This chapter is very important (see table of events during Passion Week, at the end). The Messiah enters Jerusalem triumphantly; the crowds shout that he’s the son of David; Jesus cleanses the temple. He heals the lame and the blind; the children call him the son of David. In an action parable he curses a fig tree. The establishment fights back by questioning his authority. He tells two parables: Parable of the Two Sons and the Parable of the Tenants.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Enters Jerusalem Triumphantly (Matt. 21:1-11)
1 And when they neared Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a tied donkey with her colt. When you untie it, lead them to me. 3 And if someone says something, you will say that Lord has need of them, and immediately he will send them.” 4 This was done in order that the word of the prophet would be fulfilled, saying:
5 Say to daughter Zion!
Look! Your king is coming to you,
Meek and mounted on a donkey
And upon a colt, the foal of a pack animal. [Zech. 9:9]
6 When the disciples went and did just as Jesus ordered them, 7 they led the donkey and colt and placed garments on them, and he sat on them. 8 The very large crowd spread their own garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds went ahead of him and followed him, crying out, saying,
“Hosanna to the son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”
10 As he entered Jerusalem, the entire city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee!”
This is the first of four signs that the Messiah entered the holy city: (1) Triumphal entry; (2) Cleansing of the temple; (3) healing the blind and lame; (4) Destruction of a fruitless tree. They are about his rightful place as King and Messiah over Jerusalem and the temple, but the authorities over those longstanding institutions will soon reject him (see France pp. 770-96, though I modify his idea, who calls them three action parables and omits my third point).
The whole episode refers to Zechariah’s prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9, ESV)
See my post on Messianic prophecies:
That link has a table of quoted prophecies. Jesus not only fulfills quoted prophecies, but also the patterns and types and theology of the Old Testament.
Bethphage (“house of figs”) was a suburb of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem came in sight at this village. You can google a Bible map, nowadays, so go for it. From the east, the Roman road was seventeen miles (23.3 km) and climbs about 3000 feet (914.4m). Pilgrims often came from there for Passover.
“two disciples”: we don’t know who they were. Neither Luke19:28 nor Mark 11:1 name them. Luke 22:8 says that Jesus commissioned Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal, so maybe Jesus asked them to carry out this mission. We don’t know that, either.
Mount of Olives: a ridge that goes north to south about 1.8 miles long (3 km), east of Jerusalem, above the valley of Kidron, about 100 feet (30 m) high. A large number of olive trees grew on it.
Let’s discuss what a disciple is.
The noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
The owner of the donkey and colt probably heard of Jesus and gladly permitted the use of his livestock. Often rulers would impress or conscript of commandeer animals from the locals. The rightful king must undermine the example of other kings who rode on large steeds to indicate status.
Jesus referred to himself as “Lord.” He was claiming authority for himself that normal or average people don’t claim. He was self-aware of his special divine status. He has repeatedly been called Lord: (8:2, 6, 8, 25; 9:28; 14:28, 30; 15:22, 25, 27; 17:4, 15).
Again Matthew likes to speak in “twos” (4:18, 21; 8:28; 9:27; 20:30). Mark and Luke simply omit these details because they say one animal. Yes, the authors of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were inspired by the Spirit and gave themselves permission to omit or keep whichever details suited their purposes.
So how did Jesus know about these two animals? We already saw that he knew about the coin in the mouth of a fish (Matt. 17:24-27). How did Jesus know these bits of information? One could answer the question in two ways: (1) The first is by natural methods. Maybe he sent a team ahead to scout around for such a colt. But then how did Jesus know that no one sat on the colt?
What’s my opinion? (2) As it happens, the dominant image throughout the four Gospels is that Jesus worked these visible miracles and gifts of knowledge by the Spirit’s anointing. But I am surely open to the conclusion that his divine nature shone through his humanity, as well. Jesus stayed in close contact with his Father. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (14:9-10). Jesus “can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
It is remarkable that we too, by the anointing of the Spirit, can receive such detailed information about our lives and even about the lives of others, when this knowledge is redemptive.
Is this the gift of the word of knowledge? See my post about the word of knowledge.
However, I don’t want to push this interpretation too far. He might have known about the colt and its mother by natural means: he already knew the owner.
You can decide.
Turner has a simple table about Matthew citing Zechariah (p. 495):
Matt. 21:4-9 …… Zech. 9:9
Matt. 21:12-13 … Zech. 14:21
Matt. 26:15-16 … Zech. 11:12
Matt. 26:26-29 … Zech. 9:11
Matt. 26:30-35 … Zech. 13:7
Matt. 27:3-10 …. Zech. 11:12-13
Matt. 27: 51-53 … Zech. 14:4-5
Jesus is fulfilling biblical prophecy, and Matthew sees this and records it.
Once again: Messianic Prophecies
I nicknamed Matthew the Trimmer, except in instances like these. Matthew mentions the two animals to literally fulfill the prophecy in Zech. 9:9. The colt would need its mother to keep it calm in a shouting crowd. Mark says that no one had ever ridden on the colt (11:2). Matthew knew from first-hand knowledge of the event of two animals, and he says that Jesus rode on the colt. Its mother was with the young animal.
Matthew may have in mind this royal prophecy about Judah all the way back in Genesis:
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;]
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes. (Gen. 49:10-11, ESV)
Riding a donkey signified that his entry was one of peace, not coercion. Further, he was Jerusalem’s rightful king and Messiah, which is indicated by this action parable. In Israel’s history, two (or more) donkeys were the mounts of kings; in addition to Gen. 49:10-11, also see 2 Sam. 15:30; 16:1-2; 17:23; 19:26. Matthew clarified the two mounts to refer to the kingship of Jesus, as the son of David.
They draped the garments on both animals, though Jesus sat on one—the colt. “Sat on them” refers to the garments. “The image of garments placed on both donkeys with Jesus sitting on them (hardly on both at the same time but on the colt [Mark 11:7] with the donkey accompanying) is royal imagery alluding to Solomon’s riding a mule to his coronation at Gibon in 1 Kgs 1:33, 38, 44. Since pilgrims were expected to walk into Jerusalem, this is a powerful image indeed” (Osborne, comment on 21:7).
The crowd shouted Hosanna, which means literally means “help!” or “Save, I pray!” (Olmstead). It comes from Ps. 118, part of the Hallel psalms (Pss. 113-118) sung during this season. The crowds connected these psalms to Passover.
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Ps. 118:25-26, ESV)
Originally, the people celebrated the psalmist entering the Lord’s temple. He is blessed when he comes in the name of the Lord. Now this verse is applied to and fulfilled in the Messiah.
Son of David was a popular Messianic title; it reflects the future age when the eyes of the blind would be opened and the ears of the deaf would be unstopped and the lame would leap like a deer (Is. 35:5:5-6). Jesus was ushering it in right now, in part. Later in his ministry he will correct the popular view and say that if the Messiah really was David’s son, then why does David call him Lord (Matt. 22:41-46)?
See my post on this title:
Jesus will repeat these words in 23:39, when he laments over Jerusalem. This repeating of the verse probably refers to his coming in judgment over Jerusalem (see vv. 10-11).
The crowd of his followers, following him from Galilee in the north during the pilgrimage, celebrated his arrival, while the crowd in Jerusalem may have heard of him by reputation. The whole city was “shaken” or “stirred up.” Why? To the people of Jerusalem, the Galileans seemed to be foreigners. Jesus was from the north as far as the Jerusalemites were concerned (but see vv. 10-11, next). Jerusalem had a population of 30,000 in normal days but increased to 180,000 during Passover. Osborne refers to yet another commentator who says the numbers could swell to one million (comment on 21:8, note 11). People were camping all over the city, along the roads and in the fields, lodging wherever they could (France p. 771).
During this season Messianic fervor ran high, and the crowds had been healed or knew of those who had been healed. His healing ministry also stirred up the crowd, and he will continue it in v. 14—all tied to his Messianic office. However, the people could not see that he was the Suffering Servant, not the conquering Military Messiah, even though he rode in on a foal or colt.
Matthew’s readers knew that Jesus was also born in Bethlehem, but the crowds did not know this. Saying he was from Nazareth surely surprised people because they may not have expected a “prophet” arising from that region. Always be sure of the point of view of the characters in the Bible. Often they get things wrong or have incomplete knowledge. The crowds referred to him as a prophet, but he is more than a prophet. He is the Messiah who will soon ascend and be enthroned just as Dan. 7:13-14 predicted.
GrowApp for Matt. 21:1-11
A.. How have you personally welcomed the Messiah, the Lord, into your life? Did you surrender to his Lordship gladly, reluctantly, desperately, or what?
B.. Do you publicly praise the Lord, as the crowds did during his triumphal entry?
Jesus Clears Out an Area of the Temple (Matt. 21:12-13)
12 Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all the sellers and buyers in the temple and overturned the tables of moneychangers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them: “It is written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer [Is. 56:7], but you have make it a hideout of robbers!’” [Jer. 7:11]
This is the second of four signs that the Messiah is in town, the holy city: (1) Triumphal entry; (2) cleansing of the temple; (3) healing the blind and lame; (4) destruction of a fruitless tree. They are about his rightful place as King and Messiah over Jerusalem and the temple, which will reject him in about a week.
The temple was the largest structure in the Roman world: 1590 ft. (484.6m) on the western side; 1035 ft. (315.4m) on the north; 1536 ft. (468m) on the east; 912 ft. (278m) on the south = 35 football fields and one-sixth of Jerusalem (Osborne, comment on 21:11). Jesus did not clear out the entire temple, but a small area of it. It was an action parable that fulfilled Scripture (see the comments at the end of vv. 12-13.
Deut. 14:24-26 says that if the distance to a designated holy place is too far for the Israelite to travel because of the animals or grain are burdensome, he is allowed to exchange the animal or grain for money near his home. Then he can carry the money to the designated holy place and there buy the grain or animal, to sacrifice and eat. In Jerusalem it is a sure thing that the money tables were set up to accommodate this lawful practice. Money changers converted the Greek and Roman currency into temple currency; the half-shekel temple tax had to be paid (Matt. 17:24-27).
However, apparently Jesus examined and inspected the temple business and found it lacking. Maybe dishonesty was the rule of the day. Maybe interest was charged, or maybe the price of the animal or grain was exorbitant. Maybe the business was conducted too closely to the temple precinct, which was the most likely occurrence; it provoked his righteous anger. Whatever the specifics, Jesus did not like what he saw. “Doves were by far the most frequently purchased items, as they were the sacrifice of the poor (Lev. 12:8; 14:21-22; cf. Luke 2:22-34), and there is rabbinic evidence that exorbitant prices were often charged (m. Ker. 1:7; m. Pesach. 57a)” (Osborne, comment on 21:12).
His expelling the money-changers and sellers and buyers from the temple took some physical strength. He was no weakling. John 2:13-17 says he made of whip of cords.
Jer. 7:11 says that the temple was a den, cave, grotto, or cavern of thieves. Here Jesus says the same thing, using the same noun. One more tidbit of information that Jesus knew his Bible.
Jesus was making a revolutionary statement. Something better than the temple was here (Matt. 12:6). He had the right to cleanse the temple. In John 2:17, Jesus calls the temple “my Father’s house.” The guardians of the temple—the chief priests—no doubt heard about this protest action and were about to inquire further into this man who accepted praise from children and healed the blind and the lame in the temple area.
“If rabbinic reports are accurate, this practice, originally restricted to the Mount of Olives, had been moved to the temple shortly before Jesus’ arrival, undoubtedly drawing considerable opposition … The practice would have helped the buyers, reducing the risk of an animal’s becoming blemished in transit between the Mount of Olives and the temple, an expensive risk for most people; the the problem was paying money in the temple” (Keener, p. 497).
Jesus had several messages going on. First, this was personal. The Jerusalem religious establishment was misusing his Father house. Next, they allowed too much commercialism near the temple, for profit. No doubt the moneychangers took a cut, if only secretly. Did the religious leaders secretly take money from the cut? Finally, the issue was theological. It was a small act of judgment on the temple which was about to be judged more fully by God (Matt. 24:15; Luke 21:20-22). Action parable. Action protest.
GrowApp for Matt. 21:12-13
A.. Study 1 Cor. 15:33. Have you ever had to take firm action to rid yourself of bad company that corrupts? What did you do?
Jesus Heals Blind and Lame and Answers Critics (Matt. 21:14-17)
14 Then the blind and the lame came up to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. 15 When the chief priests and teachers of the law saw the wonders which he did and the children crying out in the temple and saying: “Hosanna to the son of David!” they became indignant 16 and said to him: “Do you hear what they are saying?” But Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read that ‘out of the mouths of babies and nursing infants you have prepared for yourself praise’?” [Ps. 8:3]. 17 And leaving them, he went outside the city into Bethany and spent the night there.
This is the third of four signs that the Messiah has come in town, the holy city: (1) Triumphal entry; (2) cleansing of the temple; (3) healing the blind and lame; (4) destruction of a fruitless tree. They are about his rightful place as King and Messiah over Jerusalem and the temple, which are about to reject him.
This pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section reveals that Jesus performs the signs of the Messiah, and the children recognize him, while the religious authorities do not.
“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, although Jewish teachers did not require such people to make the journey to the temple … and at least some traditions excluded them from the temple … This exclusion presumably related to purity laws prohibiting the entrance of those with physical abnormalities. Even under Levitical regulations, member of the priestly families could not enter the sanctuary as priests if they were blind or lame (Lev. 21:17-18); that some carried such rules further by the time of Jesus is likely” (Keener, p. 502).
See my commentary on Lev. 21:
“healed”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.” This is the last mention of Jesus’s healing ministry in Matthew’s Gospel. And he did it in the temple site. Carson says it probably happened in the Court of the Gentiles, where the lame and blind and other disabled were allowed to go, but not in the temple proper. Jesus healed them (and cleansed the temple), and by doing so he demonstrated to everyone that something greater than the temple is here (Matt. 12:6).
Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) value healing, and some have a healing ministry. Healing the blind is another level. It happens, but not as often as one would hope. The lame? Healing evangelists have photos and film clips of piles of crutches and wheel chairs. No, this is not fake. Just because the reader may not believe in healing and just because some healing evangelists have pulled some tricky stunts does not mean God has ceased doing this wonderful benefit to humanity.
As noted the signs of the Messiah and the son of David is the deaf hearing, the blind seeing and the lame leaping. As I noted at Matt. 11:5:
One sign of the Messianic Age was the healing of diseases and broken bodies. Is. 35 describes this age. After God comes with a vengeance to rescue his people, these things will happen:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6).
Is. 26:19 says of the Messianic Age: “But your dead will live, LORD, their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout with joy” (Is. 26:19, NIV).
The phrase “in that day” refers to the age that the Messiah ushers in: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll and out of gloom and darkness the eyes will see” (Is. 29:18, NIV).
The Lord’s Chosen Servant will do many things. Here are some: “I am the LORD: I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for my people, a light for the nations, to open they eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Is. 42:6-7, ESV). Is. 42:18 connects hearing and seeing with walking in God’s ways, and deafness and blindness with national judgment. As for leprosy, Jesus referred to the time when Elijah the prophet healed Namaan the Syrian of his skin disease, and the return of Elijah was a sign that the Messiah was here (Mal. 4:5-6; Luke 9:28-36).
The list of miracles is people-centered. Jesus did not perform miracles in the sky. He was interested in helping people. The list is scattered in Isaiah: 35:5-6; 26:19; 29:18-19; 61:1. Healing points to the Messianic Age, ushered in by the Messiah himself. Jesus was not going to reform Judaism, like the Reformers intended to reform Christianity, though they did (partly). No, Jesus was going higher and farther. He was ushering a New Age, but this New Age was going to take time and expand gradually. It was going to be as small as the mustard seed at first but grow big enough for birds to light in its branches (Matt. 13:31). He was no Messiah riding on a white horse with a sword in his hand, shouting “I defeat the Romans with the sword of God!” as he stormed Jerusalem with a large army behind him. He intended, instead, to restore people’s minds and bodies and deliver them from evil spirits and teach them what life in the kingdom looked like.
“teachers of the law”: Some translations say “scribes.”
You can learn more about them at this link:
Both groups were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
These two groups objected to the title “son of David” (see v. 9) and the adulation of the children. When Jesus accepted their praise, he also proved his Messiahship. Healing and accepting praise once again shows us that he believed in his divine nature.
We have some irony here. Irony means that you think you know something, but in reality you don’t. All of Job and his comforters thought they knew the ways of God, but when God showed up and gave a long sermon, all of the humans discovered that they did not know what they had been talking about. The religious leaders were supposed to know more than children, but the children correctly praised the rightful Messiah and called him by his rightful title. Also, v. 14 says that Jesus healed the blind and the lame, the sign of the Messiah. How many of the blind and lame did the chief priests and teachers of the law heal? None. They had religion down pat. But what about really reaching out to people as Jesus the Messiah did?
Therefore, they were the victims of their own ignorance which they mistakenly interpreted as “knowledge.” These “ignorant” children knew better than they did. Irony.
See my post on praise:
If the children could recognize and praise Jesus, then these religious leaders should recognize and praise him, too (Keener, p. 593), the argument from the lesser (children) to the greater (leaders).
Bethany: it’s about 1.5 miles (3 km) east of Jerusalem. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived there (Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1). Simon the leper also lived there (Matt. 26:6). Jesus had to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and take a breather from ministry. It’s a good idea to spend some time alone or with close friends after a hard day of work. Things are about to get really intense, and he needed to withdraw.
GrowApp for Matt. 21:14-17
A.. Talk about praise in your life. The crowds said he was a prophet, which is true but not the whole truth. He was more than a prophet. Is your praise built on who God really is, or do you have a shortsighted view of him?
Jesus Speaks against a Fruitless Fig Tree (Matt. 21:18-22)
18 Early in the morning, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and was hungry. 19 And he saw a single fig tree along the road and came up to it and found nothing except leaves alone. And he said to it: “Never again may fruit be produced from you.” And instantly the fig tree withered. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither immediately?” 21 In reply, Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: if you have faith and do not doubt, you shall do not only what was done to this fig tree, but if you even say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be thrown into the sea,’ it shall happen. 22 And everything which you asked for in prayer, having faith, you shall receive.
This is the fourth of four signs that the Messiah arrived in town, the holy city: (1) Triumphal entry; (2) cleansing of the temple; (3) healing the blind and lame; (4) destruction of a fruitless tree. They are about his rightful place as King and Messiah over Jerusalem and the temple, which will soon reject him.
Matthew makes use of a special wording: one fig tree or a single fig tree. It was not being cared for properly.
First, let’s deal with a misunderstanding and cultural snobbery by twenty-first centuries Americans on people of two thousand years ago.
These two verses trouble modern American city-dwellers. “What did the fig tree do wrong?” We don’t live in an agricultural society. Let me illustrate. Cattle farmers load up their livestock and take them to slaughterhouses. Do you work in one? No? Do you like hamburgers? Yes? Okay, where does the beef come from?
Now here’s a story that happened in my own life. I was sitting in the large dining room of the mother of prosperous dairy farmer, who lived in her own house on the property, on Monday morning (the usual get-together time), and the various farmers were chatting about the animals. The dairy farmer owned a horse that was unproductive and getting old. They decided to shoot it and have it hauled off to the glue factory. They even decided that the best thing was to put the rifle barrel right on its forehead and pull the trigger. The dairy farmer, gruff and tough, said to me, “Come on!” He wanted me to join them in the shooting. I recoiled and objected: “Oh, come on! It’s not hurting anybody! Let it live!” I could easily imagine the horse coming up to the men and expecting a treat or a little affection on the forehead. I was a grad student then, and I spent my days in a cocoon, on campus. They walked out the door with a determined look on their faces, ignoring me. They didn’t blink or show the tiniest bit of hesitation or remorse. This is business. They were used to death on the farm. To this day, I don’t know whether they actually shot the poor thing. I didn’t ask. Maybe we are not so different from how agricultural people were two thousand years ago, after all!
I now seem to recall that he let it live a little while longer, so maybe he did have a little remorse, as he walked out there, but I can’t be sure.
When trees are unproductive, they have to be removed. That’s the way of an agricultural society. In the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9), the owner inspected a barren fig tree for three years, planted in the middle of his vineyard (an odd place for it to be) and ordered the worker to chop it down. “Why should it use up good ground?” It’s a waste of time. The worker pleaded with the owner to give it one more year, so he can work with it. If it’s unproductive after that, then he’ll chop it down. Business for grownups.
Further, sacrifices of animals happened every day at the temple. God endorsed it in the Torah (Lev. 1-7). At least the slaughter of the animals served a religious purpose, while our animal slaughter for food serves no religious purpose whatsoever. We eat them to expand our bellies. Do I have to mention that Jesus sent demons into thousands of pigs which threw themselves in the Lake of Galilee (Matt. 8:28-34)? It is better that he do this to a tree and pigs than to us!
Therefore, we should not look down our long, twenty-first-century noses at those living two thousand years ago as if our urban or suburban society is better than theirs in every way. That’s cultural and chronological snobbery. If you think about it, we Americans (and Westerners) really are spoiled in many ways, unused to the daily unpleasantness of agriculture and blissfully carefree about the source of hamburgers. There is no moral problem, therefore, with Jesus cursing the fig tree any more than there is a moral problem with slaughtering animals for us today or sacrificing them at the temple for the ancient people, back then, a system once ordained of God.
Mark’s Gospel says it was not the season for figs (11:13). He arranges the fig tree episode in two parts: the actual cursing; the cleansing of the temple coming in between; and finishes the fig tree episode afterwards (11:20-25). Clearly there is a symbolic message going on here. The temple which had green leaves—the outer appearance of promise—was not bearing fruit. With such full leafage—Matthew’s Greek makes much of it—the tree should have had at least some figs on it, even if unripe. Its green leaves were false advertising. To speak unusually for a moment: the tree was “confused” and had “issues.” Something was wrong with the tree, just as something was wrong with the temple. Matthew condenses the episode but still places the temple cleansing before the fig tree pericope; therefore, the symbolism adds up to the same message. Most scholars interpret the fig tree, therefore, as a type of Israel, cursed for not bearing fruit (cf. Is. 5:1-7, where Israel is compared to a vineyard; and Jer. 24:1-8, where figs are unripe or rotten). More specifically, here are some passages that Jesus, inspired by the Spirit and guided by the Father, was reenacting (all from the ESV):
… as leaves fall from the vine,
like leaves falling from the fig tree. (Is. 34:4)
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
there are no grapes on the vine,
nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
and what I gave them has passed away from them. (Jer. 8:13)
A short line:
And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, (Hos. 2:12)
It has laid waste my vine
and splintered my fig tree;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches are made white. (Joel 1:7)
All those passages, above, speak of God’s judgment. The fruitless vines and fig trees are withered at his judgment. Clearly Jesus is using the same imagery here.
However, many Jews converted after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7 [large number of priests]; 21:20), so the above analysis is not about them, but about the ones who rejected their Messiah. So the cursing of the tree is an action parable designed to say the temple is coming to an end, which happened in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked the city and destroyed the temple. Ever notice how there are no more animal sacrifices going on there now? Judaism was devastated and forever changed.
Those posts have photos I took of the Arch of Titus, which holds some carvings of the tools and objects from the Jerusalem temple.
As noted, Mathew condenses the episode of the fig tree, compared to Mark’s version. Cursing the fig tree is the third symbolic act (the other two: rising the colt and clearing a part of the temple). As for condensing this episode, remember my nickname for Matthew: the Trimmer. This may upset beginning readers of the Bible. Can Matthew really omit data and still be inspired and infallible? Yes. We must stop the foolishness of a brittle position on Scripture. “If there are disagreements or differences, then the brittle Bible breaks into pieces, and so does my brittle faith! I quit!” No. Don’t allow sneering postmodern skeptics to get under your skin (I no longer do). The three Gospel writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, inspired by the Spirit to write infallible texts, were permitted by their own purposes to arrange material. The main purpose of this parable was accomplished: the action parable of judgment on Jerusalem and the temple and the lesson about personal faith, which is next. The fig tree flouted the natural order, just as Israel flouted the moral order and religious law and internal righteousness. Israel’s moral misalignment is symbolized by the tree.
Here is Blomberg’s explanation of the difference between Matthew and Mark on the timing of the fig tree withering: “Yet Mark 11:13 notes that it was not yet the season for figs, so Jesus’ subsequent curse must stem from something other than the tree’s failure to perform in keeping with its appearance. Apparently the tree did not wither while the disciples were still watching but did within the next twenty-four hours (Mark 11:20). By horticultural standards, this still qualifies as ‘immediately’” (comment on 21:18-19).
I add: in the synoptic Gospels, the various words for “immediately” can be very fluid, depending on the context. Here in 21:19, 20 the Greek adverb parachrēma (pronounced pah-rah-khray-mah) is used and means “pertaining to a point in time that is immediately subsequent to an action” (BDAG). But even the sequence or elapse of time has a context, and Blomberg is right: in horticultural terms, the next day qualifies. But if a skeptic reads this explanation and rejects it, then Matthew was still communicating his main point; he simply condensed and focused the time for his narrative purpose.
Once again, don’t let your faith be brittle so that it snaps in two because of such minutiae in light of the bigger story of God. The main meaning is that Jesus’s action parable of speaking against the fig tree is that the temple and its caretakers (chief priests) were unproductive; God was about to move on.
My view of Scripture. It’s very high:
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines:
Celebrate those similarities and don’t focus on the differences.
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective:
A difference ≠ a contradiction
The postmodern critics of the NT read the ancient documents in bad faith, assuming that the authors were deceivers and plagiarists. If the critics find differences, they triumph. They are wrong; they read these two-thousand-year-old documents with the subtlety and finesse of a jackhammer. I urge everyone not to listen seriously to them.
Jesus is likely preaching in the Court of the Gentiles, where most teaching occured.
Matthew goes with another lesson about the destruction of the fig tree. The disciples must have faith. Now Jesus gets personal.
This verse is very rich with truth, so it is right that Jesus would begin it with this clause, next.
“I tell you the truth”: “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). Used thirteen times in Mark, it expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus. That is, in Paul’s epistles, for example, he never says, “I truly say to you.” That phrasing had too much authority, which only Jesus had. The clause only appears on the lips of Jesus in the NT. The word appears in a Jewish culture and means “let it be so.” So Jesus speaks it out with special, divine emphasis. “Let this happen!” “Let what I’m about to say happen!” We better take it seriously and not just walk by it or read over it with a casual air.
Now let’s look at the noun faith. It is pistis (pronounced piss-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
F-A-I-T-H = Forsaking All, I Trust Him.
It means total trust and belief and confidence that God is good; he has the best plan for your life; and he will guide you to minister to needy people.
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
Next, it is important to see that vv. 21-22, so broad in scope, is actually about prayer—not “decreeing and declaring.”
Jesus says to speak out the order or command. Here the verb “speak” is the standard one.
The verbs “be removed” and “be thrown” are in the passive commands. Often passives like these in a context like this are called the “divine passive.” That is, God is the one who acts behind the scenes. Just because God is not mentioned does not mean he is not behind those two verbs. We pray and God works it out and “removes” the mountain and “throws” it into the sea.
Commanding the mountain is a visual image of a spiritual truth—it’s a metaphor. “‘Moving mountains’ was a Jewish metaphor for accomplishing difficult or virtually impossible” (Keener, p. 505). Jesus is speaking metaphorically and hyperbolically. Hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee) means a deliberate and “extravagant exaggeration” (Webster’s Dictionary) to make a strong point and startle the listener. Modern example: “The ice cream seller is really generous! He piled the ice cream on my cone a mile-high!” No, a “mile high” (1.6 km) is not to be taken literally. Followers of Jesus must learn to read the Bible on its own terms, without their wearing monochrome glasses, in which every word appears the same literal color in different contexts. Yes, most of it can be taken literally, like the histories or the commands of the Torah and Epistles. But in significant sections of Scripture, the Bible is not a “flat,” one-dimensional book, on one simplistic level. It is multi-layered. And this clause about the mountain is a case in point. This verse is not to be interpreted literally and simplistically.
Objection: you’re saying the fig tree did not wither; it was merely symbolic. No, I’m not saying that. It did wither, but it was an action parable. Jesus had a higher purpose than seeing a tree dry up from the roots, just for fun. What I do mean, however, is this. Don’t stand in front of a literal mountain and command it to “be removed” and “be thrown” into the sea. You can surely, however, command an obstacle in your personal walk with God—like a disease—to be removed and be thrown into the sea (so to speak). Remember that those verbs are in the divine passive. God is their subject. God causes “the mountain” to “be arisen” and “be thrown.”
Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics) love verses like vv. 21-22 because they love to confess out loud and speak out and pray out loud. This is solid teaching. Personally, my prayer life is done with an open voice, when I take my prayer walks.
Lord, give me even a small amount of faith.
“having faith”: most translations say “if you have faith” because grammarians say the participle is conditional: if. True enough because v. 21 says so. But I translated it literally, realizing that the condition is built into the context.
As I wrote at Matt. 17:20, let’s never forget that faith rests on the will of God. We Renewalists must be very careful about commanding God or things in nature to happen because we want them to. Even Jesus said he does what he sees the Father doing: Jesus “can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19). Word-of-Faith teachers say they read the Word and understand what the will of God is, so they can command things. Part of that is true because of what Jesus just said in v. 22, but mainly certain extra-super-confident excessive Word-of-Faith teachers misinterpret Scriptures which seem to indicate they can boss God around, like humans calling things into existence. (They base this on Rom. 4:17, but the verse clearly says God is the one who calls things into existence.) Faith-filled and Spirit-filled Christians must get a personal word from God. They must abide in Christ and his words abide in him so that they can hear from God about each individual and unique case. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). They must pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). They must not launch out on their own and believe that God shall and must heal everyone, and if he didn’t, then they must not have had enough faith or spoken the right confession out loud. Somehow it’s their fault. No.
In my own life, I have heard from God that a sickness in a relative was “not a sickness unto death.” She has been cancer free for a long time (over a decade and a half if I recall). I also received a personal word that another relative was going to be taken home, so I should not pray for his healing (he died a few days later). No amount of commanding and pleading and rebuking and decreeing would have altered the outcome. And to be honest, I have seemingly heard from God about yet a third relative and believed God would heal him, but he died. I was going through a time of deception in my life, but even in this case I relented and realized in his last hours that he would not be healed. I had been deceived, but I didn’t give up on healing because of this disappointment (even after another relative lectured me about how wrong I was). It’s in the Word. I never give up on the clear teaching of Scripture. People need to follow what Jesus said in this passage and actively do faith, not pull back or go inside their shells like a turtle and give up. Disappointments happen down here on earth. It’s the human condition.
Yes, healing is in the atonement, but not everyone will be healed in their current bodies when God says that the ultimate healing is for them to be taken from the broken-down earth-suits and brought into his presence, where there is no more disease or brokenness—the ultimate healing, also won for us in the atonement.
Pray for healing fearlessly and with active faith!
Once again, more directly relevant to these verses is this post about decreeing:
We have to be careful about believing that our words create or cause things to come into existence. Yes, speak to already-existing obstacles, but to create something out of nothing is God’s jurisdiction, not yours.
“So here believing once again means a total dependence on God and union with his will and purposes. It is not a formula for getting what we want but a God-centeredness for wanting what he wants” (Osborne, comment on 21:22).
Some teach that when we pray, we do not change things because God has already ordained them. I don’t agree with this interpretation. I believe that when we pray, God intervenes and stops the way of nature. For example, if nature says that you have cancer, then you can pray and God may heal you. We pray that God’s presence invades a warped or malfunctioning condition, and he changes it. The more we pray, the more God’s presence by his Spirit intervenes (HT: Osborne, p. 772).
GrowApp for Matt. 21:18-22
A.. How does your faith grow?
B.. Has God ever answered a prayer that was impossible for you?
Jesus’s Authority Is Questioned (Matt. 21:23-27)
23 And after he went into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, saying: “By what authority do you do these things?” And who gave you this authority? 24 But in reply, Jesus said to them, “I will also ask one matter, which if you tell me, I also will tell by what authority I do these things. 25 What was the source of the baptism of John? From heaven or from people?” They began to reason among themselves, saying, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 And if we say, ‘from people,’ we’re afraid of the crowd, for everyone regards John as a prophet.” 27 And so in reply, they said to Jesus, “We don’t know.” He also said to them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
The temple and Jerusalem establishment fight back. They recognized that he accepted the title son of David, from the crowds.
Jesus is now in Jerusalem, and he taught in the temple precincts. He both taught kingdom truths, no doubt the same ones that he had been teaching out in the provinces in the preceding chapters. He was speaking before a new audience, so some repetition was needed. He is also about to teach truths relevant to the Jerusalem audience.
“teaching”: It is the verb didaskō (pronounced dee-dahs-koh, and our word didactic is related to it). The verb means to instruct or tell or teach (BDAG), sometimes in a formal setting like a classroom or another confined setting, like the temple, and other times in a casual setting. Here he was in a formal setting, the temple. He spoke with authority, unlike the teachers of the law and Pharisees (Luke 4:32; Matt. 7:28-29). This is what the Spirit does through a surrendered heart and mind. He combined a teaching and healing ministry. His insight into Scripture was profound. This is what the Spirit does through a surrendered heart and mind. Some Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) of the fiery variety don’t teach, but evangelize and shriek and freak and dance and prance, after they read one verse or two, and put on a show. How much time do they put in to study the Word? Jesus had a full ministry: teaching, healing, miracles, and deliverances.
You can learn more about these two groups at this link:
So here he is in the temple, and this high-level group of men were listening to him. Religious leaders seemed to follow him around, just so they could challenge him, not humble themselves and believe what he taught, though Nicodemus, a Pharisee, seems to be an exception (John 3:1-15) because he eventually followed Jesus or at least defended and cared for him (John 9:51-52; 19:39).
They posed questions to Jesus. On which foundation does he stand? Where does he get his authority? He was not one of them. They thought he was a nonconformist, a trouble-making revolutionary.
Jesus answered their questions with a question. This is a good debating technique. His question was a parallel one. He asked them to tell him about John. Where did this prophet get his authority to baptize? Who backed up his baptism? He too was a nonconformist. He was not one of them. These religious leaders believed they got their authority from the law of Moses. What about Jesus? What about John? It is possible to get one’s authority from God and not the religious establishment, in this case, the Jerusalem establishment. However, it is important that nonconformist leaders today must be a part of a fellowship somewhere. No independent operators, please.
“authority”: it is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.”
The difference between authority and power is parallel to a policeman’s badge and his gun. The badge symbolizes his right to exercise his power through his gun, if necessary. The gun backs up his authority with power. But the distinction should not be pressed too hard, because exousia can also mean “power.” In any case, God through Jesus can distribute authority to his followers (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:19; John 1:12). Jesus will give us authority even over the nations, if we overcome trials and persecution (Rev. 2:26). And he is about to distribute his power in Acts 2.
Never forget that you have his authority and power to live a victorious life over your personal flaws and sins and Satan. They no longer have power and authority over you; you have power and authority over them.
Their reasoning shows them working out their options. If they were to say John’s baptism came from heaven or God backed it up, then he would naturally ask why they did not trust in it and God. If they were to say it came from people, then this belief would take away his calling of prophet, and the people would rise up in his defense and pick up stones to attack. This reaction shows how volatile the atmosphere was in Jerusalem. In a little while, many people would turn against Jesus.
These two verses wrap up this pericope (pronounced peh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture. These high-level leaders fibbed. They truly believed John did not come from God, but they withheld their answer because they were cowards. Jesus exposed them for who they were. They did not stand up and proclaim what they believed regardless of the consequences. They too valued popularity.
And of course Jesus left them hanging and withheld his answer. In effect, he told them that their whole question and skepticism was built on the motive to trap him.
He is the true Lord and leader, not them. He doesn’t need to submit to their questions—he does not have to submit to them. All of Israel belonged to him, whether they recognized it or not, and soon all Gentiles would belong to him, once they entered his kingdom. He was the Lord. He knew who he was.
The temple and Jerusalem authorities fight back.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive religious leaders.
Additionally, some people believe that Jesus was a weak milquetoast who let religious leaders and others stomp on him, as he shrank back and became a doormat, so they could wipe their feet on him. Not true. He always answered back. This was an honor and shame society. They intended to shame him and win honor for themselves before the people. He would not allow this. He shamed them into silence. His ministry was a battleground. He did not surrender his place on it.
Further, he was about to die for his convictions, unlike them. They were unwilling to die for theirs. In effect his refusal to answer told them, “Don’t waste my time. I don’t recognize you as my authority, so I don’t have to fall for your trap and explain myself to you. I get my authority from God, not you!”
GrowApp for Matt. 21:23-27
A.. Have you ever had your faith challenged by friends or family? How did you respond?
Parable of the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28-32)
28 What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came up to the first one and said, “Go today, child, and work in the vineyard. 29 In reply, he said, “I am unwilling.” But later he changed his mind and went. 30 Coming up to the other one, he said the same thing. In reply, he said, “I will, sir,” and he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of the father? They said, “The first one.” Jesus said to them: “I tell you the truth: the tax collectors and prostitutes are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God. 32 For John came to you in the pathway of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. But when you saw this, you did not repent later in order to believe in him.
Jesus had challenged the temple system by the four signs of the Messiah, outlined above, and now he challenges the temple establishment with this parable and the next one.
The first son = tax collectors and prostitutes who refused at first, but then changed their minds and repented.
The second son = the Jerusalem establishment, who said they would work, but disobeyed and did nothing.
This parable links to the previous dialogue between Jesus and the two groups of religious leaders. He is still talking to them.
It is amazing that Jesus could tell the parable “on the fly” or ex tempore or spontaneously. Have you ever tried to tell a story, just like that, out of the blue? It’s very difficult. I see Jesus as very intelligent–a genius–just on a human level.
This short parable is clear enough. The tax collectors and prostitutes heard John the Baptist’s preaching and at first said no, but then repented or changed their minds. The religious leaders say a loud yes, but then don’t do what God wants, which will be revealed in more detail in the Great Denunciation (Matt. 23). In this parable, the religious leaders should have repented as John told them to.
“changed his mind”: It comes from the Greek verb metamelomai (pronounced meh-tah-mehl-oh-my and is used only six times in the NT). BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the verb thus: (1) “to have regrets about something, in the sense that one wished it could be undone, be very sorry, regret”; (2) “to change one’s mind about something, without focus on regret, change one’s mind, have second thoughts.” It is yet another verb for repentance. The second definition works best here, though the phrase “his mind” does not appear in Greek, but I include it because it is built into the definition.
“I tell you the truth”: see v. 21 for more comments.
Tax collectors: You can learn more about them at this link:
Regardless of these historical details, the main point is that tax collectors were considered bad in the eyes of the people.
“prostitutes”: the old Law of Moses had ambiguous commands about prostitutes. Lev. 21:9 says the daughter of a priest who turned herself into a prostitute shall be burned with fire, because she shamed her priestly father. And v. 7 says that a priest shall not marry a prostitute. It does not say that she shall be put to death for being one, even though she was unconnected to priests. And Deut. 23:17 says that no one shall bring the fee of a prostitute into the house of the Lord. It does not say she shall be hunted down and executed for adultery. It is almost as if the prostitute was tolerated or recognized as part of ancient Israelite society, and apparently here too. Jesus assumed they existed and wanted them to repent.
“kingdom”: Let’s look more broadly into the kingdom. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
GrowApp for Matt. 21:28-32
A.. Time for a soul checkup. How is your will and obedience? Do you say “yes!” but not do what he says? Or do you say “no!” and change your mind and then do it?
B.. In other words, are you a little stubborn and a little deceptive or compliant and softhearted? What would instant obedience to the Lord look like in your life?
Parable of the Vineyard and Wicked Tenants (Matt. 21:33-46)
33 “Listen to another parable! A man who was a landowner planted a vineyard and put up a wall around it and dug in it a winepress and built a tower and leased it to tenants and departed. 34 When the season of harvest came near, he sent his servants to the tenants to receive his produce. 35 And the tenants seized them, beating one, killing one, and stoning one. 36 Again he sent other servants more than the first, and they did the same thing to them. 37 Finally he sent to them his own son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 When the tenants saw the son, they said among themselves, “He’s the heir; come, let’s kill him and let’s have his inheritance.’ 39 And when they seized him, they threw him outside of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the landlord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? 41 They said to him, ‘He’ll totally destroy those wicked men and lease out the vineyard to the tenants who will return to him the produce in its season.’
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures?
The stone which the builders rejected,
That one became the head of the corner;
This is from the Lord
And it is marvelous in our eyes. [Ps. 118:22-23]
43 For this reason, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation that will produce its harvest. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; the one on whom it falls–it will crush him.”
45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they comprehended that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded him to be a prophet.
Landowner = God
Vineyard = Israel or more specifically, Jerusalem and temple
Tenant farmers = Leaders in the temple and Jerusalem
The situation is found in various documents about large, absentee landowners who lease their land to struggling tenant farmer in Israel and surrounding nations.
Servants (or slaves) = prophets and other messengers throughout Israel’s history
Son = Son of God or Jesus
Rejected stone = head of the corner = Jesus the Messiah
Nation that produces fruit = converted Jews and converted Gentiles
Now let’s dig more deeply into the details.
Jesus continues his dominance of the chief priests and teachers of the law and anyone else like them on the scene. Before he didn’t submit to their investigation of his authority. That’s like a three-year-old asking a grandfather where he got his authority. Maybe the grandfather would also laugh it off. Now, however, Jesus takes off his gloves and “goes to town” or becomes aggressive with these leaders who claimed Moses as their authority. But he was speaking to the people within earshot of his teaching. A vineyard sometimes refers to Israel in the Old Testament (Ps. 80:8-13; Is. 5:1-2; 27:2-3; Jer. 2:21; Hos. 10:1).
Here’s a sample passage with the same phrases and words appearing in this parable and these verses in Isaiah:
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. …
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel (Is. 5:1-2, 7, NIV)
“departed”: The owner (God) going away for a long time means that after the revelation on Mt. Sinai, where God appeared and spoke to Moses face to face throughout their sojourn across the desert, God did not give such clear and authoritative revelations—Moses was unique. Rather, he sent prophet after prophet to the people of Israel. Those are the series of servants in the parable.
“farmers”: this is the standard word for this occupation, but in context it could be translated more narrowly as “vine-growers.” I translated it as “tenant farmers. They represent the religious leaders.
Literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable. Here you must see yourself in the parable.
And here comes the first servant. The word servant here is doulos (pronounced doo-loss) and could be translated as slave, but I chose servant because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
It is a sure thing, however, that Matthew’s Greek-speaking audience, knowledgeable about Greek culture, would have heard “slave” in the word doulos. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
The owner reasonably requested a share in the crop of the vineyard. It is not likely that he asked for a huge pile of grapes, but their fair-market value in coins, particularly when he was gone. But the farmers beat the messenger and sent him away. Criminal behavior, but the owner (God) is willing to be merciful to them hoping they would repent.
Then God sent three servant-prophets, but the tenant farmers did awful things to them.
Then God in his mercy sent more servant-prophets to collect what rightly belonged to him. Israel belonged to God, and the farmers or tenants who got the lease had no right—legal or moral—to mistreat his lawfully commissioned servants. For centuries God sent prophets to Israel, and they were largely ignored and scorned and sometimes killed.
This passage from Jeremiah explains:
25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors. (Jer. 7:25-27, NIV)
Then the owner was so merciful that he sent the most authoritative man in his household—his Son.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb. 1:1-2, NIV)
Then the tenant farmers conspired and hatched a plan. If they kill the lead figure, then they will be able to ignore God and take the vineyard for themselves. The inheritance will be theirs, by default. And that is what they did. Of course their wickedness clouded their minds and made them stupid. The inheritance did not come to them. Just the opposite.
“No law would have granted the vineyard to tenants who had murdered the son; though it may have fallen to them had the landowner been deceased, had no other heirs claimed it, and had they been innocent, the deaths would surely have been investigated … As if asking for a legal ruling, Jesus questions the religious leaders what this patient landowner will finally do to the murderers” (Keener, p. 514).
An old pastor, now deceased, used to say, “Sin makes you stupid.” It’s been true in my life, and it looks like it was true in these fictional characters’ lives.
These verses speak of God’s judgment on the Jerusalem religious establishment. How did God exact judgment on them? Recall that Jesus already had predicted Jerusalem’s destruction (Matt. 24:2). In addition, Luke 21:5-9 and 20-24 say that armies will surround Jerusalem and destroy it. And sure enough Roman armies began their sack of the city in A.D. 66 and finally conquered it in A.D. 70. Judaism as it was then practiced was over, finished. No more animal sacrifices in the temple, to cite only one example. The Jerusalem establishment was also done away with.
Jesus spoke Aramaic. Blomberg: “There is also a wordplay between “stone” (Aram. eben) in v. 37 and “son” (Aram. bēn here) comment on on 21:42)
He quoted from Ps. 118:22. Jesus was rejected by the builders (the temple establishment), but it became the cornerstone. What humankind rejects, God accepts. When people throw something away, God picks it up and turns it into the necessary item. This is redemption.
But this cornerstone is active. It not only can trip people and break them into pieces, but it can fall on them and crush them. This is serious business.
And no, Jesus did not need redemption from sin, but this redemption is vindication. People rejected him, yet God vindicated him at the resurrection and ascension.
Who is the “nation” to whom the vineyard owner would give the vineyard? These are the converted Jews and converted Gentiles. The gospel was about to go to them, and the vineyard would expand around the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47). Judaism, expressed in the temple worship, sits under judgment (Matt. 21:33-45; Luke 19:41-45; 21:20-24; 23:26-31, though numerous individual priests (Acts 6:7) and thousands of Jews of Jerusalem and Judea converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20). God loves people, but he is not enamored with systems.
This verse in Ephesians explains:
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (Eph. 2:15, NIV)
“kingdom”: see v. 31 for more comments.
Turner insists that the “nation,” understood by Matthew’s original Jewish group, would be Jewish Christians who obey the ultimate Torah teacher and who keep the covenant (bearing fruit) and will replace the Jerusalem religious establishment as the leaders of Israel. (p. 518). But this is too narrow. The “nation” includes both converted Jews and converted Gentiles, forming a new nation of God’s people who follow the New Covenant.
The same chief priests and the Pharisees, who taught the law—and no doubt the elders and teachers of the law were there too, who had challenged him—knew exactly what he meant. The tenant farmers, who had custody of the vineyard (Israel), acted unjustly and criminally against the servant-prophets. After judging the Jerusalem establishment, God was about to expand the vineyard so far outwardly that it would go around the globe, and the Gentiles would take custody of it.
But expanding the vineyard is not really the main point. Rather, the main point is that the leaders would be replaced with “others” and the church will become the new temple (1 Cor. 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). Peter got the vision that Gentile would be and could be saved, and Cornelius and his household were the first Gentile converts to the new Jesus Movement (Acts 10). They and millions like them are the “nation.”
So some could interpret the “vineyard” as the kingdom manifested at first in Israel and later in the entire church.
“kingdom”: see vv. 28-32 for more comments.
See v. 23 for their Watchdog function
“chief priests”: see v. 15 for more comments.
To sum up this parable, Matt. 13 says that parables were intended to conceal the message of the kingdom, but here the religious leaders caught on quickly, thus provoking the plot to kill Jesus and fulfilling the parable (!) (HT: Osborne, p. 792).
GrowApp for Matt. 21:33-48
A.. Jesus was rejected, but God honored him and raised him up. He was vindicated with his resurrection and ascension. How has God vindicated you when you were rejected? By salvation and a church family, for example?
Summary and Conclusion
Let’s look at a table that lays out the events of Passion Week:
|Friday||Arrival in Bethany (Jn 12:1)|
|Saturday||Mary’s anointing of Jesus (Jn 12:2-8; Mt 26:6-13 // Mk 14:3-9)|
|Sunday||Triumphal Entry (Mt 21:1-11 // Mk 11:1-10 // Lk 19:28-38); surveying temple (Mk 11:11), return to Bethany (Mt 21:17 // Mk 11:11)|
|Monday||Clearing temple (Mt 21:12-17 // Mk 11:15-19 // Lk 19:45-48); cursing fig tree (Mt 21:18-22; // Mk 11:12-14); miracles and challenge temple (Mt 21:14-16); return to Bethany (Mk 11:19)|
|Tuesday||Disciples’ question about fig tree (Mk 11:20-21); debates with leaders of temple (Mt 21:23-22:46 // Mk 11:27-12:40 // Lk 20:1-44); Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25; Mk 13; Lk 21:1-36); return to Bethany, but Lk 21:37 says he lodged on Mount of Olives|
|Wednesday||Little recorded in Gospel—Jesus and disciples apparently remain in Bethany; Judas arranges for Jesus’ betrayal (Mt. 26:14-16 // Mk 14:10-11 // Lk 22:3-6); I say he could be teaching in the temple or praying privately|
|Thursday||Preparation for Passover (Mt 26:17-19 // Mk 14:12-16 // Lk 22:7-13); after sundown, Passover meal and Last Supper (Mt 26:20-35 // Mk 14:17-25 // Lk 22:14, 21-23, 15-20); Farewell Discourse (Jn 13-17); Gethsemane (Mt 26:30-46 // Mk 13:32-42 // Lk 22:40-46)|
|Friday||After midnight, betrayal and arrest (Mt 26:47-56 // Mk 14:43-52 // Lk 22:47-53);
Jewish trials—Annas (Jn 18:13-14); Caiaphas and partial Sanhedrin (Mt 26:52-75 // Mk 14:53-72 // Lk 22:54-71); full Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1-2);
Roman trials—Pilate (Mt 27:2-14 // Mk 15:2-5 // Lk 23:2-5); Herod Antipas (Lk 23:6-12); Pilate (Mt 27:15-26 // Mk 15:6-15 // Lk 23:17-27);
Mocker by soldiers (Mt 27:27-31 // Mk 15:16-20);
Road to Golgotha (Mt 27:32 // Mk 15:21 // Lk 23:26-32);
Crucifixion 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. / 15:00h (Mt 27:27-56 // Mk 15:22-41 // Lk 23:33-49);
Burial (Mt 27:57-61 // Mk 15:42-47 // Lk 23:5-56)
|Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2010), who got it from Michael J. Wilkens, Matthew: NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2004). I modified it.|
This chapter is extremely important because Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly. He launches a series of Messianic signs or action parables.
First, he rode on a colt of a mother donkey, just as Zech. 9:9 prophesied. This is an action parable. The people responded, calling him the son of David. When the city was stirred up, the crowds asked who he was. Others in the crowds, probably his followers from Galilee and others who heard about his ministry beyond the Jordan River, in Judea, said this was the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
Second, he cleansed the temple. This was another sign or action parable that someone or something better than the temple was here (Matt. 12:6). It was actually his temple because it was his Father’s house, but of course the temple establishment didn’t see it that way.
Third, he healed the lame and blind, which is what the Messiah was supposed to do. Is healing an action parable? Maybe in this context, in Jerusalem. But we should also say that he heals to help humanity.
Fourth, Jesus cursed a leafy, fruitless fig tree in a visual display of how the Jerusalem and temple establishment showed a lot of greenery but bore no fruit. Modern Americans living in comfortable towns don’t like the idea of Jesus doing this, but he didn’t mind. He lived in an agrarian society. Animals and plants were killed all the time.
Then the temple establishment fought back and questioned his authority. In effect, he told them not to waste his time. Did they believe that John’s authority came from God or people? They could not answer. Jesus told him that he would not answer their question, either.
Jesus now initiates a series of parables: two parables in this chapter and one in the next. They slam the establishment.
In this chapter, two sons were told to work in their father’s vineyard. One said no, and then changed his mind and went to work. The other said yes but did not follow through and obey. Tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom before the establishment does because they resisted at first and then gladly welcomed the Messiah.
The next parable is even more hard hitting. A landowner leased out his vineyard to some tenant farmers and departed on a journey. During the harvest, he sent his slaves or servants to get the owner’s share of the harvest. The tenants mistreated them, even killing two. He sent more, and they did the same thing. Then finally he sent his son, and they killed him outside of the vineyard, hinting that Jesus was about to die outside of Jerusalem. In a finish that reminds me of Nathan’s confrontation of David, in which the prophet also told a parable and asked David what should be done to the rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb (David said the rich man should die and pay fourfold; 1 Sam. 12), the religious leaders also replied to Jesus’s question that the landowner should return and wipe out the tenant farmers. Jesus said, in effect: “Exactly!” And now the kingdom of God shall be taken from them and given to people producing fruit. Meaning: converted Jews and converted Gentiles. God was about to forge a new people or new nation, made up of anyone who decided to follow the Messiah.
More fireworks in Matt. 22 and 23. In Matt. 23, he will deliver a long series of woes on the religious establishment. In Matt. 24 he will prophesy that the temple was going to be destroyed.
I’ll stop here. But we can now see where this is heading.
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. They are excellent, but their commentaries may be too technical for the laity. I trust that my commentary clarifies matters. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).