“I will also ask you one question. If you answer me ...” (Matthew 21:24-25)

“I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism - where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” (Matthew 21:24-25)
This question asked by Jesus was to answer the institutional temple chief priests and elders, who saw Jesus teaching in the temple courts. They asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matthew 21:23) In other words, they were questioning whether Jesus had the authority to stand on temple grounds and teach the people. Why?

Because they had doubts. Thus the question Jesus asks is specific to his authority.

“... by what authority ..."

This indicates that Jesus is pragmatically answering the questions of these doubters. He isn't threatening them or condemning them for asking the question.

In other words, Jesus is not a fanatic. He does not threaten people if they do not listen to him. He understands that we each have the freedom to accept God's teachings or not.

He also respects that one must carefully choose who they accept as a teacher.

"from heaven, or from men?”

This is the one question Jesus asks because this is the key to Jesus' authority.

Jesus is referring to his being baptized by John the Baptist. This confirms that Jesus was the student and disciple of John the Baptist, and thus he was passing on the same message taught by John the Baptist.

This is also the same message passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years. It was passed from Abraham to Isaac. From Isaac to Jacob. From Jacob to Joseph. From Joseph to the sons of Israel. From Jethro to Moses. From Moses to Joshua. From Eli to Samuel. From Samuel to David. From David (and Zadok the priest and Nathan the Prophet) to Solomon. Jesus also came in the line of the prophets/teachers who descended from David and Solomon down to the devoted priest Zachariah - John the Baptist's teacher.

The scriptures are a testament of this lineage of teachers and students through the ages. Sometimes the teachings of loving service to God were given from a father who was a loving servant of God to his son, and sometimes they were passed from a priest who was a loving servant of God to his student.

In all cases, we see a tradition among God's prophets that while their empowerment came from God, their service began by being the student of another prophet (often symbolized with an "anointing" or "baptizing"). The student would first learn at the feet of his teacher and then apply this knowledge. As they developed their relationship with God, God would directly empower the student to become a teacher. This is the authority that Jesus is speaking of here.

The officials of the institutional temple that Jesus was speaking to here were not following this tradition. They had developed a hierarchical organization whereby councils of men appointed other men to become their "authorized" teachers. This is diametrically opposed to what is illustrated in the scriptures, and what Jesus is referring to here as true authorization to teach.

We also see that Jesus also instituted this process, as he taught directly to his students, and he requested of those who were dedicated to his teachings to go out and also become teachers to others (which they did). In other words, Jesus authorized those students, just as John the Baptist authorized Jesus. This is the process authorized by God.

The organized process of the Jews at that time was not authorized by God, simply because the teachers and leaders were being elected by councils of men. This creates a political process. God's empowerment of His representatives comes from a place of personal relationships.

This is diametrically opposed to the political process derived from appointment by politically-oriented councils of men (be they cardinals, deacons or otherwise).

Ironically, even though Jesus practiced this ancient process of a teacher transmitting instructions and teachings to a student who then becomes a teacher, today's sectarian teachers subscribe to the very political method that the institutional temple priests of Jesus' day were doing.

These same sectarian teachers have also put John the Baptist in the background, even though, as we see here, Jesus illustrates that his authority was derived from being a student of John's teachings.

Baptism and teaching

It is not as if baptism is separated from teaching. As we can see from the record of John the Baptist, he was not simply dunking people in the water and then sending them off. He was teaching. He was giving them knowledge. The rite of baptism is simply a symbolic activity that represents a person becoming the student of his teacher, just as the anointing with oil was a symbolic activity among the old prophets.

The student must become submissive to the teachings of his teacher in order to learn. This is not just the case for spiritual teachings - it is the case for any type of learning. If a college student goes into a chemistry class thinking he knows all about chemistry, will he learn very much? Not much.

The act of baptism is not devotion in itself. The devotion must take place within the heart, and through the activity of practicing what is being taught. It is not as if the dunking into the water creates devotion. It simply represents what devotion is there.

And what is devotion?

It is the giving up of our own speculations about the Supreme Being. It is giving up of all of our own opinions. Should a person submit themselves to the teachings of a true representative of God, they must give up all of their previous inclinations and hear the teachings without filtering or speculation. This is the only way to derive the full benefit from the teachings of God's representative.

Does this submission require the ritual of dunking into the water? Virtually anyone can dunk another person into the water. As Jesus displayed in his teachings, what is required is that the student follows the teacher's instructions, and this was the focus of Jesus' life and teachings. Dunking into the water is not required. The submission to God's representative must occur within the heart, and by the actions of the student. This is the meaning of a baptism "from heaven."

Therefore, when Jesus refers to the baptism of John, he is referring to submitting oneself to the teachings of God's representative. This is the process of receiving God's message.

The reason the sectarian world likes to see John put in the background is because John holds the key to the real identity of Jesus Christ - or how he was originally referred - Jesus the Kristos (Kristos meaning "anointed one" or "savior"). This is a role - also referred to as Messiah.

This role describes being empowered by the Supreme Being ("anointed") to speak for Him. This is why the books of the Old Testament follow the lineage from teacher to student, sometimes also father to son (but not always, as we saw from Eli to Samuel and John to Jesus). The teachings of loving service to God has been passed on from generation to generation through His representatives - God’s messengers.

This question by Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. The passing on of God’s truth from teacher to student is sanctioned and governed by God. This is because He takes charge of those who surrender to Him and truly desire to do His will. Should a person learn the teachings of His representative and act upon those teachings - thereby redeveloping their unique relationship with God, God may empower the student to also become His representative.

Today around the sectarian world, in fact, many people are being dunked or splashed in water without any value. This is simply an empty ritual. There is no submission. Should the minister invoke God's Holy Name in the process there may be some purification, but there is no lasting value without a submission of the heart, and without that minister being empowered by the Supreme Being - which is not the same as being appointed by a council or committee of men.

Furthermore, depending upon who gives it and who is receiving it, today's baptism rite being performed in many ecclesiastic churches may actually be offensive to both Jesus and God. For those who are simply glorifying the suffering of Jesus for their own sake without doing the will of God, there may be a grave offense made at the feet of Jesus. Jesus made this clear with this statement:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will come to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Thus simply dunking someone in water “in the name of Jesus” is obviously not in itself pleasing to Jesus or God. The activity can only have value if it is accompanied by a submission to the teachings of Jesus - the first and foremost being to love God and do God’s will.

Only then can the submission (or baptism) come "from heaven" and not "from men."