Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Matthew 21

Verses 1-17

1–17.] TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM: CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE. Mark 11:1-11; Mark 11:15. Luke 19:29-44. John 12:12-36. This occurrence is related by all four Evangelists, with however some differences, doubtless easily accounted for, if we knew accurately the real detail of the circumstances in chronological order. In John (John 12:1),—our Lord came six days before the Passover to Bethany, where the anointing (of Matthew 26:6-13) took place: and on the morrow, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was made. According to Mark 11:11,—on the day of the triumphal entry He only entered the city, went to the temple, and looked about on all things,—and then, when now it was late in the evening, returned to Bethany, and on the morrow the cleansing of the temple took place. The account in Luke, which is the fullest and most graphic of the four, agrees chronologically with that in the text. I would venture to suggest, that the supposition of the triumphal entry in Mark being related a day too soon, will bring all into unison. If this be so, our Lord’s first entry into Jerusalem was private: probably the journey was interrupted by a short stay at Bethany, so that He did not enter the city with the multitudes. That this was the fact, seems implied in Mark 11:11. Then it was that, περιβλεψάμενος πάντα, He noticed the abuse in the temple, which next day He corrected. Then in the evening He went back with the twelve to Bethany, and the supper there, and anointing, took place. Meantime the Jews (John 12:9) knew that He was at Bethany; and many went there that evening to see Him and Lazarus. (Query, had not Lazarus followed Him to Ephraim?) Then on the morrow multitudes came out to meet Him, and the triumphal entry took place, the weeping over the city (Luke 19:41), and the cleansing of the temple. The cursing of the fig-tree occurred early that morning, as He was leaving Bethany with the twelve, and before the multitude met Him or the asses were sent for. (On Matthew’s narrative of this event see below on Matthew 21:18.) According to this view, our narrative omits the supper at Bethany, and the anointing (in its right place), and passes to the events of the next day. On the day of the week when this entry happened, see note on John 12:1.

βηθφαγῆ = בֵּית פַּגֵא, the house of figs: a considerable suburb, nearer to Jerusalem than Bethany, and sometimes reckoned part of the city. No trace of it now remains: see ‘The Land and the Book,’ p. 697.

Verse 2-3

2, 3.] τὴν κ. τ. ἀπ., i.e. Bethphage. Mark and Luke mention the πῶλος only, adding “whereon never yet man sat” (see note on Mark): John ὀνάριον. Justin Martyr (Apolog. i. 32, p. 63) connects this verse with the prophecy in Genesis 49:11, δεσμεύων πρὸς ἄμπελον τὸν πῶλον αὐτοῦ, καὶ τῇ ἕλικι τὸν πῶλον τῆς ὄνου αὐτοῦ.

ὁ κύριος, here, ‘the LORD,’ Jehovah (see reff.): most probably a general intimation to the owners, that they were wanted for the service of God. I cannot see how this interpretation errs against decorum, as Stier (ii. 332, edn. 2) asserts. The meanest animals might be wanted for the service of the Lord Jehovah. And after all, what difference is there as to decorum, if we understand with him ὁ κύρ. to signify “the King Messiah”? The two disciples were perhaps Peter and John: compare Mark 14:13 and Luke 22:8.

Verse 4

4.] A formula of our Evangelist’s (see ch. Matthew 1:22), spoken with reference to the divine counsels, but not to the intention of the doers of the act; for this application of prophecy is in John 12:16 distinctly said not to have occurred to the disciples at the time, but after Jesus was glorified.

Verse 6-7

6, 7.] In Mark, εὗρον πῶλον δεδεμένον πρὸς θύραν ἔξω ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀμφόδου. Our Lord sat on the foal (Mark, Luke), and the mother accompanied, apparently after the manner of a sumpter, as prophets so riding would be usually accompanied (but not of course doing the work of a sumpter).

In the last αὐτῶν, probably the animals, not the garments, are to be understood. Thus we say, ‘the postilion rode on the horses.’ Meyer objects to this interpretation, that no such latitude of expression is found in Matthew 21:5. But I cannot see how this affects the matter. Even if we take ἐπάνω αὐτῶν of the garments, the former ἐπʼ αὐτῶν will require similar latitude of interpretation. That this riding and entry were intentional on the part of our Lord, is clear: and also that He did not thereby mean to give any countenance to the temporal ideas of His Messiahship, but solemnly to fulfil the Scriptures respecting Him, and to prepare the way for his sufferings, by a public avowal of His mission. The typical meaning also is not to be overlooked. In all probability the evening visit to the temple was on the very day when the Paschal Lamb was to be taken up—i.e. set apart for the sacrifice.

Verse 8-9

8, 9.] Which was a royal honour: see 2 Kings 9:13.

ὁ πλεῖστος ὄχλος, the greater part of the multitude. Meyer refers to Plato, Rep. iii. p. 397 D Thuc. vii. 78, in both which the same expression occurs; and Xen. Anab. iii. 2. 36, ὁ πολὺς ὄχλος.

κλ. ἀπ. τ. δένδ. = τὰ βάϊα τῶν φοινίκων John, = στιβάδας Mark: see 1 Maccabees 13:51; 2 Maccabees 10:7.

ὡσαννά] from Psalms 118:25, הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא, σῶσον δή LXX a formula originally of supplication, but conventionally of gratulation, so that it is followed by a dative, and by ἐν τοῖς ὑψ., meaning, ‘may it be also ratified in heaven!’ see 1 Kings 1:36; Luke 2:14, where however it is an assertion, not a wish. This is far better than Grotius’s interpretation, ‘idem valere quod summè; ut si Latinè dicas terque quaterque.’ ἐν ὀν. κυρ. is to be joined with ὁ ἐρχ., not with εὐλογ., and forms a title of the Messiah. Luke adds βασιλεύς, John καὶ ὁ βασ. τοῦ ἰσρ.

Verse 12

12.] Compare the notes on John 2:13-18. The cleansing related in our text is totally distinct from that related there. It is impossible to suppose that St. Matthew and St. John, or any one but moderately acquainted with the events which he undertook to relate, should have made such a gross error in chronology, as must be laid to the charge of one or other of them, if these two occurrences were the same. I rather view the omission of the first in the synoptic accounts as in remarkable consistency with what we otherwise gather from the three Gospels—that their narrative is exclusively Galilæan [with one exception, Luke 4:44 in our text] until this last journey to Jerusalem, and consequently the first cleansing is passed over by them (see Prolegomena, circa init.). On the difference from Mark, see note on Matthew 21:1. Both comings of Jehovah to His temple were partial fulfilments of Malachi 3:1-3,—which shall not receive its final accomplishment till His great and decisive visit at the latter day. The ἱερόν here spoken of was the court of the Gentiles.

We have no traces of this market in the O.T. It appears to have first arisen after the captivity, when many would come from foreign lands to Jerusalem. This would also account for the money-changers, as it was unlawful (from Exodus 30:13) to bring foreign money for the offering of atonement. κόλλυβος λέγεται τὸ λεπτὸν νόμισμα παρʼ ἕλλησιν, ὃ ῥωμαῖοι νοῦμμον (nummum) ὀνομάζουσι, Theophylact.

τὰς περιστ.] The poor were allowed to offer these instead of the lambs for a trespass-offering, Leviticus 5:7; also for the purification of women, Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:24.

Verse 13

13.] Stier remarks that the verse quoted from Jeremiah is in connexion with the charge of murder, and the shedding of innocent blood (see Jeremiah 7:6). Luther translates σπ. λῃστ., Mardergrube.

On the intention of this act of our Lord, see notes on John 2:15. It was a purely Messianic act; see Malachi 3:1-3.

Verse 15-16

15, 16.] The circumstance that the children were crying ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ in the temple, seems to me to fix this event, as above, on the day of the triumphal entry.

Psalms 8:1-9 is frequently cited in the N.T. of Christ: see 1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:6; Ephesians 1:22. In understanding such citations as this, and that in Matthew 21:4, we must bear in mind the important truth, that the external fulfilment of a prophecy is often itself only a type and representation of that inner and deeper sense of the prophecy which belongs to the spiritual dealings of God. Those who can, should by all means consult Stier’s admirable remarks on this truth, vol. ii. p. 340 f. edn. 2.

Verse 17

17.] If this is to be literally understood of the village (and not of a district round it, including part of the Mount of Olives; see Luke 21:37), this will be the second night spent at Bethany. I would rather of the two understand it literally, and that the spending the nights on the Mount of Olives did not begin till the next night (Tuesday).

Verses 18-22

18–22.] THE CURSE OF THE BARREN FIG-TREE. Mark 11:12-14; Mark 11:20-26, where see notes. St. Luke omits the incident.

The cursing of the fig-tree had in fact taken place on the day before, and the withering of it was now noticed. St. Mark separates the two accounts, which are here given together. We must remember that this miracle was wholly typical and parabolical. The fig-tree was THE JEWISH PEOPLE—full of the leaves of an useless profession, but without fruit:—and further, all hypocrites of every kind, in every age. It is true, as De Wette observes, that no trace of a parabolic meaning appears in the narrative (and yet, strangely enough, he himself a few lines after, denying the truth of the miracle, accounts for the narrative by supposing it to have arisen out of a parable spoken by our Lord); but neither does there in that of the driving out the buyers and sellers from the temple, and in those of many other actions which we know to have been symbolic.

Verse 19

19.] μίαν, ‘unam illo loco:’ a solitary fig-tree.

ἐπὶ τ. ὁδ.] “by the road-side: so Herod. vii. 6, αἱ ἐπὶ λήμνου ἐπικείμεναι νῆσοι: Demosth. p. 300. 16, ἡ ἐπὶ τοῦ ποταμοῦ μάχη. It was the practice to plant fig-trees by the road-side, because it was thought that the dust, by absorbing the exuding sap, was conducive to the production of the fruit. Plin. (158). (159). xv. 19.” Meyer. [But “M(160) now translates ‘over the road,’ adding that we may either suppose that the tree simply projected over the road, or that it was planted on an elevation by the road-side, or that the road here passed through a ravine.” Moulton’s Winer, p. 468, note 4.]

Verse 21-22

21, 22.] This assurance has occurred before in ch. Matthew 17:20. That truest and highest faith, which implies a mind and will perfectly in unison with that of God, can, even in its least degree, have been in Him only who spoke these words. And by it, and its elevating power over the functions and laws of inferior natures, were His most notable miracles wrought. It is observable, that such a state of mind entirely precludes the idea of an arbitrary exercise of power—none such can therefore be intended in our Lord’s assertion—but we must understand,—“if expedient.” Though we cannot reach this faith in its fulness, yet every approach to it (Matthew 21:21) shall be endued with some of its wonderful power,—in obtaining requests from God. See the remarkable and important addition in Mark 11:25-26.

Verse 23

23. οἱ ἀρχ. κ. οἱ πρεσ. τ. λ.] Mark and Luke add γραμματεῖς, and so make up the members of the Sanhedrim. It was an official message, sent with a view to make our Saviour declare Himself to be a prophet sent from God—in which case the Sanhedrim had power to take cognizance of His proceedings, as of a professed Teacher. Thus the Sanhedrim sent a deputation to John on his appearing as a Teacher, John 1:19. The question was the result of a combination to destroy Jesus, Luke 19:47-48. They do not now ask, as in John 2:18, τί σημεῖον δεικνύεις ἡμῖν ὅτι ταῦτα ποιεῖς; for they had had many signs which are now included in their ταῦτα. The second question, καὶ τίς κ. τ. λ., is an expansion of ποίᾳ.

Verses 23-32

23–32.] Mark 11:27-33. Luke 20:1-8. OUR LORD’S AUTHORITY QUESTIONED. HIS REPLY. Now commences that series of parables, and discourses of our Lord with His enemies, in which He developes more completely than ever before His hostility to their hypocrisy and iniquity:—and so they are stirred up to compass His death.

Verse 25

25.] τὸ βἀπτ., meaning thereby the whole office and teaching, of which the baptism was the central point and seal. If they had recognized the heavenly mission of John, they must have also acknowledged the authority by which Jesus did these things, for John expressly declared that he was sent to testify of him, and bore witness to having seen the Holy Spirit descend and rest upon Him. John 1:33-34.

ἐπιστ. αὐτῷ] believe him, ‘give credit to his words:’ ‘for those words were testimonies to me.’

Verse 26

26.] These ‘blind leaders of the blind’ had so far made an insincere concession to the people’s persuasion as to allow John to pass for a prophet—but they shrunk from the reproof which was sure to follow their acknowledging it now. This consultation among themselves is related almost verbatim by the three Evangelists. The intelligence of it may have been originally derived from Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. The οὐδὲ ἐγὼ λέγω of our Lord is an answer, not to their outward words οὐκ οἴδαμεν, but to their inward thoughts, οὐ θέλομεν λέγειν.

Verse 28

28.] τί δὲ ὑ. δ.: a formula of connexion—but doubtless here intended to help the questioners to the true answer of their difficulty about John’s baptism. The following parable (peculiar to Matthew) refers, under the image of the two sons, to two classes of persons, both summoned by the great Father to “work in His vineyard” (see ch. Matthew 20:1); both Jews and of His family. The first answer the summons by a direct and open refusal—these are the open sinners, the publicans and harlots, who disobey God to His face. But afterwards, when better thoughts are suggested, they repent, and go. The second class (no stress is to be laid on the order of calling—the parable merely mentions that the call was made ὡσαύτως—it is the mistaken desire to set the chronology right which has given rise to such confusion in the readings) receive the summons with a respectful assent (not unaccompanied with a self-exaltation and contrast to the other, implied in the emphatic ἐγώ)—having however no intention of obeying (there is no mention of a change of mind in this case): but go not. These are the Scribes and Pharisees, with their shew of legal obedience, who “said, and did not” (ch. Matthew 23:3). It will of course admit of wider applications—to Jews and Heathens, or any similar pair of classes who may thus be compared.

Verse 31

31.] In connexion with the reading ὁ ὕστερος, which Tregelles has adopted without the preceding transposition, it may be mentioned, that some (not Origen, that I can find) have understood it to mean, ὁ ὕστερον μεταμεληθείς.

προάγουσιν, either the declarative present—go before you, in the matter of God’s arrangements,—or the assertive present, of the mere matter of fact, are going before you. I prefer this latter on account of the explanation following:—‘go before,’—not entirely without hope for you, that you may follow, but not necessarily implying your following. The door of mercy was not yet shut for them: see John 12:35; Luke 23:34. προάγ. answers to ὕπαγε κ. ἐργ. in the parable. The idea of ‘shewing the way’ by being their example, is also included. There were publicans among the disciples, and probably repentant harlots among the women who followed the Lord.

Verse 32

32.] ὁδῷ δικ., not only in the way of God’s commandments, so often spoken of, but in the very path of ascetic purity which you so much approve; yet perhaps it were better to let the simpler sense here be the predominant one, and take δικαιοσύνης for ‘repentance,’ as Noah is called δικ. κήρυξ (2 Peter 2:5) in similar circumstances.

μετεμελ. ὕστ. are words repeated from the parable (Matthew 21:29), and serving to fasten the application on the hearers.

τοῦ πισ., that ye might believe on Him: see reff.

Verses 33-46

33–46.] PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD LET OUT TO HUSBANDMEN. Mark 12:1-12. Luke 20:9-19. This parable is in intimate connexion with Isaiah 5:1 ff., and was certainly intended by our Lord as an express application of that passage to the Jews of His time. Both Mark and Luke open it with an ἤρξατο λέγειν …, as a fresh beginning, by our Lord, of a series of parables. Luke adds, that it was spoken πρὸς τὸν λαόν. Its subject is, of course, the continued rejection of God’s prophets by the people of Israel, till at last they rejected and killed His only Son. The οἰκοδεσπότης ἐφύτευσεν ἀμπελῶνα: i.e. ‘selected it out of all His world, and fenced it in, and dug a receptacle for the juice (in the rock or ground, to keep it cool, into which it flowed from the press above, through a grated opening), and built a tower (of recreation—or observation to watch the crops).’ This exactly coincides with the state of the Jewish nation, under covenant with God as His people. All these expressions are in Isaiah 5:1-30. The letting out to husbandmen was probably that kind of letting where the tenant pays his rent in kind, although the καρποί may be understood of money. God began about 430 years after the Exodus to send His prophets to the people of Israel, and continued even till John the Baptist; but all was in vain; they “persecuted the prophets,” casting them out, and putting them to death. (See Nehemiah 9:26; Matthew 23:31; Matthew 23:37; Hebrews 11:36-38.)

The different sendings must not be pressed; they probably imply the fulness and sufficiency of warnings given, and set forth the longsuffering of the householder; and the increasing rebellion of the husbandmen is shewn by their increasing ill-treatment of the messengers. Meyer understands αὐτοῦ after καρπούς, Matthew 21:34, to mean His fruits; i.e. in money.

Verse 37

37.] See Luke 20:13 : Mark 12:6. Our Lord sets forth His heavenly Father in human wise deliberating, τί ποιήσω; (Luke) and ἴσως ἐντρ., to signify His gracious adoption, for man’s sake, of every means which may turn sinners to repentance. The difference here is fully made between the Son and all the other messengers; see Mark; ἔτι ἕνα υἱὸν εἶχεν ἀγαπητόν …: and, as Stier remarks, this is the real and direct answer to the question in Matthew 21:23. The Son appears here, not in his character of Redeemer, but in that of a preacher—a messenger demanding the fruits of the vineyard. (See ch. Matthew 4:17.)

Verse 38

38. οὗτός ἐστιν] So Nicodemus, John 3:2, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θ. ἐλήλυθας διδάσκαλος, even at the beginning of His ministry; how much more then after three years spent in His divine working. The latent consciousness that Jesus was the Messiah, expressed in the prophecy of Caiaphas (John 11:49-52; cf. the σὺ εἶπας of our ch. Matthew 26:64), added no doubt to the guilt of the Jewish rulers in rejecting and crucifying Him, however this consciousness may have been accompanied with ἄγνοια of one kind or other in all of them,—see Acts 3:17 and note.

ὁ κληρον.] This the Son is in virtue of His human nature: see Hebrews 1:1-2.

δεῦ. ἀποκτ. αὐτ.] The very words of the LXX, ref. Gen., where Joseph’s brethren express a similar resolution: and no doubt used by the Lord in reference to that history, so deeply typical of His rejection and exaltation. This resolution had actually been taken, see John 11:53; and that immediately after the manifestation of His power as the Son of God ( πάτερ, εὐχαριστῶ σοι κ. τ. λ. John 11:41), in the raising of Lazarus, and also immediately ( οὖν) after Caiaphas’s prophecy.

καὶ σχ.] see John 11:48. As far as this, the parable is History: from this point, Prophecy.

Verse 39

39.] This is partly to be understood of our Lord being given up to the heathen to be judged; but also literally, as related by all three Evangelists. See also John 19:17, and Hebrews 13:11-12. In Mark the order is different, ἀπέκτειναν κ. ἐξέβ. ἔξω.

Verse 40-41

40, 41.] See Isaiah 5:5. All means had been tried, and nothing but judgment was now left. Mark and Luke omit the important words λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, though Luke has given us the key to them, in telling us that the parable was spoken in the hearing of the people, who seem to have made the answer. Perhaps however the Pharisees (as suggested by Trench, Parables, in loco) may have made this answer, having missed, or (as Olshausen thinks, Biblisch. Comm. i. p. 793, and Stier, R. J. ii. 363) pretended to miss, the sense of the parable; but from the strong κακοὺς κακῶς, I incline to the former view. Whichever said it, it was a self-condemnation, similar to that in ch. Matthew 27:25 : the last form, as Nitzsch finely remarks (cited by Stier, ib.), of the divine warnings to men, ‘when they themselves speak of the deeds which they are about to do, and pronounce judgment upon them.’ So striking, even up to the last moment, is the mysterious union of human free-will with divine foresight (see Acts 2:23; Genesis 1:20), that after all other warnings frustrated, the conscience of the sinner himself interposes to save him from his sin.

The expression κακοὺς κακῶς ἀπολ. is one of the purest Greek:— ἀπό σʼ ὀλῶ κακὸν κακῶς, Aristoph. Plut. 65, and indeed passim in the best writers.

οἵτινες] of a kind, who: οἵ would identify, οἵτινες classifies. They do not specify who, but only of what sort, the new tenants will be. The clause is peculiar to Matthew. We may observe that our Lord here makes ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ κύριος coincide with the destruction of Jerusalem, which is incontestably the overthrow of the wicked husbandmen. This passage forms therefore an important key to our Lord’s prophecies, and a decisive justification for those who, like myself, firmly hold that the coming of the Lord is in many places to be identified, primarily, with that overthrow.

Verse 42

42.] A citation from the same Psalm of triumph from which the multitudes had taken their Hosannas. This verse is quoted with the same signification in Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:6-7, where also the cognate passage Isaiah 28:16 is quoted, as in Romans 9:33. The words here are those of the LXX.

αὕτη θαυμαστὴ are feminine by a Hebraism, in which idiom the fem. is used as the neuter, there being no neuter. Meyer takes it as agreeing with κεφ. γωνίας, but surely with the examples in the reff. before us, it is simpler and better to understand the construction as above.

The οἰκοδομοῦντες answer to the husbandmen, and the addition is made in this changed similitude to shew them that though they might reject and kill the Son, yet He will be victorious in the end.

εἰς κεφ. γων.] The corner-stone binds together both walls of the building; so Christ unites Jews and Gentiles in Himself. See the comparison beautifully followed into detail, Ephesians 2:20-22.

On θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθ. ἡμ., cf. Acts 4:13-14.

Verse 43

43.] Our Lord here returns to the parable, and more plainly than ever before announces to them their rejection by God. The ἀμπελών is now ἡ βασ. τ. θ. The ἔθνος here spoken of is not the Gentiles in general, but the Church of the truly faithful,—the ἔθνος ἅγιον, λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν of 1 Peter 2:9; see Acts 15:14.

Verse 44

44.] A reference to Isaiah 8:14-15, and Daniel 2:44, and a plain identification of the stone there mentioned with that in Psalms 118:1-29. The stone is the whole kingdom and power of the Messiah summed up in Himself.

ὁ πεσὼν.… he that takes offence, that makes it a stone of stumbling, shall be broken: see Luke 2:34; but on whomsoever, as its enemy, it shall come in vengeance, as prophesied in Daniel, λικμήσει αὐτόν, it shall dash him in pieces. Meyer maintains that the meaning of λικμ. is not this, but literally ‘shall winnow him,’ throw him off as chaff (see ref. Job). But the confusion in the parable thus occasioned is quite unnecessary. The result of winnowing is complete separation and dashing away of the worthless part: and it is surely far better to understand this result as the work of the falling of the stone, than to apply the words to a part of the operation for which the falling of a stone is so singularly unsuited.

Verse 45-46

45, 46.] All three Evangelists have this addition. St. Mark besides says καὶ ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθον, answering to our ch. Matthew 22:22. Supposing Mark’s insertion of these words to be in the right place, we have the following parable spoken to the people and disciples: see below.

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 21". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.