Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 21

Verses 1-99

Ch. 21: 1 10 . The Royal Entry into Jerusalem

Mark 11:1-11 .Luke 19:29-40 . John 12:12-19 . St Luke alone places here the incident of Christ weeping over Jerusalem (19:40 44).

1 . were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives ] “Unto Bethphage and Bethany at the mount of Olives” (Mark). “Nigh to Bethphage and Bethany at the mount called the mount of Olives” (Luke). Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem, at the S.E. base of the mount of Olives. Of Bethphage (“place of green or winter figs”) no remains have been discovered, and its exact position is unknown. It was probably west of Bethany, and so near to Jerusalem as to be reckoned part of the Holy City. See Godet on St Luke 19:28 . Some have inferred from the order in which Bethphage and Bethany are named that Bethphage was east of Bethany.

2 . an ass tied, and a colt with her ] “A colt tied whereon never man sat” (Mark and Luke). St Matthew notes the close correspondence with the words of the prophecy; see v. 5.

Oriental travellers describe the high estimation in which the ass is held in the East. The variety of Hebrew names for these animals indicates the many uses to which they are put. “His lot varies as does the lot of those he serves. The rich man’s ass is a lordly beast. In size he is far ahead of anything of his kind we see here at home. His coat is as smooth and glossy as a horse’s.… His livery is shiny black, satiny white or sleek mouse colour. I never saw one of the dingy red of his Poitou brethren.” Zincke’s Egypt .

3 . The account leads to the inference that the owner of the ass was an adherent of Jesus who had perhaps not yet declared himself. The number of such secret followers was probably very large.

4 . that it might be fulfilled ] See note ch. 1:22.

5 . Tell ye the daughter of Sion , &c.] Zechariah 9:9 . The prophet is predicting the triumph of Israel and the fall of the neighbouring nations. The prophecy contains three distinct Hebrew words for an “ass.” “Sitting upon an ass ( chamâr , from a root meaning red ) and a colt ( air , ‘a young male ass’) the foal (lit. ‘the son’) of an ass ( athôn = ‘a she-ass,’ from a root meaning ‘slow’).”

meek ] See ch. 5:5.

7 . put on them their clothes ] Their upper garments, the abbas of modern Arabs. Cp. with this the throne extemporised for Jehu, 2 Kings 9:13 .

8 . a very great multitude ] Rather, the greater part of the crowd .

spread their garments in the way ] Instances are recorded of similar acts of respect shewn to Rabbis by their disciples. See Schöttgen, ad loc.

9 . Hosanna ] Hebr. “ hoshiah-na ,” “save now,” “save I pray.” Na is a particle of entreaty added to imperatives. They are the first words of Psalms 118:25 , “Save now I beseech thee, O Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity,” a verse which was sung in solemn procession round the altar at the feast of Tabernacles and on other occasions. The multitude recognise the Messiah in Jesus and address to Him the strains of their most joyous festival. St Luke paraphrases the expression for his Gentile readers, “glory in the highest.”

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord ] (Psalms 118:26 ). “He that cometh” ( Habba ) was a recognised Messianic title. St Mark and St John add “Blessed be the kingdom of our father, David (‘the king of Israel,’ John), that cometh in the name of the Lord.” St Luke has “Blessed be the king that cometh,” &c., and mentions that the multitude began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.” These shouts of triumph which are the “gospel” or heralding of the King must have sounded across the valley of Kedron up to the precincts and porches of the Temple.

“Bethany stands in a shallow hollow scooped out of the shoulder of the hill. The path follows this till the descent begins at a turn where the first view of the Temple is caught. First appeared the castles and walls of the city of David; and immediately afterwards the glittering roof of the Temple and the gorgeous royal arcade of Herod with its long range of battlements overhanging the southern edge of Moriah.” Tristram’s Topography of Holy Land .

The entry into Jerusalem must not be regarded as an isolated fact. It was a culminating outburst of feeling. It is clear that the expectation of the kingdom was raised to the highest pitch. The prostration of Salome at the feet of the Prince; the request of her sons; the dispute among the ten; the gathering crowds; the cry of Bartimæus; the triumphal entry, are all signs of this feeling.

For us the Royal Entry is a figure, a parable through external sights and sounds of the true and inner secret kingdom of God.

10 . all the city was moved ] By a census taken in the time of Nero it was ascertained that there were 2,700,000 Jews present at the Passover. We may picture the narrow streets of Jerusalem thronged with eager inquisitive crowds demanding, with Oriental vivacity, in many tongues and dialects, “who is this?”

was moved ] The word in the original is forcible, “convulsed” or “stirred” as by an earthquake, or by a violent wind. Cp. ch. 27:51, and Revelation 6:13 , where the same verb is used.

Monday, Nisan 10.

The events of this day extend to the end of ch. 25.

12 14 . The Second Cleansing of the Temple

Mark 11:15-18 ; Luke 19:45 , Luke 19:46 .

It is clear from the other Synoptists that the Cleansing of the Temple took place on Nisan 10, not on the day of the entry. St Mark says (11:11) that “when he had looked round about on all things there, the eventide being come he went back to Bethany.” In point of time “the cursing of the fig-tree” should precede the “Cleansing of the Temple.” St Mark adds to this account “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.” St Matthew alone mentions the healing of the lame and the blind, and omits the incident of “the widow’s mite,” recorded by the other Synoptists. The first “Cleansing of the Temple,” at the commencement of our Lord’s ministry, is recorded John 2:13-17 .

12 . cast out all them that sold , &c.] It is probable that a look of divine authority, the enthusiasm of His Galilæan followers, and the consciousness of wrongdoing on the part of the traders, rather than any special exercise of miraculous power, effected this triumph of Jesus in His Father’s House.

them that sold and bought in the temple ] The traffic consisted in the sale of oxen and sheep, and such requisites for sacrifice as wine, salt, and oil. This merchandise took place in the Court of the Gentiles.

the tables of the moneychangers ] The Greek word signifies those who took a small coin (Hebr. Kolbon , Grk. κόλλυβος , perhaps a Phœnician word) as a fee for exchanging the money of the worshippers, who were required to pay in Hebrew coin. This exaction of the fee was itself unlawful (Lightfoot). And probably other dishonest practices were rife.

that sold doves ] See Luke 2:24 .

13 . My house shall be called the house of prayer ] Isaiah 56:7 , “Mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” or for all nations, not of all nations (Mark).

a den of thieves ] Rather, a cave of robbers or bandits . Cp. Jeremiah 7:11 , “Is this house which is called by my name become a den of robbers in your eyes?” The context of these words is strikingly suggestive: “if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings … and shed not innocent blood in this place … then will I cause you to dwell in this place in the land that I gave to your fathers for ever and ever.” The caves of Palestine had always been refuges for the lawless, and in the reign of Herod the Great the robbers dwelling in caves had rebelled against him and resisted his power, Jos. Ant. i. 12. Possibly this thought may be present here: “Ye have made my house a stronghold of rebels against God and the Messiah, when it ought to be a garrison of loyal subjects.” Also the disputes of the traffickers resembled the wrangling of bandits in their caves.

15, 16 . The Children’s Praise. Peculiar to St Matthew

15 . the chief priests ] The heads of the twenty-four priestly courses, as well as the high-priest and those who had served that office. See note ch. 26:3.

children crying in the temple ] Children were taught at an early age to join in the temple services. These caught the familiar feast-day strain from the Galilæan pilgrims, and unconscious of all that their words meant, saluted Jesus.

16 . Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise ] Rather, out of (or by) the mouths of children and sucklings hast thou founded strength . Psalms 8:2 . The ruling thought of the opening verses is the glory of God set forth in His works. The “scarcely articulate” cry of an infant proves, like the heaven and the stars, the power and providence of God. On all these God builds a stronghold against His adversaries, i. e. convinces them of His might. So also the children in the temple attest the truth of God. See Canon Perowne and Speaker’s Commentary on the passage quoted.

17 . Bethany ] “House of dates,” or, according to Caspari, “Place of shops, or merchant tents,” on the S.E. of the Mount of Olives, see note v. 9. Here Jesus lodged with Lazarus and his sisters.

18 22 . The Cursing of the Fig-Tree

Mark 11:12-14 , and 20 24. St Mark places this incident before the “Cleansing of the Temple,” see note vv. 12 14.

19 a fig tree ] Rather, a single fig-tree .

found nothing thereon, but leaves only ] The fig-tree loses its leaves in the winter: indeed it looks particularly bare with its white naked branches. One species, however, puts forth fruit and leaves in the very early spring, the fruit appearing before the leaves. It was doubtless a fig-tree of this kind that Jesus observed, and seeing the leaves expected to find fruit thereon. At the time of the Passover the first leaf-buds would scarcely have appeared on the common fig-tree, while this year’s ripe fruit would not be found till four months later.

The teaching of the incident depends on this circumstance (comp. Luke 13:6-9 ). The early fig-tree, conspicuous among its leafless brethren, seemed alone to make a show of fruit and to invite inspection. So Israel, alone among the nations of the world, held forth a promise. From Israel alone could fruit be expected; but none was found, and their harvest-time was past. Therefore Israel perished as a nation, while the Gentile races, barren hitherto, but now on the verge of their spring-time, were ready to burst into blossom and bear fruit.

presently =immediately; cp. French présentement .

the fig tree withered away ] From St Mark we gather that the disciples observed the effect of the curse on the day after it was pronounced by Jesus.

20 . they marvelled ] It was rather the power and wonder of the act than the deeper significance of it that moved the disciples. The miracle was to them an “act of power” ( δύναμις ), or a “wonder” ( τέρας ), rather than a “sign” ( σημεῖον ). Yet Jesus follows the turn their thoughts take, and teaches that prayer and faith will remove mountains of difficulty, see ch. 17:20.

21 . and doubt not ] The Greek verb implies the doubt that follows questioning and discussion. The active voice is used of discerning the face of the sky (ch. 16:3): from the sense of deciding litigation the meaning passes to disputation in general, and thence in middle voice to its force in the text. The last usage is not classical. The context of Acts 10:20 , where the same word is used, illustrates this passage.

23 27 . The Authority of Christ is questioned

Mark 11:27-33 ; Luke 20:1-8 .

23 . By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? ] The second question is not a mere repetition of the first, Jesus is asked (1) what kind of authority He possesses human or divine? (2) By whose agency this authority was bestowed? No one had a right to teach unless “authority” had been conferred upon him by the scribes.

24 . I also will ask you one thing ] This form of argument was usual. The question of the Elders was really an attack. Jesus meets that attack by a counter-question which presented equal difficulties in three ways whether they said from heaven or of men, or left it unanswered. To say from heaven was equivalent to acknowledging Jesus as Christ, to say from men was to incur the hostility of the people, to be silent was to resign their pretensions as spiritual chiefs of the nation.

28 32 . The Parable of the Two Sons, and the Explanation of it Peculiar to St Matthew

St Luke omits the parable, perhaps as referring especially to Israel. The parable follows in close connection with the question as to the teaching of John.

The parables and discourses that follow deal no longer with the distant future of the Church, but with an immediate present. The subjects illustrated are (1) The rejection of the Messiah. (2) The rejection of the Jews as a nation. (3) The Judgment, ( a ) which has already begun; ( b ) which will be enacted terribly at the siege of Jerusalem; and ( c ) finally fulfilled at the end of the world.

Observe throughout the separation which is implied in the Judgment the dividing sword which Christ brings the Jewish race and the world, each parted into two great divisions the two sons the two parties of husbandmen or of guests the wise and foolish virgins the sheep and the goats the talents used and misused.

It is the last act in a divine drama of surpassing interest and full of contrasts. The nation, and especially the Pharisees, who are the leaders of thought, triumphant to external sight, are hurrying to destruction, impelled by a hidden fate in the face of clear warnings; while Christ the King, Who seems to be vanquished and done to death, is really winning an eternal victory.

28 . two sons ] representing the sinners who first refused to do God’s will, but repented at the preaching of John; and the Pharisees who, having “the righteousness which is of the law” (Philippians 3:9 ), professed to do God’s will but did it not. Both are sons. God still cares for both. The Pharisees may follow the sinners into the kingdom of God ( v. 31). Paul was still a Pharisee; Nicodemus the Pharisee was still a secret follower of Christ.

29 . repented ] Rather “changed his mind,” felt regret but not repentance or Metanoia , a deeper and more lasting feeling: see ch. 3:2.

According to a well-supported reading the cases of the two sons are reversed. The first agrees but goes not, the second refuses but afterwards works in the vineyard. The variation is interesting, because it points to an interpretation by which the two sons represent Jew and Gentile.

32 . the way of righteousness ] A Hebrew expression. Cp. “the way of God,” ch. 22:16; “the way of salvation,” Acts 16:17 . The Christian doctrine was called in a special sense “the way” (Acts 19:9 , Acts 19:23 ). The Greek word in the text also signified a philosophical system.

when ye had seen it ] viz. that the publicans and the harlots believed him.

repented not afterward ] Rather, did not even change your minds , much less repented in the deeper sense; see above, v. 29.

33 42 . The Wicked Husbandmen

Mark 12:1-11 ; Luke 20:9-18 .

No parable interprets itself more clearly than this. Israel is represented by an image which the prophets had made familiar and unmistakeable the Vineyard of the Lord. The householder who planted the Vineyard and fenced it round signifies God the Father, Who created the nation for Himself a peculiar and separate people. The husbandmen are the Jews, and especially the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of the Jews. The servants are the prophets of God, the Son is the Lord Jesus Christ.

33 . planted a vineyard ] Cp. the parable in Isaiah 5:1-7 , where the description is very similar to this. See also Psalms 80:8-16 ; Jeremiah 2:21 ; Ezekiel 15:1-6 . The vine was adopted as a national emblem on the Maccabean coins.

hedged it round about ] with a stone wall or with a fence of prickly pears. St Luke makes no mention of the separating hedge. Israel was separated throughout her history politically, and even physically, by the natural position of Palestine.

digged a winepress ] The winepress was often dug or hewn out of the limestone rock in Palestine. There were two receptacles or vats. The upper one was strictly the press or ληνός (Matthew), the lower one the winefat or ὑπολήνιον (Mark) into which the expressed juice of the grape passed. The two vats are mentioned together only in Joel 3:13 , “The press ( gath ) is full, the fats ( yekabim ) overflow” (quoted in Bibl. Dict. , see art. “Winepress”).

built a tower ] Probably a wooden booth raised on a high platform, in which a watcher was stationed to guard the grapes.

Neither the winepress nor the tower seems to have any special significance in the interpretation of the parable.

let it out to husbandmen ] This kind of tenancy prevails in many parts of Europe. It is known as the metayer system, the arrangement being that the occupier of the land should pay to the landlord a portion originally half of the produce. The system existed in England for about sixty years at the end of the fourteenth century. Before the Revolution of 1790 nearly the whole of the land of France was rented by metayers. At the time of our Lord’s ministry it was customary for the Romans to restore conquered lands on condition of receiving a moiety of the produce. Fawcett’s Manual of Political Economy , p. 223; Rogers’ Political Economy , p. 168.

went into a far country ] Translate, left his home . The words “went into a far country” are not in the original text.

35 . beat one, and killed another, and stoned another ] See ch. 23:35.

38 . let us seize on his inheritance ] This would be impossible in real life, but not more impossible than the thought of the Pharisees that by the death of Jesus they would gain the spiritual supremacy.

39 . cast him out of the vineyard ] Words that recall the crucifixion of Jesus outside the city of Jerusalem.

41 . They say unto him ] An interruption from the listening crowd, which marks the intense interest with which these parables were heard. The indignation of the bystanders is aroused as if it were a tale of actual life.

42 . Did ye never read in the scriptures ] Psalms 118:22 ( v. 25 of the same psalm is quoted above, v. 9, where see note); the psalm “was probably composed for the first celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles after the completion of the Second Temple” (Nehemiah 8:13-18 ). (Canon Perowne.) The original reference was to a stone used in the erection of the second Temple. The “corner stone” is the Jewish nation rejected at first, afterwards restored from captivity. Christ transfers this image to His Church, formed of Jew and Gentile alike (see Meyer), which, though despised at first, was destined to succeed to the spiritual supremacy of Israel.

In Acts 4:11 , Ephesians 2:20 , 1 Peter 2:6 , Christ Himself is the head-corner-stone; but the two applications are not inconsistent, for Christ was the Representative first of the Jewish Nation (ch. 4:15, 2:1 11 (3)), then of the Church. Cp. also Isaiah 28:16 , “I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.”

The stone ] Rather, A stone . The builders rejected many stones.

the head of the corner ] The stone that connects the two walls at the top and supports the roof.

44 . whosoever shall fall on this stone , &c.] Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. , sees here a reference to the custom of stoning: “the place of stoning was twice as high as a man. From the top of this, one of the witnesses striking him on his loins, fells him to the ground: if he died of this, well; if not, another witness threw a stone upon his heart.”

But it is better to refer the image to an earthenware vessel (1) falling to the ground when it would be shattered, or (2) crushed by a stone when it would be bruised into atoms.

will grind him to powder ] The Greek word lit. = “to winnow.” So “cause to disappear,” “destroy.” Those to whom Jesus is a “rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8 ; Isaiah 8:14 ) in the days of His humiliation shall have great sorrow: but to incur His wrath when He comes to judge the earth will be utter destruction.

46 . when they sought to lay hands on him ] The Sanhedrin aimed at two things: (1) to seize Jesus quickly, for the Passover (during which no hostile measures could be taken) was close at hand; and because Jesus might be expected to quit Jerusalem after the feast. (2) To seize Him apart from the people; for the Galilæans would suffer no one to lay hands on their King and Prophet. Treachery alone enabled the Jews to secure their end.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 21". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/matthew-21.html. 1896.