Gospel of Matthew Chapter Twenty-One Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Last Days
Verses 1-3: "When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them,'Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them.'" As we can see in places like Matthew 20:18-19, Jesus was well aware that these were His last days to live as a man on planet earth. We find that His disciples knew it, too, but with a difference—they refused to accept it would happen (Matthew 16:21-24). They also had been told about the resurrection that was to come after His death, but like people everywhere, they remained in denial, hoping it would all go away. Note in these verses the utter control by God over events in this world—a donkey and colt would come forth for these events, just as Jesus said. Something terrible was indeed about to happen, but God is infinitely able to bring good out of bad (Romans 8:28). Prophesies continued to unfold, one at a time, as we will see in the events that follow.
Verses 4-7: "This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 'Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.' 6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, 7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats." The Jewish leaders had complete access to the Old Testament Scriptures, which were full of prophesies and parables foretelling the circumstances surrounding the advent of the Messiah, the Christ. Those Scriptures were unfolding right before their eyes, but they didn't want to understand, and neither did the disciples. Unbelief is a poison that injures faith; a danger to us all. Here was Jesus, humbly riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a colt, fulfilling the words of Zechariah 9:9. To the credit of the disciples, even though they were full of concerns, they "did just as Jesus had instructed them." Will we do as well? How will people respond as the events leading to the Return of Jesus unfold?
Verses 8-11: "Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. 9 The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
'Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!' 10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, 'Who is this?' 11 And the crowds were saying, 'This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.'" The word "Hosanna" being shouted by the large mob that greeted Jesus, essentially meant "Save now," seen in Psalm 118:22-26, also containing the words, "the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." The outer coat of Jewish men was a treasured garment, but many in the crowd excitedly took them off and laid them out as a carpet before Jesus, not unlike what the disciples did in Verses 6-7. They were treating Him as a king, which is appropriate because He is the King. They actually thought of Him as a prophet, which is true, but He is also infinitely More. The people of "Nazareth" were scorned by the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders of that day, and the reference in Verse 11 was probably a derogatory reference coined by such leaders. If that is so, it is interesting that after His resurrection, He introduced Himself to Paul the Pharisee this way: "I am Jesus of Nazareth..." (Acts 22:8).
Verses 12-17: "And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He said to them,'It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.' 14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' they became indignant 16 and said to Him, 'Do You hear what these children are saying?' And Jesus said to them,'Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?' 17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there." If a miracle happens before your very eyes, it makes sense to give some prayerful consideration that it might an act of God. The Jewish leaders were simply "indignant," even though they witnessed the blind and lame being healed. And the contrast here is stark—while condemning Jesus, they had, for years, turned a blind eye toward the practice of money-changers cheating the people who arrived at the Temple. Exorbitant prices were charged for doves and other animals to be sacrificed, and the poor could do nothing about it. But Jesus did—He violently attacked the rampant hypocrisy in the Temple, shouting out a blending of quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. He is the "refiner's fire" of Malachi 3:2.
Verses 18-22: "Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it,'No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.'And at once the fig tree withered. 20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, 'How did the fig tree wither all at once?' 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 was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.'" To see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9), and so He is fully God. His hunger in Verse 18 of this chapter, indicates that He also became fully a man. He has utter power over everything, appropriately giving and taking life as He chooses. The fig tree was fully alive, except it did not bear fruit (as we are supposed to), and instantly, at His command, it was dead. At some level we see our lack, covering up whenever possible, but we usually don't comprehend the strength God wants to exercise through us. How do we "ask in prayer, BELIEVING?" We are to simply, faithfully PRAY: Ask God and He will help you believe, and when you do, He will answer your need.
Verses 23-27: "When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, 'By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?' 24 Jesus said to them,'I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?'And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, 'If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.' 27 And answering Jesus, they said, 'We do not know.'He also said to them,'Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.'" The religious leaders who spoke to Jesus at this moment, did not believe. They were adept in theology and confrontation, but they had no faith, having only the authority of men to guide them. Jesus has true authority, seen in places like Matthew 3, where John the Baptist witnessed that Jesus is the Son of God. Truth is simple—either something is true or it isn't. These leaders were not seeking truth; they only wished to enhance their position and authority. Jesus did not play their game and neither should we.
Verses 28-32: "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.' 29 And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?'They said, 'The first.' Jesus said to them,'Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.'" Have you ever run away from the Lord? I did, and many years later I regretted it and returned to my Jesus. Years after that, He called me to His service and this time, I said "yes" and went. The religious leaders confronting Jesus at this moment were not doing God's will and they were misleading the people they were supposed to serve. They were proud, exercising the authority of men, not God. They looked down on anyone not like themselves, but the very people they scorned were coming to faith in the Lord in droves... and simple faith in the Lord is pleasing to God.
Verses 33-40: "'Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' 39 They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?'" God is the "landowner" in this parable. He created the heavens and the earth, He created humanity, He created the Israel of these religious leaders; He created you and me. We BELONG to Him. The "slaves" sent by the owner are God's prophets who were very often murdered by those they came to serve. We can see it in places like Hebrews 11:35-38—"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword... destitute, afflicted, tormented..." Jesus is the "son" and "heir" of this parable, and He knew full well that the unbelieving leaders who were questioning Him at the moment, wanted Him to die a criminal's death at the hands of the Romans. God is waiting and watching right now—What is your response to the Son of God?
Verses 41-42: "They said to Him, 'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.' 42 Jesus said to them,'Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?" The religious leaders pronounced judgment on themselves by their response to the parable, and note that, somewhere down inside, all of us know that we "have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We cannot save ourselves. Jesus here quoted Psalm 118:22-23. He is the "Stone which the builders rejected," and He is the "Chief Corner Stone" of us all. He is "Marvelous in our eyes." Unlike the religious leaders, we give ourselves utterly to Him—the whole building, the church, the vineyard we call "humanity," everything rests on Him.
Verses 43-46: "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.' 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet." It was true for Israel and it's true today... The people who produce the fruit of the kingdom cannot be identified by membership in some earthly organization. There were a few Jewish leaders then who truly loved the Lord, and whatever our organization, there are some today who believe and others who falsely profess faith. Everything depends on Jesus Christ—either our plan for our lives will be broken and changed to His purposes as we place our faith in Him, or we will be destroyed, scattered, because of our unbelief. Jesus knew these were His last days on earth. These may be OUR last days, also, but through God's grace, through our faith in the Lord, we are also entering eternity, which is forever.
Jesus, You are life for me. I surrender to You, Lord. Please forgive my sins. I am Yours. Thank You for saving me. In Jesus Name. Amen.