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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

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Verses 1-16

Mat 21:1-16

Public Entry into Jerusalem, Matthew 21:1-11.
(
Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19)

J.W. McGarvey

1. come to Bethphage.—Bethphage and Bethany were two villages on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, so close together that in coming to one Jesus came also to the other. (Comp. Luke 19:29.)

2, 3. The Lord has need of them.—If the owner of the ass and colt had been a stranger to Jesus, it would have been very unsatisfactory to give him as an excuse for taking away the animals, the statement that "The Lord has need of them." But Jesus foreknew both the person whose asses would be found at the designated place, and his willingness to let the disciples bring them to him.

4, 5. spoken by the prophet.—The quotation is from Zechariah 9:9, and its context shows clearly that it was written concerning the Messiah. Foreseeing the strange figure of a king riding in triumph into the capital city of his kingdom, not on a richly caparisoned steed and surrounded by pomp and glory, but on the colt of an ass, the last animal which vanity would choose for a grand display, the ass without a bridle and with no saddle but a man’s coat thrown across its back, the prophet exclaims, "Behold, thy King cometh to thee meek, sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass."

7. set him thereon.—More accurately, set him on them (ἐπνω ατων). "They put on them their clothes, and they set him on them." The last them must refer to the clothes, for they could not set Jesus on both the animals. They put the garments on both because they knew not which he would ride; but he chose the colt (Matthew 21:5; Mark 11:7.)

8. spread their garments.—The people were wild with delight and admiration. Only the most extravagant state of feeling could prompt them to make a carpet along the mountain path with their garments, and with the soft branches of the palm-tree. (John 12:13.) It was "a very great multitude," and their numbers enabled them to spread this carpet all the way from the mountain top to the gate of the city.

Hosanna.—A Hebrew word whose etymological meaning is, "Save, we pray!" Originally a formula of supplication, it became by usage a formula of gratulation. (Alford.)

10, 11. all the city was moved.—The Mount of Olives, from the top of which the vast multitude escorted Jesus, was about two hundred feet higher than the temple mount, and was separated from it only by the narrow valley of Jehoshaphat; consequently the procession could be seen and the shouts of the people distinctly heard in all parts of the city. To the question on every body’s lips," Who is this?" the people exultingly responded, "This is Jesus the prophet, of Nazareth of Galilee."

The Triumphal Entry - Matthew 21:1-11

Open It

1. What do you like best and least about parades?

2. How would you define worship?

3. Why do many Christians cheer like crazy at sporting events on Saturday and sheepishly sing praise songs to the Lord the next morning?

Explore It

4. To where was Jesus traveling? With whom? (Matthew 21:1)

5. Through what village were Jesus and His disciples passing? (Matthew 21:1)

6. How were the disciples instructed to answer anyone who might object to their actions? (Matthew 21:2)

7. Jesus sent two of His disciples to find and return with what? Why? Matthew 21:2-3)

8. Why was this incident significant? (Matthew 21:4-5)

9. How did the two disciples respond to Jesus’ instructions? (Matthew 21:6)

10. When the men returned with the donkey and colt, what did Jesus do? (Matthew 21:7)

11. What did the gathered crowd place on the road? Why? (Matthew 21:8)

12. What size crowd participated in welcoming Jesus? (Matthew 21:8)

13. What did the crowds shout as Jesus entered Jerusalem? (Matthew 21:9)

14. How did this "parade" affect those living in Jerusalem? (Matthew 21:10)

15. What did the crowd accompanying Jesus say about Him to those in the city? (Matthew 21:11)

Get It

16. If you had lived in Jerusalem during that time, do you think you would have been a follower of Christ or one of the people who looked skeptically at all His activities?

17. How much do you think "the crowds" today understand Jesus’ purpose and mission?

18. In what ways do we simplistically "cheer" Jesus?

19. Why did Jesus request a donkey instead of a big white stallion or a chariot?

20. How would you answer if a friend asked, "Who is Jesus?"

21. How might we be able to change our city or campus or country if we honored Christ as King over all?

22. How should worship play a role in your daily life?

Apply It

23. How can you honor Jesus as King this week?

24. What special gift (time, money, possessions, effort, etc.) of worship can you present to Jesus today?

25. What does the Lord "need" from you (see Matthew 21:3) today to accomplish His plan in your life?

The Temple Cleared, and the Praises of Children,
Matthew 21:12-16. (Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48)

12. sold and bought.—There was general traffic going on besides that of the money-changers and the dealers in doves. The excuse for allowing doves to be sold and money to be changed there, was that this was an accommodation to the poor, whose offerings consisted largely in doves, and who needed small change for their contributions. The admission of these traffickers opened the way for the others.

13. It is written.—"My house shall be called a house of prayer," are quoted from Isaiah 56:7; and some have supposed that the words, "ye have made it a den of thieves," are taken from Jeremiah 7:11, where a similar expression occurs. I prefer to regard the latter as the words of Jesus. The expression "den of thieves" is a hyperbole to indicate the dishonesty with which their sacrilegious traffic was conducted.

This clearing of the temple must not be confounded with that mentioned in John 2:13-18, for the details are quite different, and the latter occurred during the first visit of Jesus to Jerusalem, while the one in our text occurred during his last visit. It is useless to conjecture what would have been the consequences on either of these occasions, had the traders refused to move at his bidding, for he knew before he began his demonstration against them that they would move. He is now in his Father’s house, where his authority is most appropriately exercised, and where even Cæsar could not assume to be his rival.

14. the blind and the lame.—The high authority which Jesus assumed in—the temple was supported by the miracles which he there performed. It was no longer in the obscure towns and the desert places of Galilee that his power to heal was displayed, but in Jerusalem, in the court of the temple, and surrounded by his bitterest foes.

15. sore displeased.—The chief priests and scribes were offended by the authority which Jesus assumed in regard to the traders in the temple, and by the unfavorable reflection on their own toleration of this traffic implied in his suppression of it. His triumphant vindication of his act, both by the manifest righteousness of it and by the "wonderful things which he did," and the praises of the children, who now caught up the Hosanna which had been dropped by the multitude, increased their irritation, and roused them up to an expression of it.

16. hast perfected praise.—It was both the thought which the children uttered, declaring Jesus to be the Son of David, and the noise which they were making in the temple, which displeased the priests and scribes. They claimed that his zeal for good order in the temple demanded a suppression of this noisy outcry. But they were as greatly mistaken in wishing to suppress the Hosannas of the children as they had been in not suppressing the traffic of the dove-sellers and the money-changers. The outcries of these children was the perfection of praise, and therefore the most appropriate of all places for it was the temple. It was the perfection of praise, because, being an irrepressible outburst of admiration in the midst of solemnities which were likely to overawe the children, and under the frown of the priests which would ordinarily frighten them into silence, it was the strongest attestation to the completeness of his triumph. The quotation is made with a slight variation from Psalms 8:2.

Jesus at the Temple - Matthew 21:12-17

Open It

1. Why does the church have a reputation for being "money hungry"?

2. What convictions of yours are so strong that you sometimes feel you’d like to do something radical to express your views?

3. What gets you really angry?

4. When do you tend to lose your temper?

Explore It

5. After entering Jerusalem, where did Jesus go? What happened there? (Matthew 21:12)

6. What did Jesus do in the temple area? (Matthew 21:12)

7. What sort of goods were being sold in the temple courts? (Matthew 21:12)

8. What did Jesus quote to those in the temple? (Matthew 21:13)

9. Jesus accused the merchants of turning the temple into what? Why? (Matthew 21:13)

10. What kinds of handicaps and infirmities did Jesus heal while at the temple? (Matthew 21:14)

11. What were the children in the temple area shouting? (Matthew 21:15)

12. How did the chief priests and teachers of the law feel when they heard the children shout praise to Jesus? (Matthew 21:15)

13. What did the religious leaders ask Jesus? (Matthew 21:16)

14. How did Jesus answer the religious leaders? (Matthew 21:16)

15. What did Jesus do when He left the temple? (Matthew 21:17)

Get It

16. How do you think God would like to alter some of the practices churches and ministries use to raise money?

17. How do you think God would like to alter some of the ways you use money?

18. What is the most appropriate way for churches to fund their activities?

19. Why is it easy to become jealous when others get recognized, praised, or rewarded?

20. Why do people often honor their money above God?

21. In what situations is your behavior altered or stymied by what others might think?

22. Why do children sometimes have the ability to see more clearly than adults?

23. In what areas do you have the prerogative to stand up for the righteousness and holiness of God?

Apply It

24. What change in your giving do you need to make this month?

25. What hymn of praise would help you praise and worship God this week?

26. What impure habits or practices are taking place in your temple (i.e. your body) that you need to drive out this week?

Verses 1-17

Mat 21:1-17

SECTION SIX

LAST DAYS OF JESUS’ PUBLIC MINISTRY

Matthew 21:1 to 26:46

1. TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM;

SECOND CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE

Matthew 21:1-17

1-5 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem.—Parallel records of this incident are found in Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-44; and John 12:12-19. Matthew gives little note to the time, other records give more to the time. We now come to the events of the last week of his earthly ministry and to his last visit to Jerusalem. The events of this last week are of such importance that they are carefully noted. They begin with the first day of the week (our Sunday). Jesus had spent the Sabbath (our Saturday) at Bethany, at the house of Lazarus (John 12:9), and now approaches Jerusalem; Matthew relates the events of this first day as far as verse seventeen of this chapter. The events to verse twenty with the cursing of the fig tree occurred on the second day, or Monday; from thence to chapter twenty-six Matthew relates what occurred on the third day, or Tuesday. John 10 to 12:12 records some events which Matthew omits. It was now five days before the Passover, the tenth of the month (Exodus 12:3), the day on which the Passover lambs were driven into Jerusalem to be kept there until Thursday. The true Lamb of God chooses this day for his entrance.

And came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives.—The location of Bethphage is difficult; some place it near Bethany. About one mile east from Jerusalem lay the ridge of the Mount of Olives so called from the great number of olive trees which grew upon it. (Acts 1:12.) In leaving Jerusalem one must first pass across the valley of Jehoshaphat, called at its lower end the valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. Through it ran the brook Cedron or Kidron. (John 18:1.) One then passes by the enclosure of Gethsemane (meaning the place of the oil press) which lay along the west side of the hill nearest Jerusalem;ascending the Mount of Olives one could see Jeru-salem, and trace the buildings, and especially the temple crowning Mount Moriah. Then passing over the hill or ridge, one first reached Bethphage on the eastern side, and farther still, or two miles from Jerusalem, the villge of Bethany, from which Jesus began this day’s walk. The Mount of Olives is about a mile in length from north to south and with three peaks. The road to Bethany wound around the middle peak. Palm trees flourish on Mount Olivet, whence the name Bethany, the house of dates and figs, whence the name Bethphage, the house of figs. The oil of the olive was used in the tabernacle and temple worship. (Exodus 30:24-29.) The people were accustomed to gather the olive branches as also the palm branches in the Feast of Tabernacles. Nehemiah 8:15 and Zechariah 14:4 foretold this day’s entrance into Jerusalem.

Jesus sent two disciples . . . into the village.—He was now two miles from Jerusalem on the east side of Olivet; the village of Bethphage was between Bethany and Jerusalem; Bethany was behind him and Bethphage was before him; so he sent his two disciples into Bethphage. The roads were doubtless filled with people crowding to the city and driving thither the lambs for the approaching feast. Jesus told them that they would "find an ass tied, and a colt with her"; Mark and Luke mention only the colt, because on it this triumphal procession was made. This colt probably belonged to someone who knew Jesus and freely consented to the use of the animal.

The Jews were accustomed to riding mules, camels, and asses; the horse was forbidden. (Deuteronomy 17:16.) Kings and great men rode on the ass; it appears in the sublime vision of Jacob in connection with these very events. (Genesis 49:11; Isaiah 63:1-3.) Solomon is described as riding on a mule. (1 Kings 1:38.) Jesus, according to Jewish ideas, appeared in the proper state and dignity of the "Prince of Peace." These two disciples were to tell the owner of the colt that "the Lord bath need of them" and that would be sufficient; he would send them. Jesus at this time assumes the name of "Lord Jehovah," for that is the meaning of the term. (Matthew 22:44; Hebrews 1:10.) In doing this the prophecy of Isaiah (62:11) and Zechariah (9:9) were fulfilled. "The daughters of Zion" means the women of Jerusalem. (Luke 23:28.) Zion was the southern hill on which the city of Jerusalem was built, containing the royal palace and upper city. David took this city and dwelt in it and it was called "the city of David." (2 Samuel 5:9.) Solomon caused the ark to be carried there. (1 Kings 8:1.) It was called Zion from the first. "Meek, and riding upon an ass." Jesus came in peaceable state, not as a conquering monarch, with battle array, on a fiery charger and armed with sword and spear, but as a "prince of peace."

6-11 And the disciples went.—The two disciples promptly obeyed Jesus and found "the ass, and the colt" and brought them to Jesus. They put their clothes upon the colt (Luke 19:35) as a mark of respect, "and he sat thereon." The crowd understood this action to symbolize that he was their king, as their ancient kings had been so treated; Jehu for instance. (2 Kings 9:13.) The news spread rapidly and reached the city and by the time that Jesus, riding in this manner, in the midst of the passing travelers, had come to Olivet, the citizens crowded out to meet him. (John 12:12.) There was a large multitude accompanying him, and now the multitude came out of Jerusalem to meet him and the triumphal procession was thus augmented. It is plain that Jesus could have been made an earthly king at this time, for the vast multitudes were ready to make him their king. (John 12:19.) The disciples did not understand the spiritual meaning of these events until after Pentecost. (John 12:16.) "The multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David." They added, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest." At the Feast of Tabernacles the people carried branches in their hands, chanting sentences from the Messianic Psalms. (Psalms 118:25-26.) This was their way of expressing their desire for the coming of the Messiah. (Leviticus 23:40.) The multitude now by this act expressed their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. John tells us that the branches of the trees were of the palm trees. (John 12:13.) The long branches of the palm tree were strictly used during the Feast of Tabernacles. (Leviticus 23:40.) The people dwelt during this feast under booths or tabernacles; there may be a reference to this when John says, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt" or tabernacled "among us." (John 1:14.) "Hosanna to the son of David" resembles the exclamation raised in the coronation of Solomon, the son of David. (1 Kings 1:39.) "Hosanna" was a shout of prayerful joy; it is derived from two Hebrew words meaning "be now propitious" and "save us now." (Psalms 118:25.) "Son of David" is an admission that he is the Messiah. "Blessed is he," that is, the one who comes in the name of the Lord was to come as his ambassador. Mark adds that they cried, "Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David." (Mark 11:10.) This was praising the kingdom of the Messiah which was promised to the seed of David. Luke adds that they said, "Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest." (Luke 19:38.) The procession moved slowly into Jerusalem with these acclamations increasing on the way, and "when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, Who is this?" The rulers were in great rage and fear; the crowd filled the city with their cries; even children took up the chorus and sang it in the temple; the Pharisees were perplexed and feared for themselves; and said, "Behold how ye prevail nothing; lo, the world is gone after him." (John 12:19.) In contrast to the sentiment expressed by the Pharisees the multitude said, "This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee." This was said in answer to the question, "Who is this?"

12-17 And Jesus entered into the temple of God.—Mark records this event as occurring on the next day, or Monday. (Mark 11:15-17.) Another parallel record is Luke 19:45-46. He may have entered the temple twice, first on the first day and then again the next day. Jesus had entered the temple as a King; he exercised therefore an act of royal power. He came to worship, and after the usual morning prayer, he came out into the part of the temple that is called court of the Gentiles. It was outside the actual temple, though upon Mount Moriah, and surrounded by the temple wall. The temple was the house of prayer for all nations, that is, for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, on condition that they would be circumcised. Jesus was indignant at the unholy practices of the Jews. As he stood and declared his power as the Son of God, a voice, with the sound of thunder, was heard from heaven. (John 12:28-29.) Thereupon Jesus proceeded to purify the temple of God. Jesus cast out those who "sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves." The only coin received in the sacred treasury was the Levitical shekel or half shekel; these money-changers were men who took pains to buy up all the legal coins and sold them again to the Jews, who had come to worship; they charged a high price for the exchange. "Them that sold the doves" were those who kept doves to sell to those who should make a sacrifice. They were used in sacrifice by the poor. (Leviticus 14:22; Luke 2:21.) All animals for the sacrifices were sought for in the city of Jerusalem by the Jews who came from a distance. Mark adds that Jesus "would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple." (Mark 11:16.) These Jews took advantage of their foreign brethren and practiced extortion. Jesus showed his power by cleansing the temple and showed his relation to God when he said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer:but ye make it a den of robbers." Isaiah 56:7 gives this prophecy; Isaiah had spoken thus of the times of the Messiah , the latter part of the quotation seems to refer to Jeremiah 6:11. "House of prayer" is a vivid description of the true design of the worship in the temple. God had recorded his name there; it was called holy, and only those who worshiped God according to his law should have entered the temple. It is not strange that Jesus, who had been hounded by his enemies, would now come and take possession of the temple in this fearless way; it is another token to them that he was what he claimed to be, the Son of God. "Den of robbers" is a strong accusation against these Jews for their evil practices. "Den of robbers" is a terrible antithesis to "the house of God," or "house of prayer." This was a serious charge against the Jewish religious leaders.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple.—He is still in the court of the temple and the unfortunate come to him, "and he healed them." No one ever came to Jesus humbly seeking help that did not receive it. There was a wide contrast in what Jesus did in the temple and what the Jews were doing; they were practicing extortion on the people for their own selfish gains; he was healing the diseased and distressed among them;they were working for themselves, he for others. "But when the chief priests and the 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 moved with indignation." The rulers were angry and perplexed; they were angry with the innocent children, who had caught the echo of the praises of their parents. These chief priests and scribes said to Jesus, "Hearest thou what these are saying?" Evidently they wanted him to cause the children to cease; he had exercised his authority in cleansing the temple, now he should rebuke these children for their praises. Evidently they were jealous of Jesus and did not want to hear the children praise him, and they sought to arouse enmity against him from the parents by his rebuking these children. Again he had taken upon himself to cleanse the temple, and he ought not to permit this to continue. Jesus replied to them, "Yea," that is, he heard the praise of the children and quoted the word of God as authority. He said have you never read, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" This was taken from Psalms 8:2. These chief priests and scribes seem to be astonished that Jesus, a meek Galilean, should allow them to proclaim his praises as the Messiah. Jesus stood in their midst meek and lowly, only seeking to do good and to heal the diseases of body and soul , he received the praises of the multitude, hut showed no signs of any intention of seizing the supreme power and setting the Jews free from the Romans, but now of the perfect praise, praise which came from the purity and innocency of the hearts of the children. Jesus said, in reply to the Pharisees when they rebuked the multitude, "I tell you that, if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40.) Jesus left them to their own evil thoughts and intentions, "and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there." Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem. He "lodged there" each night during his last week on earth, except the night of his betrayal.

Verses 17-32

Mat 21:17-32

The Barren Fig-tree, Matthew 21:17-22. (Mark 11:12-14)
J.W. McGarvey

17. Bethany.—A village on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, the home of Martha and Mary, and of Lazarus whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. (John 12:1.) Here Jesus spent the nights of this last week of his life. (Luke 21:37-38.)

18. he hungered.—He was going to the temple, as was customary, early in the morning, before the morning meal; hence the hunger.

19. the fig-tree withered.—The incident is more accurately narrated and its significance made more apparent by Mark. (See the notes, Mark 11:12-14; Mark 11:20-26.)

20. they marveled.—Every miracle affecting a new department of nature, filled the disciples with fresh surprise. They had seen miracles wrought on the human body, on demons, on the winds and the waves, on bread and flesh; but they had not until now seen one that took effect on a tree. Their surprise, though by no means philosophical, was not unnatural.

21. ye shall not only.—It is not necessarily implied that they would actually wither fig-trees and remove mountains, but that they should do miracles equally surprising with these. On the nature of the faith necessary to such miracles, see the note, Mark 11:23.

22. whatsoever ye shall ask.—This, like all the other promises to answer prayer, is limited by the conditions laid down in the Scriptures. (See the note on Matthew 7:7-8.)

Argument of Section 2

In this section we have two more exhibitions of the foreknowledge of Jesus: one in the minute prophetic description of his own condemnation and death, and the other in the prediction concerning the cup which James and John were yet to drink on account of his name. These were predicted by him in terms which prove that he foresaw them as clearly as they were seen by his disciples when they transpired.

The section also presents two more physical miracles, in one of which is displayed his compassion toward the unfortunate, and in the other, his wrath against the hypocritical. The bright eyes of the recently blind, and the active movements of the recently lame, attest the former, while the withered leaves falling from the barren fig-tree in spring time attest the latter.

Resides the double proofs of miraculous power, the section brings to view a multitude of people who had witnessed miracles previously wrought, and who proclaimed his praise with an extravagance approaching to wildness, while he, as if unconscious of the kingly honors conferred on him, sat meekly on the back of an ass colt and thus rode into the holy city. Who can contemplate this unparalleled combination of facts without exclaiming, with the exultant multitude and the irrepressible children, "Hosanna to the son of David?"

The Fig Tree Withers - Matthew 21:18-22

Open It

1. What is the worst case of false advertising you’ve ever seen?

2. Why do you think there are so many religious hypocrites?

3. When in your life were you the most disappointed?

Explore It

4. Where was Jesus going? When? (Matthew 21:18)

5. What was Jesus feeling? When? (Matthew 21:18)

6. What caught Jesus’ attention? Why? (Matthew 21:19)

7. What did Jesus discover when he made a closer inspection of the fig tree? (Matthew 21:19)

8. What did Jesus do to the fig tree? (Matthew 21:19)

9. What happened immediately after Jesus cursed the fig tree? (Matthew 21:19)

10. How did the withered fig tree incident affect the disciples? (Matthew 21:20)

11. What did the disciples ask Jesus? (Matthew 21:20)

12. What did Jesus cite as the necessary ingredient to doing "impossible" things? (Matthew 21:21)

13. What even more amazing feat than causing a fig tree to wither did Jesus claim was possible? (Matthew 21:21)

14. What attitude did Jesus encourage us to have in prayer? (Matthew 21:22)

Get It

15. How is religious legalism like a barren fig tree?

16. What types of "fruit" should appear in our lives as we grow as Christians?

17. What fruit has your life borne in the last couple of months?

18. What are some ways Christians can look good to others from a distance and yet still be fruitless?

19. Why is the invitation to pray at the end of this passage not a blank check to ask for anything?

20. What requirements must our prayers meet?

21. In what ways might you be giving others a false idea of what the Christian life is all about?

Apply It

22. What prayer of faith do you need to begin praying on a regular basis this week?

23. What change in your life today would enable you to become more fruitful?

Verses 18-32

Mat 21:18-32

2. BARREN FIG TREE CURSED;

HIS AUTHORITY QUESTIONED,

PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS

Matthew 21:18-32

18-22 Now in the morning as he returned to the city.—This was Monday morning, or the second day of the week; he probably left Bethany before breakfast that he might attend the morning service at the temple; at any rate, "he hungered." Our Lord was the bread of life, yet he hungered; he was the water of life, but thirsted. As they went along the way from Bethany to Jerusalem, they saw "a fig tree by the wayside," and when they came to it they "found nothing thereon, but leaves only." He saw this fig tree afar off; it probably stood alone by the roadside, and was in a sense public property. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25.) It was in full leaf, but when he came near to it no fruit was found on it. Jesus, of course, knew that there was no fruit there; he came to it to make it a parable of the great truth which was to be impressed on his disciples at that time. In Palestine the fig tree puts out its fruit first, afterward the leaves; by the time that the tree is in full foliage the fruit ought to be ripe. This tree was an exception; a perversion of the laws of its nature; it deceived the eye, was to all appearance fruitful, but only cumbered the ground. Jesus said, "Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever." This is the only miracle that apparently cursed anything. The Jewish nation was like this fig tree; it had apparently luxurious foliage in all the outward forms of holiness, but there was no "fruit to the glory of God as was seen in their rejection of Jesus. The tree of the Jewish nation had been selected of God, pruned, and kept intact for the coming of the Messiah, the fruit of the nation; they were now rejecting him for whom the nation had existed from the days of Abraham. Jesus pronounced a malediction on the tree, not from any ill will to it for not bearing fruit, since it had no choice in the case, but as a parable acted before the disciples, to impress on their memories, in the most striking manner, the destiny of the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish race. The tree withered, not immediately, but by the next day; it may have begun to wither at once. Some have criticized this act of Jesus in destroying this tree , those who do overlook entirely the lesson that he taught. He caused a tree to die to teach the lesson of the disastrous fall of a nation. It is a rule of human reason that examples may be made for instruction upon worthless objects.

And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled.—It seems that the disciples saw the tree the next morning as they spent the night at Bethany, and were again returning when they discovered that the tree had withered and remarked about its "immediately" withering away. Mark leaves the impression that it was the next day that they saw it, and that Peter called the attention of Jesus to it and expressed wonder. (Mark 11 19, 20.) This furnished Jesus the occasion to say, "If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done." The disciples needed to be strengthened in their faith at this time because great events were to occur within that week. Jesus was preparing them for those momentous events. This verse has puzzled commentators as to whether to take it figuratively or literally. If a literal interpretation is given to it, it would still have its value in teaching them the importance of faith , if a spiritual interpretation is given to it, it would still have its value in impressing the importance of faith. Jesus did not explain the symbolical meaning of either the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple, or the withering of the fig tree. This lesson of faith is here impressed from the miracle because Jesus is soon to leave his apostles to their own moral strength, amid the state of surrounding ruin in the destruction of Jerusalem as prefigured by the withered tree. Probably Jesus had reference to the Mount of Olives when he said "this mountain" as they were passing over that mountain to Jerusalem that morning. Jesus then drew the lesson of faith when he said, "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." This promise belonged to his disciples in their ministry; they should have all things which they needed to confirm the Father’s will which he had taught them; it also means that God will furnish everything to his people today that they may need to live faithful Christian lives. It is not a promise that God will satisfy all of the wants of people, nor answer every prayer that is made to him. There are conditions of acceptable prayer and these conditions must be met before one has any right to expect an answer. Prayers are offered in the name of Jesus, in faith, and according to the will of God. (1 John 3:22; 1 John 5:14.) God will not grant blessings to those who are in persistent rebellion to his will, neither to those who do not believe in him, nor to those who will not honor his Son by praying in his name.

23-27 And when he was come into the temple.—On this day as he went into the temple his authority was challenged. "The chief priests and the elders" came to him "as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things?" The "chief priests" were the heads of the twenty-four courses or classes of priests. David had divided the priests into twenty-four classes, and had selected one from each class as the head; this one was called a "chief priest." "Elders" were the rulers of the cities. Mark and Luke add "the scribes," who were the authorized teachers and helped to constitute the Sanhedrin. These chief priests, elders, and scribes may have represented the Sanhedrin; they asked for his authority for doing "these things." They wanted to know his authority for entering Jerusalem as he did, his expulsion of the traders and brokers, and his teaching in the temple. They knew by what authority he did "these things," but they were unwilling to acknowledge that authority. To acknowledge God as his authority would have been to acknowledge him as the Son of God and the Messiah; this they were determined not to do. Jesus replied to them by asking them a question, with the proposition that if they would answer him he would answer their question. He then asked them concerning John’s baptism whether it was "from heaven or from men." They withdrew aside and began to reason "with themselves" and said, "If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, From men; we fear the multitude." They were in a dilemma; they saw that Jesus had put them in this plight, so they finally decided that they would say, "We know not." This they thought was the easiest way out; they did not want the truth, and would not accept it if presented; so Jesus said, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." These teachers who were the professed guides of the people, and prepared to decide upon all questions, are now put in the ridiculous attitude of saying that they are unable to answer a simple question put to them by this despised man of Galilee. How humiliating it must have been to them! Yet they chose to suffer this humiliation rather than confess the truth which was clear to them. They attempted to evade the dilemma by falsehood. Jesus did not say that he could not answer their question, but that he would not.

28-32 But what think ye?—Jesus now exposes the hearts of his enemies by a series of parables; in them he lays bare the evil thoughts which they had against him at this time. They had fully determined to destroy him, and had set themselves in opposition to the common people. (John 7:49.) These common people, publicans and sinners as they were, would be saved before the scribes and Pharisees. He gives to them the parable of the two sons; these two sons represent two great classes of people today as well as then. The father commanded his first son to go and work in the vineyard and the son rebelled and flatly told his father that he would not go, "but afterward he repented himself, and went." He regretted his lack of respect to his father and returned to his duty. "The second" son was instructed to go and work in the vineyard, and he very politely said that he would go, but "went not." Jesus now put the question directly to them and asked, "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They could not profess inability to answer his question (verse 27); they were obliged to answer, though their answer condemned themselves. Hence they replied, "The first." The first did the will of his father not in his first refusal, but in his subsequent repentance and obedience.

Jesus then replied to them, "Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." These chief priests, elders, and scribes among the Jews looked upon "publicans and the harlots" as the vilest of earth and beneath their attention; they would not do anything to help them. What a stinging rebuke Jesus gave them when he said "the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." It is often true that many notorious sinners repent and turn to Christ before a good moral man does. A course of sin in early life is to be regretted and the sinner must suffer the consequences, but when that one realizes his lost condition, he will come to Christ, while the moral character may rely upon early piety and remain away from Christ and be lost. Jesus makes application when he tells them that John came to them "in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not." Some of them may have accepted John’s teachings, but refused to accept the Christ when he came; they were apostate disciples of John. While they did not accept John, yet "the publicans and the harlots believed him." These adversaries of Jesus saw what those who were vile in their own sight were doing, but "did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him." They had not only, some of them, rejected John but afterwards, when his preaching bore manifest proof, they would not repent or turn from their evil course, and believe in John nor the Christ whom John represented. John came as a Jew and a prophet of the strictest and purest type; he did the very righteousness which the law demanded, and that for which the Pharisees boasted in their own self-righteous claims; yet they had rejected him. They could not detect in John the slightest departure from the law, still they rejected his message. They could not fail to see Jesus’ application.

[This principle is frequently manifested in Bible history. Those favorably situated for knowing and doing the will of God give but little attention to God and his will; those less favorably situated more readily seek for and practice the truth. There are many examples of this given in the scriptures and many illustrations of it in God’s dealings with the people in the patriarchal and Jewish dispensation. No clearer example of it is found in the New Testament than in the case of the publicans and sinners and the scribes and Pharisees. There is no sin of which man is more frequently guilty than that of self-righteousness; none is more clearly and frequently condemned of God. Self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, a satisfaction with oneself has never commended men to God. He has placed before us a divine model in Christ Jesus; with much help and many blessings to encourage us in the work, we can never feel we have come up to the model.]

Verses 23-32

Mat 21:23-32

Section III.
Disputations in the Temple, Matthew 21:23 to Matthew 22:46

J.W. McGarvey

His Authority Demanded, Matthew 21:23-27.
(
Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)

23. By what authority.—What authority to cast out the traders, as he had done on the previous day, to teach, and to allow himself to be called the Son of David. As he was neither a priest nor a civil ruler, and had not been commissioned either by Cæsar or the Sanhedrim, they denied that he had rightful claim to the authority which he exercised.

24, 25. I will ask you.—It was absurd and impertinent to ask him for his authority when his miracles had given an unmistakable answer; consequently his reply was not an attempt to enlighten them, but to expose their folly. They had often tried to place him in a dilemma, and had never succeeded; he sometimes tried the same with them, and never failed. He does so on this occasion by asking them the source of authority for John’s baptism.

25-27. We can not tell.—They were forced either to tell a lie, which they did, or to acknowledge the fact that John’s baptism was from heaven. Had they made this acknowledgment they foresaw that he would demand of them, "Why then, did you not believe him" (Matthew 21:25), which means not merely, Why did you not believe in John as a prophet, but, Why did you not believe what be said about me? This second question was the one they dreaded; so, fearing to offend the people by saying that John’s baptism was of men, they fell upon the false and foolish alternative, "We cannot tell." The response of Jesus, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things," exposed their hypocrisy and at the same time made it very apparent to the people that his authority was the same as John’s.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned - Matthew 21:23-27

Open It

1. What comes to mind when you hear the word "authority"?

2. Why are people so resistant to authority?

3.What do you like or dislike about debates (either presidential debates or TV shows where guests bat around a controversial topic)?

Explore It

4. Where was Jesus when the incidents of this passage occurred? (Matthew 21:23)

5. What was Jesus doing when He was interrupted? (Matthew 21:23)

6. Who interrupted Jesus? Why? (Matthew 21:23)

7. What questions did the chief priests and the elders ask Jesus? (Matthew 21:23)

8. What deal did Jesus make with his accuser? (Matthew 21:24)

9. Jesus’ question dealt with what subject? (Matthew 21:24)

10. What were the only two possible answers the religious leaders could give? (Matthew 21:25-26)

11. What was the drawback to claiming that John’s ministry was divinely inspired? (Matthew 21:25)

12. What was the risk of claiming that John had no divine authority? (Matthew 21:26)

13. How did the religious leaders finally respond to Jesus? (Matthew 21:27)

14. What reply did Jesus give to the chief priests and elders? (Matthew 21:27)

Get It

15. What do you think is behind many people’s "confrontations" with Jesus?

16. Why do we feel threatened when someone challenges our beliefs or actions as Christians?

17. How do we typically feel when our motives are exposed as selfish?

18. How can religious traditions, rules, and habits sometimes blind us to the truth?

19. What are some ways we outright defy what Jesus has said?

20. In what ways do we try to rationalize our way out of submitting to Christ’s authority?

21. How does pride keep us from acknowledging our mistakes?

Apply It

22. In what area of your life do you need to submit to Jesus’ authority today?

23. How can you humble yourself before God today?

Parable of the Two Sons, Matthew 21:28-32

28-31. Whether of them twain.—An obsolete form of expression for Which of the two. Neither of them did in full the will of his father, but, leaving out of view the improper answer of the first, and looking only at his subsequent conduct, it was correctly answered that he did his father’s will.

31. publicans and harlots... before you.—Here the conduct of the publicans and harlots as a class is declared to correspond with that of the first son, and that of the chief priests and elders (Matthew 21:23) to the conduct of the second son. The assertion that they "go into the kingdom of God before you," does not mean that either party had already gone into the kingdom of God, but it declares the direction in which they were moving, and points to the result soon to be attained. The publicans and harlots had made one step in that direction by believing in John (Matthew 21:32), while the priests and elders had not gone so far as that. The rebuke was a stinging one on account of the contempt with which publicans and harlots were regarded by the priests and elders, and the great disparity which had formerly existed between the two classes.

32. For John came.—The precedence declared in favor of the publicans and harlots had reference, not to their reception of Jesus, but to their regard for John. Previous to John’s coming these wicked characters had been like the first son, saying, "I will not," making no pretense of obedience to God, while the priests and elders had been like the second son, saying, "I go, Sir," making great professions of respect and obedience. But when John came and by his preaching put both parties to the test, the latter "believed him not," made no change in their conduct; but the former "believed him," giving up their evil practices, confessing their sins, and being baptized for the remission of gins. (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:4.)

repented not.—The word translated repented here and in Matthew 21:29, is not melanoeo the one usually so rendered, but metamelomai. The former expresses a change of thought or purpose, the latter a change of feeling. The latter is used in the case of Judas (Matthew 27:3), who did not repent as sinners are required to repent, though he experienced regret even to the degree of remorse. Regret is its best English representative, and by this term Mr. Green renders it throughout his Two-fold New Testament. The first son and the publicans and harlots did experience a change of purpose as well as a change of feeling; but the change of feeling only is expressed in the word, while the change of purpose is ascertained only by its being implied in their subsequent action.

that ye might believe.—In the statement ye "repented not afterward, that ye might believe him," the dependence of their belief on previous regret is clearly assumed. The nature of the dependence is made apparent by the following considerations. When John first came "in the way of righteousness," the chief priests and elders, after a formal inquiry as to who he was, rejected him. (John 1:19-25; Luke 7:30.) Afterward, when they saw the wonderful effect of his preaching on the lives of the publicans and harlots, they should have regretted the inconsiderate manner in which they had rejected him; and this regret, had they felt it, would have caused them to re-examine his claims, and, as a consequence, to become believers in him. Their belief depended on regret as one of its remote causes, and so does the belief of all persons in analogous circumstances.

The Parable of the Two Sons - Matthew 21:28-32

Open It

1. As you recall all the TV families you’ve ever seen, which character would make the best child? Why?

2. What is the best illustration you’ve ever seen of the old saying, "Actions speak louder than words"?

3. In what ways can knowledge be dangerous?

Explore It

4. Who are the main characters in this parable? (Matthew 21:28)

5. In the Parable of the Two Sons, what did the man say to his first son? (Matthew 21:28)

6.How did the first son respond to his father’s words? (Matthew 21:29)

7. What happened to the first son later? (Matthew 21:29)

8. What did the man say to his second son? (Matthew 21:30)

9. How did the second son respond to his father’s words? (Matthew 21:30)

10. What did the second son actually do? (Matthew 21:30)

11. What question did Jesus ask His audience at the end of the parable? (Matthew 21:31)

12. Who did Jesus claim would be in heaven before the religious leaders in His audience? (Matthew 21:31)

13. According to Jesus, who came to show the Jews the way of righteousness? (Matthew 21:32)

14. How did the religious leaders respond to John’s message? (Matthew 21:32)

Get It

15. If the Jewish religious leaders were trained in the Law and familiar with the Old Testament, why did they oppose Jesus?

16. Why doesn’t religious knowledge or information guarantee that we’ll be godly?

17. If Jesus really is the King of kings and Lord of lords, why do we often drag our feet doing what He has told us to do?

18. What does it mean to repent?

19. If, as Jesus claimed, many "unrighteous" people will enter the kingdom of God, and many "righteous" people won’t, what does that say to you about God’s system of justice?

20. When is it too late to do the right thing?

Apply It

21. What step can you take this week toward correcting a mistake?

22. What command of Christ that you have been neglecting do you need to obey today?

23. What promise that you made to Christ can you keep today?

Verses 33-46

Mat 21:33-46

Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, Matthew 21:33-46.
(
Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)

J.W. McGarvey

33. digged a winepress.—The winepresses of the ancients were literally dug, for they consisted in an excavation in the solid rock a foot or two in depth and several feet square. The grapes were thrown into these excavations and mashed by young men tramping them with their feet. Another excavation lower down the hill side, whose top was on a level with the bottom of the press, received the juice as it ran from the mashed grapes through an orifice provided for the purpose. Robinson describes one of these presses which he saw in Judea whose dimensions were eight feet square by fifteen inches deep, with a vat for the juice four feet square and three feet deep. This method of expressing the juice is frequently alluded to in the Scriptures. (Nehemiah 13:15; Lamentations 1:15; Isaiah 63:2-3; Jeremiah 48:33 et al.)

built a tower.—The Jews lived in cities and villages, knowing nothing of the farm life so common in America. They went to their fields in the morning and returned at night, except in times of harvest and vintage, when they sometimes slept in the fields. (see Ruth 3:1-7.) This tower was built for protection at such times, and also for the purpose of guarding the vineyard when necessary. (Comp. Isaiah 5:1-7.)

41. They say unto him.—By pausing at this point and asking his hearers what should be done with those husbandmen, Jesus made them pronounce judgment before they saw the drift of the parable, and then in the conclusion (Matthew 21:43) he showed them that they had pronounced judgment against themselves.

42. The stone.—By a singular irregularity of arrangement Jesus here interrupts the progress of the parable to introduce the figure of the rejected cornerstone; then, in the next verse, he makes the application of the parable; and finally, at Matthew 21:44, he returns to the figure of the stone. In the figure of the rejected cornerstone, the chief priests and Pharisees are represented as trying to build the walls of a house, but being unable to fit the stones at the corner because they rejected the only stone that was cut for that place. They were guilty of this folly in rejecting Jesus while trying to construct a conception of the kingdom of God.

43. Therefore say I.—This verse contains the application of the parable, and the key to its interpretation. The vineyard represents all of the religious privileges granted to the Jews who are the husbandmen, from the beginning of their history until the kingdom itself was offered to them by Jesus and afterward by the apostles. The prophets, from Samuel down to John, are the messengers sent to demand the fruits of righteousness; the son who was sent last is Jesus; the destruction of the husbandmen is the final destruction of the Jewish nationality; and the transfer of the vineyard to other husbandmen, the transfer of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles. The kingdom of heaven was chiefly Jewish before the destruction of Jerusalem, but it became, after that event, almost exclusively Gentile, both in its membership and in the predominant characteristics of its membership; and thus it was taken away from the Jews and given to a nation which would bring forth the fruits thereof.

44. shall fall on this stone.—Here the rejected cornerstone is again brought into view (Matthew 21:42), and a person represented as falling on it and being "broken;" that is, breaking some of his limbs. As Jesus is the stone, falling on it is coming into conflict with him; and being broken represents the injury which persons who thus fall will sustain. Jesus warned John the Baptist against this when he said to him, "Blessed is he who shall not be offended in me." (Matthew 11:6.)

on whomsoever it shall fall.—The falling of this cornerstone upon a person evidently symbolizes the bringing of Christ’s power to bear against the person. Such a person, like a small stone ground to powder by the fall of a large one, shall be utterly crushed and ruined forever. The Pharisees were then being broken; they were yet to be ground to powder.

45, 46. they perceived.—It was easy for them to perceive that both of the parables were spoken against themselves; and though they can not have fully comprehended the import of either, they saw enough to enrage them, and but for the people they would have laid hands on him.

The Parable of the Tenants - Matthew 21:33-46

Open It

1. In what way does each of these hurt: being told an uncomfortable truth, and being told a lie?

2.What was your favorite bedtime story as a child?

3. What attitudes in others make you want to be mean instead of nice?

Explore It

4. How did the landowner in this parable prepare his vineyard? (Matthew 21:33)

5. What did the landowner do at harvest time? (Matthew 21:34)

6. How did the tenants of the vineyard treat the landowner’s servants? (Matthew 21:35)

7. What did the landowner do after his servants were attacked? (Matthew 21:36)

8. How did the landowner’s alternative plan work? (Matthew 21:36)

9. What solution did the landowner finally decide on? (Matthew 21:37)

10. How did the tenants react to the landowner’s choice? (Matthew 21:38-39)

11. What end did Jesus predict for the wicked tenants of the parable? (Matthew 21:40-41)

12. What did Jesus quote to the religious leaders? (Matthew 21:42)

13. How did Jesus personalize or apply this parable and Scripture to the nation of Israel? (Matthew 21:43-44)

14. What did the religious leaders realize when they heard Jesus’ parable? (Matthew 21:45)

15. What did the chief priests and elders try to do? (Matthew 21:46)

16. Why didn’t the chief priests and elders carry out their plan at that moment? (Matthew 21:46)

Get It

17. What does the vineyard in this parable represent?

18. Who do the tenants of the parable symbolize?

19. Of whom are the servants and the son representative?

20. How would you feel if you were extremely kind and giving to someone for a long time and that person repeatedly scorned your kindness?

21. Why does Christ’s kindness often fail to impress people?

22. Does God’s Word soften your heart like wax or harden your heart like clay?

23. What are some ways we react when God’s Word convicts us or tells us to take demanding, difficult, or risky steps?

24. In what area of your life do you tend to resist God’s authority?

Apply It

25. What is one practical step you can take to submit to God and obey His Word this week?

26. Today or tomorrow, how can you show God your appreciation for His goodness toward you?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 21". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/matthew-21.html.
 
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