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Matthew 21:1-16. See also Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44.
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem - They were going up now from Jericho.
Matthew 20:29. The distance was about 19 miles. The most of the way was a desert, or filled with caves, and rocks, and woods - a suitable place for robbers. See Luke 10:30. The Mount of Olives, or “Olivet,” is on the east of Jerusalem. Between this and Jerusalem there runs a small stream called the brook Kidron, or Cedron. It is dry in the hot seasons of the year, but swells to a considerable size in time of heavy rains. See the notes at John 18:1. The Mount of Olives was so called from its producing in abundance the olive. It was from Jerusalem about a Sabbath-day’s journey. See the notes at Acts 1:12. On the west side of the mountain was the garden of Gethsemane, Luke 22:39; Mark 14:32. On the eastern declivity of the mountain were the villages of Bethphage and Bethany. Mark and Luke say that he came near to both those places.
He appears to have come first to Bethany, where he passed the night John 12:1, John 12:9-11, and in the morning sent over to the adjacent village Bethphage. Bethany was the place where Lazarus lived, whom he raised from the dead John 11:0; where Martha and Mary lived; and where Mary anointed him with ointment against the day of his burying, John 12:1-7. The Mount of Olives is about a mile in length and about 700 feet in height, and overlooks Jerusalem, so that from its summit almost every part of the city can be seen. The mountain is composed of three peaks or summits. The “olive” is a fruit well known among us as an article of commerce. The tree blooms in June, and bears white flowers. The fruit is small. It is first green, then whitish, and, when fully ripe, black. It encloses a hard stone in which are the seeds. The “wild olive” was common, and differed from the other only in being of a smaller size. There are two roads from Jerusalem to Bethany; one around the southern end of the Mount of Olives, and the other across the summit. The latter is considerably shorter, but more difficult, and it was probably along this road that the Saviour went.
Go into the village over against you - That is, to Bethphage See the notes at Matthew 21:1.
Ye shall find an ass tied ... - In Judea there were few horses, and those were chiefly used in war. People seldom employed them in common life and in ordinary journeys. The ass, the mule, and the camel are still most used in Eastern countries. To ride on a horse was sometimes an emblem of war; on a mule and an ass, the emblem of peace. Kings and princes commonly rode on them in times of peace, and it is mentioned as a mark of rank and dignity to ride in that manner, Judges 10:4; Jdg 12:14; 1 Samuel 25:20. So Solomon, when he was inaugurated as king, rode on a “mule,” 1 Kings 1:33. Riding in this manner, then, denoted neither poverty nor degradation, but was the appropriate way in which a king should ride, and in which, therefore, the King of Zion should enter into his capital, the city of Jerusalem.
Mark and Luke say that he told them they should find “a colt tied.” This they were directed to bring. They mention only the colt, because it was this on which he rode.
The Lord hath need of them - This means no more than the “master” has need of them. The word “Lord” often means no more than “master” as opposed to servant, Matthew 10:24; Eph 6:5; 1 Peter 3:5-6. The word is sometimes used in the Bible as applied to God, or as a translation of the name Yahweh. Its common use is a mere title of respect given by an inferior to a superior, by a servant to a master, by a disciple to a teacher. As a title of “high respect” it was given to Christ, or the Messiah. The persons to whom these disciples were sent were probably acquainted with the miracles of Jesus and favorably disposed toward him He had attracted great notice in that region, particularly by raising Lazarus from the dead, and most of the people regarded him as the Messiah.
All this was done ... - The prophecy here quoted is found in Zechariah 9:9. It was always, by the Jews, applied to the Messiah.
Daughter of Zion - That is, “Jerusalem.” “Zion” was one of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built. On this stood the city of David and some strong fortresses. The names “daughter and virgin” were given to it often, in accordance with the Oriental figurative manner of expression. See the notes at Isaiah 1:8. Compare Amos 5:2; Psalms 45:13; Psalms 137:8; Isaiah 47:1. It was given to them as an expression of their beauty or comeliness.
Meek - See the notes at Matthew 5:5. The expression here rather denotes “peaceful, not warlike;” not with pomp, and state, and the ensigns of ambition. He came in the manner in which kings were accustomed to ride, but with none of their pride and ambitious feeling.
Sitting upon an ass ... - He rode on the colt (Mark and Luke). This expression in Matthew is one which is common with all writers. See Genesis 19:29; Judges 12:7.
And put on them their clothes - This was done as a token of respect, 2 Kings 9:13.
And a very great multitude ... - Others showed the same respect by throwing their garments before him; others by cutting down branches of trees and casting them in the way. This was the way in which conquerors and princes were often honored. To cast flowers, or garlands, or evergreens before a warrior returning from victory, or a king entering into his kingdom, was a common way of testifying joyful and triumphant feeling. Thus Josephus says that Alexander and Agrippa were received at Jerusalem. So in our own land some of the most acceptable tokens of rejoicing ever bestowed upon Washington were garlands of roses scattered in his path by children. So the path of Lafayette was often strewed with flowers, as a mark of respect and of a nation’s gratitude. John says John 12:13 that these branches were branches of the “palm-tree.” The palm was an emblem of “joy and victory.” It was used by the Roman soldiers, as well as the Jews, as a symbol of peace. See 1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:6, 7; Revelation 7:9.
The “palm-tree” is common in warm climates, and was abundant in Palestine. The finest grew about Jericho and Engedi. Hence, Jericho was called the city of “palm-trees.” The palm has a long and straight body, a spreading top, and an appearance of very great beauty. It produces an agreeable fruit, a pleasant shade, a kind of “honey” little inferior to the honey of bees, and from it was drawn a pleasant “wine” much used in the East. On ancient coins the palm-tree is often a symbol of Judea. On coins made after Jerusalem was taken, Judea is represented by a female sitting and weeping under a palm-tree. A reference to the palm-tree occurs often in the Bible, and its general form and uses are familiar to most readers.
Strictly speaking, the palm has no branches, but at the summit from forty to eighty twigs or leaf-stalks spring forth. These are referred to in Nehemiah 8:15. The leaves are set around the trunk in circles of about six. The lower row is of great length, and the vast leaves bend themselves in a curve toward the earth: as the circles ascend, the leaves are shorter. In the month of February, there sprout from between the junctures of the lower stalks and the trunk little scales, which develop a kind of bud, the germ of the coming fruit. These germs are contained in a thick and tough skin, not unlike leather. According to the account of a modern traveler, a single tree in Barbary and Egypt bears from fifteen to twenty large clusters of dates, weighing from 15 to 20 lbs. each. The palm-tree lives more than 200 years, and is most productive from the 30th until the 80th year. The Arabs speak of 260 uses to which the different parts of the palm-tree are applied.
The inhabitants of Egypt, Arabia, and Persia depend much on the fruit of the palm-tree for their subsistence. Camels feed on the seed, and the leaves, branches, fibres, and sap are all very valuable.
The “branches” referred to by John John 12:13 are the long “leaves” which shoot out from the top of the tree, and which were often carried about as the symbol of victory. Compare the notes at Isaiah 3:26.
Hosanna to the son of David ... - The word “hosanna” means “save now,” or “save, I beseech thee.” It is a Syriac word, and was a form of acclamation used among the Jews. It was probably used in the celebration of their great festivals. During those festivals they sang Psalms 115:0; Psalms 116:0; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:0. In the chanting or singing of those psalms, the Jewish writers inform us that the people responded frequently “hallelujah, or hosanna.” Their use of it on this occasion was a joyful acclamation, and an invocation of a divine blessing by the “Messiah.”
Son of David - The Messiah.
Blessed be he ... - That is, blessed be the “Messiah This passage is taken from Psalms 118:25-26. To come “in the name of the Lord” here means to come “by the authority” of the Lord, or to come “commissioned” by him to reveal his will. The Jews had commonly applied this to the Messiah.
Hosanna in the highest - This may mean either “Hosanna in the highest, loftiest strains,” or it may be for a prayer to God “Save now, O thou that dwellest in the highest heaven, or among the highest angels.” Perhaps the whole song of hosanna may be a prayer to the Supreme God, as well as a note of triumphant acclamation: “Save now, O thou supremely great and glorious God; save by the Messiah that comes in thy name.”
Mark adds that they shouted, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord.” That is, the kingdom “promised” to David, 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:25. “Coming in the name” of the Lord here evidently means coming according to the “promise” of the Lord. The sense may be thus expressed: “Prosperity to the reign of our father David, advancing now according to the promise made to him, and about to be established by the long predicted Messiah, his descendant.”
Luke adds Luke 19:38 that they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” The word “peace” is used here as significant of joy, triumph, exultation at this event. There will be increased peace and rejoicing in heaven from the accession of the redeemed: there will be augmented glory - new songs of praise “among the highest angels.”
There is no contradiction here among the evangelists. Among such a multitude, the shouts of exultation and triumph would by no means be confined to the same words. Some would say one thing and some another; and one evangelist recorded what was said by a part of the multitude, and another what was said by another part.
And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved - There was great excitement. The sight of such a multitude, the shouts of the people, and the triumphant procession through the city, excited much attention and inquiry.
This paragraph contains the account of the barren fig-tree, and of the cleansing of the temple. See also Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48.
And Jesus went into the temple of God ... - From Mark 11:11-15, it is probable that this cleansing of the temple did not take place on the day that he entered Jerusalem in triumph, but on the day following.
He came and looked round upon all things, Mark says, and went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the day following, returning from Bethany, he saw the fig-tree. Entering into the temple, he purified it “on that day;” or perhaps he “finished” the work of purifying it on that day, which he commenced the day before. Matthew has mentioned the purifying of the temple, which was performed, probably, on two successive days, or has stated the “fact,” without being particular as to the order of events. Mark has stated the order more particularly, and has “divided” what Matthew mentions together.
The “temple of God,” that is, the temple dedicated and devoted to the service of God, was built on Mount Moriah. The first temple was built by Solomon, about 1005 years before Christ, 1 Kings 6:0, He took seven years to build it, according to 1 Kings 6:38. David, his father, had contemplated the design of building it, and had prepared many materials for it, but was prevented because he had been a man of war, 1Ch 22:1-9; 1 Kings 5:5. This temple, erected with great magnificence, remained until it was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, 584 years before Christ, 2Ch 36:6-7, 2 Chronicles 36:19.
After the Babylonian captivity the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, but with vastly inferior and diminished splendor. The aged people wept when they compared it with the glory of the former temple, Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:12. This was called the “second” temple. This temple was often defiled in the wars before the time of Christ. It had become much decayed and impaired Herod the Great, being exceedingly unpopular among the Jews on account of his cruelties (see the notes at Matthew 2:0), was desirous of doing something to obtain the favor of the people, and accordingly, about 16 years before Christ, and in the 18th year of his reign, he commenced the work of repairing it. This he did, not by taking it down entirely at once, but by removing one part after another, until it had become, in fact, a new temple, greatly surpassing the former in magnificence. It was still called by the Jews the “second” temple; and by Christ’s coming to this temple thus repaired, was fulfilled the prophecy in Haggai 2:9. On this building Herod employed 18,000 men, and completed it so as to be suitable for use in 9 years, or about 8 years before Christ. But additions continued to be made to it, and it continued increasing in splendor and magnificence until 64 a.d. John says John 2:20, “forty and six years was this temple in building.” Christ was then 30 years of age, which, added to the 16 years occupied in repairing it before his birth, makes 46 years.
The word “temple” was given not merely to the sacred edifice or house itself, but to all the numerous chambers, courts, and rooms connected with it on the top of Mount Moriah. The temple itself was a small edifice, and was surrounded by courts and chambers half a mile in circumference. Into the sacred edifice itself our Saviour never went. The high priest only went into the holy of holies, and that but once a year, and none but priests were permitted to enter the holy place. Our Saviour was neither. He was of the tribe of “Judah,” and he consequently was allowed to enter no further than the other Israelites into the temple. The works that he is said to have performed in the temple, therefore, are to be understood as having been performed in the courts surrounding the sacred edifice. These courts will now be described. The temple was erected on Mount Moriah. The space on the summit of the mount was not, however, large enough for the buildings necessary to be erected. It was therefore enlarged by building high walls from the valley below and filling up the space within. One of these walls was 600 feet in height. The ascent to the temple was by high flights of steps. The entrance to the temple, or to the courts on the top of the mount, was by nine gates, all of them extremely splendid. On every side they were thickly coated with gold and silver. But there was one gate of special magnificence: this was called the Beautiful Gate, Acts 3:2. It was on the east side, and was made of Corinthian brass, one of the most precious metals in ancient times. See the Introduction to 1 Corinthians, section 1. This gate was 50 cubits, or 75 feet, in height.
The whole temple, with all its courts, was surrounded by a wall about 25 feet in height. This was built on the wall raised from the base to the top of the mountain, so that from the top of it to the bottom, in a perpendicular descent, was in some places not far from 600 feet. This was particularly the case on the southeast corner; and it was here, probably, that Satan wished our Saviour to cast himself down. See the notes at Matthew 4:6.
On the inside of this wall, between the gates, were piazzas or covered porches. On the eastern, northern, and western sides there were two rows of these porches; on the south, three. These porches were covered walks, about 20 feet in width, paved with marble of different colors, with a flat roof of costly cedar, which was supported by pillars of solid marble, so large that three men could scarcely stretch their arms so as to meet around them. These walks or porches afforded a grateful shade and protection to the people in hot or stormy weather. The one on the east side was distinguished for its beauty, and was called Solomon’s porch, John 10:23; Acts 3:11. It stood over the vast terrace or wall which he had raised from the valley beneath, and which was the only thing of his work that remained in the second temple.
When a person entered any of the gates into this space within the wall he saw the temple rising before him with great magnificence; but the space was not clear all the way up to it. Going forward, he came to another wall, enclosing considerable ground, considered more holy than the rest of the hill. The space between this first and second wall was called “the court of the Gentiles.” It was so called because Gentiles might come into it, but they could proceed no further. On the second wall and on the gates were inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, forbidding any Gentile or unclean person from proceeding further on pain of death. This “court” was not of equal dimensions all the way round the temple. On the east, north, and west it was quite narrow. On the south it was wide, occupying nearly half of the whole surface of the hill. In this court the Gentiles might come. Here was the place where much secular business was transacted. This was the place occupied by the buyers and sellers, and by the money-changers, and which Jesus purified by casting them out.
The enclosure within the second wall was nearly twice as long from east to west as from north to south. This enclosure was also divided. The eastern part of it was called “the court of the women;” so called because women might advance thus far, but no farther. This court was square. It was entered by three gates; one on the north, one on the east directly opposite to the Beautiful gate, and one on the south. In passing from the court of the Gentiles to that of the women, it was necessary to ascend about 9 feet by steps. This court of the women was enclosed with a double wall, with a space between the walls about 15 feet in width, paved with marble. The inner of these two walls was much higher than the one outside. The court of the women was paved with marble. In the corners of that court were different structures for the various uses of the temple. It was in this court that the Jews commonly worshipped. Here, probably, Peter and John, with others, went up to pray, Acts 3:1. Here, too, the Pharisee and publican prayed - the Pharisee near the gate that led forward to the temple; the publican standing far off, on the other side of the court, Luke 18:9-14. Paul also was seized here, and charged with defiling the temple by bringing the Gentiles into that holy place, Acts 21:26-30.
A high wall on the west side of the court of the women divided it from the court of the Israelites, so called because all the males of the Jews might advance there. To this court there was an ascent of fifteen steps. These steps were in the form of a half circle. The great gate to which these steps led was called the gate “Nicanor.” Besides this, there were three gates on each side, leading from the court of the women to the court of the Israelites.
Within the court of the “Israelites” was the court of the “priests,” separated by a wall about 1 1/2 foot in height. Within that court was the altar of burnt-offering and the laver standing in front of it. Here the priests performed the daily service of the temple. In this place, also, were accommodations for the “priests” when not engaged in conducting the service of the temple, and for the Levites who conducted the music of the sanctuary.
The temple, properly so called, stood within this court. It surpassed in splendor all the other buildings of the holy city; perhaps in magnificence it was unequalled in the world. It fronted the east, looking down through the gates Nicanor and the Beautiful Gate, and onward to the Mount of Olives. From the Mount of Olives on the east there was a beautiful and commanding view of the whole sacred edifice. It was there that our Saviour sat when the disciples directed his attention to the goodly stones with which the temple was built, Mark 13:1. The entrance into the temple itself was from the court “of the priests,” by an ascent of twelve steps. The “porch” in front of the temple was 150 feet high and as many broad. The open space in this perch through which the temple was entered was 115 feet high and 37 broad, without doors of any sort, The appearance of this, built, as it was, with white marble, and decorated with plates of silver, from the Mount of Olives was exceedingly dazzling and splendid. Josephus says that in the rising of the sun it reflected so strong and dazzling an effulgence that the eye of the spectator was obliged to turn away. To strangers at a distance, it appeared like a mountain covered with snow, for where it was not decorated with plates of gold it was extremely white and glistening.
The temple itself was divided into two parts. The first, called the “sanctuary” or holy place; was 60 feet in length 60 feet in height, and 30 feet in width. In this was the golden candlestick, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense. The “holy of holies” or the “most holy place,” was 30 feet each way. In the first temple this contained the ark of the covenant, the tables of the law, and over the ark was the mercy-seat and the cherubim. Into this place no person entered but the high priest, and he but once in the year. These two apartments were separated only by a vail, very costly and curiously performed. It was this vail which was rent from the top to the bottom when the Saviour died, Matthew 27:51. Around the walls of the “temple,” properly so called, was a structure three stories high, containing chambers for the use of the officers of the temple. The temple was wholly leveled to the ground by the Romans under Titus and Vespasian, and was effectually destroyed, according to the predictions of the Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 24:2. The site of it was made like a plowed field. Julian the apostate attempted to rebuild it, but the workmen, according to his own historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, were prevented by balls of fire breaking out from the ground. See Warburton’s “Divine Legation of Moses.” Its site is now occupied by the Mosque of Omar, one of the most splendid specimens of Saracenic architecture in the world.
And cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple - The place where this was done was not the temple itself, but the outer court “or the court of the Gentiles.” This was esteemed the least sacred part of the temple; and the Jews, it seems, did not consider it profanation to appropriate this to any business in any way connected with the temple service. The things which they bought and sold were at first those pertaining. to the sacrifices. It is not improbable, however, that the traffic afterward extended to all kinds of merchandise. It gave rise to much confusion, noise, contention, and fraud, and was exceedingly improper in the temple of the Lord.
The tables of the money-changers - Judea was subject to the Romans. The money in current use was Roman coin; yet the Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of “half a shekel,” Exodus 30:11-16. This was a Jewish coin, and the tribute was required to be paid in that coin. It became, therefore, a matter of convenience to have a place where the Roman coin might be exchanged for the Jewish half shekel. This was the “professed” business of these men. Of course, they would demand a small sum for the exchange; and, among so many thousands as came up to the great feasts, it would be a very profitable employment, and one easily giving rise to much fraud and oppression.
The seats of them that sold doves - Doves were required to be offered in sacrifice - Leviticus 14:22; Luke 2:24 - yet it was difficult to bring them from the distant parts of Judea. It was found much easier to purchase them in Jerusalem. Hence, it became a business to keep them to sell to those who were required to offer them.
Mark adds Mark 11:16 that he “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.” That is, probably, any of the vessels or implements connected with the traffic in oil, incense, wine, etc., that were kept for sale in the temple.
And said It is written ... - This is written in Isaiah 56:7. The first part of this verse only is quoted from Isaiah. The rest - “but ye have made it a den of thieves” - was added by Jesus, denoting their abuse of the temple. Thieves and robbers live in dens and caves. Judea was then much infested with them. In their dens thieves devise and practice iniquity. These buyers and sellers imitated them. They made the temple a place of gain; they cheated and defrauded; they took advantage of the poor, and, by their being under a necessity of purchasing these articles for sacrifice, they “robbed” them by selling what they had at an enormous price.
The following reasons may be given why this company of buyers and sellers obeyed Christ:
- They were overawed by his authority, and struck with the consciousness that he had a right to command,
- Their own consciences reproved them; they knew they were guilty, and they dared make no resistance.
- The people generally were then on the side of Jesus, believing him to be the Messiah.
- It had always been the belief of the Jews that a “prophet” had a right to change, regulate, and order the various affairs relating to external worship. They supposed Jesus to be such, and they did not dare to resist him.
Mark and Luke add, that in consequence of this, the scribes and chief priests attempted to put him to death, Mark 11:18-19; Luke 19:47-48. This they did from “envy,” Matthew 27:18. He drew off the people from them, and they envied and hated him. They were “restrained,” then, for the fear of the people; and this was the reason why they plotted “secretly” to put him to death, and why they afterward so gladly heard the proposals of the traitor, Matthew 26:14-15.
Matthew 21:15, Matthew 21:16
When the chief priests ... - The chief men of the nation were envious of his popularity.
They could not prevent it; but, being determined to find fault, they took occasion to do so from the shouts of the children. People often are offended that “children” have anything to do with religion, and deem it very improper that “they” should rejoice that the Saviour has come. Our Lord Jesus viewed this subject differently. He saw that it was proper that they should rejoice. they are interested in the concerns of religion, and before evil principles get fast hold of their minds is a proper time for them to love and obey him. The Lord Jesus silenced those who made the objection by appealing to a text of their own Scriptures. This text is found in Psalms 8:2. The quotation is not made directly from the Hebrew. but from the Greek translation. This, however, should create no difficulty. The point of the quotation was to prove that “children” might offer praise to God. This is expressed in both the Hebrew and the Greek.
Bethany - See the notes at Matthew 21:1.
And when he saw a fig-tree in the way ... - This tree was standing in the public road.
It was therefore common property and anyone might lawfully use its fruit. Mark says Mark 11:13, “Seeing a fig-tree afar off, having leaves, he came,” etc. Not far off “from the road,” but at a considerable distance from the place where he was. Having loaves, and appearing healthy and luxuriant, they presumed that there would be fruit on it. Mark says Mark 11:13, “he came, if haply he might find anything thereon.” That is, judging from the “appearance” of the tree, it was “probable” that there would be fruit on it. We are not to suppose that our Lord was ignorant of the true condition of the tree, but he acted according to the appearance of things; being a man as well as divine, he acted, of course, as people do act in such circumstances.
And found nothing thereon but leaves only - Mark Mark 11:13 gives as a reason for this that “the time of figs was not yet.” That is, the time “of gathering” the figs was not yet, or had not passed. It was a time when figs were ripe or suitable to eat, or he would not have gone to it, expecting to find them; but the time of gathering them had not passed, and it was to be presumed that they were still on the tree. This took place on the week of the Passover, or in the beginning of April. Figs, in Palestine, are commonly ripe at the Passover. The summer in Palestine begins in March, and it is no uncommon thing that figs should be eatable in April. It is said that they sometimes produce fruit the year round.
Mark Mark 11:12-13 says that this took place on the morning of the day on which he purified the temple. Matthew would lead us to suppose that it was on the day following. Matthew records briefly what Mark records more “fully.” Matthew states the fact that the fig-tree was barren and withered away, without regarding minutely the order or the circumstances in which the event took place. There is no contradiction, because Matthew does not affirm that this took place on the morning after the temple was cleansed, though he places it in that order; nor does he say that a day did not elapse after the fig-tree was cursed before the disciples discovered that it was withered, though he does not affirm that it was so. Such circumstantial variations, where there is no positive contradiction, go greatly to confirm the truth of a narrative. They show that the writers were honest men, and did not “conspire” to deceive the world.
And said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee ... - Mark calls this “cursing” the tree Mark 11:21. The word “curse,” as used by him, does not imply “anger,” or disappointment, or malice. It means only “devoting it to destruction,” or causing it to wither away. All the “curse” that was pronounced was in the words “that no fruit should grow on it.” The Jews used the word “curse” not as always implying “wrath or anger,” but to devote to “death,” or to any kind of destruction, Hebrews 6:8. It has been commonly thought that the Saviour performed this miracle to denote the sudden “withering away” or destruction of the Jewish people. They, like the fig-tree, promised fair. That was full of leaves, and they full of professions. Yet both were equally barren; and as that was destroyed, so they were soon to be. It was certain that this would be a good “illustration” of the destruction of the Jewish people, but there is no evidence that Jesus intended it as such, and without such evidence we have no right to say that was its meaning. “And presently the fig-tree withered away.” That is, before another day. See Mark. It is probable that they were passing directly onward, and did not stop then to consider it. Matthew does not affirm that it withered “away in their presence,” and Mark affirms that they made the discovery on the morning after it was “cursed.”
And when the disciples saw it - That is, on the morning following that on which it was cursed, Mark 11:20.
They marveled, saying ... - Peter said this, Mark 11:21 Matthew means only to say that this was said to him; Mark tells us which one of them said it.
Jesus answered and said ... - Jesus took occasion from this to establish their faith in God, Mark 11:22
He told them that any difficulty could be overcome by faith. To remove a mountain denotes the power of surmounting or removing any difficulty. The phrase was so used by the Jews. There is no doubt that this was “literally” true - that if “they had the faith of miracles,” they could remove the mountain before them - the Mount of Olives - for this was as easy for God to do by them as to heal the sick or raise the dead. But the Saviour rather referred, probably, to the difficulties and trials which they would be called to endure in preaching the gospel.
And all things ... - He adds an encouragement for them to pray, assuring them that they should have all things which they asked.
This promise was evidently a special one, given to them in regard to working miracles. To them it was true, but it is manifest that we have no right to apply this promise to ourselves. It was desired especially for the apostles; nor have we a right to turn it from its original meaning. There are other promises in, abundance on which we “may” rely in prayer, with confident assurance that our prayers will be heard. Compare the notes at Matthew 7:7-11.
See also Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-9.
When he was come into the temple - That is, probably, into the inner court - the court of the Israelites.
They took this opportunity of questioning him on this subject when he was not surrounded by the multitude.
By what authority ... - There was a show of propriety in this question. He was making great changes in the affairs of the temple, and they claimed the right to know why this was done, contrary to their permission. He was not “a priest;” he had no civil or ecclesiastical authority as a Jew. It was sufficient authority, indeed, that he came as a prophet and worked miracles. But they professed not to be satisfied with that.
These things - The things which he had just done, in overturning the seats of those that were engaged in traffic, Matthew 21:12.
Matthew 21:24, Matthew 21:25
And Jesus answered ... - Jesus was under no obligation to give them an answer.
They well knew by what authority he did this. He had not concealed his power in working miracles, and had not kept back the knowledge that he was the Messiah. He therefore referred them to a similar case - that of John the Baptist. He knew the estimation in which John was held by the people, and he took the wise in their own craftiness. Whatever answer they gave, he knew they Would convict themselves, and so they saw when they looked at the question. They reasoned correctly. If they should say that John received authority to baptize from God or from heaven, he would directly ask why they did not believe him. They professed to hear all the prophets. If they said, “Of men,” they would be in danger, for all the people believed that John was a prophet.
The baptism of John - For an account of this, see Matthew 3:0. The word “baptism” here probably includes all his work. This was his principal employment; and hence he was called the Baptist, or the “Baptizer.” But our Saviour’s question refers “to his whole ministry.” “The ‘ministry of John’ - his baptism, preaching, prophecies was it from God, or not?” If it was, then the inference was clear that Jesus was the Messiah, and then they might easily know by what authority he did those things.
From heaven - By divine authority, or by the command of God.
From men - By human authority.
We fear the people - They feared that the people would stone them (Luke). Such an unpopular sentiment as to profess that all that “John” did was “imposture,” would have probably ended in tumult, perhaps in their death.
We cannot tell - This was a direct falsehood. They could have told; and the answer should have been, “We will not tell.” There was no reason but that why they did not tell. The reason, probably, why they would not acknowledge that John was a prophet, was that, if they did, they saw he could easily show them by “what authority” he did those things; that is, by his authority as Messiah. John came as his forerunner, pointed him out to the people, baptized him, and bore his public and solemn testimony to the fact that he was the Messiah, Matthew 3:13-15; John 1:29-34. If they acknowledged one, they must the other. In this way our Saviour was about to lead these crafty men to answer their own question, to their own confusion, about his authority. They saw this; and, having given them a “sufficient” answer, there was no need of stating anything further.
But what think ye? - A way of speaking designed to direct them particularly to what he was saying, that they might be self-convicted.
Two sons - By those two sons our Lord intends to represent the conduct of the Jews, and that of the publicans and sinners.
In my vineyard - See the notes at Matthew 21:33. To work in the vineyard here represents the work which God requires man to do.
I will not - This had been the language of the publicans and wicked men. They refused at first, and did not “profess” to be willing to go.
Repented - Changed his mind. Afterward, at the preaching of John and Christ, the publicans - the wicked - repented and obeyed.
The second ...said, I go sir; and went not - This represented the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees - “professing” to obey God, observing the external rites of religion, but opposed really to the kingdom of God, and about to put his Son to death.
Whether of them twain ... - Which of the two. “They say unto him, The first.” This answer was correct; but it is strange that they did not perceive that it condemned themselves.
Go into the kingdom of God - Become Christians, or more readily follow the Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 3:2.
Before you - Rather than you. They are more likely to do it than you. You are self-righteous, self-willed, and obstinate.
John came in the way of righteousness - Many of them have believed, but you have not. That is, in the right way, or teaching the way to be righteous; to wit, by repentance. Publicans and harlots heard him and became righteous, but they did not. They saw it, but, as in one thousand other cases, it did not produce the proper effect on them, and they would not repent.
The parable of the vineyard - This is also recorded in Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.
Hear another parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3.
A certain householder - See the notes at Matthew 20:1.
Planted a vineyard - A place for the cultivation of grapes. It is often used to represent the church of God. as a place cultivated and valuable. Judea was favorable to vines, and the figure is frequently used, therefore, in the sacred writers. See Matthew 20:1. It is used here to represent the “Jewish people” - the people chosen of the Lord, cultivated with care, and signally favored; or perhaps more definitely, “the city of Jerusalem.”
Hedged it round about - This means he enclosed it, either with a fence of wood or stone, or more probably with “thorns,” thick set and growing - a common way of enclosing fields in Judea, as it is in England,
And digged a wine-press in it - Mark says, “digged a place for the wine-fat.” This should have been so rendered in Matthew. The original word does not mean the “press” in which the grapes were trodden, but the “vat or large cistern” into which the wine ran. This was commonly made by digging into the side of a hill. The “wine-press” was made of two receptacles. The upper one, in Persia at present, is about 8 feet square and 4 feet high. In this the grapes are thrown and “trodden” by men, and the juice runs into the large receptacle or cistern below. See the notes at Isaiah 63:2-3.
And built a tower - See also the notes at Isaiah 5:2. In Eastern countries at present, these towers are often 80 feet high and 30 feet square. They were for the keepers, who defended the vineyards from thieves and animals, especially from foxes, Song of Solomon 1:6; Song of Solomon 2:15. Professor Hackett (Illustrations of Scripture, pp. 171, 172) says of such towers:
They caught my attention first as I was approaching Bethlehem from the southeast. They appeared in almost every field within sight from that direction. They were circular in shape, 15 or 20 feet high, and, being built of stones, looked, at a distance, like a little forest of obelisks. I was perplexed for some time to decide what they were; my traveling companions were equally at fault. Suddenly, in a lucky moment, the words crossed my mind, ‘A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country,’ Mark 12:1. This recollection cleared up the mystery. There, before my eyes, stood the towers of which I had so often read and thought; such as stood there when David led forth his flocks to the neighboring pastures; such as furnished to the sacred writers and the Saviour himself so many illustrations for enforcing what they taught.
These towers are said to be sometimes square in form as well as round, and as high as 40 or 50 feet. Those which I examined had a small door near the ground, and a level space on the top, where a man could sit and command a view of the plantation. I afterward saw a great many of these structures near Hebron, where the vine still flourishes in its ancient home; for there, probably, was Eshcol, whence the Hebrew spies returned to Joshua with the clusters of grapes which they had gathered as evidence of the fertility of the land. Some of the towers here are so built as to serve as houses: and during the vintage, it is said that the inhabitants of Hebron take up their abode in them in such numbers as to leave the town almost deserted.
And let it out ... - This was not an uncommon thing. Vineyards were often planted to be let out for profit.
Into a far country - This means, in the original, only that he departed from them. It does not mean that he went out of the “land.” Luke adds, “for a long time.” That is, as appears, until the time of the fruit; perhaps for a year. This vineyard denotes, doubtless, the Jewish people, or Jerusalem. But these circumstances are not to be particularly explained. They serve to keep up the story. They denote in general that God had taken proper care of his vineyard - that is, of his people; but beyond that we cannot affirm that these circumstances of building the tower, etc., mean any particular thing, for he has not told us that they do, and where he has not explained them we have no right to attempt it.
And when the time of the fruit drew near ... - The time of gathering the fruit.
The vineyard was let out, probably, for a part of the fruit, and the owner sent to receive the part that was his.
Sent his servants - These, doubtless, represent the prophets sent to the Jewish people.
And beat one - The word translated here as “beat” properly means to flay or to take off the skin; hence to beat or to whip so that the skin in many places is taken off.
And killed another - Isaiah is said to have been put to death by sawing him asunder.
Many other of the prophets were also put to death. See Luke 13:34; Heb 11:37; 1 Samuel 22:18; 1 Kings 19:10.
And stoned another - This was among the Jews a common mode of punishment, Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 17:7; Joshua 7:25. Especially was this the case in times of popular tumult, and of sudden indignation among the people, Acts 7:58; Acts 14:19; John 8:59; John 10:31. This does not I imply, of necessity, that those who were stoned “died,” but they might be only severely wounded. Mark says, “At him they cast stones and wounded him in the head, and sent him away,” etc.
There is a little variation in the circumstances as mentioned by Matthew, and by Mark and Luke, but the substance is the same. Mark and Luke are more particular, and state the order in which the servants were sent one after another. They all denote the dealing of the people of Israel toward the prophets. All these things had been done to them. See Hebrews 11:37; Jer 44:4-6; 2 Chronicles 36:16; Nehemiah 9:26; 2 Chronicles 24:20-21.
Last of all ... - Mark adds that this was an only son, greatly beloved.
This beautifully and most tenderly exhibits the love of God in sending his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die for people. Long had he sent the prophets, and they had been persecuted and slain. There was no use in sending any more prophets to the people. They had done all that they could do. God had one only-begotten and well-beloved Son, whom he might send, and whom the world “ought” to reverence even as they should the Father, John 5:23. God is often represented in the Bible as giving his Son, his only-begotten and wellbeloved Son, for a lost world, John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:14; Romans 8:3, Romans 8:32; Galatians 4:4.
Saying, They will reverence my son - To “reverence” means to honor, to esteem, to show deference to. It is that feeling which we have in the presence of one who is greatly our superior. It means to give to such a person, in our feelings and our deportment, the honor which is due to his rank and character.
But when the husbandmen ... - They determined to kill him, and as he was the only son, they supposed they could easily seize on the property It was rented to them; was in their possession; and they resolved to keep it.
This circumstance has probably no reference to any particular conduct of the Jews, but is thrown in to keep up the story and fill up the narrative. An heir is one who succeeds to an estate, commonly a son; an “inheritance” is what an heir receives.
And they caught him ... - This refers to the conduct of the Jews in putting the Saviour to death.
So they understood it, Matthew 21:45. The Jews put him to death after they had persecuted and slain the prophets. This was done by giving him into the hands of the Romans and seeking his crucifixion, Matthew 27:20-25; Acts 2:23; Acts 7:51-52.
And cast him out of the vineyard - The vineyard in this parable may represent Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified “out” of Jerusalem, on Mount Calvary, Luke 23:23. See the notes at Hebrews 13:12.
When the lord, therefore ... - Jesus then asked them a question about the proper way of dealing with those people.
The design of asking them this question was that they might condemn themselves, and admit the justice of the punishment that was soon to come upon them.
They say ... - They answered according as they knew people would act, and would act justly in doing it.
He would take away their privileges and confer them on others. This was the answer which Jesus wished. The case was so clear that they could not answer otherwise. He wished to show them the justice of taking away their national privileges, and punishing them in the destruction of their city and nation. Had he stated this at first they would not have heard him. He, however, by a parable, led them along to “state themselves” the very truth which he wished to communicate, and they had then nothing to answer. They did not, however, yet see the bearing of what they had admitted.
Matthew 21:42, Matthew 21:43
Jesus saith ... - Jesus, having led them to admit the justice of the great “principle” on which God was about to act toward them proceeds to apply it by a text of Scripture, declaring that this very thing which they admitted to be proper in the case of the “husbandmen” had been predicted respecting themselves.
This passage is found in Psalms 118:22-23. It was first applicable to David, but no less to Jesus.
The stone - The figure is taken from building a house. The principal stone for size and beauty is that commonly laid as the cornerstone.
Which the builders rejected - On account of its want of beauty or size it was laid aside, or deemed unfit to be a cornerstone. This represents the Lord Jesus, proposed to the Jews as the foundation or cornerstone on which to build the church, but rejected by them - the builders - on account of his lack of comeliness or beauty; that is, of what they esteemed to be comely or desirable, Isaiah 53:2-3.
The same is become ... - Though rejected by them, yet God chose him, and made him the foundation of the church. Christ is often compared to a stone, a cornerstone, a tried, that is, a sure, firm foundation - all in allusion to the custom of building, Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7.
Lord’s doing - The appointment of Jesus of Nazareth to be the foundation of the church is proved by miracle and prophecy to be the work of God.
Marvellous in our eyes - Wonderful in the sight of his people. That he should select his only Son - that he should stoop so low, be despised, rejected, and put to death - that God should raise him up, and build a church on this foundation, embracing the Gentile as well as the Jew, and spreading through all the world, is a subject of wonder and praise to all the redeemed.
The kingdom of God ... - Jesus applies the parable to them - the Jews.
They had been the children of the kingdom, or under the reign of God; having his law and acknowledging him as King. They had been his chosen and special people, but he says that now this privilege would be taken away; that they would cease to be the special people of God, and that the blessing would be given to a nation who would bring forth the fruits thereof, or “be righteous” that is, to the Gentiles, Acts 28:28.
Whosoever shall fall ... - There is a reference here, doubtless, to Isaiah 8:14-15. Having made an allusion to himself “as a stone,” or a rock Matthew 21:42, he proceeds to state the consequences of coming in contact with it. He that falls upon it shall be broken; he that “runs against it” - a cornerstone, standing out from the other parts of the foundation shall be injured, or broken in his limbs or body. He that is offended with my being the foundation, or that opposes me, shall by the act injure himself, or make himself miserable “by so doing,” even were there nothing further. But there is something further.
On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder - That is, in the original, will reduce him to dust, so that it may be scattered by the winds. There is an allusion here, doubtless, to the custom of stoning as a punishment among the Jews. A scaffold was erected twice the height of the man to be stoned. Standing on its edge, he was violently struck off by one of the witnesses: if he died by the blow and the fall, nothing further was done; if not, a heavy stone was thrown down on him, which at once killed him. So the Saviour speaks of the “falling” of the stone on his enemies. They who oppose him, who reject him, and who continue impenitent, shall be crushed by him in the day of judgment, and perish forever.
Matthew 21:45, Matthew 21:46
At last, they perceived that he spoke of them, and would have gratified their malice at once but they feared the people.
1. Jesus is omniscient, and sees and knows all things, Matthew 21:2.
2. It is our duty to obey the Lord Jesus, and to do it at once, Matthew 21:3. When He commands there should be no delay. What he orders is right, and we should not hesitate or deliberate about it.
3. Especially is this the case where He is to be honored, as he was on this occasion, Matthew 21:3, Matthew 21:8. If it was for “our” interest or honor only that we obeyed him, it would be of less consequence; but our obedience will honor Him, and we should seek that honor by any sacrifice or self-denial.
4. We should be willing to give up our property to honor the Lord Jesus, Matthew 21:3. He has a right to it. If given to spread the gospel, it goes, as this did, to increase “the triumphs of our King.” We should be willing to give our wealth that he might “gird on his sword,” and “ride prosperously among the heathen.” Everyone who is saved among the pagan by sending the gospel to them will be for the honor of Jesus. They will go to swell his train when he shall enter triumphantly into his kingdom at the day of judgment.
5. It is our duty to honor him, Matthew 21:7-9. He is King of Zion. He is Lord of all. He reigns, and shall always reign.
“Sinners! Whose love can ne’er forget
The wormwood and the gall,
Go spread your trophies at his feet,
And crown him Lord of all.
“Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race;
Ye ransomed from the fall;
Hail him who saves you by his grace,
And crown him Lord of all.
“Let every kindred, every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To him all majesty ascribe,
And crown him Lord of all.”
6. “Children” should also honor him and shout “hosanna” to him, Matthew 21:15. The chief priests and scribes, in the time of our Saviour, were displeased that they did it; and many of the great, and many formal professors since, have been displeased that “children” should profess to love and honor Jesus. They have opposed Sunday schools, and opposed the praying of children, and opposed their singing to his praise, and opposed their giving their money to spread his gospel; but Jesus loves such praise and such service. The mouths of babes and sucklings should be taught to speak his name; and whatever the world may say, whatever the proud, the rich, or the formal may say, children should seek him early and give their first years to him. He loves their praises. Perhaps few of all the songs of thanksgiving are so pleasant to his ears as the “hosannas” of a Sunday school.
7. We have here a view of the glory of Jesus, Matthew 21:9-11. Though humble yet he was King. Though most of his life unhonored, yet once he had the honors of his station rendered to him, and entered the city of his father David as a triumphant King of Zion. He will be yet “more” honored. He will come with all his saints, with the glory of his Father, and with the holy angels. There we shall be; and we should be prepared to join with the vast host in shouting hosanna to the returning King of Zion.
8. Yet, amid all these honors, he was meek and lowly, Matthew 21:5. Others would have been proud and lifted up, but he was always meek; his heart was not proud. He is the only one of kings that could bear triumph and honors without being lifted up by it and made proud.
9. Yet amid all his triumphs he wept over Jerusalem (Luke). No king, no conqueror, ever before showed compassion like this. People weep when “they” are afflicted, or are poor and needy; but what prince has ever, in the moment of his triumph, wept over the miseries and dangers of his subjects? Not an instance can be found in all history where an earthly conqueror ever showed compassion like this. So Jesus has still compassion over blind, ruined, wretched man. Amid all the triumphs of the gospel, he does not forget those I who are yet in their sins, but stretches out his arms to welcome them to his embrace.
10. Prophecy will be certainly and exactly fulfilled (Luke). That respecting Jerusalem was literally accomplished; and in like manner will all that is predicted of “all” sinners assuredly come to pass. If Jerusalem had repented it would have been saved; so if sinners repent they will be saved. If not, like Jerusalem, in due time they will perish.
11. Jesus purified the temple, Matthew 21:12. It was the house of God. So our hearts should be the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit; so, also, they should be pure. All worldly cares, and traffic, and business, that would interfere with the dwelling of the Spirit there, and all wickedness, oppression, extortion, cheating, and pollution should be banished. God dwells not in such polluted temples; and unless we are “pure in heart,” he will not be with us, and we shall not see his face in peace. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
12. Jesus only can purify our hearts. He does it by his blood and Spirit. Over all our sins he holds the same power as he did over the traffickers in the temple. At his command they will flee, and we shall be pure. If our hearts are ever purified, therefore, it will be by the power of Jesus. Nor should we wait in sin for him to do it. We should come to him, and beseech him to have mercy, and to save us from our pollutions.
13. Envy and hatred will take hold of very small matters, to show itself against the good and even the prudent, Matthew 21:15. When the enemies of Jesus could find nothing else to blame, they chose to find fault with the shouting of children. So always in a revival of religion, or any great work of the Lord, it is some small matter that is seized upon something not exactly to the view of wicked objectors - that is made the occasion of reproach and opposition.
14. We must produce fruit in our lives as well as flowers, Matthew 21:19. A profession of religion is like the flowers of spring. A revival is like fragrant blossoms. They are beautiful, and promise much fruit; but how many wither, and droop, and fall useless to the ground! How few of all the blossoms of the spring produce ripe and mellow fruit in autumn! So, alas! it is often with those who appear well in revivals of religion.
15. If we make a profession and do not produce fruit, Jesus will curse us, and we shall soon wither away, Matthew 21:19-20. He will suffer none to enter into his kingdom on the ground of profession only. If we bear fruit and live lives of piety, we are Christians; if not, all our professions are like the blossoms of spring or the leaves of the tree. They will not save us from the withering frown of Jesus.
16. People will do almost anything right or wrong, and as often wrong as right - to court popularity, Matthew 21:24. It is generally not asked by such people what is “right” or what is “true,” but what will secure popularity. If they have that, they are satisfied.
17. People often tell a direct falsehood rather than acknowledge the truth, Matthew 21:27. Especially is this the case when the truth makes against them.
18. Double-dealing and an attempt to evade the truth commonly lead into difficulty. If these people had been honest, they would have had far less trouble, Matthew 21:27.
19. A state of gross and open sin is often more hopeful than one of hypocrisy, pride, and self-conceit, together with external conformity to religion, Matthew 21:28. Multitudes of profane and licentious people may be saved, while the proud and self-righteous will be cut off. The reasons are,
- That the wicked, the gross, have no righteousness on which they can pretend to rely.
(2)Nothing so effectually prevents religion as pride and self-confidence.
- There is often really more ingenuousness and candor, and less of malignity against the gospel, among the openly wicked, than among those who are outwardly righteous, but who are inwardly like whited sepulchres, full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
20. Multitudes of people profess to go, and go not, Matthew 21:30. They profess to love God, and love themselves better. They profess to obey him, and yet obey their lusts. They are hypocrites, and destruction must come upon them.
21. Sinners, when they see the effect of truth on others, should repent, Matthew 21:32. It is proof of the truth of religion, and they, as much as others, need it.
22. We see the goodness of God in sending his messengers to a lost world, Matthew 21:33-38. His prophets he sent one after another, and they were put to death. His well-beloved Son he sent, and He also was put to death. Nor is his mercy yet stayed. He still sends his message to sinners. Thousands have died, as his Son did, in attempting to spread the gospel, but still he sends it. We have often, often rejected it, yet still he sends it. What earthly monarch would be treated in this manner? What earthly parent would be so patient and so kind?
23. If we improve not our privileges they will be taken away from us, Matthew 21:43. The gospel will be sent to many of the pagan, and they will be saved, but woe to those who have had it all their lives and are not saved.
24. All who reject the Saviour must perish, Matthew 21:44.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12