The Jewish religious leaders did everything they could to make it seem as though Jesus was not God. One of the ways the Pharisees tried to discredit him was to say that Jesus performed miracles by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:24). In one of Jesus’ final confrontations with these men, it says in Matthew 21:23, “when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” The reason they asked Jesus these questions was because they thought he would disclose his identity and they could arrested for claiming to be God. Instead, Jesus answered them:
“I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV)
The chief priests and elders unwillingness to acknowledge the authenticity of John’s baptism suggests that their claim that Jesus was not God had nothing to do with their belief, but it was merely a means for them to get rid of him. Jesus used the parable of the husbandmen to point out that the religious leaders were intent on killing him (Matthew 21:33-39). In his parable, Jesus said after the husbandmen had beaten and killed the householder’s servants, “Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matthew 21:37-38). Afterward, Jesus declared:
“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Matthew 21:42-44, ESV)
Luke recorded in his gospel that the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus immediately after hearing this. He said, “And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them” (Luke 20:19). Based on Luke’s statement, it seems unlikely that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they believed he was not God. At this point, they probably wanted to kill him because they knew that he was.