“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
– Matthew 21:43
Chapter 21 begins Jesus’ final week before his death and resurrection. In the next few chapters, we see Jesus come into increasing conflict with the religious leaders, he continues to teach his disciples, and he gives himself as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for sin.
Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem. Many of the people who had been following him from place to place expected him to set himself up as king as he entered Jerusalem. They expected a political Messiah – what they would get would be the suffering Messiah.
Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem was done on a colt. This is significantly different than a picture of a king riding into a city. A king would ride on a horse. Instead, Jesus rides on a “beast of burden”. He comes humbly, not as a conquering king. This is really the theme of his entire ministry.
The crowds praised Jesus as he entered the city. They spread their cloaks on the road along with branches to “pave” the way of Jesus. The word “hosanna” is a term that means “save now”. The crowds desired Jesus to save them from the Roman oppression. They believed he came in the name of the Lord, but they believed he came in a political manner instead of a salvific manner. The crowds continue to misunderstand who Jesus is. In , they believe he is a prophet, not the coming Messiah.
As Jesus enters the temple, he becomes enraged at what he discovers. The people had turned the temple into a marketplace where people could buy their sacrifices, exchange their money, and be grossly overcharged. Jesus acts with righteous anger by overturning the tables that the money-changers and other sellers used. He declares that the temple is not to be a place of business, but a place of worship. We should also consider this when it comes to our churches – do they become places of business or do they remain places of worship?
The blind and lame continue to come to Jesus even in the temple and the children run about him and praise him. The religious leaders were upset with Jesus because they believed what the children were saying was blasphemous. The religious leaders seemed to have wanted Jesus to tell the children to be quiet; however, Jesus tells the religious leaders that this is what has been prophesied.
The story about the fig tree may seem simple and out-of-place, but it holds great truth about Jesus Christ and faith.
We see in this passage a picture of Christ’s humanity and divinity. His humanity is shown in that he became hungry, but then we see his divinity by his cursing of the fig tree and it withering. This also shows us Christ’s authority over creation – he can tell something to wither and it does.
Again, Jesus says that it is possible to “move mountains” with our faith. Of course, he does not mean that we can relocate physical mountains with just a word, but, as one commentator writes, “Every barrier to the accomplishment of the apostolic mission can be removed by faith.”
When Jesus returned to Jerusalem and the temple, the religious teachers confronted him again. They assumed that he was a self-made prophet and decided to ask where he received his authority.
After asking where Jesus had received his authority, Jesus asks them a question before he will reveal where his authority is from. He asks them whether John the Baptists’ baptism was from heaven or man. They are afraid to answer because either way they respond, they will be criticized by either Jesus or the crowd. I am sure that Jesus knew they would be stumped by this question. Of course, the question does not even need to be answered because, if they had thought carefully, they would know where both John’s baptism and Jesus’ authority was from ().
Jesus gives them a parable to illustrate his point. The first son in the parable represents the sinners who believed John’s baptism. The second son represents the religious leaders who continued to deny John’s baptism. The first son may have done some terrible things, but in the end, he did what was right. The second son, however, said he would do what was right, but instead he was not obedient to the father. The religious leaders were continuing in a state of unbelief.
Jesus gives another parable to the religious leaders – a parable of warning to them. There are a number of elements in this parable, but they can generally be thought of as showing a history of Israel and their rejection of God. The master of the vineyard is God and he has given the vineyard to his tenants which are representative of Israel. When the master sent the servants, the tenants rejected them, just like Israel rejected the prophets. However, when the master sent his own son, Jesus, they killed him. The religious leaders answered correctly when they said that the current tenants should be put to death and the vineyard be given to new tenants. These new tenants would be the Gentiles who are grafted in. While they do not replace God’s plan for Israel, they are now occupying the vineyard.