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The so-called Triumphal Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem-at the beginning of the last week of His earthly ministry, which was to culminate in His death and burial and to be followed by a glorious resurrection-was in partial fulfillment of Psalms 118:0, where He is presented as the rejected Stone, eventually to be made the Head of the corner, but first accepted by a few who cry, “Ho-sanna” (“Save now”), and, “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD” (Psalms 118:25-19.118.26). But instead of the kingdom being set up then, the next thing was His crucifixion, when He was bound, as it were, like the sacrificial animals to the horns of the altar (Psalms 118:27).
Doubtless, those who welcomed Him into Jerusalem, as He rode upon the ass down the slopes of Olivet and into the Holy City, thought the hour of His triumph had come. They believed that He was about to assert His royal authority and begin His beneficent reign over Israel and the subjected nations, making Jerusalem the capital of a regenerated world. All this shall indeed be in God’s appointed time, but He had other work to accomplish first. So the entrance into the city amid the plaudits of the populace was but preliminary to His death upon a Roman cross, where He was to make propitiation (rather than reconciliation) for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17 RV). For Him, as we have seen already, there could be no kingdom without the Cross.
That the welcome He received was sincere, we need not question. His own words in answer to the criticism of the chief priests and scribes make that clear (Matthew 21:16). But those who thus rejoiced in His coming to them little realized the true state of affairs, nor did they understand the predictions of the prophets: how Christ must first be rejected and suffer many things before He could enter into His glory (Luke 24:25-42.24.27).
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, 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. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. 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 when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee, (vv. 1-11)
Every move that the Lord Jesus Christ made, as He went through this world, was in exact accord with the prophetic Word and therefore in obedience to the Father’s will. As He entered Jerusalem, He knew that, not the kingdom, but crucifixion was to be His portion in the immediate future. But nothing turned Him aside from His path of perfect submission to the One who had sent Him. He adorned every position that He took. His matchless perfections were manifested in everything He did. He accepted the praise of the children and of the older ones, who hailed Him as David’s Son, with the same grace that enabled Him to endure the cold, cutting criticism of His enemies. To Him the one paramount object of His life was to glorify the Father.
How His heart must have been stirred as He drew near to the city-once called holy, but now so polluted by sin and characterized by a form of godliness without power. The hour had come when He was to present Himself as King, and in preparation for it He sent two of His disciples into a nearby village to procure an ass and her colt.
Evidently, the owners of these beasts were among those who knew Jesus and recognized His claims, for they acknowledged immediately His right to take the beasts for His use at this time.
Zechariah had prophesied that the King would come into His royal city “riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). All this was fulfilled literally as Jesus came down the slope of Olivet and into Jerusalem riding upon the unbroken colt. The disciples spread some of their own garments upon it as a saddle, and seated the Lord Jesus Christ upon them. It is significant that this humble creature was more subject to Him-its Creator-than men whom He had come to save.
“A very great multitude spread their garments in the way.” It was a truly Oriental setting. Part of the throng carpeted the road before Him with their robes, and others cut down palm branches and strewed them on the path He was to take, thus acclaiming Him as their rightful King.
“Hosanna to the son of David.” This and the words following, as we have noted already, were quotations from the Psalm of Triumph, that is Psalms 118:0, in which His royal subjects acclaim their King, “Great David’s greater Son.” The complete fulfillment of the psalm awaits His second advent, as He Himself predicted later (Matthew 23:39).
“All the city was moved, saying, Who is this?” The singing and rejoicing were heard throughout all Jerusalem, and the populace, stirred with wonder, inquired as to who it was whose entrance to their city had caused such an ovation. It was a repetition of what had taken place centuries before, when Solomon was welcomed as king (1 Kings 1:38-11.1.40). He of whom Solomon was but a type was now among them; yet many knew Him not.
“This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.” With fervent faith, the rejoicing multitude declared Jesus to be a prophet. They were, doubtless, for the most part, Galileans themselves, who had become convinced that He was all that He claimed to be.
The children and others who welcomed Jesus so vociferously were acting in full accord with the Word of God when they acclaimed Him as the true Son of David, who is yet to reign in Zion. As on so many other occasions, the chief priests and scribes, though familiar with the letter of the Word, proved themselves altogether out of touch with this momentous occasion.
Zechariah’s prophecy. It is interesting to note how the two advents of our Lord are linked together in this passage (Zechariah 9:9-38.9.10). In verse 9 we see the King riding into His earthly capitol, presenting Himself to the people as their rightful Ruler. But although verse 10 follows this so closely, the events depicted in it will not be completely fulfilled until He comes again. It is then that He will speak peace unto the nations and His dominion be set up over all the earth.
Psalms 118:0. This psalm deals largely with the time when the Lord will arise for the deliverance of Israel, when all their trials will be ended and they shall enter into the blessedness of that rejoicing and salvation which will then be found in the tabernacles of the righteous (v. 15). But all this blessing depends upon the One who was first to be bound as a sacrifice to the horns of the altar. It was settled in the purpose of God from eternity that there could be no kingdom until after the work of the Cross was accomplished. While the welcome that Jesus received was quite in keeping with the divine plans, those who would have crowned Him as king at that time had to learn that He must first suffer many things, be crucified, and rise from the dead. In God’s due time, the remainder of the prophecy will have a glorious fulfillment.
Upon entering the city, Jesus proceeded to visit the center of all Jewish worship and to exercise His authority there as He had done on an earlier occasion, as related by John (2:13-17).
The cleansing of the temple implied, on the part of Jesus, the assertion of His authority as the Son of the Father, whose house had been so grossly defiled.
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, 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. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, 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? (vv. 12-16)
“Jesus went into the temple of God.” To Him, that temple was His Father’s house. It was the place where, of old, Jehovah had set His name. But it had become defiled and polluted and was turned into a place of merchandise under the guise of assisting the many pilgrims who came from all parts of the world to keep the annual feasts, or set times, of Jehovah (see Leviticus 23:0).
“My house shall be called the house of prayer.” This was the divine purpose, as declared by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 56:7). In the coming day of the kingdom, when Jerusalem becomes, in truth, the worship-center of the world, a new temple will arise, to which all nations shall resort. The one which then stood on Mount Moriah had become “a den of thieves,” dishonoring to God and a stumbling block to men.
“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple.” He who was the Lord of the temple was there to manifest His delivering power. Those who were suffering from various physical infirmities sought Him out, “and he healed them” in His grace and compassion.
“The chief priests and scribes… were sore displeased.” These proud, haughty legalists were scandalized by the very goodness and loving-kindness of Jesus. The plaudits of the grateful populace were as gall and bitterness to them. When they heard the people crying, “Hosanna to the son of David,” they had no thought of joining in this glad recognition of Him, whose works of power bore witness to the divinity and authority of His message (John 5:30), but they were indignant that such honor should be paid Him.
“Hearest Thou what these say?” They blamed Jesus for permitting the people to address Him as the Son of David, which was equivalent to acknowledging Him as their Messiah, and so they called on Him to rebuke the multitude. But Jesus refused to heed their angry criticisms and referred them to a passage in the Psalms, which exactly fitted the case “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise” (Psalms 8:2). In their honesty and simplicity, the children and the common people, whom the self-righteous leaders despised, proved they had been taught of God, and so honored Jesus Christ as the Sent One of the Father, who had come into the world to be the Redeemer of Israel.
As the evening drew on, Jesus left the city and went out to Bethany. So far as the record goes, He did not spend a night in Jerusalem until He was arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas. He may have found lodging with His friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, or in some other convenient place.
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. 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 the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! 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, (vv. 17-22)
The home in Bethany was very dear to the heart of Jesus. We may well imagine that He was in close touch with the little family there during these closing nights of His stay upon earth.
Each morning He wended His way with His disciples to the city. As they went in on the second morning, Jesus saw the fruitless fig tree and pronounced a solemn judgment upon it. The fig tree is the well-known symbol of Israel (or rather Judah) nationally-a fig tree planted in a vineyard. When Jesus came there were the leaves of religious ceremony but no fruit for God. So they were given up to judicial barrenness for all the present age.
The fact that this tree was covered with leaves would naturally imply fruit, for the figs appear before the leaves in most varieties of these trees. Jesus knew well the facts of the case, but He chose to go to the tree to search for fruit in order to make of it an acted parable. There are three fig tree passages that are definitely linked together and give us a dispensational picture of God’s dealings with the Jews: Luke 13:6-42.13.9; Matthew 21:17-40.21.20; Matthew 24:32-40.24.33Matthew 24:32-40.24.33.
When the Lord was on His way back to Bethany in the evening, the disciples noted with amazement that this tree which had been so verdant and fair to look upon, although utterly fruitless in the morning, was dried up and withered. Expressing their wonder at this, Jesus took occasion once more to impress upon them a lesson as to the importance of faith. Again He used the same illustration as before (17:20) of the mountain being cast into the sea in response to faith as a grain of mustard seed, adding the definite and soul-heartening declaration that “all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
This is not to be understood as an assurance that God will grant every request we make or give us whatever we ask. To pray believingly implies that we pray in accordance with the revealed will of God and that we do not regard iniquity in our hearts. But where one is right with God Himself, and his prayer is in faith because in accord with the known will of God, the divine response is sure.
When teaching in the temple on another occasion, Jesus was challenged by the religious leaders regarding His authority to act as He did. We read:
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 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. 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. 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, (vv. 23-27)
These priests and elders acted often on very dubious authority, but they questioned the right of Jesus to cleanse the temple of those who had made it a “den of thieves,” and to teach the people as He did.
Following the custom He had so often used in dealing with cavilers such as they, Jesus replied by putting a leading question to them. What about Johns baptism? Was it of divine origin or was John acting from a purely human standpoint?
Realizing they were trapped in their own crookedness and dishonesty, they replied by saying, “We cannot tell.” They knew that if they admitted John was sent by God, they would be unable to explain why they had not believed him, which would have involved receiving the One whom John had declared was the promised Messiah. On the other hand, if they dared to deny John’s heavenly commission, it would stir the ire of the populace against them, and they would lose their influence over the people, for these generally believed John was a prophet of the Lord.
When they admitted their ignorance or inability to answer, Jesus calmly replied, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” To attempt to convince them would be but wasted time, for, as we often say, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
The chapter closes with two parables, both designed to show the seriousness of refusing immediate compliance with the testimony and the demands of the Lord.
It is a terribly dangerous thing to trifle with the mercy of God. Little did the Jewish leaders realize that they were sealing their own doom in rejecting Jesus, the One sent of God to bring them into fullness of blessing if they had received Him. They lost their opportunity because they were blinded by self-interest, and so they failed to recognize their Messiah when He came in exact accord with the Scripture passages of the prophets which they professed to reverence. Mere knowledge of the letter of the Word saves no one. It is those who believe in the Christ of whom the Book of God speaks who are made “wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). To reject Him is fatal.
It is a solemn theme indeed with which we are now to be occupied. Who can portray adequately the perils of rejecting Christ? God has used some of the most striking figures imaginable to warn us of the dire fate that awaits the one who spurns His grace and refuses the Savior.
The fruitless fig tree, cursed by Jesus, represented the religious nation that bore no fruit for God, and so was rejected, and has been ever since dried up, as it were, from the roots. The parable of the two sons contrasts the legal self-righteous leaders of the Jews, who pretended to an obedience they did not carry into execution, with that of poor sinners, both Jews and Gentiles, who have heard and obeyed the word of the truth of the gospel. That of the vineyard tells of God’s care for and patience with His earthly people until they fulfilled their own Scripture passages in rejecting His Son. The story of the marriage feast emphasizes the same truth and shows how the door of faith was to be opened to the Gentiles, but warns against mere profession, which can mean only judgment at last, as in the case of the man who refused the wedding garment.
But what think ye? A certain man had two tons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 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. 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. (vv. 28-32)
“A certain man had two sons.” They portray two types of men: those who give lip service and those who are genuine in their interest in spiritual realities.
“He…said, I will not: but… repented.” In this lad we see the willful son, persisting in disobedience until subdued and brought to repentance by divine grace.
“He answered… I go, sir: and went not.” This had been the history of the legalists in Israel from that day when at the base of Sinai they said, “All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7), but whose after-course was one of insubjection to God throughout (Romans 2:24).
“The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” It is the self-confessed sinners who feel their need of grace and who, turning to God in repentance, enter through new birth into the kingdom (John 3:3; John 3:5John 3:5).
“John came … in the way of righteousness.” He came proclaiming the righteous demands of God upon His creatures and calling to repentance those who had failed to attain to this standard. The legalists turned indifferently away, but needy sinners obeyed.
The parable of the vineyard had both a backward and a forward application. It traced God’s ways with Israel in the past and their rejection of His messengers, and looked on prophetically to what was to be accomplished in the next few days when Jesus Himself was to be repudiated by His own people and delivered up to death.
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: 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 the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 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. 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? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder, (vv. 33-44)
“A certain householder, which planted a vineyard.” The householder was God Himself. The vineyard was Israel (Isaiah 5:1-23.5.7). The husbandmen were the leaders in Judah who were responsible to guide the people aright.
“He sent his servants.” These were the prophets who came from time to time as Jehovah’s representatives to press His claims upon the people.
“Beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.” Thus had Israel and Judah treated those who came to them in the name of the Lord (Acts 7:52).
“He sent unto them his son.” How vividly does this portray the grace of God in sending the Lord Jesus! He was in Palestine as the representative of the Father (John 6:38; John 7:28-43.7.29John 7:28-43.7.29), but He knew well they would spurn Him as they had persecuted the prophets that went before.
“This is the heir; come, let us kill him.” The rejection of Christ by His own people was the fullest possible expression of the hatred of the natural heart, moved by satanic malignancy, toward the God of all grace (Acts 2:23).
“They caught him … and slew him.” It is useless to try to absolve the leaders in Jewry of the crime of delivering our Lord up to death (1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-52.2.151 Thessalonians 2:14-52.2.15). Actually it was the Gentiles who crucified Him, but potentially it was the Jews who killed Him. Both are implicated in the greatest crime in all history, the murder of the Christ of God (Acts 4:26-44.4.27).
“What will he do unto those husbandmen?” Foreseeing their treatment of Himself, Jesus put the question directly to those who had followed the parable thus far. He would have them pronounce their own condemnation.
“He will miserably destroy those wicked men.” Without realizing it, they declared what God was about to do. Their words were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the settling aside of the Jew in favor of the nations of the Gentiles.
“The stone which the builders rejected.” Jesus called their attention to the definite prophecy of Psalms 118:22. He Himself was the rejected “Stone.” But in His resurrection God was to make Him the head of the corner in the new temple of living stones He was about to erect.
A Jewish legend explained this verse by declaring that at the building of Solomons temple a stone was sent up from the quarries at the very beginning for which the workmen could find no place, so it was thrown down into the valley below Mount Moriah-“The stone which the builders rejected.” Later they sent word that they were ready for the cornerstone, but the masons declared it had been sent up already. Finally, someone recalled the disallowed stone, and a search in the valley brought it to light. It was hoisted up to the mount again, and made the head of the corner.
“The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Israel after the flesh was to be put aside. The kingdom for which they had waited so long was to be lost to them forever. A new and elect nation, a regenerated Israel, shall possess the kingdom eventually. Meantime, the grace of God is going out to the Gentiles.
Christ is the Stone of salvation; He is also the Stone of judgment. The Jews stumbled over Him and were broken (Isaiah 8:14). Some day He will come again, as the Stone falling on the image of Gentile power to grind it to powder (Daniel 2:34-27.2.35).
There could be no doubt in the minds of our Lord’s hearers as to the application of the parable.
And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet. (vv. 45-46)
Recognizing a picture of themselves in the unfaithful husbandmen, the Pharisees gave no evidence of repentance, nor of a desire to obey the Word of God. Instead, they seemed to become even more determined in their opposition to Jesus, God’s Anointed One, the Heir who had been sent by the Father in grace to call them to the path of obedience and to the recognition of their own responsibilities as leaders in Israel. Had they dared, they would have “laid hands on Him” and endeavored at once to put Him out of the way, but again they were deterred by their fear of the multitude, who believed Him also to be a prophet. Such is the incorrigible evil of the natural heart unless subdued by divine grace!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Matthew 21". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany