The Triumphal Entry

21:1 Now when they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 21:2 telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you. Right away you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 21:3 If anyone says anything to you, you are to say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospels – Mt 21:1-9; Mk 11:1-10; Lk 19:29-38; Jn 12:12-15.

Triumphal entries were not at all unknown in the ancient world.  They were roughly what we might call ‘victory parades’.  Following various other scholars, Doriani outlines some common characteristics:-

  • ‘The occasion was a victory over a foe or a formal visit to a great city.
  • ‘The great man entered the city on a war horse, a royal steed, or a chariot.
  • ‘People welcomed the conqueror, walking before and after him, praising him.
  • ‘He might visit a local temple and correct abuses or offer sacrifices.’

In Jesus’ entry, however, there are striking differences as well as similarities.  For example, he rides, not on a horse (a beast of war), but on a donkey (a beast of peace).

As they approached Jerusalem – cf. Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19.

Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives – ‘Bethphage’ means ‘house of figs’ – an indicator of the many fig trees in the area, and mentioned by name in anticipation of Mt 21:18f.

Bruner (citing Green) recalls how Zech 14:4 was thought of as a Messianic promise.  ‘Thus even Matthew’s geographical reference is saying, “Here he is!”’

Jesus and his disciples do not come alone, for at Passover time many others would have arrived at Jerusalem at the same time. The entry of Jesus, along with this vocal crowd, and others who had witnessed or heard about the raising of Lazarus, was therefore ‘a deliberately staged “demonstration”‘ (France) The symbolic nature of the ‘triumphal entry’ is underscored by the dramatic episodes of the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree. It all sets the scene for the confrontation between the Messiah and the Jewish leaders.

Mt 21:1–9 = Mk 11:1–10; Lk 19:29–38

Jesus has revealed himself as prophet. He is about to reveal himself as priest. It is fitting that his kingly office should also be revealed now, hitherto having been veiled. Up till, he not only did not formally assume the title of king, but actually resisted attempts to have it thrust upon him, Jn 6:15. ‘For this refusal to be crowned by the multitude there was only too good reason. Their ideas of royalty were entirely different from his. Had he allowed himself to be borne on the tide of popular favour to royal honours, his kingdom would have been thereby marked as of this world, it would have been stamped as something very different from the kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost he had come to establish. Had he been a mere enthusiast, he would undoubtedly have yielded to such a tidal wave of public excitement; but his unerring wisdom taught him that he must reach his throne by another path than that of popular favour. Rather must it be through popular rejection through the dark portals of despite and death; and for that, his hour had not then come.’ (Expositor’s Bible)

But now his royal hour has come. ‘Already fully revealed as Prophet, he is about to be made perfect through suffering as our great High Priest. It is time, therefore, that he reveal himself as King, so that no one may have it afterwards to say that he never really claimed the throne of his father David.’ (Expositor’s Bible)

Jesus’ kingship is not announced in any expected way. To herald it with the sound of the trumpet would be to create entirely the wrong idea – the idea that his was an earthly, temporal, military kingdom, a kingdom to overthrow that of the Romans.

We should not suppose that the leading theme of this passage is joyful triumph. The king indeed comes to his capital, but it is in judgement.

‘Our Lord is never at a loss for means to accomplish his designs in his own way, which it; always the best. He sends to a neighbouring village for a young ass, mounts it, and rides into the city. That is all he does. Not a word said about royalty, no herald, no trumpeter, no proclamation, no royal pomp, nothing whatever to rouse the Roman jealousy or ire 5] nothing but the very ordinary circumstance of a man riding into the city on an ass colt, a mode of conveyance not in itself calculated to attract any special notice. What was there, then, in such an act to secure the end? Nothing in itself; but a great deal when taken in connection with a remarkable prophecy in the Book of Zechariah well known to every Jew, and much in the thoughts of all who were looking for the promised Messiah. It is true, indeed, that an ordinary man might have done the same thing and the people have taken no notice of him. But Jesus had become the object of very great interest and attention to large numbers of the people on account of the miracles he had been working notably that great miracle which still stirred the minds of the whole community, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The chief priests and scribes, indeed, and the men of influence in Jerusalem, regarded him with all the greater rancour on account of his miracles of mercy, and they had been specially embittered against him since the raising of Lazarus; but it was different with the body of the people, especially those who had come or were coming from Galilee and other distant parts of the land to be present at the great Paschal feast. We are told by St. John that a large number of these had gone out the day before to Bethany, both to see Lazarus, who was naturally an object of curiosity, and also to see Jesus himself; these accordingly were precisely in the state of mind in which they would most readily catch up the idea so naturally suggested by the significant act of our Saviours riding into the city of David on a colt the foal of an ass. The result, accordingly, was as had been intended, and is thus described by our Evangelist: The most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest (R.V.).’ (Expositor’s Bible)

“You will find a donkey…with her colt by her” – A colt is the young of any of a number of riding animals. Only Matthew mentions the mother, as well as the colt.

It is unclear whether a pre-existing arrangement had been made with the owner of these animals, or whether Jesus was speaking by supernatural knowledge.  Either way, we can agree with Calvin that Jesus sent for the donkey ‘so that no-one should think that He was being called king against His own wishes.’

“If anyone says anything to you…the Lord needs them” – Noting that Jesus does not say, ‘If the owner says anything to you…,’ but rather, ‘if anyone says anything to you…’, some, including Doriani, think that ‘kyrios’ means the owner, who, it is supposed, would have been with Jesus at the time.  This interpretation, however, is excluded by Lk 19:33, according to which ‘the owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”‘

Jesus may be invoking here the royal prerogative (claimed also by the Rabbis) of ‘requisitioning’, a right reinforced by his application of the title ‘the Lord’ to himself.  However, it is unusual for Jesus to refer to himself as ‘the Lord’, (but see Mk 2:28), and so the reference might be to God himself.  Indeed, there may be an intentional blurring between these two meanings (cf Psa 110:1).

Mounce thinks that this wording implies that the owner was a disciple of Jesus.

“He will send them right away” – Perhaps meaning, ‘the Lord will send the back immediately.’ Cf. Mk 11:3.

21:4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
21:5 “Tell the people of Zion,
‘Look, your king is coming to you,
unassuming and seated on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
21:6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 21:7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

Mt 21:4–9 = Jn 12:12–15

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet – ‘He hereby declared himself that King of the Church fore-promised by the prophets, how poor and despicable soever, as the world accounts it.’ (Trapp)

The quote is from Zec 9:9, but with the first clause drawn from Isa 62:11, and also a possible allusion to King David’s return by the same route after the defeat of Absalom’s rebellion, 2 Sam 15:30.

As Lane (The Gospel of Mark) points out, Zec 9:9 contains the following three elements: the entry (‘your king comes to you’), the messianic animal (‘gentle and riding on a donkey’), and the jubilation of the people (‘rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion’).  However, Matthew omits two elements of the quotation: (a) ‘Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout…’ (b) ‘righteous and having salvation’.  This was, for Jesus, a time of sorrow and judgment: rejoicing and deliverance would come later.

“Gentle and riding on a donkey” – ‘in striking contrast with the aggressive militarism of popular Messianism…Matthew thus emphasises what surely Jesus’ symbolic act was designed to show, that he is Messiah indeed, but a Messiah whose triumphal route leads to suffering and humiliation, not to a show of force.’ (France).

‘Horses are often associated with war in the Old Testament but the donkey, a comparatively lowly beast of burden, was sometimes ridden by rulers in times of peace (see Judg. 5:10; 1 Kings 1:33; contrast Rev. 19:11).’ (Carson, God with us: themes from Matthew).

‘In contrast to the chariot and horses of treasonous pretenders (2 Sam 15:1–6; cf. 1 Kings 1:5), Jesus’ choice of the characteristic transport for Israel’s royalty (2 Sam 13:29; 18:9) constitutes his most direct claim to being God’s promised humble Davidic Messiah (Zech 9:9), whose trust is in the Lord (Ps 20:7; Is 31:1; 43:17; cf. Deut 11:4; 20:1; Pss. Sol. 17:33).’ (DGJ, 2nd ed.)

Tan thinks that riding into Jerusalem was a provocative move on the part of Jesus.  According to Josephus, even Alexander the Great had to dismount from his horse and walk into the holy city.

‘A donkey was sometimes ridden by rulers in times of peace (Jdg 5:10; 1Ki 1:33). Jews certainly understood Zec 9:9 to refer to the Messiah, often in terms of the Son of David. Therefore for those with eyes to see, Jesus was not only proclaiming his messiahship and his fulfillment of Scripture but showing the kind of peace-loving approach he was now making to the city.’ (EBC)

By contrast, in 332 BC Alexander the Great had entered Jerusalem on a magnificent warhorse.  Bruner cites Bengel: ‘The horse is a warlike steed, which the King of Peace did not use.… He will use it hereafter, Rev 19:11′ (my emphasis).

According to Bruner, ‘Luther saw in Jesus’ coming this way the difference between the law and the gospel: at Mount Sinai the Lord’s coming was fearful and threatening, like the law (Exod 19–20); at the Mount of Olives the Lord’s coming was comforting, forgiving, and singing, like the gospel.’

Bruner (citing Davies and Allison): ‘Unlike pilgrims, who come on foot, Jesus rides (twice mentioned, vv. 5 and 7) to suggest (at last) his royalty.’

Bruner adds: ‘But how quiet Jesus is on this ride; he does not say a word. All the speeches are those of his entourage.’

Bruner remarks on the words omitted from this quotation: ‘triumphant and victorious is he’.  These come between the phrases ‘your king is coming to you’ and ‘humble and riding on a donkey’.  If the omission is intentional, then ‘in an important sense Matthew did not want to portray a “triumphal entry,” our traditional English title for this story. Matthew wanted to give us Jesus’ “humble entry.”’  Bruner again: ‘The Greek words translating the Hebrew’s “triumphant and victorious” are dikaios kai sō̧zon—literally, “righteous and saving”—words Matthew otherwise likes and applies to Jesus (cf., for righteous[ness], Mt 3:15; 27:19; for saving, Mt 1:21, and, especially, the miracles of chaps. 8 and 9). But not here and not now.’

‘If Jesus is the King of gentleness, then everyone who loves him should serve him with the same kind of humility.’ (Ryken)

A colt – ‘In the midst, then, of this excited crowd, an unbroken animal remains calm under the hands of the Messiah, who has nature in his control (Mt 8:23–27; 14:22–32). Thus the event points to the peace of the consummated kingdom (cf. Isa 11:1–10).’ (EBC)

He sat on them – i.e., he sat on the cloaks.  (Gundry, however, imagines that the cloaks were draped over both animals, while Jesus sat on the colt.  The picture would then be of some sort of throne).

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them – As Bruner and others remark, Jesus’ instructions are followed to the letter, thus modeling discipleship.  They thereby contribute to the fulfilling of the promise, illustrating once again that divine sovereignty does not exclude human responsibility.

One animal or two?
Critics sometimes suppose that Matthew, in specifying two animals, has misunderstood the synonymous parallelism of Zec 9:9.  It would be surprising if Matthew, that most Jewish of NT writers, had thought that the text he was quoting from required two animals.  It is quite possible that Matthew is preserving an accurate historical reminiscence, and that he found a happy ‘coincidence’ (the kind that would have delighted his Jewish readers; Keener: ‘following a common Jewish practice of reading the Hebrew text for all one can get from it) in a literal reading of the Zechariah text (which, both in Hebrew and Greek, allows for the possibility of two animals, as one interpretative tradition recognised).  It would have been usual for an ‘unbroken colt’ (Mk 11:2) to be accompanied by its parent when first ridden.

Hagner (WBC) thinks that ‘he sat on them’ refers to the two animals, rather than to the cloaks (but then the cloaks had been placed on the two animals anyway). ‘If this is true, it hardly means that the evangelist alleges that Jesus actually sat upon both animals at once (!) or even in succession. Instead it means that here the two animals, which were kept so closely together, are conceptually regarded as a single, inseparable unit (which is probably also how Matthew understood the Zechariah quotation with its literally understood coming upon two animals), despite the plural language, which…is kept by Matthew for the detailed coincidence with the OT quotation. Thus when Jesus sat upon them, we are probably to understand simply that Jesus sat upon the colt with the ass just beside it.’

Many commentators agree that Matthew means that Jesus sat on the cloaks.

The humble king

Bruner succinct summary of this event: ‘Jesus goes public as this kind of Christ.’

He adds: ‘Our text combines exactly the two great realities always required for a right understanding of Jesus according to Matthew: Jesus is “king,” royal, from God (“he comes to you”) and in all these high senses, “Messiah.” At the same time he is the “humble” king, unpretentious (“riding on a donkey”), and only in these lower senses a properly understood Messiah.’

‘Donkeys are lowly creatures, and in their way they “say” a lot: they are slow, stubborn, the perennial work animals of the poor, and not too handsome—earthy animals indeed. And yet a prophesied donkey who will bear a king into Jerusalem says that on this particular journey, which is to be viewed both from above (seeing the rider’s divinity) and from below (seeing his humanity), we have Jesus as he wants to be seen: as Emmanuel, as the true God-with-us in a truly human way, at our level: God on a donkey.’

He is gentle

‘This is the glory of his crown that he is so gentle and merciful to us that he will not forsake the work of our redemption, neither for our misdeservings and provocations, nor for the injuries done t him by his adversaries for our cause.’ (Dickson)

21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 21:9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road – ‘Matthew wants us to realise that this was an impressive event, not a passing recognition by a few people.’ (France) Jesus is given the ‘red carpet’ treatment. For this practice in recognition of a king, see 2 Kings 9:13.

Wright remarks that this was a rather unusual demonstration on the part of the crowd.  Many of them probably only had one cloak!  Wright points to 2 Kings 9:13, where we read that people spread the cloaks under Jehu’s feet as a way of expressing their loyalty to him.

John, the other eyewitness of the event, also draws attention to the size of the crowd.  In Jn 12:18 he explains that the crowd was so large because ‘many people…had heard that he had given this miraculous sign’ (i.e. the raising of Lazarus).

Others cut branches from the trees – Jn 12:13 identifies these as palm branches.  Many in the crowd would know the story of Judas Maccabaeus, who was welcomed into Jerusalem by a crowd waving palm branches (2 Macc 10:7).

They spread them on the road – They were not waved.

“Hosanna!” – means, literally, ‘O save.’  This can be thought of either as a prayer – as in Psa 118:25, or as an acclamation – picking up the next phrase in the psalm (Psa 118:26).  The meaning would then be similar to our ‘God save the Queen!’  In the present context it probably means something like, ‘God save,’ or, ‘praise be.’ It is the Greek form of the phrase translated ‘save us’ in Ps 118:25, a phrase which came to be used as an expression of praise in Jewish worship. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” comes from the next verse of the same psalm. Psa 118 is the last of the Hallel Psalms (113-118), sung at the great festivals of Israel, with these two verses as the climax. ‘As an expression of religious enthusiasm these exclamations would come naturally to a crowd of Passover pilgrims.’ (France)

Psa 118 is not only a royal psalm, but became recognised as a messianic psalms.

Following Schnackenburg, Bruner thinks that there might be an implication of prayer for Jesus here: ‘God save the Son of David!’  Of course, God both did, and did not, save Jesus.  He did not spare him from the cross (cf. Mt 27:42), but he did save him through his resurrection.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem seems to have much in common with the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC, following the desecration of Antiochus. According to 2 Maccabees, the people sang “Hosanna,” waved palm branches. They looked forward to the time of redemption, when the pagan yoke would be broken for ever, and the Son of David would come and set the whole world free from sin.

“The Son of David!” – These words are added to the quotation from Psa 118.  They pick up the double confession of the (formerly) blind men from the previous paragraph.  As Bruner observes, Jesus does not call himself ‘the Son of David’ in any of these texts: others honour him in this way.

‘From the outset, Jesus is the messianic Son of David (Mt 1:1, 6, 17, 20; 2:4–6), defined not by military conquest but rather by mercy for Jews (Mt 9:27; 20:30–31) and Gentiles (Mt 15:22; cf. Is 9:1–2 in Mt 4:15–16; 8:10–12).’ (DJG, 2nd ed.)

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” – It is Jesus himself who has been ‘covered with the name of Lord’ (Bruner) in recent paragraphs (Mt 20:30, 31, 33; 21:4).

‘Although the hearers/readers of the Gospels already know that God has declared Jesus to be David’s messianic son (e.g., Ps 2:7 in Mk 1:11; 9:7 par.; Jn 1:40–49), it is not military success but rather Jesus’ mighty acts of *mercy that motivate the crowds to acclaim him (Lk 19:37; Jn 12:17–18; cf. the *healing of the *blind in Mt 20:29–34 // Mk 10:46–52).’ (DJG, 2nd ed.)

“Hosanna in the highest!” – A prayer again for God’s salvation, and ‘this time a prayer especially for God’s highest resources of salvation, an appeal to God to pull out all the stops, to save from sources that are the deepest (as we say) or the highest (as the Hebrews said).’ (Bruner, who adds that the prayer could be for God to save ‘by his highest means’ and ‘to the remotest ends’.)

What sort of king?

As at his birth, so now as he approaches his death: Jesus is presented in all kinds of ways as a king – but a lowly one.

‘Welcoming Jesus as ‘son of David’ was about as explicit as you could get; this was, after all, the city which King David had made his capital a thousand years before, and for nearly half that time the Jews had been waiting and praying for a king like David to arrive and save them from oppression. Surely, they thought, this was the moment!…

But Jesus knows, and Matthew has told us, that nothing is that simple. We know that he has come to Jerusalem, not to be enthroned like David, or like Judas Maccabaeus, or like Herod, but to be killed. The meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called ‘triumphal entry’ is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it…

The people wanted a prophet, but this prophet would tell them that their city was under God’s imminent judgment (chapter 24). They wanted a Messiah, but this one was going to be enthroned on a pagan cross. They wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression, but Jesus was going to rescue them from evil in its full depths, not just the surface evil of Roman occupation and the exploitation by the rich.’ (Wright)

The kingship of Jesus is characterised by

1. Lowliness. ‘He had just taught them that the Son of man had come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many; and his manner of entering into his capital must be in harmony with the lowly, selfrenouncing work he has come to do. Thus he shows in the most impressive way that his kingdom is not of this world. There is no suggestion of rivalry with Caesar; yet to those who look beneath the surface he is manifestly more of a king than any Caesar. He has knowledge of everything without a spy; (Mt 21:2) He has power over men without a soldier; (Mt 21:3) He has simply to say The1 Lord hath need, and immediately his royal will is loyally fulfilled. Evidently he has the mind of a King and the will of a King: has he not also the heart of a King, of a true Shepherd of the people? See how he bears the burden of their future on his heart, a burden which weighs so heavily upon him that he cannot restrain his tears. (Lk 19:41-44) There is no kingly state; but was not his a kingly soul, who in such humble guise rode into Jerusalem that day?’ (Expositor’s Bible)

2. Peace. Whereas the horse and chariot were symbols of war, the ass was an emblem of peace. Immediately after the words quoted by the Evangelist there follows this remarkable promise: I2 will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the heathen; and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. See Lk 19:38.

Two natures

Bruner remarks that the combination of two related and yet contrasting themes.  First, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is clearly a regal affair.  Yet by entering on a donkey he demonstrates his humility.  Here, then, we have an illustration of Christ’s ‘two natures’ – his true deity and his true humanity.  He is the crucified Messiah, the lowly Lord, the humble king, the human God.  Deny one or other side of these pairs, says Brunder, and you will tilt over either into esoteric spirituality or this-worldly humanism, and the spell of the gospel will be broken.

One brief moment

For one brief moment in time, lots of people greeted Jesus with enthusiasm and honor, respect and celebration. It’s a great experience to be part of such a crowd. Consider attending the national convention of a major Christian organization or movement, volunteering to help in a large-scale evangelistic crusade, or traveling to an overseas missions conference or national church gathering. Every once in a while, it’s refreshing to be reminded of how large the church really is, how enthusiastic are today’s disciples, how diverse their means of celebrating God’s love. Join them. Catch their spirit.

(Life Application Bible Commentary)

Honour Jesus today

Will you give King Jesus the honor that he royally deserves? As amazing as it must have been to see his triumphant ride into Jerusalem, Jesus has even more glory now. After he was crucified for our sins, he was raised from the dead and then exalted to the right hand of God, where he sits on his royal throne. The King may not be on parade today, but even now he is receiving the homage he deserves from people all over the world—men and women and children who have been saved by his grace. We have as much opportunity to praise him as anyone. So give Jesus the honor he deserves: acknowledge his sovereign kingship by throwing your life down before him, asking him to govern everything you think and say and do.’ (Ryken)

21:10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 21:11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The whole city was thrown into an uproar – Again Matthew emphasises the public nature of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. It is not clear whether we are to understand the people to have been stirred with enthusiasm or apprehension; perhaps it was a mixture of the two.

Bruner remarks that the last time Jerusalem was disturbed (lit. ‘quaked’) in this way was when the Magi entered, looking for the newborn king (Mt 2:3).  It will be literally shaken again on Good Friday (Mt 27:51) and again on Easter Sunday (Mt 28:2-4).

‘As at the beginning his birth as king created turmoil in Jerusalem (Mt 2:3), so too at the end (Mt 21:10) as Jesus is acclaimed first by the crowd (Mt 21:9; cf. Mk’s less direct “of our ancestor David”) and then by the *children in the temple (Mt 21:15, citing Ps 8:3; cf. Mt 11:25).’ (DJG, 2nd, ed.)

Lk 6:29

“Who is this?” – Jesus was by no means unknown in Jerusalem.  The question means, rather, ‘What is all this fuss about?’

“This is the prophet Jesus” – Noting the definite article, some commentators think that this is an allusion to the Moses-like prophet of Deut 18:15 (cf. Mt 13:57; 21:46).

“From Nazareth in Galilee” – This pins down the identification (for Jesus/Joshua was a common name).  Moreover, it points to the relative obscurity of the man who is now causing such a stir in their capital city.

‘From Matthew’s perspective this statement is informational rather than confessional. The crowds of the city thus do not appear ready to accept the hasty identification of Jesus as the messianic king, and their assessment of Jesus falls short of the full truth (cf. Mt 16:14).’ (WBC)

‘The end of the episode seems almost anticlimactic. Jesus performs no miracle, starts no battle. He does not destroy unrighteous rulers or purge Gentiles from Jerusalem. He is the humble king who rides a donkey.’ (Doriani)

This sense of anticlimax is accentuated in Luke’s version, which records Jesus as weeping over Jerusalem as he approached it (Lk 19:41-44).

Cleansing the Temple

21:12 Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 21:13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!”

Mt 21:12–16 = Mk 11:15–18; Lk 19:45–47

According to Mk 11:11f this took place the day after the entry to Jerusalem.

Jesus entered the temple area – The market took place in the Court of the Gentiles.

The Lord comes to his temple (cf. Mal 3:1).  He might have been expected to raise from here an insurrection against the Romans.  But, instead, he comes to overturn the temple, for it will play no significant role in redemption from now on. The act of driving out those who were buying and selling in the temple parallels the action of Judas Maccabaeus, for Jesus strides into the temple to cleanse it of impurity – only this time the defilement is Jewish, not Gentile.

‘The purpose of the court of the Gentiles in the temple was to give the “outcasts” an opportunity to enter the temple and learn from Israel about the true God. But the presence of this “religious market” turned many sensitive Gentiles away from the witness of Israel. The court of the Gentiles was used for mercenary business, not missionary business.’ (Hendriksen)  What impediments and obstacles are we placing in the way of earnest seekers today?

‘These two events, the Triumphal Entry and the Cleansing of the Temple, sealed Jesus’ fate of death. The first event would have caused great concern on the part of Pontius Pilate. Here was someone hailed as a new king, a possible revolutionary leader-at least in the procurator’s eyes. The second event pitted Jesus against the power base of the chief priests, who had long sought to remove Jesus from his ministry. (Jn 5:18) The chief priests comprised one of the most influential and wealthiest groups within the aristocracy. Clearly the two-Pilate and the high priestly family-conspired together to have Jesus killed.’ (College Press)

From Mk 11:11-15, it seems probable that this cleansing of the temple did not take place on the day that he entered Jerusalem in triumph, but on the day following.

No less than four judgements follow the ‘triumphal entry’:

  1. Judgement on the temple, and those who had turned it into a ‘den of robbers’, 21:12f
  2. Judgement on the priests, who were indignant at the children’s praise, 21:14-17
  3. Judgement on the fig-tree, because it bore no fruit, 21:18-22
  4. Judgement on the leaders, who lacked integrity, 21:23-27

(See Green, 218-225)

‘But if Christians could see that Jesus’ prophetic action was profoundly fulfilled in the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70, there was little cause for self-congratulation. For it would not be possible for Matthew’s leaders to hear this story without realising its implications: God will judge bad churches. His severest judgements will be reserved for those churches whose worship is hollow, where corruption and dissention are rife, and which repel rather than attract ‘Gentile’ outsiders.’ (Green)

Jesus drove out both those who were selling and and those who were buying.  From this we can infer that he was not protesting against any particular malpractice, but against the whole system of commercialised religious practice taking place within the temple precincts.

‘Jesus “exorcises” “all those selling and buying” in the temple. Jesus casts out not only the sellers of thoughtless religion but their dupes as well, indicating that we who allow ourselves to be conned by religious commercializers are almost as culpable as those who victimize. Callous religion, the use of religion to make money or serve ourselves, appals Jesus no less than it did Amos and the other prophets.’ (Bruner)

The money changers – The money in current use was Roman coin. However, Jewish law required that every man pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of half a sheckel. A place was therefore provided where the Roman coinage could be exchanged for Jewish, and, of course, the money-changers would charge a fee for this.

He turned over the tables…and the chairs – ‘He touches no one’s person; he hits no enemy; he does not go inside the temple’s innermost precinct where sacrifices were offered…But Jesus does touch property. Property is put below personal values in the ethical calculus of Jesus. Though it is not correct to say that Jesus destroys property here, he does thoroughly rearrange the furniture.’ (Bruner)

Those selling doves – Doves were required to be offered in sacrifice, Lev 14:22; Lk 2:24. Yet it was difficult to bring them from the distant parts of Judea. It was found much easier to purchase them in Jerusalem. Hence it became a business to keep them to sell to those who were required to offer them.

“It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!” – The quotation comes from Isa 56:7, which looks forward to the time when the temple will become a house of prayer (‘for all nations’ – included in Mk 11:17).  What Jesus finds, however, is ‘a den of robbers’: these words comes from Jer 7:11, ‘which warns against the futility of superstitious reverence for the temple compounded with wickedness that dishonors it.’ (EBC)

‘The word translated “robbers” more likely means “nationalist rebel” or “guerrilla.” So Jesus was also charging that they had turned what should have been a “house of prayer” into a “nationalist stronghold” (to use the expression of C. K. Barrett). Questions of race and patriotism and tradition became more important than spirituality, prayer, and worship of the living God.’ (Carson, God with us: themes from Matthew)

What, exactly, was Jesus objecting to?  Was is to the (possibly corrupt) commercialism in this place?  Or was it that those engaged in business were impeding the worship of others (especially the Gentiles – for all this took place in the Court of the Gentiles)?  Perhaps both.

‘The Son of David was popularly expected to ‘cleanse Jerusalem from the Gentiles.’ Jesus wanted it cleansed for the Gentiles.’ (C.H. Dodd)

Bruner says: ‘One is most impressed that Jesus is disgusted by the mixture of worship and money, that he wants the two kept as distinct as possible, and that as a rule he does not want to see people selling things and worshiping God on the same grounds.’

Bruner: ‘Beare, 417, is correct to point out that in Jer 7, from which Jesus’ “hideout for thieves” text came, the thieves were not only the businesspeople who ran concessions in the temple; they were—and this is important to notice—smug worshipers who lived immoral lives outside the temple, and came into the temple for “assurance of God’s love anyway.”’

‘It was not the mere presence of the money changers and the buying and selling of sacrificial animals that provoked Jesus’ outrage. As noted by France, “The market performed a useful and indeed necessary role in providing the animals needed for sacrifice by those who traveled from a distance cf. Jn 2:14; m. Seqalim 1:3; 2:4, the Syrian currency (cf. Ex 30:11-14) which was required for temple dues (see on 17:24), and the market’s location in the Court of the Gentiles was sanctioned by priestly authorities.” In this author’s view, there is also nothing in the text to suggest that Jesus was provoked by dishonest business practices or profiteering. After all, both the “buyers and sellers” were driven out of the courtyard. Jesus’ actions were not primarily an attempt to reform temple proceedings, since he knew that the future destruction of the temple was not far off. Instead, it can be viewed as a symbolic act foreshadowing its destruction. With the removal of those buying and selling, and the scattering of the money changers, Jesus had in effect symbolized the end of the temple as a place of sacrifice. As Wright observes, “Without the Temple-tax the regular daily sacrifice could not be supplied. Without the right money, individual worshipers could not purchase their animal sacrifices. Without animals, sacrifice could not be offered. Without sacrifice the Temple had lost its whole raison d’etre.”‘ (College Press)

The Isaiah prophecy ‘is about nothing less than the worldwide mission of the gospel. From the time that the temple was first built in Jerusalem, God had always intended that his house would be a house of prayer for the nations (see 1 Kings 8:41–43). This is why its outermost court was called “the Court of the Gentiles.” But who can pray in a supermarket? By buying and selling in the outer court, the money changers were effectively excluding Gentiles from the worship of God, and thus they were failing to fulfill their mission to the world. This is what made Jesus so angry. It was not simply what the people were doing—all the buying and selling; it was also what they were not doing: praying to God or reaching the lost.’ (Ryken)

‘As did Simon Maccabeus (1 Macc 13:49–51), Jesus “cleanses” the corrupt temple. But his cleansing implies its coming destruction (Mk 11:12–20 par.; Mk 13 par.) and its replacement with a new house of prayer for all nations, with himself as its new crowning stone (Mk 11:17; 12:10–11; 15:37–39 par.)’ (DJG, 2nd ed.)

One of N.T. Wright’s rather idiosyncratic interpretations surfaces here.  Stein says: ‘Wright interprets this as meaning that the Temple had become a den of revolutionary zealots and brigands. His main support for this is that the term “robbers” (lestes) often refers to brigands or bandits. Yet the reason this term is used is because Jesus is quoting Jer 7:11 where the term is found and the context involves Jesus’ overturning the tables of the moneychangers and those selling sacrificial animals! These people were far from revolutionaries. They were part of the establishment who sought to maintain the status quo.’

‘It was a dramatic gesture, an acted parable, for those with eyes to see, that ‘something greater than the temple is here’ (Mt 12:6). There is no indication, nor is it likely, that any lasting reform was achieved; no doubt the tables were back for the rest of the week, and Jesus took no further action. But the point had been made, and it was not lost on the authorities.’ (France, TNTC)

Is the place of worship that you attend known as ‘a house of prayer’?

Lk 6:29

‘Our paragraph teaches that Jesus is not only a merciful and modest king (Mt 20:29–21:9); he is also a mighty judge. He is not only love; he is also justice. Frequently Matthew has sought to teach this dual truth (e.g., in the genealogy, Mt 1:1–11, and in the important eleventh and twelfth chapters on the person of Christ, where Jesus was both grace and judgment).’ (Bruner)

Two cleansings or one?
John records a temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  So, was the one cleansing (and, if so, was it at the beginning or the close of his ministry)?  Or were there two cleansings?

Sceptical scholars suppose that the authorities, having been alerted by the cleansing recorded by John, would have been on their guard against any further such disruption.  They therefore insist that only one cleansing could have taken place.  This strikes us as flimsy reasoning.

Many accept the straightforward testimony of the Gospels, and agree that both cleansings took place.  The first cleansing did not form a part of the tradition that they were drawing on.  So Mounce, Carson, Tasker, and others.

Significance

This account, suggests Blomberg, is more significant than is often thought.  ‘It provides the final impetus for Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 11:18). It offers an example of Jesus’ genuinely human but sinless anger expressed in righteous indignation against the profaning of that which is holy. We usually get angry when our rights are infringed, and it is difficult to be righteous in indignant self-defense. But, like many of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus provides a good paradigm for speaking out publicly about God’s indignation against the flagrant defiance of his standards in the world. Once again it is the “clergy” and the “Bible teachers,” not the disreputable people of society, who are Jesus’ target for attack. Corruption among the leadership of God’s people arouses Jesus’ wrath more quickly than anything else. But Christ does more than denounce injustice—he takes action against it.’

Contemporary application

‘Contemporary application becomes even more urgent in view of the nature of the religious corruption in this passage—financial profit at the expense of the disenfranchised of society. How many millions of dollars are poured annually into our church buildings and activities and thereby taken away from the poorest and neediest of our world? Instead of always embarking on costly building campaigns, many churches need to consider planting new congregations, meeting in alternate sites, adding additional times of worship, and transferring active members to dying churches to infuse new life in them…In light of v. 13, we ought to have far more prayer meetings than committee meetings.'(Blomberg)

We can’t buy God

‘What galled Jesus was that people believed they could at least partially buy God. The temple was to be a space where people sought God’s Word and said their prayers. But when the temple became a place where, for a fee, one could be assured of divine pleasure without interrupting one’s way of living, the purpose of the temple was utterly debased.

‘When a church exists for comfort to the exclusion of challenge, for grace and not ever for judgment, she becomes a hideout for thieves rather than a house of God. She also abandons the faithful exposition of Scripture, which regularly treats both grace and judgment. (The first two stories in this chapter, 20:29–34 and 21:1–11, for example, taught mainly grace; the first parts of the next two stories, our 21:12–14 and 21:18–20, teach mainly judgment. The lectio continua exposition of Scripture can keep the church’s ministry on the straight and narrow path of fidelity to God’s Word of both law and gospel.)’ (Bruner)

What is your passion?

‘Invite the lost into your life; do not let other activities (including your religious activities) crowd them out. Remember to do deeds of mercy; do not forget the poor. Engage actively in the life of private and corporate prayer; do not wander through life like a person without a God. Do not spend your energy buying and selling, but make the worship of the church the marketplace for your soul. The Bible says that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, where Jesus dwells by faith (see 1 Cor. 3:16). Be sure to make that inner temple a house for prayer, lest it should become a den of robbers that steals money from the poor and worship from God.’ (Ryken)

21:14 The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them. 21:15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 21:16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 21:17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.

After the chastening, the curing.  Bruner (who uses that terminology) says that the second, although less dramatic, is just as important as the first.  Note that each episode ends with a quotation from Scripture.

As MHC puts it; ‘No sooner had Jesus thrown the commercial out than he invited the poor in’

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple courts – ‘Most Jewish authorities forbade any person lame, blind, deaf, or mute from offering a sacrifice or appearing before the Lord in his temple. But Jesus heals them, thus showing that “one greater than the temple is here” (Mt 12:6). He himself cannot be contaminated, and he heals and makes clean those who come into contact with him. These two actions—cleansing the temple and the healing miracles—jointly declare his superiority over the temple and raise the question of the source of his authority (v.23).’ (EBC)

He healed them – ‘While most Jewish authorities forbade any lame, blind, or deaf person from offering sacrifices in the Temple, Jesus faced a string of reversed decisions as He healed all who came to Him.’ (Carson, God with us: themes from Matthew)

The children – ‘Some scholars hold that the appearance of children there seems unlikely. It is important to realize the festive nature of the Passover season and the exceptionally large number of pilgrims who would be in Jerusalem at a time like this. For children and the disabled to be in the temple precincts would be most natural.’ (Mounce)

They were indignant – Jesus’ prediction concerning the temple’s destruction later becomes a charge at his trial (Mt 26:61), and a taunt during his crucifixion (Mt 27:40).

“Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?” – ‘Jesus’ quotation of Ps 8:2 to justify the children’s praises is astounding, for Ps. 8 says that God ordained worship for himself from the lips of children. Jesus indirectly claims the prerogative of deity.’ (New Geneva)

Carson agrees: ‘The passage from Psalm 8:2 envisages praise directed toward God; but the children were directing their acclamation to the Messiah, the Son of David. Jesus’ use of this Old Testament text to justify what the children were doing can only be explained if He held that He should receive the praise given to God.’ (God with us: themes from Matthew)

‘Great David’s greater Son has now come, and he heals these very outcasts in the temple, showing that Isaiah’s many promises of the end-time Healer-King are now being fulfilled (cf. Matt 11:5 and Isa 29:18; 35:3–6; 42:3, 7; 56:8; 61:1; also Exod 15:26; Ps 8:2; Mic 4:6–7; Zeph 3:19; John 9:1–7; Acts 3:2). Once again “a greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6…). Indeed, Jesus seems to be replacing the temple as the locus of God’s presence—with himself.’ (Bruner)

On the discipleship of children and those with a childlike disposition, see Mt 11:25; 18:1–6; 19:13–15.

‘This psalm (in both its Hebrew and Greek forms) speaks of the praise by children of the Lord God. Thus Jesus’ use of Ps 8 comes close to saying, “I am not only the Son of David, as these children shout, I am the Lord of David, as this psalm sings” (and see Mt 22:41–46, where Jesus makes exactly this claim, alluding to Ps 110:1).’ (Bruner)

Saviour and Judge

Bruner cites Luther: ‘The Lord Christ is painted before us and presented to us in two ways. First, he is so friendly, merciful, and gentle, … especially with those who seek his help [like the blind, lame, and children, vv. 14–15]. But then he is so unfriendly and opinionated … with people who condemn his calling and slander all his miracles and works [like the senior pastors and Bible teachers, vv. 15–17].’

The Withered Fig Tree

21:18 Now early in the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry. 21:19 After noticing a fig tree by the road he went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. He said to it, “Never again will there be fruit from you!” And the fig tree withered at once. 21:20 When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” 21:21 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.”
Mt 21:18–22 = Mk 11:12–14,20–24

Matthew presents a somewhat telescoped account of the withered fig tree. Cf. Mk 11:12-14,20-21.

According to DSB ‘there can be no doubt that this, without exception, is the most difficult story in the gospel narrative,’ adding that the story neither rings true, nor is reasonable (since this was not the season for figs, v13).

But ‘the cursing of the fig tree (Mk 11:12-14,20-25) was no petulant outburst, nor even primarily a lesson about faith, but a symbolic demonstration of God’s impending judgement on Israel (comparable to the cleansing of the Temple around which Mark sandwiches this miracle-story-see Mk 11:15-19). (DJG)

The fig tree was a well-known symbol for Israel in the Old Testament (cf., e.g. Jer 24:1-10; Mic 7:16; Hos 9:10), and Jesus had already told a parable about a fig tree in danger of being cut down, clearly symbolising the peril in which the Jewish nation palced herself by rejecting her Messiah (Lk 13:6-9).  Jesus, like many of the Old Testament prophets before him, was dramatising his message with an object lesson or “enacted parable”.  Just as he withered a tree that bore no fruit, so also God would take away the privileges of Israel is she did not repent and turn to her appointed Saviour.’ (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p131).

‘Jesus’ entry into the city in Mark’s account…does not fulfill any Jewish nationalistic hopes “to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from Gentiles” (Pss. Sol. 17:21-46). Jesus, rather, brings judgement upon unfruitful Israel (Mk 11:12-14,20-21; cf. Ho 9:10-17) which has turned God’s “house of prayer for all nations” into a “den of brigands” (Mk 11:15-19; cf. Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). As Mark concludes his story, Jesus maintains his claim to kingship, (Mk 14:61-62; 15:2) but over the universal realm of the “Son of God” (Mk 15:39; cf. Mk 12:6,35-37).’ (DLG)

In summary then, Jesus’ behaviour seems irrational.  But the incident is an acted parable.  To Jesus, the fig tree, fair, but barren, spoke of Jerusalem, full of religious observance but devoid of true fruitfulness.

‘At this time of year, edible figs were still about six weeks away, but the bland fruit had recently appeared on the tree in late March; they would become ripe by late May. These were the early figs that preceded the main crop of late figs, which were ripe for harvest from mid-August into October. If only leaves appeared, without the early figs, that tree would bear no figs that year-early or late. Because everyone would know that it was “not yet the season for real figs,” Jesus is making a point about trees that only pretend to have good fruit (cf. Jer 24).’ (IVP NT Background Commentary)

This incident, is, no doubt, to be linked with Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem, and with the cleansing of the temple. The tree was in leaf, but fruitless; the temple was a splendid sight, yet devoid of true godliness; Jerusalem was full of joyful, expectant pilgrims, yet about to reject her King. All three incident belong together, and interpret one another.

The Authority of Jesus

21:23 Now after Jesus entered the temple courts, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Mt 21:23–27 = Mk 11:27–33; Lk 20:1–8
21:24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 21:25 Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from people?” They discussed this among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 21:26 But if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, for they all consider John to be a prophet.” 21:27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons

21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 21:29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. 21:30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. 21:31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.”

This son replied (lit.), “I, sir!” but did not go. His answer has universally been treated as affirmative even though he only said “I” (not “aye”) in addition to “sir.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

“The tax collectors and prostitutes”

The Parable of the Tenants

21:33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 21:34 When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop. 21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way. 21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’ 21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 21:41 They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.”
Mt 21:33–46 = Mk 12:1–12; Lk 20:9–19

The parable records the special privileges given to the Jewish nation. God has given them good and wise laws, godly leaders, gracious promises, and fellowship with himself. We might reflect that we too have been granted many favours by God, and might ask how grateful we are for them, and how positively we have responded to them.

Jesus reworks Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), directing his parable not against the nation as a whole (as Isaiah does) but against the religious leaders of Jerusalem.  In doing so, he may be reflecting a rabbinic interpretation of the Isaiah passage.

This parable is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. Its implied Christology is very important, especially given the tendency of much modern scholarship to doubt that Jesus had, or even could have had, any self-awareness about his divine Sonship. ‘The so-called Parable of the Wicked Tenants could just as well be the Parable of the Son Sent at Last.’ (N.T. Wright, http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_JIG.htm)

The authenticity of this parable is sometimes doubted. The reasons include, ‘the clear presence of allegory in the parable; the precision of the future actions portrayed in the parable (Jesus’ being put to death outside of Jerusalem; the success of the Gentile mission; and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70); the use of an OT quotation in the parable.’ (NAC)

The assumption that Jesus’ parables could not contain allegorical elements is discredited.

‘This parable in effect summarises the whole of the biblical history, including the gospel story.’ (Evans)

This remarkable parable (it’s almost an allegory) summarises many of the key movements in the plot-line of Scripture: the giving of special privileges to Israel; the sending of the prophets; the selfish disobedience of the Jewish leaders; the sending, at last, of God’s own Son; the cruel rejection of the Son; the judgement on Israel and the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles; Christ’s establishment as the foundation-stone of God’s kingdom.

Yet the parable does not merely describe a series of events: it challenges our stewardship of the kingdom-privileges we ourselves have been given.

Note the threefold context of the parable:

(a) the cultural context – it describes an arrangement that was quite common at the time. Hendriksen informs us that the parable describes a situation that was common in the upper Jordan valley, where there were large estates owned by absent landlords. They had given their farms and vineyards into the care of local people and who enjoyed a considerable measure of independence in running them. For his share of the yield the owner was dependent on the honesty and co-operation of the tenants;

(b) the biblical context – The parable is closely related to Isaiah’s ‘Song of the Vineyard’, Isa 5:1-7 (the verbal similarities are even closer in Mark’s version). ‘Later Jewish interpretation came to understand Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard as a prophecy of the destruction of the temple, a prophecy fulfilled when in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. When Jesus utilises the language of this Isaianic parable in order to tell his own parable, his audience cannot help but sense the judgemental tone of the parable. Whereas in Isaiah’s version the vineyard itself (the people) is guilty, in Jesus’ parable it is not the vineyard, but the tenants (= the religious authorities). They are the reason that God does not receive the fruit that is due. The people’s leaders are selfish and disobedient. They will have to be replaced with new leaders who are obedient and responsive to God. This leadership consists, of course, of those whom Jesus has taught. His disciples will replace the old Jerusalem establishment and will servie God and his people more faithfully.’ (Evans)

(c) the biographical context – it comes during the last week of our Lord’s earthly ministry, and reflects his attitude towards, and relationship with, the Jewish leaders and with ‘the people’. Note that although told against Jesus opponents – the teachers of the law and the chief priests, v19 – it is addressed to ‘the people’ (cf 20:1). Some references to ‘the people’ in Lk 3:15,21; 4:31,36,40; 7:29ff; 13:17; 18:43; 19:7,11,47-48; 20:1,6,9,16,19:45; 21:38; 22:2; 23:5,14,35,48.

A vineyard – The process of establishing a vineyard includes: selecting a suitable plot of land; planting it with vines; enclosing it with a wall or fence; digging a wine-press; building a watchtower.

The vineyard symbolises Israel’s favoured status as God’s people.

‘Privilege entails responsibility. The more one receives, the more he must account for. They who had enjoyed so many more favours at the hand of God than other nations, ought to have been just so much better than other nations, and ought to have cheerfully rendered to him the service which he sought. Holy lives, loving service, cheerful and devoted loyalty to himself, – these were the fruits God sought as the return for the giving of the theocracy and its blessings to them.’ (Taylor)

Farmers – The underlying word can mean ‘farmers’ or ‘vinedressers’. The latter is more likely here, given the content of the parable.

A man…went away on a journey – This can scarcely allude to the delay in the Parousia, since it is ‘the man’, and not the son, who went away. Similarly, the judgement referred to in v16 does not fit the final judgement, but to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and to the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.

Some writers (e.g Taylor) suggest that God was more openly present with his chosen people when they were being established as such at the time of the Exodus, and that he withdrew to the extent that he met less with them face-to-face, more through his prophets. But this line of reasoning may be pushing the detail of the parable too far. Ryle says, ‘This expression must not be pressed too closely. It signifies that as the lord of the vineyard left his vineyard to the occupation of the tenants, so God left the privileges of the Jews to be turned to good account by the nation.’

His servants – represents the prophets. On the rejection of the prophets, see Mt 23:29-37; Lk 6:23; 11:49-51; 13:31-35; Acts 7:52.

To collect his fruit – This was one of several ways in which tenants might pay a landowner.

The tenants – symbolise Israel, especially its leaders, and the shameful treatment of the prophets.

‘In the days of Elijah, Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, and Ahab subjected Micaiah to the foulest indignity. In the reign of Joash, the people conspired against Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, on whom the Spirit of God came; and they stoned him with stones. Jeremiah was cruelly abused by those to whom he went as the messenger of the Lord; and the tradition has always been, that Isaiah was sawn asunder by the order of Manasseh.’ (Taylor)

“He sent his son to them” – cf. Lk 3:22; 9:35. We are clearly intended to read this as a reference to Jesus. The identity of Jesus as the Son of God, far from being minimally attested in the Gospels, features quite widely. It is most apparent in passages such as Jn 5, but is perfectly clear in the Synoptics, the present passage shows. See Jn 3:16 Rom 8:32 Gal 4:4 2 Cor 9:15. See also Mt 21:37n.

Heb 1:1f affirms that Jesus is God’s last word in succession to the prophets.

Jesus was sent first of all to Israel, Mt 10:5f, but was rejected by the Jews, Mk 15:12f Jn 1:11 12:37-41 Acts 2:23 4:10.

‘While the point is not explicitly applied, it is hard to believe that after the revelations of Mt 3:17 and Mt 17:5, and after his use of language like Mt 11:27, Jesus could have used the word son in this story without intending it to point to his own relationship with God.’ (France)

‘Probably even the priests realized that it was a claim by Jesus to be the Son of God, because they brought the claim up at his trial and crucifixion. This is one of only two places where Jesus himself indirectly claimed to be the Son of God before his trial, though others (whether disciples or even demons) might have previously recognized him as such.’ (NBC, on Mk 12:6)

“This is the heir” – The tenants assume, perhaps, that the owner has died. By killing the heir, they plan to lay claim to the ownership of the vineyard. ‘Possession in 9/10 of the law.’

If v13 clearly indicates the divine Sonship of Jesus, then this verse indicates his knowledge of the intentions of his enemies, and the following verse the fact that this intentions were carried out. The parable was spoken on the Tuesday before ‘Good Friday’.

“He will rent the vineyard to other tenants – These ‘others’ are evidently the Gentiles, Acts 13:45-47; 18:6; 28:25-28.

‘Here the vineyard refers to God’s kingdom, which would be offered to the Gentiles, whose time had now come Lk (21:24). Mt 21:43 elaborates on this, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruits.”‘ (NAC)

‘The vineyard, i.e., the privileged position, once granted to Israel, was subsequently tansferred to the church universal, Mt 21:41; 28:19; Acts 13:46, a truth whose realisation was already foreshadowed when Jesus walked on earth, Mt 8:11f; 15:28; Jn 3:16; 4:41f; 10:16; 17:20f.’ (Hendriksen)

According to Evans, 16a is not about the giving of God’s kingdom to the Gentiles but the giving of the leadership of that kingdom to the disciples. Mt 21:43 would seem to weaken this interpretation.

‘Here, then, is the interpretation of the parable: The householder is God, the vineyard is the theocratic privileges enjoyed by those who were the chosen people of God, and as such were placed by him under the law of Moses; the husbandmen are the Jews themselves; the removal oof the householder into a far country is the withdrawal of God from such open manifestation of himself as he made on Sinai, into “expectant passivity,” waiting for the result to develop itself freely in the choice of the peple themselves; the servants sent were the prophets, who were often cruelly maltreated by those to whom they were commissioned; the son is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the crucifixion of whom was the climax of the nation’s iniquity, for which the kingdom of God was taken from it, and given to the Gentiles.’ (Taylor)

21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
21:43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.”

The quotation is from Ps 118:22. The Messianic reference is picked up in Acts 4:11 and 1 Pet 2:7.

“The stone” – a large building block.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” – we cannot but think of the rejection and subsequent vindication of the Messiah.

‘The cornerstone of a building, in addition to being part of the foundation and therefore supporting the superstructure, finalises its shape, for, being placed at the corner formed by the junction of two primary walls, it determines the lay of the walls and crosswalls throughout. All the other stones must adjust themselves to this cornerstone. Such is the relation of Christ to his church. But his glorious resurrection, ascension, and coronation he has become highly exalted, and for his place at the Father’s right hand sends out the Spirit to dwell in the hearts of his followers and to rule over the entire universe in the interest of the church, to the glory of God Triune.’ (Hendriksen)

This verse is important in the debate about so-called ‘replacement theology’.  A cluster of interpretative questions are raised:-

  • When our Lord says that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken away from you’, is he referring to the nation as a whole, or just to the current leaders of the nation?
  • Is the removal of the kingdom of God permanent, or temporary?
  • If the kingdom of God is to be taken away from ‘you’ and ‘given to a people who will produce its fruit’, is ethnic Israel to have no role in it at all?

It would appear that Jesus is still addressing ‘the chief priests and elders’ (v23), especially when we take v25 into account (‘they knew he was talking about them’).

Osborne, however, says: ‘It is questionable whether the antecedent of “you” (ὑμῶν) in “taken away from you” refers to the religious leaders or the nation as a whole, but it is unnecessary to choose between them, as the leaders stand for the nation.’

Vlack (Has the Church Replaced Israel?), cites Mt 23:37–39 and Lk 19:41–44 (which record Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem), to support his view that our Lord is referring to the nation as a whole.  The kingdom of God will be taken away from the present nation of israel, and given to a future nation of Israel.  This hope, for Vlack, is expressed particularly in Mt 23:39 (“You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

For France, ‘this is ‘the most explicit statement in Matthew of the view that there is to be a new people of God in place of Old Testament Israel.’  Note the singular, ‘a people’: this is not the Gentiles as such (that would require a plural), ‘but a people of God derived from all nations, Jew and Gentile, who now, as 1 Peter 2:9 makes clear, constitute the “holy nation, God’s own people”, which was Israel’s prerogative according to Exodus 19:5f.  Thee is thus both continuity and discontinuity: the reign of God continues, and remains focused on a “nation”, but the composition of that “nation” has changed, not just by the replacement of its leaders, whose failure the parable has highlighted, but by the new principle of belonging which has been set out in Mt 3:8-10; 7:15-23; 8:11-12; 12:39-42; 21:28-31; etc; it is a nation which produced fruits, not one whose membership is automatic.’

Citing this passage, Travis says that ‘the role of the Jewish nation as the people of God was being transferred to the people who accepted him as Messiah.’ (I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus)

Hagner: ‘The word [translated “a people”] in the singular here need not be thought of as excluding Jews, however, since the new nation, the church (cf. Mt 16:18), consists of both Jews and Gentiles (and Jews are included in Mt 28:19). Matthew’s church, after all, consists mainly, if not exclusively, of Jewish Christians.’

Blomberg: ‘Jesus is not so much foreshadowing the shift of God’s activity from Jewish to Gentile realms as anticipating the replacement of Israel by the church, which will unite both Jew and Gentile.’

21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet.

Blomberg summarises the main points of the parable: ‘”God is patient and longsuffering in waiting for his people to bear the fruit he requires of them, even when they are repeatedly and overtly hostile in their rebellion against him. A day will come when God’s patience is exhausted and those who have rejected him will be destroyed. God’s purposes will not thereby be thwarted, for he will raise up new leaders who will produce the fruit the original ones failed to provide.”‘

They knew he was talking about them.  They looked for a way to arrest him – ‘Quite possibly some of the Jewish leaders who heard the parable at first might have wondered if the original tenants stood for the Romans who were occupying their land. By the end they clearly recognized that Jesus was telling this story against them, and so they became enraged.’ (Blomberg)

‘When the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil, the fairest warnings both of the sin they are about to commit and of the consequences of it make no impression upon them.’ (MHC)

But they were afraid of the people – This is not surprising, because the people held Jesus to be a prophet, Lk 7:16; had on the previous Sunday been shouting his praise, 19:37f; and on an earlier occasion tried to make him their king, Jn 6:15.

The theological emphases of the parable may be summarised as follows:-

1. Stewardship. The parable exemplifies the importance of the right use of gifts and privileges that God has bestowed. ‘Those who enjoy the privileges of the visible church are as tenants and farmers that have a vineyard to look after, and rent to pay for it. God, by setting up revealed religion and instituted orders in the world, hath planted a vineyard, which he lets out to those people among whom his tabernacle is, v9.’ (MHC)

What does stewardship mean for us today? It means that Christian teachers and leaders have a duty to be faithful. They are not called, first and foremost, to creative, innovative, speculative. They are to be faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted them with. They are to ‘keep the faith’, ‘preach the word’. There is a corresponding responsibility for those who sit under Christian ministry. Bearing in mind that this parable was spoken about, the Jewish leaders, but spoken to the ‘the people’, we all have a duty to weigh the words of our teachers, and observe their lives. ‘Beware of the leaven of Pharisees’, said Jesus. ‘You have observed my behaviour,’ said Paul.

2. The continuity of the covenant. The son follows in the footsteps of the prophets who went before him. ‘God sent his Son into the world to carry on the same work that the prophets were employed in, to gather the fruits of the vineyard for God; and one would have thought that he would have been reverenced and received. The prophets spoke as servants, Thus saith the Lord; but Christ as a Son, among his own, Verily, I say unto you. Putting such an honour as this upon them, to send him, one would have thought, should have won upon them.’ (MHC)

3. Israel’s rejection of God’s prophets and of the Messiah. ‘It has often been the lot of God’s faithful servants to be wretchedly abused by his own tenants.’ (MHC)

4. The judgement on Israel and the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles.

‘The most significant teaching found in this parable, however, is its Christology. Whereas the OT prophets are described as servants (Lk 20:11-13), Jesus is described as God’s “beloved son” (Lk 20:13, RSV). He is not simply his favorite servant or his most beloved servant. He is sufficiently different from the OT prophets that a qualitative change of category must be used to describe him. He is not a servant but the Son. Without reading more out of the parable than is warranted, the question of an “ontological” uniqueness of the Son is raised here. Jesus’ unique role as the “Church’s One Foundation” (see Lk 20:17; Acts 4:11-12; Eph 2:20; 1 Cor 3:11) is then shown by the quotation of Ps 118:22. Whether the judgmental role of the stone alludes to the role of the Son of Man in judgment is uncertain, but that each individual will be judged on the basis of his or her attitude toward Jesus is clear. (Lk 9:26; 12:8-9; Acts 4:12) The Lukan emphasis on this point is evident, for Lk alone added in 20:18 the allusion to Isa 8:14-15; Dan 2:34-35,44-45. The reference to the Son as Heir (20:14) also has Christological significance, for here Jesus is seen as the future Lord of the vineyard. This lordship over the church and creation is more clearly described elsewhere in the NT, but it is found in Luke-Acts as well.’ (NAC)

Total Page Visits: 1 - Today Page Visits: 1