A child never asks a parent, “By what authority do you tell me what to do”. The child is aware that their parent has authority over them and should be obeyed. In so doing the child shows love and respect to the parent.
Jesus was asked by whose authority do you do the things you do? It was not a sincere question for they sought to trap him by the words they expected him to utter. Jesus knew this, for Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our thoughts and he knew the thoughts of those who asked him.
I note that this incident took place while he was walking in the temple. The temple was the mass media of the day. It was where the Jews came for teaching, prayer and to debate the issues of the day, so there would be many people there who would hear him being asked this question and would want to hear the reply. Today it would be like being on television.
In a way, the question is foolish for they did not deny that the miracles Jesus did were real and any miracle will have power and authority behind it or else it could not be done. The scribes and Pharisees had deceived themselves into believing that they were Gods only authority and what Jesus did was a major challenge to them. It threatened them. I think this was the reason that they sought to trap him and diminish him in the eyes of the people.
Jesus avoided the trap by telling them that he would ask them a question and if they answered it, then he would answer their question. He asked them if the baptism of John was from heaven or men.
The baptism of John was for the remission of sin. It was given to those who grieved over their sin for they had offended God and them by participating in the baptism were repenting of sin before God and trusting in him for forgiveness.
The scribes realized that if they said that john’s baptism came from heaven then Jesus would ask them why did they not believe if it came from heaven and by extension why did they themselves not get baptized and repent as those who came to john did. If they said it was from men then those In the temple listening to this would be very angry at them, for they knew that John was a prophet from God, so whatever answer they gave, they were trapped and they were afraid of the crowd
They decided to say they did not know and in response to that, Jesus told them that as they would not answer his question, he would not answer theirs and by doing this Jesus demonstrated great wisdom
We know that Jesus has authority for he was not just a human being. He was God the son incarnate. He has always existed. He is not bound by time as we are, and he is without sin. Not only did he use his authority which he had from God the father to do miracles, he has also demonstrated his authority over death for he did in our place for our sins, but we cannot rise from the dead without him. He had the authority to vanquish death. We will never face any authority greater than him. If you have not received him and his forgiveness for your sin, I implore you to do that now, for now, is the hour of salvation. You do not know when you will die and have to give an account to him for the life he gave you, and it is he who gave you your life, you did not create or obtain it yourself.
Submit to his authority now.