From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 15 to 28                           Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 2:  Chapters 21 to 22)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

 

 

           

The Final—and Triumphal—Entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11):  1 Now when they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you. Right away you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her.  Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, you are to say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet  5 Tell the people of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, unassuming and seated on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” 

So the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road.  Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?”  11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            21:1     Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples.  This was a small town on the Mount of Olives and was close to Bethany.  The two communities were approximately two miles outside Jerusalem.  Arriving six days prior to Passover (John 12:1), He began to set the stage for His final week on earth by sending two disciples ahead of Him to carry out a specific assignment.  What needed to be done required only one or two people and, having two, assured that whoever they spoke with would be able to verify the truthfulness of what the other said rather than rely on blind trust alone. 

 

            21:2     saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Loose them and bring them to Me.  Their assignment was a simple but rather odd one:  to go into the nearby village and look for the first donkey and colt they find together.  They were to untie them and return with them.  It is quite possible that the availability was due to some kind of prearrangement by Jesus with the owners. 

            That these would be the first such animals the apostles would encounter surely requires miraculous foreknowledge being involved as well.  Indeed it has reasonably argued by Whitby (quoted by the Benson Commentary) that this is one of multiple hints in that direction when we compare the multiple gospel accounts:  He says, 1, You shall find a colt: 2, On which no man ever sat: 3, Bound with his mother: 4, In a place where two ways meet, Mark 11:4:  5, As you enter into the village: 6, The owners of which shall at first seem unwilling that you should unbind him: 7, But when they hear the Lord hath need of him, they will let him go.” 

 

            21:3     And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”  This response would prove quite adequate to gain their use and there would be no protest.  The lack of any need to specify which “lord” is in mind argues that it will be someone who, like them, uses the term with special reference to Jesus of Nazareth.

 

            21:4     All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying.  This odd course was to be an acting out of the words of an ancient prophecy.  The unspecified “prophet” was Zechariah (9:9) who deserved the title not only because he wrote what was applicable to Jesus but also he functioned as an inspired teacher to his own time (1:1).

 

            21:5     “Tell the daughter of Zion, / ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, / Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, / A colt, the foal of a donkey.’   The prophecy did not concern how the animals would be obtained but that the Israelite king would enter the city sitting on a mere donkey as a symbol of his humility.  (In light of the power and responsibilities of a king, a quality ruler should have a major streak of humility to remove the danger of arrogance.) The fact that the prophecy did not concern the method the donkey was to be found shows that the incident could not have been invented as a means of fulfilling the prophecy.  So far as the oracle went, the animals could have been obtained by any means and this particular method was not required.

            Sidebar on the equivalence of “daughter of Zion” with Jerusalem:  Compare daughter of Babylon for the city of Babylon (Psalms 137:8; Isaiah 47:1); daughter of Tyre for the city or people of Tyre (Psalms 45:12); daughter of my people (Isaiah 22:4).”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)  

 

            21:6-7     So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them.  They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.  After carrying out Jesus' instructions they used their clothes as a kind of cushion for him to ride on, putting them to both animals so they would both be ready no matter which He actually chose to ride on.  He actually selected only the colt as the parallel accounts in the other three gospels clearly show.

           

            21:8     And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds accompanying Jesus were large and indicated their honor by both allowing the animals to walk over their own clothing and also by “padding” the road with branches from nearby trees.  Both demonstrated their enthusiasm, honor, and respect.

 

            21:9     Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:  “Hosanna to the Son of David! / ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ / Hosanna in the highest!”  By this point there were crowds both in front and behind Jesus.  They were all chanting praises to both God and the unique “Son of David” (= Jesus) who was in their midst.  They also cried out blessings upon Him as one “who comes in the name of the Lord!”  So far as they were concerned, this Jesus was especially (uniquely?) deserving of the title “Son” and on a special mission for God (i.e., coming in God’s name as no one else).

            Sidebar:  A comparison with the other gospels provides a much fuller account of the various things being shouted out in praise that day:  “(1.)  As here, ‘Hosanna.’  The word was a Hebrew imperative, ‘Save us, we beseech thee,’ and had come into liturgical use from Psalms 118. . . .  The verses from it now chanted by the people are said to have been those with which the inhabitants of Jerusalem were wont to welcome the pilgrims who came up to keep the feast.  The addition of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ made it a direct recognition of the claims of Jesus to be the Christ; that of ‘Hosanna in the highest’ (compare Luke 2:14) claimed heaven as in accord with earth in this recognition.

            “(2.)  ‘Blessed be’ (‘the King’ in St. Luke) ‘He that cometh in the name of the Lord.’  These words, too, received a special personal application.  The welcome was now given, not to the crowd of pilgrims, but to the King.

            “(3.) As in St. Luke, one of the cries was an echo of the angels’ hymn at the Nativity, ‘Peace on earth, and glory in the highest’ (Luke 2:14).

            “(4.) As in St. Mark, ‘Blessed be the kingdom of our father David.’  We have to think of these shouts as filling the air as He rides slowly on in silence.  He will not check them at the bidding of the Pharisees (Luke 19:39), but His own spirit is filled with quite other thoughts than theirs.  And those who watched Him saw the tears streaming down His cheeks as He looked on the walls and towers of the city, and heard, what the crowds manifestly did not hear, His lamentation over its coming fall (Luke 19:41).  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            21:10     And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”  We need to remember that this was the most crowded time of the year due to the Passover.  There would literally be people from all over the world.  There would be many Jews who felt it safe to miss other observances, but would do their absolute best not to miss this one.  An estimate made a few decades later than this claims that 2,700,000 Jews had been present at a current Passover.  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

            Elbow to elbow conditions resulted and multiple languages sharing their question.  With this large scale celebration of a newcomer, they were naturally impressed:  with this dramatic an entry and body of followers, it had to be someone important.  Hence, the question naturally passed from ear to ear as to who this could be.  The answer is not going to reassure the already antagonistic local religious authorities.  In fact John tells us that when they realized who it was they were utterly horrified:  “Look, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19).      

 

            21:11     So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”  When questioned, those celebrating the entry of Jesus fell back on what they regarded as unchallengeable about Him--that He was “the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”  Due to regional prejudice against Galilee, the concepts of “prophet” and “Nazareth” would normally not be joined together in Judea.  On the other hand, this very prejudice worked in reverse to increase respect for Jesus from Galileans who would want to honor their regional prophet.  Not to mention snub the pride of the Judeans. 

            Those attending from distant places would doubtless be intrigued as to the nature of His teachings.  They might know nothing about Him yet, but the popularity of the label could not help but intrigue them and make them want to learn more.

 

 

After Chasing the Money Making Merchants Out of the Temple, Jesus Proceeds to Provide Physical Healings (Matthew 21:12-17):  12 Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.  13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!”

14 The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them.  15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant  16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?”  Jesus said to them, “Yes.  Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?”  17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            21:12     Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  Jesus was so incensed at the trading going on that He exploded into action, disrupting the entire proceedings in His anger.  The “money changers” were present to change the funds brought by pilgrims for the coinage in which the temple tax had to be paid; even for normal donations it was hardly appropriate to offer coins with heathen images on them in a place glorifying monotheism.  Then there were the doves that were poor peoples’ offerings.  These things unquestionably needed to be available, but to do so did not require that they had to be sold within the Temple itself.

            Sidebar:  These sales--and related items such as salt and wine and sacrificial animals--were located in the Court of the Gentiles.  This naturally enriched the sellers--and whatever element of the priesthood through whom the arrangements had to be made.  But, in a very real sense, the practice also carried an implied insult to the Gentiles as well:  They were worthy of having their section of the Temple being changed from a place of prayer and worship into a place of business--weren’t these really outsiders, after all?     

 

            21:13     And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”  As justification Jesus argued that they were blatantly misusing the sacred precincts and cited Old Testament scriptures to back it up--a combination of language from both Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.  The allusion to “den of thieves” is of special interest because it suggests that not only were things being done in a place of worship that ought not to be done there, it was also being done dishonestly.  The merchants were ripping off the pilgrims from throughout the country and throughout the world.    

           

            21:14     Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.  Having offended the financial class--and the Temple leadership who surely were profiting from it since this could not have been done without their permission--He then did something that would cement the affections and regards of the opposite end of the socio-economic totem pole, those who had little or nothing.  These were individuals who were blind and those who had difficulty walking--either of which would have made it near impossible to support themselves.  The prestigious He had visibly and publicly rejected, but for these folk He proceeded to miraculously remove their disabilities. 

            If Jesus had merely chased out the merchants, His enemies might accuse Him of excess out of their anger and vindictiveness.  But the fact that He could promptly turn from that and make the sick well argued for an authority behind His teaching and action that would further justify His actions--above and beyond resting alone on the scriptural justification He had given.   

 

            21:15     But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant.  The healings did not impress the religious leadership.   After all, the temple received a large amount of money for the permission to do business in the complex.  (How much landed up in the private pockets of key leaders rather than the temple treasury is one of the great unknowns of the period.)  Jesus’ behavior was endangering their income.  Since they had given approval for the business, His actions were also endangering the respect they expected one and all to give their decisions--even when ill advised and outright wrong.

 

            21:16     and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?”  And Jesus said to them, “Yes.  Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants / You have perfected praise’?”  They don't directly criticize what the crowd is saying; rather they implicitly criticize Him for not stopping what they are saying.  (Of course if it had been one of their own number, the reaction would have been far different!)  Jesus was unquestionably a “Son of David” and His public and full healings surely justified praise of thankfulness being given to God (the cries of “Hosanna”) and to Himself.

            Rather than rebuke the praise, however, He appealed to the ancient text (Psalms 8:2) about how it seemed that even out of infants had come words of great praise.  So what if these were the common people--no more than infants and the insignificant to them; they too had the right to give praise to God and His prophet.  Whether it infuriated the religious leadership or not.

 

            21:17     Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.  According to the first century Jewish historian and war leader Josephus, many hundreds of thousands came to the city for Passover.  The city simply could not handle them all.  Many would take up lodging in nearby small towns out of sheer necessity.  Hence what Jesus did was in no way uncommon and would be duplicated by countless thousands of others as well.  (The pure size of the crowds would also drastically hinder efforts to pinpoint exactly where He was staying.)

 

 

Jesus’ Withering of a Fig Tree and the Lessons Intended (Matthew 21:18-22):  18 Now early in the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry.  19 After noticing a fig tree by the road he went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves.  He said to it, “Never again will there be fruit from you!”  And the fig tree withered at once.

20 When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”  21 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.  22 And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            21:18     Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry.  Since the Temple was the spiritual “heart” of the nation, it was natural that anyone spiritually zealous would return there each day he or she was in the city during Passover.  However, just as everyone else, Jesus also had the need for sustaining physical nourishment as well and on this early morning found Himself hungry while en route--which argues that the hour was early indeed when He began the trip.  (A few actually translate “early in the morning”--NIV, Weymouth.)  In Mark 1:35 the expression is self-interpreted as “before daylight.”

 

            21:19     And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.”  Immediately the fig tree withered away.  En route He saw a fig tree that had the appearance at the distance of one bearing fruit.  When He got close enough to see its actual condition, He discovered it actually had none at all.  He expressed the wish that it would retain that condition permanently since it had been so misleading to the public.  As the result the fig tree withered and lost even the appearance of being fruitful. 

            Of course the moral lesson in this is the folly of trying to appear to be something better than you really are.  You won’t deceive the One who counts!  This example is commonly used to illustrate the “fruitless” nature of first century Judaism and the example of the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 is usually cited as precedent backing this interpretation; even there, however, the emphasis is still upon individual (not collective) responsibility for sin (verses 1-5).

            Two additional points are worth stressing.  The first is that this is a notable example of narrative consolidation:  The “cursing” and the withering being observed actually take place on consecutive mornings, as a comparison with Mark 11:12-14 and 20-23 shows us.

            Secondly, this sprouting was an unexpected situation and would only occur with one specific type of fig tree:  The fig-tree loses its leaves in the winter: indeed it looks particularly bare with its white naked branches.  One species, however, puts forth fruit and leaves in the very early spring, the fruit appearing before the leaves. It was doubtless a fig-tree of this kind that Jesus observed, and seeing the leaves expected to find fruit thereon.  At the time of the Passover the first leaf-buds would scarcely have appeared on the common fig-tree, while this year’s ripe fruit would not be found till four months later.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

           

            21:20     And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”  The fact that it could happen did not startle the disciples, but the rapidity did.  Natural withering would surely have taken considerably longer--that is clearly the root of their perplexity. 

 

            21:21     So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, 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 also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.  The incident is usually considered as an “acted out parable:”  just as the physical fig tree was under a “curse” for being fruitless when it gave the superficial signs of bearing fruit, so is the supposed believer whose faith won’t endure a closer examination.  Although a good sermonic explanation, Jesus does not actually choose to develop this theme at all.

            Instead, He argues that what happened to the tree demonstrated the power of faith that lacked any doubt at all.  If they had enough faith of that kind they could have done likewise (probably intended literally), but He uses this as the basis of a hyperbolic statement that similar faith could even move mountains into the sea.  (We say hyperbolic for miracles served a practical purpose and moving mountains would serve none beyond an idle show of power.)  The point was to impress upon them the “unlimited” power of faith if they but had enough of it.

 

            21:22     And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  To drive home the point on faith, Jesus applies this to their prayer life.  If they fully believe they will receive what they pray for they will, indeed, receive it.  There is an implicit “if it be God’s will,” however, in such truisms.  When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane for the opportunity to avoid death, it was not a prayer that was answered in the affirmative because God’s greater purpose still required that death to occur.  Similarly, though faith based prayer will work wonders, the limits are when a greater purpose is served by God answering in the negative.

 

 

Religious Leaders of the Temple Challenge Jesus’ Right to Teach—and, By Implication, the Other Things He Had Done There (Such As Chasing the Money Changers and Merchants Out of the Temple:  see verses 12-17) (Matthew 21:23-27):  23 Now after Jesus entered the temple courts, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  25 Where did John’s baptism come from?  From heaven or from people?”

They discussed this among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’  26 But if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, for they all consider John to be a prophet.”  27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”  Then he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            21:23     Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things?  And who gave You this authority?”  This time when Jesus entered the temple, a collection of religious leaders was ready and waiting to tackle Him.  They wanted to know what the “authority” was behind His teaching and His various actions that were performed in the Temple.  This was uniquely their “turf:  they ran it, they oversaw it, they were directly responsible for it.

            They could point to the approval of some rabbi or priest for their own teaching and behavior or even that of the Sanhedrin itself.  What could He point to that gave Him the right to teach and, for that matter, contest what they were doing and saying as well?  As they saw it, all the “people who counted” were on their side of controversial issues and not His.  Surely none of them would think for a second to permit Him such behavior!

 

            21:24     But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Having asked a question, Jesus naturally felt it proper to ask one on the same subject.  They wish to discuss authority and that is fine, so will He . . . if they are willing to answer Him a rather simple question first.

 

            21:25     The baptism of John—where was it from?  From heaven or from men?”  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  Their opinion of the Baptizer seems to have varied immensely.  At one point many Pharisees and Sadducees were willing to be baptized by John but were rebuked by him for their insincerity--their willingness to go through the act without the moral change that was supposed to accompany it (Matthew 3:7-12).  Later even this superficial respect seems to have vanished for we read of his being accused of having a “demon,” presumably a criticism from angry critics like these (Matthew 11:18). 

            Saying kind words would have done no good either.  John had spoken high praise of this Jesus (John 1:29-30, 35-36).  If John had teaching authority, they were open to censure for not embracing what he had taught about Him.  Furthermore, if they were now to admit that John had been Divinely commissioned, they could--rightly--be assaulted for their refusal to embrace and obey his message of personal behavioral change. 

 

            21:26     But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.”  If they argued that John’s baptism was invented by him, they feared the reaction of the masses for John universally had the status of a person specially commissioned by God to teach and preach His will.  At the minimum it would undermine their own credibility; faced with the right individuals the situation might even explode into violence aimed at them. 

 

            21:27     So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.”  And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.  We see that they grasped the one option left to them:  ignorance.  They avoided the immediate problem by creating another one.  Everyone else had an opinion about John.  How could they possibly have avoided coming to one?  Furthermore, they claimed to be the experts in scriptural and spiritual interpretation.  How could they possibly lack a judgment on this matter?  (And the crowd hearing them would realize this too!) 

            So far as the present confrontation went, it destroyed their opportunity to try to discredit the Lord:  Since they declined to answer, Jesus insisted that there was no need for Him to answer either.  They might not like it, but how could they possibly deny this was a logical and fully justified course?

 

 

Acceptability to God Is Determined by Actually Doing the Father’s Will Rather Than Just Claiming to Do So (Matthew 21:28-32):  28 “What do you think? A man had two sons.  He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today. ’ 29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’  But later he had a change of heart and went.  30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go.  31 Which of the two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God!  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.  Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”    

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            21:28     “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’  To bring their excessive exaggeration of their own spirituality down a peg or two, Jesus then resorted to a parable with people like the religious leadership particularly in mind.  He bases it on the common situation of a father who has vineyard work to get done and naturally expects his two sons to play their role in it.  Hence when he encounters one son, the father gives the order to work in the vineyard that day.

 

            21:29     He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went.  The son refusing was, of course, unwise and inconsiderate.  But he later recognized the error of his way and fulfilled his instructions.  Why he reconsidered we don't know; the important thing is that he did and that he did not permit stubbornness, mule-headedness, or anything else to cause him to fail to rectify the situation. 

            Some say that this son represented the Gentiles and the second son the Jews in their rejection of Jesus--and the religious leadership in particular.  Although that is a useful sermonic application of the parable, Jesus is actually addressing Jews and gives no hint that He is discussing any others at all.   
            In other words He is talking about obedience and rebellion among His own people.  And the most direct application the text has today is to Christians and how some rebel against the Divine will but reform while others are strong public advocates of it while hiding their “secret life” of spiritual and/or moral decay.  

 

            21:30     Then he came to the second and said likewise.  And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go.  Words are easy; actually carrying them out can be a lot harder.  He had the right words on his tongue but did not transform the words into actual behavior.  He even took care to be respectful:  “I go, sir!”  (Think the Sanhedrin and the bulk of Pharisees and Sadducees in their cultivation of the appearance of a devout life.)

 

            21:31     Which of the two did the will of his father?”  They said to Him, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.  The difference in behavior made the answer to the question self-evident:  The one who changed and went, even these religious “experts” concede.  Based upon that admission, Jesus argued that even “tax collectors and harlots” would enter the kingdom before they did . . . for the religious elite said they wanted to fully serve God, but when given the opportunity they did not.

            But that rebellion was not irretrievably “locked in concrete,” it was changeable because the Lord stresses that these others “enter the kingdom of God before you.”  What happened next was wholly in their own hands. 

 

            21:32     For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.  He jumps from the parable to John the Baptist and links them together.  Unlike them, multitudes of “common folk” who had lived corruptly and dishonorably, heard John’s message of moral reform and believed it was true.  They changed their lifestyles accordingly.  Religious leaders like them, however, refused to recognize those areas where they also needed to change and refused to accept him. 

            Jesus does not quite come out and say that they did not “believe” that John’s message came from heaven but, if their behavior was any guide, that conclusion could hardly be avoided.  Unless one wished to opt for the equally condemning possibility that they were so prejudiced that they knew it was but refused to heed it out of arrogance and self-importance.

 

 

Another Parable:  Commit Blatant Injustice Against Those Doing What God Instructed Them To Do and You Will Incur Divine Wrath (Matthew 21:33-46):  33 “Listen to another parable:  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.  He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower.  Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey.  34 When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop. 

35 But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way.  37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’  39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 

40 “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men!  Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.”  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.  46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            21:33     “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower.  And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.  Jesus now proceeds to a much longer vineyard parable that would serve as an indictment of the treatment of the prophetic message in the past and in His own age as well.  He speaks of a man who has the vineyard fully prepared:  He planted it, installed a winepress, made sure there was a hedge around the property, and even a building (“tower”) in which those running the property could live, observe much or all of the property, and--if worse came to worse--retreat into to protect themselves against thieves.  Finally he made a lease arrangement and left the property in their care while he went on a journey to a distant country.

            Sidebar:  Isaiah 5:1-7 contains a lengthy verbal picture of Israel as God’s vineyard as does Psalms 80:8-16.   

 

            21:34     Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.  When the vintage was about to be brought in, he sent servants to collect his share of the “fruit.”  Cash payments were also known and could be quite large (as in Song of Solomon 8:11).

 

            21:35     And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another.  Having the property to themselves and with the owner far away, the vinedressers had decided to mutiny.  They abused the servants who were sent, resorting to beating, stoning, even killing.  The possession was “theirs” whether they legally owned it or not.  In a parallel manner, those advocating God’s ways rather than human ones were abused, maltreated, and even murdered in the ancient days (Hebrews 11:35b-38).

 

            21:36     Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.  The owner then sent a larger group of servants in the hope that they would now realize that they could not continue their betrayal . . . that they must fulfill their duties as they had pledged.  But once again they abused and ill-treated the messengers.

 

            21:37      Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  Servants might well be dismissed as unimportant functionaries and in many senses they were since they were not independent agents but acted strictly within the orders they had been given.  But moving up to the owner's family ought to change the outcome.  Respect alone should be enough to assure that this person would be able to get out of them the obedience to the contract that they had refused to give anyone else. 

 

            21:38     But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’  Having become hardened by their past successful rebellion, they think differently than when they properly recognized their place in the scheme of things.  They decide that if they kill the heir to the property, they can effectively seize the inheritance from him. 

            Of course in a court of law it would never hold up, but the old adage about “possession being 99% of the law” has a lot of truth in it.  It takes a lot of effort to dislodge someone even when they are clearly in the wrong if they are in control of the contested property.  (Today, it is legally called “adverse possession.”)  They would, they thought, have de facto ownership of the vineyard and that the distant owner would give up and wash his hands of the matter.

            More careful thought should have warned them:  Servants are, so to speak, “expendable.”  But if the very son of the man gets murdered, the stakes have been raised immeasurably.  What if he vows (literally) blood vengeance?  (As he does in verse 41.)

 

            21:39     So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Having thought the situation through, they take the son away from the vineyard and callously kill him as they had some earlier messengers.  Perhaps they didn't want to do it on the premises so they could at least have a fig leaf of deniability--and even have time to hide the body from discovery.  After all this was the son and even callous minds would surely be aware that they were now deep into dangerous territory indeed.  At least some degree of caution was required.

            Although the religious authorities could not literally kill Jesus outside of even Judea, they could have Him killed outside of the holy city of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12).  And they could have Him killed by the hands of those outside His own people as well--through Pilate the Roman/Gentile governor.  

 

            21:40     “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”  They had been counting on a passive and despairing type of response, but a very different one was quite possible--and that is exactly what happens:  The owner is returning to the vineyard to set things right.  With that as the next step in the story, Jesus throws to His critics the question of how the owner will act toward the rebellious vinedressers. 

           

            21:41      They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”  They respond that he would come and destroy those unreliable tenders and replace them with those who would do their job properly and honestly.  “Destroy” is strong and harsh language but what else could justly be done to them?  Pat them on the back and send them home with a bonus?  God is infinitely forgiving—but He will never let others take advantage of Him. 

 

            21:42       Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:  ‘The stone which the builders rejected / Has become the chief cornerstone. / This was the Lord’s doing, / And it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Jesus does not challenge their response but, rather, builds upon it.  He reminds them of the Psalms text (118:22-23, LXX version) about the rejected cornerstone that becomes the selected chief cornerstone in spite of the rejection.  Rejection by our contemporaries does not prove that one is in the wrong, as will be illustrated by the inability of even Jesus’ judicial murder stopping Him from creating a spiritual kingdom that would involve men and women of both Jewish and Gentile roots--from a cross-section of territories throughout the known world.

            Sidebar:  For the Messiah pictured under the image of a stone (for strength, power, and importance) also see Isaiah 28:16 and Daniel 2:34-35.

 

            21:43      “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.  How they themselves had said the owner would treat the vinedressers was exactly how they and their supporters would be treated:  the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to those who, unlike them, were willing to bear the proper “fruits” of the kingdom.  As the top religious leaders of the land they were the earthly “vinedressers” over God's people of the day.  But they had demonstrated their unwillingness to fulfill the duties associated with such a responsibility and would not escape punishment for their brazen negligence. 

            Hence their authority and positions would be removed.  If that were not horrifying enough, Judaism would be replaced by the new spiritual reality of Christianity, which was consciously designed to be congenial to both Jews with their unique spiritual roots and Gentiles who had learned the error of their own behaviors”  “ . . . God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name” (Acts 15:14).  In fact, the Psalms prophecy in the previous verse is quoted by Peter in writing to the Gentiles to show how and why they were now part of God’s spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-10).   

 

            21:44     And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”  Alluding back to the cornerstone image quoted in versed 42, that stone--one that seemingly could be safely ignored--will turn out to be far stronger and more powerful than they can ever imagine.  Anyone who stumbles over it will break their bones; anyone it falls on will be ground to powder.  Jesus’ foes will be able to kill His flesh, but His resurrection and the movement He has founded will roll over them like a giant grinder that reduces the rocks and pebbles to nothing but dust. 

            In this type of setting think of Matthew 24.  There Jesus shows how He would ultimately use the Romans to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple--destroying the religious power of those who cared far more for control than for loyalty to God . . . and removing the bulk of their power to oppose Him and His movement.  

 

            21:45     Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.  Although they may not have fully grasped Jesus’ identification of Himself with the cornerstone, the general idea was clear enough and the accompanying parable even more so.  They recognized that Jesus was rebuking their behavior as, doubtless, did the crowd as well.  And--not insignificantly either--warning of how He will triumph over all those who oppose Him and His movement . . . which made them even angrier. . . . 

 

            21:46     But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.  The leaders wanted to arrest Him, but they backed off from it because they realized that the crowds accepted Him as a prophet.  Rather than “exposing” Jesus, they had managed to embarrass themselves in front of one and all--by failure to refute His arguments and by the humiliation of not daring to exercise their raw power to take Him into custody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

 

 

A Parable of Coming Judgment:  Arrogantly Reject God’s Invitation to His Son’s “Wedding” and He Will Both Punish You and Go Out of His Way to Find Those You Despise and Assure that They Enjoy the Festivities Instead of You (Matthew 22:1-14):  1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his slaves to summon those who had been invited to the banquet, but they would not come.  Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look!  The feast I have prepared for you is ready. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.  Come to the wedding banquet.”’

“But they were indifferent and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  The rest seized his slaves, insolently mistreated them, and killed them.  The king was furious!  He sent his soldiers, and they put those murderers to death and set their city on fire. 

“Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but the ones who had been invited were not worthy.  So go into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  10 And those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found, both bad and good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the wedding guests, he saw a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’  But he had nothing to say.  13 Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!’  14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

  

 

            22:1     And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said.  Having just rebuked the religious leadership through parabolic teaching, Jesus promptly utilizes that tool again.  It allows Him to give a stern rebuke but if they dare protest, all He would have to do is loudly respond, “So you recognize yourselves, do you?  Isn't it long past time for you to repent?”

            There are two distinct sections to the parable:  Verses 1-7 ends in the destruction of those who had ignored or done outright violence to the king’s representatives.  The result was “their city” (verse 7) being destroyed.  This section conceptually fits well with the common Jewish rejection of Jesus’ message and the destruction with the fate of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

            The second half of the parable (verses 8-14) would fit the sharing of Jesus’ message in the wider world and the embracing of Gentiles within His people.  The punishment alluded to would convey the message that those who embraced the gospel would also be judged upon the basis of their own behavior as well.           

                  

            22:2     “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.  Often overlooked in the analysis of this text is the reference to the fact that the king himself had “arranged a marriage for his son.”  That was quite normal in that day and age.  Depending upon the temperament of the parents and the local expectations of the rights of the offspring, the degree of the son’s input into the decision would vary immensely.  (At least in the first marriage that introduces him to full adulthood.)   

            The theory behind such marriages was that the mature adult had a lot better comprehension of what was in the long-term interests of the offspring than the child himself or herself.  It was also based upon the assumption that the relationship between any two newlyweds could be worked out on a reasonable basis if they so wished--especially with both sets of parents expecting it and encouraging them in that direction.  Overall, the system probably worked out no worse than the modern system of individuals choosing their own spouses.  (Please do not scream in frustration; just because it doesn’t match our modern preferences does not mean that it did not have its own strengths and weaknesses.)

            However virtually all modern translations (excepting the NKJV) render it “arranged a marriage feast for his son.”  The GW does, however, speak of “a king who planned a wedding for his son.”  The Greek here can cover either or both and we would expect the two to go together whether explicitly referred to or not:  Why in the world have a marriage feast if you weren’t also having a wedding?  Why in the world have a wedding and not have a feast to go with it?         

 

            22:3     and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.  The fact that he had to send them out argues that a specific time had not been announced--only the approximate time range.  After all weather or other unexpected circumstances might arise and temporarily delay things.

            But now all the preparations were ready and everyone needed to be informed that it was time for the festivities.  Being a king it was both natural and expected for them to come.  He was sovereign and in a position to reward or punish.  Furthermore, a royal marriage feast would be the occasion for the best food and drink that one would anticipate in a lifetime.  Hence there was every reason to be present and virtually none not to. 

            Yet these people refused the offer of the free fine food and the entertainment that would go with the feast.  It suggests that they harbored considerable disrespect and anger at the ruler.  They then exhibited it by ignoring the notification as unimportant (verse 5) or by inflicting abuse and even death on those who brought the message (verse 6).  By their actions they were showing that they might be his subjects but did not want to be!

             

            22:4     Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready.  Come to the wedding.”   No doubt startled by such sullenness, the king incredibly gave them another opportunity by sending out different servants.  People react different to different individuals and the original group would be tired out from their fruitless running around.  This time the messengers were to stress the amount and quality of food available (“oxen and fatted cattle”) and that everything was ready.  Why, there would not even be any need to wait for the preparations were fully completed--“all things are ready!”  If another chance and such abundant generosity couldn’t “bring them in,” what possibly could?

            Sidebar:  Words are used with a certain flexibility, varying from place to place and country to country and the use of “dinner” exhibits that in our current world--the evening meal in the U.S. but often the afternoon one in Britain.  The underlying Greek puts it at a much earlier hour than we would:  In Homer it is used of food taken at sunrise; in later authors, of the repast of noon.’  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  “A noon-breakfast; luncheon” suggests Vincent’s Word Studies.  In such earlier in the day contexts, the idea likely is that feasting comes first, then the ceremony, and afterwards a return to the feasting.

 

            22:5     But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.  The locals cast aside even the second offer.  They dismissed it as unimportant (“made light of it”).  The farmer chose to go to his farm.  (Most farmers lived “in town” and went outside of it to their work.)  The prosperous businessman went from home to his place of business as a merchant or trader. 

            In case of either farmer or businessman, what possible harm could a few hours delay cause?  But they were so self-centered that they were convinced that they had more important things to attend to.  They clearly thought they “could get away with it,” forgetting one of the primary rules in any powerful monarchy:  Don’t get the king outraged at you.  In fact, this monarch was showing his profound generosity of spirit in permitting them a second opportunity in the first place.  He wanted to rule peacefully and gently, especially at a time of celebration. 

 

            22:6     And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.  Some were even more contemptuous and treated the servants with open disrespect.  Some were even murdered merely because they were fulfilling their king’s assignment of spreading the word of the feast.  The reason for these varying levels of contempt is not given.  At root it was really irrelevant.  This was the king; his invitation inherently deserved respect--out of personal self-interest if nothing more.  Ideally, out of respect for his position as leader:  If he wanted you to go, you went.

            The Old Testament prophets were treated in both ways as they tried to convince the people to follow God’s will.  The same was true of the apostles and disciples in general.  They were thrown in jail (Acts 4:3; 12:4), beaten (5:40; 16:23), stoned (14:19), and murdered (7:58; 12:2).  

 

            22:7     But when the king heard about it, he was furious.  And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.  At this point, the king exploded in rage.  He had put up with more than enough.  He ordered his armies out and had the rebels killed and their city burned.  The use of the singular “city” is intriguing in this context.  The religious leaders had recognized that the preceding parables were aimed at them (21:45) and if they interpreted this one in a similar manner, the parable represented a threat of retribution for their disrespect for God and His Son and a warning that “their city” (i.e., Jerusalem) would be “burned up.”  As it was in AD 70, in a disaster discussed in more detail in chapter 24.  Indeed, was there any other way it could possibly be intended to be understood?

 

            22:8     Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  What happens now occurs at the same time the king is acting against his enemies in the previous verse:  The wedding feast is still ready to be eaten and that is impossible due to the lack of adequate guests.  Hence their numbers have to be “fleshed out” from other sources. 

            In making his decision, the king provides a moral judgment upon his subjects who had scorned him:  they were not “worthy” to partake of His generosity.  So he is going to find individuals more worthy of his blessings and assistance . . . even if they have to be found in unexpected places. 

 

            22:9     Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’  Since the city dwellers had refused to come, the king’s servants were now to go down the nearby highways and byways and invite everyone they came upon.  You didn’t have to be “important” . . . you just had to be alive, breathing, and have enough sense to take advantage of the generous offer.  Jesus’ message was first spread among only the Jews but there was only a modest reception among them and then God threw the doors open to anyone of any background. 

            A universal kingdom was the ancient dream and it now would become such (Isaiah 2:1-4):  Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.”

 

            22:10     So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good.  And the wedding hall was filled with guests.   All whom they found,” making no distinctions between the “bad and the good.”  In terms of the narrative, whoever was found was talked into attending whether they had the physical appearance of “good” upstanding citizens or those who look “bad” and seedy and questionable.  It was to be an opportunity extended to all. 

            In its application to those who become Christians, a moral sense is attached to these terms--people of all shades of moral character are convinced (at least temporarily or partially) to embrace the cause.  But in terms of the parable narrative itself the idea is that there was no discrimination based on indications of status or importance.  Compare the parable of the drag-net in which the “catch” is also of one and all (Matthew 13:47-50). 

 

            22:11     “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.  Frankly, this is odd.  Since this was a spur of the moment invitation the individuals invited clearly had not had time to return home except in the rarest of cases.  They had to wear what they had on at the time.  Hence the query only makes sense if this king had provided special clothing for his guests.  (As an extra reward for their coming on no notice?) 

            This would make sense in and of itself since they were not the intended guests.  Only by providing some clothing would the feast be assured of having people appropriately attired.  Many commentators believe that rulers often provided this kind of gift, even for well-to-do attendees.  As we see, even if this were not the case, there was plenty of reason to do so in this particular situation.  (Although we encounter varied occasions on which individuals were given a gift of clothes in the Old Testament, the only one referring to a large group getting them is in the case of Jehu’s Baal worship in 2 Kings 10:22.)

            In its spiritual application to church members, the point would seem to be that they are not “dressed” in the kind of character that believers are required to wear.  As a parabolic illustration of the necessity of good character the story makes excellent sense; it is the “literal” context that provides the oddity for us.  

 

            22:12      So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’  And he was speechless.  The king did not become immediately indignant at the lack of a garment, but sought out the reason for the lack of it.  Since the person had no excuse he stood there “speechless” and, presumably, quite embarrassed.  The word could literally be translated “he was muzzled”--there was simply no rational defense he could provide.  Now the ruler becomes indignant for the man is clearly without excuse; he doesn't even have a plausible dodge to offer. . . .

 

            22:13      Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  After all he had gone through at the hands of the city dwellers, the king was in no mood to take further insults without reaction (cf. what he had ordered in verse 7).  He ordered the man to be bound and cast out into the dark away from the feast.  There he would be crying and gnashing his teeth in frustration at what he was missing.  Not to mention that being bound, there is absolutely no escape from his condition.  It is final.  Irrevocable.

 

            22:14     “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  Since the offender is pictured as if he were the only person without the wedding garment the expression seems used here in a negative sense:  only a few are chosen for exclusion from the feast.  A recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching is how many reject Him.  Hence it was highly appropriate for Him to remind His disciples that the situation was (at least ideally) reversed among those who are His disciples:  Few are chosen for ultimate exclusion due to their faulty character.

            It should be noted, however, that commentators normally interpret this the exact opposite . . . that there are few who--comparatively--are chosen for salvation in contrast with the many who through inaction and rejection are chosen for eternal condemnation.  Although this represents a fundamental Biblical reality, our approach seems to far better fit this particular parable.        

 

 

The Spiritual Legality and Propriety of Paying Taxes to an Occupying Power (Matthew 22:15-22):  15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words.  16 They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  You do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality.  17 Tell us then, what do you think?  Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Hypocrites!  Why are you testing me?  19 Show me the coin used for the tax.”  So they brought him a denarius.

20 Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?”  21 They replied, “Caesar’s.”  He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  22 Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            22:15      Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.  Since the Pharisees left to discuss how they might embarrass (“entangle”) Jesus in the doctrine He was teaching, the implication would be that they recognized that what He was saying was targeting people like them.  He wouldn’t yield to their “authority of position”--as any “proper” Jew was supposed to--nor could they do well with Him in open argument.  But if they carefully planned out ahead of time (“plotted”) various lines of attack, perhaps they could reverse their prior embarrassments . . . and even maneuver Him into saying something that could be used against Him judicially.  (That they fantasized this option is argued from the line of “innocent questioning” about taxation that they use with Him:  the wrong words in response and they have an argument to present to the Romans.)

            Sidebar on “entangle:”  Literally, ensnare, as a fowler ensnares birds.  The Greek word is used here only in N.T.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            22:16      And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.  To judge by their name, the “Herodians” were individuals who owed their supreme loyalty to that particular ruler.  Perhaps they were administrators or bureaucrats or local business and civil leaders who had linked their own futures totally to that of Herod.  Note that there is an inherent contrast in agendas:  the Pharisees’ central interest was scripture and tradition's explanation of what it “really” meant; the Herodians having their man hold onto power. 

            It could prove useful to have those whose interests were politically centered present as witnesses when they attempted to embroil Jesus in a matter of political loyalty.  Indeed, in a matter that--if they played their cards well and Jesus responded unwisely--could be interpreted as treason against the regime.

            Sidebar on the Herodians in the gospels:  A fact recorded by Jewish writers probably gives us the origin of the party.  In the early days of Herod the Great, when Hillel, the great scribe, was at the height of his fame, he had as his colleague, Menahem, possibly the Essene of that name of whom Josephus tells us that he prophesied Herod’s future greatness (Ant. xv. 10, § 5).  The latter was tempted by the king’s growing power, and, with eighty followers, entered into his service, forsook the ranks of the Pharisees, and appeared in gorgeous apparel, glittering with gold. . . .

            “In Mark 3:6 we find them at Capernaum conspiring with the Pharisees who had come from Jerusalem, and are thus led to see in their present action a renewal of the previous alliance.  A comparison of Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15 suggests a general affinity with the policy and tenets of the Sadducees.  From St. Luke (Luke 23:7) we learn the fact that the Tetrarch himself (and therefore probably his followers) was at this time at Jerusalem, so that the renewed combination was natural enough.  On the whole, the drift of the facts seems towards the conclusion that they were advocates of national submission to the emperor rather than assertors of independence.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            22:17     Tell us, therefore, what do You think?  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  Having begun with a fulsome compliment to Jesus’ intellectual honesty and candor (vs. 16), they then throw the time bomb at Him . . . one that might alienate either His followers or the political authorities, depending upon how He answered.  The anti-Roman masses would not like an affirmative answer and the pro-Roman Herodians could use a negative answer as evidence of disloyalty.  And, of course, the Pharisees wouldn’t stand in their way for a single second.

           

            22:18     But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Meyou hypocrites?  Jesus recognized their tactics and demanded why they were insisting upon continuing to test Him.  Why were they continuing to play the role of “hypocrites”--acting as if they themselves did not already have the only “acceptable” answer in their heads.  (At least the answer they wanted to hear!)  Trying to embroil Jesus in the matter was not going to change that one iota.  Hence outrage at the pretense.

 

            22:19     Show Me the tax money.”  So they brought Him a denarius.  It wasn’t difficult to do.  They had it handy.  However much they might prefer coinage issued with Jews in mind--which would come without a human image on it--the Roman preferred form was also readily available and it is hard to believe that many merchants would have turned it down.  Indeed, taxes likely had to be paid with this kind of coinage . . . making them symbolically admit that they were subject to Rome and the obligation to pay her taxes as well.

 

            22:20     And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”  The Lord’s questions are quite logical:  This will tell you who authorized the coinage and who stands behind it.  Who even “owns it,” so to speak, since he is the authority that issues it.

            The fact that it had both of these engraved on it argues, “as Edersheim remarks, [that it] must have been either a foreign one (Roman) or possibly one of the Tetrarch Philip, who on some of his coins introduced the image of Tiberius.  The coins struck by the Romans in or for Palestine had, in accommodation to Jewish prejudices, no representation of any personage upon them.  The Roman denarius at this date had on the obverse side the head of Tiberius, crowned with laurel leaves, and bore the legend, ‘TI CAESAR DIVI AVG FAVGVSTVS,’ and on the reverse, a seated female figure, with the inscription, ‘PONTIF MAXIM.’ ” (Pulpit Commentary) 

 

            22:21     They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”  And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Since the coin is labeled Caesar’s and since it has the claim of his very name on it, then give to Caesar what belongs to him in the first place.  Reserve to God the things that are God’s.  He has responded in the positive:  yes, pay taxes.  But He has responded in a manner that would be the least inflammatory. 

            Furthermore, He has added a vital caveat:  even in paying taxes there remain things owed to God and to no government.  So he has left neither anti-Roman nor pro-Roman fully happy, but He has responded in a manner that makes the answer least useful to agitate either the populace at large or the government.  Not to mention accurately summing up God’s position in the matter.  It is not a matter of doing one or the other; it is a duty of embracing both sets of obligations.

 

            22:22     When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.  They were impressed by this answer (“marveled”) and well they should.  He had escaped their trap while giving a responsible answer to a question not intended as an honest one in the first place.

 

 

The Sadducees Try to Undermine the Credibility of a Future Physical Bodily Resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33):  23 The same day Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to him and asked him, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and father children for his brother.’  25 Now there were seven brothers among us.  The first one married and died, and since he had no children he left his wife to his brother.  26 The second did the same, and the third, down to the seventh.  27 Last of all, the woman died.  28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.”

29 Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God.  30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  31 Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, 32 I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living!”  33 When the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching.

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            22:23     The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him.  “The same day” (another of those rare explicit indications of exact chronology), members of the Sadducee faction decided to press their own disagreements with Jesus.  They denied the fact that there would be a physical resurrection.  They did not deny the existence of an inner “soul” but insisted that it also perished at death as well:  The doctrine of the Sadducees is this that souls die with the bodies” (Josephus). 

            With these denials went both the concepts of future judgment and future rewards or punishments.  Indeed they even rejected the idea that there was any such thing as “angel[s]” that might intervene in human affairs (Acts 23:8). 

            The Sadducees are important because though the Pharisees had widespread respect among the religious population, the Sadducees usually dominated the Sanhedrin--as can be seen in the example found in Acts 5:17-22.  Their economic interests had already been offended by Jesus’ denial of the right to sell goods in the temple.  Would Jesus take issue with them on the matter of their doctrine as well?  In fact, from the way the challenge is delivered, it would be better to say:  Would He be willing to admit His “error” when faced with a clearly un-refutable evidence that the resurrection did not exist?

 

            22:24      saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  It has often been thought that this was one of their preferred test questions, the kind to be used as an infallible rebuttal of those silly people who believed in a resurrection.  The question, if one grants its premises and doesn't factor in any additional facts, is a powerful one; hence this speculation is quite likely right. 

            Their “proof” concerns a man who marries and dies before he has fathered any children.  In citing what “Moses said,” however, they overstate their case.  In real life, levirate marriage could be refused and there was a ceremony for such (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  We have a case of such a refusal in the book of Ruth (3:10-13; 4:7-13) where a more distant kin quite happily assumed that responsibility.  However that can't be introduced against these particular foes since they recognize none of the Old Testament as authoritative beyond the words of the Torah alone (Genesis-Deuteronomy).

 

            22:25     Now there were with us seven brothers.  The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother.  Note the “with us,” which carries the necessary implication that they are supposedly dealing with a “real life situation.”  Or, at least, one that could be “real life.”  Such a situation was called “levirate marriage” and was done for the purpose of her bearing a son to carry the dead man’s name. 

            This particular first husband had seven brothers.  The number may be large, but families customarily were in those days.  In addition to lack of effective birth control, disease could easily take half or more of one’s children before maturity and one naturally wanted to assure that there were enough to assure a “next generation.”  (In light of a virtually non-existent system of social welfare they were also the parents’ own “social security” for their old age.) 

            In their case death comes to the grown children, who are also exposed to the ravages of disease with only a limited range of curative measures.  Presumably it is the next oldest son who married the widow but he also died before any children were born.       

             

            22:26     Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh.  Unusual and unexpected, but certainly not impossible.  Recognizing that death came far easier then than today and that the parable's assumption is probably that these events cover a period of at least ten or fifteen years, the number of deaths would be sad but surely not outlandish even for a “theoretical” rather than clear cut “real event” argument.  

 

            22:27      Last of all the woman died also.  No brother is alive and now the woman is not either.  The Torah's requirement has gone unfulfilled.  If there is an actual resurrection . . . and if our nature is the same physical one as in the current world . . . does not the child bearing requirement still need to be fulfilled after the resurrection?  For that matter, that the marriage itself be revived?  (Note that their argument in verse 28 is centered on this aspect.) 

 

            22:28     Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”  They were all married to her.  The sexual relationship of marriage existed in all the cases.  They all have their lives back.  They all have their flesh back.  They all have their sexuality back.  (Or so they assume--that the “body” is still one of “flesh and blood” and that human sexuality remains and has not been seriously altered or replaced with something at least equally desirable.)

            Sidebar:  Surviving rabbinical opinion was very divided on this question of a wife having had multiple husbands--but never dealt with a case this extreme.  Personally, given their premises, I would have argued that it was the wife who had the choice to make.  There would have been a kind of “grand equity” that it was now her turn to make the decision. 

 

            22:29     Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.  They were guilty of a fundamental error:  That the next world will be just like/identical with the current one.  This is because they did not properly “know” (= understand) the scriptures and they did not properly recognize the manifest “power of God” to make things drastically different than they currently are.  If He could create an earth where there had been none, there are no arbitrary limits that can be imposed on what He could do to and for our temporal bodies.

 

            22:30     For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.  God's power to change, to modify, to perfect will be demonstrated in the fact that in the resurrection there will be no more need for humans to have marriage in order to live the ideal life than it is for angels to do so.  This does not necessarily mean that gender will disappear, but that if it continues its function will no longer have the sexual connotations it has on earth.  And so far as childbearing goes, if there is no death there is no need for additional children to be brought into the world.  

 

            22:31-32     But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”  Since the Sadducees would only concede the authority of the Torah, any appeal to the later prophetic writings (which are much clearer on the doctrine of the resurrection) would have done no good.  Hence He appeals to a vaguer text from Exodus in which the God of Israel says “I am” (current tense) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God is only God of the living; so the ancient patriarchs must still have been alive in the days of the Exodus!

            Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for a long time when Moses spoke this - Abraham for 329 years, Isaac for 224 years, and Jacob for 198 years - yet God spake then as being still ‘their God.’  They must, therefore, be still somewhere living, for God is not the God of the dead; that is, it is absurd to say that God rules over those who are ‘extinct or annihilated,’ but he is the God only of those who have an existence.”  (Barnes Notes)

            This is a verbal argument for it relies on the tense involved.  Today we would feel a bit skittish about its use but the procedure was fully in accord with the interpretive attitudes of the first century.  Indeed, it inherently is quite logical; it simply isn’t the kind of logic we are accustomed to.

            Note that Jesus’ argument does not attempt to prove that there is a Torah text that directly asserts a physical resurrection.  Rather he targets the reason the Sadducees believed there would and could never be one:  There was nothing left to resurrect--“Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both” (Acts 23:8).    

 

            Furthermore, Jesus does not claim to rest His position upon exegesis of this text alone (i.e., the Exodus 3:6 passage which He quotes):  there were scriptures outside the Torah that would have settled the issue in Jesus’ favor if the Sadducees had recognized their authoritativeness (cf. vs. 29).  Furthermore, if they had recognized the true “power of God” they would have recognized that any deity who has the power to create life also has the power to resurrect and return to life those who have died.  And change their nature and attitudes in fundamental ways as well.         

    

            22:33      And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.  The multitudes were not “astonished” at the concept of a resurrection for they had certainly heard that on many occasions from the Pharisees.  Hence the astonishment grew out of Jesus successfully throwing back at His opponents a well worded and strong response.  Quite possibly this was the argument they had long and successfully invoked against the possibility of a bodily resurrection . . . now they were finally hearing a response that adequately dealt with the Sadducees’ argument. 

 

 

The Pharisees Challenge:  What Is the Most Important Divine Commandment of Them All?  (Matthew 22:34-40):  34 Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together.  35 And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him:  36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment . 39 The second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            22:34     But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  “Silenced” is a strong word that is literally “gagged.”  We might use the colloquialism, “shut them up,” i.e., left them with absolutely nothing they could think of saying.

            Having discovered that their nemeses in the Sadducee movement had been as unsuccessful as they in dealing with this upstart challenger of established orthodoxies, the Pharisees now “gathered together” in a group to discuss what to do next.  In light of their apparent promptness in acting (verse 35), the situation seems to be that they were huddled near Jesus rather than having left the scene entirely.

 

            22:35     Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying.  One of the Pharisees who happened to perform as a religious “lawyer” (= specialist) as well took upon himself the task of dealing with the Nazarian “upstart.”   Now the Pharisees were not dumb and ignorant but, by and large, they still represented a “lay” movement so the level of their talents would vary widely.  As a religious specialist, this “lawyer” would represent the intellectual heavyweights among them.  Some have reasonably suggested that these were specialists in the text of “the law” (Torah) itself rather than devoting their primary time to the study of the traditions about that law.

           

            22:36     “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  After all there were many to choose from.  Most answers one could give could probably be quibbled with by arguing “But isn’t X at least as important—if not more so?”  At least knowing the mind of the person he is dealing with, the answer to that might give him something to work with to upstage the man from Nazareth.  For that matter there must have been a major element of genuine curiosity as well since in a parallel account the man compliments Jesus’ answer (Mark 12:32-33) and Jesus praises him as one “not far from the kingdom of God” (verse 34).  Hence this man is a foe but an honest one who actually wants the truth as much as a “debating” victory. 

           

            22:37-38     Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and great commandment.  The true primary and fundamental commandment was about loving Yahweh with all one’s nature:  “heart . . . soul . . . mind.”  Much time and effort can be spent trying to mark out the fine lines between these, but “with all one’s nature” captures the point without it:  Whatever motivates and controls us is to be governed by this fundamental principle of loving commitment to God.  Or as Weymouth’s translation, saying much the same thing, has it:  with thy whole heart, thy whole soul, thy whole mind.” 

            Jesus chose what is—from our standpoint—the obvious answer, for it is the foundation causing the others to be obeyed.  But the very fact that He is asked the question at all shows that it would have been only one of a number of possibilities that came to the first century mind.    

            Sidebar:  Important as the Ten Commandments were (Exodus 20), it is not even part of it--it comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 instead .  The Ten Commandments were vital, but they were not all that was vital even when the Mosaical system was in full operation.

 

            22:39     And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  The second commandment comes from Leviticus 19:18--and note that it had superior status even though it also was not part of the Ten Commandments.  This was the ancient admonition to treat and think of neighbors with the same standards we apply to ourselves.  Hence the most basic commandment was dealing with the right attitude toward God and the second most important our attitude toward our fellow human.  Indeed the second grows out of the first because the first produces the second.

 

            22:40     On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  These were the two foundation commandments.  Upon their acceptance and application rests the validity of the teaching of both the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) and the teaching of the Prophets as well.  The two-fold division into “Law and Prophets” argues that Jesus accepted that all of the Old Testament outside of the five books of Moses were prophet written and derived their status and authority from that fact.

 

 

Having Just Been Challenged by Them, He Throws Out His Own Question:  How Can the Promised Messiah Be Both David’s Descendant and Simultaneously His Lord As Well?  (Matthew 22:41-46):  41 While the Pharisees were assembled, Jesus asked them a question:  42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”  They said, “The son of David.”  43 He said to them, “How then does David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 The Lord said to my lord,
Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’

45 If David then calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”  46 No one was able to answer him a word, and from that day on no one dared to question him any longer.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

  

 

            22:41     While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them.  He had just denied His foes anything to challenge:  After all when you are insisting upon the love of God and our fellow mortals, is anyone going to argue these are secondary or unimportant—and get laughed at by the audience?  (Or get them outraged at the idiocy!)  Furthermore, one of their own had just “pulled the rug out” by heartily agreeing with Him (added in the parallel account in Mark 13:32-33)!

            What happens next is “while the Pharisees were gathered together,” i.e., with the clear implication “still gathered together”--either before they had time to depart in total frustration . . . or while they were still whispering among themselves what to bring up next.  At this point Jesus threw a question of His own at them.  This was mere equity:  He had just answered a question they had thrown at Him without a hint of what it was going to be about.  Turnabout is “fair play” either in a game or an argument.

 

            22:42     saying, “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose Son is He?”  They said to Him, “The Son of David.”  Much was speculated about the Christ (Anointed One/Messiah) who was to come.  Hence “whose Son is He?”  is a logical question and their response of “the Son of David,” was the obvious answer for the various ancient writings had spoken of a Davidic figure ruling in his place.  One does not have to speculate wildly to suspect that the words of the Pharisees were delivered with more than a tad of contempt--who else’s descendent could He possibly be?

 

            22:43     He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying.  Jesus does not deny that what they had answered was true.  Instead He challenges whether this was an adequate or full explanation.  After all, David was inspired by “the Spirit” to call this successor of his, his “Lord.”  But to call him that showed that this “Lord” already existed even though he was to be his descendent as well!

            Furthermore this description was not mere guess work or speculation David’s own part.  It was inspired--by “the Spirit.”  This is but one example of how “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

 

          22:44     The Lord said to my Lord, / “Sit at My right hand, / Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’?  And, although they could hardly challenge the assertion the point is made even stronger to the listeners by quoting the context in which the assertion occurs in the first verse of Psalms 110.  That is where David refers to Yahweh (the more modern translation replacement for the traditional Jehovah) and how there is someone so superior to David that he even functions as David’s own “Lord”--who will make David's Lord ruler over His enemies by making them His “footstool.”  It is David’s “Lord” who would sit next to the Deity until all His enemies were subjugated. 

 

            22:45     If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?”  This text clearly raised a problem.  If the Son of David was already greater than David while he was still alive (and recognized as such in inspired teaching, verses 43-44), how does one explain the fact that the Messiah is also David’s “Son” (descendent)?  How does one fit together these two strains of thought? 

            The prologue to the gospel of John explains it quite well:  Deity come in the flesh; but this was not an explanation the Pharisees were likely to have thought of.  Even if they had thought of it, to fully resolve the tension between the two statements required a radical redefinition of the very concept of the Messiah.  One that had the potential for radically redefining of His nature and purpose away from that of mere earthly conqueror.  That was the kind of “Messiah” they were used to thinking of--and wanting. 

 

            22:46     And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.  This silenced the entire crowd of critics.  Having repeatedly been unable to humiliate Jesus in front of the large crowd of listeners--what else would there be in the Temple at Passover?--they now withdrew from public disputation.  They had not only not won, they had actually lost face.  They could not defeat Jesus in argument, but they still had the potential to put Him to death.