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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 21

 

 

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Verse 1

‘And when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, to the mount of Olives,’

The journey from Jericho having been completed, Jesus and the disciples settled down in their camp which was established by Bethphage, and near Bethany, on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives was the Mount that towered over even the Temple Mount and gave a panoramic view of the city. It was connected in Jewish minds with the eschatological future (Zechariah 14). At that point Jesus then apparently visited the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). But the concentration of the Synoptic evangelists was rather on the momentous entry into Jerusalem and they wanted no distraction from it. They were more used to such miracles than we are and at this stage they wanted all attention to be on the entry of the King. It was from Bethany that they would proceed to enter Jerusalem via Bethphage.

Matthew 21:1-2 ‘Then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “You go into the village that is just by you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her. Loose them, and bring them to me.” ’

Jesus intended to make a grand entry, and for that purpose He sent two of His disciples to the nearby village (probably Bethphage) where they would, on first entering the village, find an ass and her colt tethered. They were then to loose them and bring them to Jesus.

It is very possible that the mother ass was tethered there, along with her youngish colt, available for hire by travellers, a regular practise in villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The site at the edge of the city would be seen as suitable for the hire of such animals and the colt would also have been reared with that in view, even though it was still young enough never to have been ridden. Most would not want to try to ride an untried colt. But in the event, if the disciples did intend to bring the colt, it would be expected that the mother ass would accompany the colt, if only to keep it from becoming too nervous. Such asses, accompanied by their colts, were a regular sight around Jerusalem.

Jesus’ intention was in fact to use the untried, unridden colt, for this use of something previously unridden had a religious significance. It indicated either sacred use or use by royalty. (See Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7; 2 Samuel 6:3). We can also compare here Genesis 49:10-11 where an ass’s colt, which was tied up, was connected with the coming King who would win the obedience of the people, and there it was followed by the ancient equivalent of the Messianic banquet, the feast of good things. Thus to ride into Jerusalem on an untried asses colt would have deep religious significance.

Much has been made of the fact that Matthew mentions two animals, but we have already had cause to notice that Matthew regularly takes notice of companions where the other evangelists do not. This was probably firstly because he was an eyewitness who vividly remembered the detail and noticed such things, and secondly possibly because he himself had been somewhat ostracised when he was younger and was therefore sensitive about the importance of companionship.

But, as we have seen, in this case the fact that there were two asses makes sense, for Jesus’ intention was to ride in on an ass which had never been ridden (Mark 11:2; Matthew makes the same thing clear by the quotation below which refers to the asses colt) and was therefore still with its mother. Riding into Jerusalem in this way would be a symbol of His unique holiness. We can compare how the Ark was similarly carried into Jerusalem on ‘a new cart’ (2 Samuel 6:3; 2 Samuel 6:17). But the fact that the ass had never been ridden indicated that it was youngish colt, and it was typical of Jesus’ humanity that He would not separate the colt from its mother unnecessarily. Thus He had arranged for the mother ass to come as well. It was quite normal for an ass and its colt to go around together. (Had she been left tethered she would have made desperate attempts to follow her colt). This detail confirms that all this was by prior arrangement so that Jesus knew the full circumstances. The suggestion that Matthew’s Hebrew and knowledge of Hebrew poetry was so bad that he mistook the meaning of Zechariah’s prophecy is simply to underestimate Matthew and can be dismissed for what it is, totally unnecessary. It is in fact clear that Matthew was a competent Hebraist.


Verses 1-7

Jesus Prepares For His Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem (21:1-7).

An essential part of any coronation among the Jews was an ass on which the King would ride to the crowning ceremony. This tradition commenced when Solomon rode to the River Gihon on the king’s mule to be crowned in opposition to Adonijah (1 Kings 1:33; 1 Kings 1:38), for the mule was the regular royal means of transport (2 Samuel 13:29), and to the Jews was seen as a noble creature. Later it became the sign by which the coming King would be identified as he entered Jerusalem in lowliness, on an asses colt, presumably in the process of approaching the Temple where he would be presented before God (Zechariah 9:9).

The initial impression given here (and in Mark and Luke) is that Jesus’ entry follows immediately on His ascent from Jericho, but, as with all Matthew’s abbreviated narratives, such connections must be treated as rough links, and not be too literally applied, and the same is true of Mark and Luke. Thus all that is being said here is that at some stage after the ascent from Jericho Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem for a special purpose, having first spent time in Bethphage and Bethany (on the borders of Jerusalem) where He and His disciples had a lodging, a purpose for which He needed an ass. We learn in John’s Gospel that this in fact took place after the raising of Lazarus (John 12:17), an event which was probably His first action on reaching Bethany (John 11:1; John 11:18). Thus it may well have been in anticipation of the people’s reaction to this, combined with the fact of the already gathering sightseers around Bethphage and Bethany attracted by the rumours of what had happened, that Jesus took the opportunity of preparing for His entry on an ass. He would thus be entering as a recognised giver of life and at a moment of high expectation.

Many a time the prophets in the past, wanting to get over an important message to the people, had acted out a drama for them which made them ask themselves, why is he doing this? John had done it with his baptism which had depicted the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus would do it by a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Analysis.

a And when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, to the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “You go into the village that is just by you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her. Loose them, and bring them to me” (Matthew 21:1-2).

b “And if any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them’, and immediately he will send them” (Matthew 21:3).

c Now this is come about, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,’

“Tell you the daughter of Zion,

Behold, your King comes to you,

Meek, and riding on an ass,

And on a colt the foal of an ass.” (Matthew 21:4-5)

b And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them (Matthew 21:6).

a And they brought the ass, and the colt, and spread their robes on them on them, and he sat on them (Matthew 21:7).

Note than in ‘a’ they are to bring an ass and colt, and in the parallel they bring an ass and colt. In ‘b’ they were to go and use a password, and in the parallel they went and did as Jesus had appointed them. Central in ‘c’ is the Scripture that this was fulfilling.


Verse 3

“And if any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them’, and immediately he will send them.”

It may well be that Jesus had already made an arrangement that He would collect the asses when He needed them and that whoever collected it was to give a kind of password, ‘the Lord has need of them’. Or it may be that He was making use of the custom of ‘angaria’ under which a major religious figure was entitled to procure for himself the use of a means of transport for a period of time by a simple act of appropriation. ‘The Lord has need of them’ would then be seen as indicating this.

We are in fact probably intended to see in the use of the title ‘the Lord’ a deliberate indication that this was an unusual situation by which Jesus’ supreme authority was being revealed. ‘The Lord’ may refer to God, in Whose Name Jesus was acting, or it may have been the title by which the owners acknowledged Jesus. The whole arrangement thus indicates that Jesus has a special significance in what He is about to do. It may well therefore be that the ass’s colt was in fact being offered for His free use as a major religious figure in accordance with the custom of angaria without previous arrangement.


Verse 4

‘Now this is come about, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,’

But Matthew then again points out that a further fulfilment of the Old Testament prophetic message was taking place. The Scriptures were coming to a head in Jesus (Matthew 5:17). The citation is in fact taken from two places, Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. But in both cases there is a remarkable omission. Isaiah 62:11 reads, “Say you to the daughter of Zion, behold your salvation comes”, but Matthew drops ‘salvation’ replacing it with ‘King’ from Zechariah 9:9. Zechariah 9:9 then declares, “Behold your king comes to you, He is righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass’. Again the reference to salvation is dropped. So in both cases Matthew deliberately drops the reference to salvation. Compare also John 12:15 where John also drops the reference to salvation, but there John includes the words, ‘do not be afraid’, emphasising the King’s lowliness and that He has not come with belligerent or harmful intent.

So the lack of mention of salvation is not to be seen as a threat. Rather it is a sad recognition of the fact that Jerusalem as a whole will not recognise or respond to the salvation that He has come to bring, a thought that continues to be emphasised throughout what follows, and is emphasised in Acts, where in spite of the glorious initial response Jerusalem eventually hardens itself against Jesus.

On the other hand for those who are ready to respond to Him the underlying message is that salvation is available, for all who knew their Scriptures would recognise that behind the King’s coming in terms of these two quotations salvation was in the air.

We must conclude therefore that it is not correct to say that Jesus was by His act making an offer of salvation to Jerusalem that was not accepted. Such a thought is deliberately excluded by the omissions of both Matthew and John. It is rather to be seen as an indication that their King had come, but that He was aware that, apart from the many whose hearts were open, (something revealed by the acclamation of the crowds), Jerusalem was not on the whole in a state of heart which made them ready to receive His salvation. His act therefore is a declaration rather than an offer, and identifies Him as the King coming as the suffering Servant, something which has been Matthew’s continual message throughout.


Verse 5

“Tell you the daughter of Zion,

Behold, your King comes to you,

Meek, and riding on an ass,

And on a colt the foal of an ass.”

That Jesus’ careful arrangement for the obtaining of the colt, followed by His equally deliberate riding of it into Jerusalem in Passover week, is intended to have significance is undoubted, for while certainly some wealthy pilgrims did ride into Jerusalem on asses at that time, it was not common practise, and it would certainly not have been expected of Jesus, for the pilgrims flocked in continually on foot. Thus He was by it deliberately making Himself stand out, and all would know that by it He was intending to make a declaration. And a careful reading of the witnesses suggests that they saw His intention as being to proclaim His prophetic status (Matthew 21:11; Luke 19:37; John 12:16-18). It may also be that they saw Him as deliberately using an acted out prophecy in order to remind them of the soon coming Messiah. It was only later that recognition would dawn on many who believed, that it was in fact a declaration that Hewasthe Messiah, coming in lowliness to commence the official establishment of His Kingly Rule in Jerusalem (John 12:16-18), as it had already first been established in Galilee. The quotation from Zechariah was certainly seen by the Jews as Messianic, but Jesus’ clothing and demeanour would not have encouraged full recognition.

Note. Writing as a Jewish Christian to Christian Jews Matthew avoids putting emphasis on Jerusalem as far as he can, for while he acknowledges that Jesus is Jerusalem’s King, he does not want Christ’s Kingship to be seen as tied to Jerusalem, and he considers that the Kingly Rule of Heaven has first been proclaimed in Galilee, which he sees as in a sense its natural home. That is why later he will present Christ’s coronation as something which, while having been accomplished in Heaven, is connected with Galilee with its freedom from the old traditional leadership, rather than being connected with Jerusalem (Matthew 28:16-20). Indeed he sees anything that happened in Jerusalem as being due to the failure of the Apostles immediately to obey the angel’s urgent indication that they were to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7), for on hearing the news that He would be awaiting them in Galilee they should have gone at once. It was only unbelief that kept them in Jerusalem. By this he is further affirming that the old Israel, centred on Jerusalem, has been replaced by the new Israel, an Israel which has more in common with Galilee in not being tied to the old ways. For Matthew, as for Paul, the real Jerusalem was now the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26), and he wants his readers to see it in that way too. Neither wanted the baggage of the old Jerusalem. As far as they were concerned the old Jerusalem was in the past, and should stay that way.

Luke can, however, present things differently, for to him and his readers Jerusalem was the old capital of ancient Israel and the place where prophecy would be fulfilled, but nothing more. They were in no danger of being sucked in by the old Jerusalem with its powerful religious attractions, for it had no great hold on their hearts, and it could therefore be seen objectively. He is quite happy therefore to connect Christ’s heavenly activity with Jerusalem. Moreover, unlike Matthew, he will go on to make clear precisely what the relationship of the new congregation was to Jerusalem. To him Jerusalem was the starting point and there was no danger that Luke’s readers might be sucked back to the old ways. When John writes Jerusalem’s ties are broken so that again there is no danger of wrong ideas arising from the connection with Jerusalem. Matthew’s emphasis therefore must be seen as favouring an early date for his writing, with all ties to Jerusalem intended to be seen as broken.

End of note.


Verse 6-7

‘And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and they brought the ass, and the colt, and spread their robes on them on them, and he sat on them.’

The disciples then went and did precisely what Jesus had appointed them. They brought the ass, with its colt, and festal robes were spread on both as part of the recognition of the event. And Jesus then took His place on the robes which covered the colt (‘on them’, that is, ‘on the robes’). We must not underestimate the skill and mastery of Jesus in riding an untried colt in the midst of an excited crowd. A master jockey who read the passage was heard to exclaim, ‘My, what hands He must have had’. But it presented no difficulty to the Lord of creation, riding an ass which knew its Master.


Verse 8

‘And the greater part of the crowd spread their robes in the way, and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way.’

At His approach on the ass, surrounded by the crowds, the excited people began to spread their robes in the way, and others to cut small branches from trees, possibly including palm fronds, and spread them in the way. The spreading of garments in the way was a regular way of showing honour to someone important. Rabbinic literature offers parallels, and Plutarch tells us that when Cato Minor left his troops they spread their clothes at his feet. This was a clear indication of the supreme importance of the rider and the honour in which He was held. We can also compare 2 Kings 9:13 where the same happened to Jehu. Such an action may have been intended to indicate the right of the king to possess their possessions, or the idea may have been one of maintaining the ass’s purity, and preventing it being soiled by the common ground. For everything about the incident indicates its connection with the proclamation of royalty to those in the know, while the thought of preserving purity would fit in with Jesus’ prophetic status.


Verses 8-17

The Ride Into Jerusalem (21:8-17).

Passover time was always a time of high excitement and fervour. At that time pilgrims would be flooding into Jerusalem from Galilee and Peraea, as well as from Judaea itself, and others would be flooding in from many parts of the world. And their minds would be fixed on that great deliverance that Passover celebrated, when God had delivered them out of the hands of a terrible enemy (Exodus 12). Now they saw themselves as under the heel of an equally terrible enemy, and they longed for a similar deliverance. Indeed it was because feasts like this tended to arouse insurrectionist tendencies that the Roman governor would ensure that he was present in Jerusalem, along with suitable reinforcements to the garrison, when these feasts took place.

And the crowds already gathered in and around Jerusalem, full of religious fervour and in festal mood, and with time on their hands, would welcome pilgrims as they arrived by calling out to them the various Scriptures associated with the feasts. Thus it was not unusual for pilgrims to be greeted with enthusiasm and with shouts of acclamation in this way. The cries would be taken from such Psalms as Psalms 118, with words such as, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord’ (Psalms 118:26), and ‘Save now (hosianna - hosanna is possibly an Aramaic rendering) we beseech you, O Lord’ (Psalms 118:25).

It would not be surprising therefore if the arrival of the great Galilean prophet, riding in on an ass, increased the fervour and stirred up indirect Messianic expectations, especially as His healings and exorcisms connected Him with, and would continue to connect Him with, the great Solomon, the son of David. This would especially be so if word about the raising of Lazarus had got around. And the fact that He was on an asses colt and not on the full grown ass would stress the religious aspect of His ride. On the other hand whilst riding on an ass would be significant to Jews, it would mean little to the Romans, who would expect a Messianic pretender to be on a horse. They regularly saw men riding asses, and He would not look like a pretender. And they were used to Passover fervour.

Analysis.

a And the greater part of the crowd spread their robes in the way, and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way’ (Matthew 21:8).

b And the crowds who went before him, and those who followed, cried, saying, “Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9).

c And when he arrived in Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11).

d And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and he overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those who sold the doves (Matthew 21:12).

e And he says to them, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).

d And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them (Matthew 21:14).

c But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children who were crying in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the son of David”, they were moved with indignation’ (Matthew 21:15).

b And they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus says to them, “Yes. Did you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise?’ ” (Matthew 21:16).

a And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there (Matthew 21:17).

This chiasmus is a chiasmus of contrasts. In ‘a’ He enters in festal triumph, and in the parallel He leaves quietly, having accomplished His purpose. In ‘b’ the crowds call Him the Son of David, and in the parallel members of the Sanhedrin ask Him whether He is aware of what they are saying. In ‘c’ the city is stirred by the events, and the crowds declare Him to be the prophet from Galilee, and in the parallel Sanhedrin members are moved with indignation at all that they saw of His prophetic activity. In ‘d’ He empties the Temple of the mercenary minded, and in the parallel He welcomes and heals the lame and the blind. (Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give you). Finally in ‘e’ He proclaims why judgment must come on the Temple. It is because although it was intended to be a House of Prayer, the leaders have made it a den of bandits.


Verse 9

‘And the crowds who went before him, and those who followed, cried, saying, “Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” ’

And as they went on into the city the crowds yelled from all sides, and they cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, and ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord’, and ‘Hosanna in the Highest’. These are but three predominant examples of many things that would be shouted that day, for the excitement was at its height. It was an upgrading of the normal cries which greeted pilgrims (and which the Romans were perfectly used to) with the words ‘the Son of David’.

‘Hosanna’ means ‘save now’, and is taken from Psalms 118:25, but over the years its use had apparently been gradually changed so that it had become a kind of greeting to any who reminded them of the coming expected salvation. And as we have already seen ‘Son of David’ was a title which had a dual significance, pointing on the one hand to the One Who was a healer like Solomon, the son of David, had been (as mentioned in Josephus. Compare also the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:22), and on the other to the Messiah of current expectation (Psalm of Solomon). It may also have gained in significance from the fact that many knew that He really was the Son of David (Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:17). But their cries were cries of future expectancy rather than of present hope. Jesus was simply not revealing the demeanour expected of a Messianic claimant.

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ was a regular greeting to pilgrims, but possibly here gaining deeper significance from the fact that Jesus was a recognised prophet. They did not, however take the final step of realising His claim to Messiahship (Matthew 23:39). They thus spoke truer than they knew.

‘Hosanna in the Highest’ was an expression of praise to the Most High God, and further indicates the significance of Hosanna as a praise word, although no doubt still containing within it a yearning hope that one day He would indeed deliver.


Verse 10

‘And when he arrived in Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”

The massed crowds, and the noise, and the excitement inevitably caused a reaction in the inhabitants of Jerusalem and in many Jewish visitors from around the world (the crowds following Jesus were probably mainly Galileans and Peraeans), so that their interest was stirred and they began to say,’ Who is this?’

We can compare here the stir caused by the Magi when they too entered Jerusalem, in their case seeking the Son of David (Matthew 2:3).


Verse 11

‘And the crowds said, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

The triumphant reply then came back, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” This brought out what the understanding of the crowds as a whole was, although some may have had greater expectations. They were welcoming Him as the great Prophet of Whom they were so proud. His identification as from Nazareth reminds us of Matthew 2:23, and illustrates the fact that although He was born in Bethlehem and had moved to Capernaum around the time that He began His ministry, the place in which He was brought up from His earliest days was not forgotten. It was Nazareth that had placed its imprint on Jesus, and His memories from His earliest days were of there. That was His home. (I was born in Hull, and moved to London as a young man, but I grew up in Leeds from the age of five, and I have always looked on myself, and been looked on by others, as a Leeds man. It is the place of our upbringing, not necessarily our birth, that stamps itself upon us).


Verse 12

‘And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and he overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those who sold the doves,’

The road led to the Temple, the centre of Jewish worship and a focal point at Passover time, where daily prayer would be heard. But no one in the Court of the Gentiles was taking much notice of that for the purveyors of sacrificial animals continued to buy and sell, the money changers continued to change the money of visitors into the right coinage for the payment of the Temple Tax (in reliable Tyrian coinage) and those who sold doves for sacrifice continued to do a roaring trade. Little thought was paid to any Gentiles who might have come into that outer court to pray.

When Jesus had been a young prophet with little experience He had entered the Temple courts and had been angered at the trading in the Temple which had seemed to demean it, and had sought to turn out those involved with the cry, ‘Do not make My Father’s House into a marketplace’ (John 2:13-16). It had been a seven day wonder, but soon forgotten, probably being written off as the activity of a young hothead, and endured because the people had approved. (There are so many obvious differences in a short space between John’s account and the Synoptics that they were clearly different events). However, since then He had visited Jerusalem a number of times and there had been no trouble. Thus none was probably expected at this Passover. Jesus had, however, by this time discovered more about what went on in the Temple, and He knew that His tome had come.

So history now repeated itself. Jesus strode ‘into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and He overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those who sold the doves.’ This time it was a deliberate and thought out action, and not just a reaction against His Father’s house being treated like a marketplace. Having entered Jerusalem as its King He was demonstrating His authority by emptying the Temple of commerce, and exposing the fraudulence and corruption that was taking place in the Temple. He was seeking to turn it into what it should have been for all people, a house of prayer and worship. It was an indication that He had come to purge out evil in all its forms. In the words of Hosea 9:15, ‘Because of the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of My House.’ The Lord had suddenly come to His Temple in order to seek to purify it (Malachi 3:1-4).


Verse 13

‘And he says to them, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.”

In defence of His actions, and in order to explain their significance, Jesus then cites Isaiah 56:7 conjoined with Jeremiah 7:11. ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ conjoined with ‘is this house which is called by My Name become a den of robbers in your eyes? I, even I, have seen it.’ It brings out the purpose of His action, to turn the Temple back into a House of Prayer from being a ramp by which as much money as possible could be squeezed out of the people. Of course, the chief priests would have defended the trading on the grounds that it was necessary so as to make it convenient for the people to obtain what was necessary in their religious worship. But it could have been carried out elsewhere, and that certainly did not excuse the underhand tactics that were often employed, nor did it justify causing disruption in the only part of the Temple where Gentiles could worship.

Jesus was always very conscious of the context of His quotations and this particular one from Isaiah very much had the coming new age in mind (as had His use of the ass), when reformed worship would become genuine and true. He may well indeed have intended people to remember back to another leader who had purified the Temple in former days, in the days of Judas Maccabaeus. That too had been associated with the waving of palm branches. Then it had been from the defilement of idolatry. This time it was from the defilement of Mammon.

It was not only Jesus Who was against the Temple trading. It is thought by many that it had in fact become something of a scandal. Extortionate rates of exchange were regularly charged (shared out in different ways, some charitable so as to justify them); sheep which had been rejected for sacrifice because they were blemished, suddenly became unblemished after they had been bought at a cheap price, and were then sold on as unblemished, and accepted as such; high prices were charged for everything. This would not necessarily be true of all, but it would probably be true of a large minority, even a majority. Business corrupts. And even the chief priests raked in their percentage. But even worse in Jesus’ eyes was that it prevented the neediest and lowliest people, the Gentiles and the underprivileged, from praying and worshipping. Note that He was equally concerned to drive out the buyers!

Thus Jesus was revealing that in the new age that He was bringing in, prayer and worship was to become foremost, and everything else must be subsidiary to that, especially corrupt forms of religion and Mammon. Purification of Jerusalem and the Temple were in fact a part of national Messianic expectation (Malachi 3:1-3; Psalms of Solomon 17:30). But this was only a final gesture, a last call to repent, for as He will shortly make clear the corruption of the Temple had gone too far, and it must be replaced (Matthew 23:38; Matthew 24:2; Matthew 24:15; compare John 2:19-22; John 4:21-24). It was in fact symbolic of precisely how different the new age was going to be!


Verse 14

‘And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.’

In the chiasmus this verse is in deliberate contrast with those speaking of the casting out of the corrupt dealers. For a short while the Temple was restored to its rightful purpose, and became a place where people were made whole. In the place of the racketeers came the blind and the lame. And Jesus healed them there. Had people but realised it this was a further Messianic claim (Matthew 11:5).

This would not, however, have been pleasing to the religious authorities. In their eyes such deformities did not fit in with the holiness of the Temple. The blind and crippled were allowed into the Court of the Gentiles, but they could go no further, and even then there were severe restrictions placed on them. So the sight of so many flocking in would have been distasteful to their eyes, and the thought of them being healed there positively disgusting. They may well have felt that such healings must surely leave some residue of the deformity behind. Furthermore such people would now be able move on into the Temple proper for they were no longer disabled. Such an instantaneous change in the situation with regard to holy matters could not be pleasing, and caused problems for the authorities. How did you police it?

There may, however, have been another significance in Matthew citing ‘the blind and the lame’. When David was seeking to capture Jerusalem initially it would appear that the then inhabitants derided him and his followers as ‘the blind and the lame’, seeing them as powerless to enter their stronghold. When he did succeed in breaking in and capturing Jerusalem a proverb then arose that ‘the blind and the lame shall not come into the house’, and this probably applied to the exclusion from favour, and from the central place of worship, of the Jebusites. Thus Matthew may be pointing out by this that under the greater David the blind and the lame are now welcome. None are now excluded.


Verse 15

‘But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children who were crying in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the son of David”, they were stirred with indignation,’

The picture here is vivid. Jesus had been stirred with indignation at the villainies practised in the Temple, while the chief priests and the Scribes were stirred with indignation at the wonderful things which He did. In their eyes He was turning the Temple into a Hospital for the poor, and taking over the Temple. What villainy! Such goings on could not be allowed in a holy place. At least, they felt, what they had been doing had had a religious purpose. What Jesus was doing was not even religious at all. Indeed it was almost anti-religious. (So twisted can men’s thinking become when they are filled with prejudice).

But they were also angry because the children, spurred on by the miracles that were being performed, were crying out that He was the Son of David, and He was doing nothing about it. It appeared to them little short of blasphemy - and possibly dangerous. National fervour could soon be aroused. Why did He not stop it?


Verse 16

‘And they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus says to them, “Yes. Did you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise?’ ” ’

So they sharply drew His attention to the situation. ‘Do you not hear what these are saying? They are calling you the Son of David.’ They knew that such a connection of the Son of David with the Temple could bring down the wrath of the Romans on them, and even possibly the wrath of God. And besides it was unseemly. In the Temple any acclamation should be directed towards God. It should be God Who was being acclaimed. And consider what a noise they were making! It was disturbing everybody.

Jesus’ reply was simple. He pointed them again to the Scriptures (Psalms 8:2). There was only One Who brought such praise from the mouths of the young and innocent, and that was God, for their young hearts often saw straight through to what was really important. And in what they were saying they were more right than they knew. It was always those whose hearts were still open to truth, who would discern it.

The quotation is from LXX. Matthew was equally at home with the Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture, and would sometimes apparently himself translate from the Hebrew, would sometimes quote another translation, and would sometimes make use of LXX, usually when using Mark.

It will be noted that we have here the first mention of the chief priests as publicly active against Jesus, something true in all the Gospels except John. Until His ministry began to impact on the Temple itself they had taken little public notice of Him, and thus the Apostles as a whole had not been aware of them, but now that He was publicly challenging their own patch, they could not publicly ignore Him. For the Temple was their responsibility. John, of course, had inside knowledge of what went on in high priestly circles and knew a lot more therefore about what went on behind the scenes. He knew that they had regularly been consulted by the leading Pharisees whenever Jesus visited Jerusalem and had plotted with them against Him (John 7:32; John 7:45; John 11:47; John 11:57; John 12:10).


Verse 17

‘And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.’

Then as suddenly as it had begun it was all over. Jesus left them and the city to think things over, and returned to His lodgings in Bethany, just outside the city boundaries.


Verse 18

‘Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he felt hungry,’

The fact that even while cutting down the story drastically Matthew still mentions Jesus’ hunger demonstrates that he intends it to indicate some kind of lesson. In his Gospel hunger refers to a longing to see the establishment of righteousness (Matthew 5:6). This may suggest therefore that here Jesus is depicted as not only feeling peckish for food, but also as being hungry to discover righteousness in Israel. He wants to find figs.


Verses 18-22

The Acted Out Parable Of The End Of The Old Unbelieving Israel (21:18-22).

Having made clear by His actions that the old unbelieving Israel in the person of its leaders will not receive Him, Jesus now makes clear what the result will be by bringing about the withering of a fig tree, and by describing a mountain which will be cast into the sea. These demonstrate the state of the people generally and the future that awaits them. This old unbelieving Israel is the same as that which rejected the prophets, and was continually described as subject to judgment so that after intense purification from it would come a holy seed (e.g. Isaiah 4:2-4; Isaiah 6:13; Zechariah 13:8-9; Malachi 4:1-2).

Matthew’s treatment of the story of the fig tree illustrates his abbreviating tendencies. He leaves out everything that is not essential to the message that he wants to get over, including an indication of the length of time between the ‘cursing’ of the fig tree and its withering. In the Old Testament the fruit of a fig tree illustrates the moral and spiritual condition of people in Israel. For example, in Jeremiah 24:2 good and bad figs depicted on the one hand blessing on the captives in Babylon who were rethinking their attitudes, and on the other punishment on those who remained in the land who were carrying on as they were. While the application is not quite the same it illustrates the use of the product of a fig tree to denote judgment or otherwise on ‘Israel’. Compare also Jeremiah 8:13; Micah 7:1, (and see Deuteronomy 8:8; Numbers 13:23). Furthermore Jesus probably intended them by His action to remember His own parable of the fig tree which indicated that His people were on probation (Luke 13:6-9). There a man who had planted a fig tree came looking for fruit on it and found none. At that stage it was to be given another chance to see if it would produce figs. What Jesus therefore appears to be indicating here is that for many of them it was now too late. Both the individuals in Israel and Israel as a whole had been given abundant opportunity. Now, however, their probation was over. They had failed to produce figs (compare Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:10; Matthew 7:17-20; Matthew 12:33) and they must therefore receive the consequences (compare John 3:18-21).

Here it is the consequences of their failure that it in mind. Those who have not produced fruit will ‘be withered’, and this is not simply a result of natural processes but will be brought about by the word of Jesus acting in judgment. Some have questioned whether Jesus would have acted in this way, and have treated it as though Jesus had acted out of petulance. But we must not read our reactions into Jesus. There is no petulance here. It is a case of Jesus seizing an opportunity to vividly illustrate a point to His disciples, and a visibly evidenced outworking of the principle, ‘from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away’ (Matthew 13:12). His aim therefore is to indicate to His disciples that this is precisely what He will do to any who put on a false show. For the fact is that no lesson is more deeply appreciated than one that is vividly illustrated by some remarkable and intriguing observed event, and at this point in their lives Jesus clearly considered that this lesson did need to be well and truly learned. He would not therefore hesitate in speeding up the demise of a fig tree in accomplishing such a purpose, just as He once smote the fig trees of Egypt (Psalms 105:33) and will one day, as the Judge of the world, wither up the whole of unbelieving mankind because they too have put on a false showing. Every time that the disciples in the future passed that particular fig tree it would bring home to them those greater realities, and remind them of the consequences of being a sham.

We are probably also to see in the mountain cast into the sea a similar picture of judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple, for being ‘cast into the sea’ is regularly a symbol of judgment (see Matthew 8:32; Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2), and ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house’ is a well known description (Isaiah 2:2 compare Isaiah 25:6). So the two together may be seen as illustrating the withering of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It is probably therefore no coincidence that this incident is placed right in the middle of Jesus’ confrontations with the chief priests (Matthew 21:15; Matthew 21:23; Matthew 21:45), whose leader the High Priest was the leading authority in Israel and Jerusalem.

Analysis.

a Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he felt hungry (Matthew 21:18).

b And seeing a fig tree by the way side, he came to it, and found nothing on it, but leaves only (Matthew 21:19 a).

c And he says to it, “Let there be no fruit from you from now on for ever” (Matthew 21:19 b)

d And immediately the fig tree withered away (Matthew 21:19 c).

e And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled (Matthew 21:20 a).

d Saying, “How did the fig tree immediately wither away?” (Matthew 21:20 b).

c And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, If you have faith, and do not doubt, you will not only do what is done to the fig tree” (Matthew 21:21 a)

b “But even if you shall say to this mountain, ‘Be you taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” (Matthew 21:21 b)

a “And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matthew 21:22).

Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is filled with hunger, and in the parallel describes how ‘hunger’ can be satisfied. In ‘b’ the fig tree has nothing but leaves, and in the parallel the mountain is cast into the sea. In ‘c’ no fruit is to be on the fig tree in the future at His command, and in the parallel the disciples will by faith be able to do the same. In ‘d’ the fig tree withered, and in the parallel the disciples asked how it occurred. Centrally in ‘e’ the disciples marvelled at what had happened.


Verse 19

‘And immediately the fig tree withered away.’

The word rendered ‘immediately’ need not indicate that it was instantaneous. The point is rather that the fig tree withered away within a period discernible to the disciples. It indicates ‘within a short time’ (compare its regular use in this way in Mark where it cannot possibly always mean ‘at once’). We should note that Jesus is not said to have ‘cursed’ the fig tree. In Mark that is Peter’s language. But He has certainly hastened its end in such a way that Peter saw it as being like that (another example of Peter’s impetuosity). The probable reason for this was in order to illustrate that because it was all show and really unfruitful, old Israel’s end was near in the same way.


Verse 20

‘And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree immediately wither away?”

The fact that its speedy withering was an unusual occurrence is brought out by the disciples’ question. They marvelled that the fig tree had already withered away. The rate at which it had withered clearly seemed to them unnatural.


Verse 21

‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, If you have faith, and do not doubt, you will not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if you shall say to this mountain, ‘Be you taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done.”

Jesus replies enigmatically. He primarily uses what He has done as an illustration of what true faith can do, and even expands on it. He will leave the deeper lesson to be understood later. So He points out that nothing is impossible to faith, even the withering of fig trees and the moving of mountains and casting of them into the sea. However, we must not read into that that faith can produce anything that we wish (it did not produce figs for Jesus to eat), for it would be no more moral for us to use faith for our own selfish purposes as it would have been for Jesus. The point is that we can only use faith in this way if there are grounds for such faith. Jesus is not saying to His disciples that they can do anything ridiculous that they decide that they want to do (like moving a mountain simply in order to avoid having to climb over it). He is saying that this is true for anything that they have good grounds for thinking is in the will of God. Indeed He may well have intended them to remember the mountain moved by Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:7), that is, the achieving of seemingly impossible spiritual objectives because inspired and empowered by the Spirit.

But He then goes on to add a further spiritual lesson. For ‘this mountain’ must mean either the Temple mount, or the Mount of Olives, or the mountain on which Jerusalem was built, probably the first (this is clearer in Mark), while being cast into the sea regularly elsewhere indicates judgment (Matthew 8:32; Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). Thus He is not only indicating the future fate of old unbelieving Israel, but also the future fate of Jerusalem, both of which are coming, and both of which will take place because of the prayers of faith of the disciples, not so much as a result of praying for such results specifically, but because their prayers for the establishment of the new congregation will inevitably result in it (e.g. Acts 4:29-30). An Israel denuded of believers will be a withered Israel indeed.


Verse 22

“And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”

Jesus then caps off His words by underlining the importance of taking God at His word. His point is that when they are praying for something, praying through to a position of faith will result in their receiving it. Note the connection with prayer. The idea is not of some outlandish ‘faith’ used outside the purposes of God in order to obtain anything that we want, but on the importance of faith in seeking the will of God. Full confidence in God and true prayer is required if they are to accomplish His will, and achieve great spiritual things. For then the glory will go to God.

This emphasis on prayer reminds us that that was precisely where Jesus had seen unbelieving Israel as lacking in Matthew 21:13. Had their thoughts been more on true prayer, and less on making money, they would not have needed Him to do what He did, and their way would have prospered. But for many prayer had become just a formality (compare Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:11-12). Thus they were already partly withered.


Verse 23

‘And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” ’

Matthew here omits mention of the Scribes. As we saw at the beginning of this section that was because He was trying to present a picture of the variety of the opposition without too much repetition. Possibly the Scribal representation was minimal. But here Matthew’s emphasis is on the civic authorities. While present the Scribes were seen as secondary. In Jerusalem these were the two ruling groups who held civic authority, the chief priests, and the lay princes and aristocracy. Thus this was an official deputation, and they were questioning His right to preach in the Temple and to behave as He was doing. Their questions were twofold, firstly as to the central source of His authority, did He claim that it came from God? And secondly as to who had authorised Him to act with that authority. For if He claimed that His authority came from God He had then to be able to produce sufficiently reputable authorities to back up His claim. Who then were His authorities? Let Him name them. They hoped by this to bring Him to a standstill so that they could then forbid Him to preach.

‘These things’ probably included His triumphal ride into Jerusalem, His actions in purifying the Temple, His preaching in the Temple (which was their preserve), His healing of the lame and the blind in the Temple, and His allowing Himself to be hailed as the Son of David. It was apparent from these that He was claiming great authority. Who then was there who would back up His authority? There was nothing outwardly wrong with their action. They were responsible for what happened in the Temple. What was at fault was their attitude.


Verses 23-27

Jesus Is Questioned About His Authority (21:23-27).

The idea that the leadership of Israel were in fact only a sham is now emphasised in this incident. In it the leaders of the people, the religious authorities of the Temple (the chief priests) and the lay authorities of Jerusalem (the elders of the people), challenge Him about His authority, and as a result He demonstrates that they are not really suitable people to decide about such things, because their hearts are hardened and they are not willing to respond to the truth.

We must see this as at least a semi-official approach from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body, for these people, along with the Scribes (included by Mark), were constituent parts of the Sanhedrin. They had seemingly been waiting for His next visit to the Temple, and approached Him as soon as He began teaching. We should note that He was there to pray and to teach, as the Scribes also did (Luke 2:46). He made no attempt to hide Himself, for His challenge was now open and bold. So they came to Him with the deliberate purpose of showing Him up before all the people, for they knew that it would be necessary to get at least the tacit support of the people for what they wanted to do to Him. Thus their first aim was to demonstrate to the crowds that he had no demonstrable authority.

Their question seemed reasonable. All knew that it was their responsibility to check the credentials of any who claimed religious authority, and that they were also responsible for public order, especially in the Temple, and that He had after all caused some disarray and had challenged that authority, even if He had done it as a prophet. So there could be no criticism of their checking up on Him. But it was the way in which it was done that proved that it was not genuine. They had had plenty of opportunity for questioning Him and weighing Him up beforehand, had they really wished to do so, and they could easily have spoken with Him in private. However, their aim was not to discover truth, but to openly confront and denounce Him, and the way in which Jesus dealt with them demonstrated that He in fact saw their challenge at this point as hostile, and not neutral.

That their approach was over more than just His actions in the Temple comes out in the strength of the deputation. His act in the Temple could have been dealt with discreetly by the Temple police, and with a warning. It was His whole activity that was in question and the challenges that He was thus making.

The approach was high handed and officious. ‘By what authority -- who gave you this authority?’ Their first hope was that He would have no answer and be caught unprepared. Then the people would see by His hesitation that He was a charlatan. Alternately they were hoping to make Him declare Himself, and say something ‘foolish’, possibly even something that could be portrayed as blasphemous, and whatever He said they would then be able to use against Him. They could then accuse Him of self-exaltation, or worse, of being a false prophet, a Messianic claimant or a rebel. The question was, what was He claiming Himself to be? Was He claiming to be a prophet? Was He claiming to be the Messiah? Was He claiming to be the coming Elijah? And if He was not claiming to be anyone important how could He claim to have God’s personal authority for doing what He was doing? Compare Matthew 6:15; John 1:19-25. Had He responded as they expected by claiming to be acting in God’s Name with no one to back up His position they would then be able to demand from Him a sign from Heaven, their favourite response to any such claims (compare Matthew 16:1).

Analysis.

a And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23).’

b And Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question, which if you tell me, I will similarly tell you by what authority I do these things” (Matthew 21:24).

c “The baptism of John, from where was its origin? From heaven or from men?” (Matthew 21:25 a).

d And they reasoned with themselves, saying (Matthew 21:25 b).

c “If we shall say, ‘From Heaven’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him? But if we shall say, ‘From men’, we fear the crowd, for all hold John as a prophet” (Matthew 21:25-26).

b And they answered Jesus, and said, “We do not know” (Matthew 21:27 a).

a He also said to them, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things” (Matthew 21:27 b).

Note that in ‘a’ they ask Him about His authority, and in the parallel He refuses to give His authority. In ‘b’ He challenges them with a question, and in the parallel they admit that they do not know the answer. In ‘c’ He asks whether he origin of John’s baptism was from Heaven or of men, and in the parallel they debate the two possibilities. Centrally in ‘d’ they reason with themselves.


Verse 24-25

a ‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question, which if you tell me, I will similarly tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where was its origin? From heaven or from men?”

Jesus replies by diverting the question away from Himself. He does not want the crowds to think that He has no answer. So He asks them to explain to Him the origin of John’s baptism. Was it from Heaven or from men? This was not a diversionary tactic. Replying by a counter-question was a typically Rabbinic way of proceeding, and their reply would in fact be vital to His answer, for John was one who above all had pointed to His authority, and had testified of Him (see John 5:30-37). Yet His question was cleverly worded, for both He and they knew that they were surrounded by people in the Temple courtyard who had been baptised by John and held that baptism as sacred. Such people would not take kindly to anyone who depreciated it, especially in their present state of religious fervour and excitement at the festival. Furthermore, by referring to ‘the baptism of John’ Jesus was not just asking their opinion about John’s baptism, His question included their opinion on all the preaching that lay behind it.

This method of dealing with a question by a question was a regular Rabbinic method of arguing, and usually the question had an obvious answer. And that was the problem in this case. For this question did have an obvious answer and the crowds knew what it was. Almost as one man they believed fervently that John was a prophet, and they were still even now appalled at the treatment that had been meted out to him. Indeed his reputation would have increased with his death. They did not blame these leaders for that. That lay squarely on the shoulders of Herod. But if these leaders gave a negative answer now it would be seen as their aligning themselves with Herod. And that could have caused all kinds of trouble. And yet the problem for the leaders was that it was the negative answer that they wanted to give.

Matthew 21:25-26 ‘And they reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we shall say, ‘From Heaven’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him? But if we shall say, ‘From men’, we fear the crowd, for all hold John as a prophet.”

The leaders recognised that they were trapped. They dared not say that John’s baptism was not from Heaven (from God), for the crowds around them held John to be a genuine prophet, and believed firmly in his baptism. They believed that God had spoken to them through John. Were these leaders to deny John’s authority as being from Heaven, and say that it was simply ‘from men’, they would immediately lose their own authority in the eyes of the crowd, and might even be attacked by the more fervent amongst them, which could lead to anything. Yet if they did say that his authority was from Heaven Jesus would ask why they had not then believed him, for the attitude of the leaders towards John had in fact, on the whole, been one of stubborn disbelief. The only other alternative was to say that they ‘did not know’. But that would be to lose all right to act as judges with regard to Jesus’ authority. It would ignominiously expose them to the crowds as being incapable of making such judgments on their own admission.


Verse 27

‘And they answered Jesus, and said, “We do not know.”. He also said to them, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” ’

In the end they opted for the answer that they felt would embarrass them least. They replied that they did not know. This basically disqualified them from being judges on the question of authority, certainly in the eyes of the crowd. If they could not tell whether John’s baptism was from Heaven, how could they hope to tell whether Jesus, Who had baptised alongside John, and had been testified to by John, was from Heaven or not (John 4:1-2)? The crowds, of course, knew that Jesus had been backed by John, and had worked alongside him. Thus they would recognise that His authority was on the same basis as John’s.

Thus Jesus was able to emphasise that in view of their own admission that they could not tell whether John was from God or not, there was no point in His putting forward the evidence of His own authority, which was partly based on John’s. The leaders must have been furious. They had simply made themselves look fools, and had sowed in people’s minds the thought that they were unable to discern the mind of God, and that in total contrast with Jesus, Whose association with John proved that He did know the mind of God.

The importance of this episode must not be underestimated. The Jews were proud of the fact that they saw themselves as the people of God. And they looked with awe to their High Priests Annas and Caiaphas who led their worship, and to their Teachers who interpreted to them their Scriptures which brought to them the voice of God. Thus the undermining of their confidence in the ability of either of these groups to speak authoritatively concerning the truth about God and His authority would bring home to those who could ‘see’ how false their position was, and would shake their faith in them, resulting in religious disillusionment. It would thus hopefully point them towards Jesus.


Verse 28

“But what do you think? A man had two sons.”

We note here that once again we are faced with the challenge of the two ways (compare Matthew 7:13-14 ff). For this father has two sons who must choose which way they will take. But in this example a new element will be introduced, and that is the element of appearing to choose the one while in fact choosing the other.


Verse 28-29

“And he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard’. And he answered and said, ‘I will not’, but afterward he changed his mind, and went.”

The first son is called to work in his father’s vineyard, but rudely refuses. However, afterwards he changes his mind and goes. He is a picture of all who for a time rudely ignore God but afterwards repent and begin to obey Him.


Verses 28-32

Jesus Exposes the Hypocrisy Of The Religious Leaders By The Parable Of The Two Sons (21:28-32).

Jesus now follows up His challenge concerning the source of John’s authority, in order to face the religious leaders more emphatically with their failure to respond to God’s message through John. He points out that John had brought them truth, but that they had failed to respond to that truth, and were even now failing to do so. In contrast some of those whom religiously they most despised, the public servants and the prostitutes, had responded to John, and had repented and believed, and had thus gone into the Kingly Rule of Heaven before them.

That being so the religious leaders were like a son who pretended to his father that he would do what he wanted, but in fact failed to do so. While the public servants and prostitutes who had previously been disobedient, had now become obedient sons. They were like a son who at first had been rather rude to his father, but had in the end fallen in line with his wishes. (We can compare with this parable, the parable of the loving father and his two sons in Luke 15:11-32 which illustrated a similar point).

Analysis.

a “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard’.” (Matthew 21:28).

b “And he answered and said, “I will not”, but afterward he changed his mind, and went” (Matthew 21:29).

c “And he came to the second, and said the same. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir’, and went not” (Matthew 21:30).

d “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

e They say, “The first.”

d Jesus says to them, “Truly I say to you, that the public servants and the prostitutes go into the Kingly Rule of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

c “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him” (Matthew 21:32 a).

b “But the public servants and the prostitutes believed him (Matthew 21:32 b).

a “And you, when you saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterwards, that you might believe him” (Matthew 21:32 c).

Note that in ‘a’ the son was told to go and work in his father’s vineyard, and in the parallel the religious leaders, who would have claimed to be like the obedient son, refused to go. In ‘b’ the disobedient son repented and obeyed his father, and in the parallel the public servants and prostitutes had believed and entered the way of righteousness. In ‘c’ the one who said that he would go and did not go is described, and in the parallel the religious leaders had not believed John when he called them into the way of righteousness. In ‘d’ Jesus asks which of the two sons did the will of his father, and in the parallel He explains that public servants and prostitutes have done exactly that. Centrally in ‘e’ they acknowledge that it was the one who was actually obedient who did the will of his father, not the one who had merely said he would.


Verse 30

“And he came to the second, and said the same. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir’, and went not.”

The second son is full of expressions of willingness. His answer is immediate. ‘I go, sir.’ But the problem was that he did not go. He is like all those who are outwardly religious from the beginning, but who do not really obey God from the heart. They are those who do not hear the will of God anddoit (Matthew 7:24; Matthew 7:26).


Verse 31

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They say, “The first.”

Jesus them asked which of the two sons did the will of his father, the one who had refused, but had then gone, or the one who had expressed all willingness, but had not gone. Even the religious leaders knew the answer to that one. It was the son who had repented and had then done it.


Verse 31-32

‘Jesus says to them, “Truly I say to you, that the public servants and the prostitutes go into the Kingly Rule of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the public servants and the prostitutes believed him, and you, when you saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that you might believe him.”

Jesus then applies the parable in terms of the response of people to the ministry of John. John had come in ‘the way of righteousness’. He had walked righteously. He had taught righteousness (compare Luke 1:17; John 5:33; John 5:35). But above all He had brought God’s active righteousness and deliverance to the people (see Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 61:3 etc.; Luke 1:17). And many of the public servants and the prostitutes, the lowest of the low, those who would have been seen as those least likely to respond to God, had believed him. And they had repented and had been baptised, declaring their desire to take part in the future drenching of the Holy Spirit, declaring that they wanted to be God’s ‘holy ones’ (saints). Thus they had ‘gone into’ the Kingly Rule of God. They had begun to live anew and had wanted all that God could give them. They had begun to obey Him and acknowledge His Kingly Rule. They were no longer what they were, but were now seeking to live their lives in a way which was pleasing to God. And the same was true of all who had responded to God’s message through John.

But the religious leaders had not responded in this way. They did not believe him. They did not repent. They did not go into the Kingly Rule of God then. Nor had they done so since, even when they had seen the repentance of others whom they had castigated as sinners. They had remained unmoved. Thus they were still outside the Kingly Rule of God. Note the use of ‘Kingly Rule of GOD’. The former had responded to God Himself, the latter had turned from God. This expression always expresses the immediacy of His Kingly Rule in Matthew.

The contrast would have been startling to all who heard it. Being a public servant meant that a man was seen as having betrayed his country and his friends and as having consorted with the enemies of his people. He was engaged in the service of those who served Rome. He was thus seen, even by the ordinary people, as a traitor towards God and towards his people. He was universally despised in Israel. Being a prostitute was similar for a woman. She was seen as encouraging men into adultery (see Proverbs 7:10-23). She betrayed all that a decent woman stood for, and prostituted the relationship that lay at the basis of all decent society. Along with the public servant she was seen as openly defying God, and as being therefore, of all people, the most displeasing to God. Both would have been seen as the last ones who could ever have been expected to find acceptability with God. Thus the thought that such people might actually have entered the Kingly Rule of God would have seemed almost unbelievable. It would open the door of hope for all, again on the basis of repentance. For it must be recognised that they were only accepted because they had repented and believed.

The leaders of the people on the other hand saw themselves as not only respectable, but as thoroughly pleasing to God, as pleasing as a man can be. Were they not able to prove by their genealogies that they were sons of Abraham. Was His favour towards them not evidenced by their wealth and position, both seen as tokens of such favour? And the people on the whole would have agreed with them. They therefore saw no need to repent. Thus what Jesus was suggesting was almost shocking. It was turning the Jewish world upside down. But here again was Jesus’ confirmation that the new age had begun, and that the Kingly Rule of God was already here, and had been since the time of John. For the whole point of what He was saying was that the sinful who have repented at John’s preaching have entered the Kingly Rule of God, and are therefore now God’s true people, while the outwardly righteous who have not responded to John’s preaching, have not entered the Kingly Rule of God, and are even now unwilling to do so.

In this context ‘go before you’ must signify present experience, for the assumption of ‘before’ (which always in its use here indicates ‘before’ in time) is that there is still opportunity for those who have not yet entered to do so, while once the time for entering the future Kingly Rule of God comes, all decisions will have been finalised, and those who have not believed will not be entering at all. There will be no question then of ‘before’ for them, for their opportunity would have gone. Thus present experience is what is in mind. And this is confirmed not only by the use of ‘before’ but by the whole argument. It loses most of its strength if it only refers to entry into the Kingly Rule of God in the distant future.

Note the huge implication of what Jesus is saying in all this. He is declaring that all men, even the chief priests and the aristocracy, are to be tested by how they have responded to John’s preaching. And that is because John was not to be seen as just another preacher. He was to be seen as an eschatological figure. He was the forerunner of the Coming One. In him God was thus challenging the world. He had come representing the full truth of God. And thus all men of whatever level were judged by their response to him, in the same way as they will be judged by their response to the Coming One Who will follow him. For John was inescapable. In him God’s truth was polarised. Through him God had broken in on the world. Thus not to believe him was not to believe God. And to believe him or otherwise was therefore the same as believing in the Coming One. It divided the righteous from the unrighteous. (And the corollary of this was that believing in the Coming One would also be vital, for there is salvation in no other than the One to Whom John pointed, and no other Name under Heaven given among men by which men and women can be saved (Acts 4:12)).

By this parable therefore Jesus rams home the failure of the chief priests and the aristocracy to respond to John and his message, reinforcing their failure to appreciate that his baptism and his message was from God.


Verse 33

“Hear another parable. There was a man who was an estate owner, who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to vineyard workers, and went into another place.”

The description here is partially based on Isaiah 5:2, although the background is different. In Isaiah 5 the vineyard was not let out. But the likeness confirms that, as there, the vineyard is a picture of Israel. Even the Jewish leaders recognised that here He was speaking about them (Matthew 21:45), for they did see themselves as having the responsibility for God’s vineyard. And this is further substantiated by other references in the Old Testament to Israel as a vineyard (compare Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 27:2-5; Jeremiah 2:21-22; Hosea 9:10, where again the vineyard is Israel/Judah). It is also confirmed by the previous parable in Matthew 21:28-32, which was also about a vineyard. But here the emphasis will not be on the fruitfulness of the vineyard, but the behaviour of those who rent the vineyard from its Owner.

The vineyard described, with its surrounding thorn hedge, would be a common sight in Palestine. Its winepress would consist of two small ditches, one set below the other at a lower level, and both either cut in the rock, or lined with stones and plastered. The grapes would be trodden in the higher one and the juice would seep through to the lower one, where it could be collected. Its tower would be about three metres (ten feet) high, with living accommodation below, and a top level surrounded by a low wall from which the whole vineyard could be surveyed. Note the emphasis placed on the effort put in by the owner. What more could He have done for His vineyard that He had not done? He therefore deserved every consideration.

The parable is based on real life. In Palestine at that time there were many farms and vineyards tenanted by tenant farmers, with absent landlords who expected to receive their rents in the form of an agreed portion of the produce, and who had to ensure that they made their claim for rental at the proper time in order to reinforce their rights of ownership. Costs would be shared. And we can be sure that with regard to some of those farms and vineyards there was much skulduggery, for tenants left without being approached for three years could claim formal ownership of the land.

So here the vineyard is planted and put under the control of others who are made responsible for ensuring that a fair rental in terms of produce is paid to the owner. The owner, Who is clearly the God of Israel, then leaves it in their hands. It would take four years for the vineyard to become fruitful in such a way that rents (paid in produce) could be expected (see Leviticus 19:23-25), but other subsidiary items might be grown, and full and regular accounting would be required from the start.


Verses 33-41

The Parable Of The Faithless Tenants (21:33-41)..

The final build up of Jesus, and of what He has come to do, continues. He has entered Jerusalem as its King (Matthew 21:1-11). He has taken over the Temple, casting out all that is commercial and to do with Mammon, and making it a place of the healing of the lame and the blind, turning it from a robber’s den into a house of prayer (Matthew 21:12-14). He has been declared in the Temple to be the Son of David by those from whose mouths, according to Scripture, proceeds God’s truth (Matthew 21:15-17). He has portrayed by a miraculous sign the final demise of the old unbelieving and unfruitful Israel (Matthew 21:18-22). He has reinforced the authority of John before the people and reminded them that he came from God (Matthew 21:23-27). He has demonstrated that all men stand judged on the basis of how they have responded to John’s ministry, exposing by that the inconsistency of the Jewish leaders (Matthew 21:28-32). Now He will make clear His ultimate claim. That He is the only Son, that He too has come from God, and that they will do to Him whatever they will. And that because they are so possessive of Israel, and so determined to fashion it in their own image, that they are unable to see their own folly. Here is the ultimate prophecy. The declaration beforehand of what they are going to do to Him (as in their hearts they well knew, but He was not supposed to know) because they have come to look on Israel as theirs.

Thus He wants them to know that having rejected John and the prophets, He is aware that they are now behaving towards Him in a spirit of enmity and malice that will result in His death. And he wants them to realise that they will be judged accordingly, because all that the prophets have pointed to is now here. It is a final plea to their consciences and to their hearts. And He will then indicate that the end of the old nation is approaching and that it will issue in the new (Matthew 21:43). The new age is in process of beginning.

In the section chiasmus this parable is in parallel to the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. There we were given the picture of the true labourers of the future, here we have described those who have had charge of the vineyard in the past, with the final indication that they will be replaced.

It should be noted also that this is the middle parable of three in succession. The first contrasted how people had responded towards His Forerunner, bringing out how even the riffraff responded because they accepted that John’s authority came from God, while the religious leaders did not. This one will describe how the leaders of Israel will behave towards Him as the only Son of the owner of the vineyard, just as they did towards John, and what the consequences will be for them and for the old Israel. The third parable will reinforce and underline His position as the King’s Son, and will bring out again that it is the poor and the needy who respond who will enjoy the future time of blessing, while those who should have done so will be rejected because they refuse to respond to His invitation, or wear His insignia and thus bear His Name.

Any who for some strange reason have decided for themselves that Jesus could not have used allegory (partly because some have misused it) try to ‘simplify’ the parable and thereby can make it whatever they want it to mean. However, we have already argued with regard to the parable of the sower that Jesus undoubtedly did demonstrably use allegory to a certain extent so that there are no real grounds for denying allegory here. Nor, except for those who against all the evidence deny that Jesus saw Himself as uniquely the Son and different from all others, are there any theological grounds for denying this to Jesus. Indeed if it had been an allegory invented by the later church we would have expected to find some indication of the son’s resurrection, instead of just a handing over of the vineyard to others, (especially in view of the illustration of the stone which follows) and also the introduction of the idea that the son had come to make atonement. Such ideas could hardly have been resisted. But there is no hint of them in the parable. Furthermore having emphasised John’s work in the previous parable we would actually expect Him to turn attention to Himself as a greater than John (a son as compared with a prophet - Matthew 3:11; Matthew 3:14-17) as He has constantly made clear earlier (Matthew 11:2-6; Matthew 11:11-14; John 5:33-37), and does in the next parable which also introduces the further idea of royalty.

Analysis.

a “Hear another parable. There was a man who was an estate owner, who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to vineyard workers, and went into another place” (Matthew 21:33).

b “And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the vineyard workers, to receive his fruits” (Matthew 21:34).

c “And the vineyard workers took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another” (Matthew 21:35).

d “Again, he sent other servants more than at first, and they treated them in the same way” (Matthew 21:36).

e “But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will reverence my son’.” (Matthew 21:37).

d “But the vineyard workers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance.’ ” (Matthew 21:38).

c “And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him” (Matthew 21:39).

b “When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those vineyard workers?” (Matthew 21:40).

a “They say to him, ‘He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will let out the vineyard to other vineyard workers, who will render him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:41).

Note than in ‘a’ the owner lets his vineyard out to vineyard workers, and in the parallel he destroys them and lets it out to other vineyard workers because the first ones have failed. In ‘b’ he sent to receive the fruits due to him, and in the parallel he comes himself to bring them to account. In ‘c’ we have the behaviour of the vineyard workers towards the servants, and in the parallel their behaviour towards the son. In ‘d’ he continued to send servants, and they treated them badly, and in the parallel the son arrives and they determine to treat him badly. Centrally in ‘e’ was the wish and hope of the father, that they would reverence his son.


Verse 34-35

‘And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the vineyard workers, to receive his fruits. And the vineyard workers took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.”

When the time came that fruits could be expected the owner sent servants to collect the portion of the harvest that was due to him, no doubt also with instructions to oversee the harvesting and meet any expenses due. But when the vineyard workers saw them they beat them, killed them, or stoned them, depending on their fancy. See Matthew 23:31; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34. Beatings were a normal treatment exacted on those in disfavour (see Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 37:15), and for the stoning of a prophet see 2 Chronicles 24:21. For the killing of prophets see 1 Kings 18:13; Nehemiah 9:26.

Ironically the ‘vineyard workers’, that is the religious leaders of Israel, would have claimed that they did ‘pay their rent’. They made all the required offerings (compare Isaiah 1:11-15) and gave tithes of all that they received (contrast Malachi 3:8-10). But these were not the fruits that God was looking for (Matthew 7:21 as exemplified in chapters 5-7; Isaiah 11:16-16).

‘Sent His servants.’ See Matthew 23:34; Jeremiah 7:25-26 - ‘I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, day by day rising up early and sending them -- but they made their neck stiff and did worse than their fathers’, and 2 Chronicles 24:19 - ‘yet He sent prophets to them to bring them again to the Lord’. Compare also 2 Chronicles 36:15-19, ‘the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwellingplace, but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy --- therefore He slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary ---and they burned down the house of God and broke down the walls of Jerusalem’. None knew better than Jesus that history repeats itself.

For the maltreatment of successive men of God see 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 22:27; 2 Chronicles 24:20-21; Nehemiah 9:26; and for the sending of prophets, Jeremiah 25:4; Amos 3:7 Zechariah 1:6. The consequences that followed are also clearly described.


Verse 36

“Again, he sent other servants more than at first, and they treated them in the same way.”

But the vineyard owner continued to be persistent, and sent even more servants, but they treated them in the same way. ‘More than at first’ might signify sending a larger contingent, or it may indicate a longer string of servants. Jesus is bringing out the supreme patience of God and the many opportunities that He had given to His people, rather than simply trying to make the parable realistic. And we should note that one of these was John the Baptist.


Verse 37

“But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will reverence my son’.”

Finally the owner of the vineyard decided that He would give them one last chance. He would send to them his own son. This was with the twofold hope, firstly that they would acknowledge the potential owner as having the right to collect payment. It was one thing to ill treat, mock and kill slaves. It would be quite another to ill treat the son of the house. And secondly in the hope that their consciences might be moved at the thought that it was His own Son Who came to them, with the result that that they would repent and respond to Him. They would recognise that while they might get away with illtreating servants, it would be a very different matter with His only son. The implication was clear for all who had eyes to see. It was as clear a declaration of Jesus’ uniqueness, and of His Sonship as it is possible to have.

Some have suggested that the son was simply indicating a higher grade of response than the servants. But note the order of those who came, servants, more servants, only Son, Owner Himself. In the light of the inclusion of the last only the spiritually and obstinately blind could have failed to see the special nature of the Son, especially in view of the expectation of the Messiah.

Matthew alone drops the phrase ‘the beloved son’. But this is in line with his abbreviating tendencies. (Just as he dropped the ‘good’ in ‘Good Teacher’ - Matthew 19:16). He does not need to mention it. The parable that follows leaves us in no doubt as to Whose Son He is. He is the King’s Son.

And yet, as was necessary at this time of such bitterness, Jesus’ claim to be the Owner’s Son was couched in such a way that it could not be used as an instrument against Him. His claim was clear, but all knew that if they questioned Him about it and tried to accuse Him of blasphemy He would come back with one of His devastating questions, such as, ‘Why do you think that this applies to Me?’ and wait for their answer. All would, of course, know that it was meant to apply to Him, but they would simply be left looking foolish, not daring to answer.

Note that the sending of the Son is here seen as God’s final act towards men before judgment (see John 3:16-21). If they will not respond to Him, and to those who go out in His Name, they will not respond to anyone. Hebrews 1:1-3 may well have partly resulted as a consequence of this parable.

Some may argue that no father in his right senses would do such a thing, and they would, of course, be right, especially in the sending of His Son on His own. But this is not speaking of any father. It is speaking of God the Father. And this is precisely what God amazingly did do. It is meant to sound remarkable, for it was remarkable. In the words of Tertullian when speaking of the crucifixion of God’s Son, it was impossible and therefore it must be true (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10; Romans 5:8; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 1:1-3).


Verses 37-46

The Question Of Jesus’ Authority (21:37-22:46).

While, as we have seen above, the section from Matthew 19:3 to Matthew 22:46 forms a complete section in itself, enclosed within a dissertation on true leadership (Matthew 21:18) and a dissertation on false leadership (Matthew 21:23), this sub-section on authority also forms a unit. It commences with a challenge by the leadership concerning His authority (Matthew 21:23-27) and finishes with a challenge by Jesus concerning His authority (Matthew 22:41-45). Within these two inclusios are three parables concerning the authority of the Kingly Rule of Heaven which John and He have introduced, followed by three attempts to expose His inability to deal with the questions of the day, in all of which He puts his opponents to rout and reveals His own religious authority. Thus His and John’s authority are revealed in seven ways. They proceed as follows;

Jesus is questioned as to His authority (Matthew 21:23-27).

The parable of the two sons in which He establishes John’s authority (Matthew 21:28-32).

The parable of the unfaithful tenants in which He establishes His own Sonship and authority (Matthew 21:33-46).

The parable of the marriage feast of the King’s Son in which He confirms His Sonship and authority (Matthew 22:1-14).

The test concerning tribute money on which He stamps His authority (Matthew 22:15-22).

The test concerning the resurrection on which He again stamps His authority (Matthew 22:23-33).

The test concerning what is the greatest commandment in the Law which is further evidence of His authority (Matthew 22:34-40).

Jesus then confirms His supreme authority from Scripture (Matthew 22:41-46).


Verse 38

“But the vineyard workers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance.’ ”

The reaction of the husbandmen is then given. ‘Said among themselves’ was a hint of what Jesus’ listeners were already secretly doing. They were whispering among themselves. They would kill the heir so that they might retain control of the inheritance. For the Law allowed for the fact that if those in physical possession of land were able to farm it untroubled by anyone for a number of years they could claim legal possession of it for themselves, and they had probably gained the impression that the owner was unwilling to come himself. Thus they may well have thought that if the heir was slain they would be left alone. Perhaps they also saw his coming as signifying that the father was dead. They certainly saw it as a display of weakness. They could not understand His longsuffering.

Certainly as the Jewish leaders saw the great crowds hanging on to Jesus’ every word they must have felt that ‘their inheritance’ was slipping away from them. Thus the picture is graphic, and in view of their plans to kill Jesus (Matthew 12:14; Mark 3:6; John 11:50; John 11:53; see also Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:23; Matthew 20:18), a telling one. And they would feel that once He was out of the way they would be able to get a grip on things and regain control over the inheritance.

‘Let us kill him.’ The words are similar to those used by Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 37:20 (see LXX). Jesus was likening these men to Joseph’s brothers, full of hate and jealousy towards a brother. Joseph’s brothers had been forerunners of the persecutors of the prophets, and of these men who now planned Jesus’ downfall.


Verse 39

“And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him.”

The result was that the servants rejected the son, expelling him from the vineyard and killing him. This illustration was a clear warning to the Jewish leaders that both God and Jesus were fully aware of their murderous intentions. The expulsion from the vineyard might be seen as indicating that it was their intention for Jesus to be seen as excommunicated and cut off from Israel (the vineyard is Israel, not Jerusalem), and the killing simply described what was in their minds, and would eventually come to fruition. In the story it would be important that the son’s death take place outside the vineyard, otherwise the vineyard would be seen as tainted.

Mark has ‘they killed him and cast him forth out of the vineyard’. But the ideas are not necessarily contradictory, for Mark probably meant ‘mortally wounded him and cast him out of the vineyard’. In each case it is rather a matter of where they wished the emphasis to be placed. For if the son was physically attacked and mortally wounded on entering the vineyard, retreating before the onslaught and collapsing dead outside the vineyard, either through loss of blood or under their final blows, either description would be true. (And why cast his body out if he was already dead? It would simply draw attention to their crime. All they had to do was bury him in the vineyard.). The difference is thus one of emphasis, not of chronological order. Each is emphasising the killing in their own way. Matthew and Luke are emphasising that he was killed. Mark’s emphasis is on the blows that commenced the death throes of the son in the first place, the first initial, vindictive and murderous attack. ‘Killed him and cast him out’ are simply therefore to be seen as two events that took place alongside each other. (And verbs in translation can often be translated in different orders, depending on the grammar, for the physical order of words in one language is not necessarily the same as the physical order in another).

‘Cast him forth out of/from the vineyard.’ This could signify:

1). The expulsion of Him from Israel by being cut off from among the people and ‘branded’ a reject, a renegade, and an excommunicate (compare Hebrews 13:12-13).

2). The expulsion of Him to take His place among the Gentiles (cast out of the vineyard), the greatest humiliation that the Jews could place on a homeborn Israelite.

3). Simply a parabolic description of Him as rejected.

As with all Jesus’ parables that were not explained the actual application was left to the listener and the reader, so that different ones could take it in different ways which were not exclusive.


Verse 40-41

“When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those vineyard workers? They say to him, ‘He will evilly (kakos) destroy those evil (kakos) men, and will let out the vineyard to other vineyard workers, who will render him the fruits in their seasons’.”

What the Lord of the vineyard will do is then spelled out by means of the answer to a typical question. What will He do with them? He will ‘evilly’ destroy the evil men who have done this thing, and give the vineyard to others. That is He will visit them with what we describe as ‘evils’. It does not mean that He will behave evilly, but that He will visit them with ‘evils’ in judgment. Note the play on words which emphasises that what they have sown they will reap. No one could really have been in doubt about the final ending of their tenancy. It was the obvious conclusion. Nevertheless its literal fulfilment was remarkable. For Jerusalem would, within forty years after the death of Jesus, be destroyed. Evils would come upon it and the priesthood would be destroyed. And the care of God’s people would have been removed elsewhere, initially, among other places, to Syrian Antioch (Acts 13), and then to the church leaders of the local communities. But Jerusalem would be left empty.

‘To other vineyard workers.’ Presumably Jesus is referring to the Apostles and their companions, compare Matthew 16:18-19; Matthew 18:18. Luke 22:30 and see Matthew 20:1-15. We can compare here Matthew 21:43, ‘The Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits’, not strictly another nation, but a new believing Israel as headed by His followers. It was of that new Israel, which excluded the unbelievers in the old Israel, that all who became Christians would become a member (Romans 11:17-27; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22).

In these four words are summed up what we call ‘the church age’. The Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees, and Elders will be replaced by the Apostles and their co-workers (see Matthew 28:19-20), and then God’s vineyard will really expand as never before.


Verse 42

‘Jesus says to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,

The same was made the head of the corner.’

This was from the Lord,

And it is marvellous in our eyes?”

As He constantly did Jesus then challenged them from the Scriptures. Jesus had a high view of the Scriptures. He saw them as accurately indicating the mind and purposes of God. He saw what was written there as a totally reliable indication of what God would do.

The quotation is taken from Psalms 118:22-23 which reads in MT, ‘the Stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvellous in our eyes.’ It is in fact cited by Matthew as in LXX, as is common when Matthew is using Mark, but the differences are slight and the meaning can be seen as identical.

The illustration is on the surface an amusing one. The builders came across a stone while building which did not appear to be useable because of its shape and size, and they thus put it to one side as ‘rejected’ and ‘useless’. Eventually, however, someone (probably God was intended) recognised that it was in fact the very cornerstone of the building, without which the building would not be complete, and it was thus brought into use and made the head of the corner. We do not know enough about their building techniques to be certain whether it was part of the foundation, or the final keystone which would bind the building together. But either way the whole building depended on it.

The Psalm is undoubtedly a celebration of the deliverance of one who was of the house of David (the Aramaic translations of the Scriptures, the Targum, refer it to David himself) who will cut off the nations who surround him so that the righteous will rejoice in their tents. He will then return in order to worship God in His house (entering through the gates of righteousness), with the result that all will cry out, ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’, and the fact that it had become linked with Messianic expectations is suggested by the fact that verses from the Psalm were cited by the crowds, and linked with the title ‘Son of David’ as they welcomed Jesus when He rode in on the asses colt. Jesus now therefore uses it to confirm His Messianic and royal status. It will be noted how admirably the citation of the Psalm follows on from Jesus entry into Jerusalem as royalty, riding on an asses colt and receiving the acclamation of the crowds.

We do not know who the builders were who had rejected the original son of David. But they, as the leaders of Judah, had clearly despised him and dismissed him as being unsuitable to be their war leader. But now with his victory things were different. God had made him the head of the corner.

By using this same Scripture Messianically as the son of David Jesus is indicating that the new builders (the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes) have also failed to recognise Him for what He is, but that nevertheless He too will be established and will become the chief cornerstone. However, the next verse indicates that this will be of a new building in which the previous builders have no part. He is to be the foundation stone (compare Matthew 16:18), or chief corner stone, of the new Israel. And all this will be as a result of God’s activity which all men can only wonder at (compare Isaiah 52:13-15).

(Interestingly the community at Qumran also referred to the Jewish leaders as ‘the builders’ in a derogatory fashion).


Verses 42-46

The Application and Significance of the Parable (21:42-46).

Jesus then makes clear the basic facts which the parable is bringing home, that the very Stone which is the keystone of the whole of God’s building, is to be rejected by the builders, but will then be made the head of the corner by God. And the result is that the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from them, and will be given to a nation which will bring forth its fruits, built upon God’s Cornerstone, while for those who have rejected it, the Stone will either become a stone on which they fall so that their bodies are broken, or a Stone which will fall on them and crush them. It is a parable in itself.

Analysis.

a Jesus says to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,

The same was made the head of the corner.’

This was from the Lord,

And it is marvellous in our eyes?” (Matthew 21:42)

b “Therefore I say to you, The Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruits” (Matthew 21:43).

c “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust” (Matthew 21:44).

b And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He spoke of them (Matthew 21:45).

a And when they sought to lay hold on Him (the builders rejected Him), they feared the crowds, because they took Him for a prophet (they made Him the head of the corner) (Matthew 21:46).

Note that in ‘a’ the builders reject the Stone, but the Stone is made the Head of the corner, while in the parallel similar things happen. In ‘b’ the Kingly Rule of God is to be taken away from those who should have been participating in it (Matthew 21:31-32), and the Chief Priests and the Pharisees recognise that He is referring to them. Centrally in ‘c’ is the effect of the Stone on all who reject it.


Verse 43

“Therefore I say to you, The Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation (people) bringing forth its fruits.”

That is why He can categorically declare to them that the Kingly Rule of God is to be taken away from them (they will no longer have it on offer and be seen as potential sons of the Kingly Rule as Jews (Matthew 8:12)), and that they will be replaced by the true sons of the Kingly Rule (Matthew 13:38), so that it will be given to ‘a nation’ or ‘people’ that will bring forth its fruits. Once again He is emphasising the beginning of the new age which is gradually coming in. It had in a sense begun with John (Matthew 21:31-32), it had continued to be built up by Jesus Himself (Matthew 12:28; Matthew 13:19 with 23, 37-38), and it would shortly come to its full fruition through His resurrection and enthronement and what would follow (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17).

It is true that the prime reference of ‘the builders’ was to the Jewish religious leadership, but they continued to be followed by the majority of Jews, who thus aligned themselves with them. They too rejected the corner stone. They too therefore lost the potential of being sons of the Kingly Rule.

All this ties in with Matthew 8:11-12 where unbelieving Jews will be excluded from the future Kingly Rule while believing Gentiles will be a part of it, along with believing Jews (Abraham, etc). It fits in with the idea that one of the feedings of the crowds was of Jewish believers, while the other incorporated Gentile believers, so that they were seen as one together as disciples of Jesus in the new congregation. It also parallels the idea in the above parable that the vineyard will be ‘given to others’. For the idea of the church as the new nation replacing the old compare 1 Peter 2:9 with Exodus 19:6, and see John 15:1-6; Romans 11:11-28; Galatians 3:28-29; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9; James 1:1.

There are three main interpretations of this verse, which partly depend on the total viwepoint of the interpreter:

1) That the idea is that the present Israel will in the near future be replaced by a new Israel made up of believers from among the Jews (not including the Gentiles) forming the Jewish church. This is then often linked with the idea that in future there will be revival among the unbelieving Jews who will thus become linked with this Jewish church forming ‘all Israel’ (Romans 11:26).

2) That the idea is that an Israel will arise in the more distant future which is descended from the Jews and made up of converted Jews who will have been purified and will have come to believe. These will be the Old Israel renewed in the end days. These are seen as referred to as ‘all Israel’ in Romans 11:26.

3) That the idea is that there will be a new ‘nation’ (compare 1 Peter 2:9) which will originally be made up of Jewish believers, but will then expand to include all Gentile converts who are circumcised in Christ into the new Israel (John 15:1-6; Romans 11:11-28; Galatians 3:28-29; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 2:10-11; 1 Peter 2:9; James 1:1. These again can be seen as referred to by Paul as ‘all Israel’ in Romans 11:26, thus in this case including both those who were already in (Jesus’ wider group of disciples and their resulting early Jewish converts), and those who have been ‘grafted in’ (Romans 11:17).

The first position is usually held by Christian Jews who are so proud of their Jewish heritage that they see themselves as distinct from their ‘Gentile’ brethren, even though having full fellowship with them. In our view they misrepresent such Scriptures as John 15:1-6; Romans 11:11-28; Galatians 3:28-29; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9; James 1:1 which clearly teach that all are one in Christ Jesus with no distinction, and thereby maintain unscriptural distinctions, mainly because of national pride.

The second position is often held by those who believe that Israel has a separate future apart from the true body of Christ. In our view they fail to see that Scripture constantly maintains that the true Israel is made up of all believers who are incorporated into Christ (see Scriptures above), whatever their previous background, in the same way as in Old Testament days all who were incorporated in the covenant, whether Jew or Gentile, were seen as part of Israel regardless of descent or race.

The third position is held by those who hold that there is one body in Christ and that salvation can only be found in that one body, and that that is true in all ages. Thus any who would be saved must become partakers of Christ and thereby become members of the true Vine and therefore of the new Israel founded on His Messiahship. This is the true Israel that Jesus came to found, the new ‘congregation’. They believe that while there may be a large-scale turning to Christ among the Jews in the end days, nevertheless by so turning such Jews become members of the true congregation of Jesus Christ along with their non-Jewish Christian brethren, with the distinction between Jew and Gentile in the sight of God removed. They will become all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). See our article on ‘Is the Church Israel?’ in the Introduction.


Verse 44

“And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust.”

The idea of the Stone then leads on to other aspects of the Stone in Scripture, and following on the parable with its emphasis on both judgment and restoration we have a similar contrast here. In Matthew 21:42 the Stone is restored, here He brings judgment.

The ideas are taken from Isaiah 8:14-15 and Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:44-45, In the first case people stumble over the stone and fall heavily on it so that they are ‘broken to pieces’, in the second the stone come crashing down on them ‘scattering them to dust’. Both are equally devastating in their effects. There is no escape. Jesus may well have been involved with buildings in His work as a carpenter and have seen such effects.

This verse parallels Luke 20:18, and is in fact missing in certain manuscripts (D, 33 and versions), but its attestation is extremely strong. If an early copyist wrote ‘autes’ to end Matthew 21:43 and then carelessly picked up the text from ‘auton’ at the end of Matthew 21:44 (easily done by a tired scribe working in the artificial light of a lamp) that may explain the omission in that family of texts. That is far more likely than that the same interpolation was introduced into such a wide range of texts. Furthermore the verse is required in the chiasmus.


Verse 45

‘And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them.’

The chief priests and Pharisees, including the Scribes, recognised that His words were spoken against them, and that He was diminishing them in the eyes of the people, for all this was done openly. They were sworn enemies but they were being thrust together by a common cause. This man was dangerous. He had to be got rid of.


Verse 46

‘And when they sought to lay hold on him, they feared the crowds, because they took him for a prophet.’

But their plans to arrest Him were shelved because they recognised that the people saw Jesus as a prophet, and that if they moved against Him they could cause a riot.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 21:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/matthew-21.html. 2013.

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