Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Matthew/Chapter 21
|Matthew 21:1-46 (New International Version)|
|The Triumphal Entry
The Fig Tree Withers
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
The Parable of the Two Sons
The Parable of the Tenants
- 1 Matthew 21
- 2 MATTHEW 21 PARAPHRASE
- 3 Outline of Matthew 21
- 4 MATTHEW PARALLEL
- 5 DATE
- 6 WORD STUDY
- 7 Matthew 21 Verse by Verse Analysis
- 8 Works Cited
The twenty-first chapter of the book of Matthew begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem. Looking back a couple of chapters we see that Jesus had not only taken part in the transfiguration, but had also been doing lots of teaching. One gets the sense when reading that Jesus knew his time was coming to an end and after the confirmation moment of the transformation had pushed to teach all he could to his disciples. We see this even in chapter twenty where Jesus predicts his death that will come as he enters into Jerusalem.
It is in this context that Jesus goes to Jerusalem. The first picture we see is of the triumphal entry where Jesus is adored by the crowd and hailed as the messiah. This seems to be a high moment in the final few days of Jesus life. The text says that Jesus created a stir, maybe a better way to say it would be that this “prophet” from Nazareth created a buzz among the people as the “Son of David” entered into the city of David. There must have been some nationalistic pride, and even more a sense of hope that maybe this prophet from the line of David was finally here to kick out the Romans.
The rest of the chapter seems to be a mixture of both confrontation and teaching. When looking at the text it would seem that the disciples must have been walking on egg shells. There rabbi had torn up the temple and driven out the market, while seemingly taken on the religious leaders. When thinking about what he had said coming to Jerusalem they had to be worried. It is in this context that Jesus does not back down, but continues to confront and teach, and push back against the business as usual type of faith being taught in the temple courts.
MATTHEW 21 PARAPHRASE
A KING'S WELCOME
1 On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples stopped at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. When they arrived Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead. 2 He said to them, “Go to the village ahead on the way toward Jerusalem. Upon entering the city you will find a donkey and her colt there. Untie them both and bring them to me. 3 If some ask you what you are doing, just tell them the Lord needs them now, and they will let you take them.” 4 This took place so that the prophecy was fulfilled which said, 5 “Tell the people of Israel, 'Take a look: your king is coming. He is humble and you will see him riding on a donkey, even the colt of a donkey.'” 6 The two disciples went on ahead and followed Jesus' instructions. 7 The disciples brought the animals to Jesus and placed some of their clothes on them for Jesus to ride on. 8 As Jesus rode a large crowd gathered. In an act of royalty arriving many of them laid their coats and clothes on the ground. Still others cut down branches and spread them across the road. 9 The entire gathering celebrated by shouting, “Hosanna to David’s son! Blessed is this man who is coming in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!” 10 Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem created quite a scene that had the city buzzing. The excitement had people wanting to know just who this man was. 11 Those in the crowd who knew responded by telling them that this was the prophet from Nazareth, Jesus.
A SCENE IN THE TEMPLE
12 Jesus went into the temple. Upon seeing what was going on there he drove out all who had turned the temple into a place of business. Sparing no one Jesus turned over the tables and chairs of merchants and lenders alike. 13 Jesus said to them, “ The scripture says that my house, the temple, is to be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a hangout for thieves. 14 Now there were those who were blind and lame who came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. 15 When the religious leaders of the temple saw the miracles and heard the children running and shouting , “Hosanna to the son of David!” they became angry 16 and confronted Jesus and asked if he was hearing the things the children were shouting in the temple. Jesus responded by acknowledging that he had and went on to say, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?’” 17 After this Jesus left and went back to Bethany where he stayed the night.
THE FIG TREE
18 In the morning, while He was on His way back to Jerusalem, Jesus was feeling hungry. 19 He came to a fig tree, but as he looked closer he saw that the tree had no figs on it. Jesus cursed the tree commanding that it would never again bear any figs, and immediattly the tree withered and died. 20 Shocked, the disciples asked, What just happened? 21Jesus responded to them by saying, “If you have faith, the kind of faith that does not doubt then too can do thing like this. You can say say to a mountain ‘Go dive into the water,’ and have faith that its gonna happen. 22 If you truly have faith, then you can trust that what you prayer for will happen.
JESUS AUTHORITY QUESTIONED
23 Jesus again went to the temple and began to teach there. The chief priest and other religious leaders came to him and asked, “Where do you get the authority to do what your doing, Who gave it too you?” 24 “I got a question for you”, Jesus said, “If you can answer me then I will answer you. 25 You remember John and his baptism. Who gave him authority? Did he get it from men or maybe another place, maybe heaven?” Sensing the trap the chief priests and leaders debated their answer. They said, “If we say, ‘He got it from heaven,’ then he is going to ask why we didn’t believe. 26 However if we answer , ‘From men then we are going to upset the people because they loved John and believed he was a prophet.” 27 Finally they said to Jesus, “We don’t know.” Responding Jesus said to them, “If you can not answer my question then I will not answer yours.”
STORY OF THE TWO SONS
28 “Tell me what you think of this story. There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first son and told him to spend the day working in his vineyard. 29 The son initially said no, but later in the day changed his mind and worked in the vineyard. 30 The father then went to his other son and told him to do the same thing. The son responded by saying, ‘Yes’ but never never made it to the vineyard to work. 31 Which of two brothers did what their father had asked?” They answered, “The first”. Jesus said to them, “You need to hear the truth. There will be tax collectors and prostitutes who enter into the Kingdom of God before you do. 32 John came to show you how to live rightly, and yet you turned your heads and didn’t believe, and yet there were tax collectors and prostitutes who did. And even more you saw their belief and still refused to change and believe yourselves.”
THE STORY OF THE HIRED HANDS
33 “Here is another story. There was a wealthy man who decided to plant a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress, and even built a lookout tower. After renting out the vineyard this man went on off on a trip. 34 Around harvest time he sent some servants to collect his money. 35 The people he had rented the vineyard too took his servants and beat one, killed another and then stoned a third. 36 Later the owner sent even more servants to get his money, and the same thing happened to this group. There were attacked and killed. 37 Finally the owner sent his son to those who were renting from him figuring they would not lay a finger on his son. 38 When they saw that it was the son they decided to kill him and take his inheritance. 39 So they did just that, killing the owners son. 40 Now when the owner gets back from his trip, what do you think his response is going to be to these men who killed his servants and son?” 41 They said to Jesus, “He will get his revenge and kill them, and then rent out the vineyard to someone who will pay him what they owe at the proper times.” 42 Then Jesus asked them, “Haven’t you read what the Scriptures say: The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lords work and it is wonderful to see. 43 Because of this the good news of the kingdom will not be yours but will be for a people that will live out the good news of the kingdom. 44 Whoever stumbles on the stone will be broken apart into little pieces, and whoever the stone falls on will be crushed.” 45 The religious leaders knew that Jesus was aiming these stories at them. 46 They wanted to have him arrested right then, but were afraid of the crowds because they knew the crowds believed this Jesus was a prophet.
Outline of Matthew 21
The Triumphal Entry – Vs. 1-11
- - Preparations For Entering – vs. 1-6
- - Entering Jerusalem – vs. 7-11
Jesus at the Temple – Vs. 12-17
- - Cleansing the Temple – vs. 12-13
- - Jesus Healing in the Temple – vs. 14
- - Confrontation with the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law – vs. 15-16
- - Jesus leaves for Bethany – vs. 17
The Fig Tree Withers – Vs. 18-22
- - Jesus Heading Back to the City – vs. 18
- - Jesus and the Fig Tree – vs. 19-20
- - Jesus Teaching on Faith – vs. 21-22
The Authority of Jesus Questioned – 23-27
- - Chief Priests and Elders Question Jesus About Authority – vs. 23
- - Jesus Questions Chief Priest and Elders About Authority – vs. 24-27
Parable of the Two Sons – 28-32
- - Jesus Tells Story of Obedient Son and Disobedient Son – vs. 28-29
- - Jesus Teaches About the Way of Righteousness – vs. 31-32
The Parable of the Tenants – 33-46
- - Jesus Tells Parable of Wicked Tenants – vs. 33-41
- - Chief Priests and Pharisees Respond By Looking to Arrest Jesus – vs. 45-46
- Matthew leaves out any mention of Bethany that is in both Mark and Luke.
- Mark and Luke write of Jesus sending for only one animal while Matthew has Jesus sending for a Donkey and the colt of the Donkey.
- Matthew makes no mention of the Donkey never being ridden before?
- Matthew quotes from Isaiah 62 and Zechariah 9 which are not found in the other Gospels.
- Matthew puts the cleansing of the temple as Jesus first act after entering Jerusalem while Mark has that event taking place the next day placed in between the fig tree.
- Matthew leaves out “and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” which is found in Mark.
- Matthew is the only Gospel that tells that the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple.
- In Matthew, when Jesus curses the fig tree it immediately withers, while Mark splits the story up with Jesus in the temple and does not show the withered fig tree until later.
- Matthew does not tell that the fig tree had leaves as found in Mark.
- In Matthew the disciples respond to the fig tree withering with a question while in Mark Peter responds in amazement.
- In Matthew the religious leaders verbalize their fear of the crowd if they reject John while Mark only has them thinking it.
- The parable of the two sons is unique to Matthew.
- In the parable of the tenants Mark tells the land owner sent servants three times while Matthew only tells of the owner sending servants twice.
- Matthew tells that the tenants took the son outside of the vineyard before killing him while Mark writes that they killed the son before throwing him out of the vineyard.
- Who is the “they” referring too in verse 1?
- What was the village ahead of them in verse 2?
- Did Jesus have a pre-arranged deal to get the Donkey or was it divinely inspired?
- Why does Matthew not include the fact that the donkey had never been ridden before?
- Which Prophet is quoted in verse 5 of Matthew?
- What is the significance of cloaks being placed on the donkey, and the branches being cut down?
- In the mind of the crowds what was happening as Jesus entered into Jerusalem?
- Would Jesus have been well known in Jerusalem?
- How large would the crowds have been in Jerusalem for the Passover?
- What are the crowds meaning when they say “hosanna in the highest”?
- Which part of the temple did the cleansing take part in?
- Why did Jesus cleanse the temple, was it because of the buying and selling?
- Why was Jesus allowed in the temple again after what he had done the day earlier?
- What does Jesus mean when referring to John’s baptism?
- Where is Jesus quoting from in verse 13?
- Were children allowed in the temple?
- How far was Bethany from Jerusalem?
- What is a fig tree?
- Why didn’t Jesus answer the questions of the chief priests in verse 24?
- What is the significance of the vineyard?
- What do each of the things built in the vineyard represent?
- Where did the Pharisees come from in verse 45?
Given that Matthew used Mark as a source the date of Matthew must come after that of Mark which is thought to be A.D. 70. It would also be fair to suggest, based on various texts in the Gospel i.e. 21:41, 22:7, 27:25) that this Gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple which took place in A.D. 70 (Harrington 8). Based on the fact that those texts allude the destruction, yet combined with the reality that the Gospel does not deal in detail with the destruction of the temple most commentaries suggest a date somewhere between A.D. 80 and 100 (Keck 106).
We do not know the author of the Gospel of Matthew. The original text did not claim an author and nowhere do we find in this Gospel a claim of being an eyewitness. When looking at the Gospel as a whole we do find information on that tells us about the author. First we know that he must have been Jewish in background given that he knew much of what went on traditionally in the synagogue, and the fulfillment of Scripture. We also see that he draws upon certain Jewish themes such as the kingdom of heaven, the Son of Man, the Son of David, and the Son of God. He also does not go into explaining certain Jewish customs and traditions which lead commentators to believe that he was writing for a more Jewish audience (Harrington 8-9).
The Gospel of Matthew was written to a community of Jewish Christians not only as an affirmation to who Jesus Christ was, but as a way looking forward in response to the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and thus the blow to Judaism. Given what we read in Matthew we see that while very much Jewish they seem to be at odds with the religious establishment that is Judaism. So what we see in this Gospel is a way forward for the Christian community showing that this way forward cannot be done apart from their Jewish traditions and heritage. One of the ways we see this most clearly is through Matthew’s identification of who Christ was with such common Jewish titles as the “Messiah”, “Son of God” or “Son of David”. The Gospel is saying that in Jesus Christ these Jewish titles are finally and fully fulfilled. (Harrington, 17-18)Thus it is important to affirm that the study of early Christianity cannot be done apart from Judaism, the early church would have still understood their faith in this way.
Definition: save, we pray, used as a cry of acclamation and adoration
Occurrence: Appears 6 times in the New Testament
Usage: a cry for help to God, to God on behalf of the king. This cry came to be fixed in Jewish liturgical usage, was among the Hallel Psalms recited at the pilgrimage festivals of Passover and Tabernacles by the pilgrims as they entered the temple area. (Logos)
Definition: 1 to praise, celebrate with praises. 2 to invoke blessings. 3 to consecrate a thing with solemn prayers.
Occurrence: Found in about 43 places in the New Testament (Logos)
Definition: one who holds or possesses real estate or sometimes personal property (as a security) by any kind of right, one who has the occupation or temporary possession of lands or tenements of another specif : one who rents or leases (as a house) from a landlord
Occurrence: Appears 19 times in the New Testament (Logos)
Definition: a planting of grapevines
Occurrence: Appears 23 times in the New Testament
Usage: The economy of Israel was chiefly agricultural. The ground (dust) was cleared of thorns and thistles, irrigated (pit; to give drink; water), and then plowed (plough; till) for the sowing of grain (barley; corn; ear; husks; chaff), which, when harvested (barn; basket; garner; sickle) and threshed (threshing-floor), was ground (grind; mill; millstone) into flour for making bread (crumb; leaven), the staple diet in biblical times. Plants were also a major source of food and materials (flax; reeds). Fruit trees (fig; fig tree; olives from which olive oil was made; sycamore; sycamine) and especially grapes (cluster; drink; vineyard; vinedresser; wine; winepress) were widely cultivated. (Logos)
Definition: denotes “ability to perform an action” to the extent that there are no hindrances in the way, is also the possibility granted by a higher norm or court, and therefore “the right to do something or the right over something,”
Occurrence: Appears in the New Testament 102 times. (Logos)
Translation: Donkey or Ass
Definition: a four-footed mammal related to the horse, common both in the wild and domesticated state in biblical times. The domesticated ass was very common in Israel. It appears as a basic item of a person’s property, and the number of asses was one of the measures of a patriarch’s wealth or an army’s booty.
Occurrences: Appears 6 times in the New Testament. (Logos)
Matthew 21 Verse by Verse Analysis
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
Verse 1: Verse one picks up at a time when both Jesus ministry in Galilee and his journey to Jerusalem have come to an end (Hagner 391). This journey for Jesus and his disciples would not have been a leisurely stroll in the park, but would have included a fifteen mile hike that began in Jericho, and had the group climbing some thirty-five hundred feet along the way (Turner 494). This section of the text puts great deal of emphasis on the reality that Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Messiah.
Verse one begins by stating that Jesus is in Bethphage, which names is translated “house of figs.” It is important here to understand the geographical layout for this text. The Mount of Olives was a north-south ridge that ran some two and a half miles long and lied to the east of Jerusalem. Bethpage, then, was located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. So as Jesus and his disciples arrived on the Mount of Olives they would have been able to look out across the Kidron valley and see Jerusalem, their final destination (Turner 494-495). Here we see a Messianic reference by Mathew as he is pointing back to Zechariah 14:4 where the Messiah stands on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem (Hagner 593). Thus, the symbolism of this place was important as it was a place of “Messianic hope” (Albright and Mann 251).
Verse 2: Verse two creates a bit of a mystery for biblical scholars. There are those who say that Jesus must have had some kind of pre-arranged deal with the owner of the animals, and that is why the owner let them go. Others believe that this was some kind of divine foreknowledge on the part of Jesus.
It is important to note that Matthew has Jesus commanding the disciples to bring back two donkeys while the other Gospels refer to just one donkey. The explanation here is that the author, Matthew, was referring back to Zechariah 9:9 which talks of the king “riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.” What is interesting to note here is that this phrase in Zechariah was using synonymous parallelism, and was only really talking about one animal (Turner 495). Matthew, while he would have understood the concept of parallelism, was looking at the text through the eyes of rabbi’s and scribes and thus would have wanted to take the text more literally here, and thus included two donkeys in his account of Jesus entering Jerusalem (Keck 403) This would have made sense to the author given that both Mark and Luke talk of Jesus riding on a donkey that would have never been ridden before. Thus Matthew throwing in both a donkey and the colt of a donkey would show that this is a young colt, and implies that it had not been ridden before based on its youth. (Turner, 495)
- This might argue that Matthew was NOT a Jew.
Verse 3: Verse three again deals with the tension over whether Jesus having the donkeys was a prearranged deal or an act showing Jesus sovereignty. In Mark’s Gospel one could make the assumption that when Mark writes “he will send” he is writing about Jesus intentions to send the donkey back to the owner after he is finished with it. However in Matthew’s account it seems that, “he will send” is referring to the owner of the donkey’s who will send them upon hearing that “the Lord needs them" (Senior 251).
It is also important to note that the word ‘Lord’ in verse three in Greek is the word kyrios. It could also have meant “master” or “teacher.”. However the early Christian audience that would have heard this Gospel would have understood this to mean Lord (Harrington 293).
Verses 4 – 5: In verses four and five Matthew continues to show why Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of prophesy. He begins by quoting from Isaiah 62:11, which addresses “The daughters of Zion, which would have been understood to mean those who lived in Jerusalem. The remainder of what is quoted in verse five is found in Zechariah 9:9 which talks of a coming King (Hagner 594). What is important here is that in the text that is quoted from Zechariah the author of Matthew leaves out two descriptions of this king from the Zechariah text, leaving out that this king would be “righteous” and bring “salvation.” The thought here is that the author of the book wanted to emphasize the meekness of this king (Keck 403). Matthew is saying that this king, who is not only in the line of King David, but was figured to be like King David is not like any other king who would come as a warrior in power and splendor on a horse, but that this king comes differently, on a donkey, and that he is defined not by power or victory, but by his meekness.
- Here, you forgot to include the end quote. This makes it impossible to be sure where it belongs.
Verses 6 – 7: Here we see the disciples doing just as Jesus had told them to do. Matthew does not go into the same detail that Mark does in Mark 11:4-6, which could possibly imply that Matthew was trying to say that Jesus did indeed make some sort of arrangement prior to the disciples taking the two animals. (Harrington, 293)
Verse seven is interesting in that it is not clear whether the author is trying to state that Jesus sat on both animals, thus performing an acrobatic trick, or whether he is saying that he simply sat on the garments that were laid on the animal. While certainly both are meant at some level it would seem that the author is referring primarily to the garments which Jesus sat on that had been laid on the donkey. (Harrington, 293) It is also important to note that the significance of the garments that Jesus was sitting on. This would have been understood as an incredible sign of both respect and honor that was being given to Jesus by both the disciples and the crowds. (Senior, 252)
Verse 8: Verse eight portrays the level of excitement that is present as Jesus enters into the city. Jesus entrance, which is reminiscent of others in the Bible such as what happens after Jehu is anointed by Elisha in 2nd Kings 9:13 (Senior, 230) or of Solomon of the entrance of Solomon in 1st Kings 1:32-37. (Keck, 403) The crowds here, which the original reader would have understood to be very large in preparation for the Passover, began laying garments on the ground as well as cutting branches and laying them on the ground as well, by doing this the crowds were acknowledging and celebrating that a king was indeed coming into the town. One can begin to see the paradox that Matthew is painting, that Jesus comes as a humble and meek Messiah, on a donkey, while the crowds celebrate him coming as a triumphant king. (Hagner, 595)
Verse 9: Verse nine seems to tie together the Messianic significance of this text. Here we see the crowds joining the procession with Jesus, and it is what they shout that tells us what they are waiting for. They begin by saying “Hosanna” which in Greek means “God save” and in this context would have both a cry of praise, and a call for God to save them. (Turner, 496) The reference to the “Son of David” would have been a ‘Messianic’ reference to Jesus identity as Savior.
The crowd continues by saying, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”, which would have been drawn from Psalm 118:25-26, and then again says “hosanna” and ads “in the highest”. For those in the crowd who were shouting this they would have understood themselves to be saying that this indeed was the Messiah who had come to redeem and restore Israel. They thought of this entrance by Jesus to be a saving event, and as such saw Jesus not as just any other man coming to the temple for Passover but as the one God had promised who came like David, and in the line of David. They saw this saving entrance by Jesus through the lens of the political struggle, and figured that Jesus was indeed coming to kick out the Romans, and restore political Israel. (Hagner, 596)
Verse 10: We see here that while Jerusalem would have been used to drawing great crowds during religious festivals like the Passover, Jesus outdoes this as he causes a stir. The word here for stir would have been the same as that of an earthquake. Matthew is not here saying that Jesus somehow by his power caused an earthquake, but is using the image to describe the type of scene the Jesus entrance into Jerusalem had caused. (Harrington, 294)
Those who ask the question “Who is this?” would have been those in the city who did not know of the man Jesus Christ. They would have been wondering who this was who received the welcome due to a king.
Verse 11: We should remember that there would have been those in the crowds of Jerusalem who wouldn’t have known who Jesus Christ was. So Jesus being referred to as a prophet here is not an identification of a prophet in the truest sense of the word, but probably meant nothing more than a title of great respect. (Hagner, 596)
JESUS AT THE TEMPLE
Verse 12: In verse twelve Matthew makes a shift from Jesus entry into Jerusalem to the cleansing of the temple. In Matthew’s account it seems that Jesus going to the temple is the natural first thing for this messianic king to do. This time line differs from both Mark and John in that Mark places the event on the second day after Jesus had entered Jerusalem while John places the event at the beginning of Jesus ministry. For Matthew the reality of placing this story following the entry goes to reinforce this idea of the Messiah arriving on the scene, and thus going to the heart of the Jewish worship scene. (Hagner, 599-600)
The word ‘temple’ here refers not just to a single building, but to many complexes and courts. Among these included what was called the “holy of holies” which was entered on the Day of Atonement by the high priest, as well as rooms for men, rooms for women, and a separate outer room that was called the court of the Gentiles. (Keck, 405) The temple, which would have been “roughly rectangular” would have comprised 172,000 square yards which is roughly the size of thirty-five football fields. (Turner, 499-500) This large temple, which was guarded by the Jewish temple police, and which also had extra help from Romans guards during festivals such as the Passover, also had plenty of room for barns to hold the many animals that were bought and sold for the temple worship. It is also important to note that the temple would have been destroyed by the time the book of Matthew had been written. The author’s goal was not to give a detailed and accurate account of what the temple was like, or what happened there, but to make a theological point about the purpose of the temple. (Keck, 405)
The encounter here would have likely taken place in the court of the Gentiles where much of the buying and selling that was necessary for the temple worship to take place was done. It was here that the pilgrims would come to buy sacrifices for the temple liturgy. The most likely animal that would have been bought were pigeons which would have been viewed as an acceptable sacrifice one cleared by the priest to be acceptable. Also set up in the court of the Gentiles would have been money changers. Temple transactions would have had to take place in Tyrian currency. Pilgrims needed to exchange their Greek and Roman coins, which would not have been allowed because of offensive images on them, (Senior, 231) and thus needed to pay a half-shekel sacrificial offering. The half shekel which was worth two denarii would have been enough to cover a few days lodging. (Albright, Mann, 255)
Jesus actions, which would have been seen as the start of a literal revolution, seem to have little to do with actual system of selling and money changing that was a part of the liturgy that took part in the temple, and much more to do with the fact that it actually took place in the temple. What we see here is Jesus playing a prophetic role and speaking against the turning of the temple into a place of financial transactions. (Senior, 231) Given that the economic prosperity of Jerusalem was heavily dependent on Pilgrims who would come and spend money during celebrations and festivals such as that of Passover, it is no doubt here that Jesus calling out the financial system set up in the temple that not only cost significant money, but ruffled feathers, and created some hard feelings that were directed in Jesus direction. (Harrington, 295)
Verse 13: In verse thirteen Jesus gives his reasoning for his actions by calling attention by quoting from the prophets. Quoting form Isahia 56:7 Jesus states that, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” He then uses the prophet Jeremiah 7:11 to say that it has been turned into “a den of thieves.” Again it is important to note that the author is writing this in a time where the temple has already been destroyed, so it would be appropriate to read into the text further judgment on Israel who had taken a place of worship and turned it into “nationalistic stronghold”, and place of business. (Hagner, 601)
The reference by Jesus to “den of robbers” is not so much a reference to the very probable greed that was taking place by money lenders and animal sellers who could have been taking advantage of pilgrims by charging them insane amounts of money. (Hagner, 601) Jeremiah in using this phrase would have been talking to the people of Judah who thought the temple provided some sort of shield or protection to all who came to it. Thus Jeremiah was calling out those who used the temple purely for safety reasons, be it financial or power, and missed the meaning and purpose of the temple. (Keck, 406) Likewise Jesus is highlighting Israel’s failure to follow God. (Hagner, 601)
Verse 14: In verse fourteen we again see Jesus bringing about a different kind of kingdom. Here the “blind” and the “lame” come to him to be healed. This would have been out of the ordinary given that that both the blind and lame were to be excluded from the temple. This has Old Testament roots going back to Leviticus 21:16-24 which states that people having physical disabilities were to offer sacrifices. 2nd Samuel goes further in stating that those who were blind and lame were “forbidden” by David to enter the temple. Thus this scene would not have been familiar, and must have taken place in the court of the Gentiles. (Senior, 232) This paints a beautiful picture of the Messiah, who had just cast the money lenders and sellers, those who were thought to be the “insiders” out of the temple, and was now bringing those “outsiders” into this house of prayer. (Turner, 500) It is probably worth mentioning that this is the last place that Matthew deals with healing in his Gospel, and what a symbolic way to go out, showing that Jesus has turned a place of business into a place of healing.
Verse 15: Verse fifteen tells us that children had somehow made their way onto the scene and were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. Most likely the children would have known this Jewish prayer, and were likely mimicking what they had just witnessed as Jesus had entered Jerusalem. (Hagner, 602) Matthew tells us that this greatly bothered the Chief Priests and the Scribes, who were the same people we saw earlier in Matthew 2:4 being approached by Herod in regards to Jesus birth, and the same people that Jesus talked to his disciples about as he predicted his death in Matthew 16:21 and 20:18. It is clear that they were upset not just at what Jesus had done, but by the miracles he had performed and at the clear Messianic role he was portraying. (Turner 500-501)
Verse 16: The very question that the chief priests and scribes asked of Jesus indicates that they felt as though Jesus too should have been upset at what the children were saying. (Hagner, 602) Jesus responds positively by affirming that he had indeed heard them and then goes on to quote Psalm 8:3. The question here that is posed by Jesus is meant not to attack their knowledge or whether they had indeed actually read the Psalm, but is meant as a critique of their stubbornness to believe what they are witnessing. (Turner, 501-502)
It is interesting here that while the children in all likelihood do not recognize the significance of the moment, what they are saying about Jesus gives a visual to what Jesus says in Matthew 19:13-15 when he says when referring to children that, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Senior, 232)
This verse also creates great symbolic imagery in that we see Jesus fully embracing the title, “Son of David” which is given by the children. Looking back we find that Solomon, David’s son, built the first temple. It was this temple that the prophet Jeremiah writes was destroyed as a punishment for the sinful rejection of God’s covenant. In embracing the title “Son of David” Jesus is now embracing the building not a structure for worship, but a people who will be known as the church. And the picture here is of the children who in a sense “get it” as contrasted by the chief priests and scribes who miss the boat completely. (Keck, 406)
Verse 17: Matthew makes an abrupt ending to this section as he states that Jesus leaves the city and heads to Bethany for the night. Bethany would have between one and a half and two miles from Jerusalem and was located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. This would not have been uncommon given the festival in Jerusalem would have meant and increased population that would have necessitated that many leave the city to find lodging.
THE BARREN FIG TREE
Verses 18-19: Verse eighteen introduces to Matthew’s audience an interesting and at times peculiar story. There are those who have tried to connect this story to the parable of the fig tree that Jesus tells and is recorded in the book of Luke. What is of significance is the differences that are found when looking at Matthews’s account of this story when compared with Mark’s. In Mark this story of Jesus cursing the fig tree is split into two sections which are separated by the cleansing of the temple. However Matthew records this as one singular event. (Keck, 407)
In verse nineteen Jesus finds a fig tree in an attempt to take care of his hunger. The leaves typically would have been a dead giveaway that a tree would have had fruit because they typically came after the fruit, so according to Matthew’s account it makes sense that Jesus responds the way he does. However Mark presents a different story, Mark specifically lays out the details that this was not the season for fig trees to bare figs, and thus leaves one wondering why Jesus is upset. (Hagner, 605) The difference between Matthew and Mark’s account does not stop here. Mark records that the tree does not whither until the next day, while Matthew is clear to say that the tree withered on the spot. (Harrington, 296-297)
Three more things stand out about these verses. The first is that in that time period the fig tree was sign for Israel, so there is legitimate connections here between Jesus cursing a fig tree for its lack of fruit and Jesus calling out Israel for her lack of fruit. (Keck, 408) Secondly the placing of this story is key. Note that is follows the cleansing of the temple, where Jesus turns the temple upside down calling out the sellers and money lenders for turning what should have been a ‘place of prayer’ into a place of business. As such this could have been viewed as a way of calling out the Jewish religious leaders for the lack of fruit. (Keck, 408) Thirdly, coming out of the previous temple scene, the readers of this Gospel would have connected the dots between the cleansing of the temple, the fig tree story, and the reality that the temple was in fact destroyed. (Albright, Mann, 260)
Verse 20: The disciples here are described by the author as being “amazed” by what Jesus just did. What seems apparent is that they are missing out on the significance and symbolism of the moment by asking Jesus the “how” question. (Hagner, 606)
An interesting side note here is the usage of the disciples in telling the story, and particular Peter in this instance. Matthew has a tendency in his Gospel to use Peter as a type of ‘spokesperson’ for the disciples, yet for whatever reason he chooses not to do that here. This is particularly interesting when you look at Mark’s Gospel and realize that Peter was the first one in Mark to see and bring up the fact that the tree had withered. (Senior, 234)
Verses 21-22: It is in the midst of this somewhat odd story that Jesus decided to teach his disciples about prayer. This would not have been odd given that Jesus at several points along the way had challenged the disciples by accusing them of having little faith. (6:30,8:26,14:31,16:8,17:20) (Turner, 504-505) In saying that they will be able to do what Jesus did, he is saying that they will “pronounce the withering judgment of God on fruitless religion” and that they will also “remove any obstacle and will receive whatever they ask in prayer, if they believe.” (Keck, 408)
Finally this section continues to tie the symbolism of the text together. So far Jesus has symbolically ridden in on a donkey, cleared the temple, and cursed a fig tree. Matthew continues to acknowledge Jesus as both prophet and Messiah. As such we see Jesus talking about the power of prayer immediately following a story where Jesus had rebuked the religious leaders for ruining the temple, which was to be a ‘house of prayer’. (Turner, 504-505)
THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS QUESTIONED
Verse 23: In verse twenty-three we see Jesus going to the temple once again. While teaching the text tells us that he is confronted by the “chief priests and elders of the people.” It is fair here to guess that included amongst the chief priests is the high priest Caiaphas. The ‘elders’ would have been influential people who had dealings with the religious leaders, but also had their hands in the running of Jerusalem. It is important to note here that while this area was under Roman rule, the Romans stayed out of much of the day to day operations of the city. (Senior, 236)
This group approaches Jesus not with a curiosity that is seeking to learn or be informed, but with the hope of getting Jesus to say something that they would be able to use against him, to get him arrested. (Harrington, 299) Thus they open by picking up just as they had left off in verses 12-16 by asking about Jesus authority. (Turner, 508) Specifically they are asking on what authority Jesus was acting in the Messianic events of the previous day where he had entered the city, cleared the temple, and accepted the title ‘son of David’. (Senior, 236) They then lay the trap on thick asking who gave Jesus this power knowing that if they can trick him into admitting that he received his power from God they would have him on the hook for blasphemy. (Harrington, 299)
Verse 24: Jesus diverts the question of the Pharisees and elders by asking a question of his own. This should not be seen as Jesus trying to dodge the question as this practice of answering a question by asking another question was used frequently as a means of debate in Hellenistic and later rabbinic times. (Albright, Mann, 260)
Verse 25-26: In asking the question of John’s baptism and where it came from Jesus puts the ball back in the Pharisees and leaders courts knowing that if they answer that John received his baptism from heaven that they will have given the answer to their own questions as well. It is important to note here that the phrase in the text “from heaven” really means “from God”. (Harrington, 299) It is here that the Pharisees are left with a trick choice. If they were to deny John’s baptism they would be turning their backs on their own position that John’s baptism was not in fact from God, yet if they denied this publicly they ran the risk of feeling the wrath of the crowd who held John in high regard.
Verse 27: The Pharisees and leaders response here does not mean they did not have a position on the matter. They did not view John as a profit yet wanted to protect themselves politically and physically so they did not answer. What is interesting is the reversal in this section of the text. The very group that had set out to set a trap for Jesus had fallen into a trap by Jesus, and their leadership can be summarized by the phrase, “we don’t know”. (Albright, Mann, 261) It is interesting that in Matthew as a whole, and even in chapter twenty-one which deals so much with authority that those who were supposed to have the religious authority in that day are found to have none, while Jesus is continually portrayed as a man having authority from God.
THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS
Verse 28: The Parable of the two sons which begins in verse twenty-eight is a unique story that is only found in the gospel of Matthew. It picks up where verse twenty-seven left off with Jesus in an encounter with the chief priests and the elders. It is here that he picks up on their inability to answer his previous question by telling a story with a father and his two sons. The question “what do you think” was a common introduction in Matthew and indicates that Jesus is addressing the same listeners as the previous versus. (Hagner, 613) It is also worth knowing that the reference to the vineyard would probably have had some symbolic reference to Israel as well. (Senior, 237)
Verse 29 - 31: In verse twenty-nine we see the first son’s response to his father’s request. In Jewish culture when a father asked his son to do something it would have been the natural outcome for the son to obey the father by doing what he had requested. The refusal of the son to work in the vineyard should not be understood by a simple lack of desire to perform a job as we would understand today, such as not wanting to take out the trash; however it would have been a complete “rejection” and “rebellion” against the authority of the father. (Hagner, 613)
When the first son changes his mind and goes and does what is asked of him the phrase he uses is, “changes his mind”, those present to the story Jesus was telling and those early hearers of this story would have understood the son to be doing more than just changing his mind, but to be repenting of the disobedience he had committed against his father. We see the flipside of this parable in that the second son initially says yes to his father’s request to work in the vineyard while later failing to follow through with what the father had for him to do. (Hagner, 613)
Verse 31: Jesus again asks of his listeners a question. Jesus here does not leave room for the leaders and chief priests to remain silent, but asks the question in such a way that forces them to respond. They will find out shortly that they have condemned themselves in their answer.
Jesus now shifts from the story and begins to speak about what it is he means by this story, the implications of which would have thrown the chief priests and leaders for a loop. Jesus equates the “tax collectors” and “prostitutes” with the first son, and with those who will enter into the “kingdom of God” which would have been symbolized in the parable by the vineyard.
This would have been shocking to hear because these two people groups would have been understood to be sinners and “immoral” by the Jewish people. Again putting in context the Messianic idea of the Jews of that day, that they thought the Messiah was going to come in and kick out the Romans gives us insight to just how unpopular the Romans were. However here Jesus takes two of the groups of the people who have in a sense “sold out” and identifies them as those who were going to enter into the ‘kingdom’. Those listening would have instantly connected the tax collector as those cheaters who work with the Romans to collect taxes and would routinely take extra for themselves, and would think of prostitutes as those who not only committed sexual sin, but often did so by selling themselves to the Romans. According to the religious thought of the day if there was to be those who were outside the Messianic story these two groups of people were at the top of the list. (Harrington, 299)
Verse 32: It is here in the interaction that Jesus brings the discussion back to John the Baptist, and in so doing turns judgment onto the chief priests and leaders by equating them to the son who said they would and then did not. Jesus then turns attention back to John and the reality that the chief priests and leaders did not respond to John’s message.
It is important here to stop and take a moment to look at the ministry of John the Baptist. Josephus says in Antiquities 18:118 of that John, “When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything they did.” (Harrington, 300)
The problem then arose that the chief priests and leaders were power players in Jerusalem among Jewish people. One of the reasons for this was their position among the religious leaders and the connection that then went along with the temple, which was the symbolic center of worship in Judaism. Because of their position of power the chief priests and leaders worked with Herod Antipas to keep the peace in the area. So they saw John as both a threat to their religious beliefs, because he did not place a high view on temple worship, and to their political affiliations, because they feared he might get the people to rise up. Thus it was here that they walked a slippery slope, rejecting John and yet being careful because he was so popular they did not want to incite the crowds. (Harrington, 300-301) S o what Jesus was saying is that John had come as an “invitation” to the chief priests and leaders among others, yet an invitation that they had rejected. It is here that Jesus is calling out their faith with the underlying overtones that those who rejected John also reject Jesus. (Hagner, 614)
THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS
Verse 33: Matthew here writes that Jesus told another story. In doing so Matthew writes that Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard. To those who hear this text and to those who were listening to Jesus tell the story they would have understood the picture that Jesus is referencing in this story is found in Isaiah chapter five which talks specifically of Israel as a vineyard.
It is here that Jesus sets the scene. He tells of the putting together of the vineyard which would have included a hedge that would help in keeping animals away, a winepress that would be used for crushing grapes and making wine, and a tower which could be used as both a watchtower and lodging for the tenants. (Harrington, 302)
The symbolism used in this text representing the different characters jump off the page, the vineyard represents Israel, the tenants represent the religious leaders, the servants represent Israel’s prophets, while the son represents Jesus. What we will see as the story plays out is that the struggle is whether or not the owner will receive his share of the fruit. (Turner, 510) It is also important to understand that this practice of a landowner in a sense renting out his land to be worked over by tenants was not at all uncommon in that culture. The landowner would then send people back in order to collect his share of the fruit. (Albright, Mann, 264)
Verse 34: The phrase “When the harvest approached” would have included a certain eschatological feel to the story that Jesus was saying so that those who were hearing it would have known that Jesus was talking about more than just the harvest of the vineyard, but of end times sort of judgment. (Senior, 239) Also important to this verse symbolically is the term fruit. The landowner certainly would have sent for the fruit that he was owed, but symbolically fruit also represented ‘works’ which Israel was to give to God. (Albright, Mann, 264)
Verses 35-36: The purpose of verses thirty-five and thirty-six is not specifically to name certain prophets by name that have come throughout Israel’s history, although those present would have known the prophets and known that they were not received well. (Albright, Mann, 264) Based on the previous stories it would not have been surprising if John was high up on that list. The meaning of what Jesus is saying here is significant, the emphasis is on the fact that although the prophets had been rejected, God continued to send more prophets even while they were continued to be rejected. The significance here is of a God who is “longsuffering” and who does not give up. (Hagner, 621)
Verse 37: Verse thirty-seven goes to the heart of the most significant theme found in chapter twenty-one, the identity of Jesus Christ. While we have seen Jesus identify himself as the Messiah through the symbolic things he has done Jesus again makes it clear who he is and what his mission is. Jesus, as represented by the owner’s son introduces himself into the salvation narrative. (Hagner, 621)
Theologically this verse has somewhat significant implications. In the landowner sending the son he would have been doing so not as a suicide mission. In his mind he would have been thinking that this is my own flesh and blood, this is the person who is closest to me, they must respect and listen to him. In the owners mind there would have been optimism that the presence of the son would have brought about a different result then with the servants. (Hagner, 621) If we take this line of thinking than one has to wonder if Jesus really came specifically to die. One should at least wonder if the life of Christ and the message of Christ really was saving in itself, and if in the death of Christ we are seeing simply the rejection who Jesus was, and the message that he came to share.
Verse 38: In verse thirty-eight it would seem that we see the breaking down of the example. Much like a metaphor today always breaks down somewhere, here the same happens in this parable. It is not as if the Jewish leaders knew Jesus as the son of God and simply rejected him, like the tenants did in the story. On the contrary the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus because they saw him as a dangerous figure who could start an uprising, and it was this “blasphemous” man who needed to be stopped. (Hagner, 621)
Verse 39: Matthew makes a sharp turn in the story from the Markan counterpart. In Mark the son is killed first before being cast out of the vineyard. Here the Matthew, with the death of Christ in mind, changes the order of things having the son first cast out of the garden then killed which would have been symbolic to Matthews readers of Jesus own death outside the city walls of Jerusalem. (Hagner, 621)
Verses 40-41: Just as Jesus had done earlier in the text he asks of his listeners a question, and again unlike the initial question they dig their own grave by condemning themselves in their answer. For those reading the text that Matthew had written they would have understood the phrase, “he will bring those wretches to a wretched end” through the lens of the destruction of Jerusalem, the symbolic identity of Israel and her worship, in A.D. 70. (Harrington, 302)
An interesting debate has arisen over the years as to the meaning of the change of tenants in the parable. There are those who have argued that this must have meant a rejection on God’s part of Israel as a whole and that God was now giving the “vineyard” or kingdom of God over to the Gentiles. However we must remember that the vineyard, which represents Israel, is not destroyed but transferred. It would also be important to note that Matthew here would not be wanting to set up some sort of Gentile versus Jew feud given that many in his own community were Jewish Christians. (Senior, 240-241)
The likely meaning here is that Jesus, through the eyes of Matthew, is talking of the rejection of the religious establishment of that day, which looking back would have included Jerusalem. And the change in tenants would not have specifically meant from Jewish people to Gentiles, but would have meant from the religious leaders, specifically the chief priests and Pharisees who are mentioned in verse forty-five, and too the disciples and the growing Christian community. (Senior, 240-241) Thus these “new tenants” as seen in both verse forty-one and forty-three will be an “eschatological messianic remnant” of people (Christians) who will bear fruit to God. (Turner, 515)
Verse 42: Here Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23 which was understood in Jewish culture as a psalm of the “vindication of God’s purpose.” (Albright, Mann, 265) The readers and hearers of Matthew’s Gospel would have read and interpreted verse forty-two in light of the resurrection. The stone that was rejected here would have been interpreted as the son. (Keck, 414)
A cornerstone would have been the stone that would keep the walls of the building together; the capstone would have been the stone which held up the arch or gateway. Whichever stone is read into this text the meaning is the same, the son, Jesus is foundational to God’s victory and to the coming kingdom. (Harrington, 303)
Verse 43: SEE NOTE ON VERSE 41
Verse 44: The image here which piggybacks on verse forty-two pictures those who rejected Jesus, the religious leaders of the day, as “stumbling over and falling, and at the same time their judgment will be like the stone falling on them.” (Turner, 516) This verse would have been an obvious affront to the religious leaders whom Jesus was interacting with. At the heart of what he was saying was that a rejection of me can only lead to a destruction of self. If you reject me you bring “ruin” to yourself. (Hagner, 623)
Verses 45-46: Interesting to note that Matthew does not often place both the Pharisees, who have somehow come onto the scene and the high priests in the same scene, the only other time is Matthew 27:62. The point here is too identify the religious leaders of Israel together in judgment. Given that Matthew does not specify whom the audience is during this parable it is fair to assume that it is the chief priests and Pharisee thus we can assume that this story only intensified their desire to have Jesus arrested. However again because of the crowds of pilgrims who have come to celebrate the Passover, and because of the view that Jesus was a prophet, and by some the Messiah they choose not too fearing that doing so might lead to an uproar, which would have resulted in the intervention of Roman soldiers and the admittance that they didn’t have things under control. (Turner, 516-517)
- Albright, W.F., and C.S. Mann. Matthew: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Anchor Bible, 26. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
- Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14--28. Word Biblical Commentary, 33B. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1993.
- Harrington, S.J., Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Sacra Pagina, 1. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1991.
- Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible. General Articles on the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Mark. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1995. Print.
- Senior, Donald. Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998. Print.
- Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. Print.
- Logos Bible Software, 2003