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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

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Verses 1-11

The Entry Into Jerusalem

They are approaching Jerusalem. The entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of the last week of the Lord’s life on earth before the cross. The description of the events in this week is extensive. It takes up more than a quarter of this Gospel.

There is a stop at Bethphage, which lies on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is the mountain of Gethsemane, the mountain where Christ will go to heaven and where He will descend at His second coming, that is His return to the earth in power and majesty. From there He sends out two of His disciples. He tells them where to go. With His Divine omniscience He also tells them what they will find there. He also tells them what to do with the donkey and the colt. He also knows that there will be comments. Therefore He tells them what to answer. Then it will be clear to the owner and he will – not ‘give’, but – “send” the animals. The owner will agree to it and will gladly give them up. We see how the Lord works the situation and hearts.

This commission is necessary for the fulfilment of a prophecy which has been pronounced five hundred years ago (Zechariah 9:9). At the right time, the animals are ready for their share in the fulfilment. The owner is also immediately prepared to give them up. The donkey and foal will become the bearers of the Lord Jesus Who comes to His people as King. He does not come on horseback to judge (Revelation 19:11), but “gentle”. This is the message for “the daughter of Zion”. Zion is the name for Jerusalem as connected with grace, for Zion is the mountain that speaks of grace (Hebrews 12:22). “Foal” speaks of a new beginning.

The disciples obey. They go to the village that the Lord has appointed and act according to His command. When they come to Him with the animals, they put their clothes on the donkey as a tribute to Him. He accepts that tribute. Through the symbol of their clothes they make themselves available to carry Him.

Under the action of God’s Spirit, the large crowd also sets in motion. They too give the Lord Jesus their coats, not to sit on, but to ride over. The branches they cut from the trees are palm branches, a picture of victory. So they welcome their King. Unfortunately it is only an external whim, without depth. This will become clear when they will soon call for His death on the cross. Yet God works this tribute to His Son. The power of God influences the heart of the crowd. He cannot allow His Son to be rejected without having received this testimony.

In their greeting the crowd uses a verse from Psalm 118 (Psalms 118:26). In that psalm the thousand-year Sabbath is sung, that will be established by the Messiah when He will be recognized by His people. Unfortunately, their words go beyond their hearts. They wish He will rule, because they have already received so much blessing from Him, but they are blind to the state of sin in which they find themselves.

When the Lord has entered the city of Jerusalem as King, the sixty-nine (year) weeks which was spoken to Daniel are fulfilled (Daniel 9:25). After these sixty-nine weeks the seventieth week of the year could begin, about which Daniel was also spoken to (Daniel 9:24), that is to say the kingdom of peace. But, as also was spoken to Daniel, the Messiah is rejected (Daniel 9:26). As a result, the seventieth (year) week could not be fulfilled at that time. That week has been postponed because that week will also be fulfilled.

The presence of Christ and His whole performance at His coming to Jerusalem causes turmoil and curious questions about His Person. It is felt that He is the Prophet. By this they mean the Prophet announced by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). And He is. At the same time there is unbelief in who He really is. For them he is nothing more than “Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee”, a man from Nazareth. They have no eye for the fact that “His origins are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). If He is nothing more than a prophet, their faith is fatally lacking, for that faith does not lead them to acknowledge their sins of departure from God.

Verses 12-17

The Cleansing of the Temple

In Jerusalem the Lord goes to the temple, the center of their religion. He proves His royal power by cleansing it. Without any restraint He drives everyone and everything out of the temple, His house.

The Lord Jesus cleansed the temple twice. The first time we read about it in the Gospel according to John. There He does so even before He begins His public ministry (John 2:13-Esther :). The zeal for the honor of the house of His Father drives Him. There is also the proof that He rejects them because they have rejected Him. This is certain from the beginning of that Gospel: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).

Now, standing just before the end of His earthly journey, He cleanses the temple once more. He acts on the basis of the Word. He saw the abuse of God’s house, which he called “My house” according to the quote (Isaiah 56:7). In Him we see Yahweh acting. It is His house. People should come there who are in need of and seek God’s help. However, the Jews turned it into a trading house. They want to benefit from it themselves. In this way they have made it a robbers’ den (Jeremiah 7:11). They rob God of his due. Through the presence of the Son of God, the temple becomes, after having cleansed it, a house of mercy where people come to Him with their misery. And He helps them.

This is not to the liking of the chief priests and scribes who have their own ideas about the temple, about Christ, about His miracles, and about children singing His praises in the temple. These people reveal again their resistance to Him. They can only criticize. They find every tribute to Him misplaced. They want to receive honor from people themselves. They dare to ask Him if He understands what the children are saying. He answers that He certainly hears it and appeals to the Scriptures. From what He cites from Scripture, it becomes clear that He is Yahweh (Psalms 8:3).

The Lord does not wait for their reaction. He has finished talking with them. He does not want to spend the night in Jerusalem, but with people who gladly receive Him. Indeed, Martha and Mary and Lazarus live in Bethany.

Verses 18-22

The Fig Tree Cursed

The Lord returns to Jerusalem early in the morning. He is hungry. He is fully Man – but without sin (Hebrews 4:15) – and needs sleep and also food and drink. So when he sees a fig tree, he goes to it to eat of its fruit. When He comes to the tree, He finds only leaves on it, and no fruit. Then He curses the tree. The tree withers immediately. Such a tree that, by the presence of the leaves, gives the promise that there is fruit to be found, but whose appearance is deceiving, is a tree that arouses His wrath.

The curse of the tree can only have a symbolic meaning. In this one miracle of judgment that the Lord has performed during His life on earth, we see the judgment of Israel in the flesh. The fig tree is a symbol of Israel. As a nation, there is nothing with them to be found for God that He could use. It is a picture of man in the flesh with all the privileges, but which does not produce fruit for the farmer.

Israel possesses all outer forms, “leaves”, of religion. It is zealous for the law and the statutes, but does not bear fruit for God. And in so far as it is given responsibility for bearing fruit, that is, under the old covenant, it will also never bear fruit. The curse of the tree has a direct result because there is no hope of recovery.

The disciples are amazed at the direct effect of His words. Despite the fact that they have already seen so many of His miracles, they do not yet realize Who He is in Himself. In His answer the Lord does not point to His Divine omnipotence, but to their faith. If they face a mountain of difficulties, without doubt, in faith, they will be able to move this mountain.

The mountain also symbolizes the entire Jewish system that will merge into the sea of nations, as happened and as it still is today. Faith places the Jewish system where God has placed it. The Lord connects to this the promise that they will receive everything they ask for in prayer with faith. What the Lord says must be read in the context in which it stands. It is a system that prevents the unfolding of Divine grace. Through prayer we will be able to overcome human reasoning and remove this obstacle to living by grace.

Verses 23-27

The Authority of the Lord

This is where the chief priests and elders begin a dispute with the Lord. In the following section, we find more disputes. In these disputes the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees and a lawyer also come to speak with cunning questions, all of which through His answers have no rebuttal. The Lord concludes the disputes with a question to them concerning His own Person (Matthew 22:41-1 Corinthians :).

Apparently, the different classes of people come to judge Him or embarrass Him. In reality, all appear before Him, one after the other, to hear God’s judgment of themselves. He reveals their true condition.

The temple is His dwelling place, His home. He teaches there. In this place, the religious leaders of the people come to Him with a question about His authority. It is not a fair question, but a question to dispute His authority. It is the question about the authority that they moderate themselves and deny Him. However audacious it is to ask Him about His authority since His authority is impossible to deny.

Those who must lead the people deny His authority. They set themselves as judges. The question “by what authority are You doing these things?” is enquiring about His authority. The question “who gave You this authority” is important to them, for they have not given this authority to Him. He is not qualified by them.

The Lord asks a question in return. His questions always aim to shed the true light on a matter. In this way, He wants to teach the enquirer about his own position and also about the position that He Himself occupies. If the person asking the question were to acknowledge this, it would mean new life for him.

He makes their assessment of the service of John and in particular his baptism the test question for their conscience. If they gave an honest answer, they would also have a proper assessment of His service. For John was His forerunner and announced His coming and pointed Him out. His opponents realize this and discuss what response each answer to the question concerned would provoke. Again, it becomes clear that they are not honest.

The Lord’s question does not appeal to miracles or prophecy, but to their conscience. In their discussion there is no place for God and therefore their answer is false and wrong. If God is not the Object, then the ‘self’ is the idol. They don’t want to say: “From heaven”, because then they really should have believed him. And they definitely do not want that. If their answer would be: “From men”, they would lose their credibility with the crowds. And the honor of the people is precisely what they are after.

Their answer “we do not know” is the result of self-confidence and fear of man. It shows that they are not competent to ask the question about His authority. There is no point in answering their question. With their answers they admit that they are blind leaders.

Verses 28-32

Parable of Two Sons

The Lord takes the initiative by asking them a question in the form of a parable. The vineyard is a picture of Israel under the law (Isaiah 5:7). With this parable the Lord shows that the spiritual leaders of the people are further away from God than those of the people they most despise.

The parable is about a man with two children. They are each instructed to work in the vineyard, but not at the same time. First the one child gets that assignment. After an initial refusal he then goes because he repents of his refusal. Then the second child gets that assignment. He seems willing because he agrees that he will go. However, he does so with the words “I [will], sir!” This means that he sees his father as a ‘sir’ and has no relationship of love with him. His willingness is therefore only in appearances, because in the end he does not go.

Then the Lord Jesus asks who did his father’s will. To this the leaders give the right answer: “The first.” He makes it clear to them that this ‘first’ child represents people who first did not do God’s will. They lived in sin. It is these people who are repentant about their sins and are allowed to enter the kingdom of God before they do. In doing so, He equates the leaders with the second child who said to go into the vineyard, but did not do so.

Now the Lord refers back to His question about John and shows how important it is to believe in His message. John came to them “in the way of righteousness”, that is, he preached in accordance with the right of God, but they rejected him. With this, Christ has fully demonstrated their corrupt attitude toward Him and thus also the impossibility of judging His authority.

Verses 33-39

Parable of the Vine-Growers

The Lord continues His teaching. He adds another parable to it to make their position clear. With the words “listen to another parable” He commands that they should continue listening. This parable is not only about their behavior toward God as in the previous one, but also about God’s behavior toward them. Three charges against Israel come to light in this parable:
1. no fruit for God;
2. the abuse and killing of God’s slaves, the prophets;
3. the rejection and murder of the Son.

The presentation of all that the landowner does to his vineyard is based on the parable in which Israel is compared to a vineyard to which God has tried everything to make it produce fruit (Isaiah 5:1-Exodus :). In this we see the special favor of God for Israel. As those knowledgeable in the law, they must have recognized this.

When all the work with an eye to obtaining fruit has been done, the landowner rents out his vineyard to vine-growers. He himself goes abroad, but remains closely involved with his vineyard while abroad. He knows exactly when it is harvest time. At that time he sends his slaves to receive “his” fruits. The produce is his, it belongs to him.

But the vine-growers have no intention of giving the landowner his fruit. They see the landowner’s slaves as intruders on their property and act accordingly. One slave they beat, the other they kill and yet another is stoned by them. Because the landowner wants to receive fruit, he sends even more slaves. But when they come to the vine-growers, they suffer the same fate.

While the landowner knows what they have done with his slaves, he is making one last attempt to receive the fruits. He sees one more possibility to move the vine-growers to give him his fruits. He will send his son. They will certainly have respect for his son and spare him.

But what turns out to be the case? When the son appears, destruction and selfishness are expressed in the most terrible way imaginable. The vine-growers know that he is the heir. Because they want his inheritance themselves, they deny him his right to it. To make this evil scheme succeed, they decide that they will kill the heir. They turn words into action. They knowingly kill the heir, the son of the landowner and owner of the vineyard.

This is the end of the experiment with man. The question of his true condition has been answered. God’s attempts to get fruit out of His vineyard are over. The natural man has shown his complete hatred of God and what comes from Him. Further testing is useless. The situation is hopeless. What remains is judgment.

The presence of a Divine Person in love and goodness, a Man among men, ultimately only gives them the opportunity to insult God in the most wicked way. Now it appears fully that man is lost. The proof of man’s wickedness is undeniable.

Verses 40-46

Consequences of the Rejection

Finally, the owner of the vineyard comes himself. Then the question is not what the vine-growers will do with the landowner, but what the landowner will do with the vine-growers. The Lord Jesus asks the leaders this question. They know how to give the right answer. This answer makes it clear that they can give a morally correct answer, while at the same time being blind to the fact that with this answer they have passed judgment on themselves. They go even further by saying that the vineyard will be given to others who will deliver the fruits in their time. That also happened, namely when the salvation went to the nations.

The Lord refers to the Scriptures they know so well. The conduct of the vine-growers is clearly revealed in their own Scriptures. He applies Psalm 118 to the parable he has just pronounced (Psalms 118:22-Isaiah :). The son is the stone, the vine-growers are the builders. Just as the vine-growers rejected the son, so the builders rejected the stone. But God made it so that the rejected stone becomes the most important stone of the building. This is something no one could think of; only He could think of it.

It is therefore marvelous in the eyes of the faithful remnant in the end times, about which this psalm speaks. It is an astonishment that they will pronounce as a confession in the end times when they see Him they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10).

The Lord continues with the effect of the parable, and follows the judgment they themselves have made in their answer to His question (Matthew 21:41). “The kingdom of God” is taken from them, for that is present in His Person (Luke 17:21). He does not say that the kingdom of heaven will be taken from them, for they did not have it. The Lord Himself will depart from them.

He is the touchstone for every human being. All who fall on Him shall be broken to pieces. The leaders are such people. They have fallen on this stone, they have fallen over it, they have stumbled over it because they despised it. Therefore in the last days the stone will fall upon the rebellious people and scatter them like dust. This will happen when Christ returns to earth (cf. Daniel 2:34-Habakkuk :).

It is clear to the leaders that the Lord Jesus refers to them in His parables. That’s why they try to seize Him, but at the same time they think of the favor of the people they don’t want to lose. As in Matthew 21:26, here too they are guided by their fear of people, their fear of losing the prestige they believe they have. Fear of the multitude restrain their deeds, as in Matthew 21:26 where this fear restrained their tongue.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/matthew-21.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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