Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMatthew 21
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples.
The tremendous events of the final days of our Lord's earthly ministry were then to begin. In Matthew 20:18 are recorded Jesus' words, "Behold we go up to Jerusalem." Evidently speaking with deep emotion, Christ coupled those words with the third announcement of the Passion; and, at this point in time, Jesus would begin to do those wonderful and awesome things of which he had so often spoken to the Twelve. Their period of schooling was over. The dramatic accomplishment of man's salvation would begin at once.
Saying unto them, Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway, ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
Many of the prophecies concerning Christ were fulfilled by his enemies; some were fulfilled by his friends; and still others, like the one here, were fulfilled by the direct intervention of Christ himself to bring it to pass. But even in such cases where the Lord himself was the instrument of fulfilling the prophecies, he always accomplished the fulfillment in such a manner that no mere man could have done it. Jesus' pre-knowledge of exactly what the disciples would find in the village is an example.
And if any one say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
If the owner of those animals was a disciple of Jesus, the Lord's request would be a command; if the owner was not a disciple, he was providentially prompted to grant the request.
Verses 4, 5
Now this is come to pass that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass.
This prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 was generally understood as a reference to the Messiah; and Jesus deliberately and conspicuously fulfilled it by the events recorded here. By identifying himself in such a manner, Christ definitely laid claim to the office of Messiah, setting the stage for his public proclamation as the true King.
Verses 6, 7
And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and brought the ass and the colt and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon.
The reason for the use of two animals is not clear, unless it was Jesus' strict attention to the prophecy which mentioned both the ass and the foal. He gave the proud Pharisees no excuse for not recognizing the fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy. Often in Matthew is added the second element in the Master's deeds. Thus, he mentions two blind men instead of only one (Matthew 20:30), and two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28ff). The use of the disciples' garments was practical as well as symbolical.
And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way.
Professor Isaac Hull, as quoted by Hallock, says:
David was welcomed by singing and
dancing women, out of all the cities
of Israel, as he came back from the
slaughter of the Philistines.
Herodotus records that when Xerxes
passed over the bridge of the
Hellespont, the way before him was
strewed with branches of myrtle, while
burning perfumes filled the air.
Quintius Curtius tells of the
scattering of flowers in the way
before Alexander the Great when he
entered Babylon. Monier saw the way
of a Persian ruler strewn with roses
for three miles, while glass vessels
filled with sugar were broken under
his horses' feet. F1
Many historical examples of triumphal entries could be cited; but no triumph ever known at any time or place could be compared with that staged by the world's True Light on that last Sunday preceding his resurrection, a day called from the earliest Christian times "Palm Sunday," the name being derived from the branches cut from trees and spread in the way. The truly wonderful thing about Jesus' triumph is that it is still going on.
And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
The multitude recognized the true King of Israel and greeted him accordingly. Mention of the "Son of David" in the Hosannas made the ascription definite. They knew him for the Messiah.
Verses 10, 11
And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, who is this? And the multitudes said, This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.
The question, "Who is this?" is of the utmost importance, and the eternal destiny of every man born on earth shall finally be determined by his personal response to that question. How strange it is that Jerusalem welcomed him with Hosannas on Sunday but reversed themselves and crucified him before the week ended. One can only marvel at the ways of God.
The multitude hailed Jesus as a prophet from Nazareth but apparently did not fully comprehend that Jesus could be none other than the world's only Saviour. The evil influence of the Pharisees may be detected in the stress which the people laid on Christ's connection with Nazareth. True, the people hailed him as "the Son of David," but they were still partially blind as to his complete identity. Christ was from Bethlehem, having been born there, but it suited the evil purpose of the religious leaders to stress Jesus' residence in Nazareth. The popular emphasis upon Nazareth in this place shows how successfully the Pharisees had done their work. Even those who called him "Son of David" were not well grounded in their conviction.
And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold the doves.
THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
The high priest Annas, as a young man, had put a person to death contrary to Roman law, and had been removed from office; but he was still recognized by the orthodox as the true high priest. Four or five of Annas' sons and sons-in-law successively held the title and performed the functions of the office during Annas' long lifetime, growing immensely rich in the gross commercialism with which they burdened the temple services. Only certain "authorized" sacrifices could be offered; and those had to be bought from the temple keepers and paid for with temple money, giving the concessionaires a double profit on all transactions. They charged usurious rates on exchange for the proper money and exorbitant prices for the authorized sacrifices. The action of Christ in upsetting this evil business could not have failed to meet with strong popular approval and at the same time to stir up the most vicious and vehement opposition on the part of those whose shameful traffic was thus jeopardized.
And he saith unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers.
Christ here quoted Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. This was the second time that he cleansed the temple, John's record of the other occasion (John 2:13) standing as supplementary to this one mentioned by the synoptics. This type of activity by Christ was fully in harmony with what was expected of the Messiah from Malachi 3:1-3. Comparison of the two cleansings shows an interval of two years between them; thus, ample time had elapsed for the reappearance of the abuses. By their continuation, the Pharisees demonstrated their unwillingness to honor the moral obligations of true religion.
Verses 14, 15
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children that were crying in the temple and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were moved with indignation.
The miracles wrought by Jesus on that occasion were powerful witnesses of his authority and power, and were more than sufficient to convince all right-minded persons of the truth and divinity of his holy mission. That many were convinced is attested by the Hosannas sung by the children. The divine Messenger had indeed suddenly come to his temple, as Malachi had prophesied (Malachi 3:1-3). However, this strong assertion of Christ's power and authority and its obvious acceptance by many only infuriated the Pharisees, who lost no time but objected at once.
Verses 16, 17
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these are saying? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea, did ye never read; Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.
Again Jesus appealed to the Scriptures (see Psalms 8:2). The praise of the children Jesus did not reject. It was indeed fulfillment of prophecy and should have been recognized by the Pharisees as additional proof of the identity of the Holy One among them. The fulfillment of God's purpose is seen in the action of the children. Since those who should have praised him refused to do so, the very children took up the cry; and the temple rang with the praises of its true Head and authority. God's will be done!
These events took place on Monday, although Matthew's account leaves an impression that it occurred on Sunday. Matthew did not pay much attention to strict chronological sequence but arranged much of his material topically.
Bethany, the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, became Christ's base of operations for the crucial events of Passion week. Bethany was located on the farther side of the Mount of Olives and was about two miles distant from Jerusalem on the road to Jericho.
Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he hungered.
THE WITHERING OF THE FIG TREE
This verse casts doubt on the supposition that Jesus was staying in the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary; for, if that had been the case, it is hard to resist the supposition that he would have had breakfast there before departing for the city. He might have remained all night in prayer at some remote recess in the vicinity of Bethany, which was in fact nestled into a tiny depression on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Certainly, Christ continued all night in prayer before naming the Twelve, and the awful events at hand were every whit as important and urgent as the former.
And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he came to it, and found nothing: threon, but leaves only; and he saith unto it, Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.
Of all Jesus' miracles, only this one was a curse. It was absolutely necessary that Christ's miracles should attest the ultimate judgment of God upon evil works. Otherwise, it could have left an impression that divine power would be used only to heal, help, and bless man. The lesson of the fig tree, however, proves that God will eventually judge mankind and punish wickedness. Since the time had not yet come for the pouring out of the wrath of God upon the ungodly, since the time of human probation had not yet expired, Jesus made the curse to rest upon a tree, a thing, and not a person. This contrasts strongly with the judgments of God through such prophets as Elijah who slaughtered the prophets of Baal. In such a context, Jesus' curse of that fig tree was an act of mercy, not of wrath, for the warning absolutely necessary to be given fell upon an inanimate object rather than upon a person. Who could be critical if Christ had struck the entire Sanhedrin blind or dead? That he did not do so cannot mean they did not deserve such a fate, because they did. And yet, as a warning to them of the wrath that would surely come, he chose instead to wither the fig tree. Therefore, critics who would make something vengeful or evil out of Christ's curse of the fig tree are engaging in cavil and exhibiting a gross lack of understanding.
Yet men have done just that, caviling at this instance of judgment upon a tree, imputing caprice, peevishness, spite, and unreasonableness to Christ. We agree with Trench who said, "Of such men, they are the true Pharisees of history. F2 Nevertheless, we note some of their objections: (1) It is affirmed that Christ had no right to expect fruit of that tree because "it was not the time of figs" (Mark 11:13). This objection disappears in the light of the fact that, of the variety of tree indicated here, the fruit always appeared before the leaves; and that, in view of the leaves, Christ had every reason to expect fruit also. F3 (2) A second objection is that Christ pretended to look for fruit when he knew there was none. That too is false, because Christ, seeing the tree decked out in full foliage, recognized it instantly as a perfect example of the Jewish religious economy, which, though it was not the time of fruit (the Saviour having not yet made the sacrifice), nevertheless professed true righteousness the profound lessons applicable to the Jewish nation. (3) The objection that Christ vented anger on a tree overlooks the fact that the incident was a warning of the true anger that would eventually fall upon the disobedient. Men who make this objection are actually of the opinion that God should never be really angry with the wicked. But the overwhelming truth of the Bible is that the full measure of the wrath of Almighty God shall eventually fall upon every wicked man and that every wicked action shall be brought into judgment. Christ's cursing of the barren fig tree was a powerful warning of that eventual overflow of the wrath of God; and, far from being a reprehensible action on the part of Christ, it is an example of how even his warning was accomplished without any inconvenience or suffering on the part of sinful man. The action thus stands as an example of his forbearance and not of vindictiveness.
In connection with this, let it be noted that the fig tree was not cursed for barrenness. The fig orchards were full of barren trees he did not curse. This one was cursed for its barrenness while professing by its leaves to be fruitful! That was exactly the case with Israel. They were barren spiritually; yet by their elaborate pretensions to righteousness, they advertised a true religion they simply did not possess. Moreover, they were at that very moment in the process of rejecting the very Head of all true religion.
The curse of the fig tree was a true prophecy of God's rejection of Israel (until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in). Not long after the apostles began to preach the kingdom of heaven following the resurrection, the mainstream of Christianity bypassed Israel altogether. Furthermore, it appears that a warning is in this incident for all of every age who may be more pleased with an empty profession of true religion than with a proper exhibition of the genuine fruits thereof. God could not be any more pleased with empty professions now than he was then.
The chronology of this event is as follows: The tree was cursed on Monday morning as Christ was on the way to the cleansing of the temple. Matthew indicates that it withered immediately; but the following morning Peter observed that it was withered completely from its roots upward and totally dried up. It was probably not noticed by them on Monday evening as they returned to Bethany, due to its being twilight or dark. See Mark 11:12-14,20,21.
And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How did the fig tree immediately wither away?
Outdoorsmen like the apostles could not fail to be impressed with such a wonder. That a tree should be in abundant foliage one day and dead the next is simply contrary to nature. Even if cut down, it would not be totally dried up, root and all! The one fig tree in all the orchards and by all the waysides of earth which pretended to righteousness was that one chosen by Jesus to represent Judaism. None of the other nations made any pretense of righteousness. Both Jews and Gentiles were equally barren; but the withering of Israel was due to their insistent profession of a righteousness which no nation under heaven could actually have had until the Christ appeared and taught men the way, the truth and the life. "It was not the season of figs" (Mark 11:13). Subsequent history of Judaism constitutes a signal fulfillment of this prophecy of withering away. Before Christ, the Jews made numerous proselytes all over the world; but today they are practically powerless, in any effective way, to make proselytes. No fruit on thee henceforward for ever! (Matthew 21:19).
Verses 21, 22
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
This is a repetition of the remarkable promise Christ made the disciples in Matthew 17:20 (which see). Such a promise staggers the imagination; and the very least that it can mean is that all moral and spiritual difficulties will disappear for those who pray in faith for their removal. However, we do not dare limit this promise. Note also the two great hindrances to effective prayer. Men do not have their prayers answered because they do not ask, or asking, do not believe. What a challenge to prayer is this!
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority does thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?
Although propounded by Jesus' enemies, this question must rank as one of the most important ever asked. This question should be addressed to all preachers and teachers of every religion; and every church should also answer it. If the authority is from man, the actions and teachings are worthless; if from God, they are valid and should be accepted. Christ answered their question by asking another which revealed that they already knew the correct answer and were, therefore, asking in the hope of finding some grounds of complaint.
Verses 24, 25
And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one question, which if ye tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, he will say unto us, Why then did ye not believe him?
The proposition Christ made was fair and sincere. If those complainers would answer a simple question he had for them, Christ agreed to answer theirs. Furthermore, Jesus well knew that they were able to answer the simple question he asked.
Then came the question regarding the baptism of John. It was devastating for those hypocrites, because they, contrary to popular belief, had rejected John as a true prophet and had refused to acknowledge his witness of Christ as being the true "Lamb of God." They were quick to see that not Christ but they themselves were trapped by the question; and, after a conference, they elected to lie about it pretending not to know the answer.
Of course, Christ rejected their question, not only because they knew the answer already, but because they were completely prejudiced against the truth. It would have been casting pearls before swine if he had answered them. Yet even when confronted by their hatred and falsehood, the Lord uttered a beautiful parable setting their conduct in such a frame of reference as to show, even at that late hour, his hope of recovering some of them from their blindness and sins.
But what think ye? A man had two sons; 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 repented himself and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father?
THE PABABLE OF THE TWO SONS
ANALOGIES IN THE PARABLE
The man who had two sons is God.
The first son represents the publicans and harlots.
The second son represents the self-righteous Pharisees.
The vineyard stands for God's true religion.
The man's equal treatment of both sons suggests God's impartial dealings with all people.
The two sons are also typical of two types of persons in all ages.
It is noteworthy that God recognizes only two classes of persons, both shamefully delinquent in one way or another, thus attesting the universal sin and wickedness of man. There is a sense in which this parable stands for the Jews and the Gentiles as represented by the two sons; but the immediate and primary application of it was made by Christ himself who referred it to the publicans and harlots on one hand and the Pharisees on the other. There are two destinies revealed for the two classes of men, heaven and hell (Matthew 25:34,41); and the two classes are set forth under a number of figures in the New Testament, such as: the wheat and the chaff (Matthew 3:12), the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:25), the rejects and keepers (Matthew 13:48,49), the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:32), builders on rock, or on sand (Matthew 7:24-26), etc. The two sons of this parable represent the grand moral cleavage in humanity, which in God's sight forms two and only two classes, the good and the bad.
THE FATHER'S INVITATION: "Son, Go work today in the vineyard," is a marvel of tenderness and reasonableness. It is IMPARTIAL, being addressed to both alike; it is loving and tender, being prefaced by a term of endearment, "Son." It is REASONABLE, since nothing could be more proper than for a son to work in the vineyard he himself may inherit; it is SPECIFIC, not any vineyard, but THE vineyard being indicated; it is URGENT, work being required not tomorrow, but today; it is NECESSARY, because without work which was commanded, the vineyard would perish. All of these characteristics of the father's command have an application today in God's command, or invitation, for men to work in his vineyard, the church.
THE FIRST SON'S RESPONSE: "I will not." This is typical of the response of publicans and harlots whom Jesus made the heroes of this parable. Theirs was an open, frank, rude rejection of the Father's command. This should not be glamorized. Some are tempted to do so, boasting that they do not attend church, having no time for such things, are not the religious type, etc.; and, although frankness has merit under some conditions, there can be no merit on the part of that son who wounded a loving father, rejected an altogether reasonable commandment to work in the vineyard, and who flouted the father's authority. He refused to accept any responsibility to honor and obey the one who had given him life, nourished him in infancy, supported him in weakness, and who was entitled to his respect and obedience. All who refuse to serve God in his church are guilty of the same thing.
Let it be further observed that the first son's response did not cancel or remove any of his duties or obligations. His duty did not derive from his commitment (if he had made any), but it sprang from the father's inherent right and authority to lay upon him such a requirement as working in the vineyard. Some in the church do not see this. They "won't promise anything," "will not make a pledge," etc., as if such refusal would cancel or diminish any duty. However, all of man's duties in the church derive their authority, not from man's voluntarily accepting them, but from God who has the right to command his creation. The fact that the first son later repented and went to work did not make his first refusal any less wrong. This suggests that Christians, even after they have begun to accept the Lord, are still unprofitable servants.
THE SECOND SON'S RESPONSE: The second son said, "I go, sir," but went not! Such a response was proper and correct as far as it went. The fact that he was a smooth hypocrite who did not follow his profession with valid obedience cannot negate the correct nature of his verbal response. He said exactly what he should have said. His later failure cannot change the righteous character of his words. Those who profess to serve God are right in such a profession, and it ought to serve as a stimulus to perform deeds consistent with it. In the parable, the second son's response represents that of the Pharisees and their crowd who professed a holiness they would not exhibit.
Which of the two did the will of the father? They say, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
Christ's application of the parable to the Pharisees and to the class of sinners they most despised is in some ways rather shocking. It must have appeared positively outrageous to the hardened hypocrites who first heard it. It does not appear, of course, that Christ condoned or endorsed gross sin in any manner. He was only stating an incomprehensible fact, witnessed in all generations, that many who have the finest inheritance, the best upbringing, the most sacred privileges, and the maximum exposure to truth and righteousness, far from taking the lead in true religion, actually despise it, and who definitely must be classed as secondary to far grosser persons who, though scarred and burned by sin, nevertheless reject evil ways and turn humbly to the Lord for forgiveness! Every congregation has its examples of both classes.
Why did the publicans and the harlots enter into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, or, as was generally the case, WITHOUT them? The reasons are plainly given in the word of God: (1) The class composed of publicans and harlots were conscious of sins, whereas the Pharisees were not, as shown by Luke's account of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9ff), indicating that no sin is greater than being conscious of none. (2) The publicans and sinners heard him (Luke 15:1), but the Pharisaical class refused to hear. (3) They believed him (Matthew 21:32). (4) They repented. (5) They were baptized (Luke 3:12; 7:29,30). If the Pharisees had been willing to do this, they too might have entered into the kingdom. In the very next words, Christ shows how they failed.
For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him.
Thus, the prior entry of publicans and harlots was not due to any divine preference for their kind of sins, but was the result of their response, their hearing, believing, repenting, and being baptized. All the vaunted righteousness of the Pharisees could not save them while they were in rebellion against God's commands, nor can all the moral excellence of upright men today avail anything for them apart from faith and obedience of the Lord's commandments. By the same premise, all the sins of the publicans and harlots could not take away their hope as long as they heard and obeyed the Lord. Christ himself put it like this, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15,16).
Hear another parable: There was a man that was an householder, who planted a vineyard, and set a hedges about it, and digged a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country, ...
THE PARABLE OF THE WICKED FARMERS
The following analogies are discernible in this parable:
The householder is God.
The vineyard represents the privilege of the Jewish nation.
The planting of the vineyard refers to God's establishment of Israel as a favored nation.
The hedge, winepress, tower, etc. represent the Law of Moses.
The husbandmen represent the religious leaders.
The servants who came to receive the fruits are the prophets whom God sent to Israel.
The maltreatment of the servants shows Israel's maltreatment of the prophets of God.
The husbandman's desiring the fruits shows God's earnest desire for true religion in Israel, especially God's desire for a consciousness in Israel of their NEED of redemption.
The son in the parable stands for God's Son, Jesus Christ.
The killing of the son is the crucifixion of Christ.
The son's being sent last of all shows that Christ is God's last word to man.
Their casting the son out of the vineyard prefigures the suffering of Christ without the camp.
The taking of the vineyard away from the wicked husbandmen and giving it to others represents the displacement of Israel by the Gentiles in the church of Christ.
The householder's going into another country represents God's leaving Israel to their own devices for a long period prior to the coming of Christ.
And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, to receive his fruits.
There were numerous prophets who came again and again, to arouse in Israel the truly spiritual response which the Father desired and which it was impossible for the Law to produce. No age is devoid of such a requirement; but there were some occasions when, it seems God especially desired a quickened conscience in Israel. To be sure, the Law brought forth fruit of a kind, such as outward observance of ceremonial duties and avoidance of some of the grosser sins; but the inner desire and soul-longing for redemptive forgiveness was a fruit God sought in vain in Israel.
As the season ... drew near
likely refers, at least in part, to the approach of the times of the Messiah, in which case John the Baptist would surely be among the more honorable servants who came to receive God's fruits from Israel, but who, like the others, was rejected.
And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
Such maltreatment of God's messengers, the prophets, is detailed in Hebrews 11:37,38; Jeremiah 37:15; and other passages which stress the abuse which was heaped upon God's servants, the prophets. Matthew 23:31-35 and Acts 7:52 reveal that both Christ and Stephen the martyr made very pointed references to the same maltreatment of the prophets.
Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them in like manner.
This verse only emphasizes the long-continued and aggravated misconduct of Israel with reference to God's prophets. Their long-standing procedure was to kill them in one generation and memorialize them in the next.
Verses 37, 38
But afterward he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen, when they saw the son, said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance.
Mark's account of this has these words, "He had yet one, a beloved son: he sent him last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son." In the light of Mark's words, it appears that the King James Version has the true thought in the words, "Last of all, he sent his son." Certainly, there is a sense of finality that is definitely intended in the sending of the son. There is to be no other after Christ. The rejection of Christ by the human race is not to be followed by other offers of reconciliation. This is surely one of the big revelations from this parable. "Last of all, the Son!"
If Matt. 21:37-38 above are understood to give a true and accurate picture of the inner thoughts and intentions of the Jewish religious hierarchy in Jerusalem (and so they are understood by this writer), it is crystal clear that they recognized him as the Messiah, decided to destroy him, and intended to replace him with their own system and with their own personnel in charge. How could they possibly have done such a thing? First, having no consciousness of sin, and supposing that they were the custodians of salvation from God through the Law, they PREFERRED that type of religion (thinking of course that it would give eternal life) to the humility, self-denial, sobriety, purity, and meekness of the religion Christ taught. Knowing from the very first who he was, they carefully observed his teaching, but they had decided to reject it in favor of what they already had, or supposed they had. There was one fatal flaw in their thinking. They did not recognize Christ as GOD IN HUMAN FORM, to whom the Father hath committed judgment, whose words must be obeyed upon pain of eternal remorse for those who reject them, and who is the only sacrifice for sins ever conceived in the entire universe that was of sufficient merit actually to accomplish forgiveness. Christ warned them, but they did not seem to get the point. He said, "He that rejecteth my word hath one that judgeth him, the word that I speak shall judge men in the last day" (John 12:48).
Therefore, their awful crimes against Jesus were not merely sins against God in the sense that all sins are sins against God; but their sins against Christ were actually sins against the very person of God in Christ, multiplying the condemnation which they merited by their shameful actions.
In the parable, it is seen that Christ appears as the heir of all things. However, Christ, as God, was not the heir of all things, for, as God, he is the Creator of all things. It is as man that Christ is heir of all things. Thus, the Arian heresy finds no support in this parable.
Returning to the incomprehensible truth that the Pharisees deliberately decided to kill Christ in spite of the fact that they knew he was the Messiah, this may seem to be at variance with 1 Corinthians 2:8, "Which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." However, careful reading of Paul's words shows that what the rulers did not know was the "mystery" of God in Christ! The Pharisees thought he was only the Messiah but did not know that the Messiah was God robing himself in human flesh. That was the mortal error on their part. Even though they did not comprehend his eternal power and Godhead, however, they did recognize him as the true heir of the temple, "a teacher come from God," as Nicodemus confessed (John 3:2), and as a holy and righteous person without any sin whatever. Yet they would kill even one like that rather than give up their lucrative exploitation of the temple which had become, in their eyes, their private domain to be maintained at the cost of any crime, however great, even at the cost of murdering the Messiah whose actions in twice cleansing the temple had demonstrated that his teaching would not allow the continuation of those gross perversions on which their profits depended. Here then, without any doubt, is the commercially motivated reason why they took such diabolical action against the Christ. It is impossible to gloss over their conduct or to find any extenuation of their frightful guilt. They knew he was Christ, but alas, they did not know that he was God in Christ! Thus, their crucifixion of Christ was a crime against God himself.
And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him.
This adds another graphic detail to the prophetic delineation of the crucifixion of Christ. The casting out of the vineyard corresponds to the suffering of Christ, of which it is written, "Let us therefore go forth unto him WITHOUT THE CAMP, bearing his reproach" (Hebrews 13:13). Jesus, of course, suffered without the camp, that is, outside the gates of the city. "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12).
When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those husbandmen?
Jesus was about to extract from their own lips the sentence of doom which their conduct deserved. Just as Nathan the prophet extracted a self-pronounced sentence of death upon King David, and just as a disguised prophet drew a sentence of condemnation from the lips of another wicked king who uttered his own condemnation (1 Kings 20:41), in the same manner Christ drew from the lips of those proud adversaries their self-pronounced doom.
They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will let out the vineyards to other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
That was precisely what God would do, and did do, to them. Israel was removed from being the special custodian of God's spiritual planting, and the Gentiles were brought in. Christ next moved to clear up one part of the parable that might not have been clear otherwise. True, the son in the parable represented himself; but their killing him would in no sense mean that they were rid of him permanently. God had committed judgment to the Son. Christ would rise the third day, ascend to heaven, and sit down upon the right hand of the Majesty on high. The rejected stone would yet be made the head of the corner. See next verse.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes?
Christ quoted Psa. 118:22ff. The example of a rejected stone becoming the chief stone was founded on historical fact. Dean Plumptre said:
The illustration seems to have been
drawn from one of the stones,
quarried, hewn, and marked, away from
the site of the temple, which the
builders, ignorant of the head
architect's plans, had put to one
side, as having no place in the
building, but which was found
afterwards to be that on which the
completeness of the structure
depended, that on which, as the chief
cornerstone, the two walls met, and
were bonded together. F4
Christ as the Cornerstone suggests that: (1) law and grace; (2) God and man; (3) time and eternity; (4) B.C. and A.D.; (5) the Mosaic dispensation and the Christian dispensation; (6) the letter and the spirit; and (7) judgment and mercy, both begin and end, thus forming, in a metaphor, a true corner in him!
Following a little further the analogy of a rejected stone, we note that David, the despised one of Jesse's sons, was raised to be the king of Israel; Zerubbabel was despised, but it was he who began and finished the building (Zechariah 4:7-10).
And he that falleth on this stone shall be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust.
The apostle Peter, referring to this metaphor, quoted Isaiah 28:16 and added, "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient" (1 Peter 2:7,8). Thus, our Lord's reference to the Pharisees' falling on that stone (himself) is a reference to their stumbling at his word. The passage also suggests Daniel 2:45 and the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands" which smote the kingdoms and broke them in pieces. Christ's virgin birth was "without hands," in the sense that it was not dependent upon human agency or upon the natural processes of procreation. That little stone, Christ, from such humble beginnings (in the earthly view) grew and filled the whole earth (Daniel 4:34,35). This intriguing statement of our Lord (Matthew 21:44) suggests another remark he made, "The scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Men who think they break the Scriptures only break themselves; those who stumble or fall upon Christ and his word do not break him but are themselves broken. Furthermore, there are two theaters of confrontation with that "stone" which is Christ. In time, men may receive or reject him; but in eternity (the judgment), the stone will fall upon the disobedient with devastating and total punishment for their sinful and obdurate hearts.
CHRIST COMPARED TO A STONE: (1) He is a cornerstone (Matthew 21:43); (2) he is a rejected stone (Matthew 21:43); (3) a stone of stumbling and rock of offense (1 Peter 2:7,8); (4) a living stone (1 Peter 2:4); (5) a precious stone (1 Peter 2:6); (6) a tried stone (Isaiah 28:16); (7) a growing or increasing stone (Daniel 4:34,35); (8) the Rock that followed Israel (1 Corinthians 10:4); (9) like a meteorite, he is from another world; and (10) he is the Rock of Ages, from everlasting to everlasting (Hebrews 13:8).
And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
With the two parables recorded in this chapter, Christ finally got through to the Pharisaical intelligence! Before that time, it appears that they regarded his parables as too homely and simple to be worthy of their lordly attention. Apparently they discounted them as having no pertinent application to things they were interested in. But at last, under the hammer blows of logical truth, their crust of indifference was shattered. With a genius surpassing that of any mortal, Christ wove eternal truth into the fabric of the parables. He held the completed picture up before his enemies, as one might hold up a mirror; and at last, confronted with a likeness of themselves as plain as any photograph, they got the point! Their fury was unbounded. No longer would they seek any accommodation with him. They probably would have rushed upon him to kill him then and there, but the Master had too carefully laid the plan for that to happen. The popular support of Christ was so great that they simply dared not to touch him in front of the people. Two courses were open to them: (1) They could secretly assassinate him, or (2) they could contrive his legal condemnation and death. The Providence from on high had closed the first alternative, although they did not know it; and without doubt that would have been their favorite method of disposing of him. God's plan called for the tribunals; and the manner in which they found themselves maneuvered into doing it God's way is recorded in Matthew 26:4,14. See further notes on this phenomenon on those references.
And when they sought to lay hold on him, they feared the multitudes, because they took him for a prophet.
The die was then cast. Before that week ended, those evil men would by falsehood, suborned and lying witness, political pressure, intimidation, and mob violence, accomplish his crucifixion, under Christ's permissive will, and with themselves and others as the instruments of Satan. They would seek and find a traitor among the Twelve. They would disperse the vast concourse of people who loved Jesus and hailed him as the son of David. They would use their wealth, official prerogatives, social position, and political power to intimidate and frighten into silence all who disagreed with them. They would recruit and surround themselves with whatever scum and riffraff were available from the dark alleys of the vast city, and they would form those into a rabble to stand in for "the people" and cry, "Crucify him!" at the propitious moment. They would even stoop to take the part of loathed and hated Caesar in order to strengthen their presentation before the governor. They would perform like skilled actors upon a stage of far greater dimensions than any of them could have imagined. Their every word and action would appear in full view and understanding of millions of millions for all ages, who, in a sense, would have box seats to see the most classical case of legal lynching ever seen on earth! The dark drama would soon move to its shocking culmination.
Footnotes for Matthew 21
1: G. B. F. Hallock, One Hundred Best Sermons (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1923), p. 224.
2: Richard Trench, Notes on the Parables (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 474.
3: Ibid., pp. 479-480.
4: Dean Plumptre, as quoted by R. Tuck, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), p. 356.
5: Ibid., p. 96.
6: James Macknight, A Harmony of the Four Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), Vol. II, p. 177.
7: J. W. McGarvey, New Testament Commentary (Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1875), Vol. I, p. 159.
8: William P. Barker, op. cit., p. 89.
9: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables (Westwood, New Jersay: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 155.
10: Ibid., p. 164.
11: Ibid., p. 165.
12: R. A. Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907), p. 109.
13: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 135.
14: Revised Standard Version.
15: Emphatic Diaglott.
16: Goodspeed, New Testament in Modern Speech.
17: Williams, The New Testament.
18: Moffatt, The New Testament.
19: Paul Blanchard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press), pp. 138-139.
20: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 16.
21: Ibid., p. 16.
22: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons, Volume 5 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 20.
23: Robert Milligan, Commentary on Hebrews (Nashville: World Vision Publishing Company), pp. 73-74.