Jesus is responding to a question asked of him by some officials of the Temple. Here is the situation and question they asked him:
“I also ask of you one question – and if you answer me I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John – was it from the spiritual realm – or of men? Answer me this." (Mark 11:29-30)
Then they traveled again into Jerusalem and as he was walking in the Temple the chief priests, scribes and elders approached him – and they asked him, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority to do these things?” (Mark 11:27-28)The primary "thing" that Jesus is doing is of course teaching. Yes, Jesus did a few healings, but these were done to support and bring focus to his teachings. Many of the healings also accompanied his teachings.
Why does Jesus bring up John the Baptist?
So we find that when Jesus is asked by what authority he is teaching and guiding his followers, Jesus immediately invokes John the Baptist. Why?
This would be considered a mystery for those teachers and institutions who have ignored one of the basic premises of Jesus' teachings, as explained by the Scriptures:
Jesus became a disciple of John the Baptist. This was clearly explained as Jesus accepted the baptism from John.
What is Baptism?
Traditional baptism is conducted to create discipleship. We find this from the texts of the Old Testament was a rite of initiation into being a priest of God (anointing). We find, for example, this clear instruction from God to Moses:
“Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve Me as priests." (Exodus 30:30 NIV)We find this process of anointing as a priest of God has become confused with the anointing of a tribal king - through mistranslation and misinterpretation of these texts.
Yet we still find clear examples of the process of anointing a priest, as we look closely at the lineage of the Prophets and their relationships. We find each of these Prophets passed on their teachings to others, and those who received those teachings sincerely were anointed, baptized or blessed. Then they passed on those teachings to others.
We find many examples of this process of anointing (or blessing) a person as a priest of God in the Old Testament. For example, we find the Priest Melchizedek anointed/baptized/blessed Abraham as his student:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and drink. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20 NIV)This is clearly a process that takes place between a teacher and student. To receive the blessings (and certainly the teachings) of a priest, and then follow the instructions of a priest means to become their student. Then to go off and pass those teachings on to others means to become their representative. This was illustrated when Abraham passed on Melchizedek's teachings to Lot and Isaac. Lot then passed them on to others. And Isaac passed them on to Jacob and became Jacob's teacher. Then Jacob became the teacher of those later regarded as the Twelve Tribes of Israel - one of whom passed them on to Moses.
Each of those twelve teachers then proceeded to go out and preach Jacob's teachings to others, Moses became one of those students, indirectly through Jethro, "priest of Midian."
Yes, there is some family relations involved in some of these teacher/student relationships. If a student is sincere, it doesn't matter whether his body is related to his teacher's body. But we also find many examples, besides Moses and Jethro in the Scriptures where the student's body was unrelated to the Prophet/teacher.
We find, for example, that Joshua was a student of Moses and passed his teachings on. We find that Samuel was a student of Eli and passed his teachings on. We find that David was a student of Samuel's, and passed on the devotional teachings of Samuel. None of these and other Prophet/teacher-student relationships were father/son relationships. Yet each was considered a true Prophet and teacher, and priest who represented God (God's representative).
Was John the Baptist Jesus' teacher?
We find that John the Baptist was also a priest, who clearly represented God - likely a student of Zechariah the Priest. John taught to people in the desert and changed many hearts into lovers of God. And of course, we know that John the Baptist baptized Jesus, and his teachings reflected the teachings of John (see below).
And we also know that Jesus was extremely dedicated to John. At one point Jesus said about his teacher:
"Truly I say to you, among those who are born of women there has not arose anyone greater than John the Baptist..." (Matt. 11:11)
So how do we know that Jesus was truly John the Baptist's student and he was truly passing on the teachings of John?
John's teachings are not described very well in the Scriptures, but we can find what is considered a summary - or categorization of his teachings. So we find this description of John the Baptist's teachings:
During this time John the Baptiser appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea – and teaching, “Change your heart, for the sanctuary of God is readily available.” (Matt. 3:1-2)Then we find that once John was put in prison, Jesus began to teach the same thing as John taught:
From that time, Jesus began to preach and taught, “Change your heart, for the sanctuary of God is readily available.” (Matt. 4:17)Then we find that as Jesus sent his own disciples to teach, he instructed them to teach the same message that he taught - the same message that John the Baptist taught:
"And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The sanctuary of God is readily available.’" (Matt. 10:7)While this summary message has been misinterpreted and mistranslated, we can know from these verses that Jesus was clearly passing on John's teachings, and Jesus requested his own followers to pass on those very same teachings.
This tells us clearly that Jesus was a student and disciple of John the Baptist.
Is it about the ritual itself?
In fact, the precise ritual between the teacher and follower is not important - whether it is anointing with oil, or anointing with water (baptism) or whatever. What is important is that the student sincerely learns the teachings of the teacher, and then passes on the teacher's teachings. Anointing or baptism symbolizes such a dedication of the student to the teacher.
But baptism or anointing isn't in itself an equation of such dedication and devotion. There are instances where a teacher performs initiation rites but the student does not dedicate his life to the teacher's teachings, and does not carry out the mission of the teacher. Additionally, there are instances of students of bonafide teachers who have sincerely heard from the teacher and learned those teachings who carry out the mission of the teacher without having engaged in the initiation ritual.
In other words, this rite of initiation - just as are many rituals - is supposed to symbolize what is taking place within the heart of the student: That the student is dedicating themselves to the teachings of the teacher. But if that dedication is not taking place in the heart of the student, then the ritual is worthless.
Or if the teacher is not a bonafide representative of God - devoted to the Supreme Being - then such a ritual is also worthless.
We might compare this to the ritual of prayer - bowing or kneeling to pray. One might bow or kneel in prayer just to appear to others to be praying. But within their heart, they are not trying to communicate with God. They are not crying out to God. So the ritual of prayer - be it kneeling or bowing - may not necessarily reflect what is taking place in the heart.
Jesus is clearly suggesting that John's baptism - which represented his teachings - was coming from the spiritual realm (other translations say "heaven" - which means the spiritual realm).
This, of course, means that Jesus is saying that his authority came from John the Baptist - and that John the Baptist's authority came from the Supreme Being.
In other words, Jesus is indicating that John the Baptist was God's representative. And because Jesus was a student of John, and was passing on John's teachings, Jesus would also be considered God's representative.
And that is Jesus' authority. He is representing the Supreme Being. He is passing on those teachings that were passed on from Prophet/teacher to student for thousands of years, which originated with the Supreme Being.
Jesus also had his own loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This relationship gave him the authority to teach others to love God.