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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Matthew 21

Verse 1

Unto Bethphage (εις Βεθφαγη). An indeclinable Aramaic name here only in O.T. or N.T. (Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29). It means "house of unripe young figs." It apparently lay on the eastern slope of Olivet or at the foot of the mountain, a little further from Jerusalem than Bethany. Both Mark and Luke speak of Christ's coming "unto Bethphage and Bethany" as if Bethphage was reached first. It is apparently larger than Bethany.

Unto the Mount of Olives (εις το ορος των Ελαιων). Matthew has thus three instances of εις with Jerusalem, Mount of Olives. Mark and Luke use προς with Mount of Olives, the Mount of Olive trees (ελαιων from ελαια, olive tree), the mountain covered with olive trees.

Verse 2

Into the village that is over against you (εις την κωμην την κατεναντ υμων). Another use of εις. If it means "into" as translated, it could be Bethany right across the valley and this is probably the idea.

And a colt with her (κα πωλον μετ' αυτης). The young of any animal. Here to come with the mother and the more readily so.

Verse 3

The Lord (ο κυριος). It is not clear how the word would be understood here by those who heard the message though it is plain that Jesus applies it to himself. The word is from κυρος, power or authority. In the LXX it is common in a variety of uses which appear in the N.T. as master of the slave (Matthew 10:24), of the harvest (Matthew 9:38), of the vineyard (Matthew 20:8), of the emperor (Acts 13:27), of God (Matthew 11:20; Matthew 11:25), and often of Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 10:36). Note Matthew 8:25. This is the only time in Matthew where the words ο κυριος are applied to Jesus except the doubtful passage in Matthew 28:6. A similar usage is shown by Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary and Deissmann's Light from the Ancient East. Particularly in Egypt it was applied to "the Lord Serapis" and Ptolemy and Cleopatra are called "the lords, the most great gods" (ο κυριο θεο μεγιστο). Even Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa I are addressed as "Lord King." In the west the Roman emperors are not so termed till the time of Domitian. But the Christians boldly claimed the word for Christ as Jesus is here represented as using it with reference to himself. It seems as if already the disciples were calling Jesus "Lord" and that he accepted the appellative and used it as here.

Verse 4

By the prophet (δια του προφητου). The first line is from Isaiah 62:11, the rest from Zechariah 9:9. John (John 12:14) makes it clear that Jesus did not quote the passage himself. In Matthew it is not so plain, but probably it is his own comment about the incident. It is not Christ's intention to fulfil the prophecy, simply that his conduct did fulfil it.

Verse 5

The daughter of Zion (τη θυγατρ Σιων). Jerusalem as in Isaiah 22:4 (daughter of my people). So Babylon (Isaiah 47:1), daughter of Tyre for Tyre (Psalms 45:12).

Riding (επιβεβηκως). Perfect active participle of επιβαινω, "having gone upon."

And upon a colt the foal of an ass (κα επ πωλον υιον υποζυγιου). These words give trouble if κα is here taken to mean "and." Fritzsche argues that Jesus rode alternately upon each animal, a possible, but needless interpretation. In the Hebrew it means by common Hebrew parallelism "upon an ass, even upon a colt." That is obviously the meaning here in Matthew. The use of υποζυγιου (a beast of burden, under a yoke) for ass is common in the LXX and in the papyri (Deissmann, Bible Studies p. 161).

Verse 7

And he sat thereon (κα επεκαθισεν επανω αυτων), Mark (Mark 11:7) and Luke (Luke 19:35) show that Jesus rode the colt. Matthew does not contradict that, referring to the garments (τα ιματια) put on the colt by "them" (αυτων). not to the two asses. The construction is somewhat loose, but intelligible. The garments thrown on the animals were the outer garments (ιματια), Jesus "took his seat" (επεκαθισεν, ingressive aorist active) upon the garments.

Verse 8

The most part of the multitude (ο πλειστος οχλος). See Matthew 11:20 for this same idiom, article with superlative, a true superlative (Robertson, Grammar, p. 670).

In the way (εν τη οδω). This the most of the crowd did. The disciples put their garments on the asses. Note change of tenses (constative aorist εστρωσαν, descriptive imperfects εκοπτον κα εστρωννυον showing the growing enthusiasm of the crowd). When the colt had passed over their garments, they would pick the garments up and spread them again before.

Verse 9

That went before him and that followed (ο προαγοντες αυτον κα ο ακολουθουντες). Note the two groups with two articles and the present tense (linear action) and the imperfect εκραζον "were crying" as they went.

Hosanna to the Son of David (Hοσαννα τω υιω Δαυειδ). They were now proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and he let them do it. "Hosanna" means "Save, we pray thee." They repeat words from the Hallel (Psalms 148:1) and one recalls the song of the angelic host when Jesus was born (Luke 2:14). "Hosanna in the highest" (heaven) as well as here on earth.

Verse 10

Was stirred (εσεισθη). Shaken as by an earthquake. "Even Jerusalem frozen with religious formalism and socially undemonstrative, was stirred with popular enthusiasm as by a mighty wind or by an earthquake" (Bruce).

Verse 12

Cast out (εξεβαλεν). Drove out, assumed authority over "the temple of God" (probably correct text with του θεου, though only example of the phrase). John (John 2:14) has a similar incident at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. It is not impossible that he should repeat it at the close after three years with the same abuses in existence again. It is amazing how short a time the work of reformers lasts. The traffic went on in the court of the Gentiles and to a certain extent was necessary. Here the tables of

the money-changers (των κολλυβιστων, from κολλυβος, a small coin) were overturned. See on Matthew 17:24 for the need of the change for the temple tax. The doves were the poor man's offering.

Verse 13

A den of robbers (σπηλαιον ληιστων). By charging exorbitant prices.

Verse 15

The children (τους παιδας). Masculine and probably boys who had caught the enthusiasm of the crowd.

Verse 16

Hearest thou (ακουεις). In a rage at the desecration of the temple by the shouts of the boys they try to shame Jesus, as responsible for it.

Thou hast perfected (κατηρτισω). The quotation is from Psalms 8:3 (LXX text). See Matthew 4:21 where the same verb is used for mending nets. Here it is the timeless aorist middle indicative with the perfective use of κατα-. It was a stinging rebuke.

Verse 17

To Bethany (εις Βηθανιαν). House of depression or misery, the Hebrew means. But the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus there was a house of solace and comfort to Jesus during this week of destiny. He

lodged there (ηυλισθη εκε) whether at the Bethany home or out in the open air. It was a time of crisis for all.

Verse 18

He hungered (επεινασεν). Ingressive aorist indicative, became hungry, felt hungry (Moffatt). Possibly Jesus spent the night out of doors and so had no breakfast.

Verse 19

A fig tree (συκην μιαν). "A single fig tree" (Margin of Rev. Version). But εις was often used = τις or like our indefinite article. See Matthew 8:10; Matthew 26:69. The Greek has strictly no indefinite article as the Latin has no definite article.

Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever (ου μηκετ σου καρπος γενητα εις τον αιωνα). Strictly speaking this is a prediction, not a prohibition or wish as in Mark 11:14 (optative φαγο). "On you no fruit shall ever grow again" (Weymouth). The double negative ου μη with the aorist subjunctive (or future indicative) is the strongest kind of negative prediction. It sometimes amounts to a prohibition like ου and the future indicative (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 926f.). The early figs start in spring before the leaves and develop after the leaves. The main fig crop was early autumn (Mark 11:14). There should have been figs on the tree with the crop of leaves. It was a vivid object lesson. Matthew does not distinguish between the two mornings as Mark does (Mark 11:13; Mark 11:20), but says "immediately" (παραχρημα) twice (Matthew 21:19; Matthew 21:20). This word is really παρα το χρημα like our "on the spot" (Thayer). It occurs in the papyri in monetary transactions for immediate cash payment.

Verse 21

Doubt not (μη διακριθητε). First aorist passive subjunctive, second-class condition. To be divided in mind, to waver, to doubt, the opposite of "faith" (πιστιν), trust, confidence.

What is done to the fig tree (το της συκης). The Greek means "the matter of the fig tree," as if a slight matter in comparison with

this mountain (τω ορε τουτω). Removing a mountain is a bigger task than blighting a fig tree. "The cursing of the fig-tree has always been regarded as of symbolic import, the tree being in Christ's mind an emblem of the Jewish people, with a great show of religion and no fruit of real godliness. This hypothesis is very credible" (Bruce). Plummer follows Zahn in referring it to the Holy City. Certainly "this mountain" is a parable and one already reported in Matthew 17:20 (cf. sycamine tree in Luke 17:6). Cf. Zechariah 17:4.

Verse 22

Believing (πιστευοντες). This is the point of the parable of the mountain, "faith in the efficacy of prayer" (Plummer).

Verse 24

One question (λογον ενα). Literally "one word" or "a word." The answer to Christ's word will give the answer to their query. The only human ecclesiastical authority that Jesus had came from John.

Verse 25

The baptism of John (το βαπτισμα το Ιωανου). This represents his relation to Jesus who was baptized by him. At once the ecclesiastical leaders find themselves in a dilemma created by their challenge of Christ.

They reasoned with themselves (διελογιζοντο). Picturesque imperfect tense describing their hopeless quandary.

Verse 29

I will not (ου θελω). So many old manuscripts, though the Vatican manuscript (B) has the order of the two sons reversed. Logically the "I, sir" (εγω, κυριε) suits better for the second son (verse Matthew 21:30) with a reference to the blunt refusal of the first. So also the manuscripts differ in verse Matthew 21:31 between the first (ο πρωτος) and the last (ο υστερος or εσχατος). But the one who actually did the will of the father is the one who

repented and went (μεταμεληθεις απηλθεν). This word really means "repent," to be sorry afterwards, and must be sharply distinguished from the word μετανοεω used 34 times in the N.T. as in Matthew 3:2 and μετανοια used 24 times as in Matthew 3:8. The verb μεταμελομα occurs in the N.T. only five times (Matthew 21:29; Matthew 21:32; Matthew 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8; Hebrews 7:21 from Psalms 109:4). Paul distinguishes sharply between mere sorrow and the act "repentance" which he calls μετανοιαν (2 Corinthians 7:9). In the case of Judas (Matthew 27:3) it was mere remorse. Here the boy got sorry for his stubborn refusal to obey his father and went and obeyed. Godly sorrow leads to repentance (μετανοιαν), but mere sorrow is not repentance.

Verse 31

Go before you (προαγουσιν). "In front of you" (Weymouth). The publicans and harlots march ahead of the ecclesiastics into the kingdom of heaven. It is a powerful indictment of the complacency of the Jewish theological leaders.

Verse 32

In the way of righteousness (εν οδω δικαιοσυνης). In the path of righteousness. Compare the two ways in Matthew 7:13; Matthew 7:14 and "the way of God" (Matthew 22:16).

Verse 33

A hedge (φραγμον). Or fence as a protection against wild beasts.

Digged a winepress (ωρυξεν ληνον). Out of the solid rock to hold the grapes and wine as they were crushed. Such wine-vats are to be seen today in Palestine.

Built a tower (ωικοδομησεν πυργον). This for the vinedressers and watchmen (2 Chronicles 26:10). Utmost care was thus taken. Note "a booth in a vineyard" (Isaiah 1:8). See also Isaiah 24:20; Job 27:18. Let it out (εξεδετο, εξεδοτο the usual form). For hire, the terms not being given. The lease allowed three forms, money-rent, a proportion of the crop, or a definite amount of the produce whether it was a good or bad year. Probably the last form is that contemplated here.

Verse 34

His servants (τους δουλους αυτου). These slaves are distinguished from

the husbandmen (γεωργο, workers of the soil) or workers of the vineyard who had leased it from the householder before he went away. The conduct of the husbandmen towards the householder's slaves portrays the behaviour of the Jewish people and the religious leaders in particular towards the prophets and now towards Christ. The treatment of God's prophets by the Jews pointedly illustrates this parable.

Verse 35

They will reverence my son (εντραπησοντα τον υιον μου). Second future passive from εντρεπω, to turn at, but used transitively here as though active or middle. It is the picture of turning with respect when one worthy of it appears.

Verse 38

Take his inheritance (σχωμεν την κληρονομιαν αυτου). Ingressive aorist active subjunctive (hortatory, volitive) of εχω. Let us get his inheritance.

Verse 41

He will miserably destroy those miserable men (κακους κακως απολεσε αυτους). The paronomasia or assonance is very clear. A common idiom in literary Greek. "He will put the wretches to a wretched death" (Weymouth).

Which (οιτινες). Who, which very ones of a different character.

Verse 42

The stone which (λιθον ον). Inverse attraction of the antecedent into the case of the relative.

The builders rejected (απεδοκιμασαν ο οικοδομουντες). From Psalms 118:22. A most telling quotation. These experts in building God's temple had rejected the corner-stone chosen by God for his own house. But God has the last word and sets aside the building experts and puts his Son as the Head of the corner. It was a withering indictment.

Verse 43

Shall be taken away from you (αρθησετα αφ' υμων). Future passive indicative of αιρω. It was the death-knell of the Jewish nation with their hopes of political and religious world leadership.

Verse 44

Shall be broken to pieces (συνθλασθησετα). Some ancient manuscripts do not have this verse. But it graphically pictures the fate of the man who rejects Christ. The verb means to shatter. We are familiar with an automobile that dashes against a stone wall, a tree, or a train and the ruin that follows.

Will scatter him as dust (λικμησε). The verb was used of winnowing out the chaff and then of grinding to powder. This is the fate of him on whom this Rejected Stone falls.

Verse 45

Perceived (εγνωσαν). Ingressive second aorist active of γινωσκω. There was no mistaking the meaning of these parables. The dullest could see the point.

Verse 46

Took him (ειχον). Descriptive imperfect of εχω, to hold. This fear of the people was all that stayed the hands of the rabbis on this occasion. Murderous rage was in their hearts towards Jesus. People do not always grasp the application of sermons to themselves.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-21.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.