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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verses 1-17

(From Bethany to Jerusalem and back, Sunday, April 2, A. D. 30.)
aMATT. XXI. 1-12, 14-17; bMARK XI. 1-11; cLUKE XIX. 29-44; dJOHN XII. 12-19.

c29 And d12 On the morrow [after the feast in the house of Simon the leper] cit came to pass, when he he drew nigh unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, a1 And when they came nigh unto [572] Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage unto {bat} athe mount of Olives [The name, Bethphage, is said to mean house of figs, but the derivation is disputed. Canon Cook and others think that the region on the eastern slope of Olivet was called Bethphage, and that Bethany was located in it. If it was a village, all trace of it has long since vanished, and it is not worth while to give the guesses and surmises of commentators as to its location. But it was evidently near Bethany], then Jesus sent {bsendeth} two of his {cthe} disciples, b2 and saith {a2 saying} unto them, cGo your way into the village [probably Bethphage, for Jesus started from Bethany] athat is over against you, band straightway as ye enter into it, aye shall find an ass tied, and a colt btied, awith her: bwhereon no man ever sat; loose him, {athem,} band bring him. {athem} unto me. [Numerous Scripture references show that the ass was held in high estimation in the East. The sons of the judges used them, and David’s mule was used at the coronation of Solomon ( Judges 10:4, 1 Kings 1:33). It is specifically stated that no man had ever sat upon this colt, for if the colt had been used by men it would have been unfit for sacred purposes-- Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3, 1 Samuel 6:7.] 3 And if any one say aught unto you, 31; cAnd if any one ask you, {bsay unto you,} Why do ye this? cWhy do ye loose him? thus shall ye say, The Lord hath need of him. {athem;} band straightway he will send him. {athem.} bback hither. [The owner of the ass was no doubt a disciple or well-wisher of Jesus, and therefore readily consented to respond to the Master’s need. Such a well-wisher might readily be found in a multitude ready to lay their garments in the road to honor Christ. The words "send him back" are usually construed to be a promise on the part of Christ that he would return the colt when through with him. But such a promise seems rather out of keeping with the dignity of the occasion. We prefer to construe the words as referring to the movements of Christ’s two messengers from the neighborhood of Bethany to Bethphage and back again, or to a backward [573] movement along the caravan’s line of march.] a4 Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 Tell ye the daughter of Zion [the poetical name for the city of Jerusalem], Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass. [The prophecy is a combination of Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9. This is the only instance in which Jesus rode. He entered in meekness, for the ass was a symbol of peace as the horse was of war ( Job 39:19-25), but there was nothing degrading about riding such a beast. The Eastern ass is smaller, but livelier, and better framed than the specimens found in our country. They constituted a chief asset in the property of the wealthy-- Genesis 12:16, Genesis 30:43, Job 42:12, 1 Chronicles 27:30, 1 Kings 1:38.] 6 And the disciples {cthey} that were sent away, aand did even as Jesus appointed them, cand found even as he had said unto them ba colt tied at the door without in the open street [the streets being narrow, one would very seldom see an ass tied in one]; and they loose him. c33 And as they were loosing the colt, bcertain of them that stood there cthe owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? bWhat do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had said: and they let them go. 7 And they bring {abrought} the ass, and the colt, {chim} bunto Jesus, aand put on them their garments [The garments were the loose cloaks worn over the tunics or shirts. This cloak survives in the abba or hyke of the modern Arab. The unbroken colt would of course have no saddle, and these loyal disciples lent their cloaks to supply the deficiency, and to do Jesus royal honor. Compare the enthronement of Jehu ( 2 Kings 9:13). They prepared both beasts, not knowing which he would choose to ride]; cand they threw {bcast} ctheir garments upon the colt, and set Jesus thereon. aand he sat thereon. {bupon him.} da great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to [574] Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees, and went forth to meet him [Palm-trees were never abundant in Palestine, but there were many around Jericho, through which city these Galilean pilgrims had so recently come. They were date palms, the leaves of which were often ten feet in length. They are now comparatively rare, but are found in the plains of Philistia. The palm branch is emblematic of triumph and victory-- Leviticus 23:40, Revelation 7:9; I. Macc. xiii. 51; II. Macc. x. 7], and cried out, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel [The shouting appears to have been started by those who came out of Jerusalem; it is evident, therefore, that the apostles who were approaching the city with Jesus had nothing to do with inciting this praise.] 14 And Jesus having found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, 15 Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. 16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. [The apostles were not conscious that the prophecies were being fulfilled nor did they understand that Jesus was approaching a heavenly rather than an earthly coronation. But after Jesus was glorified, their understandings were spiritually illuminated ( John 16:13). They not only remembered the prophecy, but saw in what sense it was that Jesus was king, and how badly mistaken they had been when they expected him to antagonize the Romans. The greatness of her king would have removed all cause for fear if Jerusalem had but accepted him.] 17 The multitude therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, bare witness. [The two parts of the miracle--the calling and the raising--are both mentioned as alike impressive, sublime, and wonderful.] 18 For this cause also the multitude went and met him, for that they heard that he had done this sign. [It is evident from this that the testimony of those who [575] witnessed the raising of Lazarus had enthused the pilgrims in Jerusalem and had sent a large band of them forth charged with that ardent admiration which produced the shouting of the triumphal entry.] 19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Behold how ye prevail nothing: lo, the world is gone after him. [Again, as at John 11:47-49, we notice the self-confessed impotency of the Pharisees, but the Sadducees, under the determined and more resolute leadership of Caiaphas, did not participate in this despair. The Pharisees speak of the world as if its acquisition by Jesus was their loss.] c36 And as he went, athe most part of the multitude {bmany} [Matthew would have us know that the demonstration was no small affair, but was well-nigh universal. Josephus estimates that the number present at one passover was three million, or about one-half the population of Judæa and Galilee. The language of the Pharisees in 1 Corinthians 1:26.] c37 And as he was now drawing nigh, even at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen [John has shown us just above that the raising of Lazarus was most prominent in their thoughts]; a9 The multitudes that went before him, and that followed [Jesus approached the city leading a multitude of pilgrims, and we have seen from John’s account above that another multitude came out of the city to meet him: Jesus approached the city between two great multitudes.] cried, saying, bHosanna [This is the Greek form or spelling of two Hebrew words, Hoshiah-na, which means, Save now, or, Save, I pray, na being a particle of entreaty added to imperatives. The two words are taken from Psalms 118:25, which was recognized as the Messianic Psalm. The shout "Hosanna" was customarily used at the feast of the tabernacles and the other festivals. It was a shout of exaltation about equivalent to "Salvation"]; aHosanna to the Son of David [see Psalms 118:26]; cblessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: b10 blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David: cpeace in heaven, and glory in the highest. aHosanna in the highest. [This phrase is taken to mean in the highest degree or highest strains or in the highest heavens. It is likely they were calling upon heaven to participate in glorifying and to ratify their shouts of salvation. The Evangelists give us the various cries of the multitude, for they did not all cry one thing. The cries, if seriously construed, were a fore-recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus, but popular cries are soon caught up and are as fickle as the impulses which beget them. But the public recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus gave [577] weight to the accusation made by Simon Peter on the day of Pentecost that they had slain the Messiah-- Acts 2:36. Comp. Acts 3:14, Acts 3:15.] c39 And some of the Pharisees from the multitude [not a committee sent from Jerusalem for that purpose] said unto him, Teacher, rebuke thy disciples. [It is possible that these may have been moved with an honest fear that the enthusiasm of the people would call down the vengeance of the Romans ( John 11:48), but it is more likely that they were prompted solely by envy.] 40 And he answered and said, I tell you that, if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out. [The expression is probably proverbial ( Habakkuk 2:11). The meaning is that the occasion of the great King’s visit to his city ( Matthew 5:35) was so momentous that, if man withheld his praise, inanimate nature would lend its acclamations.] 41 And when he drew nigh, he saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. [The summit of Olivet is two hundred feet higher than the nearest part of the city of Jerusalem and a hundred feet higher than its farthest part, so that the Lord looked upon the whole of it as one looks upon an open book. As he looked upon it he realized the difference between what his coming might mean to it and what it did mean to it; between the love and gratitude which his coming should have incited and the hatred and violence which it did incite; between the forgiveness, blessing and peace which he desired to bring it and the judgment, wrath and destruction which were coming upon it. The vision of it all excited strong emotion, and the verb used does not indicate silent tears, but audible sobbing and lamentation. The day then passing was among the last before the crucifixion, which would present to the Jews a strong motive for repentance. Had Jerusalem hearkened unto Jesus then, he would have saved her from that self-exaltation which proved her ruin. But bigotry and prejudice blinded her eyes.] 43 For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, [578] and keep thee in on every side. [from where Jesus then stood he could see the houses which were to be thrown down, he could locate the embankments which would be built, and he could trace almost every foot of the line of the wall by which Titus in his anger girdled the city when his embankments were burned--Jos. Wars V. 6. 2, 11. 4-6, 12. 1, 2], 44 and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee [the city is figuratively spoken of as a mother, and her citizens as her children]; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. [The term "visitation" usually refers to a season of judgment, but here, as elsewhere also ( Exodus 4:31), it means a season of grace. To not leave one stone upon another is a proverbial expression descriptive of a complete demotion, but in the overthrow of Jerusalem it was well-nigh literally fulfilled. Thus, while the people rejoiced in the present triumph, the prophetic eye and ear of our Lord beheld the judgments which were coming upon the city, heard the bitter cry of the starved defenders during the siege, the screams of the crucified left to perish upon their crosses after its capture, all ending in the final silence of desolation when not one stone was left upon another.] b11 And he entered into Jerusalem [his route led him down the steep face of Olivet, past Gethsemane, across the stone bridge which spans the Kedron, and up the slope of Moriah to the eastern gate of the city], a10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, Who is this? 11 And the multitude said, This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee. 12 And Jesus entered into the temple of God [here Matthew tells of the cleansing of the temple, which evidently occurred the next day], 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children that were crying in the temple and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, 16 and said unto him, Hearest thou what [579] these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; did ye never read [ Psalms 8:2 as rendered by the LXX.], Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? [Matthew mingles this scene with events which apparently occurred on Monday, but the enthusiasm and the Hosanna cry evidently belonged to the triumphant Sunday. The presence of our Lord in the temple should, indeed, have been heralded with joy, for as that was the day in which the paschal lamb was presented and set apart, it was fitting that Christ our passover should be presented there amidst rejoicing.] band when he had looked round about upon all things, it being now eventide. [a general expression covering the period both before and after sunset], ahe left them, and went forth out of the city bunto Bethany with the twelve aand lodged there. [Having inspected the temple as his Father’s house, Jesus withdrew from it, for in the present state of rancor which fermented within his enemies it was not safe for him to spend the night within Jerusalem.]

[FFG 572-580]

Verses 12-19

(Road from Bethany and Jerusalem. Monday, April 4, A. D. 30.)
aMATT. XXI. 18, 19, 12, 13; bMARK XI. 12-18; cLUKE XIX. 45-48.

b12 And a18 Now bon the morrow [on the Monday following the triumphal entry], ain the morning bwhen they were come out from Bethany, aas he returned to the city [Jerusalem], he hungered. [Breakfast with the Jews came late in the forenoon, and these closing days of our Lord’s ministry were full of activity that did not have time to tarry at Bethany for it. Our Lord’s hunger implies that of the disciples also.] 19 And seeing a fig tree by the way side, bafar off having leaves, ahe came to it, bif haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, [580] he afound nothing but leaves only; bfor it was not the season of figs. [Two varieties of figs are common in Palestine. The bicura or boccore, an early fig with large green leaves and with fruit which ripens in May or June, and sometimes earlier near Jerusalem. Thomson found ripe fruit of this variety as early as May in the mountains of Lebanon, a hundred fifty miles north of Jerusalem, and Professor Post, of Beyrut, states that fig-trees there have fruit formed as early as February, which is fully ripe in April. The second variety is the summer fig or kermus. This ripens its main crop in August, but its later fruitage often hangs on all winter when the weather is mild, dropping off when the new spring leaves come. As the fruit usually appears before the leaves, the leaves were a promise that fruit might be found, and the fruit, though not perfectly ripe, is considered edible when the leaves are developed. Though it was too early for fruit, it was also too early for leaves. The tree evidently had an unusually favorable position. It seemed to vaunt itself by being in advance of the other trees, and to challenge the wayfarer to come and refresh himself.] 14 And he answered and said {asaith} unto it, Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever. bNo man eat fruit of thee henceforward for ever. And his disciples heard it. aAnd immediately the fig tree withered away. [The disciples did not pause to watch the effect of Christ’s words upon the tree. But from the degree to which it had shriveled when they saw it next day it became evident to them that it had begun to wither as soon as Christ had finished uttering its sentence. Our Lord here performed a miracle of judgment unlike any other of his wonderful works. The reader can hardly fail to note how perfectly this fig-tree, in its separation from the other trees, its showy pretensions, its barrenness of results and its judgment typifies the Jewish people. In fact, Christ’s treatment of it appears in some respects to be a visible and practical application of the principles which he had formerly set forth in a parable ( Luke 13:6-9). But we must not too confidently make such an application of the parable since Jesus himself gave [581] no hint that he intended us so to apply it.] b15 And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out aall them that sold band them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold the doves [three years before, Jesus had thus cleansed the temple at the first passover of his ministry, for an account of which see Matthew 12:29, Luke 17:31. The LXX. uses it as equivalent to "instruments of war" at Deuteronomy 1:41, and to "vestments" at Deuteronomy 22:5.] 17 And he taught, and said {asaith} c46 Saying unto them, It is written [the prophecy cited is a combination of Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11], {bIs it not written,} cAnd my house shall be {bshall be called} a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made {aye make} it a den of robbers. [The caves in certain sections of Palestine have been immemorially infested with robbers, and Jesus, because of the injustice of extortion practiced by the merchants, likens the polluted temple to such a den. The dickering and chafing and market talk were probably not unlike the grumbling and quarreling of thieves as they divide the booty.] b18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, c47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him: 48 and they could not find what they might do; for the people all hung upon him, listening bfor all the people was astonished at his teaching. [Overawed by the magnitude [582] of the popular demonstration made on Sunday, the Jewish rulers feared to attempt any violent measures in dealing with Jesus. But they neglected no opportunity by appeals to Jesus himself, by treacherous questions, etc., to divert the popular favor from the Lord that they might put him to death.]

[FFG 580-583]

Verses 20-22

(Road from Bethany to Jerusalem, Tuesday, April 4, A. D. 30.)
aMATT. XXI. 20-22; bMARK XI. 19-25; cLUKE XXI. 37, 38.

c37 And every day he was teaching in the temple [he was there Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but he seems to have spent Wednesday and Thursday in Bethany]; and every night {bevening} he went forth out out of the city. cand lodged in the mount that is called Olivet. [As Bethany was on the Mount of Olives, this statement leaves us free to suppose that he spent his nights there, but it is not likely that he retired to any one house or place continuously, for had he done so the rulers could easily have ascertained his whereabouts and arrested him.] 38 And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, to hear him. [The enthusiasm of the triumphal entry did not die out in a day: Jesus was still the center of observation.] b20 And as they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away from the roots. [It was completely withered--dead root and branch. We have observed before, James 4:2, James 4:3), or which it is unwise for us to seek ( 2 Corinthians 12:7-9), nor must we selfishly run counter to the will of God ( Luke 22:42, 1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15), nor must we expect that God shall perform a miracle for us, for miracles have ceased--in short, we [584] must pray to God in full remembrance of the relationship between us, we must consider that he is the Ruler and we his subjects, and are not to think for one moment that by faith we can alter this eternal, unchangeable relation. 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. As we to-day look back upon this promise of Christ we can see that the mountains then standing have, indeed, been removed; and that which seemed vigorous and flourishing has been blasted in a day.] b25 And whensoever ye stand [a customary attitude-- Luke 18:13] praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. [Forgiveness has already been enjoined (see pp. 253, 254). Here our Lord emphasizes the need of forgiveness because he had just performed a miracle of judgment, and he wished his disciples to understand that they must not exercise their miraculous gifts with a vengeful, unforgiving spirit. They must suffer evil and not retaliate with miracles of judgment.] [585]

[FFG 583-585]

Verses 23-27

(In the Court of the Temple. Tuesday, April 4, A. D. 30.)
Subdivision A.
aMATT. XXI. 23-27; bMARK XI. 27-33; cLUKE XX. 1-8.

c1 And it came to pass, on one of the days, bthey [Jesus and the disciples] come again to Jerusalem: a23 And when he was come into the temple, band as he was walking in the temple [The large outer court of the temple, known as the court of the Gentiles, was thronged during the feasts, and was no doubt the part selected by Jesus and his apostles when they taught or preached in the temple. We thrice find them on that side of it where Solomon’s porch was located-- John 10:23, Acts 3:11, Acts 5:23], cas he was teaching the people and preaching the gospel [viz.: "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye"-- Mark 1:15], there came upon him {bcome aunto him} bthe chief priests and the scribes, and {cwith} the elders; {aof the people} [the Sanhedrin (see John 10:24.] a24 And Jesus answered and said unto them, cI also will ask you a {aone} question, which if ye tell me, band answer me, aI likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? bWas it from heaven, or from men? answer me. [The question which Jesus asked was intimately and inseparably connected with the question which they had asked. Jesus, of course, did not derive his authority from John the Baptist, but John had testified plainly to the Messiahship of Jesus, and had, in no uncertain terms, designated Jesus as immeasurably greater than himself. Now, if the Pharisees admitted that John was a heaven-sent messenger or witness (of which fact his baptism was propounded as a test, since it was a religious ordinance introduced on his authority), then John had already answered the Sanhedrin that Jesus derived his authority from his Messiahship, and hence, all that the Sanhedrin had to do to satisfy their minds was simply to believe John. But if, on the other hand, the Pharisees rejected John’s pretensions and claims as a heaven-sent messenger in the face of the almost universal popular conviction, then what was there for Jesus to present his claims to so blind, bigoted, and unreasoning a body?] 31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, aunto us, Why then did ye not believe him? [When he testified to the Messiahship of Jesus ( John 1:7, John 1:15, John 1:34, John 3:26-36, John 10:40-42). The Sanhedrin could not admit that the messenger was heaven-sent and yet deny his testimony.] 26 But if we shall {bshould we} say, From men-- call the people will stone us: awe fear the multitude; for all hold John as a prophet. cfor they are persuaded that John was a prophet. bthey feared the people: for all verily held John to be a prophet. 33 And they answered [587] Jesus cthat they knew not whence it was. aand said, {bsay,} We know not. [It should be noted in their consultation there was no effort either to ascertain or to speak the truth. The question as to whether John really was or was not a prophet was in no sense the subject of their investigation. They were merely deciding what to say. They were seeking for the most expedient answer, and as neither truthful answer was expedient, they resolved to falsely deny any knowledge of the case. Men of such brazen dishonesty could not be dealt with openly and fairly as could sincere seekers after truth.] And Jesus, aalso said {bsaith} unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. [Their spoken lie was, "We know not," but their inward and true answer was, "We will not tell," and Jesus answered the suppressed truth saying, "Neither tell I." How readily the subtle minds of the Jewish people would justify Jesus in thus declining to submit the question of his authority to judges who at that very moment publicly confessed their inability to even hazard an opinion, much less render a decision, as to the authority of John the Baptist, who claims were in popular estimation so obvious. It was plain that however well these men might judge human credentials, the divine testimonials of a prophet or of the Messiah were above their carnal sphere. Thus Jesus put his enemies to confusion in the first of man conflicts of that perilous Tuesday. But we may well imagine that they were rendered more bitter by the evidence of a wisdom so much beyond any which they possessed.]

[FFG 586-588]

Verses 28-32

(In the Court of the Temple. Tuesday, April 4, A. D. 30.)
Subdivision B.
aMATT. XXI. 28-32.

a28 But what think ye? [By these words Jesus put them on notice that he was about to propound something which would require an answer, and therefore demanding the [588] strictest attention.] A man had two sons [the two sons stand for the Jewish rulers and the Jewish common people]; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to-day in the vineyard. 29 And he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented himself, and went. [The common people made no special pretension to religious excellence, and the rulers regarded them as very careless about the will or law of their Father, God, and made disparaging contrasts between their own conduct and that of the people ( John 7:48, John 7:49). But this very same common people repented and did the will of God when they heard the preaching of John the Baptist-- Matthew 3:5, Matthew 3:6.] 30 And he came to the second [the rulers], and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. [The rulers, though all the while professing to be very zealous for the will of God, utterly refused to enter the kingdom or to work therein as God bade them to by the voice of John the Baptist-- Matthew 3:7-9.] 31 Which of the two did the will of his father? They say, The first. [They gave the true answer and did not perceive that in so doing they confirmed a parable which condemned themselves.] Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots [the very worst representatives of the common people] go into the kingdom of God before you. [Rather than you.] 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness [The term "righteousness," as Plumptre observes, seems used in a half-technical sense, as expecting the aspect of righteousness which the Pharisees themselves recognized ( Matthew 6:1), and which includes, as its three great elements, the almsgiving, fasting, and prayer that were so conspicuous both in the life and the teaching of the Baptist. Surely they could have presented its demands in a form more acceptable to the Jewish rulers], and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him. [The parable of this subdivision is [589] the outgrowth of the preceding subdivision. These rulers had demanded that Jesus show his authority for his assumption of right as teacher, prophet, etc. The parable is an indirect response to this demand, as if Jesus said, "It is in vain for me to tell you that I act under the authority of the Father, for despite all your great profession to the contrary, you really and actually, in your persistent rejection of another (the Baptist), who also acted under it, repudiate utterly his authority; though in so doing you see yourselves condemned by the conduct of even the publicans and harlots, who have felt the force of the Father’s authority, and have repentantly obeyed it." The situation must have given great force to the parable; for the rulers in their private conversation had just admitted to each other that the people recognized and obeyed the divine authority of John, while they, the rulers, rejected it.]

[FFG 588-590]

Verses 33-46

(In the Court of the Temple. Tuesday, April 4, A. D. 30.)
Subdivision C.
aMATT. XXI. 33-46; bMARK XII. 1-12; cLUKE XX. 9-19.

b1 And he began to speak unto them cthe people [not the rulers] bin parables. {cthis parable:} a33 Hear another parable: There was a man that was a householder [this party represents God], who planted a vineyard [this represents the Hebrew nationality], and set a hedge about it, and digged a bpit for the awinepress in it [The winepress consisted of two tub-shaped cavities dug in the rock at different levels, the upper being connected with the lower by an orifice cut through from its bottom. Grapes were placed in the upper cavity, or trough, and were trodden by foot. The juice thus squeezed from them ran through the orifice to the trough below, from which it was taken and stored in leather bottles until it fermented and formed wine], and built a tower [a place where watchmen could be stationed to protect the vineyard from thieves as the grapes ripened for the vintage], and let it out to husbandmen [the rulers are here [590] represented; and the rental was, as usual, a part of the fruits], and went into another country. cfor a long time. [Jesus frequently refers to this withdrawal of the visible presence of God from the world, always bringing out the point that the withdrawal tests faithfulness. God had come down upon Mt. Sinai, given the law and established the Hebrew nation, after which he had withdrawn. That had indeed been a long time ago; and for four hundred years before the appearance of John the Baptist, God had not even sent a messenger to demand fruit. Some think the hedge refers to the manner in which Palestine was protected by sea and desert and mountain, but the hedge and the winepress and the tower are mere parabolic drapery, for every man who planted a vineyard did all three.] a34 And when {cat} the season aof the fruits drew near, che sent unto the husbandmen a servant, {ahis servants} i. e., the prophets] cthat they should give him {bthat he might receive ato receive from the husbandmen} of the {ahis} bfruits of the vineyard. [ Luke 3:8--He expected the children of Israel to bring forth joy, love, peace, and all the other goodly fruit of a godly life. And he looked to those in authority to bring forth such results, and the prophets were sent to the rulers to encourage them to do this.] 3 And {cbut} the husbandmen btook him, and beat him, and sent him away empty, 4 And again he sent unto them cyet another servant: him also they beat, bwounded in his head, and handled shamefully. cand sent him away empty. b5 And he sent cyet banother; ca third: and him also they wounded, band him they killed: cand cast him forth. band many others; beating some, and killing some. a35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them in like manner. [For the treatment of the prophets, see such passages as 1 Kings 18:13, 1 Kings 22:24-27, 2 Kings 6:31, 2 Chronicles 24:19-22, 2 Chronicles 36:15, 2 Chronicles 36:16. For a summary of the treatment of the prophets or messengers of God, [591] see Hebrews 11:35-38.] 37 But b6 He had yet one, a beloved son: aafterward bhe sent him last unto them, c13 And the lord of the vineyard said, {bsaying,} cWhat shall I do? [ Isaiah 5:4.] I will send my beloved son; it may be they will reverence him. bThey will reverence my son. [The lord of the vineyard was thoroughly perplexed. The conduct of his husbandmen was outrageous beyond all expectation. He had no better servants to send them unless his only son should take upon him the form of a servant and visit them ( Philippians 2:5-8). Being tender and forgiving, and unwilling to resort to extreme measures, the lord of the vineyard resolved to thus send his son, feeling sure that the son would represent the person, authority and rights of the father so much better than any other messenger ( Hebrews 1:1-5, Hebrews 2:1-3), that it would be well-nigh impossible for the husbandmen to fail of reverence towards him. In striking contrast, however, with this expectation of the Father, the rulers, or the husbandmen, had just now harshly demanded of the Son that he tell by what authority he did anything in the vineyard.] a38 But the {bthose} ahusbandmen, when they saw {chim} athe son, cthey reasoned one with another, asaid among themselves, {csaying,} aThis is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance. cthat the inheritance may be ours. band the inheritance shall be ours. [In thus bringing the story down to the immediate present, and stating a counsel which his enemies had just spoken privately in each other’s ears, Jesus must have startled them greatly. He showed them, too, that those things which made them deem it necessary to kill him were the very things which proved his heirship. They regarded the Jewish nation as their property, and they were plotting to kill Jesus that they might withhold it from him ( John 12:19, John 11:47-50). That men might hope by such high-handed lawlessness to obtain a title to a vineyard seems incredible to us who have always been familiar with the even-balanced justice of constitutional government; but in the East the looseness of governments, the selfish apathy and lack [592] of public spirit among the people, and the corrupt bribe-receiving habits of the judges makes our Lord’s picture even to this day, though rather exceptional, still true to life. At this point Jesus turns from history to prophecy.] 8 And they took him, c15 And they cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him. [After two intervening days the Jews would fulfill this detail by thrusting Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem and crucifying him there.] a40 When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons. c16 [Jesus said] He will come and destroy these {bthe} husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. cAnd when they heard it, they said, God forbid. [Part of the multitude, hearing only the story, pronounced unhesitatingly the judgment which ought to be inflicted upon such evil-doers, and Jesus confirmed their judgment. But others, perceiving the meaning underlying the parable, shrank from accepting what would otherwise have been to them a very proper ending, and said, Mee genoito, which means literally, Be it not so, and which might properly be paraphrased by our emphatic "Never!" but which the revisers in translating have, with small warrant, seen fit to paraphrase by using the semi-profane expression, "God forbid." There are fourteen such mistranslations in the epistles of Paul according to the King James version and only one of them ( Galatians 6:14) is corrected in the Revised version. In defense of these translations it is asserted that the phrase is an idiomatic invocation of the Deity, but the case can not be made out, since the Deity is not addressed.] 17 But he looked upon them [Thus emphasizing the fact that they had repudiated a most just decree. His look, doubtless, resembled that of a parent surprised at the outspoken rebellion of his children], and a42 Jesus saith {csaid,} aunto them, cWhat then is this that is written, b10 Have ye not read even this scripture: aDid ye never [593] read in the scriptures, cThe stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner? aThis was from the Lord, And it is marvellous in our eyes? [The quotation is from Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23, which is here by Jesus applied as a prophecy to the Pharisees, who, in their treatment of him, were like unskilled builders who reject the very corner-stone of the building which they seek to erect. The Pharisees were eager enough in their desire to set up a Messianic kingdom, but were so blindly foolish that they did not see that this kingdom could not be set up unless it rested upon Christ Jesus, its corner-stone. They blundered in constructing their theory of the coming kingdom, and could find no room for one such as Jesus in it.] 43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44 And he {c18 Every one} athat falleth on this {cthat} astone shall be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust. [The stone, of course, represents Jesus, and the two fallings set forth his passive and active state. In the day when he passively submitted to be judged, those who condemned him were broken ( Matthew 27:3-5, Luke 23:48, Acts 2:37); but in the great day when he himself becomes the acting party and calls his enemies to judgment, they shall prefer, and pray, that a mountain fall upon them-- Revelation 6:15-17.] 45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees, c19 And the scribes aheard his parables, they csought to lay hands on him in that very hour, bfor they perceived that he aspake of them. bspake the {cthis} parable against them. a46 And when they sought to lay hands on him, cthey feared the people: {bmultitude; amultitudes,} because they took him for a prophet. band they left him, and went away. [Despite the warning which Jesus gave them that they were killing the Son and would reap the consequences, and despite the fact that he showed that the Psalm which the people had used so recently with regard to him foretold a great rejection which would prove to be a [594] mistake, yet the rulers persisted in their evil intention to take his life, and were only restrained by fear of the people, many of whom were Galilæans, men of rugged courage, ready to draw swords on Jesus’ behalf. Since they could neither arrest nor answer him, they withdrew as a committee, but returned again in the person of their spies.]

[FFG 590-595]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/matthew-21.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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