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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-22

XVI

JESUS AT BETHANY; THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY; THE FIG TREE CURSED; THE COMING OF THE GREEKS, AND THE CRISIS OF THIS WORLD

Harmony, pages 140-146 and Matthew 21:1-22; Mark 11:1-18; Luke 19:29-48; John 11:55-12:50.


We now come to the seventh part of the Harmony, devoted to the transaction of one week. The record extends from page 140 to page 217 of the Harmony. It is very thrilling. There is no halt; one event chases another. It is as living a narrative for rapidity of action as can be found in any language, and from now on to the conclusion of the Harmony we have before us the greatest studies to which the mind of man was ever directed. On page 140 there is a paragraph from John. That paragraph of just a few lines tells everything that is recorded about two of the days of the week, Friday and Saturday. Friday he gets to Bethany; Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, he remains there; there is nothing recorded about it at all. So that from the bottom of page 140 to the part that commences with the appearances, we have just six days. Now, as that one paragraph in John tells about what took place Friday and Saturday, so we have what happened on Sunday pages 140-143; what happened on Monday, pages 144-146; and what happened on Tuesday, pages 146-148, and so on. But we will have to do our hardest studying when we come to what happened on Tuesday. Just now, however, we are to consider what happened on Friday. The events that happened on Friday were that Jesus, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, and on that very day in Jerusalem there was an intense curiosity as to whether Jesus would come to this feast. The resurrection of Lazarus had made a profound impression. It stirred the people; it stirred the enemies of Jesus, and there was an increased curiosity in the city about his coming. About that time the common people found out that he was already within two miles of Jerusalem, at Bethany, there on Friday, and so a great many of them go out that afternoon to Bethany, just a two-mile walk, with a double purpose in view: First, to see Jesus; and, second, to look in the face of a man who had been raised from the dead after he had been dead four days. When the Pharisees saw that great throng leaving Jerusalem that Friday afternoon to go two miles out to Bethany, and learning that one of the motives that prompted them to go was to see Lazarus, then they counseled together to put Lazarus to death as well as Jesus. They were afraid for the people to go out and see Lazarus. They were afraid that the multitudes, through this miracle of the raising of Lazarus and their personal knowledge of the fact that Lazarus was raised, would turn from them.


Saturday, which was the Jewish sabbath, he remained quietly in Bethany. Now we notice what took place on Sunday. That is the first time that Sunday is brought into prominence as the first day of the week. On the first day of the week Jesus is proclaimed King; on the first day of the week Jesus rises from the dead; on the first day of the week he makes his appearance after rising from the dead; on the first day of the week he pours out the Holy Spirit upon his church. From now on Sunday will be prominent. That is what is called Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday occupies a conspicuous place in ecclesiastical calendars. The world is full of literature on Palm Sunday. The Romanists and Episcopalians have a special service on every Palm Sunday, and on the following Sunday, which is Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. On one he was proclaimed King; on the other he was raised from the dead, and crowned King in heaven.


Now, my own calculation commences with the commandment in Ezra 7:13, which was 457 B.C., and adding 483 years it brings us to the baptism of Jesus Christ when he was publicly acknowledged from heaven and the Spirit of God descended upon him.


The procession was twofold. First, his disciples and the Bethany people, including the Jews, that had come to him the Friday previous, and then a multitude, when he was on the march to Jerusalem, came out and joined him. It was an immense procession. They knew that Zechariah had prophesied that when their King came he would come that way. They knew from the prophets just what they should say in acclamation: "Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" and they gathered the branches and leaves of the palm trees and spread them down before him. Some spread their clothes down for him to ride on, and the whole multitude shouted and sang as they moved, and one thousand pieces of artillery thundering at one time on Jerusalem could not have shocked and startled his enemies like seeing that throng. The event was a vivid fulfilment of Scripture and identified the Messiah, The demonstration terrified his enemies. Some of the multitudes were not participating in either the praise or throwing down branches for him to ride on, and they said, "Master, rebuke thy disciples. They are applying to you the words that belong to the Messiah. Rebuke them." He replied, "If these shall hold their peace, the stones shall cry out." Why? Because this is the day that marks the winding up of the probation of the Jewish people, and if nobody should cry out, "Hosanna to the Son of David," then the rocks their lasting silence should break and cry out, "Hosanna to the Son of David."


It is characteristic of children to be intensely interested in parades and processions. When a circus comes, we see the little children running to where they can see it, and when it passes them, they cut around another corner and wait for it to pass again. So these children cut around and got into the Temple, as that was Jesus’ objective point. And as he approaches the Temple they take up the song, "Hosanna to the Son of David," and the Pharisees speak again: "Hearest thou what these children are saying? Ought you to suffer that? Why even the little children are hailing you as the Messiah!" Jesus whirled upon them and said, "Yea, did ye never read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? Have you never read that?"


The next section commences on page 144 of the Harmony, and is the beginning of what took place on Monday. We will consider the sections separately and in order.

THE FIG TREE CURSED (Mark 11:12-14 and Mark 11:20-25; Matthew 21:18-22)

It has already been a subject of remark that nearly all of our Lord’s miracles were miracles of mercy, and that only two were punitive – the cursing of the fig tree and the permitted destruction of the swine in the sea. This cursing of the fig tree, in fact, must be compared with the parable of the barren fig tree on page 118 of the Harmony given in Luke 13:6-9. It may be well in this connection to repeat the very words of that parable: "He spake also this parable: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none. And he said unto the vinedresser, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground? And he answering saith unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; and if not, thou shalt cut it down."


The parable represents the Holy City, Jerusalem. For three years he had been preaching to them concerning the kingdom of God. They had borne no fruit and a sentence is pronounced: "Why doth it also cumber the ground? Cut it down." The husbandman or dresser of the vineyard pleads for one more year, the part of the year yet remaining of the ministry of our Lord. How often has the parable been the theme of a sermon or of an admonition!


In our old family Testament on the margin in the handwriting of my father are these words: "Lord, spare him another year." This was written concerning my oldest brother, and on the other margin in my mother’s handwriting years afterward are these words: "He now bears fruit."


It is the mission of a fig tree to bear fruit. If it does not bear fruit it has failed of the object of its being. It is characteristic of the fig tree that it puts out its fruit before it puts on its leaves, hence to see leaves on a fig tree justifies an expectation of fruit. Jesus leaving Bethany walking toward Jerusalem, not yet having had the breakfast or first meal of the Jews and being hungry, sees a fig tree covered with leaves. He goes to it to find fruit, and finding none, pronounces a curse upon it that withers it instantly to its taproot. The action is symbolic. It represents the cursing and destruction of Jerusalem, a total and overwhelming destruction, a destruction that was so unnecessary if only their eyes had been opened to the things which made for their peace. How well Luke has expressed the thought: "When he drew nigh, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known in this day," that is, the great Palm Sunday, the day when he came as King, so vividly foretold by the prophets, "If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. . . . Thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, . . . and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19:41-44).


An infidel has said that it was not the season for figs, and according to the text itself, the curse was unjustifiable but the meaning here is that it was the full season for figs; the tree is not cursed for failing to bear fruit out of season, but having failed in season it now creates an expectation of fruit by putting forth its leaves. In nearly all books upon the Holy Land we find the fact stated that in some places of the country some fig trees bear fruit earlier than others and often some in the same garden, one tree being in a sunny spot sheltered from cold winds, bears a week or two ahead of other trees, and the putting forth of the leaf is the sign that the fruit is there.

THE COMING OF THE GREEKS (John 12:10-36)
This section is intensely interesting, not merely on account of the historical incident, but on account of the great group of mighty lessons developed from it. Certain Greeks of those that went up to worship at the feast came to Philip and said, "Sir, we would see Jesus." I suppose many preachers, as well as myself, have preached from that text, "Sir, we would see Jesus!" and maybe got more out of the text than those Greeks meant. I suppose those Greeks were Jewish proselytes, as the Ethiopian eunuch was a proselyte, that is, they had adopted the Jewish religion, and coming up to the annual feast were concerned to see the new great expounder of their adopted religion. When informed of their desire to see him, our Lord makes this strange reply, "The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified." What is its relevancy to the request of the Greeks that they should see him? Apparently this: if the Gentiles, already knocking at the gate of grace which they could not possess until the time of the Jews be fulfilled, then does not their coming prove that the hour approaches for Christ to die and for all Gentiles to share in his salvation? Hence he says, "The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified." But how is he to be glorified? He explains: "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit." The sense of the passage seems to be this: "The Gentiles are coming. In their salvation I will be glorified. I cannot get to that glory except through my cross." His disciples all the time misconceived the nature of his kingdom: "Far be it from thee, Lord, to suffer death," and "Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus rebukes them by teaching first, his death: "I can attain no glory nor bear fruit until I die." Then he announces the general principle: "He that loveth his life loses it; he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If a man profess to love me, let him follow me; if when to follow me means to die with me, come to my cross. Men cannot be my disciples except they take up the cross and follow me." We must die to our sins, by the withering work of the Holy Spirit, before we can bear the fruit of joy in our regeneration. That was the astounding thing the prophet spoke concerning John the Baptist. This man comes to bring the news of salvation, and what shall he say? And the voice said, "Say that all flesh is grass and the grass withereth and its flower fadeth." In other words, as Christ died before he was glorified, there must be the withering work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to precede the saving work.


He now turns from the special application of his words to the coming of the Greeks, to the general principles involved in his death. "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say?" This death ahead of him was not a painted death. It was not merely a physical death. It was a spiritual death; it was a penal death. The baptism of suffering was not a mere sprinkling of sorrow, but it was an overwhelming flood. Wave after wave must roll over him.


A few aspersed drops on the brow can never represent the overwhelming sorrows of Christ when deep uttered its voice to deep at the noise of its water-spouts. He continues: "Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?" In view of its sorrow shall he ask God to avert it? It was for this cause he came into the world and shall he offer prayer to defeat the object of his mission? Later on when we see him in the garden of Gethsemane and the awful horrors of Calvary are already felt in apprehension, we indeed hear him pray: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." That seems to mean, "If men can be saved without my death; if thy omniscience can discern some other plan; if thy omnipotence can bring about any other way of salvation, then let this cup pass from my lips." But if there is no other way and no other plan for the salvation of man, then he offers to drink the cup according to the will of God. It seems to me that this is the most convincing proof in the world that there can be no salvation apart from salvation in Christ.


Having thus stated the only method of his glorification and the horror of that method, he now prays: "Father, glorify thy name," and the silence of heaven is broken by a voice from the most excellent glory, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again." This is the third time that a voice of attestation has come from the highest heaven – once at his baptism when the Father said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"; once at his transfiguration, when the Father again said, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him," and now, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again." This brings us to a climax. The thought has been continually mounting upward as if climbing from one peak of a range to another still higher, until at last the foot is planted upon the crest of the loftiest summit.

THE CRISIS OF THIS WORLD
The coming of the Greeks suggested the thought. He sees the coming of the Gentile world. The desire of the Greeks, "Sir, we would see Jesus!" he interprets as coming from the lips of all nations. In their voice he hears the Roman and the Briton and every nation and tribe and tongue saying, "Sir, we would see Jesus." It is no Jewish crisis of which he speaks when he says, "Now is the crisis of this world." In employing the English word "crisis," I simply Anglicize the Greek term. The world has had but two crises: The first man when he stood before the tree of death and yielded to the temptation of his wife – that was the first crisis. In him the race fell. In that fall Satan usurped the sovereignty of this world. He has been the prince of this world ever since, and now the Second Adam has come. Satan was foiled in his first temptation of our Lord immediately after his baptism. But he only left him for a season. He is back again. The conflict between the Prince of life and the prince of death has been raging for three and a half years. The death grapple comes on the cross. There the serpent will bruise the heel of the Messiah and there the Messiah will crush the serpent’s head. So when this temptation comes to him to shun the horrors of his sacrificial, penal, and substitutionary death, it is again and for the last time the crisis, not of the Jews alone, but of the whole world. This Second Adam, this messianic Prince, who, before his incarnation, created the world for his own glory and from whom it had been snatched by the wiles of Satan in the fall of the first Adam, shall regenerate this world. The material earth itself shall be purified by fire. All its land and sea, its mountains and valleys, its sky and its earth, shall be redeemed.


The strong man armed has kept his goods in peace, but he shall be bound hand and foot, stripped of his armor and expelled from the house which he has defiled.


The crisis consists in this: That the prince of this world – the usurping prince – shall be cast out, and now on the last mountaintop the cross is erected as the supreme climax and his words ring out, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself." By being lifted up he signifies the manner of his death on the cross. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life." That lifting up occurred nearly two thousand years ago. We may well ask, "Has it lost its attractive power? Can it now draw men?" Paul said to the Galatians long after the crucifixion of Christ, "Before whose eyes Christ was openly get forth crucified." On the cross he was lifted up in fact, but in the gospel he is lifted up as a proclamation of that fact.


Every time the preacher sets forth from the pulpit Christ crucified as the hope of glory, he is lifted up. Every time a man, claiming to be a preacher, substitutes for the cross some inferior theme, he is guilty of the blood of Jesus Christ. The cross is Time’s masterpiece and Eternity’s glory. And whoever in simple, childlike faith will lift up Jesus crucified will find that it draws more than any sensational advertisement, pays better than the hired singing of theatrical choirs, pays better than philosophical, economic, or ethical discussion, and ultimately not only all redeemed will be drawn to that cross, but all the lost will be compelled to bow the knee, and every tongue in the last judgment shall confess his name, and even from the horrors of hell in that day of revelation of the righteous judgment of God shall say, "Thy judgment is just."


I mean to say that everybody that ever lived upon this earth and every angel who has ministered, and every fallen demon who has sought to mar and obstruct the kingdom of God, shall at the last acknowledge the wisdom and glory of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ – some in their salvation and others in their punishment.


They, blind as moles, replied: "We have heard out of the law that the Christ abideth forever: and how sayest thou the Son of man must be lifted up?" The lifting up is the means of his abiding forever. Again they say, "Who is this Son of man?" Had they never read Daniel? Does not that great prophet fix the title of the Messiah as the "Son of man," and does not Christ accept the title? Did they not recall how that prophet said that he saw one like unto the Son of man, brought to the Ancient of Days and thousands and thousands and ten thousand times ten thousands ministered unto him, and that there was given him a kingdom that should never end? In that way shall he abide forever.


Isaiah, seven hundred years before, had foreseen their rejection and the triumph of the cross in that great Isaiah 53, commencing: "Lord, who hath believed our report and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Men saw no beauty in him that they should desire him. To them he seemed to be afflicted and smitten of God. They did not understand that by his stripes we are to be healed, and that God was to put on him the iniquity of us all, and that be must pour out his soul unto death, and that when he poured out his soul unto death then he should see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.


We have seen all of the final struggle pivoting on the raising of Lazarus. That event led the Sanhedrin to its final determination to put the Christ to death. Then we have seen him coming according to the Scriptures on that great Palm Sunday, and their rebuking of his disciples and of the little children because they cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"

QUESTIONS

1. What division of the Harmony does this study embrace and what can you say of the narrative?

2. Which one of the historians gives an account of our Lord’s actions on Friday and Saturday of his last week, and what were they?

3. What particular interest upon the part of the common people were manifested, what the actions of the chief priests and why?

4. What did Christ do on Sunday and what other great events in the scripture marking the first day of the week?

5. What is this Sunday called by Romanists and Episcopalians, what other Sunday is of importance with them, and what do you think of such celebrations?

6. From what date does the author calculate Palm Sunday and how?

7. Who constituted the procession into Jerusalem, what prophet had foretold this event, how did the procession demonstrate its joy, and what the effect on Jerusalem?

8. What request came from some of the multitude and why, what Christ’s answer and its signification?

9. What interest manifested on this occasion by the children, who objected and what Christ’s reply?

10. What two of our Lord’s miracles only were punitive?

11. What parable must be considered in connection with this cursing of the fig tree, what does the parable represent, what the three years, what the extra year begged for it by the husbandman, and what touching incident in the author’s family in this connection to illustrate?

12. What is the mission of a fig tree, what is its characteristic, justifies what expectation, what is the application, and how does Luke express Jerusalem’s great responsibility in this matter?

13. What infidel objection, and what is the reply?

14. Why is the incident of the coming of the Greeks intensely interesting, who were these Greeks, why their interest to see Jesus, when thus informed what was Jesus’ reply, what its relevancy to this coming of the Greeks, how was he to be glorified, what misapprehension by the disciples, what general principle announced. What its application?

15. What was the nature of the death that he was to die?

16. Did Christ try to escape death for the salvation of the world, what was the meaning of the prayer in Gethsemane, what great proof that there can be no salvation apart from salvation in Christ?

17. What was his prayer on this occasion, what was the Father’s response, what three voices from the Most Excellent Glory, and how do they express a climax?

18. What did Jesus hear in the voice of these Greeks, what thought did it suggest to him, how many and what crises of the world, how is this a crisis of the world, what the parallels between the two crises, what to be the outcome of the last, what part has the preacher in the result, and what theme suggested for the preacher?

19. What was the reply of the multitude, what prophecies show their blindness?

20. Show the connection of these events with the raising of Lazarus.

Verses 23-33

XVII

THREE QUESTIONS AND CHRIST’S ANSWERS

Harmony, pages 147-154 and Matthew 21:23-22:33; Mark 11:27-12:27; Luke 20:1-40


This section commences on page 147 of the Harmony, near the bottom. Before its special exposition let us consider several introductory thoughts:


First, It is a part of a great day in the life of our Lord. We have already noted one great day’s work in Galilee, and a little later we considered another great day, and this one makes the third. The transactions of this one twenty-four hour day covers everything from page 146 to page 172 of the Harmony. If we reckoned according to the Jewish method of days, from sunset to sunset, we would have to stop at page 168.


To obtain some general idea of the tremendous work of this day we must group its events:


Jesus walked from Bethany to the Temple – two miles.


On the way he gave the lesson concerning the withering of the fig tree.


On arriving at the Temple he began walking about and teaching. Here the Sanhedrin pressed on him this question of authority: "What sort of authority have you for doing these things and from whom did you get it?" Their inquiry looks to the nature of his authority and its author. To that question he makes an elaborate reply. Then commences the series of questions resulting from a conspiracy on the part of his several enemies with a view to ensnare him or tangle him in his talk in one way or another that would make him odious either to the authorities or to some part of the people. The object of the second question is to put him either in opposition to Herod and Rome, and thus make him amenable to the civil authority, or to the people, and thus destroy his popularity. This was a question concerning the tribute money. Then comes a question concerning the resurrection, the answer to which they hoped would array him against either the Sadducees or the Pharisees. This was followed by a question as to the kind of commandment that should be considered greatest. The form of this question resulted from a conference among themselves, and they selected a lawyer to propound it. To all of these questions he gave the most marvelous replies, demonstrating his supreme wisdom and rendering them dumb. Then follows his last public discourse, in which he makes a terrible indictment against the scribes and Pharisees, denounces an awful penalty upon the Jewish nation, but holds out a glorious future hope.


Then follows his lesson on giving suggested by the widow’s contribution to the treasury of the Temple. Then, after he left the Temple and got as far as Mount Olivet going to Bethany, came his great discourse concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and his final advent in response to the questions of his disciples. This great discourse is recorded in Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21.


Following this comes a lesson concerning his death nearly at hand. In the meantime a meeting of the Sanhedrin is held concerning the way to put him to death. We have a thrilling account of a feast given in his honor when he arrives at Bethany, at which he is anointed by Mary, and where he delivered a great lesson concerning that anointing. Following this anointing Judas returns to Jerusalem and offers for a price to betray him to the Pharisees. All of these events thus grouped happened in one day. The strain upon both his physical and mental resources must have been very great.


Second, The next introductory thought lies in the obvious fact that here it is Bethany versus Jerusalem, an obscure village against the Holy City. His headquarters are at Bethany and every morning he goes into the city and teaches in the Temple, and every afternoon late he goes back to Bethany. The whole narrative here is very lively.


Third, We cannot fail to see the steps of a triple development. The malice of his enemies ripens rapidly. We see also the development in the clearness of Christ’s exposure of their murderous attempt. We see the rapid development in the spiritual downfall of Judas Iscariot and how it culminated.


Commencing then on page 147 of the Harmony, in the text of Matthew 21:23-22:14, Mark 11:27-12:12, and Luke 20:1-19, let us consider in detail such of the events of this great day, as come within this discussion. We see him walking and teaching in the Temple. One who is familiar with Greek history may recall how Aristotle was accustomed to teach in the same manner, walking about with his disciples under the colonnades of certain buildings; hence the name, "peripatetic philosophy." He may also recall from Greek history the method of Socrates, who taught by asking and answering questions, and the scene of Paul at the marketplace in Athens.

FIRST QUESTION
The scribes and Pharisees commenced the catechism with this twofold question: "By what sort of authority do you teach and do these things and who gave it to you?" They were accustomed to give authority to the rabbis before they taught. No man could expect to be heard in teaching who could not show the authority by which he taught. Their questions, however, had already been answered by our Lord, as appears from John 12:44-50. I will quote:


And Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that beholdeth me beholdeth him that sent me. I come a light into the world that whosoever believeth on me may not abide in the darkness. And if any man hear my sayings, and keep them not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, bath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I spake not from myself, but the Father that sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life eternal; the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak.


Here very plainly and explicitly he has given a reply to that question as to the sort of authority under which he acted and the author of that authority. He had divine authority for all he said and did. They knew well enough what he had taught concerning his being sent of the Father, and there was no need to propound that question this time, but let us see how he replies now.


He replies by a counter question. This was an acceptable method of rejoinder by both Pharisee and Greek philosophers: "I also will ask you a question; and tell me – the baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?" After consideration they replied that they did not know. Their answer was insincere, for in their communing they had said, "If we say that John’s baptism is from heaven, then he will say, Why did not ye believe him when he testified of me and baptized me as the Messiah and pointed to me, saying, Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" Hence to answer that the baptism of John was from heaven would be to answer the question that they had just propounded to him. On the other hand, if they had answered that it was from men, then the people would rise up against them, for the people believed that John was a prophet, and here they would be defeated in the object that they had in view, viz., to destroy his popularity with the people. As the object of their questioning was to break his power with the people so that they could arrest him safely, we can readily see the dilemma in which he placed them by his counter question. So they had to stand there dumb before the people. To complete their discomfiture he then goes on to show that John was sent from heaven and that the people who believed in John were wiser than these religious teachers propounding questions to him: "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God ahead of you. They justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John, and you, when you saw it, repented not yourselves that you might believe." In this way he made it plain that it was not a desire upon their part to know his authority) but their question was one of guile and malice. Nor is he yet through with them upon this question of authority. He continues to press home upon them their own wickedness by a parable. A man had two sons. To the first he said, "Son, go along and work to-day in the vineyard," and he answered and said, "I will not," but afterward he repented and went. He said also to the other son, "Son, go and work in the vineyard," and he replied, "I will, sir," but went not. Having stated this parable he forces them to say which was the obedient son, the one who first said, "I will not" and afterwards obeyed, or the one who said, "I will," and did not obey. Having extorted from them the reply that the first was the obedient son, he then applied his lesson. Here are two classes of people: First, these publicans and harlots refused to obey God at first, going into open wickedness and wrong, then later repented and obeyed God and he accepted them. The other class, consisting of the scribes and Pharisees, are all the time saying, "I will, I will," but their professions are empty; they never obey.


He now drives them like a wolf into a final corner by another parable – the parable of the wicked husbandman. His object is to utterly expose the malice underlying all their opposition to him. They could not misunderstand the application of this parable. It is a perfect arraignment of the Jewish nation and of its leaders. Following the old time Jewish imagery he tells of a vineyard as one of the prophets hath said, "I brought a vine out of Egypt, and planted it and watered it and cultivated it, and what more could I do to my vineyard than I have done?" Now these husbandmen who had charge of that vineyard were refusing to its owner its land dues. The prophets who had been sent unto them were maltreated, their message rejected, some of them were killed, some sawn asunder, some stoned. Then at last the heir comes and they take counsel to kill him in order to make permanent their authority over the vineyard. His purpose is to show that the most inveterate unbelief, hardness of heart, and murderous malice are evinced by these scribes rind Pharisees. From that day until the present the unbelieving Jews have sought to evade the point of our Lord’s great indictment, that they have murdered the Prince of Glory, their own Messiah.


Many years ago, when I was a young pastor, a Jewish rabbi came to Waco and offered to prove from the Gospels themselves that the Jews were not guilty of the death of Christ; that he was punished according to the forms of the Jewish law. And he offered to prove this if any church in the city would offer him their pulpit. I accepted on condition that I be allowed to reply to him, and he would get his people to hear my reply, as I would get my people to hear his discussion. The arrangements were made and when he delivered his address he followed very closely an account of the trial of Jesus Christ given by Mr. Joseph Salvador, a physician and learned Jew, who had published at Paris a work entitled A History of the Institution of Moses and the Jewish People. In this history there is a chapter on the administration of justice. Then follows an application of the principles set forth in that chapter to the most memorable trial in history – that of Jesus Christ. Doubtless this rabbi supposed that nobody in Waco had ever heard of that book. When I began my reply the following night I recited the facts concerning Mr. Salvador’s book and that this rabbi’s speech was merely a series of quotations from that book, and then I gave the reply to Mr. Salvador’s book by a distinguished French lawyer, Mr. Dupin. Mr. Dupin, with the utmost courtesy and respect, grinds to fine powder Mr. Salvador’s argument. I then told the audience that they would find both Mr. Salvador’s argument, which was the same as that to which the audience had listened, and Mr. Dupin’s reply in an appendix to Greenleaf’s Testimony of the Evangelists.


I may refer also to a discussion by Mayor Gaynor of New York, and I mention the most exhaustive discussion by a great lawyer: The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer’s Standpoint – two volumes, by v. M. Chandler of the New York Bar. While fully agreeing with Mr. Chandler in his broad sympathies with all persecuted Jews, by any country" or religion, I utterly dissent from him on one capital point which is also both a legal and a historical one, my own conviction being that nations as well as individuals are responsible for their actions and the actions of their leaders, and more so in this case than in any other in history. There can be no serious question here. Jesus of Nazareth was pursued to death – murderous death – contrary to the forms of the Jewish law. This is exactly our Lord’s indictment, and in this argument of the wicked husbandman he puts the final point upon this indictment, forces these scribes and Pharisees to answer this question: "When, therefore, the Lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do unto these husbandmen?" And they are compelled to answer: "He will miserably destroy these miserable men, and will let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their season."


Our Lord seeks to prepare all of his audience for this immense transition, the taking away of the kingdom of God from the Jews and the giving of that kingdom to the Gentiles. He puts the capstone upon his application by a citation from the prophets, "The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner." Isaiah had said, "Behold, I lay for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone." Now our Lord’s charge is that this stone, which God himself had prepared for the foundation, they rejected, and then he announces their doom: "Whoever stumbles on that stone, whoever through unbelief in this life, rejects Christ, shall be broken. But upon whom that stone shall fall, he shall be ground to powder."


He follows up this victory by another parable, the parable of the marriage feast. We have already seen Luke’s account of a similar parable, and yet in some things dissimilar: The parable of the gospel feast. The distinction between the two is very important. A student should put them side by side. The gospel feast is at the beginning, illustrating the preaching of the gospel to the Jews. The marriage feast presents not the beginning, but the culmination. While the Jews counted a betrothal as binding as marriage, yet there was a distinction between the betrothal and the consummation of the marriage. The object of the gospel feast is to betroth Christ. The object of the marriage feast is to show the consummation of that betrothal. Paul says, "I have espoused you as a chaste virgin unto Christ." Everybody is invited under the terms of this gospel feast to be betrothed to Christ, but in this marriage feast the rejection is final, and as a penalty the king himself sends his armies and destroys the murderers and burns their city. Such is the fate of Jerusalem. Already the shadow of the coming armies of Titus on the nation appears. In less than forty years from the time that Jesus speaks this parable, Titus takes Jerusalem, since which time they have had no home, no Temple, and no national government.


This argument clearly shows that on the rejection of the Jews the heralds of the cross are to go to the highways and the hedges. There is one special incident in the parable – a man who outwardly accepts the invitation to the wedding feast, but attends without a wedding garment is cast into the outer darkness. He represents the formal professor of religion; the one who accepts God’s invitation so far as externals are concerned, but who makes no inward preparation. Thus by parable after parable Christ makes an end to his answer to their first question, "By what sort of authority do you teach and who gives it?"

SECOND QUESTION
The conspiracy underlying the second question and the motive prompting it is thus expressed by Luke 20:20: "And they watched him, and sent forth spies, who feigned themselves to be righteous, that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the rule and to the authority of the governor." There were two political parties. One was called the Herodians, that is, those who accepted the Roman government and its administration through Herod. The Sadducees belonged to this party. The Pharisees constituted the bulk of the other party. Their object was to free their nation from any semblance of dependence upon Rome. The issue between these parties was very sharp. Everywhere there was alignment for one or the other. One who committed himself to the Herodians deprived himself of favor with what is called the patriotic party led by the Pharisees, and one who openly aligned himself with them secured the enmity of the ruling party. Led by malice they feigned great love for Jesus and respect for his teaching and brought him a question concerning the poll tax or tribute money. With flattering words they thus introduce it: "Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, and carest not for any one: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us, therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not?" If he had answered, "Yes," this would have turned the people against him. If he had said, "No," this would have made him obnoxious to the authorities and would have furnished them the ground for preferring a charge of treason. It is a well laid plot. The question was a puzzling one to most of the Jewish people. They were a holy nation enslaved to a heathen nation. Could they as God’s own people pay this poll tax? History tells us that not long after Christ was crucified a rebellion took place on this very subject. A man named Judas in Galilee raised an insurrection, and Barabbas, about whom we will learn later, was not so much a common robber and murderer as he was a representative of this patriotic idea of freeing the nation from the iniquitous government of Rome. Our Lord does not hesitate to make a reply to their question. He passes no judgment on the righteousness of the Roman rule, but he recognizes the fact that they are the rulers of Judea. His mission is not a political one, but a spiritual one. He asks for the tribute money. Holding it in his hand he says, "Whose is this image and superscription?" They answer, "Caesar’s." He replies, "Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s."


This reply shows that he would not head a political faction; that his kingdom was not of this world; that while he did not justify the Roman government, he recognized the fact that they were the rulers of the nation and he made it the occasion of laying down a principle of worldwide application by his people. Paul repeats it later, "Render tribute to whom tribute is due." Peter repeats it, "Honor the king," not that he expresses a preference for a monarchial form of government over a democratic, but that it is not the object of the Christian religion primarily to teach forms of human government, but to save men; to deal with the spiritual condition of the people. The answer of our Lord to this second question, has, throughout all history, been the guiding principle of his people.

THIRD QUESTION
The Sadducees came to the front with a question that has hitherto puzzled their adversaries. They do not believe in the immortality of the soul. They are materialists. They think when a man dies that is the last of him, and, of course, they do not believe in the resurrection of the body. The Pharisees believe in the immortality of the soul and in the resurrection of the body. The Sadducees present what they consider an unanswerable question, citing a supposititious case of a man dying without an heir and under the Mosaic law his brother taking his place as a husband of the widow, and that brother dying without an heir, and so on, until she had been the wife of seven brothers. Then she dies. Now, in the resurrection which one of the seven will be her husband? Of course, they did not believe that there would be any resurrection, but as the Pharisees were accustomed to teach that in the next world there would be marriages, and that earthly relations would be continued, to them the question was a puzzle. The Mohammedans also teach the continuance of sexual relations in the world to come: They hold out as an incentive the luxuries of sexual pleasures of paradise. Of course, it was agreed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees that this question should be propounded to our Lord. If he should answer in favor of the Sadducees that would turn against him all the people who followed the teachings of the Pharisees. If he should answer in favor of the Pharisees then the Sadducees, who were Herodians, fewer in number, but occupying the most of the offices, would have had ground of accusation against Christ. The Sadducees were the party in power. The object of the question was to put him between the upper and the nether millstones. He completely vanquishes both of them by his teaching that in the next world there is no marriage nor giving in marriage. Those who attain the resurrection state are sexless, as are the angels, not that they will be angels. But the present physical conditions of this life will not be continued in the other world. He does not mean that man and wife living long together on earth may not rejoice with each other in heaven, remembering the lessons of time, but that the physical conditions of married life do not continue in the world to come. This answer both breaks the points of the question of the Sadducees and corrects the erroneous doctrine of the Pharisees concerning the conditions of the future life. No Pharisee with the views that he held could have met the difficulties of the question of the Sadducees. Our Lord now turns upon the Sadducees with a most crushing rejoinder. "You deny the resurrection of the body. You err upon two points: You neither know the scriptures nor the power of God." He then proves from the Pentateuch the resurrection of the dead by the words of God to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He is not the God of dead people, but of living people. Abraham is dead only as to his body. He lives and is with God. This argument is from the greater to the lesser; if God be the Saviour of the soul of Abraham he will be the Saviour of his body, rescuing it from the grave. Some commentators have been puzzled to see the application of Christ’s answer to the resurrection of the body. But our Lord was wiser than commentators. His one citation destroys both errors of the Sadducees. They held that there is no immortality of the soul. He disproves that. They held that there is no resurrection of the body. He disproves that.

QUESTIONS

1. What are the three introductory thoughts to this chapter?

2. What is the greatest day’s work in the life of our Lord, and what two other very great days in his life?

3. Give a detailed outline of this great day’s work.

4. What are the parallels between the methods of Christ and Paul in their teaching and the methods of the Grecian philosophers?

5. With what double question did the scribes and Pharisees open the discussion with Christ in the Temple?

6. How had Jesus already answered these questions?

7. How did Christ answer them here and how did this answer place them in a dilemma?

8. Do you know any other people who have been puzzled to account for John’s baptism?

9. How does Christ complete their discomfiture?

10. How does he further press on them their own wickedness in a parable?

11. How does he drive them into a final corner by another parable?

12. Give an account of the controversy which occurred in Waco between a Jewish rabbi and the author.

13. Where may be found the substance of the rabbi’s speech and the reply?

14. What other discussion cited and commended and what one point from the prophets and what application?

15. What great purpose of Christ toward his audience, what citation of dissension?

16. How does he further show their doom in a parable?

17. What other parable similar and what points of contrast and distinction between the two?

18. What historical event clearly foreshadowed by this parable?

19. Who represented by the man that "had not on the wedding garment"?

20. What were the two political parties in the time of Christ, what did each stand for, how did one of these parties try to entangle Christ, and how did Christ in his reply, outwit them?

21. What does this reply show, what principle here enunciated by Christ and how recognized afterward by Paul and Peter?

22. What distinctive tenets of the Sadducees, how did they conspire with the Pharisees to entrap Christ, what dilemma in which they attempted to place him and how did he escape?

23. How does Christ prove the resurrection in this connection and what is the argument?

24. How does this citation disprove the two main tenets of the Sadducees and thus silence them?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 21". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/matthew-21.html.
 
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