The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 21

Mat 21:1

The triumphal entry to Jerusalem: A "dress rehearsal" for the Second Coming.

BETHPHAGE: "House of figs", natural Israel.

ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES: "On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem" (Zec 14:4).

Mat 21:2

COLT: Colt of an ass, humble -- used by kings rather than the horse. Peaceful burden-bearer.

Mat 21:3

Silence was his settled policy for most of his ministry (Mat 9:30; 17:9; 12:16; Mar 1:34; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; Luk 5:14), with one notable exception (Mar 5:19 -- Legion with his family). But in last days of ministry, a change of course (Mat 21:1-11; Joh 7:37; 9:3; 11:4).

Mat 21:5

GENTLE: See Lesson, Gentleness.

"Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, 'Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.' The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you" (Zep 3:14-18).

Mat 21:7

"An unusual sympathy between rider and mount for an unbroken colt to walk quietly in the midst of a shouting crowd" (SMk 152).

THREW THEIR CLOAKS ON THEM: Sig Christ the burden-bearer (Mat 11:28-30).

Mat 21:8

Let us lay the garments of our glory in the dust at Jesus' feet.

BRANCHES: Palm branches (Joh 12:13).

Mat 21:9

Psa 118:19-26: a familiar psa sung at Passover and Pentecost, including: "open the gates... rejected stone... blessed is he that comes... bind sacrifice to the horns of the altar..." (Cit by Christ himself as applicable to the Messiah: Mat 21:42.)

HOSANNA: "Save, pray", from Psa 118:25: "Save, now, we beseech thee, O Lord."

"This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!" (Est 6:6,9).

Mat 21:11

GALILEE: Galilee of the GENTILES (Mat 4:15).

Mat 21:12

The purging of the leaven from the house of God (Exo 12:19). "The action of the Lord in cleansing the temple is often quoted as an example of righteous indignation. Yet in all the four records (Mat 21, Mar 11, Luk 19, Joh 2) it is nowhere stated that the Lord was angry. Certainly it was not righteous indignation which drove back those soldiers, ordered to arrest him (Joh 7:46); nor was it righteous indignation which made armed men retreat and fall to the ground in Gethsemane (Joh 18:6). Was not the same power at work in the temple incident? But even if we concede that the Lord might have been expressing righteous indignation, what right have we unrighteous ones to claim that we can also show righteous indignation? It is more likely that we are confusing righteous indignation with wrathful feelings of revenge, personal provocation, and wounded pride. Certainly the Lord never lost his temper. Every word and action was under complete control" (Bilton, Xd 114:218).

The tables of moneychangers, overturned by Jesus, while the coins fall on the floor (Mar 11:15; Luk 19:45; Joh 2:14). Cp this with Judas throwing the 30 pieces of silver into the temple. Imagine the coins clattering and clanking along the floor, while the priests scurried here and there to gather up and hide the evidence. In both cases, this was money paid for "sacrifices"!

Jesus cast out the moneychangers, and then GAVE AWAY his blessings (v 14)!

// Mark 11:15-19 / Luk 19:45: Here is the second temple cleansing (cp Psa 69:9). The other sacrifices are driven away; Christ is soon to become the one true sacrifice... and so "the zeal for your house has consumed me" (as though he were an offering on the altar).

Mat 21:13

"IT IS WRITTEN," HE SAID TO THEM, "MY HOUSE WILL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER": Jesus cites Isaiah, where the context reads: "And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant -- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Isa 56:6,7).

Here is a symbolic indication that the court of the Gentiles was henceforth to be holy also (Gal 3:28). This scene took place in the court of the Gentiles. By using this area for moneychangers, the leaders had forgotten their delegated role of witnessing to the Gentiles (Zec 9:8).

God's temple is not just a house where prayer is offered by people of all nations -- which is true enough -- but also a "house" (a spiritual house) built up by and consisting of prayers offered by many individuals, of many nations. With our prayers, wherever we might be physically, we "build" the "house" in which God dwells.

"BUT YOU ARE MAKING IT A 'DEN OF THIEVES' ": Jesus is blending a quotation from Jeremiah (Jer 7:11) in with the Isaiah quotation. The two citations take us from the pinnacle -- what God's house at its best might be -- to the very lowest depth -- what God's house at its worst had become! And so God's house -- filled with a sort of spiritual leprosy -- was now in dire need of cleansing by God's true priest.

Mat 21:14

THE BLIND AND THE LAME CAME TO HIM AT THE TEMPLE: That is, those who might have been previously and customarily excluded from the worship there. Having condemned the profane use of the temple, Jesus now shows the proper use of it. It is a house of prayer (Isa 56:7) for all nations, not just the Jews. It is in that place where Jesus manifest His Father's goodness and power in giving sight to the [spiritually] blind, and feet to the lame.

Mat 21:15

THEY WERE INDIGNANT: Hence Christ, already thinking of Psa 118 (ark coming to Zion: Psa 118:24-26), now quotes Psa 118:22,23 (in Mat 21:42).

"As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, there were many who saw him as their king. They believed he was the One they were looking for. They saw in him a King, they saw him fulfilling scripture, healing the sick, lame, blind and deaf, and feeding the hungry. To those people, for now, he was their man. They had lined the streets shouting, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' and, 'Hosanna in the highest!'

"But at the same time there were others for whom Jesus didn't fit in their mould as Messiah. Jesus kept criticizing the religious leaders, he hadn't led a revolt against the Romans, and it seemed as if everywhere he went he caused trouble. They were the ones that put him down at every opportunity, ridiculed him, and tried to kill him.

"Jesus was the same person to both those groups of people, but the big difference was in what they expected him to be like and what they thought he should do. When it came for the time for Jesus to be crucified and to die, no one expected it to happen because it did not fit into anyone's picture of the Messiah, even though the prophets had spoken about it.

"Jesus will return again. As it was prophesied about his life, so it is prophesied about his return. Will he be the one that we look for? Are we familiar enough with what is written to expect and recognize our Messiah when he comes?" (RP).

Mat 21:16

FROM THE LIPS OF CHILDREN...: Cit Psa 8:2. Jesus also, himself a young man, not educated as the priests and teachers. Not yet 50 years old, yet he taught with authority (Joh 8:48,57). (The Psa 8 quote continues with: "...because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger".)

Mat 21:19

A FIG TREE: Sym Israel as a nation: Mic 7:1; Hos 9:10,16,17; Isa 5:24; Psa 37:35,36; Eze 17:24.

NOTHING ON IT EXCEPT LEAVES: It was not harvest time for figs; but yet some early fruit should have been there (Xd 121:336; LB 349). First-ripe figs are usually formed before the leaves. Green figs are edible too. See Luk 13:7. Outward pretense, show, but no substance. As in Eden, it represents a vain attempt to cover "nakedness".

MAY YOU NEVER BEAR FRUIT AGAIN: The cursing of the priesthood of Israel: Leaves = healing (Rev 22:2), but the priests (and Israel's other leaders) could not heal (Jer 6:14; 8:11,13,15,22; ct Mat 21:14).

IMMEDIATELY THE TREE WITHERED: That is, immediately, upon Christ's saying these words, its sap was dried up, it lost its verdure; its leaves were shriveled and shrunk up, and dropped off, and the whole was blasted. This tree was an emblem of the Jews: Christ being hungry, and very desirous of the salvation of men, came first to them, from whom, on account of their large profession of religion, and great pretensions to holiness, and the many advantages they enjoyed, humanly speaking, much fruit of righteousness might have been expected; but, alas! He found nothing but mere words, empty boasts, an outward show of religion, an external profession, and a bare performance of trifling ceremonies, and oral traditions; wherefore Christ rejected them, and in a little time after, the Gospel, was taken away from them, and their temple, city, and nation, entirely destroyed (v 43). Are we then, bringing forth "fruits meet for repentance" in our lives, or will we suffer the same de-creating blast that Christ afforded this sad fig tree nearly 2,000 years ago?

Mat 21:20

WHEN THE DISCIPLES SAW THIS: The next morning (Mar 11:20).

Mat 21:21

IF YOU HAVE FAITH AND DO NOT DOUBT: "Never worry. Worry has sent more people to the asylums and hospitals than anything else. Worry is stupid, juvenile, faithless, non-productive, round-and-round-in-a-circle thinking. If something calls for concern, be concerned. But be concerned in a constructive, productive way. Think in a straight line -- from problem to solution. Or if there is no solution, to acceptance. If there is no solution, there is always prayer: though that should be the first resort, not the last. God can make anything happen or not happen. If He doesn't choose to, then it is not to be; or we have not prayed long enough, or sincerely enough. Or we have something to learn that denying our prayers helps to teach us. Everything related to God's affairs and God's people has a good purpose. Folly frets and worries and rebels. Wisdom knows there is a reason, and accepts, and adjusts, and is thankful, whether God gives, or takes away" (GVG).

THIS MOUNTAIN: The mount of Israel: cast out among other nations. Or, more specifically, the Temple mount (sym law), to be removed in AD 70. Cp Mic 7:19 (sins cast into sea); Luk 17:6 (tree cast into sea).

Is it possible that the greatest "mountain" is (and was) the "great stone" which sealed shut the tomb of Jesus (Mat 28:2-4; Mar 16:4; Luk 24:2; Joh 20:1)? And this mountain has already been moved!

GO, THROW YOURSELF INTO THE SEA: "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Mic 7:19).

Mat 21:22

JESUS ENTERED THE TEMPLE COURTS: Jesus was policing the temple: a follow-up to vv 12-14.

Mar 11:24 has "Believe that you have received it." Past tense, not present tense (as in AV): "Believe that God has blessed you in times past, and -- because of your faith -- He will bless you again." Cp Deu 7:17,18; 1Sa 17:37; Psa 22:4; 34:6,7; 2Co 1:9-11.

"BY WHAT AUTHORITY ARE YOU DOING THESE THINGS" THEY ASKED. "AND WHO GAVE YOU THIS AUTHORITY?": Three years before, Nicodemus had come as a delegate of the Sanhedrin. What had they done with his report? (Christ was not a Levite or a priest, or in any way accredited by some rabbi. As a wandering "holy man", he was of course free to speak, but not with the voice of authority, in the temple, or at any official function or activity.)

Mat 21:23

JESUS ENTERED THE TEMPLE COURTS: Christ was policing the Temple. A follow-up on the cleansing of the Temple (Mat 21:12-17; Mar 11:15-19; Luk 19:45-48).

BY WHAT AUTHORITY: Christ was not a Levite, a priest, nor in any way accredited by some rabbi. Wandering "holy men" were allowed to speak freely -- but not with voice of authority, in Temple, etc. (Three years before, Nicodemus had come to Jesus as a delegate of Sanhedrin: Joh 3. What had they done with his report?)

Mat 21:25

JOHN'S BAPTISM -- WHERE DID IT COME FROM? WAS IT FROM HEAVEN, OR FROM MEN?: Of course, this WAS his answer: Jesus was accredited by John the Baptist. If they had tested John's claim (Deu 18:21,22), they would have been prepared to accept Jesus.

"They had just challenged Christ, and asked who gave Him the authority to interfere with their worship arrangements, when he cleansed their Temple. So when Christ here asks, whether 'John's baptism was from heaven, or of men', his meaning is, whether this new institution of baptism was of divine origin, and that John acted by divine authority, and commission; or whether it was a human device of his own, or of other men, and that he took the office of preaching and baptizing upon himself of his own head, or by some human appointment. To this Jesus requires a direct answer, as is said in Mark, 'Answer me'; whether it was from the one, or from the other. And they reasoned with themselves... 'in their own minds', as the Syriac; or they took some little time and privately conferred together, what answer they should return. When they had argued the point among themselves, they reasoned 'saying, if we shall say from heaven'; that is, if we shall return for answer, that the baptism and ministry of John were of divine appointment, and that he acted by a divine authority, 'he will say unto us, why did ye not believe him?' Meaning, why did not you believe the doctrine that he preached? and receive the testimony that he gave concerning the Messiah? and why were you not baptised by him? why did you reject the counsel of God against yourselves? They saw plainly, that if they owned the divine authority of John's baptism and ministry, they must allow Jesus to be the true Messiah, that John bore witness to; and consequently, that it was by a divine authority He did what He did in cleansing the Temple; and that then was an end of the question, and is the very thing that Christ had in view. Oh how I love the way that our Lord and Saviour can so tie men in knots of their own making! And He has had 2,000 years of Divine experience to hone this craft, so that every man who stands before Him shortly will be without excuse" (CY).

Mat 21:27

NEITHER WILL I TELL YOU...: The evidence was already there. Their reasoning and understanding was based on flesh and on their own personal preferences -- regardless of truth. They openly denied obvious truth: "By Beelzebub" (Mar 3:22,23,28).

Notice: they answer, "We don't know" -- which really means, "We won't tell you." Thus Jesus reciprocates in his answer: not "I don't know", but instead, "Neither will I tell you!"

Mat 21:30

HE ANSWERED, "I WILL, SIR," BUT HE DID NOT GO: "We will do everything the LORD has said" (Exo 19:8). But of course they did not!

Mat 21:31

AHEAD OF YOU: AV "before you", or "in your presence".

Mat 21:32

"He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (Joh 1:11.)

Mat 21:33

Cp parable with the work of Uzziah: 2Ch 26. Also cp with the song of the vineyard: Isa 5.

WATCHTOWER: The name of the LORD is a strong tower" (Pro 18:10).

WENT AWAY ON A JOURNEY: That is, ceased personal communication with these men.

Mat 21:34

HE SENT HIS SERVANTS: The prophets, sent to Israel: 2Ch 36:14-16.

Mat 21:35

// Mat 23:37; Acts 7:51-53.

Mat 21:37

HIS SON: Many servants, but only one son!

Mat 21:39

// Isa 5:1-7.

When we cast the "true vine" (John 15) out of our vineyard, we will have no fruit!

OUT OF THE VINEYARD: "Outside the camp" (Heb 13:10-14). Note order: (1) took out of camp; and then (2) killed.

Mat 21:41

HE: God working through men. This is the wrath of God for the rejection of His Son. (In the parable, the son is already dead!)

Mat 21:42

THE STONE: Cited from Psa 118:22; cp Eph 2:20. (See context: Psa 118:14,15,19,20,22-27.)

Mat 21:44

FALLS ON... BE BROKEN: Could mean: "fall on" as in seeking for aid, and "be broken" as being humbled and made subservient to Christ (cp the ass: vv 2,7).

Those who attack the Stone will be thwarted, and those who turn away will be broken in pieces.

...WILL BE CRUSHED: Condemnation.

Mat 21:46

TO ARREST HIM: Trying to fulfill prophecy (Mat 21:39; Mar 12:8; Luk 20:15), but time was not yet right.

The parables of Christ, when perceived, only brought their wickedness to the fore, and increased their hatred of him. They convicted themselves.

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