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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 21

 

 

Verses 1-46


The Triumphal Entry. Cleansing of the Temple

Chronology of the Last Week of Christ's Life, commonly called Holy Week (chiefly after Hastings' 'Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels').

Sabbath, Nisan 8. Arrival at Bethany (John 12:1). Supper in the evening (John 12:2-8; Matthew 26:6-13, where see notes).

Palm Sunday, Nisan 9. Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1). The children's Hosannas, and healings in the Temple (Matthew 21:14-16). Return to Bethany (Matthew 21:17).

Monday, Nisan 10. Return from Bethany (Matthew 21:18). Blasting of the fig tree (Matthew 21:19). Cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12, where see notes). Retires to Bethany (Mark 11:19). Conspiracy of His enemies (Luke 19:47).

Tuesday, Nisan 11. Returning early He finds fig tree withered (Mark 11:20). His authority to teach questioned. The tribute money. The brother's wife. The first commandment of all. 'What think ye of Christ?' (Matthew 21, 22). Woes on the Pharisees (Matthew 23). Jesus in the Treasury. The widow's mite (Mark 12:41). Visit of the Greeks (John 12:20). Christ finally rejected (John 12:37). Lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39). Great prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem, and the Second Advent of the Son of man, followed by parables concerning the judgment (Matthew 24, 25). Counsel of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:3).

Wednesday, Nisan 12. This day was probably spent in retirement at Bethany (cp. John 12:36). On the evening of this day some place the supper at Bethany at which Jesus was anointed (Mark 14:1-9; Matthew 26:6-13), but see above, Nisan 8. The bargain of Judas (Matthew 26:14).

Thursday, Nisan 13. In the afternoon preparations for the last supper (Matthew 26:17). In the evening, the last supper with the Twelve in the upper room (Matthew 26:20). The feet-washing (John 13:2). Departure of Judas. Institution of the Holy Communion (Matthew 26:26). Discourses in the upper room (John 13:31 to John 14:31). Departure from the upper room (John 14:31). Allegory of the Vine (John 15:1). The Comforter promised (John 16). Christ's high-priestly prayer(John 17). Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37). The agony lasts 'one hour' (Mark 14:37).

Good Friday, Nisan 14. About midnight Jesus is arrested (Matthew 26:47). Preliminary trial before Annas (John 18:13). Peter's denials, about 3 a.m. (John 18:27). Jesus sent to Caiaphas (John 18:24). Trial before the Sanhedrin at daybreak, about 4 a.m. (Matthew 27:1). Sent to Pilate, about 6 a.m. (Matthew 27:2), from Pilate to Herod (Luke 23:7), and back to Pilate (Luke 23:11). Delivered to be crucified (John 19:16). Jesus crucified, 9 a.m. (see Mark 15:25, but contrast John 19:14, 'about the sixth hour'). Darkness from 12 noon to 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:45). Death of Jesus, 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:50). (The paschal lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple at the time of Christ's death, cp. John 19:36. In the evening was the Jewish Passover. Our Lord, knowing that His death was imminent, had eaten it the night before.) Burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57).

Easter Eve, Nisan 15. The first day of unleavened bread and the sabbath (John 19:31). The sepulchre sealed (Matthew 27:62).

Easter Day, Nisan 16. The resurrection very early (Mark 16:9, etc.). Visit of the women to the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1). Visit of Peterand John to the sepulchre (John 20:3). Appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18). In the afternoon appearances to the two disciples (Luke 24:13), and to Peter (Luke 24:34). In the evening appearance to the apostles, Thomas being absent (Luke 24:36; John 20:19).

1-11. Solemn entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29; John 12:12). More than a third of the entire Gospel narrative is occupied with the last week of Christ's life, commonly called Holy Week. The cause of this is to be sought, partly in the special importance which the Apostolic Church attached to the death of Jesus, partly in the indelible impression which the words and acts of that solemn time made upon the disciples, and partly in the extreme activity of Jesus at this period, which crowded the last days of His life with striking events and sayings. All the evangelists lay stress on the voluntary character of the death of Jesus. They represent Him as coming up to Jerusalern deliberately to encounter it, as being the designed aim and end of His ministry (Matthew 20:28; Matthew 21:39; Matthew 26:2, Matthew 26:12, Matthew 26:28, Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:54 etc.). In view of His approaching death, which might appear to be a complete abnegation of His claim to be the Messiah, He judged it expedient to make the claim openly, and accordingly made arrangements for a formal entry into Jerusalem riding on an ass, as the Messiah was expected to do, and no longer restrained the enthusiasm of His followers, who were allowed openly to salute Him as the Son of David, i.e. the Messiah. The motives of political prudence which had previously restrained Him from an open avowal, had now ceased to operate. He knew that He had alienated the bulk of the Galileans, and that Jerusalem, in spite of certain appearances to the contrary, was thoroughly hostile. He therefore feared no political consequences from the superficial revival of popularity with which His change of policy would be greeted, the more so as He was about to raise the expectations of His adherents only for a moment, in order effectually to quench them.

The entry into Jerusalem is the one gleam of light in tile dark days that closed our Lord's ministry. Its success was due to several causes: (1) The crowd was composed largely of Galileans, many of whom still remained faithful to Jesus. (2) His bold change of policy won back for a moment many who had left Him for His procrastination. (3) The extraordinary enthusiasm with which He was received in Jerusalem itself is to be explained by the recent raising of Lazarus, which had made a deep impression in the capital (John 11:45-48; John 12:9, John 12:17).

Peculiar to St. Matthew is the mention of the two animals; to St. Luke the complaint of the Pharisees, and the weeping over the city; to St. John the mention of the palm-branches, and of the fact that natives of Jerusalem went out to welcome Jesus.

1. When they drew nigh] The synoptistsmake no break in the journey from Jericho to Jerusalem (20 m. of bad uphill travelling), but St. John says that Jesus came to Bethany six days before the Passover (i.e. on Friday or Saturday), and stayed there until the triumphal entry, which was probably on Sunday (John 12:1).

Bethphage] lit. 'House of Figs.' There was perhaps a village of this name, but in the Talmud Bethphage is the name of an extensive district stretching from the base of Olivet to the walls of Jerusalem, and perhaps all round the city. 'Whatever is in the exterior circuit of Jerusalem is called Bethphage.' 'What is meant by “outside the wall”? Babbi Johanan said, Outside the wall is Bethphage.'

Mount of Olives] i.e. the range of hills facing Jerusalem on the E. and lying round about from NE. to SE., and separated from the Holy City by the Talley of Jehoshaphat or Kidron. It contains four summits: (1) Galilee or Scopus, due NE. of the Temple site, and about a mile distant; (2) the Ascension, due E. of the Temple site, and distant about ¾ m., 2,600 ft. high, and commanding a fine view of the city, the Olivet of the Gospels; (3) the Prophets, the S. spur of this; (4) the Mt. of Offence, ¾ m. SE. of the Temple site.

The traditional Gethsemane is at the foot of the Ascension towards Jerusalem. Stanley says that Jesus did not pass over the summit of the Ascension, but took the road which passes between the Prophets and the Mt. of Offence, 'because it is, and must always have been, the usual approach for horsemen and for large caravans.'

2. An ass tied, and a colt] The two animals are mentioned only by St. Matthew. An unused animal was preferred for an occasion like the present (see Mark 11:2; 1 Samuel 6:7).

3. The Lord] i.e. Jesus. The ready way in which the owner parted with the animals proves that he was a disciple, and this is an argument for an earlier ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem.

5. A combination of Isaiah 62:11 with Zechariah 9:9. The rendering is free, partly following the Heb. and partly the Septuagint. According to St. John, the disciples did not at the time perceive that Jesus was fulfilling this prophecy.

And a colt] i.e. 'even a colt.' Zechariah makes no reference to two animals.

7. And put on them their clothes] either because they were uncertain which one He intended to mount, or in order gaily to caparison both animals for the procession. Eastern garments are brightly coloured. And they set him (RV 'he sat') thereon] i.e. on the clothes placed upon the colt, not, as some take it, that He rode upon both animals alternately.

By riding upon the ass Jesus deliberately fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, and so claimed to be the Messiah. The ass was chosen rather than the horse, because the ass was a symbol of peace, the horse of war; the ass of humility, the horse of pride. The Jews fully accepted the Messianic reference of Zechariah 9:9. Rabbi Salomo said, 'This cannot be interpreted except of Bang Messiah.'

8. Spread their garments] An extraordinary token of respect, such as was paid to kings and great conquerors (2 Kings 9:13).

Plutarch says of Cato the younger that 'he was escorted, not with prayers which are common, nor with praises, but with tears and embraces which could not be satisfied, the people spreading their garments under his feet, and kissing his hands.' It is said of Rabbi Nicodemus, son of Gorion, that, 'whenever he went into the school to lecture, his pupils spread garments of wool under his feet.' In quite recent times the inhabitants of Bethlehem spread their garments on the road under the feet of the horse of the English Consul of Damascus, whose assistance they were anxious to obtain.

9. That went before] These were the multitudes mentioned by St. John, who went out from Jerusalem to meet Jesus. Those who followed behind were the Galileans. Hosanna to the son of David] This can only mean, Glory and honour to the Son of David,' just as St. Mark's phrase, 'Hosanna in the highest,' is translated by St. Luke, 'Glory in the highest (heaven).' How 'Hosanna' comes to have this meaning, is disputed. It is taken from Psalms 118:25, where it is addressed to God, and means 'Save (us) now.' Probably it had become a mere exclamation of praise, 'a kind of holy hurrah,' the consciousness of its grammatical meaning being lost, as in the case of 'Alleluia.' This is clearly the case in the 'Didache,' which has the phrase, 'Hosanna to the God of David '(Did. 10).

The exclamation 'Hosanna' was used chiefly at the Feast of Tabernacles. The seventh day of that feast was called 'Hosanna Day,' and the branches carried by the worshippers were called 'Hosannas.' The events of Palm Sunday are thus an imitation of the ritual of that festival.

It is sometimes said that the well-known classical custom of carrying palms in token of victory was unknown to the Jews of our Lord's time; but certainly the palms carried Revelation 7:9 seem to be symbols of victory.

12-17. Cleansing of the Temple. Hosannas of the Children (Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45). In St. Matthew this event seems to take place on Palm Sunday, but Mark 11:11 makes it clear that it did not occur till next day. On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus went into the Temple, and 'looked round about on all things,' but, the hour being late, retired to Bethany.

This cleansing of the Temple is probably not the same as that described John 2:13; (see notes there), but a distinct event. For, (1) both events are definitely dated by the evangelists; (2) the repetition of the act is natural, the abuses, during a period of two years, having had time to recur; (3) the omission of the former event by the synoptists, and of the latter by St. John, are explained by the general design of the synoptists to record only the Galilean ministry, and of St. John to supplement rather than duplicate the synoptic narratives. The cleansing of the Temple and of its worship, and of the priesthood, were among the expected activities of the Messiah, according to Malachi 3:1-3.

The incident of the children in the Temple is peculiar to St. Matthew.

12. The tables of the moneychangers] According to Edersheim the Temple-market was what is called in the Talmud 'the booths of the sons of Annas.' The bulk of the enormous profits went to increase the wealth of Annas, his family, and adherents. The Talmud frequently speaks in strong language of the iniquities of this traffic, which was swept away by a strong explosion of popular feeling three years before the destruction of Jerusalem.

The money-changers sat in the Temple-court, (1) to receive the half-shekel which was due from every male Israelite at this period (see on Matthew 17:24), and could be paid either at home or in Jerusalem; (2) to change foreign money into Jewish currency, with which alone the half-shekel could be paid, or animals for sacrifice be bought. The money-changers' commission was called Kollubos, hence the money-changers were called Kollubistœ. They probably paid a large percentage of their profits to Annas.

Plumptre compares with this incident 'the state of the great cathedral of London, as painted in the literature of Elizabeth and James, when mules and horses laden with market produce were led through St. Paul's as a matter of every-day occurrence, and bargains were struck there, and burglaries planned, and servants hired.'

13. Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11.

14-16. Peculiar to St. Matthew.

14. The blind and the lame] who were begging at the Temple gates (Acts 3:2).

15. Sore displeased] because even children were calling Jesus 'son of David,' i.e. 'Messiah.' Boys under fourteen are meant.

17. Bethany] He probably lodged with Lazarus and his sisters. Bethany was on the further side of the Mt. of Olives, about 15 furlongs distant (John 11:18), on the road to Jericho.

18-22. Cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14 and Mark 11:20-25). St. Mark makes it clear that the fig tree was cursed on Monday morning as they left Bethany, but that the effect of the curse was not noticed till Tuesday morning.

This, the only miracle of wrath worked by Jesus, is also a revelation of God's mercy, for whereas the countless miracles of mercy were all wrought upon men, this one was wrought upon a tree. 'He parches the tree' (says Theophylact), 'that He may teach men wisdom.' 'He exercises His power '(says Euthymius), 'not on a man, because He is a lover Of men, but on a plant.' The whole incident is an acted parable. There is no reason to suppose that Jesus was really hungry, or expected to find figs. St. Mark says expressly that the time of figs was not yet. Probably His words and actions were entirely symbolic, like those of the prophets (Jeremiah 13:1; Jeremiah 27:2; 1 Kings 22:11, etc.).

The one fig tree, standing apart from all other trees, is the Jewish nation, and whereas it alone had leaves, while the other trees were bare, it signifies that whereas Israel made great professions of righteousness and of the service of God, the other nations of the earth made none. Both Jew and Gentile were, indeed, equally unfruitful, but the Jew added to his unfruitfulness the appearance of fruit, for it is the peculiarity of the fig tree that its fruit appears and is well developed before there is any sign of leaves. When, therefore, leaves appear on a fig tree, ripe fruit may justly be expected. The fault of the fig tree, therefore, was not that it had no fruit, which was not to be expected at that season, but that it pretended to have it, and had not.

The curse of perpetual barrenness pronounced by Jesus upon the fig tree, i.e. upon Israel, has received a signal fulfilment. In the time of Christ it was an active missionary religion, making thousands of proselytes in every province of the empire, and leavening religious thought far beyond its own borders. Now it enrolls no proselytes.

20. How soon] RV 'How did the fig tree immediately wither away?' The disciples, instead of asking the meaning of the miracle, ask how it was done? Jesus did not explain its symbolical meaning, but made it an object-lesson in the power of believing prayer.

21. Cp. Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6; 1 Corinthians 13:2. Be thou removed] a proverbial expression for something very difficult. The rabbis, who could solve questions of great difficulty, were called 'rooters up of mountains', and it was said of a skilful teacher that 'he plucked up mountains and ground them one upon another.'

22. All things] Not all things absolutely, but all things of which the petitioners are worthy.

23-27. Christ's authority to teach challenged (Mark 11:27; Luke 20:1).

23. The chief priests] A deputation from the Sanhedrin, seeking some excuse to ex-communicate Him. By what authority?] Jesus had not received rabbinical ordination, and had no authority therefore to teach as a rabbi. Doest thou these things] referring not only to His teaching, but to His cleansing of the Temple, His miracles, His triumphal entry into the city, and His ministry in general.

27. We cannot tell] To be forced to admit their ignorance, was more damaging to their reputation than a definite answer would have been, for one of the most important duties of the Sanhedrin, according to the Mishna, was to judge between true and false prophets, and to inflict exemplary punishment upon the latter. Neither tell I] By implication Jesus claimed the authority of a prophet, or an even higher authority.

28-32. Parable of the Two Sons (peculiar to St. Matthew). The 'certain man' is God, and He is represented as a father, to set forth His impartial love to all mankind, righteous and sinful alike. The son who said 'I go, sir,' and went not, is the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, who 'rejected for themselves the counsel of God, not having been baptised of John' (Luke 7:30). The other son, who at first insolently refused to go, and then repented and went, is the publicans and harlots, who 'believed John, and were baptised by him.' More generally the first class embraces those who are satisfied with the outward form of godliness and with the avoidance of open sin; the second class those who, though sinners, know that they are such, and so are more easily brought to repentance.

31. Before you] Graciously intimating that the door of repentance was still open to them.

32. In the way of righteousness] i.e. of legal righteousness. The Pharisees had no excuse for neglecting the preaching of John, for it was based on the Law which they idolised, and ran counter to none of their cherished convictions. The preaching of Christ was different, and could not easily be received by strict Jews, unless they had first passed through the preliminary baptism of John.

33-46. The Wicked Husbandmen (Mark 12:1; Luke 20:9). The doctrinal importance of this parable, which belongs to the oldest tradition, is great. In it Christ claims to be in a unique sense the Son of God. He calls Moses and the prophets slaves and bondservants, and places Himself at an immense elevation above them as the beloved Son of the Householder, and the sole heir of His possessions. The parable contains a remarkable prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (Matthew 21:41).

33. 'The householder is God, who on account of His tender love is called a man. The vineyard is the people of the Jews planted by God in the land of promise. The hedge is the Law, which hindered them from mingling with the nations, the winepress the altar of sacrifice, the tower the Temple, the husband-men, the teachers of the people, i.e. the Pharisees and scribes. And the householder (God) departed, when He no longer spoke to them in the pillar of cloud, or perhaps the departure of God is His longsuffering; for God seems to sleep and to be in a far country, when He is longsuffering, and does not call men to account for their sins the moment that they are committed '(Theophylact). Tower] i.e. a watchtower for the keepers who were set to guard the vineyard when the grapes were nearly ripe (Job 27:18; Song of Solomon 1:6; Isaiah 1:8).

34. Time of the fruit] 'In the history of souls and of nations, there are seasons which even more than all other are times of fruit; when God requires such with more than usual earnestness, when it will fare ill with a soul or a nation, if these be not found' (Trench). 'And the fruits of the vineyard are the keeping of the commandments of the Law, and the practice of the virtues; and the servants are the prophets who when sent to demand from Israel obedience to the Law and a virtuous life, were variously maltreated' (Euthyndus).

35. Killed] According to tradition Isaiah was sawn asunder, and Jeremiah stoned: see also 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 and cp. Hebrews 11.

37. They will reverence my son] 'This He said, not as if they would do so, for He knew they would not, but pointing out what they ought to do' (Euthymius). 'When God is said to doubt about the future, it is that human free-will may be preserved' (Jerome).

41. They say] Jesus extorts their condemnation from their own lips. Otherwise in St. Mark and St. Luke. He will, etc.] RV 'He will miserably destroy those miserable men.' The allusion is to the destruction of Jerusalem 70 a.d., and the end of the Jewish dispensation.

Other husbandmen] i.e. the ministers of the Christian Church, many of them Gentiles, who succeeded to the charge which the scribes and Pharisees neglected.

42. The stone, etc.] Psalms 118:22; Acts 4:11. The 'stone,' of course, is Christ. The 'builders' are the Jews. The 'head of the corner' is the most important position in a building, so that Christ represents Himself as the foundation upon which the Kingdom of God was to be built up in spite of His rejection by the Jews.

In the Ps. the 'stone' is the Jewish nation, rejected and despised by the Gentiles during the captivity, but after the return restored to a place of honour among the nations of the earth. But on the principle that what is said of Israel applies especially to the Messiah, the rabbis interpreted the passage Messianically, e.g. Rabbi Salomo on Micah 5:1 said, 'It is the Messiah the Son of David, of whom it is written, The stone which the builders rejected,' etc.

43. The favour of God will be withdrawn from a nation that obeys not His will, and bestowed on one that does. The kingdom = the privileges of the kingdom.

44. Wetstein well says, 'He who falls upon a great stone, is bruised indeed, but can be healed, but he upon whom'a great stone falls, is ground as it were to dust, like the chaff that is scattered to the winds.' Spiritually interpreted, those who fell upon the stone, are those who stumbled at the humiliation of Christ, but were to be recovered by His glorious Resurrection. Those upon whom the stone fell, are those who did not suffer themselves to be recovered even by that miracle, and so were involved in the common destruction of the Jewish nation. Euthymius says, 'Christ is called the corner-stone, because as the corner-stone unites in itself two walls, so also Christ unites in Himself two peoples, the Gentiles and the Jews, and by faith makes them one.'

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 21:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-21.html. 1909.

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Saturday, August 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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