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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 21

 

 

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Verses 1-46

It is a moment of most serious significance as the Lord is now about to enter Jerusalem. He is to be publicly presented to Israel, yet in lowly grace, not in power and majesty. Two of His disciples are sent to the village (perhaps Bethphage, "the house of unripe figs") in which they are immediately to find an ass tied and a colt with her. Only Matthew mentions the mother: Mark, Luke and John speak only of the colt. For the mother speaks of Israel's long history of rebellion and in subjection, while the colt (though unbroken) is typical of the new spirit of obedience that will eventually be found in Israel when she is turned back to the Lord and willingly gives Him control. The disciples are told, if they are questioned, to reply that the Lord has need of them, for this supersedes all man's rights of ownership.

In keeping with the character of his Gospel, Matthew tells Us that all this was done to fulfil prophecy, quoting Zechariah 9:9. How arresting a scripture for any who had ears to learn its meaning! For kings invariably were presented In great pomp and dignity, at least riding a superbly beautiful horse. To come in meekness, rather then in authority, and riding a colt of an ass rather then a war horse, is so totally contrary to a king's usual presentation that Israel should have been awakened by such a prophecy, so as to recognize this occasion as its clear fulfilment.

The disciples willingly give Him their own clothing as a saddle. Verse 7 seems to imply that He set on both animals. Of course He could have done this by turn, but the other gospels speak only of the colt. Perhaps however the thought is intended to be conveyed that His riding the colt infers a similar burden being felt by its mother.

A very great crowd is impelled by the sovereign power of God to lay their garments on the road that He travels, others cutting down branches from the trees to spread them in the way. Spontaneously they are prompted to proclaim Him as the Son of David, coming in the name of Jehovah, this declared by all the crowds going before and those following. The Jewish leaders had certainly not arranged any such thing, as would be expected in the advent of their Messiah, but without arrangement God worked in men's hearts so that there would be a public presentation of the Messiah such as could not be ignored by the leaders, however strongly they disapproved (Cf. Luke 19:39).

All the City was moved, yet with such ignorance as to have to ask, "Who is this?" The answer of the crowd, however, does not go back to His birth in Bethlehem, but only to His having dwelt in Nazareth of Galilee, which would not encourage the favour of the proud city of Jerusalem. In announcing Him they had acclaimed Him as Son of David: why then was there not more emphatic conviction in their answer? Perhaps they had been impelled at first to proclaim more than they realized the significance of.

In perfect consistency with His rightful dignity as King, He purged the temple from the pollution of those who bought and sold in it. Earlier in His ministry He had done the same (John 2:13-17). but the greed of man is determined even to corrupt the sanctuary of God for personal gain or advantage. He quotes from Isaiah 56:7 to fasten on these men the shameful quilt of what they were doing. God's house was a house of prayer, but they had made it a den of thieves, He tells them. This was scathing, solemn language, but they could not resist Him, for their own consciences bore witness that He was right. In lovely contrast to their grasping character, He heals the blind and the lame in the temple, a beautiful picture of how things will change in the temple when this blessed Messiah is manifested to Israel at the end of the great tribulation compare Malachi 3:1-4.

His works of grace are so striking as to move even children in the temple (not only on the road into the city) to cry out, "Hosanna to the Son of David." The word hosanna means, "O, save," thus giving honour to Him as the 0ne able to save the nation Israel. This offends the chief priests and scribes, but their protest to Him is moved by nothing but envy. They apparently want Him to silence the children. But they themselves are silenced; for He does not assume any defensive attitude, but quotes the positive words of scripture, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings host Thou perfected praise." Though the leaders of Israel refused to give their true Messiah the praises of which He is worthy, God would see to it that even babes would do so. God Himself was rebuking the pride of these self-cantered rulers by means of babes and sucklings! He returned outside the to Bethany (the house of affliction) to lodge for the night. Though announced with great enthusiasm in entering Jerusalem, there was really no more room for Him there then there had been at the inn of Bethlehem. Affliction remained His portion until death.

Again returning to the city in the morning, He was hungry, just as He hungers for some response to His love on the part of Israel. A fig tree was in the way, but He found nothing but leaves on it. The fruit appears before the leaves on the fig, but in this case there was no fruit at all, an abnormal condition. What a picture of Israel's state of having borne no fruit for God in spite of the many leaves of profession of godliness! Mark tells us, "the time of figs was not yet" (Mark 11:13), indicating that it was not yet time to harvest the figs, therefore this was not the reason for their absence. He pronounces a curse on the tree, to the effect that no fruit would ever again grow on it. Very soon afterward the fig tree withered away.

This is typical of Israel's condition today. Originally she had been a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in a pleasant vineyard, but had brought forth wild grapes. The result was the total desolation of the land (Isaiah 5:1-7), and the nation carried away captive. Luke 13:6 however speaks of a fig tree planted in a vineyard, which pictures the remnant of Israel returned from the captivity. In this case, no fruit resulting after three seasons, the owner of the vine yard proposed cutting it down, yet in patience waited for another season before carrying out the suggestion. God too has been most patient with Israel before eventually pronouncing (by the lips of the Lord Jesus) the curse upon that nation, under which she has suffered since the rejection of the Messiah.

The disciples marvel at how quickly the fig tree withered away. Just so, it is most amazing how quickly after the crucifixion of Christ Israel was reduced to nothing, scattered from her land, and losing all national status, her hope virtually dried up.

In answer to the disciples' marvelling at how quickly the fig tree withered away, the Lord tells them that if they have unquestioning faith, they themselves could not only do what was done to the fig tree, but could, by speaking to a certain mountain, cause it to remove and be cast into the sea. It is certainly not that faith decides what it wants to do. Faith rather depends on the will of God had decided that the fig tree (Israel) would wither: faith therefore could act upon God's will in the matter. Just so, the specific mountain, the obstacle of Israel's opposition to the truth, would very soon be set aside by God, in fact cast into the sea of the Gentile nations. The faith of dependent confidence in God could discern this, and therefore speak prophetically about the matter. For faith makes no independent decisions: it confides simply in the word and will of God; and His will in this matter could have been found in His word (the Old Testament). Consider for instance Deuteronomy 28:15-68, specially verses 64 and 65.

On the same basis we may fully expect answers to prayer. Faith, believing God's word, asks in accordance with this (1 John 5:14): it does not ask because of personal preference, but because it believes God whose will is paramount returning to the temple He is challenged by the chief priests and elders as to His authority for what He was doing, no doubt including His purging the temple, and who gave Him this authority. Manifestly they have mind only man's authority, and are not prepared for His simple, discerning response to their question. Was the baptism of John from heaven or of men? These two sources of authority are put in clear contrast, and He will test them as to whether they were willing to recognize heaven's authority if it was presented to them.

But they are trapped by their own dishonesty. For honesty would have admitted John's authority to be from heaven; yet they had not accepted his testimony, and to admit the truth would have greatly embarrassed them. On the other hand, to say John's baptism was of men would have incurred the displeasure of the common people whom they wanted as followers, for the people knew that John was a prophet. Of course too, what men could they point to who had given John such authority? No Jewish authorities had done this (Cf. John 1:19-27). They answer, "We cannot tell."

Appropriately therefore He replies that He will not answer their question. For they had confessed themselves incompetent to judge as to the question of authority. Of course the Lord's authority come from the same source as did John's, from heaven: if they would not face this in John's case, neither would they acknowledge it in the Lord, whether He told them or not.

The illustration He then gives them emphasizes the seriousness of deceitfulness. Whether or not it is intentional at first, yet a promise without performance is not honesty. The first son refused at first to work, but afterwards repented and obeyed. The second promised to obey, then coolly disobeyed. He asks the chief priests and elders which of these did the will of his father. Of course they can only answer, "the first." The application of this whole matter is then so transparent that they themselves could not dispute it.

Tax gatherers and harlots, though rebellious at first, could enter the kingdom of heaven because they repented; while these religious leaders of Israel remained outside because their promise to serve God was false. John the Baptist had come "in the way of righteousness," to call for repentance on the part of all, but the leaders disbelieved him: they considered themselves without need of repentance, for they had very respectfully told God that they would obey Him. But tax gatherers and harlots took to heart John's message of repentance. The leaders saw this, get would not repent of their own dishonesty.

Another parable now goes further in illustrating the fact that evil defended will not stand still, but will progress in more deter mined, hateful form . The vineyard of verse 33 is clearly the same as seen in Isaiah 5:1-2, though it is not here a question of the fruit of the vine, but of the caretakers of the vine yard. The owner did everything in regard to establishing the vineyard, providing for its preservation (a fence to separate Israel from the nations); its producing of wine (that which, through pressure, could bring joy to the heart of God); and its protection through watchfulness (a tower). His going into a far country implies God's withdrawing from direct intervention in Israel's government, in order to leave this in the hand of Jewish authorities (the husbandmen).

Of course, the husbandmen, being renters, were responsible a to give some return of the fruits to the owner; but when servants were sent to receive this, they were viciously treated, being beaten, stoned, or killed on more than one occasion. This is a plain reference to Israel's treatment of the prophets sent by God, many of whom had been murdered, including John the Baptist only recently.

Finally the owner sent his son, as God has, in infinite goodness sent His own Son. It was only right, and to be expected, that the husbandman would show some respect for the son of the owner, but recognizing him as the heir, they see an opportunity of securing the vineyard for themselves by killing him. This accurately portrays the avarice of Jewish rulers in their determination to have complete control of the nation, therefore rejecting the Son of God.

The Lord then asks the chief priests and rulers their opinion as to what the lord of the vineyard should do as regards the husbandmen. Unaware that they are passing sentence on themselves, they speak strongly to the effect that the lord of the vineyard would be expected to "miserably destroy those wicked men," and let the vineyard out to others who will render the fruits in season.

This opens the way fully for the Lord to quote a scripture (Psalms 118:22-23) that they had totally ignored, yet which speaks so pointedly, "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes." How clear is the prophecy that the true Messiah of Israel would be rejected by Israel's leaders, yet be made eventually head of the corner, the most important of all the stones in reference to God's building up of Israel. After the great tribulation Israel will be brought to use this verse, their hearts and minds being deeply affected, for they will see it to be the doing of Jehovah in great wisdom, and they will marvel.

Yet the Lord presses the truth of it solemnly upon the chief priests and elders at the time, so that they had not slightest excuse. He insists that the kingdom of God would be taken from them (for this would result from their rejection and murder of the Son of God), and given to a nation bringing forth the proper fruits. The Jews assumed they would have the kingdom, but they were allowing it to slip out of their fingers. The authority they did have in Israel would be totally taken from them. The nation bringing forth the fruits thereof appears to be the nation Israel restored to blessing in the age to come, when eventually receiving Jesus as their promised Messiah.

Meanwhile also the builders who rejected this Stone (that is, fell on it in opposition) would be broken, as indeed took place in Israel's rapid breaking up following the death of Christ. Yet this was not the end. This Stone would yet in terrible judgment fall upon His enemies and grind them to powder. The chief priests and Pharisees recognize the plain reference to their callous apposition, but only confirm the truth of His words by seeking to lay hands on Him. Jesus now answers the chief priests and Pharisees with a parable of a very different nature, a parable of the kingdom of heaven.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 21:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-21.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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