Matthew 21 Study Notes

21:1 The Mount of Olives was a large hill on the eastern side of Jerusalem. It was mentioned in Zch 14:4 and ancient rabbis interpreted the text as referring to Messiah (Mt 24:3). Bethphage was a small village on the slopes of the hill.

21:2-3 Jesus may have made previous arrangements to use the animals mentioned here, but since Matthew often refers to Jesus’s supernatural knowledge (17:27; 20:17-19), it is also possible that Jesus used supernatural knowledge here, in which case he has commandeered the animals in a show of messianic authority.

21:4-5 The formula that Matthew used to introduce the OT quotation affirms that God spoke through the OT prophets. The quotation is a combination of one line from Is 62:11 and excerpts from Zch 9:9. The first text refers to the coming of the Lord, while the second refers to the approach of the divine King. Both texts imply Jesus’s deity and messiahship.

21:6-7 The mother donkey was led alongside her untamed foal in order to calm it. The clothes of bystanders were draped across the backs of both animals, serving as makeshift decorative saddles. The words he sat on them refer to Jesus sitting atop the robes, not to his riding both animals simultaneously.

21:8 The scattering of clothes and branches in Jesus’s path recalls the way in which kings entered their royal cities (2Kg 9:13).

21:9 These words of celebration echo Ps 118:25-26. The people pleaded for salvation from God and blessed God for sending a deliverer who came in the name of the Lord.

21:10-11 All Jerusalem was also stirred when Jesus was born. See Mt 2:3. They asked the right question, but they got an incomplete answer.

21:12 Since Roman currency had idolatrous images stamped on it, the temple accepted only idol-free Tyrian currency. Money changers exchanged pagan coins for acceptable currency for a fee. Merchants sold sacrificial animals to those who had traveled long distances. Doves were sacrificed by poor pilgrims who could not afford lambs (Lv 5:7). Although the merchants and money changers normally performed their services outside the temple precincts, they occasionally set up shop in the court of the Gentiles.

21:13 Jesus’s quote is from Is 56:7 and Jr 7:11. The commotion in the court made the temple unsuitable as a house of prayer. Zechariah 6:12-13 foretold that Messiah would purify the temple. See also Zch 14:21.

21:14 Evidence suggests that first-century Jews extended the demands of Lv 21:16-20 to exclude handicapped persons from entering the temple (2Sm 5:8, LXX). By healing the blind and lame, Jesus identified himself as Messiah (Is 35:5-6). By doing so in the temple, he demonstrated that the handicapped were welcomed by a gracious God.

21:15-16 Both the wonders performed by Jesus and the words spoken by the children identified Jesus as the Son of David and Messiah (see notes at v. 14 and 1:1). Jesus argued from Ps 8:2 that the children’s celebration was appropriate and divinely inspired. After all, God had prepared praise from the mouths of infants.

hosanna

Greek pronunciation [hoh sahn NAH]
CSB translation hosanna
Uses in Matthew 3 (Mk, 2; Jn, 1)
Uses in the NT 6
Focus passage Matthew 21:9,15

Hosanna derives from two Hebrew words hoshi‘ah na’ via Aramaic hosha‘ na’, meaning “Please save!” The phrase first occurs in Ps 118:25 (similar expressions occur in Ps 12:1; 20:9; 28:9; 60:5; 108:6), and by the time of Jesus it had become a fixed liturgical expression used as a prayer for help, an exclamation of praise, and a shout of celebration. Sometimes, the phrase was interpreted messianically, and in this sense, the Gospels highlight Jesus’s triumphal entry by noting the crowds shouting hosanna (Mt 21:9 = Mk 11:9-10 = Lk 19:38 = Jn 12:13), as well as the cheering of the children in praise of Jesus (Mt 21:15).

21:17-19 On his way from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus passed again through Bethphage (v. 1), meaning, “the house of unripe figs.” In light of Mc 5:7, the fruitless fig tree symbolized Israel’s moral barrenness. The cursing of the tree forewarned of God’s coming judgment against Jerusalem and its temple.

21:20-22 Jesus’s disciples apparently overlooked the symbolic significance of Jesus’s miracle and simply focused on the power of his command. Although this mountain could be a reference to the Mount of Olives (Zch 14:4) or the temple mount, it probably referred to God’s power to do humanly impossible things in response to prayer (1Co 13:2).

21:23-27 John the Baptist said that Christ would pour out the transforming Spirit on his disciples and punish the unrepentant with fiery judgment (see note at 3:11). John also identified Jesus as the promised Christ (see note at 3:14). Admission that John was a prophet would require the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus’s authority also.

21:28-32 The father here symbolizes God. The first son symbolizes notorious sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes who initially rebel against the Father’s will but later repent and obey. The other son represents the chief priests and elders who promised obedience to God but never fulfilled their commitment.

21:33-41 The landowner represents God; the vineyard stands first for Israel (Is 5:1-7), then Jerusalem, then the kingdom; the tenant farmers represent the Jewish leaders; the servants, the OT prophets; the son, Jesus. Because the Jewish leaders refused to give God the fruits of righteousness that he demanded and because they rejected and murdered his Son, God would destroy them, take his kingdom away from them, and entrust it to Jesus’s disciples.

21:42-44 Jesus quoted Ps 118:22-23, the same psalm from which the people in Mt 21:9 drew their expressions of praise. The image of a stone that was rejected as worthless by builders but later used as the cornerstone—the most important part of the structure—foreshadowed the fact that though Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leaders, he would be vindicated by God and would become the focal point of God’s kingdom. Verse 43 interprets and applies the parable of the vineyard owner: God would take his kingdom away from the Jewish leaders and entrust it to Jesus’s disciples. Verse 44 alludes to Is 8:14-15 and Dn 2:34,44-45. In Isaiah, the stone is the Lord over whom the people of Israel stumble, fall, and are broken. By identifying himself as the stone, Jesus strongly implied his deity. In Daniel, the stone symbolized a powerful kingdom that would destroy all others and endure forever. The OT allusion thus describes Jesus’s deity and kingship and the destruction of all who reject him.

21:45-46 The background for these verses is 21:10-11.

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