Christ enters Jerusalem. (1-11) He drives out those who profaned the temple. (12-17) The barren fig-tree cursed. (18-22) Jesus' discourse in the temple. (23-27) The parable of the two sons. (28-32) The parable of the wicked husbandmen. (33-46)
Verses 1-11 This coming of Christ was described by the prophet Zechariah, ( Zechariah 9:9 ) . When Christ would appear in his glory, it is in his meekness, not in his majesty, in mercy to work salvation. As meekness and outward poverty were fully seen in Zion's King, and marked his triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, how wrong covetousness, ambition, and the pride of life must be in Zion's citizens! They brought the ass, but Jesus did not use it without the owner's consent. The trappings were such as came to hand. We must not think the clothes on our backs too dear to part with for the service of Christ. The chief priests and the elders afterwards joined with the multitude that abused him upon the cross; but none of them joined the multitude that did him honour. Those that take Christ for their King, must lay their all under his feet. Hosanna signifies, Save now, we beseech thee! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! But of how little value is the applause of the people! The changing multitude join the cry of the day, whether it be Hosanna, or Crucify him. Multitudes often seem to approve the gospel, but few become consistent disciples. When Jesus was come into Jerusalem all the city was moved; some perhaps were moved with joy, who waited for the Consolation of Israel; others, of the Pharisees, were moved with envy. So various are the motions in the minds of men upon the approach of Christ's kingdom.
Verses 12-17 Christ found some of the courts of the temple turned into a market for cattle and things used in the sacrifices, and partly occupied by the money-changers. Our Lord drove them from the place, as he had done at his entering upon his ministry, ( John 2:13-17 ) . His works testified of him more than the hosannas; and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former. If Christ came now into many parts of his visible church, how many secret evils he would discover and cleanse! And how many things daily practised under the cloak of religion, would he show to be more suitable to a den of thieves than to a house of prayer!
Verses 18-22 This cursing of the barren fig-tree represents the state of hypocrites in general, and so teaches us that Christ looks for the power of religion in those who profess it, and the savour of it from those that have the show of it. His just expectations from flourishing professors are often disappointed; he comes to many, seeking fruit, and finds leaves only. A false profession commonly withers in this world, and it is the effect of Christ's curse. The fig-tree that had no fruit, soon lost its leaves. This represents the state of the nation and people of the Jews in particular. Our Lord Jesus found among them nothing but leaves. And after they rejected Christ, blindness and hardness grew upon them, till they were undone, and their place and nation rooted up. The Lord was righteous in it. Let us greatly fear the doom denounced on the barren fig-tree.
Verses 23-27 As our Lord now openly appeared as the Messiah, the chief priests and scribes were much offended, especially because he exposed and removed the abuses they encouraged. Our Lord asked what they thought of John's ministry and baptism. Many are more afraid of the shame of lying than of the sin, and therefore scruple not to speak what they know to be false, as to their own thoughts, affections, and intentions, or their remembering and forgetting. Our Lord refused to answer their inquiry. It is best to shun needless disputes with wicked opposers.
Verses 28-32 Parables which give reproof, speak plainly to the offenders, and judge them out of their own mouths. The parable of the two sons sent to work in the vineyard, is to show that those who knew not John's baptism to be of God, were shamed by those who knew it, and owned it. The whole human race are like children whom the Lord has brought up, but they have rebelled against him, only some are more plausible in their disobedience than others. And it often happens, that the daring rebel is brought to repentance and becomes the Lord's servant, while the formalist grows hardened in pride and enmity.
Verses 33-46 This parable plainly sets forth the sin and ruin of the Jewish nation; and what is spoken to convict them, is spoken to caution all that enjoy the privileges of the outward church. As men treat God's people, they would treat Christ himself, if he were with them. How can we, if faithful to his cause, expect a favourable reception from a wicked world, or from ungodly professors of Christianity! And let us ask ourselves, whether we who have the vineyard and all its advantages, render fruits in due season, as a people, as a family, or as separate persons. Our Saviour, in his question, declares that the Lord of the vineyard will come, and when he comes he will surely destroy the wicked. The chief priests and the elders were the builders, and they would not admit his doctrine or laws; they threw him aside as a despised stone. But he who was rejected by the Jews, was embraced by the Gentiles. Christ knows who will bring forth gospel fruits in the use of gospel means. The unbelief of sinners will be their ruin. But God has many ways of restraining the remainders of wrath, as he has of making that which breaks out redound to his praise. May Christ become more and more precious to our souls, as the firm Foundation and Cornerstone of his church. May we be willing to follow him, though despised and hated for his sake.
Matthew 21:1-9 . CHRIST'S TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK. ( = 11:1-11 Luke 19:29-40 John 12:12-19 ).
For the exposition of this majestic scene--recorded, as will be seen, by all the
Matthew 21:10-22 . STIR ABOUT HIM IN THE CITY--SECOND CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE, AND MIRACLES THERE--GLORIOUS VINDICATION OF THE CHILDREN'S TESTIMONY--THE BARREN FIG TREE CURSED, WITH LESSONS FROM IT. ( = 11:11-26 Luke 19:45-48 ).
For the exposition,
Matthew 21:23-46 . THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS QUESTIONED AND THE REPLY--THE PARABLES OF THE TWO SONS, AND OF THE WICKED HUSBANDMAN. ( = mark 11:27-12 mark 11:12 Luke 20:1-19 ).
Now commences, as ALFORD remarks, that series of parables and discourses of our Lord with His enemies, in which He develops, more completely than ever before, His hostility to their hypocrisy and iniquity: and so they are stirred up to compass His death.
The Authority of Jesus Questioned, and the Reply ( Matthew 21:23-27 ).
23. By what authority doest thou these things!--referring particularly to the expulsion of the buyers and sellers from the temple, and who gave thee this authority?
24. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, &c.
25. The baptism of John--meaning his whole mission and ministry, of which baptism was the proper character.
whence was it? from heaven, or of men?--What wisdom there was in this way of meeting their question will best appear by their reply.
If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?--"Why did ye not believe the testimony which he bore to Me, as the promised and expected Messiah?" for that was the burden of John's whole testimony.
26. But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people--rather, "the multitude." In Luke ( Luke 20:6 ) it is, "all the people will stone us."
for all hold John as a prophet--Crooked, cringing hypocrites! No wonder Jesus gave you no answer.
27. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell--Evidently their difficulty was, how to answer, so as neither to shake their determination to reject the claims of Christ nor damage their reputation with the people. For the truth itself they cared nothing whatever.
Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things--What composure and dignity of wisdom does our Lord here display, as He turns their question upon themselves, and, while revealing His knowledge of their hypocrisy, closes their mouths! Taking advantage of the surprise, silence, and awe produced by this reply, our Lord followed it up immediately by the two following parables.
Parable of the Two Sons ( Matthew 21:28-32 ).
28. But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, Son, go work to-day in my vineyard--for true religion is a practical thing, a "bringing forth fruit unto God."
29. He answered and said, I will not--TRENCH notices the rudeness of this answer, and the total absence of any attempt to excuse such disobedience, both characteristic; representing careless, reckless sinners resisting God to His face.
30. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir--"I, sir." The emphatic "I," here, denotes the self-righteous complacency which says, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men" ( Luke 18:11 ).
and went not--He did not "afterward repent" and refuse to go; for there was here no intention to go. It is the class that "say and do not" ( Matthew 23:3 )--a falseness more abominable to God, says STIER, than any "I will not."
31. Whether of them twain did the will of his Father? They say unto him, The first--Now comes the application.
Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go--or, "are going"; even now entering, while ye hold back.
into the kingdom of God before you--The publicans and the harlots were the first son, who, when told to work in the Lord's vineyard, said, I will not; but afterwards repented and went. Their early life was a flat and flagrant refusal to do what they were commanded; it was one continued rebellion against the authority of God. The chief priests and the elders of the people, with whom our Lord was now speaking, were the second son, who said, I go, sir, but went not. They were early called, and all their life long professed obedience to God, but never rendered it; their life was one of continued disobedience.
32. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness--that is, calling you to repentance; as Noah is styled "a preacher of righteousness" ( 2 Peter 2:5 ), when like the Baptist he warned the old world to "flee from the wrath to come."
and ye believed him not--They did not reject him; nay, they "were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" ( John 5:35 ); but they would not receive his testimony to Jesus.
but the publicans and the harlots believed him--Of the publicans this is twice expressly recorded, Luke 3:12 , 7:29 . Of the harlots, then, the same may be taken for granted, though the fact is not expressly recorded. These outcasts gladly believed the testimony of John to the coming Saviour, and so hastened to Jesus when He came. See Luke 7:37 , 15:1 , &c.
and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him--Instead of being "provoked to jealousy" by their example, ye have seen them flocking to the Saviour and getting to heaven, unmoved.
Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen ( Matthew 21:33-46 ).
33. Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a
and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower--These details are taken, as is the basis of the parable itself, from that beautiful parable of Isaiah 5:1-7 , in order to fix down the application and sustain it by Old Testament authority.
and let it out to husbandmen--These are just the ordinary spiritual guides of the people, under whose care and culture the fruits of righteousness are expected to spring up.
and went into a far country--"for a long time" ( Luke 20:9 ), leaving the vineyard to the laws of the spiritual husbandry during the whole time of the Jewish economy. On this phraseology,
34. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen--By these "servants" are meant the prophets and other extraordinary messengers, raised up from time to time.
that they might receive the fruits of it--Again
35. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one--see Jeremiah 37:15 , 38:6 .
and killed another--see Jeremiah 26:20-23 .
and stoned another--see 2 Chronicles 24:21 . Compare with this whole verse Matthew 23:37 , where our Lord reiterates these charges in the most melting strain.
36. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they did unto them likewise--see 2 Kings 17:13 , 2 Chronicles 36:16 2 Chronicles 36:18 , Nehemiah 9:26 .
37. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son--In Mark ( Mark 12:6 ) this is most touchingly expressed: "Having yet therefore one son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence My Son." Luke's version of it too ( Luke 20:13 ) is striking: "Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send My beloved Son: it may be they will reverence Him when they see Him." Who does not see that our Lord here severs Himself, by the sharpest line of demarcation, from all merely human messengers, and claims for Himself Sonship in its loftiest sense? (Compare Hebrews 3:3-6 ). The expression, "It may be they will reverence My Son," is designed to teach the almost unimaginable guilt of not reverentially welcoming God's Son.
38. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves--Compare Genesis 37:18-20 , John 11:47-53 .
This is the heir--Sublime expression this of the great truth, that God's inheritance was destined for, and in due time is to come into the possession of, His own Son in our nature ( Hebrews 1:2 ).
come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance--that so, from mere servants, we may become lords. This is the deep aim of the depraved heart; this is emphatically "the root of all evil."
39. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard--compare Hebrews 13:11-13 ("without the gate--without the camp"); 1 Kings 21:13 , John 19:17 .
and slew him.
40. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh--This represents "the settling time," which, in the case of the Jewish ecclesiastics, was that judicial trial of the nation and its leaders which issued in the destruction of their whole state.
what will he do unto those husbandmen?
41. They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men--an emphatic alliteration not easily conveyed in English: "He will badly destroy those bad men," or "miserably destroy those miserable men," is something like it.
and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons--If this answer was given by the Pharisees, to whom our Lord addressed the parable, they thus unwittingly pronounced their own condemnation: as did David to Nathan the prophet ( 2 Samuel 12:5-7 ), and Simon the Pharisee to our Lord ( Luke 7:43 , &c.). But if it was given, as the two other Evangelists agree in representing it, by our Lord Himself, and the explicitness of the answer would seem to favor that supposition, then we can better explain the exclamation of the Pharisees which followed it, in Luke's report ( Luke 20:16 )--"And when they heard it, they said, God forbid"--His whole meaning now bursting upon them.
42. Jesus saith unto them. Did ye never read in the scriptures--( Psalms 118:22 Psalms 118:23 ).
The stone which the builders rejected, &c.--A bright Messianic prophecy, which reappears in various forms ( Isaiah 28:16 , &c.), and was made glorious use of by Peter before the Sanhedrim ( Acts 4:11 ). He recurs to it in his first epistle ( 1 Peter 2:4-6 ).
43. Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God--God's visible Kingdom, or Church, upon earth, which up to this time stood in the seed of Abraham.
shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof--that is, the great evangelical community of the faithful, which, after the extrusion of the Jewish nation, would consist chiefly of Gentiles, until "all Israel should be saved" ( Romans 11:25 Romans 11:26 ). This vastly important statement is given by Matthew only.
44. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder--The Kingdom of God is here a Temple, in the erection of which a certain stone, rejected as unsuitable by the spiritual builders, is, by the great Lord of the House, made the keystone of the whole. On that Stone the builders were now "falling" and being "broken" ( Isaiah 8:15 ). They were sustaining great spiritual hurt; but soon that Stone should "fall upon them" and "grind them to powder" ( Daniel 2:34 Daniel 2:35 , Zechariah 12:2 )--in their corporate capacity, in the tremendous destruction of Jerusalem, but personally, as unbelievers, in a more awful sense still.
45. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables--referring to that of the Two Sons and this one of the Wicked Husbandmen.
they perceived that he spake of them.
46. But when they sought to lay hands on him--which Luke ( Luke 20:19 ) says they did "the same hour," hardly able to restrain their rage.
they feared the multitude--rather, "the multitudes."
because they took him for a prophet--just as they feared to say John's baptism was of men, because the masses took him for a prophet ( Matthew 21:26 ). Miserable creatures! So, for this time, "they left Him and went their way" ( Mark 12:12 ).