For the text of Matthew 21, click here.
At the end of the last chapter, Jesus and His followers were leaving Jericho, which is near the border of Judea and Perea (modern Jordan). Chapter 21 begins with them getting closer and into the Mount of Olives and Bethpage. Jesus quotes the prophecy about Him coming to them from Zechariah:
9Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the Riverc to the ends of the earth.
11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
13For I have bent Judah as my bow;
I have made Ephraim its arrow.
I will stir up your sons, O Zion,
against your sons, O Greece,
and wield you like a warrior’s sword.
He quotes the first verse, but the people with Him would have gotten that reference to the whole prophecy, I think. The exact wording is a little different but I think that comes from layering translations. Also, a donkey is certainly a beast of burden. It’s an interesting point that it is a beast of burden that is coming for them and that He will “speak peace to nations” and all that. This definitely sounds like an entirely different type of king may have been expected, but Jesus knew what He was doing.
Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem and is celebrated and recognized as a prophet, which serves to freak out the people in power. I can see how that was trouble enough and then He went right into the temple and stirred up all kinds of trouble.
I mean, this is the temple, not just any synagogue. I hadn’t realized it until I was reading the Bible myself but there is a significant difference between a synagogue and the temple. There is only one temple at a time and the first one had been built by Solomon and torn down and rebuilt by the returning exiles and then refurbished by Herod at some point. Everyone else went to the synagogue, the temple was only in Jerusalem. It’s the difference between going to church and going to the Vatican. So here comes Jesus, freshly welcomed into town with a celebration and cloaks and branches on the road and He goes right into the TEMPLE and starts overturning tables.
Specifically, the problem is with people buying and selling things in the temple. I’m sure there was an up-charge for something bought in the temple itself. God had some pretty specific guidelines for what was to be in the temple back when He had the first one built and there was nothing about buying or selling things. People were supposed to bring a part of what they had raised or grown.
After some healings, the kids around the temple start celebrating His presence like the people in the street had and the people who worked there got “indignant” and He just responds by reminding them of a prophecy about kids “preparing praise”. It’s from Psalm 8 and again not exactly worded that way. Let’s just say that Jesus was paraphrasing the intent of the whole psalm rather than quoting a specific verse of it. To read the whole psalm, click here.
After all that time with patience for people, Jesus gets mad at and curses a tree. For me, the story is practically comical. He sees a fig tree, wants something to eat, sees that it doesn’t have anything for Him, and yells at it. I think this means we get a little bit of a pass for every time we yell at our computers so long as it doesn’t include taking the Lord’s name in vain. So Jesus yells at it, and it withers.
The cool thing about the effect of the story is that the disciples, and therefore others as well, are reminded that Jesus has authority over even nature. It’s another point for Him to remind them to have faith in order to do the things that they must do, like move mountains.
I suppose He went back in the temple after looking for a snack and not finding one, where the “chief priests and elders of the people” asked where His authority came from. It’s a decent question after He just expelled a bunch of people and cursed a tree into withering outside. Instead of outright answering, He asks a question of His own but they recognize the trap in it. They can’t win even though they know the answer and so He doesn’t actually answer. The point is for those “in charge” to recognize that He has the actual authority, but they just can’t bring themselves to do it.
I love the parable of the two sons. I hate it when people back talk, but I’d rather they do what they’re told and back talk then agree and not do it. Jesus also uses the moment to remind them of what they did to John the Baptist, again suggesting that what happened to him was an indication of things to come for Himself.
The next parable is about horrible tenants and the question of what to do with people who abuse your trust so much. The scripture that Jesus quotes in the midst of this comes from Psalm 118 and is in vs 22 and 23. The whole psalm is an exultation of God and the many of the things that God does for the people.
This is also another spot where Jesus basically tells them that the mercy of God is about to extend beyond them to people “producing its fruits”. All of this further upsets the chief priests and Pharisees but they’re also scared. It makes sense for them to be scared.
Kill Him and face the people? Let Him live and have Him take all their power?
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