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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
Jesus Enters Jerusalem As its King, Is Challenged, Challenges His Opponents Back In Return, Reveals His Sonship, And Finally Declares Himself to Be Not Only David’s Son But David’s Lord (21.1-22.46).
Having laid the basis for His Kingship in what has gone before, Jesus now publicly makes clear His claim, by riding into Jerusalem in order to indicate that He has come as its King. This claim will later be consolidated in a further three stages when He will:
Thus the emphasis from now on in regard to the Kingly Rule of Heaven is His coronation as King after His resurrection in order to further advance His Kingly Rule already revealed on earth, in spite of the opposition of men and of Satan.
Prior to this we have been studying the process that led up to this point:
In chapter 19-20 He has demonstrated the basics of the new age that He has brought in. Now He will enter Jerusalem in triumph, hailed by those who represent His new congregation, preparatory to His own soon coming coronation by His Father as Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36; Matthew 28.18), in spite of all that man can do. Of this 28.18-20 is the climax, when being granted all authority in Heaven and earth He will send out His disciples to establish His Kingly Rule over the nations.
This Section from 19.3-22.46 which we are now considering, of which this entry into Jerusalem is an integral part, commenced in part 19 of the Commentary. It was analysed in full as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus began to be tested, and in the parallel He ceased to be tested. In ‘b’ He questioned the Pharisees about what the Scriptures say and declared that mankind cannot oppose what God has sovereignly declared about the oneness of man and woman in marriage, and their unique relationship, and in the parallel He will question the Pharisees about what the Scriptures say and declares that mankind cannot oppose what God has said about the Messiah, and His unique relationship with God. In ‘c’ Jesus dealt with the permanence of marriage on earth and its importance in ensuring the unity of the family, and in the parallel He will deal with the question of loving God and neighbour, thus ensuring the unity of His people. In ‘d’ He revealed that marriage is no longer incumbent on all and that it is permissible to refrain from it for the sake of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and in the parallel He will deal with the question of its non-existence in Heaven and its significance as regards the resurrection. In ‘e’ the attitudes of young children, (who are the pattern for living in the image of God), and of a worldly wise young man, are contrasted, especially their attitudes towards the Kingly Rule of Heaven and to God, and that especially in relation to wealth, and in the parallel the attitude of those who question about the tribute money, who are also worldly wise, will be challenged. Both raise questions as to how to live in the image of God, and what to do with wealth, and status in the Kingly Rule of Heaven. In ‘f’ men were faced with a choice about riches, but should consider that one day He will sit on the throne of His glory when all who have followed Him on His terms will be rewarded and will finally receive eternal life, for ‘those who are last will then be first, and those who are first will be last’, while in the parallel we will have described the parable of the wedding of the King’s son when all those who are His will share His blessing, while those who refuse to come on His terms will be cast into outer darkness and will weep and gnash their teeth, for ‘many are called but few are chosen’ In ‘g’ we had the parable of the householder and the faithful workers in his vineyard, ‘the last will be first’, and in the parallel we will have the parable of the householder and the faithless workers in the vineyard, where the first will very much be last. The latter workers are being replaced by the former (the old nation by the new nation). In ‘h’ the attitude of the Jewish leaders towards Jesus was described and two sons were used as examples in order to bring out what the future holds, and in the parallel the attitude of the Jewish leaders towards Jesus’ authority will be described, and two sons will be cited as examples of what the future holds. In ‘i’ we had the reaction of the twelve to the rebuking of James and John, and Jesus’ advice as to what they should rather do in order to gain precedence, that is, seek to serve, and in the parallel we will have their reaction to the cursing of the fig tree, the latter being a parabolic rebuke of Israel, and what they are to do in order to gain precedence, demonstrate their outstanding faith. In ‘j’ the blind men called Him the Son of David and were healed (their eyes have been opened), and in the parallel the blind and the lame will call Him the Son of David and will be healed (it is His enemies who are thus blind). Centrally in ‘k’ Jesus will enter in humble triumph into Jerusalem, which stresses the central feature of the section, the revealed Kingship of Jesus which is about to burst on the world (compare 28.18-20). It is this last with which we will now commence.
Jesus Prepares For His Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem (21.1-7).
An essential part of any coronation in Israel was an ass on which the King would ride to the crowning ceremony. This tradition commenced at least when Solomon rode to the River Gihon on the king’s mule to be crowned in opposition to Adonijah (1 Kings 1.33, 38), for the mule was the regular royal means of transport (2 Samuel 13.29), and to the Jews was seen as a noble creature. Later it became the sign by which the coming King would be identified as he entered Jerusalem in lowliness, on an asses colt, presumably in the process of approaching the Temple where he would be presented before God (Zechariah 9.9).
The initial impression given here (and in Mark and Luke) is that Jesus’ entry follows immediately on His ascent from Jericho, but, as with all Matthew’s abbreviated narratives, such connections must be treated as rough links, and not be too literally applied, and the same is true of Mark and Luke. Thus all that is being said here is that at some stage after the ascent from Jericho Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem for a special purpose, having first spent time in Bethphage and Bethany (on the borders of Jerusalem) where He and His disciples had a lodging, a special purpose for which He needed an ass. We learn in John’s Gospel that this in fact took place after the raising of Lazarus (John 12.17), an event which was probably His first action on reaching Bethany (John 11.1, 18). Thus it may well have been in anticipation of the people’s reaction to this, combined with the fact of the already gathering sightseers around Bethphage and Bethany attracted by the rumours of what had happened, that Jesus took the opportunity of preparing for His entry on an ass. He would thus be entering as a recognised giver of life and at a moment of high expectation.
Many a time the prophets in the past, wanting to get over an important message to the people, had acted out a drama for them which made them ask themselves, why is he doing this? John had done it with his baptism which had depicted the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus would do it by a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Note than in ‘a’ they are to bring an ass and colt, and in the parallel they bring an ass and colt. In ‘b’ they were to go and use a password, and in the parallel they went and did as Jesus had appointed them. Central in ‘c’ is the Scripture that this was fulfilling.
21.1a ‘And when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, to the mount of Olives,’
The journey from Jericho having been completed, Jesus and the disciples settled down in their camp which was established by Bethphage, and near Bethany, on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives was the Mount that towered over even the Temple Mount and gave a panoramic view of the city. It was connected in Jewish minds with the eschatological future (Zechariah 14). At that point Jesus then apparently visited the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). But the concentration of the Synoptic evangelists was rather on the momentous entry into Jerusalem and they wanted no distraction from it. They were more used to such miracles than we are (there had been a number of raisings from the dead) and at this stage they wanted all attention to be on the entry of the King. It was from Bethany that they would proceed to enter Jerusalem via Bethphage.
21.1b-2 ‘Then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “You go into the village that is just by you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her. Loose them, and bring them to me.” ’
It was Jesus’ intention to make a grand entry, and for that purpose He sent two of His disciples to the nearby village (probably Bethphage) where they would, on first entering the village, find an ass and her colt tethered. They were then to loose them and bring them to Jesus.
It is very possible that the mother ass was tethered there, along with her youngish colt, available for hire by travellers, a regular practise in villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The site at the edge of the city would be seen as suitable for the hire of such animals and the colt would also have been reared with that in view, even though it was still young enough never to have been ridden. Most would not want to try to ride an untried colt. But in the event, if the disciples did intend to bring the colt, it would be expected that the mother ass would accompany the colt, if only to keep it from becoming too nervous. Such asses, accompanied by their colts, were a regular sight around Jerusalem.
Jesus’ intention was in fact to use the untried, unridden colt, for this use of something previously unridden had a religious significance. It indicated either sacred use or use by royalty. (See Numbers 19.2; Deuteronomy 21.3; 1 Samuel 6.7; 2 Samuel 6.3). We can also compare here Genesis 49.10-11 where an ass’s colt, which was tied up, was connected with the coming King who would win the obedience of the people, and there it was followed by the ancient equivalent of the Messianic banquet, the feast of good things. In Zechariah 9.9 the Coming King was to enter Jerusalem on an asses colt, humble and riding on an ass. Thus to ride into Jerusalem on an untried asses colt would have deep religious significance in terms of both Genesis 49.10-11 and Zechariah 9.9.
Much has been made of the fact that Matthew mentions two animals, but we have already had cause to notice that Matthew regularly takes notice of companions where the other evangelists do not. This was probably firstly because he was an eyewitness who vividly remembered the detail and noticed such things, and secondly possibly because he himself had been somewhat ostracised when he was younger (as a public servant) and was therefore sensitive about the importance of companionship.
But, as we have seen, in this case the fact that there were two asses makes sense, for Jesus’ intention was to ride in on an ass which had never been ridden and was therefore still with its mother (Mark 11.2; Matthew makes the same thing clear by the quotation below which refers to the asses colt). Riding into Jerusalem in this way would be a symbol of His unique holiness. We can compare how the Ark was similarly carried into Jerusalem on ‘a new cart’ (2 Samuel 6.3, 17). But the fact that the ass had never been ridden indicated that it was youngish colt, and it was typical of Jesus’ humanity that He would not separate the colt from its mother unnecessarily. Thus He had arranged for the mother ass to come as well. It was quite normal for an ass and its colt to go around together. (Had she been left tethered she would have made desperate attempts to follow her colt). This detail confirms that all this was by prior arrangement so that Jesus knew the full circumstances. The suggestion that Matthew’s Hebrew and knowledge of Hebrew poetry was so bad that he mistook the meaning of Zechariah’s prophecy is simply to miserably underestimate Matthew and can be dismissed for what it is, totally unnecessary. It is in fact clear that Matthew was a competent Hebraist.
21.3 “And if any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them’, and immediately he will send them.”
It may well be that Jesus had already made an arrangement that He would collect the asses when He needed them and that whoever collected it was to give a kind of password, ‘the Lord has need of them’. Or it may be that He was making use of the custom of ‘angaria’ under which a major religious figure was entitled to procure for himself the use of a means of transport for a period of time by a simple act of appropriation. ‘The Lord has need of them’ would then be seen as indicating this.
We are in fact probably intended to see in the use of the title ‘the Lord’ a deliberate indication that this was an unusual situation by which Jesus’ supreme authority was being revealed. ‘The Lord’ may refer to God, in Whose Name Jesus was acting, or it may have been the title by which the owners acknowledged Jesus. The whole arrangement thus indicates that Jesus has a special significance in what He is about to do. It may well therefore be that the ass’s colt was in fact being offered for His free use as a major religious figure in accordance with the custom of angaria without previous arrangement.
21.4 ‘Now this is come about, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,’
But Matthew then again points out that a further fulfilment of the Old Testament prophetic message was taking place. The Scriptures were coming to a head in Jesus (5.17). The citation is in fact taken from two places, Isaiah 62.11 and Zechariah 9.9. But in both cases there is a remarkable omission. Isaiah 62.11 reads, “Say you to the daughter of Zion, behold your salvation comes”, but Matthew drops ‘salvation’ replacing it with ‘King’ from Zechariah 9.9. Zechariah 9.9 then declares, “Behold your king comes to you, He is righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass’. Again the reference to salvation is dropped. So in both cases Matthew deliberately drops the reference to salvation. Compare also John 12.15 where John also drops the reference to salvation, but there John includes the words, ‘do not be afraid’, emphasising the King’s lowliness and that He has not come with belligerent or harmful intent.
So the lack of mention of salvation is not to be seen as a threat. Rather it is a sad recognition of the fact that Jerusalem as a whole will not recognise or respond to the salvation that He has come to bring, a thought that continues to be emphasised throughout what follows, and is emphasised in Acts, where in spite of the glorious initial response Jerusalem eventually hardens itself against Jesus.
On the other hand for those who are ready to respond to Him the underlying message is that salvation is available, for all who knew their Scriptures would recognise that behind the King’s coming in terms of these two quotations salvation was in the air.
We must conclude therefore that it is not correct to say that Jesus was by His act making an offer of salvation to Jerusalem that was not accepted. Such a thought is deliberately excluded by the omissions of the references to salvation in both Matthew and John. It is rather to be seen as an indication that their King had come, but that He was aware that, apart from the many whose hearts were open, (something revealed by the acclamation of the crowds), Jerusalem was not on the whole in a state of heart which made them ready to receive His salvation. His act therefore is a declaration rather than an offer, and identifies Him as the King coming as the suffering Servant, something which has been Matthew’s continual message throughout.
That Jesus’ careful arrangement for the obtaining of the colt, followed by His equally deliberate riding of it into Jerusalem in Passover week, is intended to have significance is undoubted, for while certainly some wealthy pilgrims did ride into Jerusalem on asses at that time, it was not common practise, and it would certainly not have been expected of Jesus, for the pilgrims flocked in continually on foot. Thus He was by it deliberately making Himself stand out, and all would know that by it He was intending to make a declaration. And a careful reading of the witnesses suggests that they saw His intention as being to proclaim His prophetic status (21.11; Luke 19.37; John 12.16-18). It may also be that they saw Him as deliberately using an acted out prophecy in order to remind them of the soon coming Messiah. It was only later that recognition would dawn on many who believed, that it was in fact a declaration that He was the Messiah, coming in lowliness to commence the official establishment of His Kingly Rule in Jerusalem (John 12.16-18), as it had already first been established in Galilee. The quotation from Zechariah was certainly seen by the Jews as Messianic, but Jesus’ clothing and demeanour would not have encouraged full recognition.
Note. Writing as a Jewish Christian to Christian Jews Matthew avoids putting emphasis on Jerusalem as far as he can, for while he acknowledges that Jesus is Jerusalem’s King, he does not want Christ’s Kingship to be seen as tied to Jerusalem, and he considers that the Kingly Rule of Heaven has first been proclaimed in Galilee, which he sees as in a sense its natural home. That is why later he will present Christ’s coronation as something which, while having been accomplished in Heaven, is connected with Galilee with its freedom from the old traditional leadership, rather than being connected with Jerusalem (28.16-20). Indeed he sees anything that happened in Jerusalem as being due to the failure of the Apostles immediately to obey the angel’s urgent indication that they were to go to Galilee (28.7; Mark 16.7), for on hearing the news that He would be awaiting them in Galilee they should have gone at once. It was only unbelief that kept them in Jerusalem. By this he is further affirming that the old Israel, centred on Jerusalem, has been replaced by the new Israel, an Israel which has more in common with Galilee in not being tied to the old ways. For Matthew, as for Paul, the real Jerusalem was now the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26), and he wants his readers to see it in that way too. Neither wanted the baggage of the old Jerusalem. As far as they were concerned the old Jerusalem was in the past, and should stay that way.
Luke can, however, present things differently, for to him and his readers Jerusalem was the old capital of ancient Israel and the place where prophecy would be fulfilled, but nothing more. They were in no danger of being sucked in by the old Jerusalem with its powerful religious attractions, for it had no great hold on their hearts, and it could therefore be seen objectively. He is quite happy therefore to connect Christ’s heavenly activity with Jerusalem. Moreover, unlike Matthew, he will go on to make clear precisely what the relationship of the new congregation was to Jerusalem. To him Jerusalem was the starting point and there was no danger that Luke’s readers might be sucked back to the old ways. When John writes Jerusalem’s ties are broken so that again there is no danger of wrong ideas arising from the connection with Jerusalem. Matthew’s emphasis therefore must be seen as favouring an early date for his writing, with all ties to Jerusalem intended to be seen as broken.
End of note.
21.6-7 ‘And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and they brought the ass, and the colt, and spread their robes on them, and he sat on them.’
The disciples then went and did precisely what Jesus had appointed them. They brought the ass, with its colt, and festal robes were spread on both as part of the recognition of the event. And Jesus then took His place on the robes which covered the colt (‘on them’, that is, ‘on the robes’). We must not underestimate the skill and mastery of Jesus in riding an untried colt in the midst of an excited crowd. A master jockey who read the passage was heard to exclaim, ‘My, what hands He must have had’. But it presented no difficulty to the Lord of creation, for He was riding an ass which knew its Master.
The Ride Into Jerusalem (21.8-17).
Passover time was always a time of high excitement and fervour. At that time pilgrims would be flooding into Jerusalem from Galilee (to the north) and Peraea (to the west), as well as from Judaea itself, and others would be flooding in from many parts of the world. And their minds would be fixed on that great deliverance that Passover celebrated, when God had delivered them out of the hands of a terrible enemy (Exodus 12). Now they saw themselves as under the heel of an equally terrible enemy, and they longed for a similar deliverance. Indeed it was because feasts like this tended to arouse insurrectionist tendencies that the Roman governor would ensure that he was present in Jerusalem, along with suitable reinforcements to the garrison, when these feasts took place.
And the crowds already gathered in and around Jerusalem, full of religious fervour and in festal mood, and with time on their hands, would welcome pilgrims as they arrived by calling out to them the various Scriptures associated with the feasts. Thus it was not unusual for pilgrims to be greeted with enthusiasm and with shouts of acclamation in this way. The cries would be taken from such Psalms as Psalm 118, with words such as, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 118.26), and ‘Save now (hosianna - hosanna is possibly an Aramaic rendering) we beseech you, O Lord’ (Psalm 118.25).
It would not be surprising therefore if the arrival of the great Galilean prophet, riding in on an ass, increased the fervour and stirred up indirect Messianic expectations, especially as His healings and exorcisms connected Him with, and would continue to connect Him with, the great Solomon, the son of David. This would especially be so if word about the raising of Lazarus had got around. And the fact that He was on an untried asses colt and not on the full grown ass would stress the religious aspect of His ride. On the other hand whilst riding on an ass would be significant to Jews, it would mean little to the Romans, who would expect a Messianic pretender to be on a war horse. They regularly saw men riding asses in Palestine, and He would not look like a pretender. And they were used to Passover fervour.
This chiasmus is a chiasmus of contrasts. In ‘a’ He enters in festal triumph, and in the parallel He leaves quietly, having accomplished His purpose. In ‘b’ the crowds call Him the Son of David, and in the parallel members of the Sanhedrin ask Him whether He is aware of what the people are saying. In ‘c’ the city is stirred by the events, and the crowds declare Him to be the prophet from Galilee, and in the parallel Sanhedrin members are moved with indignation at all that they saw of His prophetic activity. In ‘d’ He empties the Temple of the mercenary minded, and in the parallel He welcomes and heals the lame and the blind. (Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give you). Finally in ‘e’ He proclaims why judgment must come on the Temple. It is because although it was intended to be a House of Prayer, the leaders have made it a den of bandits.
21.8 ‘And the greater part of the crowd spread their robes in the way, and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way.’
At His approach on the ass, surrounded by the crowds, the excited people began to spread their robes in the way, and others to cut small branches from trees, possibly including palm fronds, and spread them in the way. The spreading of garments in the way was a regular way of showing honour to someone important. Rabbinic literature offers parallels, and Plutarch tells us that when Cato Minor left his troops they spread their clothes at his feet. This was a clear indication of the supreme importance of the rider and the honour in which He was held. We can also compare 2 Kings 9.13 where the same happened to Jehu. Such an action may have been intended to indicate the right of the king to possess their possessions, or the idea may have been one of maintaining the ass’s purity, and preventing it being soiled by the common ground. For everything about the incident indicates its connection with the proclamation of royalty to those in the know, while the thought of preserving purity would fit in with Jesus’ prophetic status.
21.9 ‘And the crowds who went before him, and those who followed, cried, saying, “Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” ’
And as they went on into the city the crowds yelled from all sides, and they cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, and ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord’, and ‘Hosanna in the Highest’. These are but three predominant examples of many things that would be shouted that day, for the excitement was at its height. It was an upgrading with the words ‘the Son of David’ to the normal cries which greeted pilgrims (and which the Romans were perfectly used to. The Romans would be alert but not concerned).
‘Hosanna’ means ‘save now’, and is taken from Psalm 118.25, but over the years its use had apparently been gradually changed so that it had become a kind of greeting to any who reminded them of the coming expected salvation. And as we have already seen ‘Son of David’ was a title which had a dual significance, pointing on the one hand to the One Who was a healer like Solomon, the son of David, had been (as mentioned in Josephus. Compare also the words of the Canaanite woman in 15.22), and on the other to the Messiah of current expectation (Psalm of Solomon). It may also have gained in significance from the fact that many knew that He really was the Son of David (1.1, 17). But their cries were cries of future expectancy rather than of present hope. In their eyes Jesus was simply not revealing the demeanour expected of a Messianic claimant.
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ was a regular greeting to pilgrims, but possibly here gaining deeper significance from the fact that Jesus was a recognised prophet. They did not, however take the final step of realising His claim to Messiahship (23.39). They thus spoke truer than they knew.
‘Hosanna in the Highest’ was an expression of praise to the Most High God, and further indicates the significance of Hosanna as a praise word, although no doubt still containing within it a yearning hope that one day He would indeed deliver.
21.10 ‘And when he arrived in Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
The massed crowds, and the noise, and the excitement inevitably caused a reaction in the inhabitants of Jerusalem and in many Jewish visitors from around the world (the crowds following Jesus were probably mainly Galileans and Peraeans), so that their interest was stirred and they began to say,’ Who is this?’
We can compare here the stir caused by the Magi when they too entered Jerusalem, in their case seeking the Son of David (2.3).
21.11 ‘And the crowds said, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
The triumphant reply then came back, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” This brought out what the understanding of the crowds as a whole was, although some may have had greater expectations. They were welcoming Him as the great Prophet of Whom they were so proud. His identification as from Nazareth reminds us of 2.23, and illustrates the fact that although He was born in Bethlehem and had moved to Capernaum around the time that He began His ministry, the place in which He was brought up from His earliest days was not forgotten. It was Nazareth that had placed its imprint on Jesus, and His memories from His earliest days were of there. That was His home. (I was born in Hull, and moved to London as a young man, but I grew up in Leeds from the age of five, and I have always looked on myself, and been looked on by others, as a Leeds man. It is the place of our upbringing, not necessarily our birth, that stamps itself upon us).
21.12 ‘And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and he overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those who sold the doves,’
The road led to the Temple, the centre of Jewish worship and a focal point at Passover time, where daily prayer would be heard. But few in the Court of the Gentiles were taking much notice of that for the purveyors of sacrificial animals continued to buy and sell, the money changers continued to change the money of visitors into the right coinage for the payment of the Temple Tax (in reliable Tyrian coinage), and those who sold doves for sacrifice continued to do a roaring trade. Little thought was paid to any Gentiles who might have come into that outer court to pray.
When Jesus had been a young prophet with little experience He had entered the Temple courts and had been angered at the trading in the Temple which had seemed to demean it, and had sought to turn out those involved with the cry, ‘Do not make My Father’s House into a marketplace’ (John 2.13-16). It had been a seven day wonder, but soon forgotten, probably being written off as the activity of a young hothead, and endured because the people had approved. (There are so many obvious differences in a short space between John’s account and the Synoptics that they were clearly different events). However, since then He had visited Jerusalem a number of times and there had been no trouble. Thus none was probably expected at this Passover. Jesus had, however, by this time discovered more about what went on in the Temple, and He knew that His time had come.
So history now repeated itself. Jesus strode ‘into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and He overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those who sold the doves.’ This time it was a deliberate and thought out action, and not just a reaction against His Father’s house being treated like a marketplace. Having entered Jerusalem as its King He was demonstrating His authority by emptying the Temple of commerce, and exposing the fraudulence and corruption that was taking place in the Temple. He was seeking to turn it into what it should have been for all people, a house of prayer and worship. It was an indication that He had come to purge out evil in all its forms. In the words of Hosea 9.15, ‘Because of the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of My House.’ The Lord had suddenly come to His Temple in order to seek to purify it (Malachi 3.1-4).
21.13 ‘And he says to them, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.”
In defence of His actions, and in order to explain their significance, Jesus then cites Isaiah 56.7 conjoined with Jeremiah 7.11. ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ conjoined with ‘is this house which is called by My Name become a den of robbers in your eyes? I, even I, have seen it.’ It brings out the purpose of His action, to turn the Temple back from being a ramp, by which as much money as possible could be squeezed out of the people, into a House of Prayer. Of course, the chief priests would have defended the trading on the grounds that it was necessary so as to make it convenient for the people to obtain what was necessary in their religious worship. But it could have been carried out elsewhere, and that certainly did not excuse the underhand tactics that were often employed, nor did it justify causing disruption in the only part of the Temple where Gentiles could worship.
Jesus was always very conscious of the context of His quotations and this particular one from Isaiah very much had the coming new age in mind (as had His use of the ass), when reformed worship would become genuine and true. He may well indeed have intended people to remember back to another leader who had purified the Temple in former days, in the days of Judas Maccabaeus. That too had been associated with the waving of palm branches. Then it had been from the defilement of idolatry. This time it was from the defilement of Mammon.
It was not only Jesus Who was against the Temple trading. It is thought by many that it had in fact become something of a scandal. Extortionate rates of exchange were regularly charged (shared out in different ways, some charitable so as to justify them); sheep which had been rejected for sacrifice because they were blemished suddenly became unblemished after they had been bought at a cheap price, and were then sold on as unblemished, and accepted as such; high prices were charged for everything. This would not necessarily be true of all, but it would probably be true of a large minority, even a majority. Business corrupts. And even the chief priests raked in their percentage. But even worse in Jesus’ eyes was that it prevented the neediest and lowliest people, the Gentiles and the underprivileged, from praying and worshipping. Note that He was equally concerned to drive out the buyers!
Thus Jesus was revealing that in the new age which He was bringing in, prayer and worship was to become foremost, and everything else must be subsidiary to that, especially corrupt forms of religion and Mammon. Purification of Jerusalem and the Temple were in fact a part of national Messianic expectation (Malachi 3.1-3; Psalms of Solomon 17.30). But this was only a final gesture, a last call to repent, for as He will shortly make clear the corruption of the Temple had gone too far, and it must be replaced (23.38; 24.2, 15; compare John 2.19-22; 4.21-24). It was in fact symbolic of precisely how different the new age was going to be!
21.14 ‘And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.’
In the chiasmus this verse is in deliberate contrast with those speaking of the casting out of the corrupt dealers. For a short while the Temple was restored to its rightful purpose, and became a place where people were made whole. In the place of the racketeers came the blind and the lame. And Jesus healed them there. Had people but realised it this was a further Messianic claim (11.5).
This would not, however, have been pleasing to the religious authorities. In their eyes such deformities did not fit in with the holiness of the Temple. The blind and crippled were allowed into the Court of the Gentiles, but they could go no further, and even then there were severe restrictions placed on them. So the sight of so many flocking in would have been distasteful to their eyes, and the thought of them being healed there positively disgusting. They may well have felt that such healings must surely leave some residue of the deformity behind. Furthermore such people would now be able move on into the Temple proper for they were no longer disabled. Such an instantaneous change in the situation with regard to holy matters could not be pleasing, and caused problems for the authorities. How did you police it?
There may, however, have been another significance in Matthew citing ‘the blind and the lame’. When David was seeking to capture Jerusalem initially it would appear that the then inhabitants derided him and his followers as ‘the blind and the lame’, seeing them as powerless to enter their stronghold. When he did succeed in breaking in and capturing Jerusalem a proverb then arose that ‘the blind and the lame shall not come into the house’, and this probably applied to the exclusion from favour, and from the central place of worship, of the Jebusites. Thus Matthew may be pointing out by this that under the greater David the blind and the lame are now welcome. None are now excluded.
21.15 ‘But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children who were crying in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the son of David”, they were stirred with indignation,’
The picture here is vivid. Jesus had been stirred with indignation at the villainies practised in the Temple, while the chief priests and the Scribes were stirred with indignation at the wonderful things which He did. In their eyes He was turning the Temple into a Hospital for the poor, and taking over the Temple. What villainy! Such goings on could not be allowed in a holy place. At least, they felt, what they had been doing had had a religious purpose. What Jesus was doing was not even religious at all. Indeed it was almost anti-religious. (So twisted can men’s thinking become when they are filled with prejudice).
But they were also angry because the children, spurred on by the miracles that were being performed, were crying out that He was the Son of David, and He was doing nothing about it. It appeared to them little short of blasphemy - and possibly dangerous. National fervour could soon be aroused. Why did He not stop it?
21.16 ‘And they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus says to them, “Yes. Did you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise?’ ” ’
So they sharply drew His attention to the situation. ‘Do you not hear what these are saying? They are calling you the Son of David.’ They knew that such a connection of the Son of David with the Temple could bring down the wrath of the Romans on them, and even possibly the wrath of God. And besides it was unseemly. In the Temple any acclamation should be directed towards God. It should be God Who was being acclaimed. And consider what a noise they were making! It was disturbing everybody.
Jesus’ reply was simple. He pointed them again to the Scriptures (Psalm 8.2). There was only One Who brought such praise from the mouths of the young and innocent, and that was God, for their young hearts often saw straight through to what was really important. And in what they were saying they were more right than they knew. It was always those whose hearts were still open to truth, who would discern it.
The quotation is from LXX. Matthew was equally at home with the Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture, and would sometimes apparently himself translate from the Hebrew, would sometimes quote another translation, and would sometimes make use of LXX, usually when paralleling Mark.
It will be noted that we have here the first mention of the chief priests as publicly active against Jesus, something true in all the Gospels except John. Until His ministry began to impact on the Temple itself they had taken little public notice of Him, and thus the Apostles as a whole had not been aware of them, but now that He was publicly challenging their own patch, they could not publicly ignore Him. For the Temple was their responsibility. The Apostle John, of course, had inside knowledge of what went on in high priestly circles and knew a lot more therefore about what went on behind the scenes (John 18.15). He knew that they had regularly been consulted by the leading Pharisees whenever Jesus visited Jerusalem and had plotted with them against Him (John 7.32, 45; 11.47, 57; 12.10).
21.17 ‘And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.’
Then as suddenly as it had begun it was all over. Jesus left them and the city to think things over, and returned to His lodgings in Bethany, just outside the city boundaries.
The Acted Out Parable Of The End Of The Old Unbelieving Israel (21.18-22).
Having made clear by His actions that the old unbelieving Israel in the person of its leaders will not receive Him, Jesus now makes clear what the result will be by bringing about the withering of a fig tree, and by describing a mountain which will be cast into the sea. These demonstrate the state of the people generally and the future that awaits them. This old unbelieving Israel is the same as that which rejected the prophets, and was continually described as subject to judgment so that after intense purification from it would come a holy seed (e.g. Isaiah 4.2-4; 6.13; Zechariah 13.8-9; Malachi 4.1-2).
Matthew’s treatment of the story of the fig tree illustrates his abbreviating tendencies. He leaves out everything that is not essential to the message that he wants to get over, including an indication of the length of time between the ‘cursing’ of the fig tree and its withering. In the Old Testament the fruit of a fig tree illustrates the moral and spiritual condition of people in Israel. For example, in Jeremiah 24.2 good and bad figs depicted on the one hand blessing on the captives in Babylon who were rethinking their attitudes, and on the other punishment on those who remained in the land who were carrying on as they were. While the application is not quite the same it illustrates the use of the product of a fig tree to denote judgment or otherwise on ‘Israel’. Compare also Jeremiah 8.13; Micah 7.1, (and see Deuteronomy 8.8; Numbers 13.23).
Furthermore Jesus probably intended them by His action to remember His own parable of the fig tree which indicated that His people were on probation (Luke 13.6-9). There a man who had planted a fig tree came looking for fruit on it and found none. At that stage it was to be given another chance to see if it would produce figs. What Jesus therefore appears to be indicating here is that for many of them it was now too late. Both the individuals in Israel and Israel as a whole had been given abundant opportunity. Now, however, their probation was over. They had failed to produce figs (compare 3.8, 10; 7.17-20; 12.33) and they must therefore receive the consequences (compare John 3.18-21).
Here it is the consequences of their failure that are in mind. Those who have not produced fruit will ‘be withered’, and this is not simply a result of natural processes but will be brought about by the word of Jesus acting in judgment. Some have questioned whether Jesus would have acted in this way, and have even treated it as though Jesus had acted out of petulance. But we must not read our reactions into Jesus. There is no petulance here. It is a case of Jesus seizing an opportunity to vividly illustrate a point to His disciples, and a visible outworking of the principle, ‘from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away’ (13.12). His aim therefore is to indicate to His disciples that this is precisely what He will do to any who put on a false show. For the fact is that no lesson is more deeply appreciated than one that is vividly illustrated by some remarkable and intriguing observed event, and at this point in their lives Jesus clearly considered that this lesson did need to be well and truly learned. He would not therefore hesitate in speeding up the demise of a fig tree in accomplishing such a purpose, just as He once smote the fig trees of Egypt (Psalm 105.33) and will one day, as the Judge of the world, wither up the whole of unbelieving mankind because they too have put on a false showing. Every time that the disciples in the future passed that particular fig tree it would bring home to them those greater realities, and remind them of the consequences of being a sham.
We are probably also to see in the mountain cast into the sea a similar picture of judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple, for being ‘cast into the sea’ is regularly a symbol of judgment (see 8.32; 18.6; Mark 9.42; Luke 17.2), and ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house’ is a well known description (Isaiah 2.2 compare Isaiah 25.6). So the two together may be seen as illustrating the withering of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It is probably therefore no coincidence that this incident is placed right in the middle of Jesus’ confrontations with the chief priests (21.15, 23, 45), whose leader the High Priest was the leading authority in Israel and Jerusalem.
b And seeing a fig tree by the way side, he came to it, and found nothing on it, but leaves only (19a).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is filled with hunger, and in the parallel describes how ‘hunger’ can be satisfied. In ‘b’ the fig tree has nothing but leaves, and in the parallel the mountain is cast into the sea. In ‘c’ no fruit is to be on the fig tree in the future at His command, and in the parallel the disciples will by faith be able to command the same. In ‘d’ the fig tree withered, and in the parallel the disciples asked how it occurred. Centrally in ‘e’ the disciples marvelled at what had happened.
21.18 ‘Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he felt hungry,’
The fact that even while cutting down the story drastically Matthew still mentions Jesus’ hunger demonstrates that he intends it to indicate some kind of lesson. In his Gospel hunger refers to a longing to see the establishment of righteousness (5.6). This may suggest therefore that here Jesus is depicted as not only feeling peckish for food, but also as being hungry to discover righteousness in Israel. He wants to find figs.
21.19 ‘And seeing a fig tree by the way side, he came to it, and found nothing on it, but leaves only. And he says to it, “Let there be no fruit from you from now on for ever.” ’
In an abbreviated account Matthew now describes how on seeing a fig tree by the side of the road He came up to it and found that it had nothing but leaves, and at this He says, “Let there be no fruit from you from now on for ever.”
We should first of all note that the idea is not said to be that He did not find figs, (indeed Mark says that it was not the season for figs), but that He found ‘nothing but leaves’. The tree gave an indication of fruitfulness but was totally barren. Thus the point is that He found no indication of fruitfulness at all. But as it was ‘not the season for figs’ why did He expect to find some sign of them?
Isaiah 28.4 mentions ‘the firstripe fig before the summer, which when he who looks on it sees, he eats it up while it is in his hand’. That may have referred to something similar to what we have described. Whichever way it is the point is that the tree evidenced a total lack of fruitfulness. This would not in fact be surprising. Unless a fig tree is carefully tended it is quite common for it to grow to be an unfruitful tree, and this tree seemingly just grew by the wayside.
Thus Jesus used the fact that it was a fruitless tree to make it into a living example, and simply speeded up its expected demise. It is not suggested that He is angry, (we read that into it because we get like that), and His words should be noted. No fruit from it from now on ‘for ever’. This would appear to confirm that it is old unbelieving Israel as such that He has in mind. For no fruit acceptable to Jesus can result from such an Israel. The indication was that the final opportunity for those in old Israel who will not become fruitful by responding to Him and become part of the true vine (John 15.1-6) has gone for ever.
21.19b ‘And immediately the fig tree withered away.’
The word rendered ‘immediately’ need not indicate that it was instantaneous. The point is rather that the fig tree withered away within a period discernible to the disciples. It indicates ‘within a short time’ (compare its regular use in this way in Mark where it cannot possibly always mean ‘at once’). We should note that Jesus is not said to have ‘cursed’ the fig tree. In Mark that is Peter’s language. But He has certainly hastened its end in such a way that Peter saw it as being like that (another example of Peter’s impetuosity). The probable reason for this was in order to illustrate that because it was all show and really unfruitful, old Israel’s end was near in the same way.
21.20 ‘And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree immediately wither away?”
The fact that its speedy withering was an unusual occurrence is brought out by the disciples’ question. They marvelled that the fig tree had already withered away. The rate at which it had withered clearly seemed to them unnatural.
21.21 ‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, If you have faith, and do not doubt, you will not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if you shall say to this mountain, ‘Be you taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done.”
Jesus replies enigmatically. He primarily uses what He has done as an illustration of what true faith can do, and even expands on it. He will leave the deeper lesson to be understood later. So He points out that nothing is impossible to faith, even the withering of fig trees and the moving of mountains and casting of them into the sea. However, we must not read into that that faith can produce anything that we wish (it did not produce figs for Jesus to eat), for it would be no more moral for us to use faith for our own selfish purposes as it would have been for Jesus. The point is that we can only use faith in this way if there are grounds for such faith. Jesus is not saying to His disciples that they can do anything ridiculous that they decide that they want to do (like moving a mountain simply in order to avoid having to climb over it). He is saying that this is true for anything that they have good grounds for thinking is in the will of God. Indeed He may well have intended them to remember the mountain moved by Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4.7), that is, the achieving of seemingly impossible spiritual objectives because inspired and empowered by the Spirit.
But He then goes on to add a further spiritual lesson. For ‘this mountain’ must mean either the Temple mount, or the Mount of Olives, or one of the mountains on which Jerusalem was built, probably the first (this is clearer in Mark), while being cast into the sea regularly elsewhere indicates judgment (8.32; 18.6; Mark 9.42; Luke 17.2). Thus He is not only indicating the future fate of old unbelieving Israel, but also the future fate of Jerusalem, both of which are coming, and both of which will take place because of the prayers of faith of the disciples, not so much as a result of praying for such results specifically, but because their prayers for the establishment of the new congregation will inevitably result in it (e.g. Acts 4.29-30). An Israel denuded of believers will be a withered Israel indeed.
21.22 “And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
Jesus then caps off His words by underlining the importance of taking God at His word. His point is that when they are praying for something, praying through to a position of faith will result in their receiving it. Note the connection with prayer. The idea is not of some outlandish ‘faith’ used outside the purposes of God in order to obtain anything that we want, but on the importance of faith in seeking the will of God. Full confidence in God and true prayer is required if they are to accomplish His will, and achieve great spiritual things. For then the glory will go to God.
This emphasis on prayer reminds us that that was precisely where Jesus had seen unbelieving Israel as lacking in verse 13. Had their thoughts been more on true prayer, and less on making money, they would not have needed Him to do what He did, and their way would have prospered. But for many prayer had become just a formality (compare 6.5; Luke 18.11-12). Thus they were already partly withered.
The Question Of Jesus’ Authority (21.37-22.46).
While, as we have seen above, the section from 19.3-22.46 forms a complete section in itself, enclosed within a dissertation on true leadership (18) and a dissertation on false leadership (23), this subsection on authority also forms a unit. It commences with a challenge by the leadership concerning His authority (21.23-27) and finishes with a challenge by Jesus concerning His authority (22.41-45). Within these two inclusios are three parables concerning the authority of the Kingly Rule of Heaven which John and He have introduced, followed by three attempts to expose His inability to deal with the questions of the day, in all of which He puts his opponents to rout and reveals His own religious authority. Thus His and John’s authority are revealed in seven ways. They proceed as follows;
Jesus Is Questioned About His Authority (21.23-27).
The idea that the leadership of Israel were in fact only a sham is now emphasised in this incident. In it the leaders of the people, the religious authorities of the Temple (the chief priests) and the lay authorities of Jerusalem (the elders of the people), challenge Him about His authority, and as a result He demonstrates that they are not really suitable people to decide about such things, because their hearts are hardened and they are not willing to respond to the truth.
We must see this as at least a semi-official approach from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body, for these people, along with the Scribes (included by Mark), were constituent parts of the Sanhedrin. They had seemingly been waiting for His next visit to the Temple, and approached Him as soon as He began teaching. We should note that He was there to pray and to teach, as the Scribes also did (Luke 2.46). He made no attempt to hide Himself, for His challenge was now open and bold. So they came to Him with the deliberate purpose of showing Him up before all the people, for they knew that it would be necessary to get at least the tacit support of the people for what they wanted to do to Him. Thus their first aim was to demonstrate to the crowds that he had no demonstrable authority.
Their question seemed reasonable. All knew that it was their responsibility to check the credentials of any who claimed religious authority, and that they were also responsible for public order, especially in the Temple, and that He had after all caused some disarray and had challenged that authority, even if He had done it as a prophet. So there could be no criticism of their checking up on Him. But it was the way in which it was done that proved that it was not genuine. They had had plenty of opportunity for questioning Him and weighing Him up beforehand, had they really wished to do so, and they could easily have spoken with Him in private. However, their aim was not to discover truth, but to openly confront and denounce Him, and the way in which Jesus dealt with them demonstrated that He in fact saw their challenge at this point as hostile, and not neutral.
That their approach was over more than just His actions in the Temple comes out in the strength of the deputation. His act in the Temple could have been dealt with discreetly by the Temple police, and with a warning. It was His whole activity that was in question and the challenges that He was thus making.
The approach was high handed and officious. ‘By what authority -- who gave you this authority?’ Their first hope was that He would have no answer and be caught unprepared. Then the people would see by His hesitation that He was a charlatan. Alternately they were hoping to make Him declare Himself, and say something ‘foolish’, possibly even something that could be portrayed as blasphemous, and whatever He said they would then be able to use against Him. They could then accuse Him of self-exaltation, or worse, of being a false prophet, a Messianic claimant or a rebel. The question was, what was He claiming Himself to be? Was He claiming to be a prophet? Was He claiming to be the Messiah? Was He claiming to be the coming Elijah? And if He was not claiming to be anyone important how could He claim to have God’s personal authority for doing what He was doing? Compare 6.15; John 1.19-25. Had He responded as they expected by claiming to be acting in God’s Name with no one to back up His position they would then be able to demand from Him a sign from Heaven, their favourite response to any such claims (compare 16.1).
Note that in ‘a’ they ask Him about His authority, and in the parallel He refuses to give His authority. In ‘b’ He challenges them with a question, and in the parallel they admit that they do not know the answer. In ‘c’ He asks whether he origin of John’s baptism was from Heaven or of men, and in the parallel they debate the two possibilities. Centrally in ‘d’ they reason with themselves.
21.23 ‘And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” ’
Matthew here omits mention of the Scribes. As we saw at the beginning of this section that was because He was trying to present a picture of the variety of the opposition without too much repetition. Possibly the Scribal representation was minimal. But here Matthew’s emphasis is on the civic authorities. While present the Scribes were seen as secondary. In Jerusalem these were the two ruling groups who held civic authority, the chief priests, and the lay princes and aristocracy. Thus this was an official deputation, and they were questioning His right to preach in the Temple and to behave as He was doing in Jerusalem. Their questions were twofold, firstly as to the central source of His authority, did He claim that it came from God? And secondly as to who had authorised Him to act with that authority. For if He claimed that His authority came from God He had then to be able to produce sufficiently reputable authorities to back up His claim. Who then were His authorities? Let Him name them. They hoped by this to bring Him to a standstill so that they could then forbid Him to preach.
‘These things’ probably included His triumphal ride into Jerusalem, His actions in purifying the Temple, His preaching in the Temple (which they considered to be their preserve), His healing of the lame and the blind in the Temple, and His allowing Himself to be hailed as the Son of David. It was apparent from these things that He was claiming great authority. Who then was there who would back up His authority? There was nothing outwardly wrong with their action. They were responsible for what happened in the Temple. What was at fault was their attitude.
21.24-25a ‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question, which if you tell me, I will similarly tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where was its origin? From heaven or from men?”
Jesus replies by diverting the question away from Himself. He does not want the crowds to think that He has no answer. So He asks them to explain to Him the origin of John’s baptism. Was it from Heaven or from men? This was not a diversionary tactic. Replying by a counter-question was a typically Rabbinic way of proceeding, and their reply would in fact be vital to His answer, for John was one who above all had pointed to His authority, and had testified of Him (see John 5.30-37). Yet His question was cleverly worded, for both He and they knew that they were surrounded by people in the Temple courtyard who had been baptised by John and held that baptism as sacred. Such people would not take kindly to anyone who depreciated it, especially in their present state of religious fervour and excitement at the festival. Furthermore, by referring to ‘the baptism of John’ Jesus was not just asking their opinion about John’s baptism, His question included their opinion on all the preaching that lay behind it.
This method of dealing with a question by a question was a regular Rabbinic method of arguing, and usually the question had an obvious answer. And that was the problem in this case. For this question did have an obvious answer and the crowds knew what it was. Almost as one man they believed fervently that John was a prophet, and they were still even now appalled at the treatment that had been meted out to him. Indeed his reputation would have increased with his death. They did not blame these leaders for that. That lay squarely on the shoulders of Herod. But if these leaders gave a negative answer now it would be seen as their aligning themselves with Herod. And that could have caused all kinds of trouble. And yet the problem for the leaders was that it was the negative answer that they wanted to give.
21.25b-26 ‘And they reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we shall say, ‘From Heaven’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him? But if we shall say, ‘From men’, we fear the crowd, for all hold John as a prophet.”
The leaders recognised that they were trapped. They dared not say that John’s baptism was not from Heaven (from God), for the crowds around them held John to be a genuine prophet, and believed firmly in his baptism. They believed that God had spoken to them through John. Were these leaders to deny John’s authority as being from Heaven, and say that it was simply ‘from men’, they would immediately lose their own authority in the eyes of the crowd, and might even be attacked by the more fervent amongst them, which could lead to anything. Yet if they did say that his authority was from Heaven Jesus would ask why they had not then believed him, for the attitude of the leaders towards John had in fact, on the whole, been one of stubborn disbelief. The only other alternative was to say that they ‘did not know’. But that would be to lose all right to act as judges with regard to Jesus’ authority. It would ignominiously expose them to the crowds as being incapable of making such judgments on their own admission.
21.27 ‘And they answered Jesus, and said, “We do not know.”. He also said to them, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” ’
In the end they opted for the answer that they felt would embarrass them least. They replied that they did not know. This basically disqualified them from being judges on the question of authority, certainly in the eyes of the crowd. If they could not tell whether John’s baptism was from Heaven, how could they hope to tell whether Jesus, Who had baptised alongside John, and had been testified to by John, was from Heaven or not (John 4.1-2)? The crowds, of course, knew that Jesus had been backed by John, and had worked alongside him. Thus they would recognise that His authority was on the same basis as John’s.
So Jesus was able to emphasise that in view of their own admission that they could not tell whether John was from God or not, there was no point in His putting forward the evidence of His own authority, which was partly based on John’s. The leaders must have been furious. They had simply made themselves look fools, and had sowed in people’s minds the thought that they were unable to discern the mind of God, and that in total contrast with Jesus, Whose association with John proved that He did know the mind of God.
The importance of this episode must not be underestimated. The Jews were proud of the fact that they saw themselves as the people of God. And they looked with awe to their High Priests Annas and Caiaphas who led their worship, and to their Teachers who interpreted to them their Scriptures which brought to them the voice of God. Thus the undermining of their confidence in the ability of either of these groups to speak authoritatively concerning the truth about God and His authority would bring home to those who could ‘see’ how false their position was, and would shake their faith in them, resulting in religious disillusionment. It would thus hopefully point them towards Jesus.
Brief Note On The High Priesthood.
In Israel the High Priesthood was for life. Thus the Jews saw both Annas and Caiaphas as High Priest (Luke 3.2), even though Annas had been deposed by the Romans and replaced by Caiaphas. Indeed anyone who had acted as High Priest on the Day of Atonement (which could occur because the current High Priest was temporarily ritually unclean) was seen by the Jews as High Priest for life, even if he never so acted again.
End of note.
Jesus Exposes the Hypocrisy Of The Religious Leaders By The Parable Of The Two Sons (21.28-32).
Jesus now follows up His challenge concerning the source of John’s authority, in order to face the religious leaders more emphatically with their failure to respond to God’s message through John. He points out that John had brought them truth, but that they had failed to respond to that truth, and were even now failing to do so. In contrast some of those whom religiously they most despised, the public servants and the prostitutes, had responded to John, and had repented and believed, and had thus gone into the Kingly Rule of Heaven before them. They had discerned that John’s authority was ‘of God’ even if the leaders did not (the crowds would have been nodding in approval).
That being so the religious leaders were like a son who pretended to his father that he would do what he wanted, but in fact failed to do so. While the public servants and prostitutes who had previously been disobedient, had now become obedient sons. They were like a son who at first had been rather rude to his father, but had in the end fallen in line with his wishes. (We can compare with this parable, the parable of the loving father and his two sons in Luke 15.11-32 which illustrated a similar point).
Note that in ‘a’ the son was told to go and work in his father’s vineyard, and in the parallel the religious leaders, who would have claimed to be like the obedient son, refused to go. In ‘b’ the disobedient son repented and obeyed his father, and in the parallel the public servants and prostitutes had believed and entered the way of righteousness. In ‘c’ the one who said that he would go and did not go is described, and in the parallel the religious leaders had not believed John when he called them into the way of righteousness. In ‘d’ Jesus asks which of the two sons did the will of his father, and in the parallel He explains that public servants and prostitutes have done exactly that. Centrally in ‘e’ they acknowledge that it was the one who was actually obedient who did the will of his father, not the one who had merely said he would.
21.28a “But what do you think? A man had two sons.”
We note here that once again we are faced with the challenge of the two ways (compare 7.13-14 ff). For this father has two sons who must choose which way they will take. But in this example a new element will be introduced, and that is the element of appearing to choose the one while in fact choosing the other.
21.28b-29 “And he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard’. And he answered and said, ‘I will not’, but afterward he changed his mind, and went.”
The first son is called to work in his father’s vineyard, but rudely refuses. However, afterwards he changes his mind and goes. He is a picture of all who for a time rudely ignore God but afterwards repent and begin to obey Him.
21.30 “And he came to the second, and said the same. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir’, and went not.”
The second son is full of expressions of willingness. His answer is immediate. ‘I go, sir.’ But the problem was that he did not go. He is like all those who are outwardly religious from the beginning, but who do not really obey God from the heart. They are those who do not hear the will of God and do it (7.24, 26).
21.31a “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They say, “The first.”
Jesus then asked which of the two sons did the will of his father, the one who had refused, but had then gone, or the one who had expressed all willingness, but had not gone. Even the religious leaders knew the answer to that one. It was the son who had repented and had then done it.
21.31b-32 ‘Jesus says to them, “Truly I say to you, that the public servants and the prostitutes go into the Kingly Rule of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the public servants and the prostitutes believed him, and you, when you saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that you might believe him.”
Jesus then applies the parable in terms of the response of people to the ministry of John. John had come in ‘the way of righteousness’. He had walked righteously. He had taught righteousness (compare Luke 1.17; John 5.33, 35). But above all He had brought God’s active righteousness and deliverance to the people (see Isaiah 41.10; 45.8; 51.5; 61.3 etc.; Luke 1.17). And many of the public servants and the prostitutes, the lowest of the low, those who would have been seen as those least likely to respond to God, had believed him. And they had repented and had been baptised, declaring their desire to take part in the future drenching of the Holy Spirit, declaring that they wanted to be God’s ‘holy ones’ (saints). Thus they had ‘gone into’ the Kingly Rule of God. They had begun to live anew and had wanted all that God could give them. They had begun to obey Him and acknowledge His Kingly Rule. They were no longer what they were, but were now seeking to live their lives in a way which was pleasing to God. And the same was true of all who had responded to God’s message through John.
But the religious leaders had not responded in this way. They did not believe him. They did not repent. They did not go into the Kingly Rule of God then. Nor had they done so since, even when they had seen the repentance of others whom they had castigated as sinners. They had remained unmoved. Thus they were still outside the Kingly Rule of God. Note the use of ‘Kingly Rule of GOD’. The former had responded to God Himself, the latter had turned from God. This expression always expresses the immediacy of His Kingly Rule in Matthew.
The contrast would have been startling to all who heard it. Being a public servant meant that a man was seen as having betrayed his country and his friends and as having consorted with the enemies of his people. He was engaged in the service of those who served Rome. He was thus seen, even by the ordinary people, as a traitor towards God and towards his people. He was universally despised in Israel. Being a prostitute was similar for a woman. She was seen as encouraging men into adultery (see Proverbs 7.10-23). She betrayed all that a decent woman stood for, and prostituted the relationship that lay at the basis of all decent society. Along with the public servant she was seen as openly defying God, and as being therefore, of all people, the most displeasing to God. Both would have been seen as the last ones who could ever have been expected to find acceptability with God. Thus the thought that such people might actually have entered the Kingly Rule of God would have seemed almost unbelievable. It would open the door of hope for all, again on the basis of repentance. For it must be recognised that they were only accepted because they had repented and believed.
The leaders of the people on the other hand saw themselves as not only respectable, but as thoroughly pleasing to God, as pleasing as a man can be. Were they not able to prove by their genealogies that they were sons of Abraham? Was His favour towards them not evidenced by their wealth and position, which were both popularly seen as tokens of such favour? And the people on the whole would have agreed with them. They therefore saw no need to repent. Thus what Jesus was suggesting was almost shocking. It was turning the Jewish world upside down. But here again was Jesus’ confirmation that the new age had begun, and that the Kingly Rule of God was already here, and had been since the time of John. For the whole point of what He was saying was that the sinful who have repented at John’s preaching have entered the Kingly Rule of God, and are therefore now God’s true people, while the outwardly righteous who have not responded to John’s preaching, have not entered the Kingly Rule of God, and are even now unwilling to do so.
In this context ‘go before you’ must signify present experience, for the assumption of ‘before’ (which always in its use here indicates ‘before’ in time) is that there is still opportunity for those who have not yet entered to do so, while once the time for entering the future Kingly Rule of God comes, all decisions will have been finalised, and those who have not believed will not be entering at all. There will be no question then of ‘before’ for them, for their opportunity would have gone. Thus present experience is what is in mind. And this is confirmed not only by the use of ‘before’ but by the whole argument. It loses most of its strength if it only refers to entry into the Kingly Rule of God in the distant future.
Note the huge implication of what Jesus is saying in all this. He is declaring that all men, even the chief priests and the aristocracy, are to be tested by how they have responded to John’s preaching. And that is because John was not to be seen as just another preacher. He was to be seen as an eschatological figure. He was the forerunner of the Coming One. In him God was thus challenging the world. He had come representing the full truth of God. And thus all men of whatever level were judged by their response to him, in the same way as they will be judged by their response to the Coming One Who will follow him. For John was inescapable. In him God’s truth was polarised. Through him God had broken in on the world. Thus to not believe him was to not believe God. And to believe him or otherwise was therefore the same as believing in the Coming One. It divided the righteous from the unrighteous. (And the corollary of this was that believing in the Coming One would also be vital, for there is salvation in no other than the One to Whom John pointed, and no other Name under Heaven given among men by which men and women can be saved (Acts 4.12)).
By this parable therefore Jesus rams home the failure of the chief priests and the aristocracy to respond to John and his message, reinforcing their failure to appreciate that his baptism and his message was from God.
The Parable Of The Faithless Tenants (21.33-41). .
The final build up of Jesus, and of what He has come to do, continues. He has entered Jerusalem as its King (21.1-11). He has taken over the Temple, casting out all that is commercial and to do with Mammon, and making it a place of healing for the lame and the blind, turning it from a robber’s den into a house of prayer (21.12-14). He has been declared in the Temple to be the Son of David by those from whose mouths, according to Scripture, proceeds God’s truth (21.15-17). He has portrayed by a miraculous sign the final demise of the old unbelieving and unfruitful Israel (21.18-22). He has reinforced the authority of John before the people and reminded them that he came from God (21.23-27). He has demonstrated that all men stand judged on the basis of how they have responded to John’s ministry, exposing by that the inconsistency of the Jewish leaders (21.28-32). Now He will make clear His ultimate claim. That He is ‘the only Son’, that He too has come from God, and that they will do to Him whatever they will. And that because they are so possessive of Israel, and so determined to fashion it in their own image, that they are unable to see their own folly. Here is the ultimate prophecy. The declaration beforehand of what they are going to do to Him (as in their hearts they well knew, but He was not supposed to know) because they have come to look on Israel as theirs.
Thus He wants them to know that having rejected John and the prophets, He is aware that they are now behaving towards Him in a spirit of enmity and malice that will result in His death. And he wants them to realise that they will be judged accordingly, because all that the prophets have pointed to is now here. It is a final plea to their consciences and to their hearts. And He will then indicate that the end of the old nation is approaching and that it will issue in the new (verse 43). The new age is in process of beginning.
In the section chiasmus this parable is in parallel to the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. There we were given the picture of the true labourers of the future, here we have described those who have had charge of the vineyard in the past, with the final indication that they will be replaced.
It should be noted also that this is the middle parable of three in succession. The first contrasted how people had responded towards His Forerunner, bringing out how even the riffraff responded because they accepted that John’s authority came from God, while the religious leaders did not. This one will describe how the leaders of Israel will behave towards Him as the only Son of the owner of the vineyard, just as they did towards John, and what the consequences will be for them and for the old Israel. The third parable will reinforce and underline His position as the King’s Son, and will bring out again that it is the poor and the needy who respond who will enjoy the future time of blessing, while those who should have done so will be rejected because they refuse to respond to His invitation, or wear His insignia and thus bear His Name.
Any who for some strange reason have decided for themselves that Jesus could not have used allegory (partly because some have misused it) try to ‘simplify’ the parable and thereby can make it whatever they want it to mean. However, we have already argued with regard to the parable of the sower that Jesus undoubtedly did demonstrably use allegory to a certain extent so that there are no real grounds for denying allegory here. Nor, except for those who against all the evidence deny that Jesus saw Himself as uniquely the Son and different from all others, are there any theological grounds for denying this to Jesus. Indeed if it had been an allegory invented by the later church we would have expected to find some indication of the son’s resurrection, instead of just a handing over of the vineyard to others, (especially in view of the illustration of the stone which follows) and also the introduction of the idea that the son had come to make atonement. Such ideas could hardly have been resisted. But there is no hint of them in the parable. Furthermore having emphasised John’s work in the previous parable we would actually expect Him to turn attention to Himself as a greater than John (a son as compared with a prophet - 3.11, 14-17) as He has constantly made clear earlier (11.2-6, 11-14; John 5.33-37), and does in the next parable which also introduces the further idea of royalty. But here He only does that indirectly in terms of the generality of prophets.
Note than in ‘a’ the owner lets his vineyard out to vineyard workers, and in the parallel he destroys them and lets it out to other vineyard workers because the first ones have failed. In ‘b’ he sent to receive the fruits due to him, and in the parallel he comes himself to bring them to account. In ‘c’ we have the behaviour of the vineyard workers towards the servants, and in the parallel their behaviour towards the son. In ‘d’ he continued to send servants, and they treated them badly, and in the parallel the son arrives and they determine to treat him badly. Centrally in ‘e’ was the wish and hope of the father, that they would reverence his son.
21.33 “Hear another parable. There was a man who was an estate owner, who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to vineyard workers, and went into another place.”
The description here is partially based on Isaiah 5.2, although the background is different. In Isaiah 5 the vineyard was not let out. But the likeness confirms that, as there, the vineyard is a picture of Israel. Even the Jewish leaders recognised that here He was speaking about them (verse 45), for they did see themselves as having the responsibility for God’s vineyard. And this is further substantiated by other references in the Old Testament to Israel as a vineyard (compare Psalm 80.8-16; Isaiah 27.2-5; Jeremiah 2.21-22; Hosea 9.10, where again the vineyard is Israel/Judah). It is also confirmed by the previous parable in 21.28-32, which was also about a vineyard. But here the emphasis will not be on the fruitfulness of the vineyard, but the behaviour of those who rent the vineyard from its Owner.
The vineyard described, with its surrounding thorn hedge, would be a common sight in Palestine. Its winepress would consist of two small ditches, one set below the other at a lower level, and both either cut in the rock, or lined with stones and plastered. The grapes would be trodden in the higher one and the juice would seep through to the lower one, where it could be collected. Its tower would be about three metres (ten feet) high, with living accommodation below, and a top level surrounded by a low wall from which the whole vineyard could be surveyed. Note the emphasis placed on the effort put in by the owner. What more could He have done for His vineyard that He had not done? He therefore deserved every consideration.
The parable is based on real life. In Palestine at that time there were many farms and vineyards tenanted by tenant farmers, with absent landlords who expected to receive their rents in the form of an agreed portion of the produce, and who had to ensure that they made their claim for rental at the proper time in order to reinforce their rights of ownership. Costs would be shared. And we can be sure that with regard to some of those farms and vineyards there was much skulduggery, for tenants who were left without being approached for three years could claim formal ownership of the land.
So here the vineyard is planted and put under the control of others who are made responsible for ensuring that a fair rental in terms of produce is paid to the owner. The owner, Who is clearly the God of Israel, then leaves it in their hands. It would take four years for the vineyard to become fruitful in such a way that rents (paid in produce) could be expected (see Leviticus 19.23-25), but other subsidiary items might be grown, and full and regular accounting would be required from the start.
21.34-35 ‘And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the vineyard workers, to receive his fruits. And the vineyard workers took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.”
When the time came that fruits could be expected the owner sent servants to collect the portion of the harvest that was due to him, no doubt also with instructions to oversee the harvesting and meet any expenses due. But when the vineyard workers saw them they beat them, killed them, or stoned them, depending on their fancy. See 23.31, 37; Luke 13.34. Beatings were a normal treatment exacted on those in disfavour (see Jeremiah 20.2; 37.15), and for the stoning of a prophet see 2 Chronicles 24.21. For the killing of prophets see 1 Kings 18.13; Nehemiah 9.26.
Ironically the ‘vineyard workers’, that is the religious leaders of Israel, would have claimed that they did ‘pay their rent’. They made all the required offerings (compare Isaiah 1.11-15) and gave tithes of all that they received (contrast Malachi 3.8-10). But these were not the fruits that God was looking for (7.21 as exemplified in chapters 5-7; Isaiah 11.16-18).
‘Sent His servants.’ See 23.34; Jeremiah 7.25-26 - ‘I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, day by day rising up early and sending them -- but they made their neck stiff and did worse than their fathers’, and 2 Chronicles 24.19 - ‘yet He sent prophets to them to bring them again to the Lord’. Compare also 2 Chronicles 36.15-19, ‘the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwellingplace, but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy --- therefore He slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary ---and they burned down the house of God and broke down the walls of Jerusalem’. None knew better than Jesus that history repeats itself.
For the maltreatment of successive men of God see 1 Kings 18.13; 22.27; 2 Chronicles 24.20-21; Nehemiah 9.26; and for the sending of prophets, Jeremiah 25.4; Amos 3.7 Zechariah 1.6. The consequences that followed are also clearly described.
21.36 “Again, he sent other servants more than at first, and they treated them in the same way.”
But the vineyard owner continued to be persistent, and sent even more servants, but they treated them in the same way. ‘More than at first’ might signify sending a larger contingent, or it may indicate a longer string of servants. Jesus is bringing out the supreme patience of God and the many opportunities that He had given to His people, rather than simply trying to make the parable realistic. And we should note that one of these was John the Baptist.
21.37 “But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will reverence my son’.”
Finally the owner of the vineyard decided that He would give them one last chance. He would send to them his own son. This was with the twofold hope, firstly that they would acknowledge the potential owner as having the right to collect payment. It was one thing to ill treat, mock and kill slaves. It would be quite another to ill treat the son of the house. And secondly in the hope that their consciences might be moved at the thought that it was His own Son Who came to them, with the result that that they would repent and respond to Him. They would recognise that while they might get away with illtreating servants, it would be a very different matter with His only son. The implication was clear for all who had eyes to see. It was as clear a declaration of Jesus’ uniqueness, and of His Sonship as it is possible to have.
Some have suggested that the son was simply indicating a higher grade of response than the servants. But note the order of those who came, servants, more servants, only Son, Owner Himself. In the light of the inclusion of the last only the spiritually and obstinately blind could have failed to see the special nature of the Son, especially in view of the expectation of the Messiah.
Matthew alone drops the phrase ‘the beloved son’. But this is in line with his abbreviating tendencies. (Just as he dropped the ‘good’ in ‘Good Teacher’ - 19.16). He does not need to mention it. The parable that follows leaves us in no doubt as to Whose Son He is. He is the King’s Son.
And yet, as was necessary at this time of such bitterness, Jesus’ claim to be the Owner’s Son was couched in such a way that it could not be used as an instrument against Him. His claim was clear, but all knew that if they questioned Him about it and tried to accuse Him of blasphemy He would come back with one of His devastating questions, such as, ‘Why do you think that this applies to Me?’ and wait for their answer. All would, of course, know that it was meant to apply to Him, but they would simply be left looking foolish, not daring to answer.
Note that the sending of the Son is here seen as God’s final act towards men before judgment (see John 3.16-21). If they will not respond to Him, and to those who go out in His Name, they will not respond to anyone. Hebrews 1.1-3 may well have partly resulted as a consequence of this parable.
Some may argue that no father in his right senses would do such a thing, and they would, of course, be right, especially in the sending of His Son on His own. But this is not speaking of any father. It is speaking of God the Father. And this is precisely what God amazingly did do. It is meant to sound remarkable, for it was remarkable. In the words of Tertullian when speaking of the crucifixion of God’s Son, it was impossible and therefore it must be true (John 3.16; 1 John 4.9-10; Romans 5.8; Galatians 4.4-5; Hebrews 1.1-3).
21.38 “But the vineyard workers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance.’ ”
The reaction of the husbandmen is then given. ‘Said among themselves’ was a hint of what Jesus’ listeners were already secretly doing. They were whispering among themselves. They would kill the heir so that they might retain control of the inheritance. For the Law allowed for the fact that if those in physical possession of land were able to farm it untroubled by anyone for a number of years they could claim legal possession of it for themselves, and they had probably gained the impression that the owner was unwilling to come himself. Thus they may well have thought that if the heir was slain they would be left alone. Perhaps they also saw his coming as signifying that the father was dead. They certainly saw it as a display of weakness. They could not understand His longsuffering.
Certainly as the Jewish leaders saw the great crowds hanging on to Jesus’ every word they must have felt that ‘their inheritance’ was slipping away from them. Thus the picture is graphic, and in view of their plans to kill Jesus (12.14; Mark 3.6; John 11.50, 53; see also 16.21; 17.23; 20.18), a telling one. And they would feel that once He was out of the way they would be able to get a grip on things and regain control over the inheritance.
‘Let us kill him.’ The words are similar to those used by Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 37.20 (see LXX). Jesus was likening these men to Joseph’s brothers, full of hate and jealousy towards a brother. Joseph’s brothers had been forerunners of the persecutors of the prophets, and of these men who now planned Jesus’ downfall.
21.39 “And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
The result was that the servants rejected the son, expelling him from the vineyard and killing him. This illustration was a clear warning to the Jewish leaders that both God and Jesus were fully aware of their murderous intentions. The expulsion from the vineyard might be seen as indicating that it was their intention for Jesus to be seen as excommunicated and cut off from Israel (the vineyard is Israel, not Jerusalem), with the killing simply describing what was in their minds, and would eventually come to fruition. In the story it would be important that the son’s death take place outside the vineyard, otherwise the vineyard would be seen as tainted.
Mark has ‘they killed him and cast him forth out of the vineyard’. But the ideas are not necessarily contradictory, for Mark probably meant ‘mortally wounded him and cast him out of the vineyard’. In each case it is rather a matter of where they wished the emphasis to be placed. For if the son was physically attacked and mortally wounded on entering the vineyard, retreating before the onslaught and collapsing dead outside the vineyard, either through loss of blood or under their final blows, either description would be true. (And why cast his body out if he was already dead? It would simply draw attention to their crime. All they had to do was bury him in the vineyard.). The difference is thus one of emphasis, not of chronological order. Each is emphasising the killing in their own way. Matthew and Luke are emphasising that he was killed. Mark’s emphasis is on the blows that commenced the death throes of the son in the first place, the first initial, vindictive and murderous attack. ‘Killed him and cast him out’ are simply therefore to be seen as two events that took place alongside each other. (And verbs in translation can often be translated in different orders, depending on the grammar, for the physical order of words in one language is not necessarily the same as the physical order in another).
‘Cast him forth out of/from the vineyard.’ This could signify:
As with all Jesus’ parables that were not explained the actual application was left to the listener and the reader, so that different ones could take it in different ways which were not exclusive.
21.40-41 “When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those vineyard workers? They say to him, ‘He will evilly (kakos) destroy those evil (kakos) men, and will let out the vineyard to other vineyard workers, who will render him the fruits in their seasons’.”
What the Lord of the vineyard will do is then spelled out by means of the answer to a typical question. What will He do with them? He will ‘evilly’ destroy the evil men who have done this thing, and give the vineyard to others. That is He will visit them with what we describe as ‘evils’. It does not mean that He will behave evilly, but that He will visit them with ‘evils’ in judgment. Note the play on words which emphasises that what they have sown they will reap. No one could really have been in doubt about the final ending of their tenancy. It was the obvious conclusion. Nevertheless its literal fulfilment was remarkable. For Jerusalem would, within forty years after the death of Jesus, be destroyed. Evils would come upon it and the priesthood would be destroyed. And the care of God’s people would have been removed elsewhere, initially, among other places, to Syrian Antioch (Acts 13), and then to the church leaders of the local communities. But Jerusalem would be left empty.
‘To other vineyard workers.’ Presumably Jesus is referring to the Apostles and their companions, compare 16.18-19; 18.18. Luke 22.30 and see 20.1-15. We can compare here verse 43, ‘The Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits’, not strictly another nation, but a new believing Israel as headed by His followers. It was of that new Israel, which excluded the unbelievers in the old Israel, that all who became Christians would become a member (Romans 11.17-27; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22).
In these four words are summed up what we call ‘the church age’. The Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees, and Elders will be replaced by the Apostles and their co-workers (see 28.19-20), and then God’s vineyard will really expand as never before.
The Application and Significance of the Parable (21.42-46).
Jesus then makes clear the basic facts which the parable is bringing home, that the very Stone which is the keystone of the whole of God’s building, is to be rejected by the builders, but will then be made the head of the corner by God. And the result is that the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from them, and will be given to a nation which will bring forth its fruits, built upon God’s Cornerstone, while for those who have rejected it, the Stone will either become a stone on which they fall so that their bodies are broken, or a Stone which will fall on them and crush them. It is a parable in itself.
Note that in ‘a’ the builders reject the Stone, but the Stone is made the Head of the corner, while in the parallel the builders reject Jesus, while the crowds follow Him (see Him as a prophet). In ‘b’ the Kingly Rule of God is to be taken away from those who should have been participating in it (verses 31-32), and in the parallel the Chief Priests and the Pharisees recognise that He is referring to them. Centrally in ‘c’ is the effect of the Stone on all who reject it.
21.42 ‘Jesus says to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures,
As He constantly did Jesus then challenged them from the Scriptures. Jesus had a high view of the Scriptures. He saw them as accurately indicating the mind and purposes of God. He saw what was written there as a totally reliable indication of what God would do. He saw them as ‘the word of God’ (Mark 7.13).
The quotation is taken from Psalm 118.22-23 which reads in MT, ‘the Stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvellous in our eyes.’ It is in fact cited by Matthew as in LXX, as is common when Matthew is using Mark, but the differences are slight and the meaning can be seen as identical.
The illustration is on the surface an amusing one. The builders came across a stone while building which did not appear to be useable because of its shape and size, and they thus put it to one side as ‘rejected’ and ‘useless’. Eventually, however, someone (probably God was intended) recognised that it was in fact the very cornerstone of the building, without which the building would not be complete, and it was thus brought into use and made the head of the corner. We do not know enough about their building techniques to be certain whether it was part of the foundation, or the final keystone which would bind the building together. But either way the whole building depended on it.
The Psalm is undoubtedly a celebration of the deliverance of one who was of the house of David (the Aramaic translations of the Scriptures, the Targum, refer it to David himself) who will cut off the nations who surround him so that the righteous will rejoice in their tents. He will then return in order to worship God in His house (entering through the gates of righteousness), with the result that all will cry out, ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’, and the fact that it had become linked with Messianic expectations is suggested by the fact that verses from the Psalm were cited by the crowds, and linked with the title ‘Son of David’ as they welcomed Jesus when He rode in on the asses’ colt. Jesus now therefore uses it to confirm His Messianic and royal status. It will be noted how admirably the citation of the Psalm follows on from Jesus entry into Jerusalem as royalty, riding on an asses colt and receiving the acclamation of the crowds.
We do not know who the builders were who had rejected the original son of David. But they, as the leaders of Judah, had clearly despised him and dismissed him as being unsuitable to be their war leader. But now with his victory things were different. God had made him the head of the corner.
By using this same Scripture Messianically as the son of David Jesus is indicating that the new builders (the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes) have also failed to recognise Him for what He is, but that nevertheless He too will be established and will become the chief cornerstone. However, the next verse indicates that this will be of a new building in which the previous builders have no part. He is to be the foundation stone (compare 16.18), or chief corner stone, of the new Israel. And all this will be as a result of God’s activity which all men can only wonder at (compare Isaiah 52.13-15).
(Interestingly the community at Qumran also referred to the Jewish leaders as ‘the builders’ in a derogatory fashion).
21.43 “Therefore I say to you, The Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation (people) bringing forth its fruits.”
That is why He can categorically declare to them that the Kingly Rule of God is to be taken away from them (they will no longer have it on offer and be seen as potential sons of the Kingly Rule as Jews (8.12)), and that they will be replaced by the true sons of the Kingly Rule (13.38), so that it will be given to ‘a nation’ or ‘people’ that will bring forth its fruits. Once again He is emphasising the beginning of the new age which is gradually coming in. It had in a sense begun with John (21.31-32), it had continued to be built up by Jesus Himself (12.28; 13.19 with 23, 37-38), and it would shortly come to its full fruition through His resurrection and enthronement and what would follow (28.18-20; Acts 1.3; 8.12; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31; Romans 14.17).
It is true that the prime reference of ‘the builders’ was to the Jewish religious leadership, but they continued to be followed by the majority of Jews, who thus aligned themselves with them. They too rejected the corner stone. They too therefore lost the potential of being sons of the Kingly Rule.
All this ties in with 8.11-12 where unbelieving Jews will be excluded from the future Kingly Rule while believing Gentiles will be a part of it, along with believing Jews (Abraham, etc). It fits in with the idea that one of the feedings of the crowds was of Jewish believers, while the other incorporated Gentile believers, so that they were seen as one together as disciples of Jesus in the new congregation. It also parallels the idea in the above parable that the vineyard will be ‘given to others’. For the idea of the church as the new nation replacing the old compare 1 Peter 2.9 with Exodus 19.6, and see John 15.1-6; Romans 11.11-28; Galatians 3.28-29; 6.10; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9; James 1.1.
There are three main interpretations of this verse, which partly depend on the total viwepoint of the interpreter:
The first position is usually held by Christian Jews who are so proud of their Jewish heritage that they see themselves as distinct from their ‘Gentile’ brethren, even though having full fellowship with them. In our view they misrepresent such Scriptures as John 15.1-6; Romans 11.11-28; Galatians 3.28-29; 6.10; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9; James 1.1 which clearly teach that all are one in Christ Jesus with no distinction, and thereby maintain unscriptural distinctions, mainly because of national pride.
The second position is often held by those who believe that Israel has a separate future apart from the true body of Christ. They quite erroneously see them as literal sons of Abraham, ignoring the patent fact that Israel was never all made up of literal sons of Abraham. In our view they fail to see that Scripture constantly maintains that the true Israel is made up of all believers who are incorporated into Christ (see Scriptures above), whatever their previous background may have been, in the same way as in Old Testament days all who were incorporated in the covenant, whether Jew or Gentile, were seen as part of Israel regardless of descent or race.
The third position is held by those who hold that there is one body in Christ and that salvation can only be found in that one body, and that that is true in all ages. Thus any who would be saved must become partakers of Christ and thereby become members of the true Vine and therefore of the new Israel founded on His Messiahship. This is the true Israel that Jesus came to found, the new ‘congregation’. It is wrong to speak of this as a ‘replacement Israel’. It does not replace Israel. It is the true Israel as spoken of by Isaiah, the remnant of Israel who believed in the Messiah (which has expanded by the inclusion of Gentile proselytes in the same way as Israel always expanded by receiving proselytes). They believe that while there may be a large-scale turning to Christ among the Jews in the end days, nevertheless by so turning such Jews will become members of the true congregation of Jesus Christ along with their non-Jewish Christian brethren, with the distinction between Jew and Gentile in the sight of God removed. They will become all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3.28). See our article on ‘Is the Church Israel?’ in Matthew 10.
21.44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust.”
The idea of the Stone then leads on to other aspects of the Stone in Scripture, and following on the parable with its emphasis on both judgment and restoration we have a similar contrast here. In verse 42 the Stone is restored, here He brings judgment.
The ideas are taken from Isaiah 8.14-15 and Daniel 2.34, 44-45, In the first case people stumble over the stone and fall heavily on it so that they are ‘broken to pieces’, in the second the stone come crashing down on them ‘scattering them to dust’. Both are equally devastating in their effects. There is seen to be no escape. Jesus may well have been involved with buildings in His work as a carpenter and have seen such effects.
This verse parallels Luke 20.18, and is in fact missing in certain manuscripts (D, 33 and versions), but its attestation is extremely strong. If an early copyist wrote ‘autes’ to end verse 43 and then carelessly picked up the text from ‘auton’ at the end of verse 44 (easily done by a tired scribe working in the artificial light of a lamp) that may explain the omission in that family of texts. That is far more likely than that the same interpolation was introduced into such a wide range of texts. Furthermore the verse is required in the chiasmus.
21.45 ‘And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them.’
The chief priests and Pharisees, including the Scribes, recognised that His words were spoken against them, and that He was diminishing them in the eyes of the people, for all this was done openly. They were sworn enemies but they were being thrust together by a common cause. This man was dangerous. He had to be got rid of.
21.46 ‘And when they sought to lay hold on him, they feared the crowds, because they took him for a prophet.’
But their plans to arrest Him were shelved because they recognised that the people saw Jesus as a prophet, and that if they moved against Him they could cause a riot.
The Parable Of The Wedding Feast (22.1-14).
The emphasis in this parable is on people’s attitude towards the king’s son, and in the final analysis on their attitude to Jesus, the true King’s Son. The tenants in the vineyard had despised Him. Now all must consider their response to Him. That Jesus is the King’s Son has been made clear from the beginning. He is the son of David the King (1.1 with 6). He is the fulfilment of the Isaianic prophecy concerning the One to be born of a virgin (1.23). His birth as such was hailed by the Magi (2.2). He was declared to be so by the voice after His baptism in the words of Psalm 2.7 (3.17). He was offered the kingship of the world by using wrong methods by Satan (4.8-9). He would one day be the One Who would say, ‘Depart from Me, you who work iniquity’ (7.23). He would confess or deny men before His Father (10.32-33). He is proclaimed ‘the Son of David’ (9.27; 12.23; 15.22; 20.30, 31; 21.9, 15). It is assumed by the Apostles in 16.16; 20.21. It was proclaimed by the voice at His transfiguration (17.5). It is assumed by Jesus Himself when He speaks of taking the throne of His glory (19.28). He rides into Jerusalem as the Coming King (21.4-5). Thus there can be no doubt Who the King’s Son is. (He is also the Bridegroom - 9.15).
The parable makes most sense if we see the situation as one where the king has, in view of his son’s forthcoming marriage, appointed his son to have authority over a part of his kingdom. Thus the idea is of those who are invited to the son’s wedding feast, to swear fealty to him and to do him honour, because they are to be his subjects. This would make sense of why only one city and its surrounding countryside are involved, and why the responses to the invitation are so virulent. Thus in the same way the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees are called on to swear fealty to Jesus and do Him honour, (a claim that He has revealed by riding into Jerusalem on an asses’ colt), something which they are seen to reject out of hand with the same virulence.
The refusal of the invitees to come to the wedding feast, even to such an extent that it results in the mistreatment and murder of his messengers, is an indication of their absolute refusal to have His Son to reign over them (messengers were seen as dispensable), and the attitude of the man who comes in unsuitably dressed is similarly a deliberate affront to the King’s Son, as are the lives of all who profess to be loyal to Him but who do not reveal it by changed lives. The assumption is that he, along with the other guests, had been given time to dress themselves suitably for the wedding by putting on their ‘best clothes’, (or have even been provided with them), but that this man has deliberately chosen not to do so. Such an act was insulting to the King and His Son in the extreme. Any others who had deliberately come unsuitably dressed would no doubt have been treated in the same way. We are simply given the example of one.
This last part of the parable with its sudden switch of idea is in fact typical of Jesus who regularly suddenly enters a warning to those who might seem to think that they were all right. Compare 7.22-23; the elder brother in Luke 15.25-32; Luke 19.27.
The parable echoes many of the themes of the previous two parables with which it is connected by the use of the word ‘again’ (22.1). Compare how the previous parable was connected by the phrase ‘another parable’ (21.33). The anticipated honouring of the son compares with the hoped for reverencing of the son in 21.37. The treatment of the two sets of slaves parallels the similar treatment in 21.34-36. The destruction of the culprits parallels 21.41. The curt refusal to come was like the son who refused to go to the vineyard (21.30). Those who did come on the basis of the resulting opportunity are like the son who finally did get to the vineyard (having first of all refused) (21.29). The invitation to the ‘as many as you shall find’ parallels the ‘other vineyard workers’. In both cases they will replace the first (21.41). All the parables are seen to have reference to the Kingly Rule of Heaven/God (21.31, 43; 22.1). Thus the message is a united one, even though seen from different angles. And now there is no doubt as to Who the Son is.
It should be noted that in most of its details, and in the main idea behind it, this parable differs from that in Luke 14.15-24 at nearly every point. While the similarities are mainly superficial and inexact, the central thoughts and ideas are in fact very different. It is therefore surprising, in view of the multitude of parables that Jesus is said to have taught, that some scholars try to suggest that they are basically the same parable, on totally insufficient grounds.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus answers His opponents and in the parallel we have His answer. In ‘b’ the king makes a marriage feast for his son. This will be intended to include expressions of fealty, and recognition of the son’s position. But in the parallel the man refuses to wear suitable clothing, thus dishonouring the son and refusing to recognise his position. In ‘c’ the servants were sent to those who out of loyalty and status should have come to the wedding, but they refused to come, and in the parallel they were sent out to the riffraff and the common people and they came in droves. In ‘d’ the ‘proper guests’ were bidden to the marriage feast, and in the parallel those at the partings of the highways were bidden to the wedding. In ‘e’ the invitees proved their unworthiness, and in the parallel they are declared unworthy. Centrally in ‘f’ is the declaration of what will happen to those who refuse the king’s invitation to pay due honour to his son.
22.1 ‘And Jesus answered and again spoke in parables to them, saying,’
The use of ‘answered’ in this vague way is a characteristic of Matthew’s Gospel. If it has any significance other than as a literary device it is in suggesting that by these words Jesus is answering His opponents. The ‘again’ connects back to the previous two parables. ‘Spoke in parables’ is simply a colloquialism for ‘spoke parabolically’.
22.2 ‘The kingly rule of heaven can be likened to a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son,’
The parable is to be an illustration of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Compare for this 13.24; 18.23; 25.1; and see also 13.31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52; 20.1. Like those parables it will indicate present activity in the Kingly Rule of Heaven, leading up to the final everlasting Kingly Rule. It refers to God’s doings and God’s offer and men’s response to them. They are being called to come under His Son’s Kingly Rule.
In this case the parable is of a King Who makes a marriage for His Son. On such an occasion a king would often, in honour of the occasion, promote his son to a position of authority over a part of his realm. That would seem to be the case here. Thus those who are bidden to the wedding were to be future subjects of His Son.
We must beware of just attributing this to what is called ‘the Messianic Banquet (as in 8.11). That is never described as a marriage feast. The marriage feast indicates rather a celebration of joy and gladness, a feast of ‘good things’, pertaining to this life (compare John 4.10-14; 6.35; 7.37; Ephesians 5.25-27). It was portrayed at Cana as offering the wine of the new age that Jesus had bought (John 2.1-11). It was such ‘good things’ that Jesus had come to bring men so that they might be immediately enjoyed (5.3-9; 7.11; compare 9.15 where the wedding is on the point of taking place but is interrupted by Jesus’ death, although that sadness will not last for long). This was not an invitation to some distant eschatological event as in 25.10; Revelation 19.6-9, but to present rejoicing along with the King’s Son Who was soon to be enthroned, and with Whom they would feast at His table, as some had already done (14.13-21; 15.27; 16.32-39), and then faithfully serve Him. The whole point is that the Chief Priests and Pharisees were turning down the present offer to eat at His table.
For to feast at His table was to believe on Him Whom God had sent and to partake of Him (John 6.32-40). It was an invitation which could be refused on the very verge of the wedding resulting in the earthly consequences that followed for those who did refuse (which was not the same as the later final judgement - verse 13). Others would then come later to enjoy the same feast, and at least one of these would be ejected because he had come improperly prepared. Thus it is not the heavenly banquet of 8.11 where all was final and all were secure. It is the time of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit which are basic elements of being under the Kingly Rule of God now (Romans 14.17). It is the current Messianic Banquet, currently enjoyed by Messiah’s people, as they receive good things from Him. It was to this Banquet that Jesus was calling men and women, to the music and dancing enjoyed by the returned prodigal (Luke 15.25). They were being called to eat and drink with their Lord.
22.3 ‘And sent forth his servants to call those who were bidden to the marriage feast, and they would not come.’
The king then sends out the original invitations. It was quite normal in those days for a general invitation to be issued, which would be followed by a later invitation indicating date and time when the guests would often accompany the messenger back (compare Esther 5.11 with 6.14). Important people had to be given the opportunity to prepare themselves for such an occasion. However, in this case the invitees reply immediately with a curt refusal. They might acknowledge the king but they are not prepared to acknowledge his son as their ruler. It was an indication to the king that he should change his mind about appointing His Son. Note that these first messengers were not ill-treated in any way. The invitees were still hoping to keep on good terms with the king. We can compare this first refusal with the initial refusal of the son in 21.29. The king does not react immediately. Time was to be given for repentance.
We may see in these messengers the prophets who pointed forward to the Coming One (the King’s Son), and indeed all whom God uses to call men to come under His Kingly Rule.
22.4 ‘Again he sent forth other servants, saying, “Tell those who are bidden, Behold, I have made ready my dinner. My oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast.’
When all was ready the patient king, expecting that they might well have had second thoughts when they had had time to realise the seriousness of what they were doing, sent further slaves. He was prepared to forgive them and give them another chance. This time his message was more urgent and demanding, and brooked no refusal. His mind was made up. The first meal of the feast (the word indicates the morning meal) was already in process of preparation (the marriage would as normal be at least a seven day event). The oxen and fatlings had already been killed. And everything else was prepared. They had no choice therefore but to come, or else to insult Him unforgivably.
We should note here that this was not just an invitation to a ‘party’ as in Luke’s parallel parable (14.15-22), it was the demand of a king, who had the right to instant obedience from his subjects. They had to come to make submission to his son. To disobey would be treason.
22.5 ‘But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the remainder laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them.’
Some of his messengers who made their way back reported that on receiving the invitation, instead of preparing to set off for the wedding, some of the invitees ostentatiously went off to see to their farms and others to their businesses. It was a clear further refusal and intended to be a deliberate and open affront to the king in each case. Others sent the slaves back shamefully treated, indicating to the king what he could do with his son. Compare for this 2 Samuel 10.4-5, and see Jeremiah 20.2; 37.15. The ill-treatment and humiliation of messengers was a regular way of rejecting an overlord’s invitation. It indicated what they thought of him and his messengers, and that they no longer accepted his authority over them. Others killed the messengers, possibly sending back a body part in order to indicate what they had done. Josephus tells of how when Hezekiah issued invitations to the Israelites to come to the feast of the Passover, many of those who received them killed his messengers. So these have been common ways throughout history whereby men have indicated disdainfully that they were no longer prepared to accept an overlord. (It was always dangerous to be a messenger to such people). The varying responses also indicate the varying way that people reject God’s invitation to come to Him, some more violently than others. Again the prophets are in mind in the servants, including especially John the Baptist, the latest prophet to be martyred. And they were already planning to do the same thing to Jesus.
22.7 ‘But the king was angry, and he sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.’
Understandably the king, recognising open rebellion, was angry. He knew that he was given no alternative. Thus he did what kings do in such circumstances, he sent his armies and destroyed the rebels, and burned their city. The burning of a city was a regular way of treating rebels (Deuteronomy 13.16; see also Jeremiah 21.10 and seven other similar references in Jeremiah). The giving of such orders preparatory to his son’s wedding (if it was so) would cost him not a moment of thought. It was what kings do in such circumstances. It would have been seen as another kind of wedding present to his son. (But the probability is that this retaliation would not have occurred until the wedding was over. The verses are not necessarily to be seen as in strict time sequence).
Jesus may well have had Jerusalem in mind here, for this was where the chief rebels were situated, and He was well aware of the coming destruction of the Temple. It was always ironic that Jerusalem was such a religious city that it had no place for God’s Son because it was too tied up in its own interests. But this was not intended to be a literal description of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, even though Jesus knew that that was to happen. And indeed Jerusalem was not burned with fire, it was torn down stone by stone. The words He used are rather very much based on Old Testament ideas about the punishing of the wicked, with the future literal destruction of Jerusalem only in the background of His thinking. He was rather depicting the judgment of God on the rebels in the recognised way.
22.8 ‘Then he says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were bidden were not worthy.” ’
However, the king was determined that the wedding should go ahead and the marriage feast be a success. The original invitees had proved to be not worthy. They had proved to be rebels and not deserving of his son. Thus he would make other provision.
22.9 “Go you therefore to the partings of the highways, and as many as you shall find, bid to the marriage feast.”
So He told His servants to go to those who were outside the rebellious city, to those who would be found at the parting of the highways, the road intersections, where men presumably gathered, men who had received no invitation. And whoever they found there they were to bid to the marriage feast. The city authorities, with their cronies, may reject the king’s son, but there would be many who would not (as His welcome into Jerusalem by the pilgrims had demonstrated). And by eating at His table they were indicating their loyalty to Him.
The disciples would have been in no doubt that this was to be their responsibility. They were to go to the very same kind of people as Jesus had gone to in Galilee, the poor, and the needy, and the lame, and the blind.
22.10 ‘And those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good, and the wedding was filled with guests.’
And so the servants went out into the highways, and they gathered all whom they found, without distinction, until the wedding was filled with guests. ‘The bad’ probably signifies the public servants and prostitutes (21.31-32), ‘the good’ the ordinary Jewish people who in contrast lived what were seen as ‘good’ lives. But as the next verse demonstrates, all these invitees were given time to attire themselves suitably for the wedding as best they could. Jesus expects us to assume it from what follows. This was important for it would reveal the genuineness of their appreciation and acceptance of the status of the Son. For as we shall soon discover those who came with the wrong attitude would not be welcome. This should be noted. Those only would be welcomed who had responded to the king’s invitation in the right manner. It was not to be a question of what they had been. It was to be a question of whether they were prepared to reveal their submission to the king’s son, and to honour His presence, something which would be revealed by the way that they presented themselves.
Here was an offer for men of all kinds to come into the Kingly Rule of Heaven, as they had with John the Baptist (21.31-32). But it required response, repentance (compare Isaiah 1.16-18), a ‘change of clothes’ and the commencement of a new life (compare Zechariah 3.3-5; Ephesians 4.22-24; Colossians 3.9-10). They had to be clothed with ‘wedding-garments’. It was that fact that proved that they were genuine responders to His invitation. In Revelation 19.8 those are ‘the righteousnesses of the saints (people of God)’ which were the evidence of the true bride. It is a reminder that to approach Christ with no good works to show for our faith is an insult to Him. These people had ‘put on’ a new manner of life resulting from His creative work within them (Ephesians 4.24)
22.11 ‘But when the king came in to survey the guests, he saw there a man who did not have on a wedding-garment.’
This is now brought out in that when the king came in to survey his guests it was his requirement and expectation that they be clothed in wedding-garments in honour of his son’s marriage and status. To come to a wedding without putting on their best garments would be seen as a studied insult to those who had invited them, and especially when he was a king and the wedding was his son’s. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ listeners would have been horrified to think that anyone would commit such a social lapse. And they would know that it was deliberate. They would know that this man was not there like that by accident. He was showing his contempt for the king’s son. It was not something that could possibly happen without thought. It was against their whole culture.
There are no known examples where wedding-garments were actually provided for guests, so it is unlikely that it was so in this case. But there are many examples which indicate that men would be expected to wear their ‘best clothes’ at a wedding or other state occasion, and would be expelled if they did not. In one Rabbinic parable where a king summoned guests to a banquet it was said that ‘the wise entered adorned while the fools entered soiled’, the latter being excluded on this basis.
‘When the king came in to survey the guests.’ We may see this as indicating the time of the last judgment. Until then the man in question was allowed to mock at the Son, as men are allowed to mock today. But we must not press that too hard. The king’s judgment was in this world as well as in the next (verse 7). Like the Kingly Rule of Heaven it had both present and future aspects. God does sometimes call some to account in this life.
12.12 ‘And he says to him, “Friend, how did you come in here not having a wedding-garment?” And he was speechless.’
So the king speaks gently but firmly to the offending man. He begins by calling him, ‘Friend’. In Matthew this is always said with a heavy heart. Compare 20.13; 26.50. It indicates someone being addressed who is in the wrong, but is being approached with thought and consideration. And then he questions him as to why he has come to the marriage-feast not wearing a wedding-garment.
The speechlessness of the man is intended to indicate his guilt. Had he had good reason he would have spoken out. But he could hardly tell the king that he had done it because he was contemptuous of the king and his son. And yet that could be the only real reason for doing it. What he had probably not expected was that the king would come in among such ‘common’ company.
12.13 ‘Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” ’
The king then orders ‘his attendants’ (not his slaves, and therefore here probably the angels. Men never help in this kind of judgment) to bind the man hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. He is excluded from the circle of the well lit feast, and the rejoicing and gladness of both this world and the next (19.29), and despatched to where it is for ever dark (in direct contrast to Colossians 1.13). And in that place there is weeping and gnashing of teeth because all who are there recognise what they have lost. It pictures the time of man’s final loss of hope.
Compare for this description 8.12, where it happens to the professing ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’ (those who should have received it, but rejected it), and 25.30 where it happens to the man who failed to respond to his lord’s requirement for faithful service. The future for all who reject the King’s Son and fail to respond to His will is bleak.
12.14 ‘For many are called, but few chosen.’
The parable then ends with a maxim. Many are called to respond to the King’s invitation, but only comparatively few are ‘chosen’, that is, are His elect (compare 24.31), who are those who are fully responsive to Him because of His effective call (John 6.44).
The Test Concerning the Tribute Money: Jesus Contrasts Men’s Attitudes Towards The Kingly Rule Of Men and the Kingly Rule of God (22.15-22).
In the light of His establishment of His new congregation on earth, and His new Kingly Rule, the question is now raised as to what men’s attitudes are to be towards human authorities and towards God. Matthew answers this question in terms which are connected with further belligerence revealed by the Pharisees. Gathered in Jerusalem for Passover the Pharisees have come together to discuss how they can ensnare Jesus, and in the course of this, because Jesus as a Galilean was subject to Herod’s jurisdiction, they have entered into discussions with the Herodians who had connections with Herod’s court and supported Herod (unlike the majority of the people of Galilee and Peraea who simmered under his rule). They now think that they have at last discovered how they can trap Him.
The Pharisees disliked the Herodians intensely, and the feeling was no doubt mutual, for they were religiously and politically at opposite extremes, the former seeing their duty as owed to God, and the latter as owed to Herod. But the Herodians would be necessary for the trap that they aimed to set for Jesus just in case His answer was to suggest the refusal of tribute, which they probably suspected that it would be. If He did so the Pharisees could hardly accuse Him before the civil authorities themselves, for to do such a thing would have degraded them before the people, but that was something that Herodians could be expected to do. On the other hand if He agreed that tribute should be paid to Caesar then the Pharisees would be in a position to discredit Him totally before the people as a prophet who supported Rome. Thus they were a formidable combination.
The Jews as a nation saw themselves as the people of God, and therefore found their subjection to the Romans extremely trying. It went against all that they believed. And they found particularly aggravating the taxes that they had to pay to Rome, especially the poll tax. These were on top of the taxes which they much more willingly paid to their own national leadership and to the Temple. They thus paid the Roman taxes very grudgingly, and considered that they were the equivalent of extortion, and therefore immoral. Indeed they saw it as questionable whether in God’s eyes they were even ‘lawful’. They themselves believed that they only owed such ‘duties’ towards God. So this taxation by Rome was something that caused much bitterness in their hearts, and especially the tribute per head that was payable directly to Caesar. That almost became a question of an offering to a foreign god. Thus for anyone to have suggested that it was right for them to have to pay such tribute would have been looked on as the equivalent of blasphemy. As far as they were concerned such taxes suggested that the Romans were usurping the place of God. Any such person, therefore, would have found himself immediately ostracised as the equivalent of a ‘public servant’ and a traitor. And for a prophet to do so would have filled them with horror, and would have rendered him a false prophet, and therefore totally unacceptable to almost all the people.
On the other hand the Roman authorities demanded these taxes, and they would have looked on anyone who said that they should not be paid as a rebel and an insurgent. If anyone openly and authoritatively declared that the tribute should not be paid they would immediately have been arrested, and even executed. Thus the whole subject was one that no one spoke about, with all grudgingly paying their tribute (apart from the few obstinate rebels) but with all muttering under their breaths that it was not right that they should have to do so.
And herein the Pharisees realised that they had the unanswerable question, for whichever reply Jesus gave to it He would be finished. He would either be despised by the people, or executed by the Romans. There was no way out. At last they knew that they had got Him.
Note that in ‘a’ the aim is to trap Jesus while in the parallel they leave Him, filled with wonder. In ‘b’ comes the question about paying tribute to Caesar, and in the parallel comes Jesus’ reply to the question. In ‘c’ He asks to see the tribute money and in the parallel He is shown the tribute money. Central is the fact that they brought Him a denarius which demonstrated their hypocrisy, for it was Caesar’s coin.
22.15 ‘Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might ensnare him in his talk.’
‘Took counsel.’ This may signify that the Scribes of the Pharisees and the other leading Pharisees came together to discuss the matter, or it may even have included the Herodians and others in the discussions. Whichever way it was the Pharisees were prominent in the matter. Their purpose, Matthew tells us, was in order to ensnare Him by making Him say what could only condemn Him.
22.16 ‘And they send to him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth, and care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men.” ’
Their preparations were carefully laid. In order that Jesus might suspect nothing the Pharisees did not approach Him themselves, but sent along ‘their disciples’, that is the young men who were under their instruction, but were still not yet fully initiated Pharisees. Such men might well be seen by Jesus as ‘seekers after truth’ and their youthfulness would surely lull His suspicions. Along with them went the Herodians. They would be expected to be interested in a subject like this, and their hope might well have been that their presence would arouse Jesus to be intemperate. And Jesus would be caught between the two, the ‘innocent minded’ young fledgling Pharisees and the worldly Herodians. In this situation Jesus would surely feel that He had to make His position absolutely clear. And then on top of this they had prepared their introductory words carefully so as to encourage Him to speak boldly.
“Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth, and care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men.” Their opening words, given here, were subtle in the extreme. Firstly they flattered Him by calling His ‘Teacher’. And then they laid out how they expected Him to approach the question.
‘We know that you are true.’ That is that He teaches what is genuinely true and speaks it out honestly and without equivocation.
‘And teach the way of God in truth.’ That is that His message will be firmly and truly a proclamation of God’s way, and God’s way only, the ‘way of holiness’ of Isaiah 35.8, the ‘way of righteousness’ of John (21.32; compare 7.13-14).
‘And care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men.’ This proviso was added in order to encourage Him to be absolutely bold, and not to compromise. They wanted to make sure that He was indiscreet. ‘Care not for anyone’. That is, does not let what others think interfere with His speaking the truth. ‘Do not regard the person of men.’ That is, does not measure His words in terms of who are present or who will hear of them. This is, of course, a fair description of a true prophet, but they spelled it out with the intention of making sure that He spoke clearly and without inhibition. The whole purpose behind it was to compromise Jesus.
22.17 “Tell us therefore, What do you think? Is it right to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”
Then they introduced the crunch question. ‘Was it right (or ‘lawful’) to give tribute to Caesar or not?’ The word exestin can refer either to being ‘right in itself’, or alternatively to being ‘in accordance with the Law’. But the former was probably the main meaning in this context, as is indicated by the addition of ‘or not?’ They wanted a practical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer that would result in His committing Himself to forbidding the payment of tribute, not just a legal decision which could be dismissed as being merely intended to be a theoretical interpretation of the Law.
22.18 ‘But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites?”
Jesus was not for one moment deceived by their seeming innocence, nor moved by their flattery. He saw straight through them to the wickedness that lay at the heart of their question. And He made this quite plain in His reply. “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites?’ or in other words, ‘why are you trying to out Me on the spot in this hypocritical way? Have you no conscience? Do you not realise how wicked you are being?’
22.19 “Show me the tribute money.” And they brought to him a denarius.’
Then He bade them to show Him the tribute money, that is the coin in which they would pay the tribute. And as He anticipated they brought Him a denarius. Most religiously minded Jews sought to avoid carrying a denarius, firstly because it bore the graven image of the emperor, something forbidden by the ten commandments, and secondly because it had written on it certain superscriptions. On one side was engraved, ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus’ and on the other side ‘Pontifex Maximus’ (high priest - of Roma and the Roman gods). Both would be seen as blasphemous. Thus they would grudgingly use it to pay their taxes, but would seek to avoid it on other occasions whenever they could.
‘They brought Him --.’ This may suggest that the particular questioners did not have one themselves but had to obtain one, probably from one of the Herodians, or from someone in the listening crowd. By this time the crowd would have recognised the importance of the question and would be paying great attention. They probably did not recognise that it was a trap and would therefore expect the prophet to violently denounce the paying of tribute.
22.20-21a ‘And he says to them, “Whose is this image and superscription?” They say to him, “Caesar’s”.’
Jesus then turned to His questioners and, indicating the denarius, asked them, “Whose is this image and superscription?” There was only one reply to such a question, ‘Caesar’s’. The emperors were now known as Caesar, a title associated with the emperors as a result of Julius Caesar’s previous importance. It had been his family name.
22.21b ‘Then he says to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus’ reply was masterly, for it clearly answered the question, and yet did it in such a way that all, even the most fervent, had to acknowledge that He was right. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In other words He was saying, ‘this coin clearly belongs to Caesar, for it contains his image and superscription, so give it back to him, for you should not possess it anyway unless you acknowledge his overlordship. On the other hand you are made in the image of God (Genesis 1.27), and God has designated His people as ‘holiness to the Lord’ in the superscription on the golden plate on the High Priest’s headpiece (Exodus 28.36; compare also Exodus 19.5-6; Isaiah 44.5). The consequence is that you should therefore live your lives wholly for God.’
The remarkable nature of the reply comes out in that the Zealots would have agreed with it wholeheartedly, considering that to own denarii was unpatriotic. If they could have done so, they would gladly have bundled up all the denarii and handed them back to Caesar. And the Romans would have found nothing amiss in it, for that is what they asked, the return of their denarii in taxes. All who came in between would also have had to agree, for they felt uneasy about holding denarii, and recognised that such were not of God, and yet they did so. Thus by holding them and using them they were thereby compromising with Rome and as a result putting themselves under an obligation to Rome, and at the same time, even if only theoretically, they fervently admitted that all that they had belonged to God. Each could therefore interpret Jesus’ words to speak to his own position and as in the end seeking to turn them back fully to God.
Nor was it an evasion. It was a recognised principle of the time that to use a ruler’s coins was to acknowledge his overlordship, that was one reason why they were issued. The use of them therefore indicated a recognition that the users accepted civil responsibilities. Thus Jesus was saying that those who did so also had to fulfil those civil responsibilities. And yet He was also emphasising that God must have the prior claim in all things, for all things belong to God. Thus when it comes to a choice between God and the state, God must be pre-eminent. These are the principles of the new Kingly Rule of Heaven.
The idea that men could owe allegiance to an earthly sovereign, even a foreign sovereign, was not new. The principle is enunciated in Jeremiah 27.5-22; 38.17-20. It is based on the fact that God is sovereign over men’s affairs, and that when He brings judgment on His people they must recognise their civil responsibilities even with regard to foreign overlords. The principle is confirmed by Paul in Romans 13.1-7.
But in contrast man is made in the image of God with the responsibility of watching over the world in His Name (Genesis 1.26-28; Psalm 7.5-8). His prime responsibility is thus to God, and to live before Him with the openness and responsiveness of little children (19.13-15, compare 18.1-4). Had the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders been living to God they would not have neglected God’s vineyard or have rejected His Cornerstone (21.33-42). Had they been living to God they would have responded to the Kingly Rule of Heaven (21.31-32). And thus for those under the Kingly Rule of Heaven all must be submitted to God, while at the same time recognising civil responsibility in its rightful place.
22.22 ‘And when they heard it, they marvelled, and left him, and went away.’
On hearing His reply His opponents marvelled at the wisdom of His answer. Instead of having caught Him out and shown Him up, it was they who had been shown up for hypocrisy, the hypocrisy of pretending to live only for God, and yet at the same time kowtowing to Caesar by using his coinage and taking advantage of the opportunities that his rule presented for building up wealth, taking advantage of the atmosphere of world wide peace and communication.
Jesus Confirms The Truth About The Resurrection And The Secondary Nature of Marriage (22.23-33).
Having seen off the Pharisees Jesus was now faced with the Sadducees. The Sadducees were mainly of the ruling parties and included the Chief Priests, and many of the aristocratic Elders. But here the ones who were sent were probably deliberately chosen from among those who had previously been ‘con-combative’. As with the approach of ‘the disciples of the Pharisees’ it was an attempt to challenge Him at another level. Their approach underlines the fact that He will have been challenged by, and have answered, all the leading groups in Israel
The question that they approached Jesus with was probably a standard one used by the Sadducees in defence of one of their own main teachings, the fact that there would be no resurrection. They also did not believe in spirits and angels. They probably based their view (as did the Samaritans, who only accepted the Pentateuch) on the fact that there is no mention of the resurrection in the Law of Moses. Jesus’ reply was that they neither knew the Scriptures nor the power of God. For if they were but to consider these they would see things differently
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus was questioned about the resurrection, and in the parallel all were astonished at His reply. In ‘b’ seven brothers sought to ‘raise up’ seed, and all died. In the parallel concerning the raising up of the dead God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. In ‘c’ the question concerns the resurrection, and in the parallel Jesus’ answer is given. Centrally in ‘d’ the Sadducees are revealed as not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.
22.23 ‘On that day there came to him Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him,’
Note the emphasis that it was ‘on the same day’. Thus the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees all approached Him to test Him on that day. All were out to bring Him down. We know little about the Sadducees for everything written about them was written by their opponents and therefore unreliable. But Matthew tells us that they did not believe in the resurrection. Josephus amplifies that by saying that they did not believe in the survival of either the soul or the body. It would seem that they also laid great emphasis on the Law of Moses (which was natural to a priestly party), although also recognising the prophets suitably interpreted. They did not believe in angels or spirits. Their emphasis was on the cult. The question that they approached Him with concerned the resurrection, and was probably a standard question with which they tripped up their opponents. It was based on the law of levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25.5-10). Under that law if a man died childless his brother (or kinsman) was required to take his wife and produce children who would inherit the dead man’s name, and his property. It was certainly practised early on for we have examples in Genesis 38.8 and in Ruth 1.11-13; 4.1-22 (the Greek rendering of Genesis 38.8 is reflected in Matthew’ treatment of the subject), but we do not know how much it was actually practised in the time of Jesus. However, being in the Law it was certainly possible for it to be practised, and there is no reason to doubt that it was, especially if the wife was especially attractive or the inheritance large.
22.24 ‘Saying, “Teacher, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed to his brother.”
The Sadducees began by briefly outlining the law. Strictly the law said ‘a brother living in the same household’, but as the Book of Ruth demonstrates, it was sometimes applied on a wider basis. Note again the use of ‘Teacher’. They had earlier questioned His authority. Now they were pretending that they recognised His authority. There were no depths to which they would not stoop.
‘Raise up seed.’ The same word is used for ‘raise up’ as is used for the resurrection. The Samaritans believed that that was the way in which people were ‘raised up’, by living on in their children.
22.25-27 “Now there were with us seven brothers, and the first married and deceased, and having no seed left his wife to his brother, in like manner the second also, and the third, to the seventh, and after them all, the woman died.”
They then laid out the case where seven brothers died childless one after the other, each taking on the same wife in order to produce children for their brothers, after which the woman also died. Note the sad emphasis on a hopeless death. There was no resurrection here, not even on a Sadducean interpretation! All died and no life resulted.
The sevenfoldness was probably an exaggeration in order to emphasise the completeness of the argument, but it remained true, of course, if it occurred in cases of fewer brothers (three or more). ‘With us’ may indicate that an actual case was known. It would certainly not be impossible. But it was probably said more with the intention of emphasising the veracity of the argument.
22.28 “In the resurrection therefore whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.”
So the question now was as to whose wife she would be in the resurrection, for she had been married to all and had had sexual relations with them all. Whichever one was selected they would have had arguments which would have demonstrated why that suggestion was wrong, for each one married the wife of the one above so as to produce an heir for that one, and to perpetuate his name. It was a question that had never failed to bamboozle their opponents.
22.29 ‘But Jesus answered and said unto them, “You go astray, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” ’
Jesus, however, pointed out that they went astray in their thinking for two reasons. Firstly because they did not know the Scriptures, and secondly because they did not appreciate the power of God. He then deals with these ideas in the reverse order in a typical chiasmus.
22.30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.”
They failed to recognise the power of God because they limited Him to only being able to raise people in a way that would fit into earthly patterns. They did not accept the existence of ‘spirits’. But, Jesus points out, God was not so limited. For the truth is that in the resurrection men are ‘as angels in Heaven’, that is, like the angels they are ‘spirits’ (compare 1 Corinthians 15.44, 50-51. See Hebrews 1.7, 14). They thus do not marry or engage in sexual practises. There is no need for reproduction in Heaven, for none ever die. We saw at the commencement of this section that marriage was not to be seen as the sole basis on which men lived their lives (19.12), and this is now being emphasised here. Marriage is to be seen as a secondary and earthly function, and while as such it is important here on earth, it will not be so in Heaven. Thus this immediately undercuts their whole argument, for it means that in Heaven she is not the wife of any. Note how this argument also emphasises the equality of men and women. The woman’s temporary earthly submission to man will also cease in Heaven, being replaced for all by the need for submission to God.
22.31 “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying,”
Having demonstrated the weakness of their argument Jesus then turned to what was ‘spoken by God’. Notice His emphasis on the fact that the Scriptures were ‘spoken by God’. Jesus constantly reveals His belief that the Scriptures reveal God’s words and God’s truth. But knowing their penchant for the Law He does not cite Isaiah 26.19 (or Daniel 12.2-3, although they may not have accepted Daniel as Scripture) for He knows that they will interpret such verses differently and will not accept their full force. He goes rather to the Law of Moses, and to a prominent saying regularly cited by all. He cites Exodus 3.6.
‘The resurrection of the dead’ is a phrase found only here (but see Romans 1.4 where it is similar but anarthrous). Usually it is the resurrection from (ek) the dead. But John tells us that Jesus did teach the resurrection of all the dead, some to life and some to judgment (John 5.28-29).
22.32 “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
He points out that God had stated to Moses that ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (See Exodus 3.6, 15, 16), and that as He is not the God of the dead but of the living, the corollary must be that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must therefore have been alive at the time when He spoke.
This inference takes in a number of factors which different ones will see in different ways:
Or to put it another way. The dead do not praise God (Psalm 88.10; 115.7). He is not their God, and cannot be. So if God can declare Himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob they must in some way be enjoying life, even though they have apparently died, in order to appreciate what He is doing. For He is the God only of the living. Indeed some of the Psalmists also actually revealed such a positive, if vaguely expressed, belief in an afterlife on the same basis, that they could not believe that their positive and glorious relationship with God, which was in such contrast with those whose minds were set on earthly things, could possibly cease on death (e.g. Psalm 16.9-11; 17.15; 23.6; 49.15; 73.24, see its whole context; 139.7-12, 24).
It is noteworthy that the Sadducees appear to have at least accepted that they had no reply to His argument. It appealed to men’s basic sense of the continuing presence of God, and of His fairness, His faithfulness and His unfailing goodness and loyalty, as well as to the idea that He would not forsake those whom He had so tenderly loved.
22.33 ‘And when the crowds heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.’
It was the crowds who were impressed and astonished by His teaching. This indicates that the Sadducees were rather annoyed by being unable to reply, rather than being impressed. They were not willing to be convinced, they were merely silenced. For however strong the argument, those who do not want to hear, will not hear. (‘A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still’). It was, howerver, different with the crowds. They recognised the truth of His implication. It is also a reminder that the crowds were present throughout all these goings on.
The Question As To What Is The Greatest Commandment (22.34-40).
Jesus’ success over the Sadducees was seen as sufficiently impressive to cause rumours concerning it to spread around which came to the ears of the Pharisees. They also had failed to trap Him, but it gave them the idea that perhaps they could at least get Him involved in controversy. Then at least, in a nation which was full of people with fervent and fixed but differing views, some people would be disillusioned with Him. And they recognised that they had to hand such a question, a question which was hotly debated, and that was as to which law out of the over six hundred laws that they had identified from the Law of Moses was the most important to fulfil. This in itself could be a minefield. For whichever law He chose they would be able to suggest His lack of sympathy with other very important laws. And if He refrained from agreeing that one was more important than the other then they could accuse Him of folly in suggesting that looking after a mother bird when its eggs were taken (Deuteronomy 22.7) was of equal importance to preventing murder or adultery.
So they came to Him, and through one of their Scribes, put the question to Him. And in reply He referred them to Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 which He saw as covering them all, for it revealed that Jesus saw love for God and love for man as lying at the root of all the commandments. This would certainly not be the only time when He was faced with a question similar to this, for it was such a popular one that it was no doubt put to Him time and again. Indeed we learn of another example in Luke 10.25-28, which was when He was in Galilee, and there is no reason for not seeing that as a different incident. But Matthew puts it here as a kind of inclusio along with the Sermon on the Mount, which between them encompassed His ministry and revealed what lay at the very heart of it. Indeed, this summed up the Sermon on the Mount.
Note that in ‘a’ the crunch question is as to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, and in the parallel are two commandments on which the whole of the Law and the prophets hang. In ‘b’ the first great commandment is stated, and in the parallel the second great commandment. Centrally in ‘c’ is the declaration of what is the first and great commandment.
22.34 ‘But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together.’
The Pharisees had no doubt heard with approval that Jesus had confuted the Sadducees on their favourite topic, but it only stirred them up the more to try to show Him up. So they came together again for that purpose (compare for ‘testing’ Jesus 16.1; 19.3).
‘Gathered themselves together.’ Compare Acts 4.26 citing Psalm 2.2. The idea is of gathering together in patent hostility.
22.35 ‘And one of them, a teacher of the law, asked him a question, testing him out.’
This time there would be no pretence that the question came from innocent seekers. Rather they wanted to bring out their big guns against Him, and they approached Him through ‘a teacher of the Law’ (nomikos), with a question which was a much debated, and one on which there were many views.
The word for ‘teacher of the Law’ is nomikos (thus ‘law expert’), only found here in Matthew, but more often in Luke where it generally has in mind the Scribes. Matthew may have used it because the regular tradition of the church incorporated it into this story (but then it would be in contrast with Mark). Or more likely it was because a ‘nomikos’ was a higher grade of Scribe, a leading expert. If that is so the distinction would have been important here to Matthew’s Jewish Christian readers. Perhaps a top lawyer of high experience was selected so that once Jesus gave His answer, possibly citing one of the ten commandments, he could engage in controversy with Him on the matter, exposing His viewpoint as wrong, and hopefully entangling Him and showing Him up. They wanted to demonstrate their clear superiority.
22.36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
His question was simply as to which was the greatest and most important commandment in the whole of the Law. Some of the Scribes and Pharisees did in fact class certain laws as being of greater and higher importance than other laws, and there was much debate about the importance of each and especially about which was the most important of all. Thus they attempted to differentiate the importance of different commandments, separating them into ‘great’ or ‘heavy’ and ‘little’ or ‘light’, and would often seek to trace them back to a general principle. Hillel is said to have summed up the Law as ‘what you hate for yourself do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Law. The remainder is commentary. Go and learn.’ We can compare here Jesus’ own words on the matter in 5.18-19; 23.23, where in general He at least partly agreed with them, and His own summary of the Law in 7.12.
But others frowned at seeking to select out one Law in this way, and considered that all were equally important. They felt that there was none that could be omitted. And so important was this principle considered to be that the Laws from the book of Moses were listed so that they produced 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. But we must not overemphasise the difference. All believed that every law had to be treasured and obeyed (as did Jesus in 5.18-19), it was just that some felt that they could be graded in order of importance, while others gave them equal importance. Thus some thought that the greatest commandment must be the one (whichever it was) which would count the most when God weighed men up, for their continual concern was how to be approved before God. For they found it difficult to appreciate the Scriptural emphasis on the fact that approval before God came though faith in Him (Genesis 15.6), and response to Him (Habakkuk 2.4), and they therefore sought rather to build up merit before Him.
That these attitudes could lead on to a cold, stern obedience lacking in love is obvious, and the danger was that it had tended to take their eyes off God, and focus them on themselves (compare Luke 18.11-12). Keeping the Law had in fact become the be all and end all of many of their lives. This was, however, the very opposite of what Jesus felt that their attitudes should be.
22.37 ‘And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Jesus went right to the heart of the matter, citing Deuteronomy 6.5. This could hardly fail to meet with their approval for it was in fact a verse which was central to Jewish worship, and repeated by every good Jew each day. It was considered so important that it was carried around in the phylacteries worn by Pharisees on their heads and arms and fixed to their doors in small tubes (on the basis of Deuteronomy 6.8-9, interpreted literally). They would thus not have doubted its great importance. And this verse points out that the most important of God’s requirements is that we love Him ‘with heart and soul and mind’, in other words with the whole of our inward beings. (Mark also has ‘and mind’, and adds ‘and strength’ which is found in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, however omits ‘mind’, although having said that, mind is included within the Old Testament idea of the ‘heart’. Thus all the descriptions intertwine, for where a man’s heart and soul and mind are involved, so also is his strength). So Jesus was saying that this love for God lies at the heart of all true worship, and of all true morality. But what are to understand by ‘loving God’. It indicates the kind of response that longs for God and continually owns His worth, and thus longs to please Him and do His will because of His total worthiness. But it also includes along with that the idea of trusting Him fully and serving Him truly And once this command is in place and observed all the rest truly is commentary, for it embraces all that God requires of us. Once a man or woman loves God like this their whole lives will be lived in order to please Him, and they will seek to be ‘perfect’ even as He is ‘perfect (5.48).
Putting the idea of a heartfelt relationship with God as lying at the root of man’s behaviour is not a new concept. The idea can also be found in Deuteronomy 10.12; 1 Samuel 15.22; Isaiah 1.11-18; 43.21-24; 44.5; Jeremiah 31.33-34; Ezekiel 36.26-27; Hosea 6.6; Amos 5.21-24; Micah 6.6-8.
22.38 “This is the great and first commandment.”
Then Jesus emphasised the centrality of this commandment. This, He said, is the great commandment, and comes before all others. All else pales beside it. For if we truly love God then our behaviour will be God-like and all else will fall into place. It is also the first because it must come before all others in importance.
22.39 “And a second like to it is this, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
But Jesus then adds a second so as to ensure that love for each other is given its rightful place and not overlooked (for man can be guilty of such insensitivity that in his supposed love for God he neglects his neighbour), and that was ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. This second, which is ‘like to the first’, also emphasises love, and is taken from Leviticus 19.18 (compare 5.42; 19.19). It especially has in mind the need for complete honesty, fair judgment, non-talebearing, and avoiding all hatred, vengeance, and the bearing of grudges (compare 5.21-48), while at the same time allowing for the rebuking of a neighbour in love (7.1-5), although always without permanent rancour (Leviticus 19.13-18) Thus love for God, resulting also in love for one another, are to be seen as the two central features of the Law, paralleling and lying behind the two sections of the ten commandments, the Godward and the manward.
22.40 “On these two commandments the whole law hangs, and the prophets.”
That is why Jesus could say that the whole Law hangs on these two commandments, together with the prophets. For without this love neither the Law nor the prophets can be fulfilled. By this combination of the Law and the Prophets we are taken back to 5.17 and 7.12, and all that lies between, for God’s purpose for us in Jesus is that we, as far as it is possible for us, fulfil the Law and the prophets, combining this fulfilment with the idea of our love for our Father in Heaven as assumed in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed these two commandments are to be seen as the very foundation for that Sermon, for while love for God is not specifically mentioned there it is everywhere assumed (5.3-9, 45; 6.6, 24, 33; 7.22), and love for our neighbour is specifically required (5.39-48). Without such love we could not possibly fulfil the Sermon on the Mount. Its demands would be too great.
It is true, of course, that the general idea of what Jesus said in this combination is found in the Testament of the Twelve patriarchs (1st century BC), where we read, ‘Love the Lord and love your neighbour, have compassion on the poor and weak’ (Issachar 5.2). ‘I loved the Lord, in the same way also every man with my whole heart’ (Issachar 7.6). ‘Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a true heart’ (Dan 5.3). But in these cases love for God and neighbour are not stated as being the fundamental basis of the Law. And in fact the ideas were not new there either, for they were found in the Law of Moses, as in the end they simply summarised the ten commandments, and the fundamental expressions of the Law.
Yet as far as we are aware Jesus was the first specifically to bring these two commandments together as one in this way as indicating the whole basis of the Law. The incident in Luke 10.25-37, where the Pharisee cites them in a way which leads up to the parable of the good Samaritan, may possibly indicate that the combination was well known, but it may equally be that he had them in mind there precisely because he had heard Jesus citing them. However, that is not of great importance, for Jesus’ genius lay not so much in having ideas that no one had thought of individually before, as in bringing them all together succintly and giving them a deeper meaning. He revealed in depth what others had made known fleetingly. Thus what is more important is that Jesus declared that they summed up the Law and the prophets, and that that meant that a man’s attitude of heart was more important than the details of the Law, although He did not by that invalidate the Law, but rather revealed that such love should be an attitude of heart that was determined to fulfil the Law and the Prophets.
In a sense this passage forms an inclusio, along with 5.17 in the Sermon on the Mount, enclosing within it the whole ministry of Jesus, and thus commencing and ending His general ministry with concentration on our behaviour towards God and our neighbour, and the necessity to obey the Law and the Prophets. This latter reference is then followed by the seven ‘woes’ on those who did fail to love God in this way, just as the love of God in the Sermon on the Mount began to be portrayed in the seven ‘blessings’ on those who had begun to love Him, for in the end we love Him because He first loved us.
Jesus Is Not Just David’s Son, He Is David’s Lord (22.41-46).
Just as the Sermon on the Mount was preceded by a revelation of the glorious light that had burst on the world in Jesus (4.16) so that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was seen to be at hand (4.17, 23), so now this revelation concerning love for God and for our neighbour is followed by the revelation of the glory of the Christ, Who is to sit on God’s right hand with all His enemies submitting at His feet (compare 28.18; 26.64). All that has gone between has explained why this is.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus asks the Pharisees a question and in the parallel no one is able to answer Him or dares to ask Him an more questions. In ‘b’ Jesus asks them if the Messiah is David’s son, and in the parallel demonstrates that he cannot be because David calls him ‘Lord’. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the evidence as to why the Messiah is David’s Lord.
22.41 ‘Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying,’
For ‘gathered together’ compare verse 34 and its connection with Acts 4.26 citing Psalm 2.2. It indicated their hostility and there intention to bring Jesus crashing down. So Jesus, having dealt with their hostile questions, put to them His own question.
22.42 “What do you think of the Messiah (Christ)? Whose son is he?” They say to him, “The son of David.” ’
First He asked them what their view was about the Messiah. Whose son did they see him to be? In the light of the beliefs of the time that was not a difficult one and they promptly replied, ‘the son of David’. David was the glorious king of the past who had overshadowed all other kings. In their eyes he was the prototype of all that was good in kingship. And to see the Messiah as his son was to see Him as glorious indeed from an earthly point of view. But Jesus’ point here is that that is not enough.
Note that this is not strictly a use of the title ‘the Son of David’ but is more a statement of fact in line with 1.1, 17 and is thus emphasising lineage, that is, that He is the son of David. He is the One in the line of David Who was promised as coming (compare Isaiah 9.2-7; 11.1-4; Jeremiah 23.5; Ezekiel 34.23-24; 37.24-25). It has a slightly different nuance to the title ‘the Son of David’ as used to refer to the One with royal healing powers (like Solomon), although the end result is the same for both connect Him with the house of David and with the Messiah.
22.43 ‘He says to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,”
But Jesus then turns their minds to the Scriptures, and He refers them to Psalm 110. Psalm 110 was a psalm ‘of David’ and David was believed by all present, including Jesus, to be its author, something which He specifically implies. If we accept that Jesus infallibly knew the mind of God that would seem to settle the question of authorship. And indeed the only grounds for thinking otherwise would be the actual interpretation of the Psalm.
Some see it as the Psalmist signifying that the king of the house of David is his lord, regardless of when it was written, possibly as a coronation psalm. But there is in fact no reason why David should not himself, in a Psalm intended to be full of hope and to be for public use, have spoken of the future coming scion of his house in this way, having in mind especially the future son of David whom he had been told was coming to establish his kingdom ‘for ever’ (2 Samuel 7.12, 16; Psalm 2), and the mention of the ‘everlasting’ Melchizedek priesthood might well be seen as confirming this. This last reference to the Melchizedek priesthood might well also be seen as indicating an early date for authorship, at a time when such a question was still seen as important in Jerusalem. Again this would go towards confirming Davidic authorship. Note that that priesthood is also, like the kingdom in 2 Samuel 7.16, proclaimed as ‘everlasting’. Thus David may here reasonably be seen as referring to how he himself sees the future of his house, with a supreme king appearing, and with ‘my Lord’ being a reverential reference forward to that great supreme coming King Who would establish the everlasting Kingly Rule and the everlasting priesthood of Melchizedek, and who would truly have ‘all things’ under His feet (as in Psalm 2), and would thus be far superior to even David, and thus his ‘Lord’.
Jesus’ view of the full inspiration of the Psalms is also brought out by His words, for He speaks of ‘David in the Spirit calling Him Lord’. Thus He sees David as having been divinely inspired by the Spirit in the writing of the Psalm, and on that basis, He says, ‘If the Messiah is only David’s son, why does David call Him Lord?’ The obvious answer can only be ‘because He is to be seen as a greater than David’. We must, of course, remember that David had been given the promise that his heirs would rule over the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.13, 16), and that God’s coming ‘anointed one’ would rule the world (Psalm 2.2, 8-9). He would therefore look ahead to a greater than himself.
It should further be noted that there are good grounds for considering that this Psalm was interpreted Messianically in the pre-Christian period. This is confirmed by the Midrash on Psalm 18.36 where Psalm 110.1 is quoted by way of illustration in a Messianic sense. It is true that later the interpretation was dropped by the Rabbis, but that was because the Christians had taken it over. It was, however, firm and strong at this period. Moreover it is also constantly quoted Messianically in the New Testament. See Acts 2.34, of His ascending the throne of God as both Lord and Messiah; Hebrews 10.12 where, after offering one sacrifice for sins for ever, He ‘sat down at the right hand of God’; and see its use with regard to the Melchizedek priesthood in Hebrews 6.20; 7.17, 21. Thus it would appear that this connection of the Psalm with the Messiah would have caused no problem to His listeners.
22.44 “The Lord said to my Lord, You sit on my right hand, until I put your enemies underneath your feet?”
He then amplifies that further by citing the Psalm. On Jesus’ interpretation the LORD (YHWH) had said to David’s Lord, “You sit on my right hand, until I put your enemies underneath your feet?” To be placed on the right hand was to be given supreme honour (compare Psalm 45.9; 80.17. See also Mark 16.19; Luke 22.69; Acts 7.56; Hebrews 1.3). It was a position regularly reserved for the King’s heir apparent or the prince regent, or failing him the highest ranking person at the court. The Messiah was thus to be supremely honoured by God and vested with His authority (compare 26.64 where the same Psalm is in mind, and see 28.18). To have all enemies put under His feet indicated total victory over all His enemies. Thus the Messiah was to be totally supreme enjoying the very authority of God Himself, and acting in His Name (28.18-20).
22.45 “If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
That all being so, how can he be called simply David’s son? The idea behind the title ‘son of David’ is therefore to be seen as insufficient for a description of the Messiah. ‘Calls Him Lord’ is here to be seen as indicating all that is included in the quotation in verse 44. Thus David is seen as declaring and proclaiming the supreme power and authority that will be the Messiah’s, setting Him far above himself (compare Romans 1.3-4), and we know from what is previously said that this title Messiah refers to Jesus. The supreme light (4.16) is now shining before Israel.
This does not, of course indicate that the Messiah would not be the son of David lineally. It indicates rather that he could not be seen in the way that He was by the Pharisees, as inferior to or simply on a level with David, and as acting in the same way that David did. He must not be equated with David on the same terms. In Hebrew thought ‘son of --’ indicated not only relationship, but likeness in standing and behaviour. However, the point here is that there was no way in which David could be seen as the full archetype of the Messiah because the Messiah was so much greater than David. He operated in ways, and with a power, that David could never have dreamed of, in other words, as He Himself did.
22.46 ‘And no one was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth to ask him any more questions.’
Once again they could give Him no answer, for they had to mentally acknowledge the truth of what He said. But they were not willing to receive it into their hearts, and there is a sense in which at this moment they finally sealed their own fate, as described in what follows in 23 onwards, because of the hardening of their hearts.
It was also the end of trying to test Jesus out. No one from that day on dared to ask Him any more questions. So they withdrew to lick their wounds, and began instead to plot His death. They now recognised that it was the only way in which they could defeat Him. It was the recognition of their intellectual and spiritual dishonesty in this that caused Jesus to speak as He does in chapter 23. They had as a body proved themselves to be beyond redemption.
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