed question: what gives you the right to teach, heal, and accept praise from the people (Matthew 21:23)? These are powerful men with the authority to condemn Jesus and turn Him over to the Romans, as they soon will (Matthew 17:22–23). They are hoping His answer will give them reason to do exactly that. Jesus, of course, knows this. If He tells them He is acting by the authority of the one and only God, His own Father, they will accuse Him of blasphemy and perhaps arrest Him immediately. Rather than invite a confrontation, Jesus agrees to answer them on one condition: that they answer His question first (Matthew 21:24).

The query posed by Jesus forces the men to state their position on John the Baptist: whether he was a legitimate prophet sent from God or a pretender. While the question these men originally asked Jesus was not wrong, itself, their motive was corrupt. Jesus' counter-question brilliantly shows this. What these men really care about is power, and control, not sincere faith.

As a result, the group of powerful men huddles up to talk through their strategy. They quickly realize Jesus has put them in a no-win scenario. If they say John the Baptist's message was divine, Jesus can accuse them of ignoring the messenger of God. The alternative, to claim John was a fraudulent teacher, would be immensely unpopular and go against their real motive of maintaining power (Matthew 21:26). What seemed like an easy way to trap Jesus has become a snare for these men.

John the Baptist also had at least one confrontation with a group of Pharisees and Sadducees. He famously called them a "brood of vipers" and warned of the judgment coming on those in Israel who do not bear spiritual fruit (Matthew 3:7–10).
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