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FINAL TEACHING IN JERUSALEM
119. The triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19)
The time had now come for Jesus to challenge his opponents openly by a clear public demonstration that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted to arrest him, but when told of his whereabouts they feared to take action. They were unsure of the extent of Jesus’ popular support (cf. John 11:57; John 12:9-11).
To make sure that nothing stopped him from making a bold public entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had made a secret arrangement with some unnamed villagers who would provide the donkey that he would ride. By using a pre-arranged password, two of his disciples collected the donkey and brought it to him (Matthew 21:1-3; Luke 19:28-34).
As the messianic king, the son of David, Jesus then entered his royal city of Zion. He came not riding a horse as a conquering warlord, but sitting on a donkey as a king of peace, as the Scriptures foretold (see Zechariah 9:9). People who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, along with local residents, welcomed him as the Messiah. They may not have understood the nature of his messiahship, but they were enthusiastic in their acceptance of him (Matthew 21:4-11; Luke 19:35-38; John 12:12-16. (The word ‘Hosanna’, meaning ‘Save us, O Lord’, came from two Hebrew words found in Psalms 118:0, where Israel’s victorious king was welcomed with the words, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’; Psalms 118:25-26. By New Testament times the two expressions, used together, had become a declaration of praise to God for the promised Messiah.)
The Pharisees were annoyed at the welcome Jesus received and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to silence the people (Luke 19:39-40). As the news of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus spread, more and more people flocked to see him. The thing the Pharisees most feared was happening before their eyes (John 12:17-19).
Jesus, however, was not deceived by this enthusiastic welcome. He knew that when people properly understood the nature of his messiahship, they would turn against him. The nation as a whole would reject him, and in the judgment to follow, Jerusalem would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44). The significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not political but spiritual, and therefore he went not to the palace but to the temple. He took note of what was happening there, then returned with his disciples to Bethany, where they spent the night (Mark 11:11).
120. Jesus cleanses the temple (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48)
At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus had cleansed the temple (see John 2:13-25), but old practices had returned. Now that he had come to his messianic city he cleansed it again. By his action he showed God’s judgment on those who had forgotten the real purpose of religious exercises and used them chiefly to make money (Matthew 21:12-13).
God was more pleased with Jesus’ action in healing the blind and the crippled than with all the religious activity of the Jews. Even the children saw the worth of Jesus’ action and shouted their praises accordingly. The temple authorities were angered at such behaviour by the children in the temple, but Jesus responded that the children clearly saw what the religious leaders could not, namely, that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 21:14-16). Again, at the end of the day Jesus returned to Bethany (Matthew 21:17).
121. Jesus curses the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14,Mark 11:20-26)
In the morning, as Jesus and his disciples walked from Bethany back to Jerusalem, they passed a fig tree that Jesus saw as symbolic of the Jewish nation. He went to the fig tree looking for fruit but found none. Similarly he came to the Jewish nation looking for spiritual fruit, but in spite of all its outward signs of religion, spiritually it produced no fruit for God. By causing the fig tree to dry up, Jesus illustrated the judgment that would fall on the nation after it finally rejected its Messiah (Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 11:12-14,Mark 11:20-21).
The incident was also a lesson on the effectiveness of prayer. When people make requests to God, they must have undoubting faith in the one to whom they pray and a forgiving attitude towards others (Matthew 21:21-22; Mark 11:22-26).
122. Authority of Jesus questioned (Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)
When Jesus returned to the temple, the Jewish religious leaders came to trap him with a question. They hoped to find something in his answer that would enable them to bring a charge, civil or religious, against him. They asked him by what authority he acted the way he did, particularly in overthrowing the established practices of the Jewish temple (Matthew 21:23).
Instead of answering directly, Jesus adjusted the question and turned it back on the religious leaders, so that they were the ones who found difficulty in answering. In doing this, Jesus was not trying to avoid telling the truth, but trying to make them see the truth. If they gave him a correct answer to his question, they would have the answer to their own question. Jesus’ question concerned the authority of John the Baptist. If they acknowledged that John was sent by God, they were acknowledging that Jesus also was sent by God, because John’s message was to announce the arrival of Jesus as God’s chosen Messiah. If they denied that John was sent by God, they could expect trouble from the crowds, because many people still held John in high esteem (Matthew 21:24-27).
When the leaders would not answer, Jesus told a story to rebuke them once more for their refusal to repent. He likened sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes to a son who at first disobeyed his father but later changed his mind. The sinners repented of their wrongdoing and so entered God’s kingdom. He likened the Pharisees to another son, who pretended to be obedient but, in fact, did not obey. The Pharisees claimed to be obedient to God, but they refused to obey John’s call to repentance (Matthew 21:28-32).
123. The wicked vineyard keepers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18)
This parable pictures Israel as a vineyard, God as the owner of the vineyard, and the Jewish religious leaders as the tenants who looked after it. Just as the tenants beat and killed the servants whom the owner sent to them, so Israel’s leaders persecuted and killed God’s messengers, from Old Testament prophets to John the Baptist. Now they were about to reject God’s Son himself (Matthew 21:33-39). By rejecting him the Jews were bringing punishment on themselves. God would take away the privileges from Israel and give them to the Gentiles (Matthew 21:40-41).
Another picture illustrated this truth. Jesus was likened to the cornerstone of a building, which in ancient buildings was the stone upon which the structure depended. In rejecting Jesus, the Jews were like builders who threw away the cornerstone. God now took this rejected stone and used it in the construction of a new building, the Christian church. This new community would be mainly Gentile, and all of it built around and built into Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:42-43). People’s attitude to Jesus determined their destiny, and those who rejected him guaranteed their own destruction. The leaders of the Jews knew he was talking about them and wanted to arrest him, but they were not sure how the crowd would react (Matthew 21:44-46).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16