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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 21

Verses 1-22

  1. Intro: Riding Donkeys - Cleaning Temples - Counting Figs
    1. In Oct.2007, Greg & I were on a plane leaving London for Kosovo. Greg had the window shade open, I was staring out, & a Mercedes pulled right up to the plane. I thought has to be some dignitary to get that treatment. He came on with 2 other guys & they sat in the not so prestigious front row. People started pointing & whispering something about him. I asked a gal who is it, she said the president (Fatmir Sejdiu/Fat-Meer Said-you). 4 months before Kosovo’s Independence, here was the president. He did get to drive right up to the plane & board...but I felt bad...I felt he deserved so much more.
      1. This morning we look at Jesus’ not so triumphal entry. He deserved so much more!
    2. Jesus was at the End of His journey (last week). A busy itinerary in this final journey which he started 9 months ago, & where He ministered in at least 35 localities. He timed the journey to end in Jerusalem, right at Passover.
      1. The Passover now only a few days away. Throngs around Him. Everyone spreading the news about Him. The religious leaders counseling on how to kill Him. The Roman Soldiers Special Forces on Heightened alert, Threat Level Orange for potential Terrorist attacks.
      2. Would Jesus make a move? As the pressure mounts, Jesus took definite, calculated, & premeditated action.
    3. He carefully ordered everything.
      1. His Timing: The day & hour were selected from eternity w/countdown precision. He chose the 1st day of the week for his Triumphal entry which would precipitate his terrible death on that Friday.
      2. His Going Public: He was purposely going public. He was promoting a public demonstration. Never before. He had repeatedly withdrawn from the crowds. But now He invited it. He courted danger & did it with calculated purpose.
  2. RIDING DONKEYS (1-11)
    1. ​​​​​​​Interesting as we start up 1 Kings Wed...Ch.1 records the 1st public display of Solomon as King. He also came riding on a donkey. Riding thru Jerusalem. And the people were also crying aloud after him.
    2. HIS PREPARATION (1-3)
    3. (2,3) Jesus was demonstrating His omniscience/His all-knowingness.
      1. He was in control of the whole situation. I like that...He has all the details of my life figured out.
    4. (3) The Lord has need of them. And the Lord has need of you.
      1. ​​​​​​​In His sovereignty & grace God has given you & me the privilege of being used for His Kingdoms purposes.
    5. HIS PARADE (7-10) On a donkey.
      1. Unridden - an animal devoted to a sacred task must be one that had not been put to ordinary use.
      2. He makes the connection to Zech.9:9 Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey - riding on a donkey’s colt.
      3. Riding a donkey was a kingly act which identified Him with the royal line of David.
        1. It was a royal animal during King David’s reign. After him, the Hebrew kings switched to horses, & the donkey was considered unsuited to the dignity of Kings.
      4. Riding a donkey was also a humble act for that day.
        1. Seeing this procession, the Roman Soldiers must have laughed/mocked.
        2. When a victorious Roman general would return from war, elephants, tigers, and other animals would accompany him. The general would be in a chariot pulled by handsome horses. The swords of the soldiers behind him would be lifted high. The streets would be filled with the order of incense. The whole city would be shouting and rejoicing over the victorious king. Can you imagine how Caesar in Rome would have laughed and mocked as he saw this processional? But this was the beginning of the parade that would ultimately topple the Roman Empire. (Jerry Vines, Exploring the Gospels/Mark, pg.221,222.)
    6. (9) Save now. All eyes were fixed on Jesus, all honor & respect was poured forth. Not only did some place their clothing on the animal as a saddle, some flung their robes to the ground as a gesture of reverence, indicating their willingness for him to have everything - even to trample their property if He so desired. There was swelling, mounting joy.
      1. Are you willing to throw everything down in your life down? Anything you’re not?
    7. Ps.118:26 became a prophetic ecstasy as the long procession moved along the slope of Mount of Olives. These were Hebrews on Holiday.
      1. In vs.9 it says there were 2 groups (b4 & behind). This was antiphonal chant that some scholars suggest it went like this:
        1. 1st group: Hosanna. 2nd group: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our father David. 1st group: Hosanna in the highest.
    8. (10) He went into Jerusalem. The road that descends down the Mount of Olives descends into a hollow, & the sight of the city dips out of sight from the multitudes because of the ridge line. But then after a moment of walking, the path mounts again, in an instant the whole city bursts into view.
      1. Now with the whole city is in view & the Savior begins to weep (Lk.19:41-44). Not with quiet tears as were described when Lazarus was risen from his grave, but with loud deep sorrow. They ceased their Hosannas & heard the Lord of the Universe wail over Jerusalem. This was a new king.
      2. By prophetic vision (seeing 4 decades into the future), the Lord saw the proud, unrepentant Holy City reduced to a pile of rubble wet with the blood of His people
      3. They missed the things that makes for peace - What? What did they miss? Well, repentance toward God & faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​CLEANING TEMPLES (12-17)
    1. ​​​​​​​We have now 2 acts of judgment against Israel. The Cleansing of the Temple & the Cursing of the Fig-tree.
      1. The 1st dealing with Israel’s Inward Corruption. 2nd w/Outward Fruitfulness.
    2. CLEANSING THE TEMPLE - Inward Corruption
    3. Jesus opened His ministry w/a similar act (Jn.2). Now, 3 yrs later the Temple was defiled again with religious business.
      1. They turned the court of the Gentiles into a place where foreign Jews could exchange money & purchase sacrifices.
        1. It began as a service & convenience for visitors. But it turned into a lucrative business
        2. What began as an opportunity for foreigners to enter the Temple & learn from Israel about the true God, ended up turning many away because of the extravagant cost involved in coming to God.
    4. The trouble w/righteous anger is that it’s so much easier to be angry than righteous.
      1. But it is possible to be both.
    5. (12a) Jesus should have found prayer & worship there…not a noisy market place.
    6. Temple Tax was paid annually w/the Jewish silver ½ shekel.
      1. So people had to exchange their Greek & Roman money which became a lucrative, dirty business.
    7. (12b) Doves – were an offering for the poor.
    8. Its what Jesus’ parents brought at His own baby dedication at the Temple.
    9. Barclay said, Outside doves cost as little as 3½ pennies a pair, inside they were as much as 75 pennies a pair.
    10. I think you know how it grieves the heart of our Lord to take advantage of the poor.
      1. Prov.22:22,23 Do not rob the poor because he is poor, Nor oppress the afflicted at the gate; For the LORD will plead their cause & plunder the soul of those who plunder them.
        1. This was the County Fair & the Stock Exchange all rolled into one.
    11. Mark 11:16 tells us they were even using the temple mount for a shortcut to get from one side of the city to the other.
    12. ROBBERS IN GOD’S LIVING ROOM (13)
    13. His House was for the tithe, the sacrifice, prayer, outreach, worship, teaching, healing, & purification...to name a few.
    14. A Den of Thieves is what? - A place where thieves hide after they’ve committed their crimes.
      1. The Jews were using the temple ceremonies to cover up their secret sins.
    15. Application: Since our body is a Temple of the HS I wonder if this morning Jesus sees any tables of sin He’d like to tip over in our lives? The Lust table? Pride table? Greed table?
      1. What would He have driven out? A herd of lies? A flock of selfishness?
    16. (14) Look who came into the temple? the blind and the lame? They weren’t allowed (Lev.21:18).
      1. But there is a time to go counter-cultural.
  4. COUNTING FIGS (18-22)
    1. ​​​​​​​CURSING THE FIG TREE - Outward Fruitfulness
    2. I just hope this wasn’t on National Arbor Day!
    3. Here we have a living parable, a sermon in action (a good parable sneaks up on u).
      1. Often OT prophets acted out their message, when words no longer worked.
      2. Jesus will point out Israel’s hypocritical fruitlessness, their lack of faith, and unveil why their prayers were being hindered.
    4. ​​​​​​​Jesus curses the tree on Mon morning, and teaches its lesson on Tues morning.
    5. If He had power to kill the tree, why didn’t he use that power to have tree produce figs?
      1. The cursing of the fig tree, & the drowning of the pigs, are the only times where He used His miraculous power to destroy something in nature.
    6. Why would Jesus blast an innocent tree simply because it was fruitless?
      1. Although, If the fig tree continued to be fruitless, & someone cut it down for fire wood…no one would have a problem.
        1. So the answer lies in the fact that He is teaching an eternal spiritual lesson w/a visual parable.
    7. FIGURATIVE FIG TREE [I guess you can say He’s using FIG-urative language]
    8. The Fig Trees represented what in the OT? (Israel)
      1. Hosea 9:10 I found Israel Like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season.
    9. ​​​​​​​Many people believe they will escape the judgment of God simply because they burst forth w/religious leaves. How can this passage serve as a warning to them?
    10. There maybe many leaves that people admire in you, but is there fruit people can enjoy?
    11. INSTRUCTIONAL FIG TREE
    12. Israel had nothing but leaves.
    13. The Fig Tree pictures Israel, taking up space but not producing fruit.
    14. Jesus is still seeking fruit from His people. To be fruitless, is sin.
      1. ​​​​​​​Jn.15:16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.
        1. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
        2. Don’t settle for shiny leaves. And, don’t try to cover your spiritual nakedness with religious Fig Leaves.
        3. Looking for fruit on the fig tree represents what Jesus was looking for in the Temple, & what Jesus is looking for in your Temple. Count Your Figs!
    15. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​When we stop bearing fruit, the problem always starts w/the roots.
      1. When a person dries up spiritually it is usually from the roots.
        1. 2 Kings 19:30 take root downward, And bear fruit upward. NIV take root below and bear fruit above.
    16. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​FAITH FRUIT
    17. He starts with simply…Have faith. Or, constantly be trusting God. Or, live in a state of dependence on Him.
      1. Then He adds a very challenging statement…mountain, be removed.
        1. ​​​​​​​Mountains in Scripture often refers to a great difficulty.(1) To all intents & purposes...it is something impossible.
        2. We face mountains of discouragement or despair; mountains of opposition or criticism; mountains of work difficulties or school fatigue; mountains of an unstable economy or an unsettling future; mountains of marital squabbles or single loneliness. [We can move these mountains only by trusting God]
    18. (22) Now He says the same, just a little more concise.
      1. Believe that you receive them ultimately means, we know that to not do it is one of the greatest hindrances to prayer.
      2. Sure, He limits when it is not His will; but we may limit by not praying; or w/wrong motives.
        1. Faith is not a sense, nor sight, nor reason, but simply taking God at His word.2
    19. Communion:
      1. The word companion literally means, one with whom bread is shared. (com with + pani bread).
      2. Jesus desires to share His bread w/you, a meal w/you, fellowship w/you, but 1stHis life w/you.
        1. ​​​​​​​Child of God, Jesus has an invitation for us, Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Rev.3:20 nlt

Verses 23-46

  1. Intro: Coming to Terms w/Jesus or Coming to Jesus w/Terms
    1. The 1st Adam came to the Fig Tree for leaves, the last Adam/Jesus came to the Fig Tree, not for leaves, but for FRUIT. Jesus still expects Fruit.
    2. Last week we entered the 4th major division of the gospel of Mt. The Rejection of the King
      1. 3 signs (last week: presentation of King. Purify Temple. Curse Fig Tree).
      2. 3 parables (2 today). 3 questions. 3 discourses. 3 trials.
  2. COMING TO TERMS w/JESUS or COMING TO JESUS w/TERMS (23-27)
    1. Setting: In the Temple. They cut Him off in the middle of His sermon.
    2. This is His 3rd entry into Jerusalem this week:
      1. 1st He entered as King, looked around & turned His back upon them.
        2nd He entered as Priest & cleansed the Temple.
        3rd He enters as Prophet w/the message of God for Israel.
    3. Remember John’s ministry climaxed when he pointed his disciples to Jesus & said, Behold the lamb of God. Now, Jesus traps the trappers by asking them the source of John the Baptist’s authority. [They truly were on the horns of a dilemma]
    4. They want to know who gives Jesus the right to do the things he does.
    5. (24) I also will ask you one thing - As a means of instruction, rabbis often answered a question by asking another one.
      1. The answer to His question would reveal the answer to theirs. [the source, the Father]
    6. When they are unable to answer his question, Jesus refuses to answer theirs.
  3. SAYING 1 THING, BUT DOING ANOTHER (28-32) Parable of the 2 Sons
    1. ​​​​​​​This parable is found only in Mt.
    2. One son says he won’t but later does. The other son says he will but later doesn’t.
      1. Corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes can be compared to the 1st son.
      2. The scribes and Pharisees can be compared to the 2nd son.
        1. When the ministry of John came, the Religious crowd showed great interest in his work, but they wouldn’t repent & humble themselves & be baptized.
        2. The Non-Religious crowd, confessed their sins & obeyed John’s words & were baptized.
    3. James summarized this parable in a verse, But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22
    4. The 1st son, showed no courtesy at all toward his father, I will not!
      1. ​​​​​​​He even failed to address his father as sir. Nor did he give him an excuse why he wouldn’t.
      2. But afterwards he regretted it & went. This was true repentance, for it led to practical obedience.
        1. He didn’t offer a verbal apology, or make a promise of future good behavior. He did far better...he went about His fathers business w/no further ado.
    5. The 2nd son, polite in oriental fashion, addressed his father properly, I go, sir!...yet he had no intention of doing it.
    6. There are 2 groups of the masses of the unconverted:
      1. Group #1 - Those who are declared disobedient towards God.
      2. Group #2 - Those who are deceptively submissive to Him.
    7. (31) Like Levi/Matthew the tax collector entered before the religious leaders. Like Zacchaeus did. Like the immoral woman at the well did.
    8. (32) Jesus sums their problem w/two sins: They wouldn’t believe John’s message, nor repent of their sins.
    9. The rejection of John was actually the rejection of the Father who sent him.
      1. But God being gracious, didn’t send a sentence, but sent His Son.
      2. This leads us to the next parable. (same theme)
  4. GOOD OWNER, WICKED TENANTS (33-46) Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers
    1. ​​​​​​​Jesus draws on imagery from Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Is.5:1-7).
      1. In Isaiah, the problem is the lack of fruit, and the solution is the destruction of the vineyard. In Jesus’ parable, the problem is the tenants, who refuse the owner His fruit. The solution is replacing the tenants.
    2. GOD’S KINDNESS (33)
    3. God is the man who established & equipped a vineyard & rented it to tenants, since He lived far away.
      1. A type of Sharecropping: [they’d lease the land, cultivate & prune the vines]
        1. Their agreement was that the landlord would receive a share of each crop as rental.
        2. The whole project was a venture for the landowner.
      2. Look at the kindness of the owner: He planted it. Protected it w/a hedge. Dug the winepress for it. Built a 15-20’ watch tower on top of the terraced hill for shelter, protection, security, storage, & a look out.
      3. Also, Jesus was standing at Solomon’s porch, where hung a richly carved grapevine. 70 cubits high, sculptured around the door which led from the porch to the holy place. Kent Hughes, pg.94, quoting Rosscup.
    4. GOD’S PATIENCE (34-36)
    5. Fruit was the issue last chapter also (w/the Fig Tree & Temple mount)
    6. The owner usually received 1/3 to 1/2 the produce.
      1. It was also not uncommon for rent collectors to be treated badly.
    7. Time and again God had sent prophets to Israel to gather fruits of repentance and righteousness but His prophets were abused, wounded, and killed.
      1. Jer.7:25,26 From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets - day in and day out. 26 But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful - even worse than their ancestors.
    8. Jesus parable was no exaggeration (eg. Isaiah, Zechariah, John the baptist)
      1. Heb.11:35-38 others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
    9. So here we have the sad rejection of God’s messengers; before the sad rejection of God’s Son.
      1. We still have the sad rejection of God’s messengers in our world Today…some rejections are not just verbal. Some result in beatings & even death for some of God’s messengers. (pers church)
    10. It would have been unheard of for the owner to have been so patient.
      1. But God wouldn’t turn His back on the world; He continued sending servant after servant. (What persistent love)
    11. How was God patient with you prior to your conversion? How is God patient with you presently?
    12. GOD’S LOVE (37-39)
    13. (true story from Wales) A man loved a women, whom after having a spat, wouldn’t talk to him. He wrote letters for 40 years & placed them under her door, but she continually refused to speak to him. He wrote 2,184 love letters w/o ever a spoken or written word. He finally got the courage to present himself in person, knocked on the door & asked for her hand. She accepted. The became Mr & Mrs at age 74.
      1. Imagine God’s dilemma. Time and time again He tried to get His message of love through to His human creation with little response. Finally, when there was no other way, He wrapped up His message in a person.
    14. He/Jesus stands in succession to the great prophets of old, but He is distinct from them.
      1. If you reject Him, He answers you w/tears. If you wound Him He bleeds out cleansing. If you kill Him; He dies to redeem. If you bury Him; He rises again to bring resurrection. Jesus is love made manifest. Spurgeon
    15. (37) They will respect My Son - As if the Father said, Since Heaven adores Him; Hell trembles at Him; surely they will reverence My Son.
    16. (38) This verse tells of Jesus crucifixion, which was only 3 days away.
    17. (39) Cast Him out of the vineyard. God is Dead!
      1. ​​​​​​​Heb.13:12,13 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate(Jaffa). Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
    18. In verse 38 we find The key. They claimed everything as their own (inheritance)...Their capacity to work, their output, the whole scene of their work & their life, namely, the vineyard itself. In the end they take credit for sunshine, rain, & good climate...heck, in the end they were the ones that produced this good wine.
      1. ​​​​​​​Where do you live? Thats His Vineyard. Where do you work? Thats His Vineyard. Where do you vacation? Thats His Vineyard. Where do you rest? Thats His Vineyard.
    19. Jesus was God’s Ultimatum [nothing remains when Christ is refused]
      1. You put your finger in the eye of God, when you slight His Son. Kent Hughes
    20. God, the greatest Giver. So loved, the greatest motive. The world, the greatest need. That He gave, the greatest act. His only Son, the greatest gift. That whosoever, the greatest invitation. Believes in Him, the greatest opportunity. Should not perish, the greatest deliverance. But have eternal life, the greatest joy.
    21. GOD’S SEVERITY (40,41)
    22. In leaving the question open, Jesus was making His final appeal to the listening Religious leaders to take a long look at their own plans.
      1. He gave His enemies a last opportunity to change their course.
      2. Oh, the patience of God, to wait, to give another chance.
        1. Robert G. Ingersoll, the noted agnostic lecture, used to take out his watch and give God 3 minutes to strike him dead – If there were a God. On one occasion, however, a man in the audience asked: Does the gentleman think that he can exhaust the patients of an eternal God in 3 minutes?
      3. But the leaders were caught up in the drama of the story & didn’t realize that they passed sentence on themselves.
    23. How can people say hell isn’t fair? How can hell not make sense? They killed a Fathers one and only Son.
      1. God should have kicked this blue soccer ball we live on, so hard out of our atmosphere, so it burnt up immediately with a fervent heat.
      2. The question should be How can heaven make sense? How can any imperfect being be invited to inhabit such a perfect place?
    24. GOD’S TRIUMPH (42-44)
    25. They were builders who rejected the stone; they were vinedressers w/no fruit.
    26. Here we have the largest excommunication to ever take place.
      1. Here we have the consequences: The kingdom taken away & given to another nation/generation (i.e. Jews later, or the gentile nation, or the Church, or it’s simply...people who recognize the identity of the Son/Jesus).
    27. Israel stumbled over Christ. The Church is built upon Christ. The Gentile world dominion will be crushed by Christ (Armageddon).
    28. GOD’S GRACE (45,46)
    29. Don’t you picture big light bulbs over each of their heads? Hey wait a minute.
    30. One last chance for them to turn from the error of their way.
      1. In the 1st parable Jesus told them a story, asked them their opinion, & they gave it, & it was perfectly accurate.
      2. In the 2nd parable He told them another story, & again He asked them their opinion, & they gave it, & it was quite correct.
      3. Thus w/simple illustrations, He reached down into the deepest things in the lives of these men, & they pleaded guilty, & chose their own punishment, w/o knowing what they were doing, until He had finished.
    31. The parable is a powerful demonstration of the love & patience of God.
    32. Note the owner’s attention & care for the vineyard: He bought the land; cleared the land; prepared the soil; & even made provisions to keep out the wild animals or thieves.
      1. ​​​​​​​God has taken every care to provide for His people.
      2. He still sends messenger after messenger…but so often they are still rejected.
      3. Deliberately, repeatedly, people reject His love.
      4. Oh the generosity & patience of God & yet the stubbornness of humanity. (David Hewitt, pg.158.)
    33. This seems to be one more way the Lord shows His patient love in allowing his precious servants to be mistreated.
      1. It could be viewed as a lack of love for His children or It could be viewed as such a radical love for the lost.
      2. Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow - He (Jesus) knew that the old eye-for-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love.
    34. How many more Christians does God need to send into your life before you’ll respond to His gracious love?
      1. God has been waiting patiently for you…Will you respond to His love today?
      2. Martin Luther King Jr. - Jesus is not an impractical idealist; He is the practical realist.
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Bell's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/matthew-21.html. 2017.