David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
MATTHEW 21 - THE BEGINNING OF JESUS’ LAST WEEK
A. The triumphal entry.
1. (Matthew 21:1-6) Jesus instructs His disciples regarding preparation for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’“ So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them.
a. When they drew near Jerusalem: As Jesus approaches Jerusalem for the last time in His earthly ministry, we see a considerable contrast to Jesus’ previous pattern of suppressing publicity. Here, Jesus deliberately works to fulfill prophecy, especially the prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, which many feel Jesus fulfilled to the exact day on His triumphal entry (Daniel 9:24-27).
b. Your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey: Jesus comes in humility, yet with appropriate dignity. Instead of coming on a horse as a conquering general, He comes on a colt, as was customary for royalty. He comes as the Prince of Peace.
2. (Matthew 21:7-11) Jesus receives and encourages adoration as the Messiah.
They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
a. Hosanna to the Son of David! This is open Messianic adoration of Jesus. They look to Jesus for salvation (Hosanna means “save now!”). They openly give Jesus the titles appropriate for the Messiah (Son of David . . . He who comes in the name of the Lord).
b. Jesus received, indeed encouraged this worship. Again, this is because this is the day that the Lord has made (Psalms 118:24), the day when the Messiah comes as Savior to Jerusalem in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.
c. When He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved: Jesus also shows that He isn’t afraid of chief priests and Pharisees. He knows they are plotting to kill Him, yet He comes openly to the city as Messiah.
B. Jesus cleanses the temple.
1. (Matthew 21:12-13) Jesus forcibly stops the commercial desecration of the temple.
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’“
a. Drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple: What was the problem? Profiteers, in cooperation with the priests, robbed visitors to Jerusalem by forcing them to purchase “approved” sacrificial animals and currencies at inflated prices.
b. My house shall be called a house of prayer: As well, they did this in the outer courts of the temple, the only area where Gentiles could come and pray. Therefore, this place of prayer was made into an swap meet, and a dishonest one at that!
c. This ruins our conception of the “Sunday School Jesus” whose only quality is a bland love. In truth, Jesus was more than a man of compassion - He was also a man of bold action.
2. (Matthew 21:14) In contrast to His work of tearing away evil, Jesus carries on God’s compassionate work in the temple.
Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.
a. And He healed them: After driving out the moneychangers and the merchants from the temple courts, Jesus didn’t found “The Society for the Cleansing of the Temple.” He got back to doing the business of the Messiah - showing the power of God in the context of compassion and mercy.
3. (Matthew 21:15-17) The indignation of the Jewish leaders.
But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.
a. They were indignant: The hypocrisy of the religious leaders is evident. Greed and theft in the temple didn’t bother them, but praise to Jesus did.
b. Do You hear what these are saying? Jesus answers them pointedly. Yes, He had heard what these are saying - and it is perfected praise in the ears of God.
C. The lesson of the fig tree.
1. (Matthew 21:18-19) Jesus rebukes a fig tree.
Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.
a. Let no fruit grow on you ever again: The fig tree instantly withered at the rebuke of Jesus. Why did He perform a “destructive” miracle?
b. Found nothing on it but leaves: Essentially, the tree was a picture of “false advertising,” having leaves, but no figs. This should not be the case with these particular fig trees, which customarily did not bear leaves apart from figs.
i. In this “acted-out-parable,” Jesus warns of coming judgment upon an unfruitful Israel. God doesn’t want a people who are all leaves and no fruit.
c. Jesus’ two “destructive” miracles - this and the events that ended in the destruction of the herd of pigs (Matthew 8:30-32) - were not directed towards people.
2. (Matthew 21:20-22) How did Jesus do this?
And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
a. How did the fig tree with away so soon: Jesus explains that this miracle was really the result of a prayer made in faith, and He encouraged His marveling disciples to also have this kind of faith, trusting that God will hear them also.
b. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive: This promise of God’s answer to the prayer of faith is made to disciples, not to the multitude.
D. Jesus answers the Jewish leaders.
1. (Matthew 21:23-27) Jesus is questioned by the religious leaders as He comes back into the temple.
Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John; where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned 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 men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
a. The chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching: Note Jesus’ fearlessness in going back into the temple. He is unafraid, and completely in control (John 10:18).
b. By what authority are You doing these things? The religious leaders raised the question of Jesus’ authority, and He raised the question of their competence to judge such an issue. Their reply proved that they were more interested in polling data from the multitude rather than the will of God, so Jesus didn’t answer their question to Him.
i. Jesus kindly and compassionately met the needs of they hurting multitude. But He didn’t show much patience with those who arrogantly questioned Him with the intention of trapping Jesus in His own words. Jesus never fell for the trap.
2. (Matthew 21:28-32) The parable of the two sons.
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.”
a. Which of the two did the will of his father? The point of this parable is clear: what matters is living for God, not lip service. The religious leaders were good at talking a righteous walk, but their stubbornly unrepentant hearts show that repentant sinners will enter the kingdom before them.
b. When you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him: These proud religionists should have repented all the more when they saw the notorious sinners repenting, but they did not.
3. (Matthew 21:33-41) The parable of the wicked servants.
“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
a. He will destroy those wicked men miserably: The message of this parable is clear enough. Even the proud religionists seem to understand what the wicked servants deserve. Those who rebel against their master this way deserve judgment.
b. Again, what the owner of the vineyard looked for the fruits in their seasons. In the same way, God looked for fruit from Israel’s leadership, but found little (as shown in the fig tree incident).
4. (Matthew 21:42-46) Jesus warns them of the result of their rejecting Him.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.
a. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone: Jesus reminds them that their rejection of Him says more about their guilt and coming judgment than it says about Jesus Himself. Though they reject Him, He is still the chief cornerstone, fulfilling the great Messianic Psalms 118.
i. Like a painting from a great master, Jesus is not on trial - we are. These people rejected Jesus had to hear the eventual consequences of their rejection.
b. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder: The choice before the religious leaders is the choice before every person. We can be broken in humble surrender before God or be completely broken in judgment.
c. They sought to lay hands on Him: Instead of repenting, the religious leaders respond with anger, continuing to increase the enormity of their sin of rejecting Jesus.
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