By What Authority Do You Do This?

John 2: 13 – 3:21; 4: 1-42.

The Gospel accounts offer intriguing perspectives of God attempting to describe the nature of His Kingdom in His daily interactions with the common people. His miraculous appearance in human form signalled His desire to identify immediately with His created order. In John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple’s courtyard of purveyors of sheep, oxen and doves, including the moneychangers, Jesus’ confrontation with the Jewish authorities provides us with preliminary insights of His innate divine authority. The charge against the Lord was not about His disruptive behaviour which was possibly indictable, but it focused on His questionable authority: “By what authority do you do this?” The chief priests and the scribes were more concerned about license and power than in the sacred functionality of the Temple precinct (c.f., Matt 21:12-16). In His baffling reply, Jesus personified Himself as the eternal Temple (or Body of Christ, given His impending resurrection); “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Biblical use of the ‘temple’ metaphor was significant as it was the nexus between God and sinful man. Understandably, this symbolic representation went over the heads of everyone (John 2:22-25; c.f., Matt 16:21-23), but what on hindsight is crystal clear, is that Jesus became the meeting point between man and God through His death and resurrection, and this formed the basis for His authoritative claim.

In the next sequence, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and the ruler of the Jews, after having observed Jesus closely, encountered Him on His credentials over His miracles (John 3:1-2). Jesus’ incongruous reply of the enigmatic new birth, the vocation of the Son of Man, and Moses’ bronze serpent (equated with Jesus’ Cross) flummoxed Nicodemus. Without being born again, Nicodemus only noticed the miraculous displays but was unable to appreciate their Author nor the intent of God’s Kingdom impacting this world. The Lord’s resolve was to predicate the basis of a living eternal relationship with the new man in Himself (patterned unambiguously in the Old Testament), who became the object of their faith. And Nicodemus would only be privy to this relationship when he is born again (i.e., by believing in Jesus and putting his trust in God; John 3:3-15). The reason for such a Divine transformative process was subsequently enlightened by the Lord: it was due largely to humanity’s fallen nature and the evil that delineated the world against Him (John 3:3-15), which substantiated His claim later that He is the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6).

The subsequent meeting was with the woman of Sychar at Jacob’s well, who questioned Jesus’ judgment on His Samaritan views (John 4:1-26). Historically, the Samaritans were at loggerhead with their Jewish contemporaries, and their separate sacred sites, viz., Mount Gerizim and Jerusalem, was one of those disputes that fueled their mutual animosity. Jesus turned His initial contentious conversation with the woman around, to bring to her consciousness her deep-seated spiritual need, despite her incidental religiosity and misdirected personal identity. The implication being that if her identity is not intentionally centred in Christ, it would invariably be governed by temporal factors which are mostly ego-centric and inimical to a Godly life. When ‘worship’ was broached between them, our Saviour explicated that because God is spirit, He is not seeking after worship per se but true worshippers who are Christ-centered, viz., whose hearts belong to Him and who obeys His commands. Therefore, ‘in spirit and truth’ is far more than being sincere in worship, for God pursues explicitly after those who would seek Him and having found Him, love Him with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind (John 4:23-24; Matt 22:36-38). The critical advice given to the Samaritan woman applies to all who desires a relationship with the Almighty; a transformed and sanctified heart is what God looks for as He peers into the life of a believer (c.f., Eph 4:17-24).