The Triumphal Entry
When they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethsphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village that is opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them, and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and immediately he will send them."
All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,”Tell the daughter of Zion, behold, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went, and did just as Jesus commanded them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their clothes on them; and He sat on them. A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road. Others cut branches from the trees, and spread them on the road. The multitudes who went before Him, and who followed kept shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
When He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" The multitudes said, "This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."
Why did Jesus choose to make His entry to Jerusalem in a humble manner, riding a donkey?
Triumphal entry into Jerusalem
In the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem takes place in the days before the Last Supper, marking the beginning of His Passion.
In John 12:9-11, after raising Lazarus from the dead, crowds gather around Jesus and believe in Him, and the next day the multitudes that had gathered for the feast in Jerusalem welcome Jesus as He enters Jerusalem. In Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44 and John 12:12-19, as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem the crowds lay their clothes on the ground to welcome Jesus as He triumphantly enters Jerusalem.
Christians celebrate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as Palm Sunday, a week before Easter Sunday.
According to the Gospels, before entering Jerusalem, Jesus was staying at Bethany and Bethphage, and John 12:1 states that He was in Bethany six days before Passover. While there, Jesus sent two disciples to the village over against them, in order to retrieve a donkey that had been tied up but never been ridden, and to say, if questioned, that the donkey was needed by the Lord (or Master) but would be returned.
Jesus then rode the donkey into Jerusalem, with the three Synoptic gospels stating that the disciples had first put their cloaks on it, so as to make it more comfortable. In Mark and John the entry takes place on a Sunday, in Matthew on a Monday; Luke does not specify the day. In Luke 19:41 as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, He looks at the city and weeps over it (an event known as Flevit super illam in Latin), foretelling the suffering that awaits the city.
The Gospels go on to recount how Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and how the people there lay down their cloaks in front of Him, and also lay down small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118: 25-26: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless You from the house of the Lord....
In the Synoptic Gospels, this episode is followed by the Cleansing of the Temple episode, and in all four Gospels Jesus performs various healings and teaches by way of parables while in Jerusalem, until the Last Supper.
Traditionally, entering the city on a donkey symbolizes arrival in peace, rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse.
Old Testament parallels
Matthew 21:1-11 refers to a passage from Book of Zechariah (9:9) and states: "All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." The location of the Mount of Olives is significant in the Old Testament in that Zechariah 9:9 and Zechariah 14:1-5 stated that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives:
“Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east.”
The triumphal entry and the palm branches, resemble the celebration of Jewish liberation in 1 Maccabeus (13:51) which states: And entered into it ... with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and with viols, and hymns, and songs.
Jesus' entry on a donkey has a parallel in Zechariah 9:9 which states that: thy king cometh unto thee; He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.
The symbolism of the donkey may also refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, a king came riding upon a horse when He was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when He wanted to point out that He was coming in peace. Therefore Jesus' entry to Jerusalem symbolized His entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war waging king
Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday. The Palm Sunday passage moves us towards the Passion. It has its genesis in Jesus' strategy to bring Himself and His message to Jerusalem. This was much more than a PR opportunity not to be missed because of the concentration of people in Jerusalem during Passover. Rather it belongs to the body language of the message of the 'kingdom'. It is an expression of hope for change. Just as Jesus reflected the Jewish roots of His passion for change by choosing twelve disciples, so also His march on Zion reflects His people's vision that God would bring about a change beginning with Jerusalem. To affirm the vision of the kingdom and to live out its hopes in the present in action and symbol meant challenging existing structures of authority, both those of the temple leadership and those of Rome. This is the backdrop for the drama which follows. To journey with Jesus still means espousing a challenge to the powers which hold sway in our world (and our church).
Palm Sunday invites play, serious play. Here is the procession to end all processions. Here is adulation. The creative imagination can place the hearer among the crowd beside the road, reluctant, fully adoring, standing aloof in confusion or alienation, perhaps remembering key events from Jesus' ministry. Let the imagination run!
It is important, however, not to cut story from its moorings so that it becomes a triumphalism celebration. In Matthew, as in Mark, whom Matthew closely follows here, this is the fateful entry which will take Jesus to His death. The dramatic irony which celebrates Jesus as king and reaches its climax with Jesus crowned king of the Jews on the cross, is beginning. The acclamation of the crowd is, therefore, at least ambiguous. They will, in Matthew, call Jesus' blood upon themselves and their children. That will have fateful consequences, according to Matthew in the destruction of the temple and the widespread slaughter of its inhabitants, according to subsequent history in the annals of anti-Semitic hate. The scene is full of danger and denseness. John's gospel shows some sensitivity to the problem when he adds the footnote that the disciples did not really understand what was happening or what it meant until after Easter (12:16).
Nor should we picture an historical event in which the whole of Jerusalem lined the streets, thronging the new Messiah. An actual entry with some shouts of praise doubtless occurred but would have been sufficiently lost in the Passover crowds as not to warrant the military's attention, who would have been swift to put an end to what could have seemed like a potential disturbance. Whatever the event, it became highly symbolic. Perhaps it had this quality from the start, especially if we imagine a provocative act on Jesus' part in emulating Zechariah's prediction, which Matthew now fully cites; but this is doubtful. Throughout the passion narrative it is difficult to know where reports gave rise to scripture elaboration and where scripture gave rise to stories. Most echoes of scripture (especially the Psalms) probably began as allusions and subsequently became quotations, as here in Matthew. Matthew's concern for precise fulfillment has Jesus ride on 'them', that is, both the ass and its foal, one of the funniest results of 'fulfillments’' in the New Testament!
Matthew begins, as does Mark, with the finding of the animals, a miracle similar to the finding of the upper room a little later on. Hearers of the evangelists would recognize in this a sign of divine involvement; it worked for them. Matthew dwells on it less than Mark. The actions of the crowd are as they are reported in Mark. Their acclamation, using the words of Psalm 118, which finds it echo in the Eucharistic liturgy, is more than heralding a Passover pilgrim. It is heralding the Davidic Messiah. Matthew simplifies their cry. It becomes: 'Hosanna to the son of David.' 'Son of David' is an appropriate title for Israel's Messiah, a hope modeled on selective memory of His achievements. It is found on the lips of the Canaanite woman, two sets of two blind men (20:29-34; 9:27-31; cf. Mark 10:46-52), and a few verses later on the lips of children who also cry: 'Hosanna to the Son of David' (21:15). Matthew uses acclamation by outsiders, marginalized and little ones, to shame Israel for its failure to acknowledge Him as 'the Son of David' of Jewish hopes.
According to Matthew Jesus' presence sets Jerusalem in turmoil. One is reminded of the consternation caused there by the magi (2:3). To describe the turmoil Matthew uses the word for earthquake (eseisthe), which will reappear at Jesus' death (27:51) and again at His resurrection (28:2). The event was 'of earth shattering significance', certainly in world history, in retrospect, so Matthew writes this into the scene. It is his own creative addition to Mark's account.
The crowds in Jerusalem have not really grasped who He is, stopping at 'the prophet from Nazareth' (21:11). This nevertheless forms a good transition to what immediately follows in Matthew, the attempted reform of the temple (21:12-13). Matthew has removed from the scene the cursing of the fig tree which encapsulates the event in Mark (11:12-14; 20-21; Matthew brings it later: 21:18-19). Instead we see the true Son of David performing in the temple acts of healing which in Matthew appear strongly linked with Jesus as Son of David and may reflect popular traditions about the first Son of David, Solomon as a source of medical wisdom. They may also reflect fulfillment of the great prophetic hope that in the end times there will be healing on Mount Zion. The presence of 'the Son of David' in the episode immediately preceding the entry (20:30,31), in the entry and in the episode which immediately follows (21:15), has the effect of making the whole a celebration of His identity as Israel's Messiah, as the bringer of wholeness and healing.
Jesus was not entering a foreign city, nor entering the city of 'the Jews'. He was a Jew. He was entering the city which symbolized in His faith and His scriptures God's promise to Israel. To confront one's own faith and its traditions is painful. This is part of the drama of the event, both in Matthew's account and in the earlier forms of the story, not least in the event itself.
Thus Jesus' approach to Jerusalem has become for many a symbol of the confrontation they must make, including the confrontation with themselves. The issues at stake are not ultimate control or power, though it is easy to give this impression: Jesus is the rightful king! For then might dictates the terms and we reinforce the theme that might is right and right is might and reproduce its abuses in the swirl of deduction. The children acclaim the true signs of messiah ship and they have less to do with palms and crowns, which ultimately must be subverted into irony on the cross, and more to do with acts of healing and compassion. Without them the entry story is ambiguous, a potential disaster, which realizes itself in every generation in the name of piety. A radically subverted model of power exercised in compassion challenges the temple system and Rome in its day and their equivalents in our own, around us and within us.
The Liturgy of the Palms - Matthew 21:1-11
"Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, Your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 Confitemini Domino
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His mercy endures forever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, * "His mercy endures forever."
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 "This is the gate of the Lord; * he who is righteous may enter."
21 I will give thanks to You, for You answered me * and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected * has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing, * and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! * Lord, send us now success.
26 Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; * we bless You from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; * form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28 "You are My God, and I will thank You; * You are My God, and I will exalt You."
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; * His mercy endures forever, at The Liturgy of the Word
Almighty and ever living God, in Your tender love for the human race You sent Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon Him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of His great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of His suffering, and also share in His resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Old Testament - Isaiah 50:4-9a
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens, wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Psalm 31:9-16 . In te, Domine, speravi
9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; * my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly.
10 For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; * my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.
11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors, a dismay to those of my acquaintance; * when they see me in the street they avoid me.
12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; * I am as useless as a broken pot.
13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; * they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life.
14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. * I have said, "You are my God.
15 My times are in your hand; * rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, * and in Your loving-kindness save me."
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Matthew 26:14- 27:66
One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, He took His place with the twelve; and while they were eating, He said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray Me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to Him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed Him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of Me this night; for it is written,
`I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." Peter said to Him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert You." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times." Peter said to Him, "Even though I must die with You, I will not deny You." And so said all the disciples.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated.
Then He said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with Me." And going a little farther, He threw Himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not what I want but what you want."
Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and He said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with Me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again He went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done."
Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand."
While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest Him." At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do."
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested Him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?" At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest Me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.
Those who had arrested Jesus took Him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following Him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put Him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, "This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'" The high priest stood up and said, "Have You no answer? What is it that they testify against You?" But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to Him, "I put You under oath before the living God, tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to Him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard His blasphemy. What is your verdict?" They answered, "He deserves death." Then they spat in His face and struck Him; and some slapped Him, saying, "Prophesy to us, You Messiah! Who is it that struck You?"
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before all of them, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about His death. They bound Him, led Him away, and handed Him over to Pilate the governor.
When Judas, His betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, He repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself."
Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me.
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. Then Pilate said to Him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against You?" But He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed Him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about Him." Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let Him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let Him be crucified!"
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on His head. They put a reed in His right hand and knelt before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. After mocking Him, they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over Him. Over His head they put the charge against Him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
Then two bandits were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by derided Him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He wants to; for He said, `I am God's Son.'" The bandits who were crucified with Him also taunted Him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to Him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him." Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After His resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with Him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!
Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for Him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to Him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while He was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise His disciples may go and steal Him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. Then Pilate said to Him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against You?" But He gave Him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed Him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about Him." Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let Him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let Him be crucified!"
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of This man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on His head. They put a reed in His right hand and knelt before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. After mocking Him, they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over Him. Over His head they put the charge against Him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
Then two bandits were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by derided Him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He wants to; for He said, `I am God's Son.'" The bandits who were crucified with Him also taunted Him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to Him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him." Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After His resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with Him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!
Matthew 21:1-11 - The Triumphal Entry.
I. The Preparation. 21:1-7.
Jesus and His companions "approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount
of Olives" (v. 1). The company approaches Jerusalem from the east; between the Mount of Olives and the city lay the Kidron Valley. Bethphage was a village near Bethany (both parallels, Mk 11:1 and Lk 19:29, mention both places), on the eastern side of the mountain, about two miles from Jerusalem. "The village ahead of you" (v. 2) is probably Bethphage, not Bethany; for Bethphage alone is mentioned in v. 1, and it lay nearer to Jerusalem than did Bethany (cf. Lane, Mark, 394).
B. Jesus the Lord.
1. Jesus' insight, v. 2. Jesus instructions may rest on prior arrangements. On the other hand, the words of v. 2 may reflect extraordinary, which in Jesus' case means divine, insight, and Jesus' mastery of the entire situation.
2. Jesus' commands, vv. 2-3. The instructions are issued with full authority: "Go [present imperative poreuesthe]..., and at once you will find [future indicative heurssete, perhaps used volitionally].... Untie [aorist participle lusantes, perhaps used imperatively] them and bring [aorist imperative agagete] them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell [future indicative ereite, used volitionally] him that ..." (NIV).
3. Jesus' ownership, v. 3. NIV renders the middle of v. 3, "the Lord needs them" (for ho kyrios aut©n chreian echei). This is a defensible rendering. However, it is preferable to translate, "Their Lord has need [of them]".
As Jesus is Lord of all, He is the supreme and ultimate owner of the mother donkey and her colt. At the same time, Jesus respects the one who, under His Lordship, is entrusted with the animals' care; cf. Mk 11:3b, "The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly."
4. The human response. Jesus' commands are immediately, unquestioningly and completely obeyed, both by the animals' owner (v. 3b) and by the disciples (vv. 6-7).
II. The Prophecy. 21:4-5.
A. The Introduction. 21:4.
"This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet."
1. The placement of the quotation. While vital for understanding the Entry itself, the quotation is placed before the event. The opening "this" of v. 4 directs attention back to Jesus' instructions and shows their relevance for bringing the prophecy to fulfillment.
2. The source of the prophecy. The Word is spoken through (dia) the prophet, so (it is implied) by (hypo) Yahweh. See 1:22.
B. The First OT Passage: Isaiah 62:11.
The larger part of 21:5 is devoted to Zech 9:9. Yet Matthew replaces the opening words of this verse ("Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!") with Isa 62:11b, "Say to the Daughter of Zion." The proclamation of Isa 62 is universal in scope (Yahweh "has made proclamation to the ends of the earth," v. 11a) and saving in character ("See, your Savior comes!" v. 11c). Matthew's replacing Zech 9:9a ("Rejoice") with Isa 62:11 ("Say"), makes the following quote from Zech "an evangelistic challenge to unconverted Israel" (p. 408).
C. The Second OT Passage: Zechariah 9:9.
1. The prophecy in its original setting.
a. The preceding context. Following the visions of 1:7-6:15 and the oracles on fasting in 7:1-8:23, 9:1 introduces the third major division of Zech, the "prophetic apocalyptic" of chs. 9-14. 9:1-8 speaks of Yahweh's future judgment upon, and victory over, a host of Gentile nations (such as the Philistines) that formerly oppressed and disinherited Israel.
b. Verse 9. Responding to the glad tidings of 9:1-8, v. 9 exclaims: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Yahweh's coming victory is cause for great joy! "Your king" is the expected Messianic king of David's line, the One by whom Yahweh conquers the nations.
c. The following context, 9:10. V. 10a reads, "I [Yahweh] will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken." Yahweh envisages a reunited Israel, whose shalom will forever end the warfare between Northern Kingdom (Ephraim) and Southern (whose capital was Jerusalem). But the peace of Yahweh's reign is broader still. "He [the Messiah whom Yahweh appoints] will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River [i.e., the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth" (v. 10). The very nations to whom Yahweh announced judgment (vv. 1-8), now hear His proclamation of peace! Cf. the sequence in Gen 6-12.
This peace is assured "by the righteous king ruling over a world-wide empire".
2. The prophecy in Mt 21:5: "See, Your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
a. The omission. Why does Matthew exclude the words "righteous and having salvation"?
(1) Matthew obviously believes these words are suitably applied to Jesus; fundamental to his Christology is that Jesus is the righteous Savior.
(2) But given the present rejection of Messiah, especially by the religious leadership in Jerusalem, these words are deliberately omitted (or at most, left to be inferred). Messiah has already (in His prior ministry) offered salvation; Israel will not receive salvation until she is ready to take the offer seriously.
b. The animals. The latter part of Zech 9:9 reads, "gentle and riding on a donkey [Hebrew hamor], on a colt ['ayir], the foal [bsn] of a donkey ['atonot, plural of 'aton]." How are these words, quoted in Mt 21:5, to be related to Mt 21:2, "a donkey...with her colt by her"?
(i) Zech presents a case of synonymous parallelism; the first donkey is the colt. This is clear from the Hebrew: the donkey on which the king rides is a hamor, or "male donkey," identified further as an 'ayir, which also means a "male donkey," and yet further as bsn, "son." The second donkey is an 'aton, "female donkey," the mother of the on which the king rides.
(ii) Matthew is sometimes accused of reading Zech 9:9 as though the first donkey (hamor) and the colt ('ayir) were two different animals. This accusation seems misguided, not to say incredible. Unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, we may assume that Matthew will be responsive to the literary features of Hebrew poetry. (Here, as a matter of fact, His quotation depends on the Hebrew where the MT differs from the LXX.) To be sure, there is a notable linguistic parallel between 21:5 and 21:2. V. 5b reads, "gentle and riding on a donkey [Greek onon, accusative of onos], on a colt [p©lon, accusative of p©los], the foal [huion, "son"] of a donkey [hypozygiou, "beast of burden"; the only other NT instance is 2 Pet 2:16, where it again denotes a donkey - Balaam's]."
V. 2b reads, "you will find a donkey [onon] tied there, with her colt [p©lon] by her." Yet in Greek the masculine forms onos and p©los served for both male and female animals. Matthew's intention in 21:5 is not to distinguish the onos from the p©los (he readily recognizes the parallelism and knows that these are one and the same animal), but to distinguish the onos from the hypozygion (the Hebrew's distinction between the hamor and the 'aton is reflected in Matthew's change of nouns).
(iii) Matthew speaks of both the mother donkey and the colt, because Jesus' instructions embraced both animals. Here, as with the use of Isa 7:14 in ch. 1, Matthew's purpose is not to make the events of Jesus' life conform to OT prophecy, but rather to examine the OT in light of the actual events of Jesus' life. That Jesus would instruct the disciples to bring both the colt and its mother, is quite understandable in view of the fact (reported by the other Synopsis’s) that this is a colt "which no one has ever ridden" (Mk 11:2, par. Lk 19:30). But it is Jesus' intention to ride upon the colt alone; and it is in accord with this intention that Matthew quotes Zech 9:9.
(iv) We read in 21:7, "They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them." This verse is sometimes taken (in agreement with the view that
thinks the first donkey and the colt of Zech are different animals) to mean that Jesus, somehow, sat on both animals. A much simpler, and far more realistic view, is that Jesus sat on the garments that had been placed on the animals. (The genitive aut©n applies as easily to saddle garments as to animals.)
c. The fact of Jesus' kingship. The prophecy's reference to Israel's ("Your") king, accords with Mt's portrait of Jesus as "the Messiah, the Son of David" (1:1), the "king of the Jews" (2:2). Messiah's riding on a donkey colt is not a rejection of kingship. As a donkey was a fitting mount for royalty in OT times so it is
appropriate for Jesus the King.
d. The character of Jesus' reign. If Jesus was not rejecting kingship as such, He was just as surely repudiating a certain concept of kingship. For a king leading a march into war, a horse would be the right mount. But for a king embarking on a mission of peace, a lowly beast of burden was the eminently correct choice.
e. The extent of Jesus' reign. Zech 9:9 was directed to Israel, represented (in Hebrew idiom) as "the Daughter of Zion" and "the Daughter of Jerusalem." Correspondingly, Jesus' offer of peace is directed first to Israel (cf. above comments on Zech 9:10a). Jesus the Messiah offers Israel her only hope of shalom (Mt 10:13), of rest (11:28-30), and of security (23:37). But here, as in Zech 9:10b, Yahweh's proclamation of peace extends beyond the borders of Israel to embrace the Gentile nations.
The quotation of Mt 21:5 does not extend through Zech 9:10. Yet such is the thrust of Mt from the opening chapter, that we are meant to read Zech 9:9 as a pointer to the following verse. Jesus the Messiah of Israel has assuredly come to "proclaim peace to the nations" (Zech 9:10; LXX, ethn©n, as in Mt 28:19). Following the account of the Entry in Jn 12, the Pharisees exclaim, "Look how the whole world [kosmos] has gone after Him" (12:19b). Then "certain Greeks" seek an audience with Jesus (v. 20); soon afterwards He declares, "I will draw all men to Myself" (12:32).
III. The Entry Itself. 21:8-11.
A. The Crowd's Visible Homage. 21:8.
1. The cloaks. Both the garments on which Jesus sits and those which the crowd spread on the road (the word himatia is used in both vv. 7 and 8), signal His royalty.
2. The branches. Jn 12:13 identifies them as palm branches. Some argue that these are signs of Jewish nationalism (John, 1: 461), here expressive of the hope that Jesus will fulfill their expectations. We are on firmer ground if we associate the branches with the following quotation from Ps 118:26. 118:27 reads, "With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar" (but see NIV mg., where "ropes" replaces "boughs"). On the pilgrims' use of Ps 118, see further below.
B. The Crowd's Verbal Homage. 21:9.
1. The use of Ps 118. The crowd voices its jubilation in words drawn from Ps 118:25-26. This in turn makes it probable (as just suggested) that the crowd's use of branches is traceable to 118:27. That a Jewish crowd should shout the words of this Psalm on this occasion (a fact recorded in all four Gospels), is not in the least surprising. For 118 is the concluding Psalm of the "Egyptian Hallel" (Ps 113-118), a series sung at Passover season in celebration of Yahweh's victory at the Exodus and in anticipation of other victories yet to come. Note further:
a. The Hebrew hallel means "praise." Cf. the exclamation hallelu Yah, "Praise Yah[weh]!" (hallelu is a Piel imperative of the verb hll).
b. Concerning the "Egyptian Hallel" Derek Kidner writes: "Only the second of them (114) speaks directly of the Exodus, but the theme of raising the downtrodden (113) and the note of corporate praise (115), personal thanksgiving (116), world vision (117) and festal procession (118) make it an appropriate series to mark the salvation which began in Egypt and will spread to the nations" (Psalms, 401).
c. It was customary for Ps 113 and 114 to be sung before the Passover meal, and 115-118 afterwards. Cf. Mt 26:30a.
2. The original meaning of Ps 118:25-27. The Psalm speaks of a festal procession to the Temple as part of the Passover celebration. During the procession the pilgrims praise Yahweh for His great saving acts on their behalf, vv. 1-18. The worship is climaxed with the throng's arrival at the temple, vv. 19-29. Having entered the temple gates (vv. 19-20), the pilgrims continue to thank Yahweh for restoring and exalting His downtrodden people (vv. 21-24, 28-29), and implore Him to rescue them from present perils (v. 25, "O Lord, save us [hoshiana, transliterated into the Greek h©sanna]...").
In turn, the temple priests (i) give their blessing to the Davidic king who leads the
procession ("Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord...," v. 26a) and to all
who accompany Him ("From the house of the Lord we bless You," v. 26b, where "you"
is plural); and (ii) summon the throng to their appointed goal ("With boughs in hand, join
in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar," v. 27b).
3. The present meaning of Psalm 118:25-27.
a. Signs of continuity. Here too the procession ends at the temple (21:12); also, the crowd identifies Jesus as Yahweh's representative ("Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" v. 9b) and as the heir of David's crown ("Hosanna to the Son of David!" v. 9a). V. 9c, "Hosanna in the highest!," speaks of heavenly jubilation answering to human jubilation on earth (cf. Ps 148:1).
b. Signs of deeper understanding. Matthew employs the shouts of the crowd in the service of his theology, and gives their words a far deeper meaning than the crowd intended. Ps 118 itself now comes to a deeper level of realization than was possible within its original context (cf. comments on plsro©, "fulfill," in 1:22). Reading the present passage in light of Mt as a whole, we may draw the following conclusions:
(i) The crowd rightly declares Jesus to be "the Son of David" (v. 9a; cf. 1:1); they rightly
identify Him as the One "who comes in the name of the Lord" (v. 9b; cf. 11:3). Yet we may be sure that the crowd's concept of Davidic Messiah ship is vastly different from that of Jesus. He has come as the Servant Messiah (3:17; 20:28), not as the Warrior Messiah, or at least He has not come to wage His war in the manner envisaged by the crowd ("He will be victor and victim in all His wars, and will make His triumph in defeat." The deficiency of the crowd's awareness is confirmed in v. 11, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee," words closer to 16:14 than to 16:16 (who sees the crowd here as "disciples representing the worldwide church to come").
(ii) The Son of David who comes in Yahweh's name is also Yahweh Himself. This is an aspect of Truth not fully revealed with the writing of Ps 118. That Psalm bears witness to the (true) distinction between the Messiah and God. What was not fully revealed until the Incarnation, was Messiah's deity (cf. comments on 16:16). It is now disclosed that there is both a distinction of person between Father and Son, and also an identity of character (as in Jn 1:1). The name "Yahweh" rightly applies to both.
(iii) God is about to give His supreme answer to the perennial cry "Hosanna." Jesus has come "to save His people from their sins" (1:21) by giving His life as a ransom for the many (20:28). By Jesus' day the utterance's original meaning "Save now!" had changed (we might almost say "degenerated") into an exclamation of praise (cf. the shift from "God, save the king!" to "God save the king!"; and, Were Israel aware of her true condition, both politically and (especially) spiritually, she would have more readily reverted to the original intention of "Hosanna."
(iv) Thus, despite the genuine excitement that attends Jesus' entry (v. 10), the crowd still shows itself to be lacking in the spiritual insight needed for rightly understanding Messiah's person and work. Yet among those to whom this insight has been given (13:11), there is cause for the greatest possible jubilation. For Christian believers who look back on the great eschatological Exodus, who praise God for His great victory over Sin and Death in the Cross of His Son, who on that basis repeatedly approach the place of worship and celebrate the Passover of the New Age (26:26-28), Ps 118 still provides a marvelous vehicle for praise. But as for the original pilgrims, the Psalm is still more than a song of thanksgiving. It is also a means of our shouting "O Lord, save us!", to
implore Him to complete His saving work and to bring His kingdom to full realization
(6:10) - to hasten the day when the Savior will come again (23:39).
C. The Intention of Jesus.
1. Jesus and prophecy. We now reach the conclusion to which the whole foregoing discussion has led, namely that Jesus the Messiah enters Jerusalem in conscious and deliberate fulfillment of Zech 9 and Ps 118. Matthew's theological declarations rest upon Jesus' own "acted quotation" of OT prophecy.
2. Jesus and Passover. Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday, the 10th of Nisan, just four days before the preparations for the Passover Meal. The Mosaic Law required (1) that Passover (or "the Feast of Unleavened Bread") be celebrated in Jerusalem, (2) that every Jewish male participate in the festival every year, and (3) that each worshipper come prepared to offer animal sacrifice (Deut 16:1-8,16-17). Thus in coming to Jerusalem at Passover, Jesus acts in obedience to the requirement of God's Law for Jewish males. He had done so twice before during His ministry: see Jn 2:13; 5:1, together with 6:4 (John, 299).
Jesus also comes (in keeping with the law) to offer sacrifice, not an animal (which would not suffice for the purpose, as Heb 10:1-10 explains) but Himself (Mt 20:28). In obedience to his mission, Jesus would die as the supreme, and the final, Passover sacrifice (Mt
26:17-30; 1 Cor 5:7).
Lectionary blogging: Palm Sunday, Matthew 21- 1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of Him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Translation: And when they approached into Jerusalem and came into Bethphage, into the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village, the one over-against you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her. Loose (and) bring to Me." And if anyone might speak to you, you will answer, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." And this had happened so that it might be fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Speak to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, Your king comes to you, meek, and mounted upon a donkey, and upon a colt, a son of a beast of burden." And the disciples went and did just as Jesus appointed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and they placed the garments upon them, and they sat (Him) upon them. And a very great crowd spread their garments in the way, and others were cutting down branches from the trees and were spreading in the way. And the crowds, the ones going before Him and the ones following, were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed (is) the one coming in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest." And when He entered into Jerusalem, all the city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
Background and situation: The original source is Mark (11: 1-11), the other parallels are Luke 19:28-38 and John 12:12-19. Mark has three passion predictions which are mirrored in Matthew (16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19), each with some Matthean additions.
In the first passion prediction, Matthew adds to Mark a statement about the necessity of going to Jerusalem (16:21): "From that time on, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem." (Jesus doesn't actually head south until 19:1.) In our text for Palm Sunday, He has arrived.
Dueling processions: Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from the east. Bethphage is just to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives is just east of the Temple. (Random factoid: The word Bethphage means "house of figs.") The Mount of Olives was, in Israel's Sacred Memory, the place from which an assault on Israel's enemies was to begin (Zech 14: 2-4).
The direction of approach is significant for at least two reasons: (1) Coming to the city from the Mount of Olives is a prophetic and eschatological image, and (2) there were two processions into Jerusalem during the time of Passover; one, the procession of the Roman army, came from the west; the other, those with Jesus, came from the east.
The Roman army was coming to maintain order during Passover, a time when the population of Jerusalem would swell from around 50,000 to well over 200,000, both conservative estimates. Moreover, Passover was a celebration of liberation from Pharoah in Egypt, and Rome was uneasy about the anti-imperial message of this association.
The Romans were headquartered at Caesarea Maritima, a city built by Herod the (so-called) Great to honor Caesar Augustus and make money for himself. Herod built monuments to Caesar at every opportunity. Caesar Augustus was Octavian, Julius Caesar's nephew and adopted son. During the Roman civil war, Herod had been an ally of Octavian's enemy, Mark Antony. Shifting his loyalty to Octavian after Antony's defeat was a nifty piece of political footwork on Herod's part, and may also have added to Herod's ebullient enthusiasm for all things Octavian. He even named the harbor Sebastos, which is Greek for "Augustus."
Sebastos was one of the finest harbors in the world. It was constructed over a 12 year period (25-13 BC) and was state-of-the-art for its day, rivaling both Athens and Alexandria. It was used primarily for the export of agricultural products from the region; or, to put it another way, it provided an efficient harbor for the plunder of the region, and could also be used to supply the Roman Army in case of war with Parthia.
The procession of the Roman army from Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem would have been an imposing sight, Legionnaires on horseback, Roman standards flying, the Roman eagle prominently displayed, the clank of armor, the stomp of feet, and beating of drums. The procession was designed to be a display of Roman imperial power. The message? Resistance is futile!
The counter-demonstration of Jesus came from the east, the opposite direction. Jesus comes to the city not in a powerful way, but in a ludicrously humble way, inciting not fear, as in the Roman procession, but cheering crowds who clear his way and hail his presence. Sarcasm and irony are often the only mechanisms available for the oppressed to express themselves. The procession of Jesus creatively mocks the Roman procession.
The password: Just before Jesus makes His final approach to Jerusalem, He sends two people into a nearby village. The two disciples are instructed to go into the village and, as soon as they get there, they "will find a donkey tied and a colt with her." They are to take this donkey and colt. If anyone were to ask them about it, they are to give the "secret password" and say, "The Lord has need of them."
It appears there was a network of Jesus supporters operating "under the radar." Moreover, this network of Jesus supporters reaches even to a village just outside Jerusalem. The Galilee-based Jesus movement reaches even into Judea, even to the very gates of the city of Jerusalem itself!
Mark has a longer episode here in which the two disciples are questioned, say the password, and are then cleared to take a single colt. Matthew shortens the exchange. The custodians of the donkey and colt are told only that "the Lord" needs the animals.
In this passage, Matthew, for the first time, directly associates Jesus as king. (The magi were looking for the "king of the Jews" in 2:3, but here the association is more explicit.) Jesus is treated as a royal figure throughout. He doesn't get on the donkey. He is "sat" on it by others. Therefore, when Jesus' secret followers in the nearby village hear that "the Lord needs them," from Matthew's perspective, that is enough to say.
Riding on two animals at once: And this had happened so that it might be fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Speak to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king comes to you, meek, and mounted upon a donkey, and upon a colt, a son of a beast of burden." And the disciples went and did just as Jesus appointed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and they placed the garments upon them, and they sat Him upon (them).
Matthew then inserts the twelfth of fourteen "quotation formulas" from the Old Testament: "Speak to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, Your king comes to you, meek, and mounted upon a donkey, and upon a colt, a son of a beast of burden." The quote appears to be a combination of Isaiah 62:11 ("speak to the daughter of Zion") and Zechariah 9:9 (the rest).
This (mostly) Zechariah text is the interpretive center of the passage. From the Zechariah text, Matthew leaves out the phrase "triumphant and victorious is He." Jesus is obviously not going to be that kind of king, at least not yet. As Matthew recounts it, the quote accents the humility and meekness of Jesus.
In referring to both a donkey and a colt, "humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey", Zechariah was using a grammatical device known as "hendiadys," which means expressing a single idea with two nouns. This parallelism is quite common in Hebrew poetry. For example: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". (Ps. 119: 105) The statement expresses one thought in two complementary ways.
Scholarly opinion is all over the place on this one. Some say that Matthew flat misses the parallelism. Others say he knows about it but ignores it. In any case, Matthew does clearly refer to two animals, both a donkey and a colt. Some have cited this as evidence that Matthew didn't really understand the Hebrew language or the Hebrew people. Any Hebrew would have known that parallelism is about speaking of one thing in two ways.
Gasp! Was Matthew a gentile? No. Matthew was Jewish himself, and knew full well about Hebrew poetry and the parallelism in Zechariah. He also knew full well that Mark, his source, clearly has only one animal involved in Jesus' procession. Therefore, Matthew was deliberate in making the change to two animals, "and He sat on them" (epekathisen epano auton).
Yet others have said that, since Matthew was Jewish, he must have been a first century fundamentalist to take Zechariah so literally. No again. Matthew is not a literalist or a fundamentalist. When he quotes from the Old Testament, Matthew feels free to tweak the texts he quotes in order to suit his purposes. This is hardly the style of a literalist. Yet here, Matthew quite obviously refers to two animals and everybody since has been scratching their head over why.
Most likely, it was to underscore the fulfillment of the Zechariah text, not just one fulfillment, in other words, but a double one! is more interested in literal fulfillment than historical probability. Matthew knows full well that Jesus did not ride two animals at once. He doesn't care. His point is not historical precision, but theological insight. His point is that "Your king comes to you," which is the fulfillment, in a complete and total way, of the prophetic Zechariah text.
The entrance: And a very great crowd spread their garments in the way, and others were cutting down branches from the trees and were spreading in the way. And the crowds, the ones going before Him and the ones following, were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed (is) the one coming in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest." And when He entered into Jerusalem, all the city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
Matthew anticipates the Hollywood "red carpet" by about two millennia. He shifts focus to the action of the crowds, "a very great crowd" spread both garments and branches onto Jesus' path. In 2 Kings 9:13, strewing cloaks onto the path was a sign of royal homage. ("Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for Him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’") The crowd, by strewing cloaks onto His path, is treating Jesus as a royal and kingly figure, which is further underlined by their comparison of Jesus to the Great King David.
Notice that Jesus was not welcomed by the people of Jerusalem. These crowds were not composed of Jerusalem city dwellers, but rather "the ones going before Him and the ones following." Most likely, this refers to the disciples and those who joined the movement along the way to Jerusalem.
This crowd is enthusiastic, shouting "hosanna to the son of David." The literal meaning of "hosanna" is "save us" or "save, we beseech." Indeed, the crowd appears to be quoting from Psalm 118: 25-26: "Save now, we beseech you, O Lord...Blessed is the one that comes in the name of the Lord." (In 11:3, the disciples had asked, "Are you the one that is to come?" That question is now answered by the crowds.)
Psalm 118 speaks of being surrounded by many who threaten the nation's life, "They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!" The Psalm calls for "the gates of righteousness" to be opened: "This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it." The psalm even refers to waving of branches. Those waving branches will go right to the altar itself!
Psalm 118 is a psalm of victory: "There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous!" In the present situation, Jerusalem is under the brutal yoke of a foreign power, and the Temple is corrupt and in cahoots with the oppressors. Jesus the Lord enters the city, more than a match for them all.
The crowd seems to have in mind for Jesus the kind of kingdom now held in hallowed memory, the Golden Age of David, a time of prosperity, yes, and also one of military power and territorial expansion. Yet, Jesus is not committed to a path of "glory," as in a Davidic-style kingdom, but rather a path of defeat. He will not reign from a palace, but from a cross.
When Jesus actually entered into Jerusalem, Matthew says that "all the city was shaken." Seio means moved, shaken to and fro, with the idea of shock or concussion. It's the word for earthquake, and where we get our word "seismic." An earthquake will also occur at the death of Jesus (27:54). The city shook with fear when Jesus was born (2:3). Now, the place is roiled, shaken, and shocked when He enters as an adult.
The closing verse is reminiscent of a call-and-response liturgy. A: "Who is this?" ""This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." (See the latter verses of Psalm 24, for example.)
The dialog is between the city and the crowds. The city asks the question: "...all the city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?" The crowds answer that this is "the prophet Jesus." In doing so, they are fulfilling the text of another prophet, Zechariah. They are telling "the daughter of Zion," which is Jerusalem, who comes.
The crowds' assessment is said to be lacking by many scholars because the crowds only identify Jesus as "prophet" and not as "king", the assumption being that "king" is a higher title than "prophet." Is a political title really higher than a Biblical and spiritual one? Would that have been the point of view of Matthew?
The crowds are also providing some cover for Jesus. The high regard in which the crowds hold Jesus, particularly as prophet, prevents the political authorities from arresting Him in public (21: 46). Yet, we also know that this is also the city that kills the prophets (23:37), and we are under no illusions as to what will come next.
The Untriumphal Entry, Matthew 21:1-11
What we are going to have in the hour that follows is a passage gathered around some Old Testament Scriptures, and one in particular. Zechariah chapter 9, the next to the last book of the Old Testament, and verses 9 through 11 of that prophecy, and then we will turn to Matthew chapter 21.
Zechariah is probably the greatest of the minor prophets and one of most important of the prophesies of the Old Testament; a prophet who was deeply indebted to the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, the prophet Isaiah. And in the last six chapters of the book of Zechariah there are primarily two burdens that the prophet has, and each of these burdens consumes three of his chapters, so that in chapters 9 10 and 11 the burden is of “the king in rejection.” And then in chapters 12, 13 and 14, the second burden is of “the king enthroned.” These verses in the section in which he has a burden that touches the rejection of the Messianic king. Verse 9 through verse 11 of Zechariah chapter 9 reads, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee: (that incidentally is a kind of theme clause for the entire book of Matthew: behold thy King cometh unto thee. The prophet continues) He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and He (that is the rider) He shall speak peace unto the nations: and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit in which is no water.”
Let’s turn now to Matthew chapter 21 and read the passage that contains the historical fulfillment of at least one major point of the prophecy that Zechariah gave so many hundreds of years ago. Verse 1 of Matthew chapter 21, and the evangelist writes,
“And when they drew near unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, ‘Go into the village opposite against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto Me. And if any man say anything unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.’ All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set Him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.”
May the Lord bless this reading from His Word, because it is important to remember that the reason that we do sing lies in the instruction that we receive from the things that we sing and also in the things that we express through the things that we sing.
And of course we sing best and we sing most meaningfully when the things that we are sing are true to the word of God. This hymn is one the favorite hymns, and it also is so popular among members of the Christian church that other uses have been made of this particular hymn, and one of them: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.
And, in fact, we may even have to follow the word of God and follow it so necessarily that the membership of the church may suffer as a result. And that we should remember that we must follow the word of God rather than, even, our natural desires to have a large congregation or, a large membership, and someone inserted these last words of this hymn but added to them, “Let goods and kindred go some membership also the body they may kill God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.” What was meant to express the truth that in the final analysis it is what God says in His word that is the important thing and not our success according to earthly standards while we are here upon the earth.
The subject for the exposition is the “The Un-triumphal Entry.” It’s hardly without design that probably the two most significant figures of human history appeared in the same generation of the human story. One of these was Augustus Caesar homo emperiosus, or imperial man who destroyed Cato’s dream of the old republic and its freedom. Augustus has been called on the ancient inscriptions the “divine Caesar” and the “son of god” giving to him the titles that belonged ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ. By the way, it is probable that the writer of the Book of Revelation was alluding to some of these things in the exaltation of the Roman emperors and particularly dominion when he spoke of the Lord Jesus and particularly Domitian as being King of Kings and Lord of Lords, because these titles were given to the Roman emperors, ultimately, as the worship of the emperor became more predominant in the Roman Empire.
Augustus, or homo emperiosus, shattered his foes by force but he could not bring in the golden age. As one of the men who has dealt with this particular part of history in much depth has said, “He could find but he could not slay the dragon.” The Lord Jesus is the Prince of Peace, principis pacis, or homo pacifare, or “the peace-bearing man.” And of course that title is derived from Isaiah chapter 9 and verse 6, when the titles of Prince of Peace and other titles are given to Him, and it is said that on Him He shall bear on His shoulders the ultimate universal rule.
At the crucifixion, the Lord Jesus, by the path that He trod ,was able to wrest the kingdom from the ancient dragon, overcome Him, and make it possible for Messianic rule to take place upon the earth and then on into eternity. So you can see that from the standpoint of earthly history, Calvary is as some of the ancient poets blindly anticipated, Virgil for one, Calvary is the hinge of history. And our Western history is largely determined by what happened when Jesus Christ suffered upon that cross.
Now we’ve been looking through the Gospel of Matthew, and we have noted that there are a number of high points in the ministry of our Lord. We think of course of His virgin birth, of His temptation, of His baptism, of the transfiguration, and later on we shall spend some time dealing with the agony in Gethsemane, and ultimately the death and resurrection. One of the other high points of our Lord’s ministry, and high point of the steps that He took along the way to the climax of His work, was the triumphal entry.
We think of it today as Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was a day of wild rapture of enthusiasm and the delirium of eager welcome, but of little genuine spirituality. Those who were shouting out, “hosanna in the highest!” or as those words mean, hoshiana, “Save now, or save, we pray,” they little realized what they were saying. Few seemed to understand the meaning of the hour, and to most the entry was not a triumphal entry at all, but very untriumphal. And if you’re looking at it from the standpoint of worldly success, we all would have to say it was not a very triumphal entry.
There was something that was happening; that, while the world did not understand, we have now come to understand as being exceedingly significant. The excitement that was there was real, but it was misguided. Some of it understood the essential nature of the person of our Lord, because the things that were said were said by men who had truly believed in Him, though their understanding was limited. But most of it was totally misguided, and as a matter of fact, most of the people were totally unprepared for what our Lord did. They were all looking for a king to slay their foes and lift them high though camest a little baby thing that made a woman cry.” So we have a wild rapture of enthusiasm and eager excitement of welcome but misunderstanding of what was really transpiring.
Nowadays we have a great deal of that in some of our evangelical churches. We have a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm at times, but it is totally misguided. It is not grounded in the words of Holy Scripture, not grounded in the sound doctrinal teaching of the word of God. The entry of our Lord into Jerusalem has great doctrinal significance, because it is solemn declaration of Himself in His office. It was His way of pointing out as effectively as could possibly be pointed out that He was the Old Testament, promised Messianic king. It is interesting too that from this point on, the Lord Jesus does not seem to keep His Messianic secret any longer. We have noticed in going through the Gospel of Matthew that at specific points in His ministry, when it was evident He had performed a mighty miracle, He frequently turned to them and said, “Now don’t say anything about it, because it was not yet His hour. And He knew that their ideas of the Messianic kingdom were wrong, they thought of it only as a political kingdom, that if they had proclaimed that nature of it too soon, it might have hastened His crucifixion and been out of harmony with the slow measured progress that God the Father had determined. And so, from time to time He said keep quiet. Now they didn’t always keep quiet, but that’s what He was telling them.
From now on the mission and the dignity of the Son are no longer a secret, the ancient prophesies are to be fulfilled, and all of the parts of this little account here unite to proclaim to the nation Israel and to others, Behold Your king. It was the feast time of the Passover. Thirty years after the time of the Lord Jesus, the Romans took a census of the lambs that were slain in the city of Jerusalem on a later Passover feast, and according to the account, they counted two hundred and fifty thousand lambs were slain in one of those Passover feasts thirty years after the death of our Lord.
Now in rabbinic literature, it is stated that there should be ten individuals for each lamb, a minimum of ten individuals for each lamb. In other words, when a lamb was slain, there should be at least ten people gathered in the house to eat that particular lamb. So you can see if that were carried out at the time of our Lord’s death at the time of His visit to the city of Jerusalem, then the city of Jerusalem must have had a population of over two million people at this time. Now since its ordinary population was of a relatively small city by our standards, you can see that it was packed and jammed with literally hundreds of thousands of people who had come from all over the land, and perhaps all over the inhabited world to celebrate this important feast in Judaism. So that’s the background.
There is another thing we need to understand that is that the prophets of the Old Testament, and remember, our Lord, is the last and greatest of the prophets; He is the prophet of the prophets; He is the everlasting prophet; the Great Prophet, according to Moses in His prophesy. These prophets of the Old Testament not only spoke their messages but they also often gave their messages by acting out in parabolic fashion, dramatically, the things that they wanted to say. Now they usually accompanied this by words, because it is really impossible for us to be certain about the meaning of events if we do not have a written or spoken interpretation of them. But they frequently were told by the Lord to carry out certain physical acts in order to get over their prophetic message.
For example, when it became evident that there was going to be a division in the kingdom at the time of Solomon’s death, and Rehoboam’s accession to the throne, and that most of the land was not going to follow the impetuous Rehoboam, God knowing all of this in advance, spoke to the Prophet Ahijah and made known to the Prophet Ahijah that it would be Jeraboam who would rule over the ten northern tribes and Rehoboam would rule over the two faithful southern tribes.
And so Ahijah was directed by God to go to Jeraboam with a new garment; and when he came into the presence of Jeraboam who was not yet king, he took off this garment and tore it into twelve pieces, and gave ten of the pieces to Jeraboam and kept two for himself, and this was his way of saying that the kingdom was going to be rent in two, and there would be a division into the northern and southern kingdoms, and ten of the tribes would follow Jeraboam and two would remain faithful to Rehoboam. So this was a kind of acted parable of spiritual truth.
Later, Jeremiah, for example, Ezekiel does this often, but Jeremiah, when it also had become evident through the words of the Lord to him that it would be impossible for the nation to escape the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah made bonds and yokes and sent them to the cities round about the land of Palestine. He sent these bonds and yokes in order to let them know. He sent them to Edom he sent them to Tyre, he sent them to Sidon and cities like this, that was to let them know that no matter what they did, they would not escape the Babylonian captivity. And then Jeremiah put a yoke upon his own head in order to signify that the land of which he was a part would not escape the captivity.
Later on, the Prophet Hananiah, speaking, he was one of these prophets who liked to speak what people liked to hear rather than the truth of God. Hananiah, in objecting to this sad, defeatist message of Jeremiah, went up to Jeremiah and took the yoke off of his neck and broke it signifying that what Jeremiah had said was not going to come to pass. But of course, God fulfills His words, and the words of His true prophets, and He did.
So now it is necessary for us to remember all of this as we come to the triumphal entry, because it’s obvious that the Lord Jesus acts here as the Great Prophet, and as a matter of fact, acts out in Messianic symbolism what He is really doing when He enters the city of Jerusalem.
We read in verse 1, “And when they drew near unto Jerusalem.” They had come from Jericho, and He had come from the north, and they, according to the other gospel accounts, had spent the night in Bethany which was near the city of Jerusalem. There the Lord Jesus always had a welcome in the little village of Bethany, because that was the place where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived. They spent the night there and then the next morning they set out in the festive procession for the city of Jerusalem.
And it was fitting that they should come from Bethany to the mount of Olives, because the mount of Olives in the Old Testament had Messianic significance. There were Messianic associations with it. In passages like 2 Samuel chapter 15 and verse 32 and others, we remember that when the Lord Jesus comes in His second advent and comes to the earth, His feet shall touch the Mount of Olives. So it was very fitting that He should approach the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
When He arrived at the little village of Bethphage, there He told two of His disciples to go over into a village that was just across the way from Bethphage, and He said to them, I want you to go into that village and you shall find an ass tied and a colt with her, and I want you to lose them and bring them to Me. A great deal of speculation has been expended on what this really means and also how it was carried out. Was this totally unexpected on the part of the person who owned these animals or had our Lord Jesus already made provision for it? Well the Scriptures are silent on that particular point, but it does seem evident that this person must have been a believer. He understood exactly what was meant when they said the Lord had need of them. So either he had made preparation for this in advance, and that’s not unlikely because He made preparation for the Passover and the use of the upper room, so it’s entirely possible that He had said, when I enter the city of Jerusalem, I may need two of the animals, and keep them ready, or it may be that He was simply a believer in the Lord Jesus and recognized the disciples as believers and when they said the Lord has need of them, he was willing to part with them.
At any rate that is what is said, and the other gospels add another important feature. The Lord Jesus said to them you will find an ass and a colt, incidentally Matthew mentions two; they only mention one, and that also has occasioned a great deal of discussion by the commentators who have sought to find here a misunderstanding of the Book of Zechariah by Matthew because of Hebrew parallelism in the Old Testament, the passage in Zechariah probably has reference to only one animal, but Matthew, not reading it correctly, has seen two animals, failing to see the particular form of Hebrew expression there, so that he misunderstood the parallelism and saw two animals instead of one.
It is an amazing thing that people with a sound mind could believe that commentators in the Twentieth Century would know more about Hebrew parallelism and the meaning of Old Testament text than Hebrew men who were outstanding students of the word, and apostles of the Lord Jesus understood nineteen hundred years ago. Now it strains our imagination to think that there could really be people who think that they understand more about the Old Testament than the apostles who were taught by our Lord, but nevertheless that’s the truth.
Recently there has been a well known doctoral dissertation which has taken up this point, and this author, a respected man, has contended that the reason there are two animals is because in the case of the colt of the ass, it’s a well known fact that the colt of the ass, the foal of the ass, would not be ridable at all if the mother were not there and so the reference here to riding upon an ass is a reference to the mother, and the colt the foal of the ass, is to the offspring of the mother, and because the mother was present, then it was possible for our Lord to ride the animal on which no one had yet sat.
Now that’s the other thing that the other accounts add. It is specifically stated that this ass should be an ass upon which no one has ever sat. The reason for that would be understood by people who lived two thousand years ago, but not so well by us. It also was the custom when a village or people welcomed a king for them to do things for the king that were absolutely new. For example, if we were in ancient times, and if it were told us that the president is going to visit us, we’ll transfer that and say the king in Washington is going to visit us, there’s certainly a similarity, then the city fathers or the village fathers would seek some way by which they can honor the king. And one of the popular ways was to construct a new road into the village on which no one has ever traveled, so that in honor of the king, they would cut a new road so that when the king came, he would come in on a new road.
Furthermore nothing that was secondhand or used was ever to be put in put to the service of a king. So when it is stated that He should come in upon an animal upon which no one has ever sat, that was an indication of the fact that our Lord was the Messianic king, and you’ll notice it comes from Him. It is His claim in effect that He is the Messianic king.
Now when Matthew describes this he himself adds some things. These incidentally are the evangelists’ interpretations. Notice the 4th verse: “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” So we can see from these verses that Matthew has inserted here that the evangelist understands that all that our Lord is doing in taking the ass, riding upon the ass, with the people following along in front and in the rear, all of this was designed by our Lord to provide Israel with a giant object lesson to imprint upon the minds of the viewers this event and to say in effect to them, the kingdom is mine; I am the king. Zechariah, the prophecy in which it is said, thy king cometh unto thee is fulfilled in my entry into the city at this time. So it was then, I say, our Lord’s way in parabolic fashion of teaching, that the kingdom came when He entered the city with Him.
Now in verses 6 through 9, the evangelist describes the procession towards Jerusalem. The disciples had gone their way into the little village. And He and those that were associated with Him inched their way along the caravan road from Jericho to Jerusalem and made their way up toward the top of the Mount of Olives, at which when reaching, that He would look out over the city and break into tears mourning over the fact that their hearts were so cold and unresponsive to Him.
But we read in the 8th verse, and a very great multitude spread their garments in the way. It’s important for us to understand what happened in order to understand what this really means. The disciples had gone off into this little village, and in addition, there were many other disciples of the Lord who had also gone into the city of Jerusalem which was nearby, no doubt to spend the night. Word had been noised abroad that the Lord, or Jesus of Nazareth, was in the area, and that created a great deal of interest on the part of those who were either curious about Him or who had seen some of the miracles He had performed and had been won to Him.
And furthermore, since He had been coming down from the north, and had reached the city of Jericho with a large group of people who were His disciples, there were those who were with Him who were His disciples, and then there were those who came out from the city out of curiosity, perhaps also some of them were disciples, and then of course there was the giant multitude in the city, who, as we shall see, are largely rebellious with reference to the claims of the king.
So, all of this group of people apparently meet, and the meeting of the groups of people in the presence of our Lord before He reaches the city evidently generates a great deal of enthusiasm and arouses the spontaneous shouting which we read of in verse 9: “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” So here is the crowd composed of disciples, of curious people who have come out from the city, going into the city, which is rebellious toward the Great King.
And the disciples, the apostles of the Lord, are traveling along now with the Lord Jesus as He rides on this little animal. They have taken their garments off they’ve thrown their garments down in enthusiasm before the ass, before our Lord. Others of His disciples have cut down limbs from the palm trees and myrtle trees and willow trees and they were throwing them out in front of the animal, because that had been done in the Old Testament when Jehu was anointed king as well. So carried away with the enthusiasm of the occasion and understanding something about it, the Lord Jesus was moving toward the city.
The disciples were walking along dazed and dazzled by everything that was happening. They understood of course something about our Lord. They had put their trust in Him but beyond that they understood very little of what was happening. The crowd that was acclaiming Him was primarily the provincials who had come from the north who were his friends. You’ve often heard people say in reference to the Lord Jesus that the people who acclaimed Him as the king on one day in a few hours are shouting crucify Him, crucify Him!
Now of course, men’s hearts are that wicked, but so far as we know that is not what happened on this particular occasion. There were two entirely different groups those that were shouting to Him, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the son of David; Hosanna in the highest, were those who had some concept of His greatness and His glory and who had believed in Him, but the crowd within the city that shouts out, crucify Him, crucify Him, that crowd is representative of the great of the mass of the nation who have never responded to the claims of the Lord Jesus.
Now it is striking, too, that they do shout, Hosanna to the son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest, or as Luke said, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Again they reach back into the Old Testament, guided by the Holy Spirit, though they may not have understood much about it. They reached back into the Old Testament they take out a text from Psalm 118, one of the greatest of the Messianic Psalms which someone has called a string of pearls each one independent of the other, because it’s a Psalm in which there are some magnificent expressions of theological truth, but it’s very difficult to follow the argument of that particular Psalm.
Now that Psalm the one 118th Psalm, was the Psalm that was used at the Feast of Tabernacles for the liturgy of that feast. We don’t have time to talk about the seven great feasts in Israel, but this is the greatest and last of the feasts in which there is a recognition of the fact that there is to be a kingdom of God upon the earth, so at the Feast of Tabernacles, it is designed to represent the period of time in the future when the nation shall gather in rest in the kingdom upon the earth, and so it is very fitting that they should reach back again into the Old Testament, select a text that has to do with the Messianic king and His authority.
And even these branches that they took the lulabim as they were called, we also recognized as having some Messianic significance. They say, also, incidentally, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the expression He that cometh was one of the Messianic titles of the Old Testament. So you see all the details of this event unite to show that this is the official presentation by the Lord Jesus of Himself to the nation Israel.
Now if this is the official presentation of the king to the nation, and if this is the royal procession, and if this is a king, it’s a strange king indeed. Because He’s a king who doesn’t even have an ass of His own to ride upon; He has to borrow an ass. And furthermore, instead of followers who are soldiers dressed in shining or resplendent armor, He has a group of peasants with palm branches. Instead of having swords and weapons of warfare they have the palm branches. What would a Roman soldier or one of Herod’s men have thought of this rustic procession of a pauper prince who’s riding on an ass and a hundred and two or more of weaponless, penniless men? They were very much unimpressed.
But Christ’s one moment of royal splendor is as eloquent of His humiliation as the long stretch of His whole of His lowly, humble life. All of this is designed to express certain things about His character. And yet, as is usually the case, side by side with the lowliness of our Lord, there gleams His supreme sovereignty. We talk about lowliness, and after all, this was lowly because when a man rode upon an ass, He rode upon a beast of burden. In the East, the beasts of burden were the asses, the camels, and the women. These were the beast of burden in those days. And the ass was the lowliest beast of burden, so to ride upon the ass was about as humble as a person could get.
Now, it was a strange king and yet at the same time notice that amid this humility there is also sovereignty. He speaks to those two disciples, and He says, now I want you to go into that city, and I want you to say to the man the Lord has need of them, and they will turn them over to you, and that’s exactly what happened. In other words as the king He requisitions those animals and they respond to it. So even in the midst of this humble appearance of our Lord, there is nevertheless, underneath, the dignity of the supreme sovereign of this universe.
And we usually have our own particular view of how we know spiritual things as a result of wrestling for many years over the questions of how we can know with certainty. And finally comes an illumination from the Holy Spirit, the same thing that He had done with many others that we can ultimately know nothing apart from the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men. And that the ultimate attestation of everything that we know must be divine. There can be no certainty in human experience apart from the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit which brings us to the conviction with the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s testimony within, that the word of God is true.
Now once He comes, then many things began to become perfectly plain. The problems of the gospels are there are many things we don’t understand yet. And we put them aside to ponder and think about until God does reveal us the truth. But you know one of the greatest problems is how it would be possible for anyone to think of a supreme sovereign, and at the same time an humble man who would ride upon an ass, and to weave together these two concepts of the supreme sovereignty of the Son of God and the utmost and lowliest humility into one harmonious picture.
If a Shakespeare or a Milton or any other great human being had attempted to do this, he would of course fail. None of them ever attempted to do it. All of the attempts have failed because there is no way in which these two things can be put together in such a way that you see one harmonious whole.
How is it then possible for these evangelists: Matthew who was nothing unusual, Mark, Luke, John; how were these ordinary men able to do it? Well, of course, they were able to do it, because they were taught by the Holy Spirit. But there is something else they were able to do it because they did not manufacture anything. They were reporters. In other words, what they saw, what they wrote about, were things that they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears and they simply reported them.
And these two great truths of divine sovereignty and utter lowliness are found beautifully meshed and harmonized in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and they simply reported what they saw. And we see that so beautifully here, because even as He rides upon the ass, He is the supreme sovereign of the universe who requisitions the animals upon which He rides, and men respond.
When He entered into the city there was a great deal of puzzlement. The milling multitude entered the city, and as a result of their loud acclamations, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna to the son of David: Hosanna in the highest! As they shouted over the small city, the crowds began to gather around them, and Matthew says the all the city was moved. Incidentally, that word moved is one that is used of earthquakes, so this was a rather severe moving. They were agitated, but they were agitated by the anxiety that was created through the acclamations that were offered to the person of our Lord, and the agitation ultimately proceeded from the Spirit’s convicted ministry. This is the crowd that later on, will shout crucify Him, but now they ask the worried question, who is this? Who is this? And the answer of the multitude this is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
There is nothing more anticlimactic in all of the word of God than that. Here is the Lord Jesus coming in upon the ass, people are shouting out, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the multitudes, agitated, speak out, who is this? Well we might expect them to say, why this is the Lord Jesus Christ the King of Israel the Messiah the Savior of the world; He is thy Lord, worship thou Him.
But instead, what do we get? It’s Jesus, the human name, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. He’s just one of the long lines of men who have attached to themselves the name prophet. We can see from this, our Lord, no doubt with some of the wetness of the tears that He shed on the Mount of Olives still upon His face, enters into the temple in a few moments. He’s silent through all of this, and finally He turns and goes home late in the afternoon with hardly a word. It’s obvious that He saw the die was cast. The nation will not respond.
The evidence is overwhelming that He formally offered Himself to the nation here. If we study the prophecy of Daniel, we will see, from Daniel chapter 9 verse 25 ,that this was the precise time when the sixty-nine weeks or the four hundred and eighty-three years had come to a conclusion at the time our Lord entered the city. Some of the students of the prophetic word have even claimed that those sixty-nine weeks were fulfilled on the very day He entered Jerusalem.
Any student of Scripture should have known the Messiah was near at hand. The prophetic symbolism and the fulfillment according to Zechariah 9:9 that made evident that this must be the fulfillment. The Evangelist Matthew makes the comment and says, this was done so that prophesy might be fulfilled. He understood this as the official presentation of Himself to the nation, and the following parabolic teaching is grounded in the fact that our Lord understands that the kingdom has been presented, and furthermore that it is being rejected and the peoples’ actions in the shouting out of Messianic texts concur.
To show how we blind men can be in the study of the Bible, a modern scholar has said the reason the Lord Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem riding on an ass is because He was tired, and the road was uphill all the way. You cannot be blinder than that!
The provincial recognition of the deity of our Lord Jesus and His kingship did not carry national assent. The nation stumbled at the stone of stumbling, expecting a king on a war horse, like a Bellerophon on a mighty Pegasus, or a Seattle, but instead the king came riding upon an ass. Of course, in His first coming, He came to die. O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have written: Ought not Messiah to have suffered these things, He told them on the Emaus Road, and then to enter into His glory. They didn’t understand that He must die first because of sin to make that atonement, and then would come the time of glory. So they stumbled at the stone of stumbling.
Now all is not lost. We read over in chapter 23 that later on the Lord Jesus said to the nation, behold your house is left unto you desolate, and then in chapter 23 verse 39 He says, for I say unto you, you shall not see Me henceforth till you shall say blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. So there is a time coming when the nations shall respond saying, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and they shall say it genuinely at His second advent. Then there shall be a triumphal entry that is truly triumphal. In the meantime. the prayer lament of the genuine is. O come .O come Emmanuel. and ransom captive Israel that mourn and lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
If you’ve never believed in the Lord Jesus; remind that He has made an atonement for sinners, and if God the Holy Spirit has brought conviction to your heart that you need this salvation, it’s available for you as you turn to Him. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle said, and thou shalt be saved. May God help us to truly believe.
Father, these texts are so momentous, and it so difficult for us to adequately expound them, and we pray Lord, that Thou wilt take these very weak and failing words concerning the glory of the Son of God and bring them home to the hearts of those who to do need to hear concerning Him. So Lord we commit the word of God to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. May grace mercy and peace go with us.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
“Who Is This Jesus?” (Matthew 21:1-11)
First Sunday in Advent: As it’s the beginning of Advent, and the word “Advent” means “Coming,” our reading, particularly the Holy Gospel, focus our attention on the One who will be coming to us at Christmas, namely, the One who comes to us now in every church service, and Who will come again on the last day at the end of time. So Who is this One Who comes to us in these ways? None other than Christ our Lord.
The Holy Gospel for is the account of Christ riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. As an Advent reading, it causes us to behold our king who comes to us during this season. And the hinge and hub of history, which is Jesus entering Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of the world and to rise again on Easter.
The appointed Gospel featured the most frequently is the Gospel according to St. Matthew. But really, the main question that each of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; they all address is the one we hear the crowds ask in today’s reading, and that is, “Who is this?” As we heard in our text: “And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’”
“Who is this Jesus?” This is the most important question that can ever be asked or answered. It is the question of the ages. Who is this man, Jesus of Nazareth? Where did He come from? What has He done? What is He doing? What will He do? Who is this fellow, and what does He mean for us, for everyone? Just who is He? Yes, this is the most important question you will ever ask or hear the answer to: “Who Is This Jesus?”
We hear some possible answers weaving through our text. One is: “Behold, Your king is coming to you.” Another is: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Or another answer to the question: “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Let’s explore these possibilities. What these answers might mean, and what they mean for us; this is vitally important for each one of us.
Let’s start with “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Sounds pretty simple, fairly straightforward. There was this man named Jesus, from a town called Nazareth in the region of Galilee. That’s just basic information, nobody would dispute that. But the people were calling Him a “prophet,” and that takes it a step beyond. What does it mean that they would call Jesus a “prophet”?
At a minimum, it means that they recognized that Jesus was a man sent by God. They recognized and realized He was operating with some sort of divine authority. He was preaching, teaching, and His words were hitting home. Jesus had been calling people to repentance, calling out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus had been teaching the true meaning of the Word of God, and doing it with divine wisdom, beyond that of their usual teachers. It says earlier in Matthew: “The crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
Jesus had been doing the works of a prophet, exercising divine power, doing miracles, signs and wonders: healing the sick, casting out demons, calming storms, multiplying loaves and fishes, even raising the dead. This was no ordinary man. God was with Him, there was no doubt. It was almost like . . . God was with us, in the person of this man Jesus. “Immanuel,” “God with us.” . . . That’s getting at it, isn’t it? Who is this man?
The people of Jerusalem at least are able to say that He is a prophet. But that may be low-balling Him. Earlier Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In other words, “Who do men say that I am?” And they reported what they had been hearing: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And you could understand how people might get those ideas. There were aspects to Jesus’ ministry that were like those of the great prophets of the past. But there was more. “Prophet” is good, but don’t stop there. And so Jesus asked His disciples what they thought: “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter piped up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”!
And that leads us to another answer to our question that we hear the crowds applying to Jesus: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Now we’ve got the term, “the Son of David.” This is adding another layer to our understanding of who Jesus is. “The Son of David” is a reference back to the great king of Israel from centuries before: King David, who reigned in Jerusalem around 1000 B.C. King David was told that one of his sons would reign after him, in a way that would be greater than any king ever. This son of David, a descendant, would have an everlasting kingdom and usher in an age of blessing unsurpassed in the annals of history. And so this was the prophecy of a Messiah, a Christ, an anointed great king to come.
Thus when the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” this is the one they are meaning. They are acclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah to come. “Come, Jesus, take up Your throne! Save us from our enemies! Reign over us as king, and bring us those glorious blessings!”
Well, although the crowds are right as far as recognizing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of David, it seems they don’t quite get how it is that He is going to usher in His kingdom, and what shape that will take. If they’re thinking just in economic, military, political terms, if that’s the kind of king they’re hoping Jesus will be, driving out the Romans, putting bread on the table and a chicken in every pot, because, after all, we’re God’s chosen people, then they’re missing the point. They’ve got the wrong king, and the wrong Jesus.
What kind of a king are people looking for today? What kind of a Jesus do we want? A glory king, a prosperity king, who will bless us with a nice house in the suburbs, and a nice family, and a nice IRA, and a nice SUV that gets good gas mileage? Who is the Jesus that we want? A life coach? A moral teacher who dispenses good advice? A political Jesus, on either side, a socialist Jesus who advocates for the poor, or a conservative Jesus who preaches traditional moral values? Maybe people today, if we give Jesus any thought at all, which is doubtful, maybe we just want a non-judgmental Jesus who approves of whatever they want to do.
What about you? What kind of a king do you want Jesus to be? Who is this Jesus to you?
What kind of a king, what kind of a Jesus, people want may not match up with who the real Jesus is. It was true back then, and it is true today. Who is this Jesus? Perhaps we can find the answer to our question in this verse quoted in our text: “Behold, Your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” Because that is how Jesus came, according to His own choosing. He came as a humble king, a Scripture-fulfilling king, riding on a beast of burden.
It was fitting that Jesus would come this way, because He himself is carrying a burden, as He comes riding into Jerusalem. Christ comes bearing the burden of our sins. All the sins we have piled up over the years, all the sins of the world, for all time, this is what Christ is carrying. He is coming to Jerusalem to take our sins to the cross, suffering the rejection of His own people, suffering injustice at the hands of a weak ruler. But in so doing, He will be fulfilling the plan and purpose of God, namely, to redeem the world and to save sinners like us. This is how Jesus will reign as king, overcoming sin and death and the grave. This is the kingdom of blessing He comes to bring in, a kingdom of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.
Who is this Jesus? He is a prophet, yes, but much more than that. He is the Son of David, yes, but no mere glory king. Who is this? This Jesus is the humble, Scripture-fulfilling, burden-bearing king, who saves us in the way we need to be saved. He is our king today, and our king forever. Welcome Him as such during this Advent season, and find out more about Him, grow in our faith in Christ. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11
This coming of Christ was described by the prophet Zechariah 9:9. When Christ would appear in His glory, it is in His meekness, not in His majesty, in mercy to work salvation. As meekness and outward poverty were fully seen in Zion's King, and marked His triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, how wrong covetousness, ambition, and the pride of life must be in Zion's citizens!
They brought the ass, but Jesus did not use it without the owner's consent. The trappings were such as came to hand. We must not think the clothes on our backs too dear to part with for the service of Christ. The chief priests and the elders afterwards joined with the multitude that abused Him upon the cross; but none of them joined the multitude that did Him honor. Those that take Christ for their King, must lay their all under His feet. Hosanna signifies, Save now, we beseech thee! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!
But of how little value is the applause of the people! The changing multitude joins the cry of the day, whether it be Hosanna, or Crucify Him. Multitudes often seem to approve the gospel, but few become consistent disciples. When Jesus was come into Jerusalem all the city was moved; some perhaps were moved with joy, who waited for the Consolation of Israel; others, of the Pharisees, were moved with envy. So various are the motions in the minds of men upon the approach of Christ's kingdom.
Commentary on Matthew 21:12-17
Christ found some of the courts of the temple turned into a market for cattle and things used in the sacrifices, and partly occupied by the money-changers. Our Lord drove them from the place, as He had done at His entering upon His ministry, John 2:13-17. His works testified of Him more than the hosannas; and His healing in the temple was the fulfilling the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former. If Christ came now into many parts of His visible church, how many secret evils He would discover and cleanse! And how many things daily practiced under the cloak of religion, would He show to be more suitable to a den of thieves than to a house of prayer!
Commentary on Matthew 21:18-22
This cursing of the barren fig-tree represents the state of hypocrites in general, and so teaches us that Christ looks for the power of religion in those who profess it, and the savor of it from those that have the show of it. His just expectations from flourishing professors are often disappointed; He comes to many, seeking fruit, and finds leaves only. A false profession commonly withers in this world, and it is the effect of Christ's curse. The fig-tree that had no fruit, soon lost its leaves. This represents the state of the nation and people of the Jews in particular. Our Lord Jesus found among them nothing but leaves. And after they rejected Christ, blindness and hardness grew upon them, till they were undone, and their place and nation rooted up. The Lord was righteous in it. Let us greatly fear the doom denounced on the barren fig-tree.
Commentary on Matthew 21:23-27
As our Lord now openly appeared as the Messiah, the chief priests and scribes were much offended, especially because He exposed and removed the abuses they encouraged. Our Lord asked what they thought of John's ministry and baptism. Many are more afraid of the shame of lying than of the sin, and therefore scruple not to speak what they know to be false, as to their own thoughts, affections, and intentions, or their remembering and forgetting. Our Lord refused to answer their inquiry. It is best to shun needless disputes with wicked opposers.
Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32
Parables which give reproof, speak plainly to the offenders, and judge them out of their own mouths. The parable of the two sons sent to work in the vineyard, is to show that those who knew not John's baptism to be of God, were shamed by those who knew it, and owned it. The whole human race are like children whom the Lord has brought up, but they have rebelled against Him, only some are more plausible in their disobedience than others. And it often happens, that the daring rebel is brought to repentance and becomes the Lord's servant, while the formalist grows hardened in pride and enmity.
Commentary on Matthew 21:33-46
This parable plainly sets forth the sin and ruin of the Jewish nation; and what is spoken to convict them, is spoken to caution all that enjoy the privileges of the outward church. As men treat God's people, they would treat Christ Himself, if He were with them. How can we, if faithful to His cause, expect a favorable reception from a wicked world, or from ungodly professors of Christianity! And let us ask ourselves, whether we who have the vineyard and all its advantages, render fruits in due season, as a people, as a family, or as separate persons. Our Savior, in His question, declares that the Lord of the vineyard will come, and when He comes He will surely destroy the wicked. The chief priests and the elders were the builders, and they would not admit His doctrine or laws; they threw Him aside as a despised stone. But He who was rejected by the Jews, was embraced by the Gentiles. Christ knows who will bring forth gospel fruits in the use of gospel means. The unbelief of sinners will be their ruin. But God has many ways of restraining the remainders of wrath, as He has of making that which breaks out redound to His praise. May Christ become more and more precious to our souls, as the firm Foundation and Cornerstone of His church. May we be willing to follow Him, though despised and hated for His sake.
The Triumphal Entry of the King
The parallel accounts are found in Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40 and John 12:12-19. These ought to be read first. For a study on this periscope in Luke look at the exegetical notes for Advent II Series C.
On reasonable grounds it may be assumed that Bethany, the home of Simon the leper, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, was reached before sunset on Friday; that on the Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) Jesus enjoyed the Sabbath-rest with His friends; that on Saturday evening a supper was given in His honor; and that the next day, being Sunday, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem occurred.
Matthew 21:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, Where is this town? It is mentioned nowhere else in the Old or New Testament, and there is no trace of it now. Medieval tradition places it about halfway between Bethany and Jerusalem. Bethany can still be seen on the east side of the Mount of Olives.
Who the two disciples were, we do not know.
Matthew 21:2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to Me. This is our first indication of Jesus' omniscience and omnipotence. He knew precisely what would happen and was graciously ruling the entire matter.
Matthew 21:3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."
Jesus foreknew what would happen. We draw the obvious conclusion that these owners were very good friends of Jesus and His disciples, but that can't be proved. Inasmuch as Jesus foreknew and if these were friends, would Jesus have said "anyone?"
Note especially that Jesus is here using the title "Lord" to designate Himself, see Matthew 11:27; 28:18. "The Lord" is the correct translation. LB, TEV, JB and NEB wrongly have: "The Master." We mention this because the IB, like others, says: "The Lord may be Jesus, but the evangelists seldom use this designation and Jesus does not use it of Himself." The Lord in the same sense as used of Christ in the gospels and elsewhere. Matthew 8:25.
What lies at the bottom of the refusal to translate o kurios as "the Lord" is higher criticism which claims that Jesus got His title from the early Christian Church.
Implicit in "has need of them" is the divinity of Jesus. He owns them in the first place, and therefore, can speak thus. Again, Jesus knew precisely what would happen.
Matthew 21:4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: Note that the fulfillment of a Messianic Prophecy is mentioned before the event itself, verses 6 and 7. The disciples did not realize this until after Jesus' resurrection, John 12:16. The point is: Jesus was consciously fulfilling prophecy as at Luke 4:21.
"Spoken through the prophet" is an expression found frequently in Matthew. God is the agent. The prophet was moved by the Holy Ghost to record it. The inspiration of the Old Testament is implicit in this verse: Matthew 21:5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, Your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"
The first line is quoted from Isaiah 62:11. Good commentators, including Lutherans, say this line refers only to the believers in Jerusalem.
Hengstenberg: The prophet has in His mind only the better portion of the covenant nation, the true members of the people of God, not all Israel according to the flesh.
Kiel-Delitzsch: (Commenting on Zechariah 9:9) The Lord calls upon the daughter of Zion, i.e. the personified population of Jerusalem as a representative of the nation of Israel, namely the believing members of the covenant nation to rejoice. The word "See" alerts them to something important. Something like "look here".
Hengstenberg: (Commenting on 'King') He who alone is Your king, in the full and highest sense of the world, and in comparison with whom no other deserves the name.
Lenski: 'Your King' by His very birth as the Son of David, 2 Samuel 7:12 etc.; Psalm 110:1-2; Romans 1:3.
Ylvisaker: The kings of earth conquer by oppression. Jesus shall be victorious while He would seem to surrender.
Luther: He is a peculiar King: you do not seek Him, He seeks you; you do not find Him, He finds you; for the preachers come from Him not from you; their preaching come from Him not from you; your faith comes from Him not from you; and all that you faith works in you comes from Him not from you.
"Humble" means He made Himself of no reputation. Look at the use of this word in Matthew 11:29. The incarnate Christ is lowly so that no burdened sinner is driven away.
Hengstenberg: 'Humble' embraces the whole of the lowly, sorrowing, suffering condition so fully depicted in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. The fact that He is riding upon an ass is a sign of the lowly condition of this King. The third line is to be taken as a unit. He could not mount more than one of the animals. Neither did He mount first one, and the later the other.
Matthew 21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They did exactly as Jesus commanded. They did not yet understand at this time that they were fulfilling prophecy but they did precisely as Jesus said. In a remarkable way the God-man ruled and over-ruled this whole situation, making them completely willing.
Matthew 21:7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.
"Cloaks" denotes their outer garments. No one told them to do this. It was all of God and prophecy. Somehow the disciples did this instinctively because of the will of Jesus, though unspoken. Without being told, they were anticipating Jesus' sitting on one of the animals, but they did not yet know which animal.
Mark and Luke do not mention the prophecy, not the two animals. John quotes the prophecy in abbreviated form, mentioning only one animal. Matthew quotes almost the entire prophecy, involving both animals. Therefore, Matthew alone treats both animals as to what happened. To say that Matthew pictures Jesus riding on two animals, either simultaneously or alternately, violates the translation of "namely" in the last line of Matthew 21:5 and violates the obvious antecedent of the second "them" which is "garments", not "the animals." Redaction critics claim that Matthew is here expanding Mark's account, but that Matthew misunderstood. Matthew, not the redaction critics, was a witness to what happened. And, if his account were different from Mark's, wouldn't he have made that clear?
Matthew 21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
Matthew is likely indicating that the majority of those present did this. The disciples laid their outer garments on the animals. Taking this as their cue, but also because of the will of the Lord, though unstated, the majority spread their outer garments on the road where the animals would walk. What a remarkable thing to do! Another act of homage, instigated by the will of the Lord to fulfill the prophecy.
Matthew 21:9 The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!"
Only Luke does not distinguish two groups. The three others do. John is clear on these two crowds: one had gathered in Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus, now raised from the dead, and started with Jesus to Jerusalem; the other crowd, when it got word of Lazarus' raising from the dead and that Jesus was coming, came out from Jerusalem to meet Him.
From Luke 19:39 we know that there were some hostile Pharisees in the throng. Did this throng include pilgrims from Galilee and Perea? Hendriksen things so because of verse 11. That may be but the text does not say so.
At any rate, Matthew 21:9 clearly indicates two crowds, that with Him and the one coming out of Jerusalem.
"They began to cry and continued to do so." One cried this, another that. Compare the four Gospels on this point. It is a burst of acclamation, prayer and praise to Jesus, involving Messianic titles, the nature of His person and the nature of His work. Psalm 118:25-26 is quoted by them, a Messianic Psalm and also a Hallel Psalm, always used at the time of the Passover. The most often quoted Messianic Psalms in the New Testament are: 2, 22, 69, 89, 110 and 118.
"Hosanna" means "save" or "help." Under the Holy Spirit the people add "to the Son of David", a Messianic title. Together they mean: "Help the Son of David, may He succeed."
"Blessed" is consistently used only of human beings in the New Testament. "Praised be" is used only of God.
It is truly Advent. He comes to believers. "In the name of the Lord" has various translations: "In keeping with the revelation of the Lord"; "in obedience to the Lord's order"; "under the authority of the Lord." It is all of these. It tells us how and on what basis He comes: With the Lord's full backing and approval.
"May this hosanna resound in the highest heaven."
Hendriksen: It shows that the Messiah was regarded as a gift of God.
Lenski: In connection with God's abode.
We suggest that it means the same as in Luke 2:14: "Thank God because God and man are reconciled in this incarnate Christ."
By the way, under God's impulse the crowds add two phrases: "to the Son of David" and "in the highest."
Was all of this mere lip-service or was it meant genuinely? In view of Luke 19:39-40, we must insist that it was genuine, accepted by Jesus. But why did the people cry "Crucify Him" just a few days later? In the first place, human nature is very fickle and inconstant. There is a warning here: One day we may praise God to the highest heaven for what He has done. That is of God and is God-pleasing. A few days later we may be despondent and quite the opposite. That is not God's fault. It's our sinful nature.
Furthermore, it cannot be proved beyond a shadow of doubt that these crowds and those which condemned Him on Good Friday were identical although it's hard to believe that those who acclaimed Him on Sunday, if consistent, would have refrained from acknowledging Him on Friday, unless overcome by fear.
Matthew 21:10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"
"Stirred" is "thrown in an uproar" or "in turmoil" or "went wild with excitement."
Expositor's Bible: Even Jerusalem, frozen with religious formalism and socially undemonstrative, was stirred by the popular enthusiasm as by a mighty wind or by an earthquake.
Fahling: 'Who is this?' is asked from the windows, the roofs, the streets, and the bazaars. Even Jerusalem, frozen with religious formalism, is moved.
Matthew 21:11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."
Not "a" prophet, but "the" Prophet.
Hendriksen: He was, and is, indeed a prophet, for He revealed and reveals the will of God to man. Note how in the present connection He is represented both as the fulfillment of prophecy, 21:4,5,9, and as being Himself a 'The' prophet, 21:11.
Why do they say: "from Nazareth of Galilee?"
Lenski: This reply sounds as though it was made by festival pilgrims from Galilee. We may note that tone of pride with which they name His home town. Most of the ministry of Jesus had, indeed, been devoted to Galilee, and these pilgrims from Galilee sum it up in the title 'the prophet'. Perhaps they told of His wonderful teaching and of His astounding miracles.
We add the thought that the One Who had been rejected in Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry, Luke 4:16-29, is now acclaimed, under the influence of God, as The prophet.
Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-11; Zechariah 9:9-13)
Jesus’ ministry is reaching its end. He’s arrived at Jerusalem, the site of the final showdown between almost everything we can think of: between Jesus and the authorities, between God’s kingdom and the empires of the world, between sin and grace, between life and death. This is the beginning of the end.
And Jesus announces this in a manner that seems, for Him, to be a little ostentatious. He enters the city riding on a donkey, which prompts a crowd of onlookers to start cheering, praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their coats onto the road for the donkey to walk on. News of this starts to get around: “Who is this?!” people ask, and while the easy answer is that it’s Jesus of Nazareth, the whole procession makes things a little more dramatic than they first appear.
For a start, it’s a fulfillment of a prophecy made by Zechariah, “See, Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey”. The donkey is important. King David’s household is recorded as riding on donkeys and mules in 2 Samuel 16 and 2 Samuel 13:28-29. The donkey therefore links Jesus with Israel’s greatest king and establishes His own royal credentials.
Those credentials actually make Him more than just a king, they make Him the foretold Messiah, that’s what Zechariah’s prophecy is all about. This is more than a king having a parade to show off His might, it’s about God’s kingdom being inaugurated on Earth, an age of peace being brought into being. The bit of the prophecy quoted by Matthew is verse 9, but as Page points out, it goes on to say:
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
This is a king who brings peace to the world and reigns not just over a few geographic territories but over the entire planet. There’s no messing about here, Jesus entering Jerusalem like this announces that this king is now here. This is dynamite, it’s no wonder people start cheering and throwing cloaks on the ground to be trodden on by a young and nervous donkey. The age of peace, the age of the Messiah, the age of God’s kingdom has arrived. It wouldn’t arrive in the way everyone was expecting, of course, and it arrived in now-and-not-yet form, but arrive it did.
But wait: not only is this a royal procession, not only is it messianic, it’s also intensely political. Look at what Zechariah goes on to say about removing war horses and chariots from Israel when the Messiah arrives. Just think how that may have sounded in the context of a country that was occupied by the greatest empire the world had ever seen, a country oppressed by, well, people who used war-horses to assert their authority.
Now take into account that, around the same time that Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the Roman Empire, in the form of Pontius Pilate and his troops were also arriving, a show of strength at a time when the city was full of Passover pilgrims and memories of how God had once freed His people from a mighty nation. “Just remember who’s in charge around here,” says Pilate’s procession; “Just remember who’s really in charge around here,” says Jesus’ parade, building on a prophecy that says empires built upon military might will one day give way to a kingdom built on peace.
“Who is this?” the people ask. Who’s this guy who seems to be founding a kingdom that will necessarily bring down Rome itself? Who’s this guy claiming to be the Messiah? The question echoes down through the ages and demands an answer. It’s a question that gets asked again and again throughout the remainder of the narrative:
“Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” ask the high priests.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” asks Pilate.
Considering these questions are asked at trials, they reveal the heart behind them, Jesus is a threat, to the established order of the Empire, to the common perception of who and what the Messiah would be. And we don’t see Jesus as a threat, He’s the good guy who heals people and died for our sins. But this carries with it a price, it means He’s God and has a claim on our lives, and that can be a threat to the empires and kingdoms we’ve built up in our hearts.
And while we’re comfortable and confident in these kingdoms, heading towards them, riding on a donkey but implacable in His approach is Jesus. He arrives in town and things have to change. Do we change with them?
The Pulpit Commentaries - Matthew 21
Exposition - Matthew 21:1-11: Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19.)
We have come to the last week of our Lord's earthly life, when He made His appearance in Jerusalem as Messiah, and suffered the penalty of death. If, as is believed, His crucifixion took place on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, the triumphal entry must be assigned to the ninth, which day was reckoned to commence at one sunset and to continue till the follow-lug evening. This is regarded as the first day of the Holy Week, and is called by Christians from very early times Palm Sunday (see on Matthew 21:10). He had probably gone straight from Jericho to Bethany. and spent the Sabbath there with His friends (Matthew 26:6; John 12:1). Bethphage. The name means House of figs, and was appropriate to a locality where such trees grew luxuriantly. The village has not been identified with certainty, though it is considered with great probability to be represented by Kefr-et-Tur, on a summit of Olivet, within the bounds of Jerusalem, i.e. two thousand cubits' distance from the city walls.
Bethany is below the summit, in a nook on the western slope and somewhat further from the city. The Mount of Olives is separated from Jerusalem by the valley of the Kedron, and has three summits, the centre one being the highest; but though it is of no great elevation in itself, it stands nearly four thousand feet above the Dead Sea, from which it is distant some thirteen miles.
Then sent Jesus two disciples. Their names are not given, and it is useless to conjecture who they were, though probably Peter was one of them. Alford suggests that the triumphal entry in Mark 11:1-33. is related a day too soon, and that our Lord made two entries into Jerusalem, the first a private one (Mark 11:11), and the second, public, on the morrow But there is no sufficient reason to discredit the common tradition, and St. Mark's language can be otherwise explained. The deliberate preparation for the procession, and the intentional publicity, so contrary to Christ's usual habits, are very remarkable, and can be explained only by the fact that He was now assuming the character and claims of Messiah, and putting Himself forward in His true dignity and office as "King of the Jews."
By this display He made manifest that in Him prophecy was fulfilled, and that the seeing eye and the believing heart might now find all that righteous men had long and wearily desired. This was the great opportunity which His mercy offered to Jerusalem, if only she would accept it and turn it to account. In fact, she acknowledged Him as King one day, and then rejected and crucified Him.
Matthew 21:2: The village over against You. Bethphage, to which He points as He speaks. He gives their commission to the two disciples, mentioning even some minute details. Straightway. "As soon as ye be entered into it" (Mark). Ye shall find an ass (a she ass) tied, and a colt with her. St. Matthew alone mentions the ass, the mother of the foal. This doubtless he does with exact reference to the prophecy, which, writing for Jews, he afterwards cites (verse 4).
St. Jerome gives a mystical reason: the ass represents the Jewish people, which had long borne the yoke of the Law; the colt adumbrates the Gentiles, as yet unbroken," whereon never man sat." Christ called them both, Jew and Gentile, by His apostles. Loose them, and bring them unto Me. He speaks with authority, as One able to make a requisition and command obedience.
Matthew 21:3: Say aught unto you. This might naturally be expected. Christ foresaw the opposition, and instructed the disciples how to overcome it with a word. The Lord; κυ ìριος, equivalent to "Jehovah," or the King Messiah. Doubtless the owner of the animals was a disciple, and acknowledged the claims of Jesus. His presence here was a providentially guided coincidence. If he was a stranger; as others suppose, be must have been divinely prompted to acquiesce in the appropriation of his beasts. He will send them. Some manuscripts read, "he sends them," here, as in St. Mark. The present is more forcible, but the future is well attested. The simple announcement that the asses were needed for God's service would silence all refusals. The disciples, indeed, were to act at once, as executing the orders of the supreme Lord, and were to use the given answer only in case of any objection. Throughout the transaction Christ assumes the character of the Divine Messiah, King of His people, the real Owner of all that they possess.
Matthew 21:4: All this was done; now ( δε Ì) all this hath come to pass. Many manuscripts omit "all," but it is probably genuine, as in other similar passages; e.g. Matthew 1:22; Matthew 26:56. This observation of the evangelist is intended to convey the truth that Christ was acting consciously on the lines of old prophecy, working out the will of God declared beforehand by divinely inspired seers. The disciples acted in blind obedience to Christ's command, not knowing that they were thus fulfilling prophecy, or having any such purpose in mind. The knowledge came afterwards (see John 12:16). That it might be fulfilled ( ἱ ìνα πληρωθῇ). The conjunction in this phrase is certainly used in its final, not in a consecutive or ecbatie sense; it denotes the purpose or design of the action of Christ, not the result. Not only the will of the Father, but the words of Scripture, had delineated the life of Christ, and in obeying that will He purposed to show that He fulfilled the prophecies which spake of Him. Thus any who knew the Scriptures, and were open to conviction, might see that it was He alone to whom these ancient oracles pointed, and in Him alone were their words accomplished. By (through, δια ì) the prophet. Zechariah 9:9, with a hint of Isaiah 62:11, a quotation being often woven from two or more passages (see on Matthew 27:9).
Matthew 21:5: Tell ye the daughter of Zion. This is from Isaiah (comp. Zephaniah 3:14). The passage in Zechariah begins, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem." The "daughter of Zion" is Jerusalem herself, named from the chief of the hills on which the city was built. Of course, the term includes all the inhabitants. Behold; marking the suddenness and unexpected nature of the event. Thy King. A King of thine own race, no stranger, one predestined for thee, foretold by all the prophets, who was to occupy the throne of David and to reign forever. Unto thee. For thy special good, to make His abode with thee (comp. Isaiah 9:6). Meek. As Christ Himself says, "I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29), far removed from pomp and warlike greatness; and yet, according to His own Beatitude, the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), win victories which material forces can never obtain, triumph through humiliation. The original in Zechariah gives other characteristics of Messiah: "He is just, and having salvation;" i.e. endowed with salvation, either as being protected by God, or victorious and so able to save His people. Sitting upon an ass. Coming as King, He could not walk undistinguished among the crowd; He must ride. But to mount a war horse would denote that He was leader of an army or a worldly potentate; so He rides upon an ass, an animal used by the judges of Israel, and chieftains on peaceful errands ( 5:10; 10:4); one, too, greatly valued, and often of stately appearance in Palestine.
And ( και Ì) a colt the foal of an ass; such as she asses bear, and one not trained. It is questioned whether the conjunction here expresses addition, implying that Christ mounted both animals in succession, or is merely explanatory, equivalent to videlicet, an ass, yea, even the foal of an ass. It seems unlikely that, in accomplishing the short distance between Bethphage and Jerusalem (only a mile or two), our Lord should have changed from one beast to the other; and the other three evangelists say expressly that Christ rode the colt, omitting all mention of the mother. The she ass doubtless kept close to its foal, so the prophecy was exactly fulfilled, but the animal that bore the Savior was the colt. If the two animals represent respectively the Jews and Gentiles (see on verse 2), it seems hardly necessary for typical reasons that Jesus should thus symbolize His triumph over the disciplined Jews, while it is obvious that the lesson of His supremacy over the untaught Gentiles needed exemplification. The prophet certainly contemplates the two animals in the procession. "The old theocracy runs idly and instinctively by the side of the young Church, which has become the true bearer of the Divinity of Christ". No king had ever thus come to Jerusalem; such a circumstance was predicted of Messiah alone, and Christ alone fulfilled it to the letter, showing of what nature His kingdom was.
Matthew 21:6: As Jesus commanded them. They simply obeyed the order, not yet knowing what it portended, or how it carried out the will of God declared by His prophets.
Matthew 21:7 Brought the ass. The unbroken foal would be more easily subdued and guided when its mother was with it; such an addition to the ridden animal would usually be employed to carry the rider's luggage. They put on them ( ἐπα ìνω αὐτῶν) their clothes (ἱμα ìτια). The two disciples, stripping off their heavy outer garments, abbas, or burnouses, put them as trappings on the two beasts, not knowing on which their Master meant to ride.
They set Him thereon ( ἐπα ìνω αὐτῶν). Thus the received text, and the Vulgate, Et eum desuper sedere fecerunt. But most modern editors, with great man scriptural authority, read, "He sat thereon." Some have taken the pronoun αὐτῶν to refer to the beasts, and Alford supports the opinion by the common saying, "The postilion rode on the horses," when, in fact, He rode only one of the pair. But the analogy is erroneous. The postilion really guides and controls both; but no one contends that Christ kept the mother ass in hand while mounted on the colt. The pronoun is more suitably referred to the garments, which formed a saddle for the Savior, or housings and ornamental appendages. He came invested with a certain dignity and pomp, yet in such humble guise as to discountenance all idea of temporal sovereignty.
Matthew 21:8: A very great multitude; ὁδε Ì πλεῖστος ὀ ìχλος: Revised Version, the most part of the multitude. This interpretation has classical authority (see Alford), but the words may well mean," the very great multitude;" Vulgate, plurima autem turba. This crowd was composed of pilgrims who were coming to the festival at Jerusalem, and "the whole multitude of the disciples" (Luke 19:37). Spread their garments ( ἱμα ìτια) in the way. Fired with enthusiasm, they stripped off their abbas, as the two disciples had done, and with them made a carpet over which the Savior should ride.
Such honors were often paid to great men, and indeed, as we well know, are offered now on state occasions. Branches from the trees. St. John (John 12:13) particularizes palm trees as having been used on this occasion; but there was abundance of olive and other trees, from which branches and leaves could be cut or plucked to adorn the Savior’s road. The people appear to have behaved on this occasion as if at the Feast of Tabernacles, roused by enthusiasm to unpremeditated action. Of the three routes which lay before Him, Jesus is supposed to have taken the southern and most frequented, between the Mount of Olives and the Hill of Offence.
Matthew 21:9: The multitudes that went before, and that followed. These expressions point to two separate bodies, which combined in escorting Jesus at a certain portion of the route. We learn from St. John (John 12:18) that much people, greatly excited by the news of the raising of Lazarus, when they heard that He was in the neighborhood, hurried forth from Jerusalem to meet and do Him honor. These, when they met the other procession with Jesus riding in the midst, turned back again and preceded Him into the city.
St. Luke identifies the spot as "at the descent of the Mount of Olives." "As they approached the shoulder of the hill," "where the road bends downwards to the north, the sparse vegetation of the eastern slope changed, as in a moment, to the rich green of garden and trees, and Jerusalem in its glory rose before them.
It is hard for us to imagine now the splendor of the view. The city of God, seated on her hills, shone at the moment in the morning sun. Straight before stretched the vast white walls and buildings of the temple, its courts glittering with gold, rising one above the other; the steep sides of the hill of David crowned with lofty walls; the mighty castles towering above them; the sumptuous palace of Herod in its green parks; and the picturesque outlines of the streets." Hosanna to the Son of David! "Hosanna!" is compounded of two words meaning "save" and "now," or, "I pray," and is written in full Hoshia-na, translated by the Septuagint, σῶσον δη ì. The expressions uttered by the people are mostly derived from Psalms 118:1-29., which formed part of the great Hallel sung at the Feast of Tabernacles. "Hosanna!" was originally a formula of prayer and supplication, but later became a term of joy and congratulation.
So here the cry signifies "Blessings on [or, 'Jehovah bless'] the Son of David!" i.e. the Messiah, acknowledging Jesus to be He, the promised Prince of David's line. Thus we say, "God save the king!" This, the first Christian hymn, gave to Palm Sunday, in some parts of the Church, the name of the "day of Hosannas," and was incorporated into the liturgical service both in East and West. Blessed … of the Lord: (Psalms 118:26).
The formula is taken in two ways, the words, "ill the Name of the Lord," being connected either with "blessed" or with "cometh." In the former case the cry signifies, "The blessing of Jehovah rest on Him who cometh!" i.e., Messiah (Matthew 11:3; Revelation 1:8); in the latter, the meaning is, "Blessing on Him who cometh with Divine mission, sent with the authority of Jehovah!" The second interpretation seems to be correct. In the highest (comp. Luke 2:14). The people cry to God to ratify in heaven the blessing which they invoke on earth. This homage and the title of Messiah Jesus now accepts as His due, openly asserting His claims, and by His acquiescence encouraging the excitement. St. Matthew omits the touching scene of Christ's lamentations over Jerusalem, as He passed the spot where Roman legions would, a generation hence, encamp against the doomed city.
Matthew 21:10: Was come into Jerusalem. Those who consider that the day of this event was the tenth of Nisan see a peculiar fitness in the entry occurring on this day. On the tenth of this month the Paschal lamb was selected and taken up preparatory to its sacrifice four days after (Exodus 12:3, Exodus 12:6). So the true Paschal Lamb now is escorted to the place where alone the Passover could be sacrificed. Taking A.D. 30 to be the date of the Crucifixion, astronomers inform us that in that year the first day of Nisan fell on March 24. Consequently, the tenth would be on Sunday, April 2, and the fourteenth was reckoned item sunset of Thursday, April 6, to the sunset of Friday, April 7 (see on Matthew 21:1, and preliminary note Matthew 26:1-75.). Was moved ( ἐσει ìσθη); was shaken, as by an earthquake. St. Matthew alone mentions this commotion, though St. John (John 12:19) makes allusion to it, when he reports the vindictive exclamation of the Pharisees, "Behold, the world is gone after Him!"
Jerusalem had been stirred and troubled once before, when the Wise Men walked through the streets, inquiring, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2, Matthew 2:3). But the excitement was far greater now, more general, composed of many different elements. The Romans expected some public rising; the Pharisaical party was aroused to new envy and malice; the Herodians dreaded a possible usurper; but the populace entertained for the moment the idea that their hopes were now fulfilled, that the long desired Messiah had at last appeared, and would lead them to victory. Who is this? The question may have been put by the strangers who came from all parts of the world to celebrate the Passover at Jerusalem, or by the crowds in the streets, when they beheld the unusual procession that was advancing.
Matthew 21:11: The multitude; οἱὀ ìχλοι: the multitudes. These were the people who took part in the procession; they kept repeating ( ἐ ìλεγον, imperfect) to all inquiries, This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth. They give His name, title, and dwelling place. They call Him "the Prophet," either as being the One that was foretold (John 1:21; John 6:14), or as being inspired and commissioned by God (John 9:1-41.17). The appellation, "of Nazareth," clung to our Lord through all His earthly life. St. Matthew (Matthew 2:23) notes that the prophets had foretold that He was to be called a Nazarene, and that this prediction was in some sort fulfilled by his dwelling at Nazareth. We know not who were the prophets to whom the evangelist refers, and in this obscurity the attempted explanations of exegetes are far from satisfactory; so it is safer to fall back upon the inspired historian's verdict, and to mark the providential accomplishment of the prediction in the title by which Jesus was generally known. "Friends and foes, chief priests in hate, Pilate in mockery, angels in adoration, disciples in love, Christ Himself in lowliness (Acts 22:8), and now the multitudes in simplicity, all proclaim Him 'of Nazareth.'"
Matthew 21:12-17: The second cleansing of the temple. (Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48.)
Matthew 21:12: Went into the temple. The event here narrated seems to have taken place on the day following the triumphal entry; i.e. on the Monday of the Holy Week. This can be gathered from St. Mark's narrative, where it is stated that, on the day of triumph, Jesus was escorted to the temple, but merely "looked round about on all things," and then returned for the night to Bethany, visiting the temple again on the following morning, and driving out those who profaned it. St. Matthew often groups events, not in their proper chronological order, but in a certain logical sequence which corresponded with his design.
Thus he connects the cleansing with the triumphal entry, in order to display another example of Christ's self-manifestation at this time, and His purpose to show who He was and to put forth His claims publicly. In this visit of Christ we see the King coming to His palace, the place where His honor dwelleth, the fitting termination of His glorious march. This cleansing of the temple must not be confounded with the earlier incident narrated by St. John (John 2:13, etc.). The two acts marked respectively the beginning and close of Christ's earthly ministry, and denote the reverence which He taught for the house and the worshiper God.
The part of the temple which He now visited, and which was profaned to secular use, was the court of the Gentiles, separated from the sanctuary by a stone partition, and considered of lesser sanctity, though really an integral part of the temple. Cast out all them that sold and bought. In this large open space a market had been established, with the connivance, and much to the pecuniary emolument, of the priests. These let out the sacred area, of which they were the appointed guardians, to greedy and irreligious traders, who made a gain of others' piety. We find no trace of this market in the Old Testament; it probably was established after the Captivity, whence the Jews brought back that taste for commercial business and skill in financial matters for which they have ever since been celebrated. In the eyes of worldly-minded men the sanctity of a building and its appendages was no impediment to traffic and trade, hence they were glad to utilize the temple court, under the sanction of the priests, for the convenience of those who came from all regions to celebrate the great festivals.
Here was sold all that was required for the sacrifices which worshippers were minded to offer animals for victims, meal, incense, salt, etc. The scandalous abuse of the holy precincts, or the plain traces of it (if, as it was late in the day, the traffickers themselves had departed for a time), Christ had observed at His previous visit, when He "looked round about upon all things" (Mark 11:11), and now He proceeded to remedy the crying evil The details of the expulsion are not given. On the first occasion, we are told, He used "a scourge of small cords;" as far as we know, at this time He effected the purification unarmed and alone. It was a marvelous impulse that forced the greedy crew to obey the order of this unknown Man; their own consciences made them timid; they fled in dismay before the stern indignation of His eye, deserted their gainful trade to escape the reproach of that invincible zeal.
Money changers. These persons exchanged (for a certain percentage) foreign money or other coins for the half shekel demanded from all adults for the service of the temple (see on Matthew 17:24). They may have lent money to the needy. The sellers also probably played into their bands by refusing to receive any but current Jewish money in exchange for their wares. It is also certain that no coins stamped with a heathen symbol, or bearing a heathen monarch's image, could be paid into the temple treasury. The seats of them that sold (the) doves. These birds were used by the poor in the place of costlier victims (see Le John 12:6; John 14:22; Luke 2:24). The sellers were often women, who sat with tables before them on which were set cages containing the doves.
Matthew 21:13: It is written. Jesus confirms His action by the word of Scripture. He combines in one severe sentence a passage from Isaiah 56:7 ("Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all peoples"), and one from Jeremiah 7:11 ("Is this house, which is called by My Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?"). He brings out in strong contrast the high design and use of the house of God (an allusion specially appropriate at the coming festival), and the vile and profane purposes to which the greed and impiety of men had subjected it. Ye have made it; Revised Version, ye make it; and so many modern editors on good manuscript authority. These base traffickers had turned the hallowed courts into a cavern where robbers stored their ill-gotten plunder. It may also be said that to make the place of prayer for all the nations a market for boasts was a robbery of the rights of the Gentiles. And Christ here vindicated the sanctity of the house of God: the Lord, according to the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1-3), had suddenly come to His temple to refine and purify, to show that none can profane what is dedicated to the service of God without most certain loss and punishment.
Matthew 21:14: The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple. This notice is peculiar to St. Matthew, though St. Luke (Luke 19:47) mentions that "He taught daily in the temple." An old expositor has remarked that Christ first as King purified His palace, and then took His seat therein, and of His royal bounty distributed gilts to His people. It was a new fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-6), which spake of Messiah coming to open the eyes of the blind, to unstop the ears of the deaf, to make the lame man leap as a hart. For acts of sacrilege which profaned the temple precincts, He substituted acts of mercy which hallowed them; the good Physician takes the place of the greedy trafficker; the den of thieves becomes a beneficent hospital. How many the acts of healing were, we are not told; but the words point to the relief of numberless sufferers, none of whom were sent empty away.
Matthew 21:15: The chief priests. This term is generally applied to the high priest's deputies and the heads of the twenty-four courses, but it seems here to mean certain sacerdotal members of the Sanhedrin, to whom supreme authority was delegated by the Romans or Herodians (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20.10, 5). They formed a wealthy, aristocratical body, and were many of them Sadducees. They joined with the scribes in expressing their outraged feeling, whether simulated or real. The wonderful things ( τασια); an expression found nowhere else in the New Testament. It refers to the cleansing of the temple and the cures lately performed there. Children crying in the temple. This fact is mentioned only by St. Matthew. Jesus loved children, and they loved and followed Him, taking up the cry which they had heard the day before from the multitude, and in simple faith applying it again to Christ. While grown men are silent or blaspheming, little children boldly sing his praises. Were sore displeased. Their envious hearts could not bear to see Jesus honored, elevated in men's eyes by His own beneficent actions, and now glorified by the spontaneous acclamations of these little ones.
Matthew 21:16: Hearest thou what these say? They profess a great zeal for God's honor. They recognize that these cries implied high homage, if not actual worship, and appeal to Jesus to put a stop to such unseemly behavior, approaching, as they would pretend, to formal blasphemy. Yea. Jesus replies that He hears what the children say, but sees no reason for silencing them; rather He proves that they were only fulfilling an old prophecy, originally, indeed, applied to Jehovah, but one which He claims as addressed to Himself. Have ye never read? (Matthew 12:5). The quotation is from the confessedly Messianic psalm (Psalms 8:1-9.), a psalm very often quoted in the New Testament, and as speaking of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:27; 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:6, etc.).
Suckling. This term was applied to children up to the age of three years (see 2 Macc. 7:27), but might be used metaphorically of those of tender age, though long weaned. Thou hast perfected praise. The words are from the Septuagint, which seems to have preserved the original reading. The present Hebrew text gives, "Thou hast ordained strength," or "established a power." In the Lord's mouth the citation signifies that God is praised acceptably by the weak and ignorant when, following the impulse of their simple nature, they do Him homage. Some expositors combine the force of the Hebrew and Greek by explaining that "the strength of the weak is praise, and that worship of Christ is strength". It is more simple to say that for the Hebrew "strength," "praise" is substituted, in order to give the idea that the children's acclamation was that which would still the enemy, as it certainly put to shame the captious objections of the Pharisees.
Matthew 21:17: He left them. The chief priests had nothing to say in reply to this testimony of Scripture. They feared to arrest Him in the face of the enthusiastic multitude; they bided their time, for the present apparently silenced. Jesus, wasting no further argument on these willfully unbelieving people, turned and left them. The King had no home in His royal city; He sought one in lowly Bethany, where He was always sure of a welcome in the house of Martha and Mary.
It is somewhat doubtful whether He availed Himself of His friends' hospitality at this time. The term "Bethany" would include the district so called in the vicinity of the town, as in the description of the scene of the Ascension (Luke 24:50). Lodged ( ηὐλι ìσθη). This word, if its strict classical use is pressed, would imply that Jesus passed the night in the open air; but it may mean merely "lodge," or "pass the night," without any further connotation; so no certain inference can be drawn from its employment in this passage. This withdrawal of Jesus obviated all danger of a rising in His favor, which, supported by the vast resources of the temple, might have had momentous consequences at this time of popular concourse and excitement.
Matthew 21:18-22: The cursing of the barren fig tree. (Mark 11:12-14 :, 20-26.)
Matthew 21:18: In the morning. St. Matthew has combined in one view a transaction which had two separate stages, as we gather from the narrative of St. Mark. The curse was uttered on the Monday morning, before the cleansing of the temple; the effect was beheld and the lesson given on the Tuesday, when Jesus was visiting Jerusalem for the third time (verses 20-22). Some scholars, resenting the miraculous in the incident, have imagined that the whole story is merely an embodiment and development of the parable of the fruitless fig tree recorded by St. Luke (Luke 13:6, etc.), which in course of time assumed this historical form. There is no ground whatever for this idea. It claims to be, and doubtless is, the account of a real fact, naturally connected with the circumstances of the time, and of great practical importance.
He hungered. True Man, He showed the weakness of His human nature, even when about to exert His power in the Divine. There is no need, rather it is unseemly to suppose that this hunger was miraculous or assumed, in order to give occasion for the coming miracle. Christ had either passed the night on the mountain-side in prayer and fasting, or had started from His lodging without breaking His fast. His followers do not seem to have suffered in the same way; and it was doubtless owing to His mental preoccupation and self-forgetfulness that the Lord had not attended to bodily wants.
Matthew 21:19: When He saw a ( μι ìαν, a single) fig tree in the way. The tree stood all alone in a conspicuous situation by the roadside, as if courting observation. It was allowable to pluck and eat fruit in an orchard (Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25); but this tree, placed where it was, seemed to be common property, belonging to no private owner. The sight of the leaves thereon, as St. Mark tells us, attracted the notice of Christ, who beheld with pleasure the prospect of relieving His long abstinence with the refreshment of cool and juicy fruit. He came to it. Knowing the nature of the tree, and that under some circumstances the fruit ripens before the leaves are fully out, Jesus naturally expected to find on it some figs fit to eat. Further, besides the fruit which comes to maturity in the usual way during the summer, there are often late figs produced in autumn which hang on the tree during winter, and ripen at the reawakening of vegetation in the spring.
The vigor of this particular tree was apparently proved by the luxuriance of its foliage, and it might reasonably be expected to retain some of its winter produce. Found nothing thereon, but leaves only. It was all outward show, promise without performance, seeming precocity with no adequate results. There is no question here of Christ's omniscience being at fault. He acted as a man would act; He was not deceived Himself nor did He deceive the apostles, though they at first misapprehended His purpose. The whole action was symbolical, and was meant so to appear.
In strict propriety of conduct, as a man led by the appearance of the tree might act, He carried out the figure, at the same time showing, by His treatment of this inanimate object, that He had something higher in view, and that He does not mean that which His outward conduct seemed to imply. He is enacting a parable where all the parts are in due keeping, and all have their twofold signification in the world of nature and the world of grace. The hunger is real, the tree is real, the expectation of fruit legitimate, the barrenness disappointing and criminal; the spiritual side, however, is left to be inferred, and, as we shall see, only one of many possible lessons is drawn from the result of the incident.
Let no fruit grow on thee (let there be no fruit from thee) henceforward forever. Such is the sentence passed on this ostentations tree. Christ addresses it as if replying to the profession made by its show of leaves. It had the sap of life, it had power to produce luxuriant leaves; therefore it might and ought to have borne fruit. It vaunted itself as being superior to its neighbors, and the boast was utterly empty. Presently ( παραχρῆμα) the fig tree withered away. The process was doubtless gradual, commencing at Christ's word, and continuing till the tree died; but St. Matthew completes the account at once, giving in one picture the event, with its surroundings and results. It was a moral necessity that what had incurred Christ's censure should perish; the spiritual controlled the material; the higher overbore the lower.
Thus the designed teaching was placed in visible shape before the eyes, and silently uttered its important lesson. It has been remarked that we are not to suppose that the tree thus handled was previously altogether sound and healthy. Its show of leaves at an unusual period without fruit may point to some abnormal development of activity which was consequent upon some radical defect. Had it been in vigorous health, it would not have been a fitting symbol of the Jewish Church; nor would it have corresponded with the idea which Christ designed to bring to the notice of His apostles. There was already some process at work which would have issued in decay, and Christ's curse merely accelerated this natural result.
This is considered to be the only instance in which our Lord exerted His miraculous power in destruction; all His other actions were beneficent, saving, gracious. The drowning of the swine at Gadara was only permitted for a wise purpose; it was not commanded or inflicted by Him. The whole transaction in our text is mysterious. That the Son of man should show wrath against a senseless tree, as tree, is, of course, not conceivable. Them was an apparent unfitness, if not injustice, in the proceeding, which at once demonstrated that the tree was not the real object of the action, that something more important was in view. Christ does not treat trees as moral agents, responsible for life and action. He uses inanimate objects to convey lessons to men, dealing with them according to His good pleasure, even His supreme will, which is the law by which they are controlled. In themselves they have no fault and incur no punishment, but they are treated in such a way as to profit the nobler creatures of God's hand.
There may have been two reasons for Christ's conduct which were not set prominently forward at the time. First, He desired to show His power, His absolute control, over material forces, so that, in what was about to happen to Him, His apostles might be sure that He suffered not through weakness or compulsion, but because He willed to have it so. This would prepare His followers for His own and their coming trials. Then there was another great lesson taught by the sign. The fig tree is a symbol of the Jewish Church. The prophets had used both it. and the vine in this connection (comp. Hosea 9:10), and our Lord Himself makes an unmistakable allusion in His parable of the fig tree planted in the vineyard, from which the owner for three years sought fruit in vain (Luke 13:6, etc.).
Many of His subsequent discourses are, as it were, commentaries upon this incident (see verses 28-44; Matthew 22:1-14; 23-25.). Here was a parable enacted. The Savior had seen this tree, the Jewish Church, afar off, looking down upon it from heaven; it was one, single, standing conspicuous among all nations as that whereon the Lord had lavished most care, that which ought to have shown the effect of this culture in abundant produce of holiness and righteousness. But what was the result? Boasting to be children of Abraham, the special heritage of Jehovah, gifted with highest privileges, the sole possessors of the knowledge of God, the Israelites professed to have what no other people had, and were in reality empty and bare. There was plenty of outward show, rites, ceremonies, scrupulous observances, much speaking; but no real devotion, no righteousness, no heart worship, no good works.
Other nations, indeed, were equally fruitless, but they did not profess to be holy; they were sinners, and offered no cloak for their sinfulness. The Jews were no less unrighteous; but they were hypocrites, and boasted of the good which they had not. Other nations were unproductive, for their time had not come; but for Israel the season had arrived; she ought to have been the first to accept the Messiah, to unite the new with the old fruit, to pass from the Law to the gospel, and to learn and practice the lesson of faith. Perfect fruit was not yet to be expected; but Israel's sin was that she vaunted her perfection, counted herself sound and whole, while rotten at the very core, and barren of all good results.
Her falsehood, hypocrisy, and arrogant complacency were fearfully punished. The terms of the curse pronounced by the Judge are very emphatic. It denounces perpetual barrenness on the Jewish Church and people. From Judaea was to have gone forth the healing of the nations; from it all peoples of the earth were to be blessed. The complete fulfillment of this promise is no longer in the literal Israel; she is nothing in the world; no one resorts to her for food and refreshment; she has none to offer the wayfarer. For eighteen centuries has that fruitlessness continued; the withered tree still stands, a monument of unbelief and its punishment. The Lord's sentence, "forever," must be understood with some limitation. In His parable of the fig tree, which adumbrates the last days, He intimates that it shall someday bud and blossom, and be clothed once more with leaf and fruit; and St. Paul looks forward to the conversion of Israel, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Romans 11:23-26).
Matthew 21:20: They marveled, saying. The apostles' remark on the incident was made on the Tuesday, as we learn from St. Mark's more accurate account. After Christ had spoken His malediction, the little band went on their way to Jerusalem, where was performed the cleansing of the temple. On their return to Bethany, if they passed the tree, it was doubtless too dark to observe its present condition, and it was not till the next morning that they noticed what had happened. St. Matthew does not name the apostle who was the mouthpiece of the others in expressing astonishment at the miracle; he is satisfied with speaking generally of "the disciples" (comp. Matthew 26:8 with John 12:4). We learn from St. Mark that it was Peter who made the observation recorded, deeply affected by the sight of this instance of Christ's power, and awestruck by the speedy and complete accomplishment of the curse.
How soon is the fig tree withered away! better, How did the fig tree immediately wither away? Vulgate, Quomodo continue aruit? They saw, but could not comprehend, the effect of Christ's word, and wonderingly inquired how it came to pass. They did not at present realize the teaching of this parabolic act, how it gave solemn warning of the certainty of judgment on the unfruitful Jewish Church, which, hopelessly barren, must no longer cumber the earth. Christ did not help them to understand the typical nature of the transaction. He is not wont to explain in words the spiritual significance of His miracles; the connection between miracle and teaching is left to be inferred, to be brought out by meditation, prayer, faith, and subsequent circumstances. The total rejection of the Jews was a doctrine for which the apostles were not yet prepared; so the Lord, in wisdom and mercy, withheld its express enunciation at this moment. In mercy too He exemplified the sternness and severity of God's judgment by inflicting punishment on an inanimate object, and not on a sentient being; He withered a tree, not a sinful man, by the breath of His mouth.
Matthew 21:21: Jesus answered. To the apostles' question the Lord makes reply, drawing a lesson, not such as we should have expected, but one of quite a different nature, yet one which was naturally deduced from the transaction which had excited such astonishment. They marveled at this incident; let them have and exercise faith. and they should do greater things than this. Christ had already made a similar answer after the cure of the demoniac boy (Matthew 17:20). If ye have faith, and doubt not ( μη Ì διακριθῆτε). The whole phrase expresses the perfection of the grace. The latter verb means "to discriminate," to see a difference in things, hence to debate in one's mind. The Vulgate gives, Si habueritis fidem, et non haesitaveritis. What is here enjoined is that temper of mind which does not stop hesitatingly to consider whether a thing can be done or not, but believes that all is possible, that one can do all things through Christ who strengthens Him.
So the apostles are assured by Christ that they should not only be able to wither a tree with a word, but should accomplish far more difficult undertakings. This which is done to the fig tree ( το Ì τῆς συκῆς); as, "what was befallen to them that were possessed with devils ( τα Ìτῶν δαιμονιζομε ìνων)" (Matthew 8:33). The promise may intimate that it was to be through the preaching of the apostles, and the Jews' rejection of the salvation offered by them, that the judgment should fall on the chosen people. Thus they would do what was done to the fig tree. And in the following words we may see a prophecy of the destruction of the mountain of paganism. Or it may mean that theocratic Judaism must be cast into the sea of nations before the Church of Christ should reach its full development. This mountain. As He speaks, He points to the Mount of Olivet, on which they were standing, or to Moriah crowned by the glorious temple. Be thou removed; be thou taken up; ἀ ìρθητι, not the same word as in Matthew 17:20. The sea. The Mediterranean (see a similar promise, Luke 17:6). It shall be done. It was not likely that any such material miracle would literally be needed, and no one would ever pray for such a sign; but the expression is hyperbolically used to denote the performance of things most difficult and apparently impossible (see Zechariah 4:7; 1 Corinthians 13:2).
Matthew 21:22: All things. The promise is extended beyond the sphere of extraordinary miracles. In prayer; ἐν τῇ προσευχῇ: in the prayer; or, in your prayer. The use of the article may point to the prayer given by our Lord to His disciples, or to some definite form used from the earliest times in public worship (comp. Acts 1:14; Romans 12:12; 1 Corinthians 7:5; Colossians 4:2). Believing, ye shall receive. The condition for the success of prayer is stringent. A man must have no latent doubt in his heart; he must not debate whether the thing desired can be done or not; he must have absolute trust in the power and good will of God; and he must believe that "what he saith cometh to pass" (Mark 11:23). The faith required is the assurance of things hoped for, such as gives substance and being to them while yet out of sight. The words had their special application to the apostles, instructing them that they were not to expect to be able, like their Master, to work the wonders needed for the confirmation of the gospel by their own power. Such effects could be achieved only by prayer and faith. (On the general promise to faithful prayer, see Matthew 7:7-11.)
Verse 21:23-22:14. Our Lord's authority questioned: He replies by uttering three parables. (Mk 11:27-12:12; Luke 20:1-18.)
Matthew 21:23-27: First attack, referring to His late actions: and Christ's answer.
Matthew 21:23: When He was come into the temple. The conversation recorded here belongs to the Tuesday of the Holy Week, and took place in the courts of the temple, at this time filled with pilgrims from all parts of the world, who hung upon Christ's words, and beheld His doings with wonder and awe. This sight roused to fury the envy and anger of the authorities, and they sent forth sections of their cleverest men to undermine His authority in the eyes of the people, or to force from Him statements on which they might found criminal accusation against Him. The chief priests and the elders of the people.
According to the other evangelists, there were also scribes, teachers of the Law, united with them in this deputation, which thus comprised all the elements of the Sanhedrin. This seems to have been the first time that the council took formal notice of Jesus' claims and actions, and demanded from Him personally an account of Himself. They had been quick enough in inquiring into the Baptist's credentials, when he suddenly appeared on the banks of Jordan (see John 1:19, etc.); but they had studiously, till quite lately, avoided any regular investigation of the pretensions of Jesus.
In the thee of late proceedings, this could no longer be delayed. A crisis had arrived; their own peculiar province was publicly invaded, and their authority attacked; the opponent must be withstood by the action of the constituted court. As He was teaching. Jesus did not confine Himself to beneficent acts; He used the opportunity of the gathering of crowds around Him to preach unto them the gospel (Luke 20:1), to teach truths which came with double force from One who bad done such marvelous things. By what authority doest thou these things? They refer to the triumphal entry, the reception of the homage offered, the healing of the blind and lame, the teaching as with the authority of a rabbi, and especially to the cleansing of the temple. No one could presume to teach without a proper commission: where was His authorization? They were the guardians and rulers of the temple: what right had He to interfere with their management, and to use the sacred precincts for His own purposes?
These and such like questions were in their mind when they addressed Him thus. Willfully ignoring the many proofs they had of Christ's Divine mission (which one of them, Nicodemus, had long before been constrained to own, John 3:2), they raised the question now as a novel and unanswered one. Who gave thee this authority? They resolve the general inquiry into the personal one, Who was it that conferred upon You this authority which You presume to exercise? Was it some earthly ruler, or was it God Himself?
Perhaps they mean to insinuate that Satan was the master whose power He wielded, an accusation already often made. They thought thus to place Christ in an embarrassing position, from which He could not emerge without affording the opportunity which they desired. The trap was cleverly set, and, as they deemed, unavoidable. If He was forced to confess that He spoke and acted without any proper authorization, He would be humiliated in the eyes of the people, and might be officially silenced by the strong hand. If He asserted Himself to be the Messiah and the bearer of a Divine commission, they would at once bring against Him a charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65).
Matthew 21:24: I also will ask you one thing; λο ìγον ἑ ìνα: one word, question. Jesus does not reply directly to their insidious demand. He might have asserted His Divine mission, and appealed to His miracles in confirmation of such claim, which would have been in strict conformity with the old, established rule for discriminating false and true prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 28:9); but He knew too well their skepticism and malice and inveterate prejudice to lay stress on this allegation at the present moment. Before He satisfied their inquiry, He must have their opinion concerning one whom they had received as a prophet a few years ago, and whose memory was still held in the highest respect, John the Baptist. The manner in which they regarded Him and His testimony would enable them to answer their own interrogation.
Matthew 21:25: The baptism of John ( το Ì βα ìπτισμα το Ì Ἰωα ìννου). By "the baptism which was of John" Christ means His whole ministry, doctrine, preaching, etc.; as by circumcision is implied the whole Mosaic Law, and the doctrine of the cross comprises all the teaching of the gospel, the chief characteristic connoting all particulars. From heaven, or of men? Did they regard John as one inspired and commissioned by God, or as a fanatic and impostor, who was self-sent and had received no external authorization? Now, two facts were plain and could not be denied. The rulers and the people with them had allowed John to be a prophet, and had never questioned his claims hitherto. This was one fact; the other was that John had borne unmistakable evidence to Christ. "Behold the Lamb of God!" etc. (John 1:32-36), he had said. He came and asserted that he came as Christ's forerunner; his mission was to prepare Christ's way, and had no meaning or intention but this. Here was a dilemma. They had asked for Jesus' credentials; the prophet, whose mission they had virtually endorsed testified that Jesus was the Messiah; if they believed that John spoke by inspiration, they must accept Christ; if now they discredited John, they would stultify themselves and endanger their influence with the people. They reasoned with themselves ( παρ ἑαυτοῖς). The somewhat unusual introduction of this preposition instead of the more common ἐν implies that the reflection was not confined to their own breast, but passed in consultation from one to another. They saw the difficulty, and deliberated how they could meet it without compromising themselves, seeking, not truth, but evasion. Why did ye not then ( διατι ì οὖν: why then did ye not) believe Him? i.e. when he bore such plain testimony to me. This appeal could be silenced only by denying John's mission, or asserting that he was mistaken in what he said,
Matthew 21:26: We fear the people. They dared not, as they would gladly have done, affirm that John was a false prophet and impostor; for then, as according to St. Luke they said, "All the people will stone us." Public opinion was too strong for them. Whatever view they really took of John's position, they were forced, for the sake of retaining popularity, to uphold its Divine character. All hold John as a prophet. Even Herod, for the same reason, long hesitated to put the Baptist to death (Matthew 14:5); and many of the Jews believed that Herod's defeat by Aretas was a judgment upon him for this murder (Josephus,' Ant.,' 18.5. 2); comp. Luke 7:29, which shows how extensive was the influence of this holy teacher, who indeed did no miracle, but persuaded men by pure doctrine, holy life, genuine love of souls, courageous reproof of sin wherever found. Others had drawn the very inference which Christ now demanded (see John 10:41, John 10:42).
Matthew 21:27: We cannot tell; οὐκ οἰ ìδαμεν: we know not; Vulgate, nescimus. The Authorized Version seems, at first sight, to be intended to give a false emphasis to "tell" in Christ's answer; but our translators often render the verb οἰ ìδα in this way (see John 3:8; John 8:14; John 16:18; 2 Corinthians 12:2). The questioners could find no way out of the dilemma in which Christ's unerring wisdom had placed them. Their evasive answer was a confession of defeat, and that in the presence of the gaping crowd who stood around listening to the conversation. They had every opportunity of judging the character of John's mission and that of Christ; it was their duty to form an opinion and to pronounce a verdict on such claims; and yet they, the leaders and teachers of Israel, for fear of compromising themselves, evade the obligation, refuse to solve or even to entertain the question, and, like a modern agnostic, content themselves with a profession of ignorance.
Many people, to avoid looking a disagreeable truth in the face, respond to all appeals with the stereotyped phrase, "We cannot tell." F.M. appositely quotes the comment of Donatus on Terent., 'Eunuch.,' 5.4, 31, "Perturbatur Parmeno; nec negare potuit, nec consentire volebat; sed quasi defensionis loco dixit, Nescio." And He said unto them; ἐ ìφη αὐτοῖς καις: He also said unto them. The Lord answers the thought which had dictated their words to Him. Neither tell I you, etc. With such double-minded men, who could give no clear decision concerning the mission of such a one as John the Baptist, it would be mere waste of words to argue further. They would not accept His testimony, and recognizing their malice and perversity, He declined to instruct them further. "Christ shows," says Jerome, "that they knew and were unwilling to answer; and that He knew, but held His peace, because they refused to utter what they well knew."
Matthew 21:28-32: The parable of the two sons.
Matthew 21:28: But what think ye? A formula connecting what follows with what has preceded, and making the hearers themselves the judges. By this and the succeeding parables, Jesus shows His interlocutors their true guilty position and the punishment that awaited them. He Himself explains the present parable in reference to His hearers, though, of course, it has, and is meant to have, a much wider application. A certain man (ἀìνθρωπος, a man) had two sons. The man represents God; the two sons symbolize two classes of Jews, the Pharisees, with their followers and imitators; and the lawless and sinful, who made no pretence of religion. The former are those who profess to keep the Law strictly, to the very letter, though they care nothing for its spirit, and virtually divorce religion from morality The latter are careless and profane persons, whom the Lord calls "publicans and harlots" (Matthew 21:31). Christ's reply countenances the received text, setting the repentant before the professing son. "The first son "here typifies the evil and immoral among the Jewish people. Go, work today. Two emphatic imperatives. Immediate obedience is required. "Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalms 95:7, Psalms 95:8). God called His sons to serve in His vineyard, the Church. He called them by the prophets, and more especially by John the Baptist, to turn from evil ways, and to do work meet for repentance (Matthew 3:8). Christ gives two examples, showing how this call was received.
Matthew 21:29: I will not. The answer is rude, curt, and disrespectful, such a one as would naturally issue from the lips of a person who was selfishly wrapped in his own pleasures, and cared nothing for the Law of God, the claims of relationship, the decencies of society. Repented, and went; i.e. into the vineyard to work. The worst sinners, when converted, often make great saints. There is more hope of their repentance than of the self-righteous or hypocrites, who profess the form of religion without the reality, and in their own view need no repentance.
Matthew 21:30: The second. He typifies the Pharisees, the scrupulous observers of outward form, while neglectful of the weightier matters, judgment, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). I go, sir, ἐγω Ì κυ ìριε: Eo, domine. This son is outwardly respectful and dutiful; his answer is in marked contrast to the rough "I will not" of his brother. He professes zeal for the Law, and ready obedience. And went not. Such men did no real work for God, honoring Him with their lips and outward observances, while their heart was far from Him, and their morality was unprincipled and impure.
Matthew 21:31: Whether of them (the) twain! Christ forces from the unwilling hearers an answer which, at the moment, they do not see will condemn themselves. Unaccustomed to be criticized and put to the question, wrapped in a self-complacent righteousness, which was generally undisturbed, they missed the bearing of the parable on their own case, and answered without hesitation, as any unprejudiced person would have decided. The first; i.e. the son who first refused, but afterwards repented and went.
Verily I say unto you. Jesus drives the moral home to the hearts of these hypocrites. The publicans and the harlots. He specifies these excommunicated sinners as examples of those represented by the first son. Go into the kingdom of God before you; προα ìγουσιν ὑμας: are preceding you. This was the fact which Jesus saw and declared, He does not cut off all hope that the Pharisees might follow, if they willed to do so; He only shows that they have lost the position which they ought to have occupied, and that those whom they despised and spurned have accepted the offered salvation, and shall have their reward. We must remark that the Lord has no censure for those who sometime were disobedient, but afterwards repented; His rebuke falls on the professors and self-righteous, who ought to have been leaders and guides, and were in truth impious and irreligious.
Matthew 21:32: For John came unto you. This gives the reason for Christ's assertion at the end of the last verse. John came with a special call to the rulers of the people, and they made some show of interest, by sending a deputation to demand his credentials, and by coming to his baptism; but that was all. They did not alter their lives or change their faulty opinions at his preaching, though they "were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (John 5:35). In the way of righteousness. In that path of strict obedience to law, and of ascetic holiness, which you profess to regard so highly. If they had followed the path which John indicated, they would have attained to righteousness and salvation. John preached Christ who is "the Way" (John 14:6). (For "way," meaning doctrine, religious tenet and practice, see Matthew 22:16; Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; 2 Peter 2:21.) Ye believed Him not, to any practical purpose, even as it is said elsewhere (Luke 7:30), "The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, not having been baptized of Him."
Those who did receive his baptism were the exception; the great majority stood aloof. Believed him. Though these sinners may have first rejected him, yet his preaching softened their hearts; they repented, confessed their sins, and were baptized (see for examples, Luke 3:10, etc.; Luke 7:29). This was another call to the Pharisees to go and do likewise. When ye had seen it; i.e. the fruits of true repentance in these sinners, which conversion was indeed a loud appeal to the rulers to consider their own ways, and to bow to God's hand. Repented not (see verse 29). They profited not by this miracle of grace. That ye might believe him. The end and result of repentance would be to believe in John's mission, and to attend to his teaching.
Christ offers the above explanation of the parable (verses 31, 32) in view of the purpose for which he uttered it. It has been, and may be, taken in different senses, and in wider application. "What is set forth in individual cases is but a sample of what takes place in whole classes of persons, and even nations". Many expositors consider the two sons to represent Gentiles and Jews; the former making no profession of serving God, and yet in time being converted and turning to Him; the latter making much outward show of obedience, yet in reality denying Him and rejecting salvation. It is obvious that such explanation is allowable, and coincides with the letter of the parable; but it does not satisfy the context, and fails in not answering to Christ's intention in uttering this similitude.
Others see herein a picture of what happens in Christian lands, and is the experience of every Christian minister; how the irreligious and apparently irreclaimable are by God's grace brought, to repentance unto life; how the seemingly pious often make much show, but fall away, or bring no fruit unto perfection. And as the parable involves a general principle, so it may be applied universally to those who make great professions of religion, and are for a time full of good resolutions, but in practice fall very short; and to those who have been the slaves of lust, covetousness, or some other wickedness, but have been recovered from the snares of the devil, and have learned to lead a godly, righteous, and sober life.
Matthew 21:33-46: Parable of the vineyard let out to husbandmen. (Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.)
Matthew 21:33: Hear another parable. The domineering and lately imperious party are reduced to the position of pupils; they have to listen to teaching, not to give it; to answer, not to put questions. This parable sets forth, under the guise of history, the Pharisaical party in its official character, and as the representative of the nation. It also denounces the punishment that surely awaited these rejecters of the offered salvation; thus exemplifying the teaching of the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:17-20). As applicable to the Jewish nation generally, it represents the long suffering of God and the various means which, in the course of their history, He had used to urge them to do their duty as His servants; and it ends with a prophecy of the coming events, and the terrible issue of impenitence. We must take the parable as partly retrospective, and partly predictive. There was a certain householder; a man ( ἀ ìνθρωπος) that was an householder. Christ in his parables often, as here, introduces God in His dealings with mankind as a man. His house is the house of Israel in particular, and in general the whole human family. A vineyard. God's kingdom upon earth, and particularly the Jewish Church. The figure is common throughout Scripture (see on Matthew 20:1). It was planted when God gave Israel a law, and put them in possession of the promised land. The parable itself is founded on Isaiah 5:1-7, where, however, the vineyard is tended by the Lord Himself, not by husbandmen, and it bears wild grapes, not good grapes. By these differences different developments of declension are indicated. In the earlier times it was the nation that apostatized, fell into idolatry and rebellion against God, the theocratic Head of their race and polity.
In later days it is the teachers, rabbis, priests, false prophets, who neglect the paths of righteousness, and lead people astray. In the parable these last come into painful prominence as criminally guilty of opposing God's messengers. Hedged it round; put a hedge around it. The fence would be a stone wall, a necessary defence against the incursions of wild animals. This fence has been regarded in two senses; first, as referring to the physical peculiarities of the position of the Holy Land, separated from alien nations by deserts, seas, rivers, and so isolated from evil contagion; second, as intimating the peculiar laws and minute restrictions of the Jewish polity, which differentiated Judaism from all other systems of religion, and tended to preserve purity and incorruption.
Probably the "hedge" is meant to adumbrate both senses. Many, however, see in it the protection of angels, or the righteousness of saints, which seem hardly to be sufficiently precise for the context. Digged a winepress. The phrase refers, not to the ordinary wooden troughs or vats which were used for the purpose of expressing and receiving the juice of the grapes, but to such as were cut in the rock, and were common in all parts of the country. Remains of these receptacles meet the traveler everywhere on the hill slopes of Judaea, and notably in the valleys of Carmel. The winepress is taken to signify the prophetic spirit, the temple services, or all things that typified the sacrifice and death of Christ. A tower; for the purpose of watching and guarding the vineyard. This may represent the temple itself, or the civil power.
Whatever interpretation may be put upon the various details, which, indeed, should not be unduly pressed, the general notion is that every care was taken of the Lord's inheritance, nothing was wanting for its convenience and security. Let it out to husbandmen. This is a new feature introduced into Isaiah's parable. Instead of paying an annual sum of money to the proprietor, these vine dressers paid in kind, furnishing a stipulated amount of fruit or wine as the hire of the vineyard. We have a lease on the former terms in So Isaiah 8:11, where the keepers have "to bring a thousand pieces of silver for the fruit."
The husbandmen are the children of Israel, who had to do their part in the Church, and show fruits of piety and devotion. Went into a far country; ἀπεδη ìμησεν: went abroad. In the parabolic sense, God withdrew for a time the sensible tokens of His presence, no longer manifested Himself as at Sinai, and in the cloud and pillar of fire. "Innuitur tempus divinae taciturnitatis, ubi homines agunt pro arbitrio". God's long suffering gives time of probation.
Matthew 21:34: When the time of the fruit drew near. The vintage season, when the rent, whether in money or kind, became due. In the Jewish history no particular time seems to be signified, but rather such periods or crises which forced God's claims upon men's notice, and made them consider what fruits they had to show for all the Lord's care, how they had lived after receiving the Law. Such times were the ages of Samuel, Elijah, the great prophets, the Maccabeus, and John the Baptist. His servants. The prophets, good kings, priests, and governors. "I have sent unto you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings" (Jeremiah 35:15). To receive the fruits of it ( του Ìς καρπου Ìς αὐτοῦ); or, his fruits, as rent.
Matthew 21:35: Took His servants. The exaction of rent in kind has always been a fruitful source of dispute, fraud, and discontent. In the Jewish Church God's messengers had been ill treated and put to death (see Matthew 23:34-37). "Which of the prophets have not your father’s persecuted?" cried St. Stephen; "and they have slain them which showed before the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). Beat … killed … stoned. A climax of iniquity and guilt. The statement is probably meant to be general; some, however, endeavor to individualize it, referring the "beating" to the treatment of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:1, Jeremiah 20:2), "killing" to Isaiah (Hebrews 11:37, "sawn asunder"), "stoning" to Zechariah son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20, 2 Chronicles 24:21). Doubtless, the incidents in such persecutions were often repeated.
Matthew 21:36: Other servants. God's loving kindness was not wearied out with the husbandmen's cruelty and violence. Each step of their wickedness and obstinacy was met with renewed mercy, with fresh calls to repentance. More ( πλει ìονας). More in number. In the latter days the number of God's messengers was much greater than in earlier times; so it is unnecessary to take πλει ìονας in the sense of "more honorable," "of higher dignity," though such interpretation is supported by its use in Matthew 6:25; Mark 12:33; Hebrews 11:4. Likewise. They resisted these new envoys as they had resisted these first sent, treating them with equal cruelty and violence.
Matthew 21:37: Last of all; ὑ ìστερον: afterwards, later on. The parable now allegorizes the near present, and future, in such a way as for the moment to conceal its bearing, and to lead the hearers to pronounce their own condemnation: His son. Even Jesus Christ, who was now among them, incarnate, teaching, and demanding of them fruits of righteousness. Here was the authorization which they had required (Matthew 21:23). God sent His Son. They will reverence My Son. God condescends to speak in human language, as hoping for a good result from this last effort for man's salvation. He, as it were, puts aside His foreknowledge, and gives scope to man's free will. Though the sad issue is known to Him, He often acts towards men as if He had hope that they would still use the occasion profitably. In the present case, whereas the immediate result of the last measure was disastrous, the expectation was ultimately realized in the conversion of many Jews to Christianity, which led to the bringing of all nations to the obedience of the faith.
Matthew 21:38: When the husbandmen saw the Son. As soon as they recognized this new and important messenger. This is the great element in the guilt of His rejection. They might have had the same consciousness of Christ's Divine mission as Nicodemus (John 3:2), having possessed the same opportunities of judging. Ancient prophecy, the signs of the times, the miracles and teaching of Christ, the testimony of the Baptist, pointed to one evident conclusion; evidence had been accumulating on all sides. A latent feeling had grown up that He was the Messiah (see John 11:49-52), and it was obstinate prejudice and perversity alone that prevented his open acknowledgment. "If I had not come and spoken unto them," said Christ, "they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin" (John 15:22; comp. John 9:41). They said among themselves. They plotted His destruction (see John 11:53). We are reminded of the conspiracy against Joseph, His father's well bellowed son (Genesis 37:20). Let us seize on ( κατα ìσχωμεν, take possession of, keep as our own) His inheritance. It would have been a wild and ignorant scheme of the husbandmen to consider that by murdering the heir they could obtain and hold possession of the vineyard. Here the parable bursts from the allegorical form, and becomes history and prophecy. In fact, the possession which the rulers coveted was supremacy over the minds and consciences of men; they wished to lord it over God's heritage; to retain their rights and prerogatives in the present system. This ambition Christ's teaching and action entirely overthrew. They felt no security in their possession of authority while He was present and working in their midst. Were He removed, their position would be safe, their claims undisputed. Hence their conspiracy and its result, a result very far from what they expected. They had their own way, but their gain was ruin. Says St. Augustine, "Ut possiderent, occiderunt; et quia occiderunt, perdiderunt."
Matthew 21:39: Cast Him out of the vineyard, and slew Him. This is prophecy, and alludes to a particular circumstance attending the death of Christ, viz. that He suffered without the city Jerusalem, Calvary being outside the walls (see John 19:17, and the parallel passages in the other evangelists, and especially Hebrews 13:11, Hebrews 13:12, where it is significantly noted that Jesus "suffered without the gate"). The words may also contain a reference to the fact that He was excommunicated and given over to the heathen to be judged and condemned, thus suffering not actually at the hands of "the husbandmen" (comp. Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27). Christ, in His Divine prescience, speaks of His Passion and death as already accomplished.
Matthew 21:40: When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh; when therefore the lord, etc. Christ asks His hearers, who are both rulers and people, what in their opinion will be the course taken by the lord when He visits His vineyard, knowing all that has transpired. So Isaiah (Isaiah 5:3) makes the people give the verdict: "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard."
Matthew 21:41: They say unto Him. The Pharisees probably made the reply, not at the moment apprehending the sense of the parable. Or the words were spoken by some of the bystanders, and taken up and emphatically repeated by our Lord with an unmistakable application (Matthew 21:43). The conclusion was a necessary consequence, and this will account for Mark and Luke apparently making them a part of Christ's speech. By their answer they blindly condemn themselves, as David did at hearing Nathan's parable (2 Samuel 12:5). He will miserably ( κακῶς) destroy those wicked men ( κακου Ìς, miserable men); or, he will evilly destroy those evil men; Vulgate, Malos male perdet. He will make their punishment equal their crime. The slaughter and mortality at the siege of Jerusalem accomplished this prediction to the letter.
Unto other husbandmen; i.e. the Christian ministry, which took the place of the Jewish priests and teachers. As the husbandmen in the parable were rather the rulers and rabbis than the whole nation which, indeed, only followed their guides, so these others are not the whole Gentile world, but those who sustained the ministerial offices in the Christian Church. Which ( οἱ ìτινες); of such kind as, denoting a class of servants. The clause is peculiar to Matthew. The speakers did not clearly apprehend the bearing of this detail of the parable. In their seasons. The times when the various fruits are ripe and ready for harvesting. These would vary in different climates and under differing circumstances; but the good husbandmen would be always ready to render to their Lord the fruits of faith and obedience, at every holy season and in due proportion.
This parable, spoken originally of Israel, applies, like all such similitudes, to the Christian Church and to the human soul. How God dealt with individual Churches we see in His words to the seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 1-3.). Ecclesiastical history furnishes similar examples throughout all ages. God gives privileges, and looks for results worthy of these graces. He sends warnings; He raises up apostles, preachers, evangelists; and if a Church is still unfaithful, He takes away His Spirit, and lets it lapse, and gives its inheritance to others, In the other case, the vineyard is the soul of man, which He has to cultivate for His Master's use. God has hedged it round with the law, external and internal, given it the ministry and sacraments and the Scripture, and looks to it to bring forth the fruits of obedience, service, worship. He sends times of visitation, teaching, warning; He speaks to it by secret inspiration; He calls it in loving tones to closer union. If it hearkens to the call, it walks in the way of salvation; if it refuses to hear, it casts away the hope of its calling, and must share the lot of Christ's enemies.
Matthew 21:42: Did ye never read? It is as though Christ said, "Ye have answered rightly. You profess to know the Scriptures well; do you not, then, apprehend that Holy Writ foretells that concerning Messiah and His enemies which you have just announced?" The imagery is changed, but the subject is the same as in the preceding parable. The vineyard is now a building; the husbandmen are the builders; the Son is the stone. In the Scriptures. The quotation is from Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23, the same psalm which was used on the day of triumph when Christ was saluted with cries of "Hosanna!" and which, as some say, was first sung by Israel at the Feast of Tabernacles on the return from Captivity.
The stone. This figure was generally understood to represent Messiah, on whom depended the existence and support of the Kingdom of God. Many prophecies containing this metaphor were applied to Him; e.g. Isaiah 28:16; Daniel 2:34; Zechariah 3:9; so that the Pharisees could be at no loss to understand the allusion, seeing that Jesus claimed to be that Stone. Rejected; as being not suitable to the building, or useless in its construction. So the husbandmen rejected the Son. The ignorance and contempt of men are overruled by the great Architect. The head of the corner. The cornerstone, which stands at the base and binds together two principal walls (see St. Paul's grand words, Ephesians 2:19-22). We learn that Christ unites Jew and Gentile in one holy house. This ( αὑ ìτη), being feminine, is thought by some to refer to "head of the corner" ( κεφαλη Ìν, γωνι ìας); but it is better to take it as used by a Hebrew idiom for the neuter, and to refer generally to what has preceded, viz. the settlement of the cornerstone in its destined position, which is effected by the Lord Himself. The ultimate victory of the rejected Son is thus distinctly predicted (comp. Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33).
Matthew 21:43: Therefore I say unto you. Having denounced the sin, Christ now enunciates the punishment thereof, in continuation of His parable. Because ye slay the Son, reject the Cornerstone, the vineyard, i.e. the Kingdom of God, shall be taken from you. Ye shall no longer be God's peculiar people; your special privileges shall be taken away. A nation. The Christian Church, the spiritual Israel, formed chiefly from the Gentile peoples (Acts 15:14; 1 Peter 2:9). The fruits thereof ( αὐτῆς); i.e. of the Kingdom of God, such faith, life, good works, as become those thus favored by Divine grace.
Matthew 21:44: Christ proceeds to show the positive and terrible results of such unbelief. Whosoever shall fall ( πεσω Ìν, hath fallen) on this stone shall be broken ( συνθλασθη ìσεται, shall be shattered to pieces). This may refer to the practice of executing the punishment of stoning by first hurling the culprit from a raised platform on to a rock or stone, and then stoning him to death. The falling on the stone has been explained in more ways than one. Some think that it implies coming to Christ in repentance and humility, with a contrite heart, which He will not despise. But the subject here is the punishment of the obdurate. Others take it to represent an attack made by the enemies of Christ, who shall demolish themselves by such onslaught. The original will hardly allow this interpretation. Doubtless the allusion is to those who found in Christ's low estate a stone of stumbling and rock of offence. These suffered grievous loss and danger even in this present time.
The rejection of the doctrine of Christ crucified involves the loss of spiritual privileges, moral debility, and what is elsewhere called "the scattering abroad" (Matthew 12:30; comp. Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 8:15). On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder ( λικμη ìσει αὐτο Ìν, it will scatter him as chaff). The persons hero spoken of are not those who are offended at Christ's low estate; they are such as put themselves in active opposition to Him and His kingdom; on them He will fall in terrible vengeance, and will utterly destroy them without hope of recovery. The idea is re-repeated from Daniel 2:34, Daniel 2:35, and Daniel 2:44, Daniel 2:45. Christ in His humiliation is the Stone against which men fall; Christ in His glory and exaltation is the Stone which falls on them.
Matthew 21:45: Pharisees. They have not been specially mentioned hitherto, but they formed the majority in the Sanhedrin, and are properly here named by the evangelist. He spake of them. They could not fail, especially after Matthew 21:43, to see the drift of the parables; their own consciences must have made them feel that they themselves were herein signified, their motives and conduct fully discovered. But, as bad men always act, instead of repenting of the evil, they are only exasperated against Him who detected them, and only desire the more to wreak their vengeance upon Him.
Matthew 21:46: They feared the multitude. They did not dare to lay violent hands on Jesus in the presence of the excited crowd, which would have withstood any such attack at this moment. A Prophet (see Matthew 21:11). If they did not recognize Him as Messiah, they regarded Him as one inspired by God, and having a Divine mission. This accounts for the joyful acquiescence of the Pharisaical party in the offer of Judas, when he proposed to betray his Master in the absence of the multitude
Matthew 21:1-11: The entry into Jerusalem.
I. The Fulfillment of Prophecy.
1. Bethphage. The Lord had spent the Sabbath in that holy home at Bethany, where He was always a welcome Guest, with that family which was now more than ever devoted to His service, and bound to Him by the ties of the very deepest gratitude. On the Sunday morning (Palm Sunday) He made His solemn entry into the holy city. He set out from Bethany on foot; but He intended to enter Jerusalem as the King Messiah. He had hitherto avoided anything like a public announcement of His office and His claims. When the multitude wished to "take Him by force to make Him a King, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone." Not long ago He had forbidden His disciples to tell any man that He was the Christ. He had charged them to tell no man of the heavenly glory of the Transfiguration.
The earthly view of the Messiah's kingdom was universal. The apostles themselves, warned as they had been again and again of its untruth, again and again reverted to it. So strong was the hold which it had upon their minds, that even after the awful scenes of the Passion, "they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" The Lord would do nothing to sanction this vain expectation. His kingdom was not of this world. But now His hour was come, the hour that He should depart out of this world. It was time for Him now to make a public assertion of His claims. That assertion, He knew, would lead to His death, and, through His death, resurrection, and ascension, to the establishment of His spiritual kingdom over the hearts of men. He was drawing near to Jerusalem.
He was come to Bethphage, on the Mount of Olives. He sent two disciples, bidding them fetch an ass and a colt whereon yet never man sat. He described the place minutely. If any man interfered, they were to say, "The Lord hath need of them." The Lord, the Lord of all; all things are His; He claims them when they are needed for His service. The words were simple, but they seem to convey a great meaning, to imply far-reaching claims. "The Lord hath need of them." The Savior describes Himself simply as the Lord, just as the Septuagint writers express the covenant name of God. The words would be understood as meaning that the ass was wanted in some way for God's service. The owners knew not how; but they saw the solemn procession passing by; they saw the lowly majesty of Christ. They must have known Him. He had been a frequent visitor at Bethany. But a short time ago He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Possibly they may have been among the number of His disciples. Even if not so, they must have felt something of the enthusiasm and excited expectation which were so widely diffused. They sent the ass. We must give readily and cheerfully when the Lord calls upon us; we must keep nothing back which He requires. "All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee."
2. The prophecy.
II. The Procession.
1.The approach to Jerusalem. The modest procession climbed the road that slopes up the Mount of Olives till, as they passed the shoulder of the hill, Jerusalem lay clear before them, the temple glittering in all its glory of gold and marble. The Lord wept as He gazed upon it. He, the Prince of Peace, was coming to the holy city; but that city, Jerusalem, the inheritance of peace, had not known the things that belonged to her peace; now they were hid from her eyes. There were outward demonstrations of joy; in some that joy was deep and true; in others it was. though not insincere, founded on mistaken hopes which would soon be dissipated; in very many it was mere excitement, worthless and unreal, one of those transitory bursts of apparent enthusiasm which are so contagious for a time, which run through unthinking crowds. The Lord was not dazzled by the popular applause; He estimated it at its true value. He wept as He looked upon Jerusalem; His eye gazed through the future, resting, not on His own approaching sufferings, but on the fearful doom which awaited the impenitent city.
2.The multitudes. The tidings of the Lord's approach reached Jerusalem; crowds of pilgrims, who had come thither for the Passover, went out to meet Him. There were pilgrims from Galilee, who could tell of many mighty deeds; there were others who were present when He called Lazarus out of his grave (John 12:17). That last wondrous miracle had for a time rekindled the old enthusiasm. The crowd issuing from Jerusalem joined the procession which came from Bethany; they swelled its numbers and increased the excitement. They hailed the Lord as King, spreading their garments in the way, as men had done to welcome kings (2 Kings 9:13); they strewed His path with branches from the trees; they cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they hailed the Lord as the Messiah.
The Pharisees had agreed that if any man did confess that He was Christ, He should be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). But they were powerless that day; they felt that they could prevail nothing; the world, they said, had gone after Him. The multitude owned Him to be the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of Israel. They raised the shout of "Hosanna!" originally a prayer, "Save us now!" (comp. Psalms 118:25); but now, it seems, a cry of triumphant welcome; a cry, however, which recognized Him as the Savior, and ascribed salvation to Him. That prayer, they hoped, would reach the heavens; that cry would be heard there; they prayed for blessings upon Him, using again the words of Psalms 118:1-29.; they prayed that God's blessing might rest upon Him, and bring to pass that salvation which was the real meaning of the hosanna cry. "Hosanna in the highest!" In the highest the hosts of angels need not lift the prayer, "Save us now!" for themselves; but they rejoice, we know, over each repentant sinner, over each lost sheep brought home to the fold on the shoulders of the good Shepherd; they may well re-echo the suppliant hosannas as they add the heavenly incense to the prayers of the saints which go up before God (Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4).
We may well believe that, on that great Palm Sunday, the heavenly host bent in reverent adoration from their thrones of light, watched that lowly procession as it escorted the King of heaven into the holy city, listened to the earthly hosannas that welcomed His approach, and repeated with more solemn tones, more awful expectations, the high chant of praise which celebrated the Nativity, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Let us make that welcome our own. He who then came to Jerusalem comes now to us. Each day He cometh to expectant hearts, to souls craving peace and mercy. He cometh in the name of the Lord; Himself the Lord, He cometh from the Lord, to do His Father's will, "to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant." "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord!" Let us welcome Him into our hearts with the hosanna cry of adoration and earnest supplication, "Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity!"
3. The inhabitants. "All the city was moved" stirred, shaken (so the Greek word means), at the approach of the jubilant procession. It was filled with crowds waiting for the celebration of the Passover, eager, excited crowds, ready to be stirred into commotion by any sudden impulse. "Who is this?" they said.
The form of the Lord must have been well known to most of the dwellers in Jerusalem. Perhaps the question was asked by strangers (see Acts 2:5, Acts 2:9-11); perhaps it was asked with something of scorn, "Who is this who comes with such a retinue, with all this festal applause?" The multitude, mostly perhaps Galileans, understood the suppressed contempt of the proud Pharisees, and answered with something of provincial pride, "This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." He belonged to them in a sense; the Pharisees had maintained, with ignorant scornfulness, that "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." Even Nathanael, the Israelite in whom there was no guile, had asked, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" The Galileans had a Prophet now, a Prophet mighty in word and deed; nay, more than a Prophet, the Messiah that was to come. They were proud of His eminence, they shouted their hosannas.
Before the week was ended, some of them, it may be, would change that cry to "Crucify Him! crucify Him!" All would forsake Him and leave Him to His death. Popular excitement is a poor thing; the Christian must trust neither in crowds nor in princes, but only in God. "Who is this?" the world still asks, some in the spirit of anxious inquiry, some in scorn and unbelief; and still the Christian answers in faith and adoring love, "This is Jesus, the Prophet, the great High Priest, the King of kings and Lord of lords." He cometh to claim His kingdom in each human heart. Receive Him; He bringeth peace.
1. The King cometh; He is lowly. Only the lowly heart can receive the lowly King.
2. Greet Him with holy joy; pray that that joy may be deep and true, founded on a living faith.
3. Seek to know Him, to say, "This is Jesus," out of a true personal knowledge.
Matthew 21:12-16: The temple.
I. The Lord's Actions there.
1. His entrance. Jesus went into the temple of God. It was a fulfillment of the great prophecy of Malachi, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple." He came, but, they delighted not in Him. He came to "purify the sons of Levi, that they might offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." But, they would not be purified. The Lord might cleanse the temple; the priests who ministered there would not yield up their hearts to Him, that He might cleanse them. He looked round about upon all things. So the Lord comes to His temple now, so He looks round about upon all things; He notes the formal services, He notes the careless hearts. It is right that the house of God be kept in decent order and beauty, but far more deeply necessary that all who minister and all who worship there should offer up their hearts to Him cleansed, purified through faith in Him; a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice.
2. His ejection of the buyers and sellers. He had cleansed the temple once before, at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-17). The irreverent practices which He then checked had been resumed. The court of the Gentiles had again become a market for the oxen, sheep, and doves, which the worshippers needed for the various sacrifices. Again the money changers had established themselves there to exchange the foreign money brought by the worshippers from many lands for the sacred shekel of the sanctuary, which alone could be accepted in the temple. Probably now, in the Passover week, the traffic was busier than ever, the noise more unseemly, the bargaining more eager than at other times. It was a sad scene, an unholy intrusion of earth and earthly doings into the house of God. The Savior’s holy soul was moved within Him. Filled with that zeal for the house of God which had so much struck the apostles on the former occasion, He cast out all that sold and bought in the temple. There was a majesty in His look and bearing which could not be resisted; they fled before Him, conscience stricken. They felt that He was right; He was vindicating a great truth; God's house must be held in honor; they who reverence God must reverence His temple. "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy honor dwelleth."
3. His rebuke. He told them what the temple should be, a house of prayer; it should be pervaded with an atmosphere of prayer; those who came there should come in the spirit of prayer; they should go up into the temple to pray. But how was prayer possible amid this noise and hubbub? This unseemly trafficking unsettled the minds of the worshippers as they passed into the inner courts. The court of the Gentiles was like a den of robbers now; they were robbing God of the honor due to Him; they were driving this unholy traffic in His courts, their thoughts bent on dishonest gains. It must not be so, He said; God's house is a sacred place. We dishonor God's house if we allow worldly, covetous thoughts to occupy our minds when our bodies are present there. When the heart is like a den of robbers, the prayer of the lips will not reach the mercy seat. We must do each of us our part to make God's house indeed the house of prayer by praying ourselves, and that in spirit and in truth.
4. His miracles. The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. He would do works of mercy in the temple courts, as He would do them on the Sabbath; for, indeed, such deeds done in faith and love are acts of worship, pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father (James 1:27). It does our churches no dishonor to use them, as sometimes they have been used in times of special need, for the service of the sick and suffering. Still in the temple the Lord performs His miracles of grace; there He opens the eyes of those who came praying, '"Lord, increase our faith;" there He gives strength and energy to the hands that hang down and the feeble knees.
II. The Displeasure of the Chief Priests.
1.Their remonstrance. They saw the wonderful things that He did. The miracles were wonderful; wonderful, too, was that strange majesty which so impressed the crowd of dealers and money changers that they obeyed Him, as it seems, without a word. It was a wonderful thing indeed that one Man, and one without any recognized position in the temple, without any official character, could overawe that concourse of traders. They heard the children crying in the temple, repeating the hosannas of the festal procession. They were sore displeased. They called the Lord's attention. They did not regard Him as the Messiah. He ought not, they thought, to allow those untaught children to hail Him with such a title.
2. The Lord's reply. He would not check the little ones. He ever loved children, and children ever loved to flock around Him and to listen to His voice. Besides, the children were right; their childlike hearts recognized the dignity of Christ. Their hearts taught them, with an intuitive knowledge, lessons which the learned rabbis, the dignitaries of the temple, could not reach. So now holy children often utter profound truths in their simple, innocent talk. Still God perfecteth praise out the mouths of babes and suckling. He accepts the children's prayer; He listens to the children's hymn. Nay, the prayers and praises of children are our example; for they are offered up in simplicity and truth.
1. "The Lord is in His holy temple:" enter it with reverence.
2. His house is a house of prayer; drive out worldly thoughts; hush your hearts into solemn attention.
3. Bring the little ones early to church; teach them the words of prayer and praise; their praises are acceptable unto God.
Matthew 21:17-22: The return to the temple.
I. The Walk to and from Bethany.
1. The Sunday evening. The Lord left the temple "when He had looked round upon all things." He had no home in the royal city. He went out unto Bethany, and there He lodged, perhaps in the house of Lazarus, perhaps, as many pilgrims did, in a booth on the hillside, or under the shelter of the trees. "The Son of man hath not where to lay His head."
2. Monday. Very early the Lord returned to the city. It seems He had eaten nothing; He hungered on the way. He was poor in this world. Let us learn of Him to be content in poverty and hardships.
II. The barren fig tree.
1. The curse. It stood alone, a conspicuous object. It was full of leaves. The time for figs was not yet, but this tree was singularly forward, precocious; the leaves promised early fruit, "hasty fruit before the summer" (Isaiah 28:4). It had none; it was barren. The Lord said, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever;" "and presently the fig tree withered away."
The miracle was symbolical, an acted parable. The priests and scribes whom the Lord was about to confront were like that fig tree, fair to look upon. They were held in honor, some for their official rank, some for their supposed righteousness, but they brought not forth the fruits of holiness. Such must wither when the Lord's searching eye is fixed upon them, when He comes seeking fruit. Leaves will not take the place of fruit, outward profession will not atone for the absence of holiness of heart and life. That fig tree was a meet emblem of the hypocrite. There were other trees without fruit; but they made no show of special forwardness, they were leafless still. This one tree was conspicuous for its foliage, but it had no fruit hidden beneath its leaves. The other trees might yet bring forth fruit in due time; this one had exhausted itself in leaves.
Such a show of life is worthless in the sight of God; it is not life, it is only a false appearance; it may deceive men, it cannot deceive God. "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Many professing Christians seem to us like that fig tree. Take we heed to ourselves. The Lord passed on, His hunger unappeased. The whole world was His, the cattle on a thousand hills; yet He hungered, for He had taken our flesh. He suffered as we suffer; He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He went on to Jerusalem, to the temple. Now apparently took place that expulsion of unhallowed traffic, the miracles, the hosannas of the children, and the interference of the priests, which have been already related by anticipation in St. Matthew's Gospel. "When even was come, He went out of the city."
2. The astonishment of the disciples. The words of the Lord produced an immediate effect. The life of the tree, such as it was, was at once arrested; the sap ceased to circulate, the leaves began to wither. But it seems from the more minute account in St. Mark, that the disciples did not observe the result till they passed the tree again in going to Jerusalem on the Tuesday morning. Then they marveled, saying, "How soon is the fig tree withered away!" We wonder at their wonder. They had seen many wondrous manifestations of the Lord's mighty power: why should they wonder now? They were still weak in faith, as the nine had been when they sought in vain to cast out the evil spirit beneath the Mount of the Transfiguration.
The Lord repeats the lesson which He gave them then, "Have faith in God;" doubt not. Doubt destroys the strength of prayer. He that doubteth will not receive anything of the Lord; but if we ask in steadfast, undoubting faith, then there is the blessed promise, "All things are possible to Him that believeth," for the prayer of undoubting faith availeth much with God. What was done to the fig tree, the Lord said, was a small thing for faith to do; faith could do things greater far. The psalmist had sung of the Mount Zion, "It cannot be removed: it abideth forever." But the Lord said, pointing, it may be, to the mountains round Jerusalem, "If ye shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done."
Faith can remove mountains; difficulties vanish before the prayer of faith. Set the Lord's promises before you when you pray; claim them as your own; realize them, trust in them; pray with persevering importunity, and, doubt not, you shall receive what you ask in faithful prayer. This or that sin may seem like a mountain, rooted deep in the heart, immovable; but pray against it, pray that it may be cast out; pray in faith, believing in God's power, believing in His love, and it shall be done. It is our want of faith which makes our prayers so weak. If we fully believed that God is able and willing to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, to make us whiter than snow, we should, in our own actual lives, overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and be more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
1. Let it be our most earnest effort to be true and faithful, not to seem to be so. Hypocrisy is hateful in the sight of God.
2. Pray for a strong, undoubting faith; it is God's most precious gift.
3. Pray always; believe in the power of prayer.
Matthew 21:23-40 - The controversy in the temple.
I. The Lord's Authority called in question.
1. The intervention of the chief priests. St. Luke tells us that they had resolved to destroy our Lord. He had now allowed Himself to be saluted openly as the Christ, the Son of David. He had accepted the hosannas of the multitude in the city, in the temple itself. He had assumed a paramount authority in the temple. The chief priests regarded themselves as rulers there; the market in the court of the Gentiles was held by their license; it was a source of profit to them. They now determined to interpose publicly. They sent an official deputation, composed of members of the three classes of the Sanhedrin: chief priests, scribes, and elders; to demand the Lord's authority for His conduct. What right had He thus to intrude, as they deemed, into their province, to interfere with the administration of the temple? What right had He to teach publicly in the temple courts without license from the rabbis? What right had He to the titles of "King of Israel," "Son of David," which He had accepted from the people as His due?
2.The Lord's reply. His enemies had hoped to ensnare Him. They expected, doubtless, that He would openly assert His Divine mission, and they might then make His claims the basis of a formal accusation. But in that wonderful calmness and self-possession which we note so often in the history of our Lord, He answered at once with another question, "The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men?" They could not deny His right to ask this; it was closely connected with their question. John had repeatedly asserted in the strongest terms the authority, the Divine mission of Him whose way he had come to prepare. They dared not deny openly the prophetic character of the Baptist; they feared the people, for the belief in John's sanctity was universal and enthusiastic. "All the people will stone us," they said. They were completely foiled. They could only say, in confusion and disappointed malice, "We cannot tell." It was a bitter humiliation. They were masters of Israel, and yet could not guide the people in a matter which had so profoundly stirred the religious thought of the time. They could only answer, "We cannot tell" to a question of such great spiritual importance. They were as ignorant as "the people of the earth," whom they so much despised. Alas for a country whose spiritual rulers are like those priests and scribes! Let us pray that our teachers may be taught of God.
II. The Parable of the Two Sons.
1. The story. It is very simple. One of the sons, when bidden to work in the vineyard, rudely refused to obey his father; the other respectfully promised obedience. The first afterwards repented and went. The second broke his promise and went not to the vineyard.
2. The spiritual meaning. There are open and notorious evil livers, who make no profession of religion, and exhibit in their lives an open and willful disobedience. Some of these are brought to repentance by the grace of God. They learn to see the guilt, the awful danger, of disobedience; a great change is wrought in their souls; they do their best to redeem the time; they go at last and work for God; and God, in His sovereign grace and generous bounty, accepts their service, though, it may be, they have wrought but one hour in their Father's vineyard.
There are others, brought up, perhaps, in Christian families, among good examples and surroundings, who maintain a respectful attitude towards religion, and regularly observe all the outward ordinances of the Church. But, alas! there are many such who have not given their hearts to God; they say from time to time (at Confirmation, for instance), "I go, sir," and perhaps at the moment they really have a sort of intention to keep God's holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of their life. But they have no strength of purpose, they have not attained to the spirit of self-sacrifice; and when they are called to do work for God (whether inward or outward) which requires effort and self-denial, they shrink back from the Master's service. The yoke which the Lord calls "easy" seems to them hard and rough; the burden which the Lord calls "light" seems to them heavy and crushing; the cross terrifies them. They go not into the vineyard; they do not keep their promises; they do not work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, and so they do no real work for God.
3. The application. The Lord gives His testimony to John the Baptist, as he had done before; John came from God, a preacher of righteousness. He came "in the way of righteousness;" he had the righteousness of strict Levitical purity and the loftiest asceticism; he told men their duty plainly and sternly. Many notorious sinners, publicans and harlots, who had lived in open disobedience to God, heard him and repented. These priests and scribes and elders saw and heard him; they felt the holiness of his life, the power of his preaching; they had asked him if he was the Christ, or Elijah, or the prophet that was to come. But they repented not; they believed not. The publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before the priests and scribes. They ought to have led the way; they ministered in the temple of God; they were the recognized teachers of the people. Yet the Lord does not shut out all hope. "The publicans go before you;" they might follow, if they would humble their proud hearts into self-abasement and lowly obedience. Pride hardens the heart in disobedience and willfulness; humility opens it to repentance, to the gracious voice of the Savior. Oh that we may listen, and repent, and work for God before it be too late!
III. The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen.
1. The story. It was the well known parable of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7), related again with more authority and in greater detail. The lord of the vineyard asks again, "What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?" Hedge, winepress, tower; everything needful had been carefully provided. But the husbandmen were rebellious; they beat and murdered the servants who were sent to receive the fruits of the vineyard, and at last they cast out and slew their Lord's Only Son. The end of those men must be utter destruction. Judaea was a land of vineyards. The Lord often drew His parables from surrounding circumstances; in Galilee, from the corn land or the lake; in Judaea, from the vine or the fig tree. So Christian teachers should try to give life and interest to their teaching by connecting it with matters of daily life.
2. The meaning. Isaiah tells us, "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant." The hedge must be the Law, with its ordinances, circumcision, and other rites which served to separate Israel, as God's peculiar people, from other nations. The tower and winepress have been interpreted of the temple and the altar. But it is enough, without pressing these details, to understand the parable as meaning that God had given His people all things necessary for their spiritual welfare. The latter part of the parable differs from that in Isaiah. There the men of Israel are reproved: they brought forth wild grapes, not the fruits of righteousness. Here the Lord rebukes the husbandmen, the spiritual rulers of His people. The Lord of the vineyard went into a far country. God did not always manifest Himself as He had done on Mount Sinai. He sent His servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of the vineyard.
Those servants were the prophets, sent again and again, to supply the deficiencies of the ordinary ministry, to warn both priests and people of their sins, to call both priests and people to repentance. "I sent unto you," God said, by the mouth of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 44:4), "all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!" Some of these were persecuted, some were slain. "They cast thy Law behind their backs" (we read, in the confession of the Levites in Nehemiah 9:26), "and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them unto thee."
But now the Lord's eye, which had ranged over the past history of the nation, turns towards the future. The lord of the vineyard had yet One Son, His well beloved; He sent Him last, saying, "They will reverence My Son." The parable veils the awful mysteries which hang around the relations between the infinite foreknowledge of God and the free will of man. Human thought cannot grapple with these mysteries; human words cannot express them. God gave His only begotten Son; the Son of God came to give His life a ransom for many. The purpose, the fore knowledge of God, did not destroy the free agency or remove the guilt of those who crucified the Lord of glory. These priests had already taken counsel to put the Lord to death. Caiaphas had already "prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation" (John 11:47-53). They had already said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill Him, and let us seize on His inheritance." They wished to keep possession of their old authority, their old exclusive privileges. Those privileges had been given them for a time; their priesthood was transitory. Christ was the Heir of all things; He was the Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
The Lord knew what was coming; they would cast Him out (Hebrews 13:12), they would kill Him. How calmly He prophesies His own death! how simply He asserts His own Divine character! yet in words which His enemies could not take hold of. He was the Son, the one only Son, the well beloved, of the Lord of the vineyard. They felt His meaning, but the parable afforded no ground for accusation.
3. The warning. "When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will He do unto those husbandmen?" Christ puts the question to the guilty men themselves, and forces them to pronounce their own condemnation. Perhaps they pretended not to see the drift of the parable, and to regard it as a story, and nothing more. Perhaps (and this surely is more probable) they were overawed by the Lord's dignity, by the solemn power of His words, and so, like Caiaphas, became prophets against their will. "He will miserably destroy those miserable men." They prophesied their own doom. Alas, that the approaching danger did not lead them to repentance! They prophesied also the loss of those exclusive privileges which they guarded so jealously. "He will let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen." The Gentiles were to succeed to the privileges which the Jews possessed; they had been strangers and foreigners, but soon they would become fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. "I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 66:21). They would tend the Church of God; they would render the fruit in due season to the Lord of the vineyard.
IV. The Chief Cornerstone.
1. Its exaltation. The parable, like every other parable, was inadequate to express the whole spiritual truth. The heir was slain; He could not appear again in the story as the judge. The Lord adds another illustration, quoting the psalm (the hundred and eighteenth) from which the "Hosanna!" of Palm Sunday had been derived: "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner." The priests and scribes were the builders; it was their duty to rear up the spiritual temple. One stone they had rejected; it was mean and poor in their eyes. God Himself would raise that stone to the highest place of honor. It should become the head stone, with shouting’s, "Grace, grace unto it!" (Zechariah 4:7). This is the Lord's doing. God highly exalted Him whom the Jews rejected.
2. The application. The Lord now applies both parables directly and distinctly to the priests and scribes. They were the husbandmen, He told them, the rebellious husbandmen. The vineyard was the Kingdom of God; it should be taken from them; they should no longer possess its privileges. The spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, is the nation to whom the kingdom should be given; not one earthly nation, but the nations of the saved; of all nations, and kindred, and peoples, and tongues. And that nation, the great Catholic Church of Christ, would bring forth the fruits which the vineyard ought to yield, not wild grapes, but good grapes, the precious fruit of the Spirit.
The priests and scribes were also the foolish builders. They had rejected the chief Cornerstone, elect, precious, which the Lord would lay in Zion; it was becoming to them a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence. The low estate of Christ was a stumbling block now; the cross of Christ would be a stumbling block afterwards. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken," the Lord said, referring again to Isaiah (Isaiah 8:15), where we observe that the stone of stumbling (verses 13, 14) is the Lord of hosts Himself. The Jews were now incurring this guilt and this danger. But a greater danger remained; when the stone is become the head of the corner, when it is raised to its place of honor, it shall grind to powder those on whom it will fall. When the ascended Lord is exalted to the judgment throne, utter destruction will overtake those hardened, impenitent sinners who reject His offers of mercy unto the end, and will not know Him as a Savior, but must at last see Him, when every eye shall see Him, upon the great white throne.
3. The anger of the priests. They perceived that He spake of them; they felt the stern rebuke of His words; they felt, too, their truth. Their own consciences smote them. They blazed into fierce anger; they sought to seize Him; but for the moment they were powerless; they could do nothing while the multitude regarded Him as a prophet. May God give us grace to take reproof in a becoming spirit! It should produce, not anger, but repentance.
1. Profession without obedience is worthless. God bids us work in His vineyard; let us obey Him.
2. God has a right to the fruits of vineyard. His ministers must tend the vineyard. They must see, as far as lieth in them, that the fruit is rendered to the Lord.
3. Christ is the chief Cornerstone; the living stones of the spiritual temple must be built upon that one Cornerstone, elect, precious.
Matthew 21:1-5 - The ass of Bethphage.
We cannot tell whether our Lord's exact description of the locality where the ass and colt were to be found was derived from His superhuman knowledge, or whether, as seems more likely in so simple a case, He had agreed with one of His Judean disciples to have the animals in readiness at an appointed time. However this may be, we can see from the whole incident that Jesus paid especial attention to the arrangements for His entry into Jerusalem. This was very unlike His usual habit. Let us consider its significance from two points of view.
I. The lord's need.
1. Jesus needed one of God's humblest creatures.
2. Disciples obtained what their Master needed. He told His need; at once the two chosen messengers set off to have it supplied. It is not enough that we serve Christ in our own way. We have to discover what He really wants. Sometimes it may not be at all what we have chosen. But if it is serviceable to our Lord, that should be enough to determine our course of action.
3. The unknown owner of the animals was obedient to the message of Christ's need. "The Lord hath need of them" was the talisman to silence all remonstrances. Jesus may claim what is far more precious to us than any dumb animal. Yet if He calls, He needs; and if He needs, His claim is paramount. He may want a child in the other world; or He may require the child in the mission field. Then it is not for us to withhold our dearest from Him.
"Why should I keep one precious thing from thee, When thou hast given thine own dear self for Me?"
II. The use of the ass. Why did the Lord need the ass and its colt?
1. To fulfill prophecy. We do not often come across the conscious and intentioned fulfillment of prophecy. Usually the prediction comes true in spite of the ignorance of the actors in the fulfillment, or while they are aiming at something else than simply carrying out what a seer of old foretold. But now Christ sets Himself deliberately to put into practice an idea of Zechariah (see again John 19:28). What is best in the Old Testament is followed by Christ in the New.
2. To aid in a solemn triumph. Jesus had long forbidden a public confession of His Messiah ship. But now He will make it for Himself; for now it can do no harm. He is to ride in triumph, but in triumph to the cross. That glad entry to Jerusalem was to be just marching into the jaws of death.
3. To express the peaceful and gentle character of Christ's Kingship. Jesus did not choose the spirited war horse. Following the idea of the prophet, He selected the lowly ass, an animal which, although it was very superior in the East to the ill-treated ass of the West, was still associated with quietness and simplicity. It was to be a rustic triumph, an old world triumph, quaint and antique, and therefore a protest against the vulgar fashion of earthly glory.
Matthew 21:6-11 - The triumphant ride.
This was arranged by Christ, and enthusiastically promoted by His disciples. Here was a last glint of sunshine before the storm. The gladness of the scene is in strange contrast with the awful sequel. Palm Sunday ushers in Passion Week. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." While the evil day has not yet come, gladness and the assurance of victory may be the best preparation for it.
I. The King's Triumph. Few spectators would see anything kingly in this rustic fete. To the ruling classes of Jerusalem it would seem hut child's play. But to the childlike followers of Jesus it had a deep meaning. These Galileans pilgrims recognized in it the acceptance by Jesus of His royal rights. The question arises: Were they mistaken? He was riding in triumph to Jerusalem. But it was a simple, homely, unconventional triumph. Moreover, it did not lead to the throne, but its promise ended at Calvary, or seemed to end there. We know that the issue was disappointing to the early disciples (Luke 24:21). Nevertheless, we also know that, with Jesus, the way to death was the way to victory. He was most kingly when He suffered most. His Passion was His coronation. He reigns now in the hearts of His people, just because He died for them.
II. The people's enthusiasm. Long suppressed emotions now break forth into unrestrained utterance. It seems to be impossible to do too much, in the hastily improvised procession, to show devotion to the Christ. This is expressed in two ways.
1. By actions. Garments laid on the animal He rides, garments flung on the road for the honor of being trampled on, sprigs from the wayside trees scattered on the ground, palm branches waved overhead, these things show the utmost enthusiasm. Strong feeling must manifest itself in action.
2. By words. The people quoted a well known Messianic psalm, praying for a blessing on the Christ. Their words had nearly the same meaning as our "God save the king!" and they were prompted by an overmastering passion of enthusiasm. This is not at all wonderful. The only wonder is that there was but one Palm Sunday, and that our Lord's last Sunday on earth before His death. To know Him is to see grounds for unbounded devotion, for love beyond measure, for glad praises which no words can contain. This is the great distinction of our Christian faith, its keynote is enthusiasm for Christ.
III. The City's Wonder. The happy, noisy procession was heard in Jerusalem, and the citizens looked up from their trades and forgot their bargaining for a moment, in surprise at the unexpected commotion. We may preach the gospel by singing the praises of Christ. One reason why the world is apathetic about Christianity is that the Church is apathetic about Christ. A fearless enthusiasm for Christ will arouse the slumbering world. But we want to go further. In Jerusalem the effect was but slight and transitory. A deeper and more permanent impression was made at Pentecost; for it is the coming of the Holy Spirit, and no merely external excitement, that really touches and changes the hearts of people. Yet even this did not move the greater part of Jerusalem. Rejecting the peaceful coming of Christ, hardened sinners await His next coming, which is in wrath and judgment.
Matthew 21:12,13 - Christ cleansing the temple.
According to St. Mark's more detailed account, Jesus "looked round" on the day of Jibs triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, and effected His drastic reformation of temple abuses on the following morning. Thus we see that His action did not spring from a hasty outburst of passion. It was the result of deliberation. He had had a night in which to brood over the shameful desecration of His Father's house.
I. The desecration.
1. The nature of it. It would be a mistake to suppose that the temple was being used as a common market. The animals sold were not to be treated as meat at the shambles. They were for sacrifices. The money changing was not for the convenience of foreigners wanting to be able to do business in the city with the current coin. This was carried on in order to provide for visitors the Hebrew shekel with which to pay the temple dues. Therefore, it was thought, the business was of a religious character, and could be carried on in the temple as part of the sacred work. Animals were sacrificed there: why should they not be sold there? Money was collected there: why should it not be exchanged there?
2. The evil of it.
II. The Cleansing.
1. An act of holy indignation. Jesus was angry; He could be angry; sometimes He was "moved with indignation. It is no sign of sanctity to be unmoved at the sight of what dishonors God and wrongs our fellow men. There is a guilty complacency, a culpable silence, a sinful calm.
2. An act of Divine authority. It was His Father's house that Christ was cleansing. He spoke and acted as the messenger of God even to those who did not know that He was the Son of God. Christ has power and authority.
3. An act of righteousness. He used force, but of course, if He had met with resistance, the merely physical power He put forth would soon have been overborne. Why, then, did He succeed? Because He had an ally in the breast of every man whom He opposed; the consciences of the traders fought with Jesus against their guilty traffic. He who fights for the right has mighty unseen allies.
Do not we need a temple cleansing? The trade spirit desecrates religious work. Finance takes too prominent a place in the Church. It is possible to crush the spirit of private worship in low, unworthy ways of providing the means of public worship. We want the scourge of small cords to drive out the worldly methods of Christian work.
Matthew 21:19 - The Fruitless Fig Tree.
We may wonder how Jesus could have hungered during the short walk over the Mount of Olives from Bethany, if He had just left the hospitable roof of Martha. Had she taken His mild rebuke too literally when she was busying herself in providing a bountiful table on a former occasion? Or may we not think with more probability that Jesus, who was an early riser, had left the house before breakfast? If so, this would have been a trial to Martha; but it would have shown her and all the disciples how eager He was to be about His Father's business. Yet He is a man, and the fresh morning air on the hills awakens the natural appetite of hunger. A few verses back it is said that Jesus had need of an ass and its colt (Matthew 21:3). Here we see that He had need of a few wild figs, commonest of wayside fruit, so real was His human nature, so perfect the lowliness of His earthly state.
I. The condition of the Tree.
1. It had promise. This was a forward tree as far as leaves were concerned. Earlier than others of the same species in putting forth its foliage, it gave promise of an early supply of fruit, because the figs appear before the leaves. It is dangerous to make great pretensions. To stand out from our brother men with some claim to exceptional honor is to raise expectations of exceptional worth. We should do well to avoid taking such a position unless we are sure we can sustain it without disappointing the hopes we raise.
2. It was not true to its promise. This was the unhappy thing about the tree. If it had been like the backward trees, nothing would have been expected of it. But by giving a sign which in the course of nature should follow the putting forth of fruit, it made a false pretension. Possibly the vigor of the foliage absorbed the sap which should have helped the fruit buds. Great attention to display directly injures the cultivation of really worthy qualities. Religious ostentation is generally barren.
II. The doom of the Tree. It is to wither. The fig tree is only valued for the sake of its figs. If these are wanting, the tree is worthless. Its luxuriance of leaves is worse than useless, because it prevents other plants from growing where the fruitless branches overshadow the ground.
1. What is fruitless is worthless.
2. What is worthless must be destroyed. The fruitless Jerusalem was destroyed. Barren Churches have been swept away from Asia Minor and North Africa; barren Churches will be swept kern other parts of Christendom in the future. Fruitless souls will be cast out of the garden of the Lord.
Matthew 21:22 - The boundless possibilities of prayer.
Read literally, this is a very difficult verse. We cannot see how it is verified in experience. We should be horrified at its exact and verbal fulfillment, because this would be handing over the control of the universe to the praying mortal. The coachman would not put the reins in the hands of his infant son, however much the child begged for them; yet the disaster which would follow such an action would be nothing in comparison with the unspeakable calamities which would visit the universe if we, in our blindness, our ignorance, our folly, could have done for us whatever we chose to wish for, and that merely for the asking. We may indeed be thankful that no such fearful power has been entrusted to us. But then how are we to interpret the very clear and emphatic words of our Lord?
I. It is Faith that gives Efficiency to Prayer. Many prayers are absolutely void and useless because they are not borne upon the wings of faith. They grovel in the earth-mists of unbelief, and never see the light of God's presence. The connection of the verses seems to imply that it was His faith that gave Christ power to bring its doom to the barren fig tree (Matthew 21:21). It is reasonable to suppose that God will give many things to those who trust Him, which He will deny to people who will not rely upon Him. At all events, the setting forth of faith as a condition of the prayer that is to be answered shows that it is absolutely useless to practice an experiment with prayer by testing its efficacy in order to dispel doubt. The purpose of the experiment, and the grounds on which it is made, presuppose the absence of an essential condition of successful prayer. Therefore, if prayer is heard, as Christ tells us it is, such an experiment is foredoomed to failure. We want grounds for faith, but we cannot find them here; or rather we cannot have our first grounds here. The response to prayer will doubtless confirm and strengthen the faith which prompted the prayer. But there must be this prior faith.
II. The Prayer of Faith has Boundless Efficacy. We get slight answers to prayer because we have little faith. Yet we cannot expect to have just what we choose to ask for, even though we ask in faith. No; but observe:
1. Faith is not confidence in our own prayer, but trust in Christ. Now, when we trust Him we are led near to Him, we begin to understand Him, we learn to think as He thinks and to desire what He desires. Thus faith brings us into sympathy with Christ. But our foolish desires are quite un-Christ like. We shall no longer cherish them when He is by our side. Thus faith chastens prayer, purges it, elevates it, and brings it into harmony with the will of God. The prayer of faith will be such a prayer that God can hear, just in proportion as the faith is a spiritual power that unites us with God.
2. The prayer of faith will certainly be answered, though not necessarily in the way in which we expect. Jesus promised to those who lost lands and friends for the gospel's sake, more lands and friends (Matthew 19:29), and His disciples did not receive a literal fulfillment of this promise. But they had a good equivalent. The prayer of faith is answered in God's large, wise way, answered to the full, but by the gift of what He sees best, and not always of what we happen to name.
Matthew 21:23-27 - Question met by question.
Perhaps we shall best gather up the lessons of this incident if we look first at the form it assumed, then at the underlying substance.
I. The Form.
1. The question of the Rulers.
2. The counter question of Christ. He postpones His reply to a question He desires to have answered by the rulers.
II. The Substance. That was indeed an important question which the rulers put to Christ. If it were asked humbly and sincerely, it might be regarded as most just and reasonable. When it is so asked, Christ does answer it. Indeed, if the rulers had not been blind, they would have found a twofold reply close at hand. Christ justifies and confirms His claims:
1. By the authority of Conscience. When He startled the people in the temple by an unwonted exercise of authority, they submitted without an attempt at resistance, because their consciences confirmed His action. Christ speaks to the conscience, and the conscience echoes what He says.
2. By the authority of Knowledge. Who are the authoritative teachers? Surely the only teachers who can speak to us with authority are those who know the subjects they undertake to teach. Jesus "spoke with authority" (Matthew 7:29), because He spoke out of knowledge. There was a self-evidencing truthfulness and clearness of vision in Him.
3. By the Authority of God. The rulers could not see this. If their blindness had not been morally culpable, they would have been excused for rejecting the claims of Christ, because those claims were so great that no mere man could have a right to put them forth. When we perceive the Divine nature of Christ, all His words and deeds are justified, and His authority comes upon us with more than kingly power.
Matthew 21:28-32 - The two sons.
In this parable our Lord illustrates the great principle which He more than once enunciated, that "many shall be last that are first; and first that are last." It has a special reference to the Pharisees and publicans of Christ's time. But there are publicans and Pharisees in our own day. Let us consider the parable in its bearing on ourselves and the present conduct of people.
I. The Son who Refused and Repented.
1. His hasty refusal. Doubtless he spoke in impatience. His temper was hot, and the call to work amazed him. Thus he began the day badly, as many people begin life badly. This is altogether deplorable, because no subsequent amendment can obliterate the fact that the beginning was spoilt.
2. His later repentance. We need not be the slaves of our own past. If we started wrong, we are not forced to continue in the path of evil. "It is never too late to mend." There is a pride of consistency which only comes of folly; and there is a noble inconsistency, a sublime inconsequence. The change in the son showed
3. His obedient action. He "went." That was everything. He may not have said another word; but he obeyed His father, though in silence. The one thing God looks for is obedience. The way to make amends for past negligence is not to promise better things for the future, but just to do them.
4. His improving conduct. We see this son in two stages, and the second is better than the first. He was evidently moving in the right direction. The most important question is not: To what have we attained hitherto? But: Which way are we moving? Towards the light or from it?
5. His accepted obedience. This was the obedient son. His insolent words were forgiven when his subsequent conduct was penitent and obedient. God forgives the bad past in His penitent children. If they are now in the right path, He accepts them, although they were once far from it.
II. The Son who Consented and Disobeyed.
1. His ready assent. This was good in its way. But, being only verbal, or at best an intention not yet executed, it was of slight worth. God does not value religious professions as men prize them.
2. His courtesy. The second son was courteous to His father, addressing Him as "sir," while his brother was rude and insolent. Now, it is our duty to be courteous to all men, and to be especially respectful to parents. Yet there is an hypocritical tone about good manners when they are not accompanied by good actions. God prefers rude obedience to polite disobedience.
3. His subsequent disobedience. We need not suppose that this second son had lied to His father, promising in smooth words what he never intended to perform. It is more probable that our Lord would have us think of him as honest in his profession. He really intended to obey. But he did not count the cost, or the good mood of acquiescence passed away, or some other more fascinating attraction led him to forget, or at least to neglect, his promise. There is an enormous step to be taken from good resolutions to good actions. Many a hindrance, many a temptation, comes between.
4. His just condemnation. Jesus appealed to the bystanders for their verdict. He wished to convince their conscience; He desires now to make us see and feel the truth of what He says. Could there be a question as to the verdict? Good promises count for nothing, or rather they count against the man who disobeys in conduct. God judges by conduct alone.
Matthew 21:33-41 - The parable of the vineyard.
The vineyard is a favorite image in the Bible, and the mention of it by Christ would call to mind in His hearers the Old Testament illustrations of Israel. But more than Israel the nation must be intended by our Lord, because the vineyard is to go on after the destruction of the Jewish state. Our thoughts are therefore directed to the Kingdom of Heaven, partially realized in Israel, more fully realized in the Christian Church, but always a spiritual vineyard.
I. God Himself founds Kingdom of Heaven. The owner of the vineyard has it properly planted and all its arrangements completed before He sends husbandmen into it. They have not to begin in the wilderness. God does not behave like the Pharaoh who ordered the Israelites to make bricks without straw. He plants. Therefore He has a right to look for fruit.
II. God Entrusts the Work of His Vineyard to Men. There is work for God to be done in His kingdom. This is a high privilege, and it carries with it a grave responsibility. God will not have the just return for all His gifts if Husbandmen are not faithful in his service. The Jewish leaders were God's husbandmen. So are Christian workers today.
III. God expects Fruits from His Vineyard. God gives freely; but He looks for a return. It is not that He needs anything. But He does not desire His work to be wasted. He asks for grapes where He has planted a vine. This, then, is the one question for the Church, Is it bearing fruit? By so doing it can glorify God (John 15:8).
IV. The Messengers of God have been Shamefully treated. Evidently the servants represent the prophets of ancient Israel, ending with John the Baptist, who was beheaded, though not by the Jews. The reason for this ill treatment is here explained. It is selfishness. The leaders of Israel governed for their own advantage, and not for the glory of God. The leaders of the Church have too often shown a self-seeking spirit, and therefore they have rejected God's true servants.
V. The Advent of Christ is a Mark of God's Long Suffering Patience. The owner of the vineyard would try a last means. He would see if the husbandmen would reject His son. It was a great risk to run; but the fruit was precious, and the vineyard was worth rescuing from those who usurped the rights of ownership. God would not east out Israel till Christ had come. But now Christ has come to us as God's last Messenger.
VI. The Rejection of Christ is a Fatal Sin. After the husbandmen had killed the heir to the estate, no more patience could be shown to them. They had filled up their cup of guilt to the brim. They had rejected the last and greatest message from their Master. To be cast forth and destroyed is their rightful doom. This doom came upon the leaders of Israel in the overthrow of Jerusalem by Titus. It awaits those false and traitorous leaders of the Church who repeat the sin of the Hebrew hierarchy. It awaits all who work in the midst of the privileges of Christendom without rendering any fruit to the glory of God.
VII. The Doom of the Faithless is followed by the Appointment of New Workers. Gentiles took the place of Jews. God's work cannot stand still. He will have fruit, if not through our agency, then by other means. When the official leaders of the Church are unfaithful, God sets them aside, so that, though their doom is postponed, they are really no longer entrusted with any powers by God. Then He raises up men from outside the ranks of office. Thus the vineyard is saved, and God has the fruit of true service.
Matthew 21:1-22 - Entry into Jerusalem.
Our Lord had now entered on the last week of His life upon earth, but, save in His own heart, there is no premonition of His death. Having spent the Sabbath in Bethany, He proceeds on Sunday morning to the city. That was the day, four days before the Passover, on which the Jews were commanded to choose the Paschal lamb. Our Lord, conscious of His calling to die for His people, puts Himself into their hands. He now feels that His hour has come, and proclaims Himself as the promised Messiah, the King of Peace, by entering into Jerusalem, the metropolis of peace, in a manner which no one could fail to interpret, as One who would certainly furnish men with that which would not give one strong race power over others, but which would weld all men together and give them common feelings and interests, and restore in truth the unity of men. The points in the entry which Matthew considered significant are:
I. Our Lord's Proclamation of Himself as King of Peace by riding into Jerusalem on an Ass. He did not choose a horse, because that animal would have suggested royalty of quite another kind from His royalty which was maintained by war and outward force.
1. What is it, then, that Christ claims? No one could have the slightest doubt that He claimed to fulfill Old Testament prophecy, and to be that very Person who was to come and bring with Him to earth everything which the love of God could bestow. He professes His willingness to take command of earth, not in the easier sense of being able to lay down a political constitution for all races, but in the sense of being able to satisfy every individual, to give peace to every soul, however distracted by trouble and overwhelmed by sin. And some have through Him actually entered into such peace that they are impregnable to this world's assaults, and have gained the mastery over its temptations. They have found Him to be all He claims to be.
2. They proclaimed Him as the Savior and King of men, and He accepted these offices in a very different spirit from that in which they were ascribed to Him. He knew that to be the King of a people so down trodden with sin, so entangled in ancient evils, was full of danger and suffering; that in order to deliver such a people He must die for them. And it is His expectation that we on our side should open our eyes to what He has done, and acknowledge Him as our King. We must not grudge if it comes in the way of our duty to Him to make real sacrifices.
3. It must, indeed, have been a humbling experience for our Lord to have Himself ushered into Jerusalem by a crowd through whose hosannas He already heard the mutter of their curses. Such is the homage a perfect life has won.
II. Although our Lord makes no moan over His own fate as the rejected Messiah, He quite breaks down at the thought of the doom of His rejecters. Terrible, indeed, must the responsibility often have seemed to Him of being set as the test of men, of being the occasion of so many being found wanting. Are we in a condition so full of hazard and foreboding that it might justly bring tears to the eyes of Christ?
III. The Withering of the Fruitless Fig Tree was a symbolic act. Our Lord saw in it the very image of Jerusalem. There was there an exuberant display of all kinds of religious activity, with absolutely nothing that could feed the soul or satisfy God. And the withering of the fig tree reveals the other side of our Lord's character in connection with this rejection by the Jews. He wept, but He also pronounced doom. To calculate our own future we must keep in view not only the tears of Christ, but also His judgment. Throughout His life the one is as prominent as the other. Words which were rarely or never heard from the sternest Old Testament prophet are common on His lips. There is a day of visitation for each man, a day in which to us in our turn there appears a possibility and an invitation to enter into the presence of God, and be forever satisfied in Him and with His likeness. Picture to yourself the shame of being a failure, such a failure that the truest love and most inventive wisdom must give yon up and pronounce you useless.
Matthew 21:33-44 - Parable of the wicked husbandmen.
The priests and elders already stood convicted of having incapacitated themselves for recognizing the Divine in Jesus. But theirs was not the guilt of common unbelievers. It was not merely their personal, hut their official duty to keep themselves awake to the Divine, by righteousness of life. It was the duty for which their office existed. They are as agents whom a man has appointed to manage his business, and who use their position only to enrich themselves.
The parable under which this judgment is carried home to them is one they could not fail to understand. The vineyard was Israel, the small section of humanity railed off from the degrading barbarism around, as if to try what could be done by bestowing every advantage that could help men to produce the proper fruit of men. Nothing wanted which could win them to holiness, nothing which could enlarge, purify, fertilize human nature.
The result was that they were content, as many professing religion are content now, with receiving and doing nothing. They measured themselves by the care God spent on them, not by the fruit they yielded; by the amount of instruction, the grace they received, not by the use that they made of it. Again and again God sent to remind them He was expecting fruit of His care, but His messengers speedily found that they were willing enough to live upon God, but not to live to Him. But it is the keepers of the vineyard who are here censured for unfaithfulness, and that on two grounds.
1. They used their position solely for their own advantage. They had failed to remember they were servants. The religious leader is as liable as the political or military leader to be led by a desire for distinction, applause, power. Success may be the idol of the one as truly as of the other. It is not the sphere in which one's work is done that proves its spirituality or worthiness, nor even the nature of it, but the motive.
2. They are censured for their zeal in proselytizing, a more insidious form of the temptation to use their position for their own ends. The indignation of our Lord was roused by the same element in their zeal, which so often still taints zeal for the propagation of religious truth. It was the desire rather to bring men to their way of thinking than to bring them to the truth. How wide spreading and deep reaching this evil is those well know who have observed how dangerously near propagandas is to persecution. The zeal that proceeds from loving consideration of others does not, when opposed, darken into violence and ferocity. If we become bitter and fierce when contradicted, we may recognize our zeal as springing from desire to have our own influence acknowledged, rather than from deep love of others, or regard for the truth as truth.
The condemnation of the parable our Lord enforces by reference to the Scriptures of which they professed to be guardians. Rejection by the builders was one of the marks of the Foundation stone chosen by God. They caviled at His allowing the hosanna psalm to be applied to Himself, but this was itself proof that He was what the crowd affirmed Him to be. Note: Our Lord completes the warning, abandoning the figure of the parable, and making use of the figure of the stone.
Verse 45 - Ch. 22:14 - The marriage of the King's Son.
This parable, taken along with the Parable of the Two Sons and the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, forms a climax to them. In the first, God is represented as a Father issuing a command; in the second, as a Householder who expects the performance of a contract; in the third parable, God appears as a King, not commanding, but looking for acceptance of an enviable invitation.
Already the Kingdom of God had been likened to a feast, but here prominence is given to the circumstance of the host being a King, and the occasion the marriage of His son, and it is impossible to avoid the impression that our Lord meant to indicate that He was the King's Son. He and John had both familiarized the people with the title Bridegroom as applied to the Messiah. But it is rather from God's side than from man's the Bridegroom is here viewed. In Christ God and man are made one. No union can be so close. And in this, the greatest event in God's reign, and the indestructible glory of humanity, God might well expect that men should rejoice with Him. Proclamation had been made, invitation given, and people remained wholly indifferent. The earnest sincerity of God in seeking our good in this matter is marked by one or two unmistakable traits.
1. By the King's willing observance of every form of courtesy. One of these is the sending of a second messenger to announce the actual readiness of the feast. And so God had not only sent the prophets, bidding the Jews expect this festival, but sent John to remind and bring them. And so He still offers His blessings in ways which leave the reluctant without apology, He considers your needs and your feelings, and what He offers is that in which He has His own chief joy, fellowship with His Son.
2. By His wrath against the murderers. You may be so little in earnest about God's invitation that you scarcely seriously consider whether it is to be accepted or not, but nothing can so occupy Him as to turn His observation from you. To save sinners from destruction is His grand purpose, and no success in other parts of His government can repay Him for failure here.
The last scene in the parable forms an appendix directed to a special section in the audience. Seeing the gates of the kingdom thrown open, and absolute, unconditioned freedom of entrance given, the ill living and godless might be led to overlook the great moral change requisite in all who enter God's presence and propose to hold intercourse with Him. The refusal of the wedding dress provided was not only studied contempt and insult, but showed alienation of spirit, disaffection, want of sympathy with the feelings of the king.
The guest must have lacked the festive spirit, and was therefore "a spot in the feast." He sits there out of harmony with the spirit of the occasion, and disloyal to His king. Therefore is His punishment swift and sudden. The eye of the king marks the intruder, and neither the outer darkness of an Eastern street, nor the pitchy blackness in which he lies unseen and helpless, can hide him from that gaze of His Lord which he feels to be imprinted on his conscience forever. In applying this parable, we may mark:
Matthew 21:1-11 - The triumph of Christ.
In His journey to Jerusalem Jesus rested at Bethany, where, stopping at the house of Simon the leper, Mary anointed His feet (cf. Matthew 26:6; John 12:2). His progress on the day following is here recorded. Observe:
I. That Jesus entered the Capital in the Royalty of Meekness.
1. He came in sacred character.
2. He came as the "Prince of Peace."
3. He came in humble state.
II. That Jesus entered the Capital for the Triumph of Destiny.
1. He came for the fulfillment of prophecy.
2. His coming was itself a prophecy.
Matthew 21:12-17 - The Lord of the temple.
"The temple of God" (Matthew 21:12) Jesus calls "My house" (Matthew 21:13), asserting Himself to be the Divine Lord of the temple. And quoting as He does from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, He identifies Himself as "Jehovah." Acting in this quality, He surveyed the characters He found in the temple and dealt with them accordingly. But the temple stands forth as a type of Christ's Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22; Hebrews 3:6), so the subject has its lessons for us. We may ask, then:
I. What sort of persons does Jesus find in His Church?
1. He finds the secularist there.
(a) By that scandalous traffic in holy things, which is so largely carried on within the borders of the professing Church, in simoniacal presentation, fraudulent exchanges, preferment obtained through flattery.
(b) By that worldly, covetous, money getting spirit which dwells in so many of its members. This spirit is demoralizing. It is also distracting to worship.
2. He finds the afflicted there.
3. He finds the true disciple there.
4. He finds the rituality and the traditionalist there.
II. What sort of treatment have they to expect from Him?
1. What has the secularist to expect?
2. What have the afflicted to expect?
3. What have the true disciples to expect?
4. What have the haughty to expect?
Matthew 21:18-22 - The omnipotence of faith.
The miracles of Jesus were generally miracles of mercy. There are a few exceptions. Conspicuous amongst these is the withering of the fig tree with a word. When the disciples marveled Jesus expounded to them His astonishing doctrine of the power of faith. We learn:
I. That Believing is Essential to Prevailing Prayer.
1. There can be no prayer without faith in a personal God.
2. There can be no prayer without faith in a Person susceptible to human appeals.
3. Faith is active in successful prayer.
II. That Believing Prayer is Infallibly Effective.
1. Because God has pledged Himself to it.
2. But how is the infallible effectiveness of believing prayer reconciled with the wisdom of God?
3. But how can efficacy in prayer comport with the uniformity of nature's processes?
III. That Prayer Fails through the influence of conditions inimical to Active Faith.
1. As when the matter of the suit is unwise.
2. As when the motive is unworthy of the suit.
3. As when the disposition of the suppliant is inconsistent with sincerity.
Matthew 21:23-32 - The authority of Jesus.
The "things" in reference to the doing of which this question of the authority of Jesus was raised by the chief priests and elders, were His purging the temple from the traffickers, His publicly teaching and working miracles of healing there. Mark, by more clearly placing the miracle of the withering of the fig tree in order before these things, brings them into closer connection with the passage before us. We may profitably consider the authority of Jesus:
I. As it is Evident in His Conduct.
1. His questioners were not ignorant of His claims.
2. His conduct vindicated His claims.
"Seest thou yon harlot, wooing all she meets;
The worn out nuisance of the public streets;
Herself from morn to night, from night to morn,
Her own abhorrence, and as much your scorn?
The gracious shower, unlimited and free,
Shall fall on her when Heaven denies it thee."
3. Note here the gospel call.
II. As it is Evident in the Testimony of John.
1. John's baptism was proved to be "from heaven."
(a) "The baptism of John" is here put for His doctrine.
(b) Jesus, by submitting to John's baptism, accepted and sanctioned His doctrine.
(c) Matthew 21:1-46
The vast multitudes who came to His baptism thereby professed faith in His teaching. Hence the general expression, "All hold John as a prophet." The defeat of Herod's army in the war with Aretas, King of Arabia, was esteemed by the Jews a judgment for the death of John (Josephus, 'Ant.,' John 18:7).
2. John's testimony therefore should be conclusive.
III. As it is Evident in the Discomfiture of His enemies.
1. They set up their authority against His.
Their question, "Who gave thee this authority?" suggests that they were offended because He not only taught without their permission, but contravened their concession to the traffickers when He drove them out.
2. He treated their presumption with contempt.
Matthew 21:33-46 - Goodness and severity: In this parable Jesus sets forth the privileges, the sins, and the impending ruin of the Jewish people. It brings before us for our admonition
I. What the Lord did for His people.
1. He became a Father to them.
2. He gave them a rich inheritance.
3. He made every provision for their benefit.
(a) By the "law of commandments contained in ordinances" He separated His people from the idolatrous nations surrounding.
(b) His providence was as a wall of fire for their defense (see Zechariah 2:5).
II. The Return He received for His Goodness.
1. The husbandmen kept from Him the fruits.
2. They maltreated His messengers.
3. They murdered the heir.
III. The Severity of His Retribution.
1. God dooms the sinner to the judgment of his sin.
2. He brings confusion upon his schemes.
3. He brings judgment upon them to destruction.
Matthew 21:3 - Ready response to Divine claims.
"Straightway He will send them." It does not at once appear whether our Lord made a claim on this animal, in a general way, for the service of God, or in a particular way, as a personal favor to Himself. He must have been well known in the neighborhood of Bethany, and it is quite conceivable that the man distinctly lent the animal to Jesus. It was not a working animal, and there was no loss of its labor, or its mother's, in this use of it by Jesus.
What stands out to view, as suggestive of helpful thoughts and useful lessons, is the ready response of this good man. Think of it as a Divine claim, and he presents an example of prompt, trustful, unquestioning obedience. Think of it as a request from the great Teacher, and then you have revealed a secret disciple, or at least one who felt the fascination of our Lord's presence.
I. Ready Response to Divine Claims as An Example.
There was no questioning or dispute; no hesitation or doubt; no anxiety, even, as to how the animals would be brought back again. There was no anxiety as to what was to be done with them; no fear as to any injury coming to them; the man did not even suggest that the colt would be of no use, for he had not been "broken in." It is beautiful and suggestive that the simple sentence, "The Lord hath need of them," sufficed to quiet and satisfy him. He could shift all the responsibility on the Lord. "He knows everything; He controls everything. What I have to do is to obey. Depend upon it, the rest will all come right." So away at once, and away cheerfully, went the animals.
That is a noble example indeed. We spoil so much of our obedience by criticizing the things we are called to do, or give, or bear. Then we hesitate, question, doubt, and do languidly at last what we do. If we know what God's will is, that should always be enough. We have nothing to do with the how or the why. Send the animals at once if you know that "the Lord hath need of them."
II. Ready Response to Divine Claims as A Revelation of Character.
We like the response of this man. We seem to know this man. His act reveals him. A simple-hearted sort of man, whose natural trustfulness has not been spoilt. An open-hearted, generous sort of man, with very little "calculation" in him. He reminds one of Nathanael, "in whom was no guile." And simple souls somehow get the best of life.
Matthew 21:5, Matthew 21:8 --Signs of meekness and sifters of joy.
"Thy King cometh unto thee, meek;" "And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way." The word "meek" is used in Scripture for "not self-assertive," "not seeking one's own." It is not to be confounded with "humility." The apostle puts "humbleness of mind" and "meekness" alongside each other in such a way that we observe the distinction between them. Moses was the "meekest of men," but certainly not the most humble. It is usual to associate our Lord's "meekness" with His riding on so lowly an animal; but this is to transfer our Western ideas of asses to Eastern lands; and it also fails to observe that in Matthew 21:5 there are two assertions, each distinct from the other. Our Lord was "meek;" and our Lord was "sitting upon an ass." If we take the word "meek" here in its usual meaning, "not self-assertive," we may find fresh suggestion in the passage. The signs of joy given in Matthew 21:8, Matthew 21:9 are characteristically Eastern.
I. The Meekness of Jesus.
This is not the thing which first arrests attention. Indeed, on this one occasion Jesus seems to be asserting Himself. Look deeper, and it will be found that He is not. He is not in any of the senses men put into that term. There, riding into Jerusalem as a King, He has no intention of setting up any such kingdom as men expect; He does not mean to use any force; you could never mistake Him for a conqueror. There is submission, there is no self-assertion.
II. The Joy of the People.
In calling Jesus the "Son of David," the people recognized Him as the long promised Messiah; and, without clear apprehensions of what His work was to be, they could rejoice in the realization of the national hope. Their joy made it clear to the Jerusalem officials that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. There could be no mistake. They must accept or reject the claim.
Matthew 21:12,13 -The fitting and the unfitting in God's house.
"My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." Selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and changing foreign money into temple shekels, was right enough in its place; but the point is, that all this was being done in the wrong place. The sense of the appropriate, of the becoming, was lost; it was covered over and bidden by the greed of the trader, and the avarice of the money changer. Trade is not wrong, if it be honest trade, and buyer and seller pass fair equivalents. Banking is not wrong in itself, though it gives great opportunities to the covetous.
Our Lord never interfered with trades’ folk or with money changers; He only taught principles that would ensure their bargaining fairly. His righteous anger was roused by the offence these traffickers gave to His sense of the fitting, of the becoming. The true consecration of a building is no mere ceremony, it is the feeling of consecration that is in all reverent souls in relation to it. The consecration should have been in these traders, it was fitting to the place where they were; if it had been in them, they would never have thought of bringing the beasts, the cages, and the tables inside the gates of the temple of Jehovah.
I. The Sense of the Fitting an Impulse to Jesus.
We might properly expect that this "sense" would be at its keenest in the case of Jesus. The honor of the Father-God was the one all-mastering purpose of His life. He could not bear any slight to be put on God, on anything belonging to God, on anything associated with His Name. He was specially jealous, with a sanctified Jewish jealousy, of the temple where God was worshipped. He felt what was fitting to it: stillness, quiet, prayer, reverent attitudes. He felt what was unfitting: noise, dirt, quarrellings over bargains, shouts of drovers, and the greed and over-reaching of covetous men. So the consecration of our worship places is really the response to our quickened, spiritual, Christly, sense of what is fitting. The one thing we ask for is the sustained sense of harmony
II. Lack of the Sense of the Fitting gave License to the Traders.
In them the spiritual was hidden. Custom had covered it. Greed had covered it. They were thinking about themselves and their getting’s, and so lost all sense of the becoming. They must learn, by a hard, humbling, and awakening lesson, that God's temple is for God.
Matthew 21:16 - The ministry of the children.
Children are always delighted with a little public excitement, and readily catch up the common enthusiasm; but we do not look to children for calm and intelligent judgments on great issues. To our Lord children always represented simple, guileless, unprejudiced souls, who put up no barriers against His teachings, or against the gracious influences which He strove to exert. These children would be lads from twelve years old upward. They caught up the words of the excited disciples, and kept up the excitement by shouting, even in the temple courts, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"
I. The Children comforted Jesus by what they did.
It was a bit of simple, honest, unrestrained enthusiasm. The young souls were carried away by the joyous excitement of the day. It comforted Jesus to hear some people speaking of Him who were unquestionably sincere; who just uttered their hearts; who were glad, and said so. For it must have been a heavy burden to our Lord that, even to the last, His disciples were so guileful; they seemed as if they could never rise above the idea that they were about to "get something good" by clinging to the Lord Jesus. "Hosanna!" from the lads who wanted nothing from Him must have been very comforting to our Lord, That is always one of the chief elements of pleasure in children's worship; it is guileless, genuine, the free unrestrained utterance of the passing mood. It is not the highest thing. That is the worship of the finally redeemed, who have won innocence through experience of sin; but it is the earth-suggestion of it. Children's praise is still the joy of Christian hearts.
II. The Children comforted Jesus by what they represented.
For to Him the children were types. "Babes and suckling" are types of simple, loving, trustful souls, and to such God's revelations come. Now, there are two kinds of trustful, humble, gentle souls.
1. Those who are trustful without ever having struggled. Some are naturally trustful, believing, receptive, and in all spheres of life they are loved and loving souls.
2. Those who are trustful as the victory out of struggle. These are the noblest ones, the true child souls, the true virgin souls; these walk the earth in white, and it is white that will never take a soil. In their praise Christ finds His supreme joy.
Matthew 21:19 - The tree type of the Hypocrite.
"Found nothing thereon, but leaves only." The attempted explanations of the condition of this fig tree bewilder us. Some say our Lord expected to find some stray figs on the tree left from the last harvest. Others say that, as He saw leaves, He naturally expected fruit, because the figs appear on the trees before the fruit. We must suppose that it was the custom to eat green figs, for it is certain that at this season of the year the fresh figs could not be ripened. What is clear is:
I. Our lord taught by symbolic actions.
There are spoken parables and acted parables; both were used in all teachings, especially in Eastern teachings; both were used by our Lord. All suggestion that our Lord was personally vexed at the failure of the tree must be carefully eliminated. With the genius of the teacher, our Lord at once saw, and seized, the opportunity for giving an impressive object lesson, which He completed by consummating at once the destruction of the tree. Explain that the tree must have been diseased, or it would have borne fruit. Its destruction was certain. The tree did not sin in being diseased or having no fruit; but the teacher may take it to represent one who sins in making outward show that has no answering goodness within it. Our Lord only took beasts or trees to illustrate Divine judgments.
II. What our Lord taught her was the certain doom of the hypocrite.
Christ never spoke so severely of any one as of the hypocrites. Insincerity was the fault most personally offensive to Him. The tree seemed to represent a hypocrite. It had leaves. There was fair outward show. It seemed to say, "Come to me if you are hungry; I can refresh you." And when Christ came He found the leaves were all it had to give. His thoughts were much occupied at this time with the Pharisees, who were making outside show of superior piety, but had no soul piety opening their hearts to give Him welcome. Perhaps our Lord meant to picture Judas Iscariot. Fair showing as any disciple, but rotten hearted. Let Pharisees learn, let Judas learn, let disciples learn, from that fig tree. It is dying; Christ hastens the corrupting process, and it dies in a day. The hypocrite is corrupting. He is under the curse of God. There is no hope in this life or the next for the man who is consciously insincere.
Matthew 21:22 - Believing, the condition of acceptable prayer.
The immediate lesson which Christ drew from the incident was not taken from the tree, that lesson He left the disciples to think out for themselves, but from their surprise at the result which followed His words. Our Lord seems always to have spoken of prayer in a large, general, and comprehensive way; and yet we may always discern some intimation of the qualifications and limitations which must always condition answer to human prayer.
It is true that "whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer ye shall receive;" but it is also true that we must meet the appointed condition, and be "believers", those who cherish the spirit of openness and trust. "It was rather the power and wonder of their Lord's act, than the deeper significance of it, that moved the disciples. Yet Jesus follows the turn their thoughts take, and teaches that prayer and faith will remove mountains of difficulty."
I. Believing as God's Condition.
God's conditions are never to be thought of as arbitrary; they are always necessities, always sweetly reasonable. The term "believing" represents that state of mind and feeling in a man which alone fits him to receive, and make the best of, God's answer to his prayer. God might give, but his gift could be no real moral blessing if there was no fitness to receive. It is the "right state of mind for receiving" that is expressed in "believing." This includes humility, dependence, reliance, and hopefulness. It is opposed to the critical spirit that questions, and the doubting spirit that fears. Even we in common life make believing a condition. We gladly do things for others when they trust us fully.
II. Believing as man's difficulty.
Self-reliance is the essence of man's sin, seeing that he really is a dependent creature. Man does not care to trust anybody; he trusts himself. Other people may lean on him; he leans on nobody. And so long as a man has this spirit, all prayer must, for him, be a formality and a sham; because prayer is the expression of dependence which he does not feel. Keeping the spirit of full trust is the supreme difficulty of the Christian man all through his Christian course. He has to be always on the watch lest he should lose the right to answer because he is failing to believe, to trust.
III. Believing as the Christly Triumph.
The man who has altogether abandoned self-trust, and given himself wholly into the hands of Christ for salvation, has won the power of trusting, and has only to keep it up.
Matthew 21:24 - Christ become a Questioner.
Those who came to Christ on this occasion were distinctly officials, representatives of the Sanhedrin, the council which claimed and exercised authority in all matters related to religion. "Before its tribunal false prophets were arraigned. It dealt with questions of doctrine, and, when occasion arose, could exercise the functions of a council." "In the New Testament we see Christ before the Sanhedrin as a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65); the Apostles Peter and John, as false prophets and seducers of the people; as having blasphemed against God; and the Apostle Paul, as subverting the Law."
This was, no doubt, a very imposing deputation. Schemes to entangle Christ in His talk had miserably failed; now the officials resolved to act straightforwardly and imposingly. They would demand to know the authority on which Jesus acted. The three elements of the Sanhedrin: chief priests, elders, and scribes; were all represented, and we seem to see the confident haughtiness of their approach.
I. Christ asserting a superior authority.
"He knew what was in man." He was not in the least alarmed. He know their guilefulness so well that He was not in the least deferential. The prophet was never submissive to the temple officials. His authority was His commission direct from God. They had been pleased to decide that no one could be permitted to teach who had not passed through a rabbinical school. Jesus knew that every man has a right to teach who is himself taught of God. He, moreover, was more than a prophet; He is, in the highest and holiest sense, the Son and Sent of God. They had no right to question Him. He would recognize no such right, and give to their questionings no answer, He would exert His authority and question them; and never was official deputation more humiliated than when these men found themselves questioned, and hopelessly entangled by the question put to them. All putting Christ to the test implies a wrong state of mind. He speaks in the name of God, and as God, and our duty is unquestioning obedience.
II. Christ discomfiting His foes by His Superior Authority.
They felt His authority, and did not for a moment attempt to dispute it. They did not think of saying, "We came to question You, and cannot allow You to question us." They were mastered by His calmness, by His manifest superiority, by the skill of His question, which put them into the most awkward and humiliating position. They retired defeated and angry.
Matthew 21:29 - Speech tested by deed.
To see the point of this parable, it is necessary to observe the connection in which it stands. Our Lord was dealing with men who proposed to entangle Him in His talk, and, out of what He said, find accusation against Him. He had turned the tables on them, by putting to them a question which they dared not answer; and now, in this parable of the two sons, He presents to them a picture of themselves, which they could not fail to recognize.
They were like the son who made great professions of obedience, but did not obey. "The parable is too plain spoken to be evaded. They cannot deny that the satisfactory son is not the one who professes great respect for His father's authority, while he does only what pleases himself, but the one who does His father's bidding, even though he has at first disowned His authority. These men were so unceremoniously dealt with by our Lord because they were false. They may not have clearly seen that they were false, but they were so".
I. Speech shown to be Worthless by Deeds. Professions are good and right; they ought to be made. But professions must not stand alone. They ought to express purpose. They ought to be followed by appropriate action. The peril of religion in every age lies in the fact that credit is to be gained and confidence won by making profession; and so the insincere man, and the man who can deceive himself, are tempted to make religious profession hide their self-seeking. And it must also be said that religious profession, and observance of mere religious rites, becomes a prevailing custom, by which men are carried away, and relieved of anxiety about making deeds match words. The Pharisee class are evidently pictured in this son. They were extremely anxious about speaking right and showing right, but they were sadly indifferent about doing right. What needs to be continually re-impressed is, that supreme importance attaches to being right and doing right; these will find natural and proper expression. If we are right, our profession will match ourselves.
II. Speech put to shame by deeds.
The son is in no way to be commended who refused obedience. It was a bad profession, and found expression for a bad mind. But when he came to a good mind, and went and obeyed, the obedience put to shame the hasty and unworthy words. No doubt our Lord referred to the publican class, who had taken their own willful and self-pleasing way, but now they had come to a better mind, and were even pressing into the kingdom.
Matthew 21:33 - The wicked husbandmen.
This parable belongs to the series in which our Lord shows up His enemies, and reveals to them at once their own shameless scheming, and His complete knowledge of their devices. But while the relation of the parable to those Pharisees should be recognized, it is necessary also to see that the man of God can never let the evils of his age alone. Those Pharisees were holding men in creed and ceremonial bondage; Christ did not attack them because of their personal enmity to Him. It was this, a liberator of human thought can never let the thought enslavers alone. In this parable we have the dealings of God with men illustrated in the dealings of God with the Jews, and pictured in the parable of the vineyard renters. Explain the first references of the parable. Vineyard, God's chosen people. Husbandmen, the ordinary leaders and teachers of the nation. Servants, the prophets or special messengers. Destruction, the final siege of Jerusalem. Others, the transfer of gospel privileges to the Gentiles.
I. The Reasonableness of God's dealings with men. Illustrate this:
1. From the vineyard figures. (Compare the more elaborate description in Isaiah 5:1-30.) Chosen ground. Planted. Nourished. Guarded. Pruned. And a wine-vat prepared in expectation of fruit. What could have been done more?
2. From the historical facts of God's dealings with Israel. God's call, redemption, provision, guidance, and prosperity. The final seeking fruit was Christ's coming.
3. From our own personal experience, as members of the spiritual Israel of God. Recall the graciousness of the Divine dealings with us.
II. The Unreasonableness of Men's dealings with God. Illustrate this:
1. From the vineyard figures. The shame, dishonesty, ingratitude, and rebellion of these husbandmen. See to what length it goes.
2. From the historical facts. The resistance, again and again, of Jewish prophets, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos. The willful casting out of the Son.
3. From our own personal experience. Take the case of one unsaved. Up to this resisted motherhood, friendship, Bible, inward call of Christ, etc. How must man's unreasonableness be divinely met?
Matthew 21:42 - The history of the Cornerstone.
Foundations are not now laid as in olden times. Foundation stones are now mere ornaments. There is no sense in which buildings now rest on them. Memorial stones are taking the place of foundation stones. Probably the figure of the "cornerstone" is taken from the corner of Mount Moriah, which had to be built up from the valley, in order to make a square area for the temple courts. Dean Plumptre says, "In the primary meaning of the psalm, the illustration seems to have been drawn from one of the stones, quarried, hewn, and marked, away from the site of the temple, which the builders, ignorant of the head architect's plans, had put on one side, as having no place in the building, but which was found afterwards to be that on which the completeness of the structure depended, that on which, as the chief cornerstone, the two walls met, and were bonded together." Take this suggestion, and consider:
I. Christ as the prepared cornerstone.
Describe the work done on the limestone block in order to fit it for its place as a foundation stone. The apostle permits us to think of the experiences of our Lord's human life as fitting Him to be the Savior He became. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, for His work as the "bringer on of souls." "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things that He suffered." The Cornerstone was being chiseled and, beveled for its place. Work out this figure.
II. Christ as the rejected cornerstone.
When our Lord spoke, the Cornerstone was almost ready; and there were the men who prided themselves on being the builders of God's temple of religion. And they were, then and there, rejecting that "tried Stone, that precious Cornerstone." They would put nothing on it. It was not to their mind. It may lie forever in the quarry for all they care. But happily they were only like overseers, or clerks of works. The Architect Himself may order this Stone to be brought, and made the "Head of the corner."
III. Christ as the honored cornerstone.
The Architect Himself did interfere, brushed those petty officials aside, had the tried Stone brought out, and on it He has had built the new temple of the ages. That temple is rising into ever richer and nobler proportions, and it was never more manifest than it is today, that the "Cornerstone is Christ."
New International Version: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
New Living Translation: As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead.
English Standard Version: Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
New American Standard Bible: When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
King James Bible: And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
Holman Christian Standard Bible: When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples,
International Standard Version: When they came near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples on ahead and
NET Bible: Now when they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
Aramaic Bible in Plain English: And then as He approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, by the side of the Mount of Olives, Yeshua sent two of His disciples,
GOD'S WORD® Translation: When they came near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples ahead of Him.
Jubilee Bible 2000: And when they drew near unto Jerusalem and were come to Bethphage unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
King James 2000 Bible: And when they drew near unto Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
American King James Version: And when they drew near to Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, to the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
American Standard Version: And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Douay-Rheims Bible: And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto mount Olivet, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Darby Bible Translation: And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
English Revised Version: And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Webster's Bible Translation: And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem, and had come to Bethphage, to the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Weymouth New Testament: When they were come near Jerusalem and had arrived at Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of the disciples on in front,
World English Bible: When they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethsphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Young's Literal Translation: And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, unto the mount of the Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary:
21:1-11 This coming of Christ was described by the prophet Zechariah, Zec 9:9. When Christ would appear in His glory, it is in His meekness, not in His majesty, in mercy to work salvation. As meekness and outward poverty were fully seen in Zion's King, and marked His triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, how wrong covetousness, ambition, and the pride of life must be in Zion's citizens! They brought the ass, but Jesus did not use it without the owner's consent. The trappings were such as came to hand. We must not think the clothes on our backs too dear to part with for the service of Christ. The chief priests and the elders afterwards joined with the multitude that abused Him upon the cross; but none of them joined the multitude that did Him honor.
Those that take Christ for their King, must lay their all under His feet. Hosanna signifies, Save now, we beseech thee! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! But of how little value is the applause of the people! The changing multitude join the cry of the day, whether it be Hosanna, or Crucify Him. Multitudes often seem to approve the gospel, but few become consistent disciples. When Jesus was come into Jerusalem all the city was moved; some perhaps were moved with joy, who waited for the Consolation of Israel; others, of the Pharisees, were moved with envy. So various are the motions in the minds of men upon the approach of Christ's kingdom.
Verses 1-11. - Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19.)
Verse 1. We have come to the last week of our Lord's earthly life, when He made His appearance in Jerusalem as Messiah, and suffered the penalty of death. If, as is believed, His crucifixion took place on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, the triumphal entry must be assigned to the ninth, which day was reckoned to commence at one sunset and to continue till the follow-lug evening. This is regarded as the first day of the Holy Week, and is called by Christians from very early times Palm Sunday (see on ver. 10). He had probably gone straight from Jericho to Bethany. and spent the Sabbath there with His friends (Matthew 26:6; John 12:1).
Bethphage. The name means House of figs, and was appropriate to a locality where such trees grew luxuriantly. The village has not been identified with certainty, though it is considered with great probability to be represented by Kefr-et-Tur, on a summit of Olivet, within the bounds of Jerusalem, i.e. two thousand cubits' distance from the city walls. Bethany is below the summit, in a nook on the western slope and somewhat further from the city. The Mount of Olives is separated from Jerusalem by the valley of the Kedron, and has three summits, the centre one being the highest; but though it is of no great elevation in itself, it stands nearly four thousand feet above the Dead Sea, from which it is distant some thirteen miles.
Then sent Jesus two disciples. Their names are not given, and it is useless to conjecture who they were, though probably Peter was one of them. Some suggest that the triumphal entry in Mark 11. is related a day too soon, and that our Lord made two entries into Jerusalem; the first a private one (Mark 11:11), and the second, public, on the morrow but there is no sufficient reason to discredit the common tradition, and St. Mark's language can be otherwise explained.
The deliberate preparation for the procession, and the intentional publicity, so contrary to Christ's usual habits, are very remarkable, and can be explained only by the fact that He was now assuming the character and claims of Messiah, and putting Himself forward in His true dignity and office as "King of the Jews." By this display He made manifest that in Him prophecy was fulfilled, and that the seeing eye and the believing heart might now find all that righteous men had long and wearily desired. This was the great opportunity which His mercy offered to Jerusalem, if only she would accept it and turn it to account. In fact, she acknowledged Him as King one day, and then rejected and crucified Him.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible:
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem,.... The Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions read, "when He drew nigh, or was near"; but not alone, His disciples were with Him, and a multitude of people also; as is evident from the following account. They might well be said to be near to Jerusalem, since it is added, and were come to Bethphage; which the Jews say (n) was within the walls of the city of Jerusalem, and was in all respects as the city itself, and was the outermost part of it (o); and that all within the outward circumference of the city of Jerusalem was called Bethphage (p): it seems to be part of it within the city, and part of it without, in the suburbs of it, which reached to Bethany, and that to the Mount of Olives. Various are the derivations and etymologies of this place: some say it signifies "the house", or "place of a fountain", from a fountain that was in it; as if it was a compound of "Beth", an house, and "pege", a fountain: others, "the house of the mouth of a valley"; as if it was made up of those three words, , because the outward boundary of it was at the foot of the Mount of Olives, at the entrance of the valley of Jehoshaphat: others say, that the ancient reading was "Bethphage, the house of slaughter"; and Jerom says (q), it was a village of the priests, and he renders it, "the house of jaw bones": here indeed they might bake the showbread, and eat the holy things, as in Jerusalem (r); but the true reading and signification of it is, "the house of figs"; so called from the fig trees which grew in the outward limits of it, near Bethany, and the Mount of Olives; hence we read of (s) , "the figs of Bethany"; which place is mentioned along with, Bethphage, both by Mark and Luke, where Christ, and those with Him, were now come: the latter says, they were come nigh to these places, for they were come to the Mount of Olives; near to which were the furthermost limits of Bethany, and Bethphage, from Jerusalem. This mount was so called from the abundance of olive trees which grew upon it, and was on the east side of Jerusalem (t); and it was distant from it a Sabbath day's journey, Acts 1:12 which was two, thousand cubits, or eight furlongs, and which made one mile: then sent Jesus two disciples; who they were is not certain, perhaps Peter and John, who were afterwards sent by Him to prepare the Passover, Luke 22:8.
As written in Scripture;1st:"Jesus Knew the exact location and where the foal would be proving His Omniscience"; Also in (Zechariah9:9)"Behold, Your/Our King is Coming to you/Us; He is Just and Having salvation. Lowly(Humble) and riding on the foal of a Donkey." This proves Christ obedience unto His Fathers Perfect Will and it teaches us that His prophesying is and was True! Every scripture written was "By Gods Divine Inspiration." No man could ever have come up with any of this! Jesus is The Truth! Jesus is The Light! Jesus is The Way that leads to Eternal Life in Purity and Holiness with Him and His Father in Perfect Holiness! God cannot tolerate sin! It will be ecstatic! Beautiful beyond belief as well. I have seen tastes through deep Prayer. God is Holy and We will be after we shed these Earthly dwellings God has placed us into. We will then be Given Glorified Bodies in which to serve with Christ for eternity!
This was spoken through the prophet so it had to be fulfilled. HE did this so the people would know he was not about glamour and fame but wanted them to know His Father.
Jesus choose a donkey to show the world He come to earth for the peole who sin and the poor. He did come with a horse - show of rich
To fulfill God's prophecy. He demonstrated humility to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth.
In order for us here on earth to receive his grace we have to humble ourselves, for by grace we are saved through faith and not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8)
I think the purpose in Jesus' humble existence to be sure that people, all people, understand that salvation, Heaven, God, His mercy, His Grace, all of His blessings, forgiveness, all of the gifts from God belong to anyone regardless of their social standing.
He wanted to enter into the city as one of their own but riding on a donkey with colt, he could be identified for those that worshiped the Lord as their Heavenly Father. They would know that all that has been preached is true and that he is indeed the Son of God.
Jesus chose to make His entry to Jerusalem in the same manner He lived humbly...fulfilling the scriptures, that a King would enter Jerusalem in a humble manner.
Jesus wants to lay a good example for His disciples. He did that when He went forward to wash the fit of His disciples.
Jesus choose to ride a donkey because He is humble and also to fulfilled the scriptures
Jesus led a very humble and poor life while on earth. If you think about the type of entrance a king would make into a city, you would probably imagine one that encompasses a great deal of pomp & circumstance. In this depiction, the greatest king to ever walk the earth choose to ride the back of a donkey, again reinforcing the fact that he practiced what he preached.
As I think about this event, his mother rode a donkey into Bethlehem 30 plus years prior. I have never thought about tying these two event together prior to this point, but I'm wondering if these two events are tied together symbolizing the life of JESUS' has come full circle.
It was to fulfill what the prophets had spoken long about Him as their King. Yes, that prophesy had to come true. It was also to show the type of His Kingship was, as opposed to what the Jews had expected; a warrior to free them from the Romans.
"He knew that His death had been decided by the rulers. He made ready for it. In a grand public demonstration that gave final notice to the Holy City, He entered amid the hallelujahs and hosannas of the expectant crowds. The people were jubilant. They thought the hour of deliverance was at hand. Jesus rode on a colt because it was foretold that Messiah would come that way (Zechariah 9:9)."
To show that He comes to earth to save the poor in spirits and one doesn't need to be rich to get to heaven just be humble.
To show his character, humbled, patient, and slow to anger.
Because it was written in the scriptures. Secondly He wanted to show to the world that He did not come as a king to rule. He came to rule in the hearts of people by forgiving their sins, by doing service to the humanity and to carry out the order of the God.
That show us that Jesus is special. He did need rich and high roles to make Him important He show He is for the poor and for every one that believe in Him..
Because He is the firstborn of everything, He chose a humble entry to Jerusalem to be the firstborn to humbleness of which we need to be.
Jesus chose to make His entry to Jerusalem riding on the donkey so as to mark the official entry of Israel's King. He showed to the people of Israel that this king is not like the king of the earth. In fact, He was very humble at heart and came to serve the people rather than be served like other Kings. Second and foremost, what the prophet said had to come true.
Jesus was doing two things: fulfilling scripture and showing that he was not the worldly military king that most of the people following him thought he was. Jesus came to serve and we should be willing to do the same!
Jesus did this entry as to fulfill the words of the prophet. Jesus himself was also very humble human being and people loved him so much that they spread their clothes on the road while other cut branches and spread it on the road.
To display the qualities of humility and modesty. To also fulfill the gospel of his entry to Jerusalem.
Jesus chose to make His entry to Jerusalem in a humble manner, riding a donkey to show that even though He is King of kings, LORD of lords yet He has no pride but just like anyone else.