Matthew 21

Matthew 21  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
THIS CHAPTER OPENS with the Lord presenting Himself to Jerusalem according to the prophecy of Zechariah. The Lord had spoken through the prophet, and now some five centuries later the ass and her colt were standing ready exactly at the right time, under the charge of someone who would immediately respond to the need of the Lord. Once more the Lord was plainly authenticated before them as their Messiah and King. He had been born of the Virgin in Bethlehem, brought out of Egypt, and had risen as the great Light in Galilee, as the prophets had said. Now, when the sixty-nine weeks of Dan. 9 were completed, as King He entered His city. Alas! the people overlooked the fact that He was to be meek, and the salvation He was to bring must be compatible with that, and not based upon victorious power. Consequently they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.
Yet for a brief moment it looked as if they might receive Him. The example of the disciples was infectious, and the multitude did Him honor, saluting Him as the Son of David, and as the One who was to come in the name of the Lord. But the reality of their faith was soon tested, for entering the city the question was raised, “Who is this?” The answer of the multitude displayed no real faith at all. They said, “This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (ch. 21:11). Quite true, of course, as far as it went; but it went no further than what was obvious even to those who had no faith. A good many prophets had entered before this, and Jerusalem had slain them.
Jesus had just presented Himself to them as King, so, having arrived in the city, He went straight to the temple, the very center of their religion, and asserted His kingly power in cleansing it. He had done this at the very beginning of His ministry, as recorded in John 2; He did it again at the end. The trafficking and money-changing in the temple had doubtless sprung out of the kindly arrangements of the law, which Deuteronomy 14:24-2624And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: 25Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: 26And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, (Deuteronomy 14:24‑26) records. Ungodly men had taken advantage of this provision to turn the temple precincts into a den of thieves. God intended His temple to be the house where men drew near to Him with their requests. Its custodians had turned it into a place where men were swindled, and so the name of God was maligned. To defile or corrupt the temple of God is a sin of tremendous gravity. 1 Cor. 3:1717If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Corinthians 3:17) shows this, in its application to God’s present temple.
Having driven out these evil men, Jesus dispensed mercy to the very people they would have kept outside. The blind and lame were forbidden to approach in Lev. 21:1818For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, (Leviticus 21:18), and 2 Sam. 5:6-86And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spake unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither. 7Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David. 8And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, that are hated of David's soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house. (2 Samuel 5:6‑8) records David’s sentence against them: he said, they “shall not come into the house” (Hos. 9:44They shall not offer wine offerings to the Lord, neither shall they be pleasing unto him: their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof shall be polluted: for their bread for their soul shall not come into the house of the Lord. (Hosea 9:4)). The great Son of David had now arrived in Zion, and He reverses David’s action. The kind of folk that were “hated of David’s soul” (2 Sam. 5:88And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, that are hated of David's soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house. (2 Samuel 5:8)) were loved and blessed that day. The sordid money-changers had misrepresented the God whose house it was, and caused men to blaspheme His name: in healing the needy, Jesus rightly represented the very heart of God, and in result there was praise. Even the children were found crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (ch. 21:9). They had caught up the cry from the older folk.
The religious leaders themselves witnessed His wonderful works of power and grace, and to their sore displeasure they heard the children’s cry. Jesus vindicated them in their simplicity, quoting the verse from Psa. 8 as finding a fulfillment in them. The Psalm says, “ordained strength,” (Psa. 8:22Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2)) whereas He gave an application of it in saying, “perfected praise;” (ch. 21:16) but in either case the thought is that God accomplishes what He desires, and receives the praise He looks for, through small and weak things. Thus it is made manifest that the strength and the praise is of and from Himself. Thus it was here. When the leaders were not only silent but opposed, God took care to have suitable praise through the lips of the babes.
For the moment however the city and temple were in the custody of these unbelieving men; so He left them and it, and went out to Bethany for the night—the place where was found at least one household that believed in Him and loved Him. Returning next morning He uttered His sentence against the fig tree that bore nothing but leaves. All outward show but no fruit; and on that tree no fruit was to grow forever. It was utterly condemned. Immediately it withered away! The occurrence was so obviously miraculous that it compelled the attention and the comment of the disciples.
The Lord’s reply turned their thoughts from the fig tree to “this mountain.” The fig tree was symbolic of Israel, more particularly that part of the nation which had returned from the captivity and were now in the land. Judged nationally there was nothing in them for God and they were condemned; and since they were picked samples of the human race the fruitless tree set forth the fact that Adam’s race, as men in the flesh, is condemned and there will never be found in them any fruit for God. Jerusalem and its temple crowned “this mountain,” which symbolized, we believe, the whole Jewish system. If they had faith they might anticipate what God was going to do in removing the mountain so that it might be submerged in the sea of the nations. The Epistle to the Hebrews shows how the Jewish system was set aside, and “this mountain” was finally cast into the sea when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70.
What is needed is faith. Hebrews emphasizes this, for in that Epistle there occurs the great chapter on faith. Israel’s system was after all but a shadow of good things to come and not the very image of the things. It needed faith to discern this and many who believed in Christ had not got clear of the shadows even when Hebrews was written. The man of faith it is who penetrates to the realities which Christ has introduced, and such may pray in the confidence of receiving what they ask.
The religious leaders felt that the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem and His wonderful actions were a challenge to their authority, so they determined to act aggressively and challenge His. By doing this they started a controversy, the record of which continues to the end of chapter 22. It produced three striking parables from the lips of the Lord, followed by three crafty questions from Pharisees and Herodians, from Sadducees, and from a lawyer, respectively; and then crowned by the Lord’s own great question which reduced all His adversaries to silence.
In demanding that He produce His authority, the chief priests assumed that they had competency to assess its value when produced. The Lord’s answer was virtually this, that if they would prove their competency by pronouncing on the far lesser question of John’s authority. He would then submit His authority to their scrutiny. This at once plunged them into difficulty. If they endorsed John’s baptism as coming from heaven, they condemned themselves for they had not believed him. If they rejected it as merely of men, they would lose popularity with the people who held him to be a prophet. That popularity was very dear to them, for “they loved the praise of men” (John 12:4343For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:43)). They would not say John’s baptism was valid, and they dared not say it was invalid, so they took the ground of ignorance, saying, “We cannot tell.” Thus they destroyed their own competency to adjudicate and lost any possible ground of protest when Jesus refused to reveal His authority. The power of God that He wielded gave Him ample authority apart from anything else. But they had refused it and attributed it to the energy of the devil, as we saw earlier in the Gospel.
The Lord now took the initiative with His parables. As we consider them we shall see that the first concerns their response as under the law; the second their response as tested by the presence of the Son upon earth; the third is prophetic and looks on to the response which would be accorded to the Gospel. The Divine order is observed-the Law, the Messiah, the Gospel.
Jesus opened the first with the words, “What think ye?” since He submitted the short parable to their judgment and allowed them to condemn themselves. The parable as to two sons in Luke 15 is somewhat lengthy, whereas here we have a parable of two sons which is very short, yet in both the same two classes are portrayed—the religious leaders on the one hand, the publicans and sinners on the other. Here however we find their responsibility under the law, whereas in Luke 15 it is their reception according to the grace of the Gospel.
In several Old Testament passages the figure of a vineyard sets forth Israel under the law; so the words, “Go work today in My vineyard,” most aptly express Jehovah’s command. These words are often quoted as though they urged Christians to serve their Lord in the Gospel, but that is not their meaning, if read in their context. The figure which would apply to us is that of labor in “the harvest” and not “the vineyard,” as we see in chapter 9:38, John 4:35-3835Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. 36And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. 37And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. 38I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor: other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors. (John 4:35‑38), and elsewhere. The great word under the law was, “This DO,” for it set men to work; but by the works of the law no flesh has been justified.
This fact may be seen in the parable, for neither of the two sons was marked by full obedience. One made fair profession in words but totally disobeyed. The other flagrantly refused at first, but then was brought to repentance, and obedience as the fruit of that. Just so the chief priests and elders were deceiving themselves by their religious profession, while publicans and harlots repented and entered the kingdom. In verse 32 The Lord definitely connects the matter with John’s ministry. He came at the close of the age of law, calling those who had failed under it to repentance. Thus the Lord Himself connected the parable with law and not the Gospel.
The parable of the householder and his vineyard follows. It is still the vineyard, we notice; and “the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel” (Isa. 5:77For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. (Isaiah 5:7)). Now we have not only their failure under the law but their ill-treatment of all the prophets by whom God had addressed their consciences, and then finally the mission of the Son, who came as the supreme test. The “husbandmen” of the parable evidently represent the responsible leaders of Israel, who now not merely repeated their failure to produce any fruit for the benefit of the “householder,” but crowned their wickedness by slaying the Son. They desired the whole inheritance for themselves. Thus the Lord summed up the indictment against Israel under these three heads: no fruit for God; ill-treatment of His servants the prophets; the rejection and murder of the Son.
Having propounded the parable He again said, in effect, “What think ye?”—submitting to their judgment what fate the husbandmen deserved. His opponents, though so acute as to things concerning their own interests, were obtuse and very blind to everything of a spiritual nature. Hence they entirely failed to discern the drift of the parable, and gave an answer which foretold the righteous doom which would come upon their own heads. They would find themselves in two words, dispossessed and destroyed.
The Lord accepted as correct the verdict they had passed upon themselves, quoting Psa. 118:22, 2322The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. 23This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22‑23), in corroboration. He was the stone which they, the builders, were rejecting. He in no way fitted into the building which they designed and they refused Him. A day is coming when He will be brought forth to be the foundation and set the lines of the building that God has in view; and this wonderful event will involve the destruction of wicked men and their false building.
In verse 43 and the beginning of verse 44 we get the present effects of His rejection. He becomes a stone of stumbling to the leaders of Israel and the mass of the nation, and in consequence they are broken as a people. This finally came to pass when Jerusalem was destroyed. God’s kingdom had been established in their midst through Moses, and now this was definitely taken from them, and it was to be given in another form to a “nation” that would produce its proper fruits. The prophets of old had denounced the sin of the people, and announced that God would raise up another nation to supplant them, as we see in such scriptures as Deut. 32:2121They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. (Deuteronomy 32:21); Isa. 55:5; 65:1; 66:85Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. (Isaiah 55:5)
1I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. (Isaiah 65:1)
8Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. (Isaiah 66:8)
. That nation will be “born at once” at the beginning of the millennial age; that is, they will be born again, and so have the nature that delights in the will of God, and enables them to bring forth fruit. We Christians anticipate this, as we see in 1 Peter 2:99But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: (1 Peter 2:9). Redeemed and born again, we have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, and so are enabled as “an holy nation” to show forth the virtues of the One who has called us. This surely is bringing forth fruit which gratifies Him.
The latter part of verse 44 refers to what will happen to the unbelieving at the beginning of the millennium. The Lord’s words look like a reference to Dan. 2:34, 3534Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34‑35), and set forth the pulverizing effect of the Second Advent upon men, whether Jew or Gentile. So the teaching of these two verses comprises the national breaking of Israel as a consequence of their rejection of Christ, the substitution for them of a new “nation”, and the final destruction of all adversaries when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire.
Having heard these things it dawned upon the darkened minds of the chief priests and Pharisees that He was speaking of them, and that unwittingly they had been condemning themselves. What a shock it must have given them! In their defeat they thought of murder, and were only restrained for the moment by fear of popular opinion. In verse 26 we saw fear of the people putting its restraint upon their tongues. In verse 46 it lays a restraining hand upon their actions.
The copyright for this material is assigned to Scripture Truth Publications. Used by permission.