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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-46

Chapter 21

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, they were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, and then Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and immediately you're going to find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any men say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord has need of them; and immediately he will sent them. Now all of this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put their clothes, and they sat him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut down branches from the trees, and placed them in the path. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee ( Matthew 21:1-11 ).

The triumphant entry of Jesus on what is traditionally known as Palm Sunday. So we are moving into the final week; for it is during this week that Jesus will be betrayed, scourged, crucified. Luke gives us a fuller account of this particular day, and inasmuch as we'll be moving through to Luke, we'll save much of the comments on the triumphant entry of Christ, until we get to Luke's gospel.

I would like to point out that the disciples, the multitudes that are crying after Jesus are actually crying forth a messianic psalm, Psalm 118 , where David there in prophecy concerning the Messiah talks about the stone that would be set, of not by the builders, but the same becoming the chief cornerstone, "this is the work of God. It's marvelous in our eyes"( Psalms 118:23 ). And then he declares, "This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it"( Psalms 118:24 ). What day? The day that God has made for man's deliverance. The day that God has set for the Messiah to come. This is that day.

And then as you go in to verse twenty-five of Psalms 118 , the Hebrew is Hosanna, "Save now, I beseech thee O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We have blessed thee out of the house of the Lord". So they are crying out this, "save now", from the Psalms 118 , "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Save now in the highest." And they are crying for the Messiah to save. An appropriate cry. It's an appropriate psalm for the occasion. This is the day that God had ordained to bring the kingdom of God to man.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and he cast out all of them that sold and bought in the temple, and he overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and he said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you've made it a den of thieves ( Matthew 21:12-13 ).

He cast all of the merchandisers out of the temple grounds. Now these merchandisers were crooked. The moneychangers were there to exchange the Roman currency into the temple shekels, because you could not give Roman currency to God. They had a tradition against that. The only offering that you could give to God would be the temple shekel. So these moneychangers were conveniently there in the temple to change your Roman currency for the temple shekel. The only thing is that they were gouging the people. The people knowing that they had to have the temple shekel, these men were charging them absorbent prices for the temple shekel; and thus, they themselves were racking of a part of the profit which they split with the priest, with whom they were in cahoots.

Also, out on the street you could buy a dove for just a few cents, really, they were about twenty-five cents for a dove out on the street. But these who were selling doves in the temple precincts had the seal, the priest's seal on the dove, and they were going for five dollars apiece because they were kosher. They had been approved by the priest. So if you bought one out on the street, because you could not offer to God anything that was blemished, if it didn't have the little seal on it, when you brought it to the priest, he would look carefully over it until he would find some blemish and say, "I can't offer this to God; take it." And he had this thing going, a kickback. You know, you got the seal, you got the little imprint, yeah, this one is fine. You've paid the five bucks for it. We'll offer this one. Men who designed to make profit off of the desire of people to worship God; those who would profit off of religion, those who design schemes by which they might profit off of the people's desire to worship God. And Jesus was upset with this. He said, "You've made my Father's house a den of thieves." He drove them out. The Bible said, "My Father's house shall be a house of prayer, you've changed it, you've perverted it, you've made it a den of thieves." And then once it was cleansed of this merchandising we see the temple as God intended it to be.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them ( Matthew 21:14 ).

Where people really begin to experience the work of God in their lives, that's what the temple was intended, for people to come and receive God's work in their lives. Not to be bothered by a lot of hucksters, calling out their wares, and making it a big marketplace, merchandise, rip-offs, but a place where people can come and receive the touch of God upon their lives. And it was fulfilled, as the blind and the lame came to Him, and He healed them.

Now when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children were crying in the temple, saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were very displeased, and they said unto him, Do you hear what they are saying? And Jesus said unto them, of course; have you never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went out of the city to Bethany; and he stayed there ( Matthew 21:15-17 ).

Jesus did not spend His time in Jerusalem during His last week, but spent it there in Bethany and came into Jerusalem each day. But here to me it is so beautiful, the children, who were always attracted to Jesus, crying out, "Hosanna," and as the scribes and Pharisees would get upset with this, Jesus just quoted them the psalms, "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, God's perfected praise"( Psalms 8:2 ).

Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he was hungry. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and he found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and he said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee, henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, Did you see how quick that fig tree withered away! And Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, if you have faith, and doubt not, you shall not only say to this which is done to the fig tree, but also if you shall say unto the mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive ( Matthew 21:18-22 ).

A very broad promise for prayer. You must note that it was made to the disciples and what constitutes discipleship. "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me"( Matthew 16:24 ).

Prayer is never to be used for our own lust or desires, to enrich ourselves. James said, "you ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you might consume it upon your own lust"( James 4:3 ). The purpose of prayer isn't really to get my will done; the purpose of prayer is to get God's will done. And that person who is a disciple, the person who has denied himself to take up his cross to follow Jesus Christ, is more concerned in God's will, than he is his own will. And that man has power in prayer and this promise is for that man. It's not a general promise to anybody.

Whatsoever things you desire, you know, you desire a new Cadillac, or whatever, maybe you want a Mercedes, all things, whatever; no, it isn't a broad promise to just fulfill any whim or wish or fleshly desire that you have. This promise is made to those men who have denied self, the self-life, and taken up their cross to follow Jesus.

Now this parable of the fig tree; it's the first time Jesus used His power in judgement. Up until now He's always used His power to bless, to help, to heal. First time it's used in judgement. It is interesting when Jesus was quoting the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Himself when He was in the Synagogue in Nazareth.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to mend the brokenhearted, to set the captive at liberty, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And then He closed the book and didn't go any further. The rest of that prophesy the next phrase is, and to declare the day of the judgement of our God. But that was not yet, that would come. But this is the first time Jesus used His miraculous powers and judgement and it sort of surprised the disciples. Not that He cursed the fig tree, but how quickly the curse was fulfilled. It withered so rapidly.

Now if there were leaves on the tree, now you say it was, well, it was April the time of the Passover; it's too early for figs. It isn't far that He would curse the fig tree for not having any figs in April, over there in Israel certain of the fig trees have what they call the first ripe fruit.

When we are there, and we usually go in February, you will see large figs. Usually there are no leaves. These figs come out first. They are called the first ripe figs. And even by late February, early March, these figs are quite well developed, and it is actually not until April or so, or middle of March, where the leaves really begin to come out on the fig trees. But if you notice a fig tree, the figs always come out before the leaves. So if there were leaves on the tree, there should have been some of these first ripe figs. And of course, there would have been the forming new, little figs of the regular fig crop. There were no figs, only leaves. It was not fulfilling the purpose for which God has created a fig tree; it wasn't bringing forth fruit, and thus, it was cursed.

Now, the nation of Israel in the Bible has been typified as a fig tree. In Jeremiah chapter twenty-three, God speaks of the basket of good and evil figs. And He likens it unto the nation of Israel. The basket of evil figs, so evil they could not be eaten, were to be cast out. In Joel and in Hosea also there is that figure of the fig tree for the nation of Israel. And this, no doubt, is symbolic as well as actual. But the symbolism was of the nation Israel, failing to bring forth fruit for the Master, was to be cursed, withered. And that of course is exactly what did happen, so quickly after the death of Jesus. Their rejection of Him, so quickly the nation withered and died.

Now when he was come to the temple, the chief priest and the elders came unto him as he was teaching, and they said, By what authority do you do these things? and who gave you the authority? ( Matthew 21:23 )

You see, He was coming now the next day, the day before He had gotten rid of all the moneychangers, and those who were selling doves, and all. And so now the chief priests and all are challenging Him, "by what authority, and who gave you the authority to do these things?"

And Jesus answered and said unto them, I'll ask you one thing, which of you tell me, I will likewise tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? was it from heaven or men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we will say, From heaven; then he will say unto us, Why didn't you believe him? But if we say, Of men; we fear the people; for they all believed that John was a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We can not tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things ( Matthew 21:24-27 ).

The baptism of John. The people counted John as a prophet, but John was not the Light. But he was sent to bear witness of the Light, that was the true Light, "that lightest every man that cometh in the world". And John said, "this is He," and he pointed to Christ. Now if they accepted the authority of John, then they would also have to accept that of Jesus.

If they would accept that John's authority was from heaven, because John bore witness of Jesus and said, "Behold the lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world, this is it, whom I spake, who came before me, because He was preferred before me, and I am not worthy to untie His shoes"( John 1:29 ). John's witness of Christ; if they accepted that his authority was from heaven, then they would find the place where Jesus had His authority, John bore witness of Jesus. So in asking them, of course they were in an impossible position, because they had rejected John, and yet the people, the popular opinion was that John was indeed a prophet. So they were stuck.

Now Jesus said,

What do you think? ( Matthew 21:28 )

And this whole question of authority and John, and so forth is in this next part here. He is now going to give to parables, and He is asking them in the parables to give Him the answer. He is creating a situation. He says, "Now what's right?" And He is letting them answer it. And it's not until they've answered the two; that suddenly, whop, they realize, "Hey, that was us. He got us. He was directing that at us".

What do you think? There was a certain man who had two sons; and he came to the first, and he said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. And he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I'll go, sir: but he did not. Now whether of the two did the will of the father? They said unto him, The first. Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and harlots will go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, [He is coming back to John] and you believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and you, when you had seen it, did not afterward repent, that you might believe him ( Matthew 21:28-32 ).

Now the parable, of course, is directed against them. The publicans and the harlots were the son who said, "no" to the kingdom of God. They were the ones who were living in sin and turned their backs upon God, but they were the ones who later repented, and went out, and served. Whereas the Pharisees are those who render to God lip service, "Oh, I'll go; yes sir" and they render to God only lip service, but did not really serve God, only lip service.

And so which one really does the will of God, the one that repents and goes, or the one who just says he will go, but doesn't? God doesn't really count lip service. The Bible says to rend your heart, not your garments unto the Lord. There is a lot of outward religion. God is interested in your heart.

A lot of people go through outward motions of religion. The rending of their garments, the tearing of their garments was a sign of tremendous emotional feelings, and all, that a person may have. Rip my clothes, you know, oh, I am moved with emotions. God says, "Look, I don't want your emotional outbursts, I want your heart; I want really to be a matter of the changed life, that comes from the heart. Not just an outward observance, not just an outward show, not an outward form, I want it to be done in the heart." So when they answered Him, you know, "The one who went out". Jesus said "Yes, and the publicans and harlots are going to go in the kingdom of God before you do."

He is easy on them right now. When we get to chapter twenty-three, He is going to really lay them low. He is building up to it. And then He points back to John, how that the publicans and harlots went out and repented, and were baptized; but how they, even after they saw it and realized, would not even afterward repent.

Now hear another parable: [He is going to hit them again.] There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it ( Matthew 21:33 )

Now He is referring to the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah five, which they all knew so very well. The minute He announces this vineyard, which was hedged, and the winepress and all, this is exactly what Isaiah describes of the nation of Israel. How God planted the vineyard, and He came at time to gather the fruit, and all there was, was wild grapes. And how He just let the vineyard go. And they knew that this vineyard was representative of the nation Israel.

Now another parable: this householder which planted a vineyard, hedged it round about, digged a winepress in it, built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruit of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let's kill him, and we will seize the inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. Now when the lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those husbandmen?" And they said unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons ( Matthew 21:34-41 ).

They again trapped themselves.

For Jesus said, Did you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected ( Matthew 21:42 ),

Now He is taking them back actually to the "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," same psalm.

the same has become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, it's marvelous in our eyes. Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God ( Matthew 21:42-43 )

And this is the prophecy against the nation Israel, the religious leaders.

The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall upon this stone [the stone which was set of naught of the builders or Jesus Christ] shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they then perceived that he was speaking of them. And they sought to lay hands on him, but they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet ( Matthew 21:43-46 ).

So Jesus is predicting to them that the kingdom will be taken from them, and so quickly it was. And the gospel was preached first to the Jews, but with their rejection, the gospel came to the Gentiles. And of course the main thing that God is seeking, is fruit.

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, my Father is the husbandman, every branch in me that bringeth forth fruit, He purges it, that it might bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean through the word. Abide in Me, that my words abide in you, that ye may bring forth much fruit, for herein is my Father glorified"( John 15:1-4 ). So the Lord's desire is that we bring forth fruit unto Him. The natural vine did not do it. So those husbandmen were cast forth from the vineyard, and He gives the vineyard, the kingdom to others, who will bring forth fruit for Him.

And then that, and there is so much to be said concerning the stone which was set up, not of the builders. If you fall on it, you will be broken. But if He falls on you, then He'll grind you to powder. You're going to have one of two relationships to Jesus Christ, either as your Lord and Savior, or as your Judge. If you fall upon Him in repentance, you will be broken, true, but you'll come into a new, full, rich life. If He is your Judge, you'll be ground to powder. The two aspects, the two faces of Christ, by which people will face Him. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/matthew-21.html. 2014.
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