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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

People's New TestamentPeople's NT

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SUMMARY.--The Lord Leaves Bethany to Enter Jerusalem. The Charge to the Two Disciples. The Fulfillment of Prophecy. The Great Multitude Who Prepare the Way. Hosanna to the Son of David. Jesus Enters the Temple. The Money-Changers Cast Out. The Barren Fig Tree. The Controversy with the Rulers. John's Baptism. The Parable of the Two Sons. The Parable of the Vineyard and the Husbandmen. The Stone That the Builders Rejected.

Verse 1

When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem. Jesus passed through Jericho, where he bestowed sight on Bartim├Žus and salvation on Zaccheus, came up the mountain pass from Jericho to Jerusalem, stopping over the Sabbath in the congenial home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, in Bethany, and so on Sunday morning made his entry into Jerusalem. Compare Mar 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44, and Joh 12:12-19. As they drew nigh to Jerusalem they ascended the Mount of Olives. There were three paths over the Mount of Olives: (1) on the north, in the hollow between the two crests of the hill; (2) over the summit; and (3) on the south, between the Mount of Olives and the Hill of Offence--still the most frequented and the best. Along this Jesus advanced.

To Bethphage. Bethphage and Bethany were suburban villages near to one another, and lying on the direct line of road that led to Jerusalem from the east.

Mount of Olives. A hill just east of Jerusalem, so called from the olive trees upon it. It was about a mile from the city. It was their open ground--for pleasure, for worship; the "Park" of Jerusalem; the thoroughfare of any going or coming in the direction of the great Jordan valley.

Verse 2

Into the village over against you. Bethphage is in view, over against them, perhaps separated from them by a valley.

Ye shall find an ass tied. In the East the ass is in high esteem. Every Jew expected, from the words of one of the prophets (Zec 9:9), that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on an ass.

Verse 3

The Lord hath need of them. It is probable that the owner was a disciple.

Verses 4-5

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. See Isa 62:11, and Zec 9:9. The prophet here describes him as riding upon one of the humblest of animals, and in the fulfillment we find, (1) that the animal was borrowed; (2) that he rode without a saddle on borrowed garments; (3) that it was a colt on which no man had ever before rode. Only animals hitherto unused were regarded fit for sacred uses. See Num 19:2; Deu 21:3; 1Sa 6:7. This is the only instance reported in which the Lord ever rode on any animal.

Verse 7

They set him thereon. Hitherto he had entered the holy city on foot; this day he would enter as David and the judges of Israel were wont--riding on the ass.

Verse 8

And a very great multitude spread their garments. Vast multitudes were gathered at Jerusalem at the Passover. The law required the assembling of the Jewish nation. Josephus says that several millions were wont to gather. Among these were thousands of Galileans who had heard of Jesus, seen his miracles, and believed in him as their Messiah King. When the people of Bethlehem, during the war between Turkey and Egypt in 1836, sought the protection of the British consul, they "spread their garments in the way" of his horses, in order to do him honor.

Cut down branches from the trees. John (Joh 12:13) says that these were the branches of palm trees; rather, the wide, spreading, branch-like leaves of the palm tree, well fitted to form a soft, level carpet. The only branches of the palm tree are its leafy crown.

Verse 9

Hosanna. A Greek modification of the Hebrew words rendered, "Save now, I beseech thee," in Psa 118:25, the next verse of which formed part of their song, "Blessed," etc. It is used as an expression of praise, like hallelujah.

That cometh in the name of the Lord. The words are taken in part from Psa 118:25-26, a hymn which belonged to the great hallelujah chanted at the end of the Paschal Supper and the Feast of Tabernacles. The people were accustomed to apply it to the Messiah.

Verse 10

All the city was moved. The procession burst into full view of Jerusalem as it appeared on the Mount of Olives, two hundred feet higher than the temple mount. There, as the city appeared in all its splendor, according to Luke, he stopped and wept over its coming sorrows. As the procession descended, it was in plain view of all Jerusalem, and its magnitude, shouts and songs excited the wonder of the whole city.

Verse 11

Jesus the prophet of Nazareth. The inquiry arose everywhere, "Who is this?" to which the Galileans who composed so large a part of the procession, responded: "It is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth, of Galilee." Of this they were sure; of his real character none but his own disciples knew, and they imperfectly. The Galileans regarded him the prophet named by Moses in Deu 18:18.

Verse 12

And Jesus went into the temple. According to Mark, on this day, after the triumphal entry, he entered the temple, looked around, perhaps to note the abuses, and then at eventide went out to Bethany. The next day, returning, he again entered the temple, and wrought the cleansing that is here recorded. He went into the temple, not as a worshiper, but as its Lord.

Cast out all them. This casting of the traders out of the temple is not to be confounded with that recorded in Joh 2:13-17, at the commencement of Christ's ministry. See notes there.

Them that sold and bought in the temple. A market was held there for the sale of animals and those things necessary for the temple service. Not the less a desecration because so great a convenience. The part of the temple occupied by the traders was not in the temple proper, but the Court of the Gentiles. In the accompanying plan of the temple, the open space next to the outer walls is this court.

Verse 13

It is written. In Isa 56:7.

A house of prayer. A place of sacred worship.

A den of thieves. A cave or den of robbers. The language indicates that it was a corrupt and fraudulent traffic, which a corrupt and fraudulent priesthood had permitted to encroach on the worship of God. It is a desecration of religious institutions to use them for worldly gain.

Verse 15

The chief priests and scribes . . . were sore displeased. These inveterate enemies were displeased, not only at the authority he had assumed over the temple, but at the acclamations of approval, the cries of the children, and the evident favor of the people.

Verse 16

Hearest thou what these say? Christ's answer to the priests is a rebuke to all who would check religious enthusiasm on the part of children. The quotation is from Psa 8:2. The praise of the innocent child is the perfection of praise.

Verse 17

Went to Bethany. Two miles east of Jerusalem. During the eventful week, he seems to have passed his nights, until Thursday, at the congenial home of Lazarus.

Verse 18

Now in the morning. Compare Mar 11:12-19, and Luk 19:45-48. This was Monday.

Verse 19

Seeing a fig tree. On the route from Bethany to the city. The fig is common in Palestine.

Found nothing thereon, but leaves. Mark adds that "the time of figs was not yet;" that is, of ripe figs. The green figs ought to have appeared among the leaves in April, though the fruit began ripening in June.

Let there be no more fruit from thee. Peter calls this a cursing (Mar 11:21). It was doomed to death and withered. On the next morning (Tuesday) it "was dried up from the roots" (Mar 11:20). It was a parable in action, illustrating how the fruitless Jewish nation should wither away. It had leaves, but no fruit.

Verses 21-22

If ye have faith. See note on Mat 17:20.

Verse 23

When he was come into the temple. Compare Mar 11:27, and Luk 20:1. This was on Tuesday, after the discourse on the fig tree, which occurred the morning after the curse was pronounced.

The chief priests and the elders. Mark and Luke add "the scribes." These three classes made up the Sanhedrim, and this was probably a deputation from that body.

By what authority doest thou these things? Such acts as driving the money-changers and traders out of the temple, done the day before.

Verse 24

I also will ask you one question. A malicious question is often best answered by a question which will expose the questioners.

Verses 25-26

The baptism of John. Though the people generally had obeyed John, they had rejected his baptism. Yet they dared not say it was of men, for fear of the people; nor that it was of heaven, because they had disobeyed it. They therefore say,

Verse 27

We cannot tell. Hence the Lord refuses to answer their question, but immediately addresses them in a parable. As his death approaches, his parables are unusually solemn.

Verses 28-31

A man had two sons. The two sons represent (Mat 21:31) the priests, elders and scribes on the one hand, and the publicans and harlots, "the sinners," on the other. Both classes were bidden to work in the Lord's vineyard. The publicans and sinners had refused, but repented at the preaching of John. The others professed to obey, but did not. The design of the parable is to show that the publicans and harlots, whom they so much despised, were morally superior to his questioners.

Verse 32

Repented not afterward. The Greek word here translated "repent," is not the one which is used in all commands as, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," "Repent and be baptized," "Repent and be converted," etc. This term means, rather, regret or sorrow; the word in the other passages means "change your minds" or "hearts." The regret, or sorrow, for sin leads to repentance (2Co 7:10). The scribes and Pharisees did not regret their course, when they saw sinners repenting, so that they could come into a penitent belief.

Verse 33

Hear another parable. Compare Mar 12:1-12; Luk 20:9-19. The second parable is also a rebuke of the ruling classes that were seeking his death.

There was a certain householder. The head of a family is here selected to represent God. In what follows is portrayed the blessings he had bestowed and the care he had taken of Israel.

Which planted a vineyard. Our Lord draws, as was his wont, his illustration from common life and familiar objects. Palestine was emphatically a vine-growing country.

And hedged it round about. God in his care not only planted Israel, but hedged the nation around by the law which separated it from the Gentiles.

Digged a wine-press in it. The wine-press consisted of two parts: (1) the press, or trough, above, in which the grapes were placed and there trodden by the feet; (2) a smaller trough, into which the expressed juice flowed through a hole. Here the smaller trough, which was "digged" out of the earth or rock and then lined with masonry, is put for the whole apparatus, and is called a wine FAT.

Built a tower. Towers were erected in vineyards for the accommodation of keepers, who defended the vineyards from thieves and from troublesome animals. The hedge and wine-press and tower represent the various advantages conferred by God upon the Jewish people (Rom 9:4).

Let it out to husbandmen. Representing the rulers of the Jews, and also the people as a whole, a nation, are included.

Went into a far country. Better, "into another country," as in the Revised. "For a long while" (or time), adds Luke. It means that God left Israel to itself to see what use it would make of the favors he had bestowed.

Verse 34

When the time of the fruit drew near. Probably no definite time, but whenever any special duty was to be done, or special call to repentance made, as by the prophets.

He sent his servants. The prophets.

That they might receive the fruits of it. The householder's share. The rent was to be paid in a stipulated portion of the produce. The fruits were obedience, love, righteous living, teaching the true God to the nations, etc.

Verse 35

And the husbandmen took his servants. According to the obvious design of the whole parable, this is a lively figure for the undutiful and violent reception often given to the prophets or other divine messengers, and the refusal to obey their message. See Mat 23:29-31, Mat 23:34, Mat 23:37; Luk 11:47-50; Luk 13:33-34. Compare 1Th 2:15; Rev 16:6; Rev 18:24.

Killed another. Some of the prophets were not merely maltreated, but actually put to death.

Verse 37

Last of all he sent unto them his son. This was the last and crowning effort of divine mercy; after which, on the one side, all the resources, even of heavenly love, are exhausted; on the other, the measure of sins is perfectly filled up.

Verse 38

This is the heir. He for whom the inheritance is meant, and to whom it will in due course rightfully arrive. Christ is "heir of all things" (Heb 1:2).

Come, let us kill him. The very words of Genesis (Gen 37:20), where Joseph's brethren express a similar resolution. This resolution had actually been taken (Joh 11:53).

Let us seize on his inheritance. If Christ prevailed, Judaism must fall; if they could destroy Christ they could maintain their hold on the vineyard; or, in other words, seize the inheritance. Such was their hope.

Verse 39

Cast him out of the vineyard. This may involve an allusion to Christ suffering "without the gate" (Heb 13:12-13; Joh 19:17).

Slew him. This is a prophecy of his own death at the hands of the men whom he was addressing.

Verse 40

When the lord . . . cometh, what will he do? This question is addressed to the Jews, who seem to have been so carried away by the vivid description that they answered without seeing that they pronounced their own sentence (see Mat 21:41).

Verse 41

They say unto him . . . and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen. Their answer is not only their own decree of judgment upon themselves, but an unconscious prediction. The nation was nearly destroyed in the Roman war; 1,100,000 perished in the siege of Jerusalem; the Jewish polity was destroyed, and "another people," the Church of Christ, mostly Gentile aliens before, received the inheritance and the kingdom.

Verse 42

The stone which the builders rejected. "The Scripture" that speaks of this stone is Psa 118:22-23 --a psalm which the Jews applied to the Messiah. Peter twice applied it to him (Act 4:11; 1Pe 2:7). The figure represents a stone rejected by the builders as worthless, and then found to be the chief corner-stone of the building. The stone is Christ, rejected by the Jewish nation, but "the chief corner-stone," for this is what is meant by the "head of the corner." The "corner-stone" joined two walls. Alford thinks this is a reference to the union of Jews and Gentiles in the church.

Marvellous. That the rejected stone should become the "chief corner-stone, elect and precious," on which the whole structure of the spiritual temple rests.

Verse 43

Given to a nation bringing forth the fruits. The kingdom was taken from the Jews and given to the "chosen nation" (1Pe 2:9); not any particular nation, but those chosen out of the nations to be a "peculiar people."

Verse 44

Whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken. Two fates are named for opposers in this verse; those who fall on the stone shall be broken; those on whom the stone shall fall shall be ground to powder. While the principle is general, the special application is to the Jewish opposers. Their falling upon the Stone (Christ) was the ruin of their nation. When the Stone fell upon them, in the judgment he had predicted because they rejected him, they were ground to powder in the awful desolation that occurred about thirty-seven years later.

Verse 45

When the chief priests and Pharisees had heard, etc. When the application of the parable was made, they perceived that they were meant and that they had condemned themselves.

Verse 46

When they sought to lay hands on him. Jerusalem was filled with people, and the demonstration, two days before, on Sunday, showed that thousands of Galileans, at least, regarded him a prophet. Hence, they find some darker and safer way than an open assault in the day. None can oppose Christ without injury. Even the silent opposition of indifference will cause us to be "broken" unless repented of. To continue our opposition until the day of grace is over will result in irretrievable ruin. Those who are "ground to powder" are beyond hope.

Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pnt/matthew-21.html. 1891.
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