When Jesus entered the temple after he had cleansed it, he was challenged by the chief priests and elders on his authority to cast some of them out of the temple. He responded with a question concerning the origin of John’s baptism. They refused to answer him because they didn’t believe John’s baptism was from heaven.
Actually, the answer to his question that he asked the chief priests and elders is the same as the answer to their questions. Both Jesus and John were acting on God’s authority, not man’s. But since the chief priests refused to answer him, Jesus didn’t answer them. Instead, the Lord spoke a parable against their unbelief.
The reason that Jesus brought up John’s baptism in response to their questions is that his baptism heralded the Lord’s coming. Because of their unbelief, they missed the prophecies connected with John’s baptism and the aspects of these prophecies that applied directly to them. While the publicans justified God by getting baptized, the Pharisees “rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him,” (Lk 7:29-30).
What did John’s baptism reveal that they missed? John’s baptism:
Manifested Jesus to Israel – he was the one for whom they were supposed to be looking – Jn 1:29-31; Acts 13:22-26
Revealed the kingdom of heaven – they knew they had a kingdom that belonged to their king and thereby to them – Matt 3:2
Fulfilled the promise of Elijah’s coming before the Messiah’s coming – Matt 3:3; Is 40:3-5 (notice the 2nd Advent context); Matt 11:14, 17:12-13.
Warned of coming wrath to those who rejected their king – Matt 3:7; 2 Thes 1:7-9; 1 Thes 1:15-16
Foreshadowed a spiritual kingdom – John’s water baptism was contrasted to Jesus’ spirit baptism thus contrasting the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, Matt 3:11, 21:31; Jn 3:3-7; Lk 17:20-21
The chief priests and elders missed all of this because they rejected John’s baptism. They were kept out of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, they missed their Messiah, Savior and King, they were subjected to the wrath of God and they just withered up without fruit (Matt 3:8) like that fig tree we studied last week. The publicans and harlots, on the other hand, got into the kingdom and escaped God’s wrath because they repented and believed John.