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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,

After healing two blind men in Jericho and pronouncing salvation for the household of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus continues His final journey toward Jerusalem. The road between the two cities is always rugged and difficult, but it is extremely dangerous during less busy times of the year. In fact, the "Jericho Road" is the setting for the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). To travel the seventeen or eighteen miles from Jericho to Jerusalem requires walking uphill and gaining some 2,600 feet in altitude before reaching the Temple mount.

At this time of the year, the roads are crowded with people headed toward the Passover, one of the three annual feasts. Pilgrims will arrive from everywhere to commemorate Israel’s escape from Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses. With great festivity, Jews will slay Passover lambs and offer sacrifices.

Some scholars have suggested the city swells to more than two million during the time of the feast. If, as MacArthur notes, one lamb is offered for every ten people, then more than 200,000 lambs are killed during the feast (256). What the Jews fail to realize is that each of these lambs points to a single perfect sacrifice. Only one Lamb’s blood will accomplish God’s purpose this year: Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem: Matthew’s narrative proceeds from the events at Jericho directly to the triumphal entry without indicating which day Jesus enters the city. Tradition holds that He enters on Sunday.

Unlike Matthew, John details several events that occur between Jericho and Jerusalem (12:1–11). These events include Jesus’ arrival at Bethany six days before the Passover; Martha’s service at a feast given in Jesus’ honor at the house of Simon the Leper; Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet; Lazarus’ presence at the feast; the curiosity of the crowd to see this one who has been raised from the dead; and the chief priests’ plot to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus as well. Of these events, Matthew records only the anointing (26:6–13).

John says Jesus’ triumphal entry occurs the "next day" after His Bethany visit (12:12). How long does Jesus stay in Bethany? Tradition holds He stays no more than two nights. Broadus, Fowler, Hendriksen, and others believe Jesus arrives in Bethany from Jericho on Friday evening before sunset and then spends the Sabbath with His friends. At the end of the Sabbath rest (Saturday evening), a supper is given in Jesus’ honor. After the party, Jesus again spends the night in preparation for His entrance into Jerusalem on Sunday. If this view is correct, then John’s "next day" (12:12) refers to the "next day" after the party. According to the traditional view, Jesus’ final week begins with His triumphal entry on Sunday.

Not all scholars agree on this critical point. MacArthur, for instance, suggests that after the dinner at Simon’s house on Saturday evening, another day elapses before Jesus enters Jerusalem (257). According to this view, it takes time for the events of John 12:9 to occur, meaning the Jews come to see Jesus and Lazarus on Sunday and John’s "next day" is Monday (John 12:12).

Some see further proof of a Monday triumphal entry in that it eliminates the chronology problem of what some scholars call "silent Wednesday." The day is so named because the gospel accounts record no activity by Jesus on this day. MacArthur notes that such a gap in this momentous week of Jesus’ ministry is hard to explain (257). He goes on to say that Mosaic Law requires the sacrificial lambs to be selected on the tenth day of Nisan (Exodus 12:2-6).

In the year Jesus is crucified (A.D. 30 or 33), the tenth of Nisan is the Monday of Passover week. MacArthur concludes, "If Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly on Monday, He was received into the hearts of the Jewish people as a nation much as a family received the sacrificial lamb into the home… He was then crucified on Friday the fourteenth of Nisan, as the true Passover Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world" (258). The chronology of Jesus’ final week is difficult to determine.

and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples: Grand events are staged from the vicinity of Bethphage and Bethany. While Matthew specifically says Bethphage, it is likely the villages are close to one another, situated somewhere on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Not much is known of Bethphage because no ruins exist today. All we really know is that the name means "house of unripe young figs." It is from here that Jesus commissions two of His disciples to help in the final preparation of His entry through Jerusalem’s eastern gate.

Verse 2

Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.

Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you: The village is probably Bethphage or Bethany. Because we know neither the exact location of Bethphage nor the route of the ancient road, we can only conjecture about which village Jesus means.

and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me: Mark says the animals are tied to a doorway in the open street (11:4). Fowler notes this location would be unusual since many homes have inner courtyards where people can more securely keep their animals (19).

Mark and Luke further indicate that the "colt" is one "upon which never man sat." The significance of this fact is not specifically stated, but it does match the type of animals intended for sacred use (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7). If this is the meaning, it is unusual that Matthew (one who focuses on Mosaic fulfillment and whose audience is Jewish) omits the detail. Perhaps even a Gentile reader can appreciate the selection of an "unused" animal for such a special event as this. This same theme is echoed elsewhere in Jesus’ life. He is born of a "virgin" and is buried in an unused tomb (1:25; Luke 23:53).

Verse 3

And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.

Jesus anticipates His disciples’ being questioned about taking the donkeys and explains exactly how they should respond. Luke says it is the "owner" of the donkeys who confronts them (19:33). The owner’s question, "Why loose ye the colt?" is immediately met with the prearranged response, "The Lord hath need of him." No further questions are asked, and the disciples quickly return to Jesus with the animals.

The clarity of Jesus’ command and the exactness of its fulfillment leave us to ponder the nature of these events. Is this a miracle, or has Jesus made prior arrangements with the owner of the animals? It seems reasonable to conclude that the events are a miracle. In fact, many find these events parallel with Mark 14:12-16 and Luke 22:7-13 where Jesus gives precise instruction on the finding of the upper room for Passover observance. Many scholars suggest Jesus uses supernatural foreknowledge in both cases.

In defense of the "miracle theory," the disciples do find things exactly as Jesus has explained. In addition, the timing of Jesus’ command is amazingly accurate. He apparently commissions His disciples at about the same time the colt is being tied to the doorway by its owner. It is this timing sequence that perhaps provides the strongest indication of a miracle. We should not think it strange that Jesus can miraculously foresee and orchestrate the future.

But while the evidence cited above seems strong, the case is not indisputable. In fact, it assumes several unproved points. First, it assumes the synoptic writers are exhaustive in their narration of the events. This assumption seems unlikely since, on other occasions, one or more of the evangelists leave out details, depending on their viewpoint and purpose of writing. Thus, Jesus might have made prior arrangements for the donkeys either the night before or on a prior trip to the area. We know He had been in the Bethphage-Bethany vicinity earlier (John 11:17).

We are also left to ponder the willingness of the donkeys’ owner to release the colt on the simple words, "The Lord hath need of him" (Luke 19:34). If this is a miracle, how does the owner know who the "Lord" is? The Greek word used (kurios) might refer generally to any gentleman and does not necessarily mean "deity." Fowler is correct in saying, "For the animals’ owner to let two valuable donkeys go off unaccompanied to some unknown ’lord’ or in the hands of strangers would have been the height of naivete, if not downright folly" (21).

The "miracle theory" seems to suggest some "miraculous" influence over the owner’s mind that results in "unintended willingness."

The text is silent in regards to the timing of Jesus’ command in relation to the time when the owner apparently ties the colt to the door. The owner might have tied it there hours before Jesus’ command.

The more reasonable conclusion seems to be that the events are prearranged. Not even the synoptic writers call them a miracle. Probably the owner is a disciple of Jesus and fully expects two of Jesus’ apostles to come calling at or near a certain time that day. The words, "The Lord hath need of them" (verse 3) are simply the passwords to release the donkeys.

Verse 4

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,

Matthew returns to his familiar formula, "that it might be fulfilled," in this parenthetical statement that continues through verse 5. Throughout his book, Matthew shows his Jewish audience that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and that every detail of His ministry is in keeping with the Law and the Prophets. The fulfillment of the prophecy quoted in verse 5 actually occurs after verse 7, when Jesus sits on the donkey and begins His entrance into Jerusalem.

Verse 5

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

Approximately five hundred years before Jesus came to earth, the prophet Zechariah predicted that someday the inhabitants of Israel, the daughter of Zion, would have a redeemer king (9:9). Now is the time for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

As Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem, every minute detail of Zechariah’s prediction comes true. Zechariah promised a king who would come in righteousness and bring salvation. Jesus personifies God’s righteousness and brings salvation to every man through His death. Zechariah told Israel their king would not be like worldly kings who sweep in on white warhorses with regal chariots in tow. Instead, this King would come with peace and gentleness. By choosing a donkey for His entry, Jesus not only fulfills the prophecy but also demonstrates the meekness of a lamb. The Lion of Judah, with every right to assert His regal power, chooses to come as the Lamb of God. How appropriate that He who shoulders mankind’s sin presents Himself on a beast of burden.

Zechariah also predicted the coming of Zion’s king would be a glorious event. The people will rejoice and shout for joy. As seen in verse 9, this prediction comes true as Jesus enters Jerusalem. But the praise of men is short-lived and fickled. Soon the voices that hail victory will beg for blood: "Crucify him, crucify him!"

The gospel narratives reveal that the daughters of Zion have little concept of what Zechariah promises. Although in their excitement they cry, "Hosanna!" and cast clothes and palm branches in the road, what they really want is a political victor. They long for a day when Rome will be vanquished, their nation’s sovereignty restored, and a new king will take David’s earthly throne. Since this is not the plan Jesus offers, the people crucify Him, ignorantly fulfilling God’s redemptive plan.

Verse 6

And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,

John notes the disciples come to understand the significance of Zechariah’s prophecy and the events of his triumphal entry only after Jesus is glorified (12:16).

Verse 7

And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.

Broadus notes that an animal that is to be ridden by a monarch is often covered with splendid clothes (426). The only thing the disciples have at their disposal, with which they can show their royal homage, is their own clothing—more specifically, their outer garments or robes. Because the colt is "unbroken" and does not have a saddle, the disciples’ act is one of homage and necessity. They quickly construct a makeshift saddle blanket for their Master to sit upon and then assist Jesus onto the colt (Luke 19:35).

Verse 8

And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.

It is not surprising that a great multitude is present for Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. In fact, two crowds are actually presented together. The first crowd is composed of those who have already assembled for the Passover and who come out to meet Jesus when they hear He has arrived (John 12:12).

The second crowd consists of the many others who are already in Jesus’ company after having been with Him in Bethany the previous day (John 12:9). McGarvey suggests the multitude is so large that their numbers enable them to spread a carpet of clothing all the way from the top of Matthew Olivet to the gate of the city (Commentary on Matthew 179).

Spreading their clothes in the road is a token of the people’s homage and respect. In essence, they are saying, "We bow to your authority!" Others cut down branches from trees and pave the road with leaves. John specifically tells us these are "palm branches" (12:13), which are symbolic of salvation, national victory, and joy. When Judas Maccabeus, for example, leads Israel in the rededication of the Temple, the people celebrate for eight days by waving branches and singing hymns of joy. Here, it seems the Jews are more interested in what Jesus can do for them politically than what He can do for them spiritually.

Verse 9

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed: As noted in the previous verse, there are two groups of celebrants. Broadus describes them in terms of a "front guard" and a "rear guard" as might be common for a military leader (427).

Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest: Both groups join in the declaration. "Son of David" is a Messianic title. "Hosanna" is the Greek form of a Hebrew appeal to God for help (Hoshiah nah), meaning "Save now, we pray!" In other words, "Give Victory!" The imperfect tense shows the crowd continually and repeatedly shout the phrase. Luke notes the Pharisees become so irritated they try to squelch the outcry. Jesus famously responds to the Pharisees’ reaction, "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40). The second time the crowd uses the term "Hosanna" they add "in the highest (heavens)." This is an appeal to God in heaven to save and bless His people.

The praise is from Psalms 118:25-26. Broadus notes the Talmud shows the Psalm as part of a series of Psalm (113–118) known as the "the great Hallel," those sung at Passover time (427). It is natural for the multitude to break forth with this particular praise.

Verse 10

And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?

Matthew takes his reader directly to Jesus’ grand entrance into the city. Mark adds Jesus comes into the Temple (11:11). Luke says that just as the city comes into view, Jesus begins to weep (19:41–44; Matthew 23:37-39). As Jesus tops the Mount of Olives to begin His final descent, a glorious view meets His eyes. Before him lies the Valley of Jehoshaphat and, across the brook Kidron, a city with its Temple jutting upward toward the heavens. No place on earth is more holy and no city more representative of God’s relationship with man. It is a sight that causes pilgrims’ hearts to swell with praise and pride. But Jesus sees things differently, knowing that in just a few short years, every vestige of Jerusalem’s glory will be destroyed by angry Rome. Soon the lighthearted babbling voices of praise will be drowned in the blood of slaughter. God’s mighty nation will fall because of her spiritual decay. The Temple’s massive stones will crumble and lie in silent ruin. The scene is too much for Jesus to bear. With divine love for Israel and the awful anticipation of things to come, the God-man mourns.

The city is "moved" (eseisthe) as word of Jesus’ entrance spreads. Robertson says, "Shaken, as by an earthquake" (167). The fanfare excites the city, and rumors about Jesus’ identity probably spread rapidly. No doubt some who ask, "Who is this?" are pilgrims who have not previously heard about Jesus of Nazareth. Now the multitudes begin to explain why there is so much excitement.

Verse 11

And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

The "multitude" refers to those who have been on the road and have accompanied Jesus’ entrance into the city. We are not told where these people are from, but Lenski suspects from their response that at least some of them are from Galilee (810).

Jesus has spent much of His ministry in the northern region. The multitude’s response, from "Nazareth of Galilee," might reflect pride in this fact. The one who is now being held in such esteem is from their region. Someone from lowly Galilee has now made an impact on prestigious Judea. Judeans always insist no prophet could ever come from Galilee (John 7:41; John 7:52).

It is significant that the crowd also uses the definite article in describing Jesus. He is "Jesus, the prophet" not "Jesus, a prophet." While they do not comprehend the full impact of their description, they are correct. Jesus is no ordinary prophet. He is "the" prophet and much more. He is the "Son of God," the long-awaited "Messiah."

Why do the crowds not call Jesus "Messiah"? On the road, they have called Him "Son of David," which at least has Messianic overtones. Now, they hail Him as "the prophet." By calling Jesus "the prophet," are they stopping just short of proclaiming Him "the Messiah"? Matthew does not say, but it appears that among the Jews there is some confusion about Jesus’ exact identity. Some probably are sure Jesus is the Messiah. Others hope He is the Messiah. Still others do not know (compare John 1:21; John 1:25; John 6:14; John 7:40-41; John 9:17; Mark 6:15; and Luke 7:16).

Verse 12

And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

Mark’s account says that because the hour is late, Jesus leaves the city after His triumphal entry and returns to Bethany (11:11). Mark further indicates the cleansing of the Temple occurs the next day (11:12, 15). As at other times, Matthew chooses to arrange his material in an order that is not chronological.

This is the second time Jesus cleanses the Temple. Three years earlier, at the first Passover of His ministry, He is forced to do something similar (John 2:13-16). This cleansing occurs at Jesus’ last Passover. In both instances, His righteous indignation comes as a result of seeing such total disrespect for God’s house. That Jesus will cleanse the Temple twice is not surprising considering the religious condition of the Jews. The reforms Jesus instituted three years earlier are ignored, and once again the moneychangers misuse God’s house. Robertson is correct in saying, "It is amazing how short a time the work of reformers lasts" (167).

And Jesus went into the temple of God: "The temple of God" does not refer to the sanctuary proper, into which only the priests were admitted, but rather to the system of courtyards that surround the Temple. Lenski explains, "Facing the Sanctuary, and the court of the priests was first the court of the men and behind it the court of the women, and then came a large area, the court of the Gentiles, into which alone Gentiles were allowed to enter" (813).

It is in this court of the Gentiles that merchants have set up a kind of religious shopping bazaar. Since worshipers must first have something to offer and since travel makes it impractical for Passover pilgrims to bring their own sacrifices, this Temple market appears to be a convenient courtesy. Worshipers can also buy other items for worship such as salt, oil, and wine. They can even exchange their foreign currency since it is not allowed in the Temple treasury. While each of these services seems benevolent, beneath them lies greed and dishonesty.

Authorized inspectors must first examine an animal for its Levitical suitability before it can be sacrificed. Even if the animal proves to be fit for Temple sacrifice, the owner still might have to pay a greedy examiner an outrageous fee for the inspection. Edersheim notes the "Temple market" is designed to avoid all of this difficulty. If one can buy his animal within the Temple enclosure, where supposedly all of the necessary preliminary inspections, fees, etc. have previously taken place, the sacrifice is much simpler (Vol. III 370). It is easy to see how quickly such a system could lead to lax sacrificial standards and monopolistic price gouging. A pilgrim might have to pay up to ten times what the animal is really worth simply because only animals from certain vendors will pass inspection. Such low ethical standards, when combined with the general filth of housing livestock, leads to physical and moral stench.

The Temple market is a lucrative business, especially for the family of the High Priest (at this time, the infamous Annas) and his chief priests. In fact, Edersheim says these bazaars are called the "Bazaars of the Sons of Annas" (372). Historians note that merchants buy the right to their concession by giving Annas both the fee and a percentage of the profits.

The moneychangers are part of the corrupt system as well. If a pilgrim needs to change his foreign currency into "Temple money," he might pay a fee of up to twenty-five percent. It is no wonder Jesus calls the Temple marketplace "a den of thieves" and "cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves."

As the Son of God, Jesus cannot sit idly by and watch His Father’s house turned into such a mockery, so He rids the Temple of these unwarranted parasites. Matthew does not say if Jesus uses a whip of cords as He did three years earlier, but we know He again drives out those who buy and sell, overturning the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sell doves. Doves, or pigeons, are an essential part of ritual purifications (John 11:55; Leviticus 15:14; Leviticus 15:29) but are mainly sacrifices for the poor (Leviticus 5:7; Luke 2:22-24). MacArthur captures the spirit of this wild scene:

Before the thousands of worshipers, the bewildered merchants, and the priests who happened to be present, Jesus made a shambles of the bazaar and declared the shame of those who profited from it. The whole arena was in confusion and disarray, with animals running loose, doves flying around, and money of all kinds rolling across the courtyard (269).

It is ironic that not one person raises his hand against Jesus. Mark notes the chief priests and the scribes want to destroy Him and even take counsel against Him, but they fear Him (11:18). In awe of Jesus’ divine presence, the leaders no doubt fear action on their part could incite a revolt. Mark notes Jesus is in such control that He "would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple" (11:16). Apparently, the Temple area has become a short cut for people passing from the city to the Mount of Olives. Jesus will not tolerate such disrespect.

Verse 13

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Jesus appeals to Isaiah 56:7 to vindicate His actions. Mark 11:17 completes the quote and adds it is a house of prayer "for all nations." By turning the court of the Gentiles into a market place, the Jewish leaders are interfering with God’s provision. This is God’s holy house, and certain "house rules" need to be observed, not the least of which are respect and honesty. How can anyone pray amid such chaos? How can the sweet incense of prayer waft heavenward amid such moral stench? The common pilgrim, whose only goal is to enter the sanctity of God’s house, now has to brave the treachery of bandits who unashamedly camp at the door. Jesus might also have Jeremiah 7:11 in mind when He calls them thieves.

Verse 14

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.

Just as in Acts 3:2, the Temple area is the logical place for all who have disabilities to congregate in order to beg alms. Jesus once again demonstrates His divine authority by restoring the limbs of the lame and giving sight to the blind. Such manifestation of God’s power infuriates the Jewish religious leaders.

Verse 15

And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the Temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,

Rather than being impressed by the miracles, the chief priests and scribes are indignant. In addition, these leaders now must listen to a group of children singing Jesus’ praises. The chief priests are members of the party of the Sadducees and are closely associated with Annas and Caiaphas. The scribes are rabbis, learned in the law, and part of the Pharisaic party. Together they make up the great Sanhedrin court. These powerful men become furious when they realize Jesus’ popularity has spread even to the children.

The term Matthew uses here for "children" is one that literally means "boys" (paidas) and probably refers to young men twelve years or older who have gone up to the Temple, just as Jesus had at that age, for their first obligatory Passover appearance (Luke 2:42). Girls and women can enter certain Temple courts; but, as Broadus notes, they make up a much smaller group (431). Apparently, the boys hear the crowd’s praise as it escorts Jesus into the city at His triumphal entry (21:9). Now catching the enthusiasm of the crowd, they repeat the same praise.

Verse 16

And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say: The high priests and scribes see the outcry of praise as scandalous. Their ears are hardened to the daily pandemonium of the Temple market, but the praise of Jesus is deafening. How can this "unschooled deceiver" stand there and allow such a ruckus to occur within the sanctity of the Temple—or, worse yet, accept accolades reserved for the Messiah? In their minds, for Jesus to accept a title like "Son of David" is tantamount to blasphemy. They want Him to end this praise immediately. Instead, Jesus commends the young people and quotes Old Testament scripture.

And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise: This quote is from Psalms 8:2, where Matthew again follows the Septuagint version. Psalms 8:2 notes that praise comes from the mouths of babes and infants. The Hebrew words used here denote children less than three years of age, the time when Jewish children are normally weaned (Broadus 432). Obviously, the boys at the Temple are older than this, but the point of Jesus’ comment is that God can perfect praise for Himself no matter how He has to accomplish it (Lenksi 819). If need be, even the stones can cry out! (Luke 19:40). Hendriksen says, "God takes even the incoherent prattle of babes and sucklings, in order out of such material to prepare praise for Himself" (772). What a shameful testament to the character of these religious leaders to be blinded to what is clear even to children.

Verse 17

And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.

To avoid the evil schemes of the Sanhedrin, and to enjoy a few hours of solitude, Jesus spends His nights outside of the city (Mark 11:11; Mark 11:19; Luke 21:37). He chooses to separate Himself from the religious leaders, even though they are helpless to kill Him before the divinely appointed time. As on the day of His triumphal entry, Jesus returns to Bethany perhaps to be near His closest friends.

Verse 18

Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.

Since none of the synoptic records are exhaustive, we should compare both Matthew and Mark’s accounts to gain a complete picture. Hendriksen points out that the gospel writers are not mere copyists but independent authors who each utilize their own methods (773). In this case, Mark is chronological while Matthew is topical. Mark puts the fig tree incident on parts of two days, with the Temple cleansing in between (compare 11:12–14 and 11:20–24). Matthew combines the details of the fig tree and tells the story in one uninterrupted account.

Lenski asks why Jesus is permitted to leave Bethany without having eaten breakfast (821). If He is in the home of Lazarus, we would expect He would have been served before His day’s travels. This point leads some to suspect Jesus is not in the home of Lazarus on this occasion. Others believe Jesus rises early. Broadus notes the first meal was usually taken about the middle of the forenoon (434). McGarvey suggests these closing days of our Lord are so full of activity that He does not have time to tarry in Bethany to eat (Fourfold 580). We simply do not know why Jesus is hungry, but we gain a wonderful glimpse into His humanity: He is not exempt from bodily needs.

Verse 19

And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

And when he saw a fig tree in the way: The fig tree is an important tree to Palestine. Some trees provide good shade from the harsh Mediterranean sun, reaching a height of more than twenty feet (1 Kings 4:25; Zechariah 3:10). An example is when Nathaniel is sitting under a fig tree when Jesus calls him to discipleship (John 1:48). In addition, figs are a nutritious and inexpensive source of food. Before Israel entered the promised land, God promised them the land would abound with honey, wheat, barley, vines, pomegranates, and figs (Deuteronomy 8:8). Thus, the fig tree is somewhat a symbol of the blessing and prosperity of the nation of Israel.

he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only: The fig tree Jesus sees in the distance apparently stands alone along the side of the road. Mark reports that when Jesus sees the tree has leaves, He goes to inspect it to see if it has fruit. When He arrives, He finds none "for it was not the season for figs" (Mark 11:13 NKJV). He curses the tree for its bareness.

Marks’ phrase "for it was not the season for figs" helps us to understand Jesus’ actions. The curse is not the result of a hungry fit but rather is just compensation for misrepresentation.

There are only two harvest times for figs in the area around Jerusalem. The early or smaller figs that grow from the sprouts of the previous year begin to appear at the end of March and are not ripe until May or June. The later and much larger figs that develop from new shoots do not begin to ripen until late summer and are gathered from August to October (Hendriksen 774). Since this event is near the Passover (April), the gospel writers are referring to "early figs." Furthermore, scholars agree that with early figs, the fruit begins to appear simultaneously with the leaves. In some cases, the fruit appears first (Lenski 822). Even though fig season is still at least a month away, the tree that Jesus sees, being full of foliage, boasts of ripe figs. In reality, however, its boast is empty.

Jesus curses the fig tree because it is barren when it should have been full of fruit. His words are designed to teach a profound lesson: a lesson about hypocrisy. By boasting of fruit when it has none, the fig tree is a striking symbol of the Jewish nation. From a distance, Israel’s external righteousness boasts of fruit for God. On closer examination, however, it is all a hypocritical scam because there is no edible fruit anywhere. Johnson observes that just a few hours before, those in Jerusalem have greeted the Messiah with unrestrained enthusiasm. Now they are about to show how barren and deceptive that enthusiasm was by crucifying Him (427).

and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away: The fig tree withers at Jesus’ word. Matthew’s topical arrangement of the material leaves the impression the tree dies on the spot, fully and instantaneously, while the disciples stand watching. Mark’s account shows it is not until the next morning that they actually notice the effects of Jesus’ curse (11:20–21). The tree begins to die as soon as Jesus speaks, but it begins with the roots to insure no future possibility of growth.

Verse 20

And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

Mark does not specifically mention the amazement of the disciples; but by recording Peter’s comment, "Master, behold" (11:21), his account agrees with Matthew’s. The disciples have seen many miracles, so why would this one amaze them? Fowler suggests that until now Jesus’ miracles have been characterized by mercy and kindness. Here, however, Jesus unleashes His punitive judgment; and the disciples are amazed at the rapidity with which the curse is carried out (98).

Verses 21-22

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

It is significant that Jesus does not specifically say the withered fig tree symbolizes the Jewish nation and the leafy plant with no fruit represents the hypocrisy of the Jews. Instead, He now speaks only of the power of faith behind the miracle. McGarvey notices this omission and suggests we should not make such an application of the parable since Jesus Himself gives no hint that He intended us to apply it to the Jewish nation (Fourfold 582).

While it is obvious that careful exegesis must be followed in determining the meaning of any passage, it seems just as obvious in this instance that Jesus intends the cursed tree to represent something deeper. If not, we have the first recorded instance of Jesus unleashing punitive power for the sole purpose of teaching His disciples a lesson about faith. Such a teaching technique appears uncharacteristic of Jesus’ ministry.

We should also note the disciples are not amazed at the meaning of the miracle. They are quite accustomed to Jesus’ condemning the hypocrisy of the Jews (5:20; 6:2, 5, 8, 16; 7:5). Their amazement seems rather to be over the rapidity and power at which the curse takes effect. Since the interpretation is clear, Jesus chooses to focus on the power behind the act. His response is in relation to the disciples’ observation on the next day and not to the initial meaning of the curse.

Jesus assures His disciples that if they have the proper faith, they will be able to do more than cause fig trees to wither. They will be able to move mountains. This mountain probably refers to the Mount of Olives and the sea is probably the Mediterranean Sea or the Dead Sea, both of which are just a few miles away.

We know Jesus is using hyperbole to make His point because the disciples do not rearrange natural topography during their ministries—something that would have been useful on their missionary journeys. Plummer notes that "rooting up mountains" is a Jewish metaphor Jesus may have used because the disciples are already familiar with it (292). The point of Jesus’ teaching is that if the disciples have the proper faith, they can overcome any obstacle. While the encouragement seems all encompassing, it must be interpreted within the confines of other revelation. McGarvey is correct in saying:

We must not expect to obtain that which is unlawful for us to desire (Jas iv. 2, 3), or which is unwise for us to seek (II. Cor xii. 7–9), nor must we selfishly run counter to the will of God (Luke xxii.42; I. John verse 14, 15), nor must we expect that God shall perform a miracle for us, for miracles have ceased… (Fourfold 584).

McGarvey summarizes Jesus’ point:

The disciples whom Jesus addressed were very soon to enter upon a task which would seem to them as difficult as the removal of mountains. The license and immorality of paganism, and the bigotry and prejudice of Judaism, would seem insurmountable obstacles in their pathway to success. They needed to be assured that the power of faith was superior to all these adverse forces, and that the judgments of God could accomplish in a moment changes which apparently could not be wrought out in the tedious course of years (Fourfold 585).

Verse 23

And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching: After passing the withered fig tree and discussing the matter with His disciples, Jesus enters the city and proceeds to the Temple. While walking in the Temple courts and teaching the people (Mark 11:27; Luke 20:1), He is harassed by Jewish leaders who challenge His authority. Matthew mentions only the chief priests and elders, but Mark and Luke say scribes are also there (Mark 11:27; Luke 20:1). The "chief priests" refers either to members of the families of the high priests (Acts 4:6) or to priests responsible for special tasks pertaining to Temple worship (Fowler 114). Some scholars suggest the possibility that either Annas or Caiphas is there. The "elders" are leaders from a variety of religious backgrounds. MacArthur says they include Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and perhaps Essenes and Zealots (284). The "scribes" are influential theologians and rabbis (Fowler 114). Together, the "chief priests, elders, and scribes" represent the three classes that compose the Sanhedrin Court, the powerful ruling body of the Jewish nation (26:59).

and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority: The issue of Jesus’ authority is not new. The Jewish leaders have raised the debate throughout His ministry, beginning with His first major sermon (the Sermon on the Mount) and even at the first Temple cleansing (John 2:18). But while certain Jewish leaders like Nicodemus concede Jesus’ authority comes from God (John 3:2), others are vehement in their denunciation of it, even to the point of accusing Him of being in league with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (12:24). Many seem unsure and even confused about who Jesus is and by whose authority He acts. At Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus asks His disciples what people are saying about Him, the answers they give are mixed and varied. But when Jesus specifically asks His own disciples about His authority, Peter confidently replies, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16). This is the "authority" behind the ministry.

While the issue of authority has followed Jesus throughout His ministry, it has never been more pertinent than in the final week of His life. Only three days earlier, the crowd ushers Him into the city, hailing Him as "King" and the "Son of David." The next day Jesus proceeds to purge the Temple and interrupt the lucrative "bazaar" business of the "Sons of Annas" (see notes on 21:12). Now, for the third time in three days, Jesus is back in the Temple courts gathering followers, thus disturbing the Jewish hierarchy. What if this entire uproar about a new king provokes the procurator to take rigorous measures against the whole nation? What if the Romans come and take away their place (John 11:48)? What part does an untrained Galilean have in the sacredness of the rabbinical teaching system? Where has He received His training or ordination?

MacArthur notes that rabbinical candidates were originally ordained by leading rabbis under whom they served as apprentices. Later, however, because of such a wide variety of ideas being taught and practiced, and in order to centralize rabbinical authority, the Sanhedrin took over the process. At a man’s ordination by the Sanhedrin, he is declared to be a rabbi, elder, and judge, and proper authority is conferred upon him to teach and express his wisdom (285). Jesus has had no such ordination or credentials. They believe Jesus has no right, therefore, to interfere with Temple protocol. Yet at the same time, the charisma and authority of this man is evident and undeniable. Something has to be done to silence Him. Jealously, the Jewish leaders again pose their challenge, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?" (NKJV) Their question would have been valid if it had been sincere, yet it would still not warrant an answer. Had they not been willfully ignorant of His divinity, these leaders would have known where His power and authority came from.

Verse 24

And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.

Jesus literally says, "I also will ask you one word." Jesus is not being evasive by answering them with a question. In reality, He has answered their question many times. His miracles stand in stellar tribute to His divine authority. McGarvey notes how absurd and impertinent it is to ask Him for His authority (Commentary on Matthew 183). Although Jesus refuses to respond directly (verse 27), He does answer them in an unexpected fashion. They have staged an inquisition, so He simply makes them the leading players in the scene—an action that is only fair. If they have the right to ask about things He knows, He has the right to ask them about things they know.

Verses 25-26

The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.

The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men: "The baptism of John" does not simply refer to the baptismal rite but is metonymy for his whole ministry (Lenski 828).

Before being murdered by Herod Antipas, this last of the Old Testament prophets and harbinger of Jesus Christ was admired by the masses (14:3–5). His life of wilderness preaching and his call for repentance turned the nation on its ear. The Jewish leaders, however, rejected John. Jesus simply asks them the source of John’s authority.

And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet: By asking about John’s baptism, Jesus puts these leaders in a difficult position. If they deny John’s ministry, they run the risk of inflaming the masses who believe John was a prophet of God. If, on the other hand, they acknowledge John’s ministry as being from God, they convict themselves for having rejected John’s message. In addition, it is all too obvious that the power behind John’s ministry is the same as that behind Jesus’. If they accept one, they must accept the other. Since these men are not going to accept Jesus, there is no easy answer to His question.

Verse 27

And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell: We can imagine the scene as these "wise" leaders gather to one side and begin to deliberate among themselves. Once again, the young non-credentialed upstart from Galilee has stumped them. In a hopeless quandary, they pool the sum of their years of experience and expertly conclude, "We do not know!"

What an answer! These are members of the Sanhedrin Council whose supreme duty is to know such answers. If they do not know, how can they profess to be the spiritual shepherds of Israel? If they cannot even assess the validity of one so straightforward as John, how can they ever hope to guard against false prophets? The pathetic quality of their guard is laid bare by their evasive response.

And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things: Jesus responds in kind. By saying "Neither tell I you," Jesus is essentially affirming they know the answer but refuse to say. Lenski notes, "Since the true answer to Jesus’ question is the true answer also to the question of the Sanhedrists, by refusing to give the one they refuse to receive the other: and so Jesus is compelled to refuse to offer it to them" (829).

Verse 28

But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.

Only Matthew records this parable that is aimed squarely at the religious hierarchy of verse 23. Jesus weaves a tale of two sons, one who represents the Jewish leaders, the other who represents sinners. In masterful fashion, Jesus immediately draws His unsuspecting audience into the story by asking, "What do you think?" Later on, He concludes the parable by asking yet another question that condemns the Jewish leaders when they answer. The story begins with seemingly little to do with the previous conflict but quickly ends in a scathing rebuke of these hypocritical leaders.

The "two sons" (literally, "children") are significant because they represent two attitudes. Many of the "sinners" who hear Jesus and John, though rebellious at first, repent and obey God while the "religious elite," who profess godliness, are actually in contempt of His law. As the parable will show, God is not interested in what one claims he will do. He is interested only in what one actually does. Lip service is meaningless—a lesson the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees need to learn.

Here, the father speaks to the first son. We learn from verse 30, however, that both sons are given equal opportunity to work. Both sons have the ability to do what their father asks; their compliance is simply a product of attitude. Free will reigns in each case.

Verse 29

He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.

He answered and said, I will not: The response of the first son obviously typifies the attitude of the "publicans and harlots" whose lifestyles scoff at God’s commands. The son rudely refuses, "I will not," or as Fowler has it, "I don’t want to" (126). There is no respect for his father, only a blatant exercise of selfish will. Even hearts of ice can melt in time, however, and the father patiently allows his son’s bitterness to convict.

but afterward he repented, and went: The word Jesus uses here for "repented" is not the usual Greek word (metanoeo) that involves a change of both mind and action. Instead, He uses a word (metamelomai) that simply underscores the son’s deep remorse. The word has more to do with feeling than it has to do with actual change—although in this case change does occur. Remorse is productive only if it leads to a change of behavior and alignment with God’s will. Paul calls this kind of remorse "godly sorrow" (2 Corinthians 7:9-11), and John the Baptist calls it "fruits worthy of repentance" (3:8). Emotion alone is not enough, as witnessed by the case of Judas who, after betraying Jesus, goes and hangs himself (27:3–5).

Verse 30

And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.

The second son receives the same opportunity and command. This son’s polite and pretentious reaction is opposite to the first. In the Greek, the "I" in the phrase "I go" is emphatic. So, the second son self-righteously elevates himself. "Look at me," he seems to be saying, "My brother did not go, but I certainly will go."

The second son’s comment reminds us of the "religious leaders" who view themselves as being on a much higher plane than the "sinners." They seem to say, "Sinners (that is, publicans and harlots) might not obey God, but we do!" Note, too, the second son addresses his father as "sir" (kurie)! His superficial respect, like that of the religious leaders of the day, is an act. Jesus does not say whether or not the son intends to obey his father, but in the end, it does not really matter because he disobeys. Like the Pharisees, he is one of the hypocrites who "say, and do not" (23:3).

Verse 31

Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

Whether of them twain did the will of his father: Jesus’ story ends the same way it begins: with a question.

They say unto him, The first: The answer to this question is obvious, and the answer is immediate, "The first!" But in so answering Jesus’ question, these leaders convict themselves because they are like the second son.

Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you: The Jewish leaders believe they undoubtedly have a place reserved in the kingdom of God. They also see themselves as leading the Messianic parade while others follow their lead. Much to their surprise, Jesus expresses just the opposite. Two most unlikely classes of people are already leading the way because they accept the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. Sinners precede Sanhedrists.

It must enrage these leaders for Jesus to mention publicans and prostitutes. Publicans (tax gathers) are some of the most despised of society and are considered traitors of Israel. Ironically, Matthew is a former tax collector. Harlots and prostitutes typify "brazen impurity" (Fowler 129). These two groups mentioned together become a proverbial phrase that describes all that is vile, loathsome, and alien to the feelings of the pure, the respectable, and the patriotic (Broadus 439). Yet Jesus says these types of people have the advantage.

Verse 32

For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.

For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: John came preaching a message that was obviously from God. His message and life demonstrated God was not pleased with the excesses of the Jewish nation. The need for a change of heart was at the center of John’s cry. But, the self-righteous and self-satisfied religious leaders flatly rejected John.

but the publicans and the harlots believed him: These are the people who went out and were baptized in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. It is ironic that those most blinded by sin are the ones who most clearly see their need for forgiveness.

and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him: In spite of seeing firsthand the profound change in sinners’ lives and having had time to reflect on their rejection of John, these leaders refuse to repent. Note the progression in Jesus’ statement. The evidence (what they see in the response of the crowd) should have produced repentance (a change of heart) leading to belief (a change of action). The evidence did none of this! These leaders have had two chances: John and Jesus. Both times their hard hearts have refused the truth. Fowler says, "What moral perversity it must take to mingle among the participants in the nation’s greatest moral revival and remain totally unaffected by it, and worse, publicly disclaim all ability to discern its origin in God!" (133).

The parable in verses 28–32 is not about overall Jewish rejection of the gospel versus Gentile acceptance of it. Here the "worst" within Jewish society (harlots, publicans, and sinners—the first son) is set in contrast to the "best" (religious leaders—the second son), and the "worst" is the one who receives divine approval. This is a parable aimed at rebuking the hypocritical Jewish leaders. In the next parable (verses 33–44), Jesus will contrast Jews and Gentiles as He tells the story of the wicked vinedressers. In both cases, however, the underlying truth is the same: when one rejects God’s invitation, God invites others who will appreciate and accept it (22:8–9).

Verse 33

Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:

Hear another parable: The previous parable spoke against the Jewish religious leaders who blatantly rejected John’s ministry (21:28–32). Now Jesus tells another parable, designed to illustrate their wickedness. In this story, the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah is prophesied in the murder of the owner’s son (verses 37– 39). Again, Jesus uses familiar Palestinian rural life to illustrate His point. Every Jew will recognize this as more than just a simple story. Some seven centuries earlier, Isaiah used almost the same story in describing the "wild grape" nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7). By reworking this old familiar theme, Jesus makes His message clear to the audience (21:45).

There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard: It is common in Palestine for a wealthy landowner to plant a vineyard. After clearing the land, the owner will erect all of the necessary provisions for the growth, protection, and harvesting of his crop.

and hedged it round about: This hedge or fence might be a stone wall (Proverbs 24:31) or a hedge of thorns (Hosea 2:6). In either case, its purpose is to protect the vineyard from wild animals and thieves.

and digged a winepress in it: Anticipating a good crop, the owner builds a winepress, which consists of two basins hewn from the rock with one below the other. Grapes are dumped into the upper basin and then stomped by workers. The juice flows into the lower basin where it is collected and stored in wineskins or clay jars.

and built a tower: To insure his crop further, the owner builds a tower that will serve as a lookout post against thieves, a place to store crops and tools, and even a place where his sharecroppers can sleep (Isaiah 1:8).

and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:

Having finished all of these projects, the rich owner leases his vineyard to husbandmen and takes a long trip. This procedure is not uncommon. In exchange for their expert services of pruning and cultivating, these husbandmen will share with the landowner in the wealth of his crop.

Although Jesus does not allegorize each of the elements of this parable, Fowler suggests they accurately portray some element of God’s relationship with the Jewish nation (143). The "vineyard" stands for God’s people on earth, the nation of Israel. The "hedge" stands for God’s laws and leaders whereby Israel is to maintain national purity from the pagan influences of other nations. The "winepress" depicts what Israel should produce: love, mercy, faithfulness, justice, and righteousness. The "tower" perhaps points to Gods’ dwelling, the Temple in Jerusalem, from which He superintends and protects His vineyard. The "sharecroppers" represent the Jewish leaders who should recognize they are simply "under-servants" and God has established a chain of command as illustrated later in the story (verses 34–37). The owner taking a trip into a "another country for a long time" denotes God’s policy of letting Israel govern itself. Rather than constantly intervening in the everyday affairs of the nation, God gives them prophets who serve as His agents. Fowler says, "By so doing, he left Israel and its leaders relatively free to act, responding freely to His gracious love and blessing" (144).

Verse 34

And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.

And when the time of the fruit drew near: The harvest for a new vineyard might not occur until several years later. After Israel came into the land of Canaan, for example, Mosaic Law forbade the eating of an orchard’s fruit until the fifth year (Leviticus 19:23-25); thus, a considerable time passes between the owner’s leasing the vineyard and the sending of his servants to collect his due.

he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it: In ancient times, rent is paid with either money or a share of the crop. In this instance, the latter is implied. Jesus does not explain the terms of the original contract, the success of the vineyard, or the amount of fruit the owner expects to receive. No doubt the owner expects some reasonable return on his investment because he sends "servants" (doulous) to make the collection. The distinction between the "servants" (doulous) and the "husbandmen" (georgoi) is clear—the former are the Old Testament prophets and the latter are the Jewish leaders.

As in Jesus’ previous discussion with the Jewish leaders (verse 23), the issue here is one of "authority." For hundreds of years, God has sent prophets with His authority, demanding the fruits of obedience and contrition. The last of these, John the Baptist, likewise demanded the fruit of "repentance." In almost every instance, however, Israel rejected the message. By rejecting these "servants" and subsequently His "Son," these Jews prove themselves unworthy. The vineyard will be taken from them.

Verses 35-36

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.

Jesus describes the wickedness of these husbandmen. At least three times the gracious landowner sends his representatives, each facing injury or death. Of those sent, one is beaten, one is killed, and another is stoned. Matthew’s use of "killed" and "stoned" is not necessarily redundant since stoning does not necessarily kill, although it was apt to do so (Broadus 441) (compare Acts 14:19; Acts 7:59; 2 Corinthians 11:25). Mark notes that one receives a severe head injury while many others are beaten or killed (12:4–5).

The story Jesus describes is not an unjust depiction of Israel’s treatment of God’s prophets. Consider the plight of Jeremiah as he was beaten, put in stocks, put in a dungeon, and sorely mistreated (Jeremiah 20:1; Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 38:6). Also recall Micaiah (1 Kings 22:24), Elijah and the prophets of Jezebel’s day (1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 19:10), and Zechariah who was murdered between the Temple and the altar (2 Chronicles 24:21; Matthew 23:35) (see also Matthew 23:29-36; Luke 13:34; and Acts 7:52).

Verse 37

But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.

Having no success with sending his servants, the owner makes one more attempt to reason with the wicked husbandmen. His resolve to do something is depicted by Luke’s addition, "What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him" (20:13).

Several things are noteworthy about the master’s sending his beloved son.

1. The master is not naïve in sending his son. He fully realizes the risks and the evil character of those over his vineyard. He chooses to exercise patient graciousness in spite of the risks. To Jesus’ audience, such grace must be an astounding element in the parable. What normal landowner is so patient? Jesus weaves His story in such a fashion as to underscore God’s patience with the Jewish nation.

2. The fact that the master says, "They will reverence my son," in no way impugns the omniscience of God regarding Jesus’ death. The comment is simply an anthropomorphism expressing the "hope" and "longsuffering" of a gracious Father. God knows the fate that awaits His Son, but divine mercy and justice compel Him to grant one more chance. Lenski says, "On the one hand is the incomprehensible love and patience God exhibited in all these sendings; yet on the other hand is the justice of God which lets the Jewish leaders fill the measure of guilt to the very top, yea, to overflowing, by killing even his Son" (839).

3. The patience of the master is not unlimited. The son represents the last attempt at negotiating a settlement. This is the husbandmen’s last chance to comply before the master personally rains down his fierce judgment on them. Do the Jewish leaders ever consider this possibility in their dealings with Jesus?

4. The authority of the father is perfectly expressed in the sending of his son. The son is the father’s personal representative, just as Jesus is the perfect representative of God (John 14:7-11). His authority is God’s authority (28:18).

5. Just as the wicked tenants recognize those who have been sent previously, they now recognize the landowner’s son. Should we infer that the Jews also recognize Jesus as God’s Son and Heir?

Obviously, some of the Jews do. Nicodemus says, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God" (John 3:2). But the "we" is not all inclusive because some of his Sanhedrin colleagues vehemently disagree. Fowler observes the "latent consciousness of Jesus’ true identity as the heir of God may have nagged the conscience of some, but not necessarily all" (151).

Verse 38

But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.

But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir: The husbandmen’s statement shows their recognition of Jesus.

come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance: The husbandmen’s reasoning betrays their gross ignorance about the kind of man the master is. First, their comment ignores that even after the son dies, the father is still alive and will likely exercise his wrath against them. Do they think he is too weak, too far away in some foreign land, or too unconcerned by their antics to do anything about the death of his beloved son? Do they think that by "beating some and killing others" (Mark 12:5) they have sufficiently cowed the landowner into retreat? Perhaps, but what a foolish gamble to take! Furthermore, their diabolical plan ignores that the master can bequeath his vineyard to anyone he so chooses while he is alive; thus, his only son might not be the only heir.

The inheritance these wicked husbandmen (Jewish leaders) seek to seize is the kingdom of God. Fowler notes, "By killing God’s Son, the theologians and clergy hoped to make permanent their possession and control of God’s kingdom with its attendant privileges" (150). They anticipate these privileges will be material and not spiritual. Along with their leadership come great power, prestige, and economic wealth. Loath are they to give up such a fine national religious system of externals in exchange for inner righteousness and a kingdom not of this world. They have a monopoly on God, they are in control of the vineyard, and they are not about to relinquish their position for anyone—not even the Owner’s Son.

The Jews believe that by rejecting Jesus, they actually forfeit the inheritance already belonging to them. As members of God’s chosen nation, they stand first in line for the Messianic blessing. All they have to do is repent and accept the Owner’s Son. As high ranking scholars, these leaders should recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the "Old." Instead, they see Him as the final obstacle between them and permanent control of the inheritance. They are blind to the glory of the "New." Fowler notes, "Their stupidity lay in supposing that they could remain in power forever over God’s people, even after the Mosaic system found its perfection and consequent end in the Messiah and his rule" (150).

Jesus was God’s best and final offer to the Jewish leaders. By brutally murdering the heir, they hedge themselves out of the inheritance they so greedily covet. Lenski says, "They wanted to possess the branch on which they sat by sawing it off from the tree which bore that branch" (840).

Verse 39

And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.

These evil villains now follow through with their plan. Mark reverses the order and places the killing before the casting out. Because many scholars assume the priority of Mark’s gospel, they explain this difference by theorizing that Matthew and Luke’s words reflect a later stage of theological development or understanding. In other words, Matthew and Luke tailor the parable to fit their own specific editorial needs. Matthew, for instance, remembers the crucifixion occurs outside the city of Jerusalem and later harmonizes his account for his Jewish audience.

In reality, such theorizing is useless on several accounts. First, it assumes the evangelists have the right to change Jesus’ words to fit their own needs. If this is the case, it casts the inspiration of the Bible in a dubious light and suggests we can never know the exact words of the "historical Jesus." Instead, all we would have are the homiletic musings of first-century writers. Second, it assumes the vineyard of the parable finds its direct correlation in the city of Jerusalem. Even though this is likely the case, the correlation is not specifically stated and proves nothing in regards to editorializing.

In Jesus’ day no better symbol of God’s reign exists than the Holy City, and Jesus was killed without the city gate. Third, and most importantly, the theory of Mark’s priority assumes a disharmony problem where none exists. Hendriksen suggests that Matthew and Luke give us the "historical sequence" whereas Mark the "climatic order." Mark’s main point is the son’s death. In other words, "They killed him, and this in the most shameful manner, casting him out of the vineyard as an accursed one" (784).

The fact that Matthew’s account coincides with Jesus’ being crucified outside the city seems more than coincidence (Hebrews 13:12-13). All four synoptic writers mention Golgotha or Calvary, which is well known to be without the city (27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17). In fact, Hendriksen notes the place is outside the wall until the time of King Herod Agrippa I (784).

Verse 40

When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?

Jesus concludes the parable by asking, as Isaiah did, "What will God do?" (Isaiah 5:3-5). The owner has the right to do something; it remains to be seen what he will do to avenge the death of his beloved son.

By asking the question, Jesus draws His audience in and appeals to their own sense of justice. Ironically, He lets them pass judgment and indict themselves because they are the evil husbandmen. It is not until verse 43, however, that Jesus specifically points an accusing finger.

Verse 41

They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.

They say unto him: "They" probably refers to the audience in general (see Luke 20:9). Some suggest "they" refers to the chief priests and Pharisees who are either momentarily caught up in the parable and blurt out an answer, not perceiving the parable is about them (verse 45). Either way, their sentence accurately portrays what God will do. Mark and Luke omit Jesus’ waiting for an answer and record the response as if it were His own.

He will miserably destroy those wicked men: The vineyard can be productive only after the owner removes the wicked squatters. Then the owner can enjoy that which is rightfully his. The destruction is a clear reference to what will happen to Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen: This expression refers to the abundant entrance of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God (Acts 10:34; Acts 10:45; Acts 13:46-47; Ephesians 3:3-6; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:9-10). Though the gospel will be preached first to the Jews, it will soon expand to the Gentiles, proving God is no respecter of persons when it comes to workers in His vineyard (28:19; Galatians 3:28) (see notes on verse 43).

which shall render him the fruits in their seasons: Fowler notes the fruits refer to the "satisfying goodness of the church of Christ" (154). As the church spreads, souls are saved, and spiritual fruit is produced to the glory of God.

Verse 42

Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

Jesus does not specifically affirm the truth of their previous statement (verse 41) but instead asks another question immediately followed by a quote from Psalms 118:22-23. Just a few days earlier, the multitudes chanted a portion of this Psalm during Jesus’ triumphal entry (Psalms 118:25), thus angering the Pharisees (Luke 19:39). Now Jesus returns to the same Psalm to prove His divine sonship.

The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: Initially, vineyards and cornerstones might seem to be unrelated, yet they both point to the same conclusion as evidenced from verses 43 and 44. In the parable of the vineyard, the son is murdered. Jesus could have added other details to the story to illustrate His divinity, such as having the son resurrected. This ending, however, would have been unnatural and would have tempered the landowner’s anger toward his son’s murderers. Rather than prove His supremacy in this way, Jesus shifts to the illustration of a cornerstone.

Cornerstones were vital in building ancient buildings. Situated on the foundation where two walls met, they determined the proper alignment and placement of every other part of the structure. MacArthur notes, "If the cornerstone was imperfectly cut or placed, the symmetry and stability of the entire building would be adversely affected" (296).

The picture Jesus paints undoubtedly comes from the building of the Temple, but with an unusual twist. When the Temple is built, stones are quarried some distance away, marked as to their intended location, and then transported to the building site. But here, because unskilled men are at work, the very stone the head architect has in mind for the cornerstone is rejected as being unsuitable.

The implications of this picture are phenomenal. Jesus is talking about the Jewish leaders whose task it is to build up God’s true Temple, God’s kingdom (Fowler 157). But instead of building according to the "Architect’s master plan," they follow their own set of blueprints—blueprints they devised themselves. These blueprints are so distorted from what God intends that they have no idea where Jesus fits into God’s plan. Jesus is nothing more than an odd-shaped misfit to be rejected. Had they less faith in their own plans and more in God’s, they would have readily recognized Jesus as the key to the whole project. As it was, however, for Jesus to fit would require they disassemble the monument they have erected to their own glory. They are not interested in such a project. Remodeling is always more difficult than new construction.

this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes: "This" refers to the victory God can bring about in spite of man’s rebellion. Although the Jews reject Jesus as the "chief cornerstone," He becomes the "keystone" of salvation (Ephesians 2:20). Thus, we see the providence of God’s plan, "and it is marvelous in our eyes."

Verse 43

Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

Jesus directly addresses the indictment His audience has pronounced against themselves in verse 41. Because they reject the "Chief Cornerstone" and "Owner’s Son," God will remove the vineyard, the Temple, and His kingdom from them and give them to a nation that will bring forth fruit. As noted in verse 41, this prophecy includes Gentile converts to Christ. More accurately, however, the "other nation" of which Jesus speaks is that "holy nation" to which Peter refers, spiritual Israel (1 Peter 2:9). No longer will God’s people be bound by national heritage, tribal boundaries, or political ideology. They will be united by faith in His Son. God will receive spiritual Israel, not physical Israel. Paul explains, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Romans 9:6-8). The church of Christ is spiritual Israel.

Verse 44

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

Jesus now returns to His metaphor of the cornerstone in describing the fate of those who come into conflict with Him (see also Luke 20:18). Notice the shift in emphasis between the first and last parts of the warning. How can it be that the stone in the path that causes the careless to fall is the same that also falls upon them?

As in verse 42, the answer to Jesus’ mixed metaphor is better understood in light of the Old Testament. Although Jesus does not quote Isaiah 8:13-15 and Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:44, He probably uses them as the backdrop behind His statement. If so, then He mixes three Old Testament "stone" passages, all of which refer in some way to the kingdom of God.

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: This expression is an allusion to the "stumbling" and "falling" of Isaiah 8:13-15. In the Isaiah passage, all who sanctify the Lord will be surrounded like a Temple and will be offered sanctuary and fellowship, but destruction awaits the greater masses of Israel and Judah who do not regard the Lord (Keil and Delitzsch, Vol. VII 237).

Such destruction also awaits those of Jesus’ day who reject the Messiah. God places Jesus, as the Stone, directly in Israel’s path so that she might build upon Him. Instead of accepting Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone, however, Israel persists in the darkness of sin and stumbles over the Light of the World. She trips over the Great Physician, kneeling to serve at her feet, thereby sustaining grave spiritual injury. As Lenksi notes, "A fall on this stone never hurts the stone but only damages the one who falls" (845).

but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder: This imagery is apparently taken from Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where a "stone," cut without hands, crushes the feet of an image, causing it to crumble and be blown away like the "chaff from a summer threshing floor" (Daniel 2:34-44). Daniel interprets the "stone" as the everlasting kingdom of God that will subdue all worldly kingdoms (2:44).

If we connect Daniel’s view of the omnipotent kingdom of the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 8:20; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 10:23) to the Messianic kingdom of Christ, we have Jesus warning the Jews that no nation, not even Israel (as in A.D. 70), can withstand the power of God. Thus, if the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, they too will be ground and "scattered into nothingness" like the chaff of the threshing floor (Broadus 444).

In interpreting the second part of Jesus’ warning, Broadus notes the picture shifts from the "stone" as a foundation stone to one placed higher up in the corner, perhaps at the top. By putting Jesus to death, the Jews try to pull this "Stone" down from its elevated position. Their plan, however, only destroys their schemes and themselves like the chaff they are. The Jews not only have the loss that comes from stumbling over Jesus but also the "terrible destruction which comes from pulling him down on their heads" (Broadus 444).

Verse 45

And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.

Even though they are "blind leaders of the blind" (15:64), these chief priests and Pharisees understand Jesus’ message. Jesus has just convicted them of being wicked husbandmen, murderers, and blind "stumblers" whose end is to be crushed and scattered. Such a rebuke infuriates them and strengthens their resolve to kill Him.

Verse 46

But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.

Only one thing stands between these evil leaders and their murderous intent: the people. Had the multitude not hailed Jesus as a popular teacher, the leaders would kill Him on the spot. Instead, these leaders must wait and seek a more opportune moment—perhaps under the cover of darkness. The same thing that hinders them here is the same that hindered them from denouncing the authority of John the Baptist earlier (21:26–27). They are so void of conscience that public opinion is their only deterrent to evil. If, they can sway public opinion, then all obstacles to their murderous plot will be removed.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-21.html. 1993-2022.
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