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21:1-11: Triumphal entry into Jerusalem: With the help of John 12:1 ff we add that six days before the Passover, Jesus and His disciples came to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. There Mary anointed His feet, and Judas complained of the waste. The Jews then wanted to kill Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. Did they not realize He could raise him again?
From there He came to Bethphage, and from there He sent two disciples ahead, told them what they will find. Was this supernatural power, or did He make use of the strange force of Extra Sensory Perception. We do not know. He, as the Creator of such a power, could of course use it. In general, we think He would not use miracles when natural means will suffice. Zechariah (9:9 had said: "Behold, your king comes to you. . humble, riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey." Matthew add a few words from Isaiah: "Say to the Daughter of Sion' - a Hebraism meaning Jerusalem, the daughter that is Sion.
The disciples laid their cloaks on the animals, and Jesus sat on them. Of course, He sat on the cloaks, not on two animals at once. It seems He sat on the colt -- having its mother on hand would help to quiet it, for no one had ridden it before. Matthew mentions both since Zechariah had done that.
A huge crowd gathers. There would be so many in Jerusalem for the coming Passover, and doubtless reports on Him had spread. Some were asking: "Who is this?" That could have been His enemies, who wished to make light of Him. Many sang Hosanna - an old Hebrew exclamation, which by this time as merely a form of a cheer.
21:12-17: cleansing of the temple: Then He entered the Temple area, this would be the court of the Gentiles. Did He at once drive out the sellers, or was that on a return visit the next day? Most likely the latter. John's Gospel mentions a cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of His public life. This must be a second one, for this is so closely joined with the previous narrative in Matthew. In the court of the Gentiles there would be those who sold animals for sacrifice, and those who changed Greek or Roman money to Jewish money, for that was needed in order to offer it. Yet Jesus drove them out, citing the prophet Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 That court was the farthest out from the sanctuary, yet all the noise and traffic there was unsuitable.
The blind and lame came to Him in the temple, and were cured. The children cried out in enthusiasm: Hosanna to the Son of David - meaning the Messiah. Children were naturally attracted to Him for His goodness and mildness. We recall twice earlier He had even put His arms around the children, as we saw.
The chief priests and scribes were angry, probably mostly at the praise given to Jesus. But He cited Psalm 8:2 against them.
21:18-22: curse on a fig tree: Then He went back to Bethany for the night. On reentering the city the next day He saw a fig tree, and looked for fruit on it. Mark tells us that the leaves were green, even though it was not the season for figs. Jesus finding no fruit, cursed it: May you never bear fruit again.
Of course Jesus knew it was not the time for fruit. His action was like that of the ancient prophets who dramatized situations, such as Ezekiel 12 dramatizing the fall of Jerusalem, or Jeremiah in chapter 19 breaking a pottery vessel, as a forecast of what would happen to Jerusalem. Often Israel had been compared by the prophets to a fig tree or a vine::cf. Jer. 8:13; Ez 19:10. The meaning here was frightening: Israel would be punished and no longer be part of the people of God - Mt 21:43 made this painfully clear.
21:23-27: By what authority?: Priests and elder ask Jesus, by what authority He does such things? He cleverly tripped them up asking about the Baptism of John. If they said it as from heaven, why did they not believe? If they said it merely human, the people would reject them, for they considered John a prophet. Since they could not pick between these choices, they refused to answer. Jesus also refused.
21:28-32: parable of the two sons: the first son refused at first, but then went; the second said he would go, but did not go.
The second stands for the priests, scribes and pharisees: they said they would obey God, and made a great pretense of doing so, but did not really serve Him. The first son stands for the gentiles, who at first did not obey, but yet did so. Public sinners at the time of Jesus had sinned, but repented, and entered the kingdom of the Messiah after repentance.
So Jesus interpreted: those who were public sinners at first did wrong, but then repented and so entered the messianic kingdom; the authorities did not repent, and so did not enter His kingdom.
21:33-46: parable of the wicked tenants: The vineyard of course stands for Israel, as so often in the Old Testament: cf Is 5:1-6. God sent His servants, the prophets, to the Jews, they mistreated and killed them. Finally they were going to kill even His Son. They thought if they killed Him they would be safe. Thus the High Priest said it is better than one man die than that the whole nation perish: John 11:49. So to get rid of Jesus would make them safe from the Romans. What a tragic irony: the Romans did come and destroyed their city in 70 A.D.
God had intended the Israelites to be the corner stone of the kingdom He was to establish (Ps. 118:22), the messianic kingdom. They not only failed to do that (Jer 51:26), but rejected the very Messiah, He who really became the corner stone (Eph 2:20).
Verse 43 is frightening: it means the Jews would cease being the people of God, it would be given instead to the gentiles. For the Jews on the whole rejected the Church Jesus established and Him too. The gentiles accepted and entered. This agrees with the image of the two olive trees in Romans 11: the tame olive tree was the original people of God, but many branches fell from it, by lack of faith. In their place the gentile, from the wild olive, were engrafted. This stone would be something on which some would trip and fall (cf. the prophecy of Simeon in Lk 2:34), or be crushed, if it fell from its high position up above on the arch.
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