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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Matthew 21

 

 

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Verses 1-46

Matthew 21:1. When they were come to Bethphage. The rabbins dispute about the etymon of this village, whether it mean the “house of the fountain,” as is the literal import; or the “house of grossities,” or of flatterers. It was distant from Jerusalem a sabbath-day’s journey, that is one thousand nine hundred paces, and situate at the foot of mount Olivet. Mark and Luke join the two villages of Bethphage and Bethany together, for the road lay in the valley between the towns. Here the Saviour mounted the ass, not so much because he was weary, but for the accomplishment of prophecy.

Matthew 21:2. Go into the village over against you. The ass was no doubt tied in the fields between Bethany and Bethphage, which has occasioned the mention of both these villages. — See the map of Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:3. If any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, the Lord hath need of them. As Lord of all, Christ here exercises the claims of sovereignty. The owners must have understood whom the disciples meant by δ κυριος, the Lord.

Matthew 21:5. Tell ye the daughter of Sion, behold, thy King cometh unto thee. It is objected that the evangelist does not quote the Hebrew text verbatim, which reads, “Exult greatly, oh daughter of Zion; rejoice, oh daughter of Jerusalem. Behold thy King comes to thee, the Just, the Saviour, riding on an ass, the foal of an ass.” Answer: the evangelist having felt the true sense of the prophecy, was so full of consolation that he preferred the beautiful and striking enunciation, “Tell ye the daughter of Zion, behold thy king cometh unto thee;” thy long-expected king, who shall ultimately put down all thy foes. He speaks like himself. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, the war-horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow. Thy king, oh Zion, shall speak peace to the heathen, and sway his sceptre from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. These were Zion’s hopes, in the joyful advent of her Messiah.

Matthew 21:8. A very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees. Herodotus reports that when Xerxes set out on his most calamitous expedition against Greece, the people made the same demonstrations of joy. Such were the manners of the east on similar occasions.

Matthew 21:9. Hosanna to the son of David. These words are repeated from Psalms 118:25, immediately after the stone was rejected by the builders, to show that the people ascribed to the Messiah the supreme worship of Jehovah, as was sung in all their feasts; — a full confession that he was the Christ, the long-expected king, sent to redeem and save his people from their sins. The multitude set no bounds to their joy, and feared the face of no opposer. They well knew that he who had raised Lazarus from the dead, could redeem and save his saints. It was this illustrious miracle which excited the people to go out to meet him, and with every display of loyalty in their power. John 12:18.

Matthew 21:12. Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought. Good kings of Judah had done the same, both in the temple and in the destruction of idolatry. Here the Redeemer acted in his proper character as Prince of Israel, and the Priest of his Father’s house. It is very remarkable that the first and the last time our Saviour attended the temple, after entering on his ministry, he purged it of avaricious traffickers, who changing the gold of strangers, greatly imposed upon them. This may be classed among the first and greatest of his miracles. He had just been saluted as the Son of David, and consequently the king of Israel; hence acting under the divine authority of his mission, he scorned to give account to the profaners of his zeal and holy conduct. This fully shows that Christ was both Lord and heir of his Father’s house. Phinehas also cleansed the camp of Israel, by a civil and ecclesiastical power. Elijah did the same on Carmel. So did Judas the general, after Antiochus had profaned the temple. Hence ministers and magistrates should learn of Christ to remove corruptions from the house of God.

Matthew 21:13. My house shall be called the house of prayer, where men go to address the supreme Being, and join the breathings of their souls in the cloud of incense ever ascending before the throne. The law of the jews was therefore good, that no man might pass through the temple with his staff and shoes, to make it a thoroughfare, nor carry either wallet or bundle of merchandise. The Turks still observe the same sanctity with regard to their mosques.

Matthew 21:15-16. When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and heard the children singing Hosannas to the Son of David, they were enraged beyond description, ira est furor; and said to him, hearest thou what these say? Our Lord, from the plenitude of divine wisdom, quoted against them the eighth psalm, which others had overlooked. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise;” a prophecy that men of all ages, and of all nations should praise and glorify the Son of man. Other prophecies are of similar import. Psalms 35:18; Psalms 45:1; Psalms 98:1. These contain burning words, which we, as well as the scribes, too much overlook.

Matthew 21:19. He found nothing thereon but leaves. This happened in the month of Nisan, previous to the barley harvest. Mark observes accordingly, that it was not yet the time of [ripe] figs. Probably our Saviour in his hunger meant to eat green figs, or sought some old fruit, which might have hung over the winter. He approached this tree to show his disciples, previous to his sufferings, what the power of faith could do. He knew that the tree was destitute of fruit, and naturally barren. Hence his sentence against this tree did not injure the poor to whom fruits by the wayside were common; it was a figure, that God would soon wither away the barren nation of the jews. What then would infidels say against this sovereign and most significant action of our Lord’s. It wronged no man, and it greatly comforted the disciples against the troubles that were just at hand.

Matthew 21:21. If ye shall say to this mountain, be thou removed. This was a Hebrew proverb. When a man illustrated any science, or surmounted great difficulties, he was said to remove mountains. The sense is similar to that of Zechariah 4:7, of the mountain becoming a plain before Zerubbabel.

Matthew 21:23. By what authority doest thou these things? To ask this question, after the blind and the lame had just been healed, and after the buyers and sellers had fled before him, was an insult to the Majesty of heaven. If those priests would not acknowledge the mission of John, they would not acknowledge the authority of Christ. The Saviour having now assumed the regal character, spake and acted like himself. He passed sentence on their polluted temple: “Behold, your house is left” a desecrated ruin, and you shall not see me henceforth till you shall all in a future age join the choral multitude, and sing, “Blessed is the king that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

Matthew 21:25. The baptism of John, whence was it; from heaven, or of men? The Saviour was aware that the rulers had despised John, even more than they despised himself, and had, in fact, rejoiced at his martyrdom. He therefore placed the adversaries in a complete dilemma; they must either confess that John’s mission to baptize the contrite, and reform the nation was divine, or else expose at once their own malice against the truth.

Matthew 21:28. A certain man had two sons. The scribes having evaded the confession of truth with regard to John, the Lord by a simple parable caught them by surprise, and forced them to acknowledge it. Feeble is the craft of man, opposed to the wisdom of God. The first of those sons, as the Lord illustrates, represents profligate characters who reject the gospel for a time, but afterwards repent, and become illustrious for piety. The second son, who at once promised fair, but never performed, designated the scribes, who with all their professions and sanctity of manners, remained in all their pride and enmity against the gospel, and a change of heart. They worshipped with a vain parade of words, saying, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we; while harlots, publicans, and thieves wept under the ministry of John, and became his disciples, walking in the truth.

Matthew 21:33. A certain householder planted a vineyard. This parable was a full sentence passed on those who had conspired to take away the life of the Lord of glory. The characters are well defined, and the developement is a luminous prophecy of the judaical resistance to the gospel, and of their national ruin. The vineyard is the house of Israel, comprising the law and all the worship of the synagogue. The tower is the temple, established for glory and for a sanctuary. The hedge is the shekinah, surrounded with cherubim and seraphim, “for upon all the glory there shall be a defence.”

Isaiah 4:5. The husbandmen were the levitical priesthood, who, for the most part, opposed all prophets that rebuked them for their sins, and beat and stoned them to death. Finally, when they saw the heir, they took counsel together and crucified him, that they might peacefully enjoy the inheritance in their sins.

The glory of the vineyard is now transferred to the christian church, a vineyard full of labour; and oh that the wine might richly flow, in sacraments and ordinances. The Redeemer is our strong tower and rock of defence. He is the faithful and the true witness, who boldly declares the whole counsel of God. The husbandmen are now the evangelical labourers, under the direction of their glorious head. Oh may they work and labour as in his sight, and deliver up at last their charge without rebuke.

Matthew 21:42. The stone which the builders rejected. The jews tell a pleasant story, that during the building of the second temple a stone lay on the ground, which was often proposed for different situations in the building, but always rejected: at length it was made the head of the corner. This being David’s case, a figure of the Messiah, gave the story the more interest. Our Saviour, in citing the words of David, gave the rulers to understand, that though they rejected him, yet God would make him head over all things to the church.

Matthew 21:44. Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, as when a stone falls from the top of a building on another. So they who persecuted the Saviour, brought shame and trouble on themselves; and the day soon came, when he, the living stone, fell upon them, and crushed them under the ruins of their city and temple.

REFLECTIONS.

The triumphant entrance of the Saviour into Jerusalem is recorded by all the evangelists, and sheds on the church the most cheering beams of light and glory. It was proper that this auspicious event should be fully recorded, because of its demonstrations, that Jesus is the SON OF GOD, the Redeemer and Saviour of men. He comes not to Zion with trumpets of war, and myriads of captives in chains; but to wipe away the tears of Zion, and publish peace to the heathen. What other king ever came destitute of armies, and meek and lowly like the Saviour. What other king ever came to his temple as the prince, to publish righteousness; to send out his truth, and cause the isles to wait for his law.

Those joys were not restricted to Jerusalem; the Saviour repeats his advent. His cloud rests on our tabernacles; he presides at our sacraments, and meets us in the assemblies of his saints. Let us, like the multitudes, go out to meet him, and meet him with loyalty of heart. Rise, Zion, rise, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Go sinners, and meet him with contrite hearts, and pardon, grace and glory, shall cover your shame. — Go, temporizing christians; go backsliders, and meet him with contrition, fall at his feet, and he will give you the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Let us go in crowded assemblies, that his coming to the church may be as life from the dead, and the joy of all the earth.

This being the day that the Lord hath made, go and meet him with worship and with songs. Come, kneel, like the multitude, and bow down before Jehovah, your Maker. He is thy God, thou shalt worship him, and him only shalt thou serve. It is a high day, in which he has gifts for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among us. Let us join the hosannas of his church; save now Lord, we beseech thee; save us from our sins, and deliver thy people from all their oppressions. Let us sing heartily to the Lord, that rocks and hills may hear, and make responsive echoes to our voice. But piety so fervent will give great offence to the lukewarm, who worship with the mere exterior of devotion. “Master,” said the doctors, “hearest thou what these say?” Yea, but the very stones cry out, — Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases. This, the sublime of piety, often rouses the man of sin, sheltered under the garb of sanctity. But let us relax in no energies, — let us concede no doctrine in accommodation; for glories so divine demand the songs of earth and heaven.

We should particularly remark, that the Lord is often pleased to give his people peculiar tokens of comfort and joy before they are overtaken with some impending cloud of darkness, of grief and privation. Why those comforts, and why those overflowings of joy? What is the Lord about to do? Ah, little did the disciples think, elated as they were to see their Master loaded with regal honours and adored, that in six days more they should see him nailed to the cross, and numbered with malefactors. Little did they think that some in that very crowd would cry, away with him! Crucify him, crucify him! Oh heavens! Oh earth!

We must therefore add, that while the disciples rejoiced, the Saviour wept. He saw with more than eyes of flesh. He saw the nation filling up its measure of iniquity, he saw their revolt against the Roman power, the siege, calamitous beyond example. The elegies of his heart were uttered in the prophetic spirit. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem: thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee. Oh, if thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes! How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” Behold, your house, this beautiful temple, is left a desecrated ruin. Well, if the old temple decay, the Lord provides a better; the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of the living God, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 21:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/matthew-21.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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