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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-16


The first announcement of His death and resurrection by our Lord in the last lesson, connected His suffering with the act of His own nation, while this predicts the part played in it by one of His own band (Matthew 17:22-23 ). It furnishes a starting point for a new lesson as in the other case.

The incident concluding chapter 17, is full of suggestive teaching. It is the temple tribute that is in mind, about sixty cents of our money, and Peter in saying “Yes,” has already lost the significance of His confession of Christ.

If He were “the Son of the living God,” then was it not His glory that had appeared in the temple, and why should He pay tribute? But He surrenders His personal right, after He again makes it clear to His disciple. How His glory as Creator flashes forth in the miracle of the piece of money!

“At the same time” the disciples ask the question beginning the next chapter. Did our Lord’s words about “the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens” in the preceding chapter awaken this inquiry? (Compare Luke 9:46 .) How selfish and worldly was their ambition still! The Lord’s answer (Matthew 18:2-4 ), is what He gave to Nicodemus (John 3:0 ). It is a question whether in Matthew 17:5 the reference is to a “little child” in the literal or in the spiritual sense, but the words “believe in me” (Matthew 18:6 ), turn the scale in favor of the latter. Matthew 18:7 and Matthew 18:9 are hard to apply in that connection, but they teach the necessity of removing all stumbling-blocks out of our way. Matthew 18:10 brings us back to the little child in the literal sense. Some think the words mean that every such child has its guardian angel. Some that every believer has such an angel. While others take the word “angel” in the sense of “spirit” (Acts 12:15 ), and interpret the passage to mean that if such little children, who belong to the kingdom die, their disembodied spirits behold the Father’s face in heaven in other words they are saved.

In the section now reached (Matthew 18:15-20 ), we meet for the second and last time in this Gospel the word “church,” which has special interest because her executive power in the earth is spoken of. It is plain until we come to Matthew 18:18 , which is to be understood not as limited to the apostles and their “successors” so-called, but as including the whole of the local church in any place gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus. He sanctions in heaven what she thus binds or loosens on earth. What a promise that in Matthew 18:19-20 ! What mighty things has it accomplished, and it still holds good!

The law of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35 ), is in answer to Peter’s question, inspired by the preceding, probably. In that case, however, our Lord had been speaking about restoring a brother to the church, while here it is a question of personal grievances, and the forgiveness must be unlimited (compare Luke 17:3-4 ).

At chapter 19 we find Jesus in Judea again, His last visit there prior to His crucifixion. Had we this Gospel alone to consider it would appear as the

first visit of Jesus after His baptism, but as a matter of fact there were at least two visits intervening, judging by John’s record.

Once more His enemies are at His heels, this time on the divorce question (Matthew 19:3-12 ). The Pharisees were divided about this, the school of Hillel holding that man might put away his wife for almost any cause, and that of Shammai, only for adultery. Our Lord goes back of Moses to the beginning (Matthew 19:4-6 ). Moses never commanded writings of divorcement, but allowed or suffered it (Matthew 19:7-8 ) in cases where there was suspicion of adultery (Numbers 5:0 ). The actual sin was punishable by death. The Lord’s command in the matter is plain and authoritative (Matthew 19:9 ). But the disciples think that under such circumstances it is better not to marry at all (Matthew 19:10 ), which leads Christ to say that some are unfitted for it by nature, some have been mutilated by wicked men, while some remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12 ). All are not able wisely to remain unmarried, but where they are, it is not a man-enforced celibacy, but a divinely-bestowed gift. This seems to some to be the meaning of Matthew 18:11 .

The incident of the little children (Matthew 19:13-15 ) shows that the disciples had not caught the significance of the teaching of the previous chapter. But blessed be God, there is a place for children in the Kingdom. The parents in these cases must have been believers, setting an example to others to bring their offspring to Christ for His salvation and blessing.

The next incident brings before us a typical religious man of the world (Matthew 19:16-26 ) through which we are taught that salvation is of God, and not dependent on the deeds of man. The Lord rebukes him for calling Him “good” (Matthew 19:17 ), because the young man was thinking of Him as a man merely, and “There is none righteous, no not one.” He then meets him on his own ground. If he would do something to earn eternal life, there is but one thing to do; but this he is shown never to have done. If he really loves his neighbor as himself he would share what he had with his neighbor. The sequel shows how self-deceived he was (Matthew 19:22 ). “The eye of the needle” (Matthew 19:24 ) was a proverb among the Jews. After the gates of a city were closed at night, caravans could not enter. There were narrow openings at the side large enough for the human traveler to pass through but not his beast of burden. This opening was called “the eye of a needle.”

Out of this event grows the conclusion of this lesson down to Matthew 20:16 . The self-seeking disciple again comes into view (Matthew 19:27 ), and also the condescension of our Lord Who does not rebuke but graciously instructs him (Matthew 19:28-29 ). The “regeneration” here means the renewal of the earth when the Kingdom is finally set up (Romans 3:18-25 ).

The Kingdom will be administered over Israel through the apostles according to the ancient theocratic judgeship (Judges 2:28). But the promise holds something for all the faithful as well as the apostles (Matthew 19:29 ). The meaning of Matthew 19:30 is illuminated by the parable of the laborers in the next chapter which was uttered “to keep the disciples from a spirit of self- righteousness.” God will give rewards in that day as may seem best to Him. They are not the legal outcome of our works even as saved sinners, but the expression of God’s grace. We should be careful in the interpretation of parables not to seek a meaning or application of every detail, for in doing so we are as apt to teach error as truth.


1. What distinction is made between the first and second announcements of Christ’s death?

2. Paraphrase the story of the miracle of the tribute money.

3. How has the latter part of Matthew 18:10 been interpreted?

4. To whom do we understand the power of Matthew 18:18 to be granted?

5. Where is Jesus at the beginning of chapter 19, and thereafter?

6. What is the Lord’s teaching about divorce?

7. What lesson may be learned from Matthew 19:13-15 ?

8. What is the main lesson taught by the incident of the rich young ruler?

9. Explain the proverb “the eye of the needle.”

10. What does “regeneration” mean in Matthew 19:28 ?

11. What is the main teaching of the laborers in the vineyard?

12. Of what are we to be careful in the interpretation of parables?

Verses 17-34


With this third announcement our Lord has indicated the three classes of His foes, the leaders of His nation in the first announcement, one of the twelve in the second, and now the Roman Gentiles (Matthew 20:17-19 ).

The ambitious request of James and John (Matthew 20:20-28 ), is in keeping with the selfishness previously expressed by Peter. The immediate occasion for the request is found in our Lord’s words which they had misunderstood (Matthew 20:19-28 ). The gentleness of Jesus (Matthew 20:22 ) is as marked as in the other case. His “cup” stood for all the agony of the Cross, how could they drink it? Not the bodily agony merely, but that experienced in the withdrawal of His Father’s face. They would indeed be partakers of His suffering in one sense (Matthew 20:23 ), not that from the side of God but from the side of man (Colossians 1:24 ; Philippians 3:10 ; 1 Peter 2:21 ), but their place in the Kingdom when it should be set up, must be determined by the Father. Of course, the subjection He here expresses towards the Father, is not that of His divine nature, which was co-equal with the Father, but His human nature. It is as the glorified man at the head of the Kingdom He now speaks (1 Corinthians 15:27-28 ; Philippians 2:9-11 ). The indignation of the ten against the two was not because of the latter’s presumption towards the Lord, but because of the advantage they were seeking over them. The ten, in other words, were as selfish as the two; hence the rebuke and instruction following, for all.

The healing of the two blind men (Matthew 20:29-34 ) recalls the instance of Matthew 9:27-31 , but it is not the same. Mark 10:46 and Luke 18:35 mention but one man and the common explanation is that there were two miracles of the kind connected with this visit to Jericho, one as Christ entered and the other as He left the city. But some account for this seeming discrepancy in another way. For example, as son of David and heir to the throne, Christ was soon to be presented to Jerusalem, and ere this takes place He has the testimony of two witnesses that He is the Son of David, which was necessary according to the law. This they think, is the reason why two blind men are mentioned exclusively in Matthew’s Gospel which is the Gospel of the Kingdom.

The entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11 ), which took place on the first day of the last week of our Lord’s earthly life, is His formal offer of Himself to the nation as their King. This was necessary to His formal rejection by the nation, and is established by His fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 . This allusion to Zechariah’s words would mark Him as an impostor or else their true Messiah. The leaders of the nation regard Him in the former light; and even the multitude, though they at first acclaimed Him as “the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9 ), in their cooler judgment settled on the simpler title of 5:11, and afterwards took up the cry “Crucify Him!”

This is the second time Jesus cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12-17 ), the first near the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-16 ). It becomes a foreshadowing of His second coming to fulfill Malachi 3:3 , the necessity for which appears in Daniel 9:27 ; Matthew 24:15 ff.; 1 Thessalonians 3:4 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:8 . How different the scene in Matthew 21:14 , type of that which shall follow also in that day when He comes again to Israel! The language of the chief priests and scribes (Matthew 21:15 ) accentuates the rejection of Him manifested all along. Psalms 8:0 , which Jesus quotes, is Messianic, and His use of it is a further asserveration of His claim to be that Promised One. Bethany, the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, was His abiding place during this week (Matthew 21:17 ).

The barren fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22 ) stands for the nation of Israel. On seeing the leaves of profession, He had a right to expect fruit, but there was nothing on it for Him, though He hungered. Comparing Zechariah 4:7 , a mountain is used in Scripture to represent a large or difficult undertaking, in which sense probably it is here used (Matthew 21:21 ). If Israel at this time was a mountain in the way of the gospel, it could be removed, as it was removed, by faith, and cast into the sea of the nations.

The climax is nearing. As the nation had rejected the Messiah, so now the Messiah rejects the nation in the parables following: the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32 ); the Householder (Matthew 21:33-46 ); the Marriage of the King’s Son (Matthew 22:1-14 ). The immediate occasion for them is in Matthew 22:23-27 another attack of the leaders. They were incensed at His action in the Temple on the previous day and the words He then spake against them. Behold the divine wisdom with which He now deals with them, silencing them utterly!

The first of these parables is interpreted by our Lord Himself. The second requires no extended comment. God is the householder, Israel the vineyard, the leaders of the nation the husbandmen, the servants the holy prophets, the son Christ Himself. The chief priests and the Pharisees are condemned out of their own mouths (Matthew 22:41 ). The next verse is a quotation from Psalms 118:0 , which is Messianic. Christ as the “Stone” is revealed in a three-fold way. To Israel He was a stumblingblock and rock of offense, for He came to them not as a monarch but in the form of a servant (Isaiah 8:0 ; Isaiah 14-15; Romans 9:32-33 ; 1 Corinthians 1:23 ; 1 Peter 2:8 ). To the church He is the foundation-stone and head of the corner (1 Corinthians 3:11 ; Ephesians 2:20-22 ; 1 Peter 2:4-5 ). To the Gospel world-powers, He is the smiting stone of destruction (Daniel 2:3-4 ). The Kingdom would not be given to that generation which had rejected Christ, but to the faithful remnant in the latter days.

The third parable foreshadows more than the other two, as it brings in the Gentiles ivy. 8-10). Verse 3 applies to the offer of the Kingdom made to Israel up to the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. Verse 4 perhaps applies to the renewed offer down to the time of its further rejection in the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:0 ). Read especially Acts 3:19-21 . Verse 7 applies to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A.D. 70. Verses 8-10 apply to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles beginning with Peter at Acts 10:0 . The man without the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11-12 ) may mean the mere professor in Christendom. “Many are called,” and make this outward profession, but “few are chosen,” in the sense that they really accept and put on Christ as their righteousness.


1. How did Christ distinguish His foes in connection with the announcement of His death and resurrection?

2. What spirit was evinced by James and John?

3. What dispensational meaning is attachable to the healing of the two blind men?

4. To what was Christ’s entry into Jerusalem equivalent?

5. What does His cleansing of the Temple foreshadow?

6. Of what is the barren fig tree a type?

7. How would you interpret 21:21?

8. Name the three parables in which our Lord rejects the nation.

9. Name the three ways in which Christ is revealed as the “Stone.”

10. Apply the parable of the marriage feast dispensationally.

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/matthew-20.html. 1897-1910.
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