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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.

This chapter brings us to the last week of Christ’s life.

(1,) He enters Jerusalem in triumph, amid the loud acclamations of the people, Matthew 21:1-11 .

(2,) As the head of the church, he again expels the buyers and sellers from the temple, Matthew 21:12-16 .

(3,) In causing the barren fig-tree to wither by his word, he showed what would quickly happen to the Jewish Church and nation, Matthew 21:17-22 .

(4,) He justifies his own authority by appealing to the baptism of John, which his enemies did not dare to say was of human origin, Matthew 21:23-27 .

(5,) He exposes the infidelity and impenitence of the chief priests and elders by the repentance of the publicans, illustrated in the parable of the two sons, Matthew 21:28-32 .

(6,) He foretels the dreadful doom of the Jewish Church, for its unfruitfulness, in the parable of the vineyard let out to husbandmen, Matthew 21:33-46 .

Verses 1-3

Matthew 21:1-3. And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem Namely, on the first day of the week, five days before his death, for the passover was kept on the fourteenth day of the month, and this was the tenth; on which day the law appointed that the paschal-lamb should be taken up, Exodus 12:3, and set apart for that service: on that day therefore Christ our passover, who was to be sacrificed for us, was publicly shown. So that this was the prologue to his passion. And were come to Bethphage Mark says, and Bethany. Then sent Jesus two disciples, saying, Go into the village over against you This, as the Arabian geographer informs us, was a little village two miles distant from the mount of Olives, toward the south. And straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her As Mark and Luke say that the colt was tied, the words of Matthew contain an ellipsis, which must be supplied thus, and a colt bound with her. It must be observed, also, that the other evangelists make mention only of the colt, because our Lord sat on him only. See note on Matthew 21:7. Here we have “a wonderful instance of Christ’s prescience in very minute matters. He says, 1, You shall find a colt: 2, On which no man ever sat: 3, Bound with his mother: 4, In a place where two ways meet, Mark 11:4: 5, As you enter into the village: 6, The owners of which shall at first seem unwilling that you should unbind him: 7, But when they hear the Lord hath need of him, they will let him go.” Whitby.

Verses 4-5

Matthew 21:4-5. All this was done, & c. Ινα πληρωθη το ρηθεν δια του προφητου , that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that is, not only hereby the words of the prophet were fulfilled, but our Lord directed this to be done, that they might be fulfilled. As the prophets looked forward to him, and all bore witness to him; so he looked back upon them, that all things which were written of the Messiah might be punctually accomplished in him. Tell ye the daughter of Zion That is, Jerusalem, so called from mount Zion, which was in the city, and on which was erected a fortress for its defence. This poetical manner of personifying the cities and countries, to which they addressed themselves, was familiar to the prophets. The first words of the passage are cited from Isaiah 62:11, the rest from Zechariah 9:9. The ancient Jewish doctors were wont to apply these prophecies to the Messiah. On an ass The Prince of peace did not take a horse, a warlike animal: but he will ride on that by and by, Revelation 19:11. In the patriarchal ages, illustrious persons thought it no disgrace to make use of this animal: but it by no means appears that this opinion prevailed, or this custom continued, till the reign of Tiberius. Was it a mean attitude wherein our Lord then appeared? mean even to contempt? We grant it: we glory in it: it is for the comfort of our souls, for the honour of his humility, and for the utter confusion of all worldly pomp and grandeur. Upon an ass, and a colt, &c. “From the other evangelists it would appear that our Lord rode only on the colt; from this passage we should be apt to think that both had been used. But it is not unusual with the sacred authors, when either the nature of the thing spoken of, or the attendant circumstances are sufficient for precluding mistakes, to employ the plural number for the singular.” Campbell.

Verses 6-8

Matthew 21:6-8. The disciples went, &c. ( and found even as he had said unto them, Luke,) found his prediction exactly true. And how convincing must this have been of the divine mission of Jesus, not only to the two disciples that were sent, but to every unprejudiced person in that great multitude who were witnesses to his uttering the prediction, and saw the disciples bring the ass and the colt, and heard their testimony, that they had found every thing as Christ had foretold. This was another remarkable instance, like that recorded Matthew 17:27; where see the note. And brought the ass, &c., and put on them their clothes Τα ιματια , their mantles. Campbell. And set him thereon That is, on the clothes, which were spread upon the colt instead of a saddle. For though the creature had never been used in riding before, it was perfectly tame on this occasion. A very great multitude spread their garments, &c. The multitude which attended him on this journey had increased prodigiously as he advanced toward Jerusalem, and he did not now shun them, as he had always done on former occasions. “The people were to honour him with the title of Messiah publicly, that he might have an opportunity of accepting that august name in the most avowed manner, before he ascended into heaven. Moreover, the priests, who had issued out a proclamation against him, (John 11:57,) were to be awed, at least, for a while, and restrained from offering him violence. For as he had doctrines to teach, rebukes to give, and other things to do, that would not fail to incense those proud rulers, without doubt they would have put him to death prematurely, had not the people appeared on his side.” Now, it seems, when this great multitude saw him mounted, they immediately bethought themselves of showing him the honours which kings were wont to receive at their creation; (see 2 Kings 9:15;) and in their triumphal entries into their capital cities. For as they all firmly believed that he would take the reins of government into his own hands at this passover, they had a mind to make his entry into Jerusalem have the air of a triumph. Accordingly some spread their garments in the way: others cut down branches of the trees, and strewed them in the way Carrying the larger sort on high in procession before the Messiah, as demonstrations of their joy.

Verses 9-11

Matthew 21:9-11. And the multitude that went before, and that followed In this triumphal procession, cried, saying Probably from a divine impulse; for certainly most of them understood not the words they uttered, Hosanna ( Lord, save us,) which was a solemn word in frequent use among the Jews. The meaning is, “We sing Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he, the Messiah, of the Lord. Save, thou that art in the highest heavens.” Our Lord restrained all public tokens of honour from the people till now, lest the envy of his enemies should interrupt his preaching before the time. But this reason now ceasing, he suffered their acclamations, that they might be a public testimony against their wickedness, who, in four or five days after, cried out, Crucify him, crucify him. The expressions recorded by the other evangelists are somewhat different from these: but all of them were undoubtedly used by some or others of the multitude. And all the city was moved Was in a great commotion at so uncommon an appearance, saying, Who is this? That comes in all this pomp, and is attended with these high congratulations And the multitude Namely, that came along with him, said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth What a stumbling- block was this! If he was of Nazareth? he could not be the Messiah. But they who earnestly desired to know the truth would not stumble thereat: for, upon inquiry, (which such would not fail to make,) they would find, he was not of Nazareth, but Bethlehem. Thus Sion’s king comes to Sion; and the daughter of Sion had notice of his coming long before; and yet he is not attended by the great ones of the country, nor met by the magistrates of the city in their formalities, as might have been expected. The keys of the city are not presented to him, nor is he conducted, as he ought to have been, with all possible ceremony, to the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David, Psalms 122:5. Here is nothing of all this: yet he has his attendants; and those a very great multitude. But alas! they are only the common people (the rabble, we should have been apt to call them) that grace the solemnity of Christ’s triumph. The chief priests and elders are not among them. We find them afterward, indeed, intermixed with the multitude that reviled him when he hung on the cross, but none of them are here joining with the multitude that did him honour! Ye see, here, your calling, brethren; not many mighty, or noble, attend on Christ; but the foolish things of the world, and base things, and things that are despised. Such is what has been termed the triumph of Christ! But what sort of a triumph is it? Not like the triumphs of the potentates and conquerors of the world: but the triumph of humility, self-denial, meekness, and love, over the pride, vain glory, ambition, and selfishness of carnal and worldly- minded men.

Verses 12-14

Matthew 21:12-14. And Jesus went into the temple He did not go up to the court, or to the palace, though he came in as a king; but to the temple; for his kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world. It is in holy things that he rules, and in the temple of God that he exercises authority. And cast out them that sold and bought Namely, doves and oxen for sacrifice. He had cast them out three years before, (John 2:14,) bidding them not make that house a house of merchandise: upon the repetition of the offence, he uses sharper words; In the temple That is, in the outer court of it, where the Gentiles used to worship. The money-changers The exchangers of foreign money into current coin, which those who came from distant parts might want to offer for the service of the temple. And said unto them As he turned them out, It is written Namely, Isaiah 56:7, My house shall be called a house of prayer To all nations, Mark 11:17. That is, a place to which they shall resort for the performance of religious worship: but ye have made it a den of thieves A harbour of wicked men; a place where traffic is carried on by persons of the most infamous character, who live by deceit and oppression, and practise the vilest extortion, even in the house of the most righteous and blessed God. “Let it be observed, that the word rendered temple here, is ιερον , not ναος . By the latter word was meant properly the house, including only the vestibule, the holy place or sanctuary, and the most holy. Whereas the former comprehended all the courts. It was in the outermost court that this sort of traffic was exercised. For want of a name, in European languages, peculiar to each, these two are confounded in most modern translations. To the ναος , or temple, strictly so called, none of those people had access, not even our Lord himself, because not of the posterity of Aaron.” Campbell. And the blind and lame Having heard of his arrival in the city, and requested their friends to lead them to the place where he was; came to him in the temple, and he healed them In the presence of all the people. “Many such afflicted persons would, no doubt, be waiting in the several avenues of the temple to ask alms, at a time when there would be such a vast concourse of people: and there seems a peculiar propriety in our Lord’s multiplying these astonishing miracles, both to vindicate the extraordinary act of authority he had just been performing, and to make this his last visit to Jerusalem as convincing as possible, that those who would not submit to him might be left so much the more inexcusable.” Doddridge.

Verses 15-17

Matthew 21:15-17. When the chief priests, &c., saw the wonderful things he did The undeniable and astonishing miracles which he performed, and the children crying in the temple, and continuing the song which the multitude had begun, Hosanna to the son of David, they were sore displeased Inwardly vexed and filled with indignation. The works that Christ did recommended themselves to every man’s conscience: if they had any sense, they could not but own the miracle of them; and if any good-nature, they could not but be in love with the mercy of them; yet, because they were resolved to oppose him, even for these works they envied and hated him. And said, Hearest thou what these (the children) say? Insinuating that it was his duty to stop their mouths, by refusing the praises which they offered without understanding what they said. Jesus saith, Yea; have ye never read Are you unacquainted with the Scriptures? You, that want the people to regard you as the great teachers of God’s law? Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise These words are quoted out of the eighth Psalm, and imply that, “though all men should be silent, God has no need of other heralds to proclaim his praise than infants, who hang at their mothers’ breasts; because, notwithstanding they be dumb, the admirable providence of God, conspicuous in their preservation, is equal to the loudest and sublimest eloquence. And, by applying these words to the case in hand, Jesus signified that the meanest of God’s works are so formed as to declare the greatness of his perfections; that as the Father does not refuse the praise which arises from the least of his creatures, so the Son did not disdain the praise which was offered him by children. In the present instance their praise was peculiarly acceptable, because it implied that his miracles were exceedingly illustrious, inasmuch as they led minds wherein there was nothing but the dawnings of reason, to acknowledge his mission. The Messiah’s praise, therefore, might, with remarkable propriety, be said, on this occasion, to have been perfected out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.” Macknight. But see the note on Psalms 8:2; where the psalmist’s words, here referred to, are explained at large. And he left them Namely, when the evening was come, both in prudence, lest they should have seized him before his hour was come, and in justice, because they had forfeited the favour of his presence: he left them as incorrigible. And went out of the city Privately, with none to attend him but the twelve; to Bethany Where the resurrection of Lazarus had procured him friends, among whom he was always in safety.

Verses 18-22

Matthew 21:18-22. In the morning, as he returned, he hungered For, being a man, he was subject to all the innocent infirmities of our nature, and he had come out from Bethany early without eating any thing: And when he saw a fig-tree (Gr. συκην μιαν , a single fig-tree) in the way Having a fine spread of leaves upon it, and therefore appearing to be one of the earlier kind; he came to it In expectation of finding figs thereon, for the season of gathering them was not yet come, Mark 11:12; and found nothing but leaves only By which it plainly appeared that, though it looked so beautiful, it was a barren tree. Thus Christ’s just expectations from flourishing professors are often disappointed; he comes to many seeking fruit, and finds leaves only: they have a name to live, but are dead. And he said, Let no fruit grow on thee for ever As thou art now fruitless, continue always so. Thus the sin of hypocrites and unfruitful professors is made their punishment; they would not bring forth the fruits of righteousness, and therefore they shall not bring them forth. And presently the fig-tree withered away That is, began to wither away. This, like many other of our Lord’s actions, was emblematical. It signified that the curse of God would thus wither and destroy the Jewish nation, which he had before compared to a barren fig-tree; Luke 13:6-9. And when the disciples saw it As they went by the next day, Mark 11:20, they marvelled, saying, How soon, &c. They were astonished to see it withered down to the roots in the space of one day. Jesus answered, If ye have faith, and doubt not So the same word διακρινομαι is rendered James 1:6, and so it doubtless frequently signifies; but Dr. Whitby proposes rendering it here, do not discriminate, or put a difference: as if our Lord had said, “If you have such a faith as puts no difference between things you can, and things you cannot do, but makes you fully persuaded you can do any thing which tends to the glory of God, and is requisite for the promotion of the Christian faith, you shall be able to perform the most difficult things; which is the meaning of the phrase, to remove mountains.” Thus we learn that one great end of our Lord in this miracle was, to confirm and increase the faith of his disciples: another was, to warn them against unfruitfulness. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer All things that God in his word authorizes you to ask, as being for your real profit, or that of others, and for God’s glory, and therefore according to his will, 1 John 5:14; ye shall receive “Nothing shall be too hard which God hath promised, and ye by faith and prayer are fit to receive.” So Baxter. “Faith is the soul, prayer is the body; both together make a complete man for any service. Faith, if it be right, will excite prayer, and prayer is not right if it do not spring from faith. This is the condition of our receiving; we must ask in prayer, believing: the requests of prayer shall not be denied: the expectations of faith shall not be frustrated. We have many promises to this purpose from the mouth of our Lord Jesus, and all to encourage faith, the principal grace, and prayer, the principal duty of a Christian. It is but, ask and have; believe and receive; and what would we more?” So Henry.

Verses 23-27

Matthew 21:23-27. When he was come into the temple, the chief priests came Who thought he violated their right: And the elders of the people Probably, members of the sanhedrim, to whom that title most properly belonged: which is the more probable, as they were the persons under whose cognizance the late action of Christ, in purging the temple, would naturally fall. These, with the chief priests, seem purposely to have appeared in a considerable company, to give the more weight to what they said, and, if need were, to bear a united testimony against him. As he was teaching Which also they supposed he had no authority to do, being neither priest, nor Levite, nor scribe. Some of the priests, (though not as priests,) and all the scribes, were authorized teachers. By what authority doest thou these things Publicly teach the people? And drive out those who had our commission to traffic in the outer court? Jesus answered, I also will ask you one thing Who have asked me many: The baptism That is, the whole ministry; of John, whence was it? Whence had he his commission? from heaven, or of men? Did God or man give him his authority to act and teach? This question reduced the priests and elders to an inextricable dilemma: and they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, &c. They considered, on the one hand, that if they should acknowledge John’s mission to be from God, it would oblige them to acknowledge Christ’s authority; John having more than once borne testimony to him as the Messiah. On the other hand, if they denied John’s divine mission, they did not know but the people, who stood listening to Jesus, would stone them; for they generally believed John to have been a prophet, many of them had submitted to his baptism, and at present not a few held him in high esteem on Christ’s account. Wherefore, as matters stood, they judged it safest to answer that they could not tell whence John’s baptism was. And he said, Neither tell I you That is, not again in express terms: he had often told them before, and they would not believe him. Thus, by the question which he put to them, he obliged them to confess that they had not been able to pass any judgment upon John the Baptist, notwithstanding he claimed the character of a messenger from God, and they had sent to examine his pretensions. This in effect was to acknowledge themselves incapable of judging of any prophet whatsoever. “Ye are come,” said he, “to inquire into the proofs of my mission. I agree to submit myself to your examination, on condition that you tell me what your determination was concerning John. Was he a true or a false prophet? You say you do not know. But if you were not able to form a judgment concerning John, how can you take upon you to judge me?” In this light our Lord’s question, in answer to theirs, appears to have been formed with the greatest wisdom; because, whether the priests replied in the affirmative or in the negative, or gave no reply at all, they absolutely condemned themselves. See Macknight.

Verses 28-32

Matthew 21:28-32 . But what think ye As if he had said, You have evaded a direct answer to my question concerning the baptism of John, and have acknowledged your ignorance whence it was; but what think you of your own conduct in these circumstances? and of all the high professions you make of an extraordinary reverence for God, and zeal in his service? I will plainly tell you my judgment of it, which is very naturally connected with the present subject. This our Lord does in two parables, in the former of which, by a question which he puts to them, he makes them condemn themselves. A certain man had two sons Signifying two sorts of persons: some that prove better than they promise, represented by the former of these sons; others that promise better than they prove, represented by the latter. And he came to the first Exhibiting the disobedient, profligate, and wicked Jews, and open sinners of all descriptions, who, though they neither professed nor promised to do the will of God, nor gave any reason to hope well concerning them, yet afterward being convinced of sin, and brought to repentance by the preaching of John the Baptist and Christ, turned from their sins, and sincerely embraced the gospel. The spirit and conduct of the second son was an exact picture of the temper and behaviour of the Pharisees; for in their prayers and praises they gave God the most honourable titles, and professed the greatest readiness and zeal in his service: but it was a bare profession, contradicted by all their actions. They said, I go, sir, to work in thy vineyard, but went not. Jesus having finished his parable, asked, Whether of them twain did the will of his Father? Without hesitation, they replied, The first Not perceiving that by this answer they condemned themselves, till Jesus, making a direct application of the parable, gave them that sharp but just rebuke; Verily I say unto you Even the most abandoned sinners of the age, such as the publicans and harlots, go into the kingdom of God before you Are much more open to conviction, and more readily obey the gospel than you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness Walking in it as well as teaching it, and gave evident proofs of his mission from God; and ye believed him not Gave no credit to the testimony which he bare to me, nor received his doctrine, and consequently would not enter the vineyard: but the publicans and harlots The most notorious sinners; believed him Were reformed, and obeyed the gospel, though at first they said, I will not. And ye, when ye had seen it And could not deny that an amazing change had been wrought in them, and that persons of the most abandoned characters had been reformed by his sermons, which doubtless was a strong proof of his mission from God; yet repented not afterward Of your opposition to that holy man, nor of your disobedience to his instructions; That ye might believe him And therefore I solemnly warn you, (for so his words imply,) that your condition will hereafter be worse than theirs; and that you shall see those whom you now despise and abhor, entering into the glory from which you shall be excluded.

Verse 33

Matthew 21:33. Hear another parable In which you are very nearly concerned, as your own consciences must quickly tell you. In the preceding parable of the two sons, our Lord convicted the Pharisees, the chief priests, and elders, of absolute disobedience to God, their heavenly Father, notwithstanding all their fair speeches and smooth promises: here he rises upon them, and shows them, as in a glass, the high privileges they enjoyed; and their exceeding great ingratitude, that, if possible, he might awaken their souls, and disarm them of the horrid purpose they had already conceived of murdering him, the true heir of the vineyard whereof they were such unfaithful husbandmen. And indeed they must have proceeded to great lengths in iniquity, and have hardened their hearts above measure, who could go on in their black design of destroying Jesus, after he had thus plainly shown them his knowledge of their design, and laid open their devices, and the dreadful consequences thereof to themselves, to the justice of which they had subscribed with their own lips. There was a certain householder Or, master of a family, representing God, the proprietor of all; which planted a vineyard The Jewish Church planted in Canaan, represented also as a vineyard, Isaiah 5:1-4, in a parable on which this of our Lord seems to be founded; see the notes there. There could not be a more natural emblem of the church, or one more familiar and obvious for the prophets and our Lord to use in Judea, than that of a vineyard; as that country abounded with vineyards, and so gave the people constant occasion, by having them always before their eyes, to recollect and apply the spiritual instructions drawn from them. And the comparison was not only obvious, but natural: and the particulars, whereof our Lord and the prophets speak, as they are essential to a vineyard, so do they beautifully correspond to the essential blessings vouchsafed of God to the Jewish Church. 1st, It is necessary that a vineyard should be planted, for vines are not anywhere the natural produce of the soil. Our Lord, therefore, mentions this particular first. 2d, Vines being tender plants, and vineyards subject to the incursions of beasts and enemies, it is necessary they should be enclosed. Therefore it is here observed that this vineyard was hedged round about; namely, by the divine protection, which was as a wall of fire round the Jewish Church and people, whereby he enclosed and defended them from all their enemies. But a hedge is not only for defence, but for the distinction and separation of property; and so God distinguished and separated his church by the fence of circumcision, and the ceremonial law, which were what St. Paul calls the partition wall, which was broken down and taken away in Christ, who yet has appointed a gospel order and discipline to be the hedge round about his church. 3d, A vineyard, being thus planted and fenced, must be provided with a place for the cultivator’s reception and dwelling; and for the gathering in and receiving of the fruit. Accordingly this householder built a tower for the former purpose, and prepared a wine-press for the latter. So God provided for his ancient church a tabernacle first, and then a temple, wherein the cultivators of his vineyard might dwell and watch continually, (for the priests are the Lord’s watchmen,) where also he himself promised to dwell, and give them the tokens of his presence among them, and pleasure in them: and in this temple he set up his holy altar, which, as the wine-press flowed with the blood of the grape, was to flow continually with the blood of the sacrifices, the fruits of their obedience, the testimonies of their faith, and then truly acceptable when offered up in faith of the great Sacrifice, whose blood all the blood shed in sacrifices prefigured, and who was himself trodden in the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. The next clause, And let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country, signifies no more than that God, having established and provided his vineyard with all things necessary to render it fruitful to his praise, committed the care and cultivation of it to the priests and elders, the ecclesiastical and civil rulers, by whose ministry the people were to be instructed and governed, without expecting such extraordinary marks of God’s constant presence and immediate direction as appeared at his forming them into a church.

Verses 34-39

Matthew 21:34-39. And when the time of fruit drew near And a return was to be made to the proprietor from the profits of the vineyard, which was only let out to these husbandmen, that they might render to him duly the fruits agreed on, namely, those of gratitude, love, and obedience; he sent his servants His extraordinary messengers, the prophets, to demand and receive those fruits; to instruct, exhort, and, when necessary, to reprove these occupiers of the vineyard. And the husbandmen Far from rendering their Lord his due, took his servants, beat one, killed another, &c. See notes on Mark 12:3-5, where this branch of the parable is given more fully. The meaning is, that the Jewish priests and rulers, extremely irritated at the prophets for the freedom which they used in reproving their sins and exhorting them to a holy life, persecuted and slew them with unrelenting fury. Again he sent other servants Though his servants were thus indignantly treated, the good lord of the vineyard being very long-suffering toward these husbandmen, and desirous of bringing them to a sense of their duty, instead of immediately punishing them for their ungrateful and rebellious proceedings, he sent other extraordinary messengers, more in number than the first. This seems to refer to the latter prophets and John the Baptist. But these met with no better treatment than the former from these ungrateful husbandmen. They did unto them likewise Beat, stoned, and killed them. Who would wonder now if his patience and forbearance had been utterly wearied out, and if he had sent to destroy and remove these wicked husbandmen? But more abundant kindness still remained to be shown on his part, to aggravate their ingratitude, and to render this perverseness and cruelty utterly without excuse. Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son Surely they must needs have some respect for him, and will not presume to offer him any injury. This is spoken after the manner of men: it does not mean that God supposed they would reverence him, but was mistaken. For numberless predictions in the Old and New Testaments plainly show that God foresaw, and therefore foretold how they would use him. But it implies that it might have been reasonably expected they would have reverenced him. considering the benevolent design on which he came, and the undeniable proofs which he gave of his divine mission, by his astonishing miracles, his heavenly doctrine, and most holy life. But alas! far from reverencing him, so inveterate in guilt and hardened in their crimes were they, that when they saw him, they said, This is the heir, let us kill him And their impious combinations were attended with immediate resolves, and a speedy execution: They caught him Gr. λαβοντες αυτον , having seized him, they cast him out of the vineyard Utterly rejected his claim of being either the Messiah, or even a divine messenger, and slew him In a most ignominious and cruel manner; thus filling up the measure of their transgressions, and declaring themselves very monsters of iniquity. Thus, as in a glass, our Lord set forth the great ingratitude of the Jewish nation, and especially of the chief priests and rulers, and the long-suffering of God toward them, with whom he had intrusted his vineyard, and from whom he expected the fruits thereof. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge here, that if their saying, This is the heir, come, let us kill him, &c., “would have been the height of folly, as well as wickedness in these husbandmen, it was so much the more proper to represent the part the Jewish rulers acted in the murder of Christ, which they were now projecting, and which they accomplished within three days. The admonition was most graciously given; but served only in an astonishing manner to illustrate that degree of hardness to which a sinful heart is capable of arriving.” But some of these circumstances, like that of seizing on the inheritance, may have been added for the sake of completing the parable, without any design of expressing by them any particular part of the conduct of the Jews toward Christ.

Verses 40-41

Matthew 21:40-41. When the Lord cometh Armed with a power which they will be utterly unable to resist, What will he do unto these husbandmen Who had been so treacherous and cruel? With a view to their stronger conviction, he refers it to themselves to judge in this case. For God’s proceedings are so unexceptionable, there needs only an appeal to sinners themselves concerning the equity of them. They say, (for how could they with any decency say otherwise?) He will miserably destroy these wicked men Κακους κακως απολεσει αυτους , he will put those wretches to a wretched death: (So Campbell:) and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen. Thus, before they were aware, they condemned themselves, and signified that their privileges and blessings would be taken from them, the governors of their church and commonwealth destroyed, and the Gentiles taken to be God’s people in their stead: an interpretation of the parable which our Lord immediately confirmed, Luke 20:16; when they replied with apparent seriousness, God forbid.

Verses 42-43

Matthew 21:42-43. Jesus saith unto them Luke says, εμβλεψας αυτοις , ειπε , having looked on them, namely, with great compassion and solemnity in his countenance, he said, Did ye never read, or never reflect upon this remarkable passage in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders refused, &c.? As if he had said, If the vineyard is not to be taken from you and given to others, what is the meaning of these words? Do they not plainly foretel that the Messiah shall be rejected by the Jewish great men, their teachers and rulers, the builders of their church and commonwealth, and that, though they put him to death, he shall become the head of the corner, or the head of the church? Now, what else is this but that he shall be believed on by the Gentiles, and unite them to the Church of God, as a head cornerstone unites the two sides of a building? This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous, &c. The rejection of the Messiah by the Jews, his reception among the Gentiles, and their admission into the church, are all very wonderful events, brought to pass by the singular providence of God. Therefore, because God himself has long ago expressly foretold that this judgment will happen to you; and because it is a most righteous and equitable judgment, I tell you plainly, the kingdom of God Which you have thus vilely and ungratefully contemned and abused, shall be taken from you, and given to a nation, &c. That is, the gospel of Christ shall be taken from you, and carried to the Gentiles, who will have more regard to the favour shown them, and improve it much better than you have done. It is justly observed by Dr. Campbell, “that this is one of the clearest predictions of the rejection of the Jews and of the call of the Gentiles, which we have in this history.”

Verses 44-46

Matthew 21:44-46. Whosoever shall fall on this stone Which the builders have rejected, but which God will make the head of the corner; that is, whosoever shall stumble at me and my doctrine, while I am here on earth in this humble form; shall be broken Shall receive much damage. This is spoken in allusion to a person stumbling on a stone, thrown aside as useless; but on whomsoever it shall fall When raised up to the head of the corner; it will grind him to powder Like a brittle potsherd, crushed by the weight of some huge stone falling upon it from on high. So whosoever shall oppose me, after my exaltation to glory, and the outpouring of my Spirit, for the full revelation of my gospel, and proof of my mission, he will bring upon himself aggravated guilt, and dreadful, unavoidable destruction. Dr. Whitby thinks, that there is an allusion in these words to the two different ways of stoning among the Jews; the former by throwing a person down upon a great stone, and the other by letting a stone fall upon him. But it seems more probable that the allusion is to Daniel 2:34; where the destruction of all the opposers of the Messiah’s kingdom is described in terms partly similar. See the notes there. “The chief priests, perceiving the drift of our Lord’s parables, were highly incensed, and would gladly have apprehended him to punish him that moment, but they durst not. It is true, they were not afraid of God, who is the avenger of such crimes, but they were afraid of the people, who constantly crowded around Jesus in the temple, and had openly acknowledged him as their Messiah.” Macknight.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 21". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/matthew-21.html. 1857.
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