Matthew 21

Matthew 21:5


(a) The daughter of Zion is a poetic name for Jerusalem (Is. 10:32, Zec. 9:9).

Historically, Zion was a hilltop fortress captured by David and renamed the City of David (2 Sam. 5:6–7). The hill became the heart of the city of Jerusalem (Ps. 135:21).

(b) Behold, your king. This was one of those rare occasions where Jesus referred to himself as a king. See also Matt. 25:34, Mark 15:2, Luke 22:29-30, 23:3, John 18:36-37.

Many people in scripture recognized Jesus as the king who reigns over an everlasting kingdom. These people included the magi (Matt. 2:2), the disciples (Luke 19:38), the palm-waving people of Jerusalem (John 12:13), Paul and Silas (Acts 17:7), the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:32-33), and the seventh angel (Rev. 11:15). However, during his earthly ministry, Jesus rarely referred to himself in such royal terms.

Matthew 21:9

The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!”

(a) Hosanna is a cry for help, “Save us, Lord!” The crowds were shouting lines from Psalm 118 and verse 25 is “Save us, we pray, O Lord!”

(b) The son of David was another name for the Messiah (see entry for Matt. 1:1).

(c) Blessed is he; see Ps. 118:26.

(d) The name of the Lord. In the old days, to say a prophet came in the name of the Lord was to recognize him as a true prophet of God (Deut. 18:22). So when the people of Jerusalem hailed Jesus as coming in the name of the Lord, while singing the salvation song of Psalm 118, they were saying, “Jesus, we recognize you as the true Savior.”

Matthew 21:10

When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”

Who is this? It seems inconceivable that after years of ministry there were people in Jerusalem who were unacquainted with Jesus, but this was the week before Passover. The city was full of pilgrims who had come from distant lands and who had never seen Jesus before.

Matthew 21:12

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.

Drove out. This was the second time Jesus cleared the temple. The first time happened at the beginning of his public ministry (John 2:13–17). On that occasion, Jesus drove out the livestock with a homemade whip and he overturned the tables of the money changers. Evidently, the merchants had moved back in, so Jesus cleared them out again. Mark adds that Jesus also stopped those who were carrying merchandise through the temple (Mark 11:16).

The temple precinct was a massive 35 acre complex. For Jesus to put a stop to all trade and through-traffic would have required a coordinated effort involving his disciples. But shut it down he did. The religious leaders were alarmed. Since Jesus had become a threat to their business, they resolved to kill him (Mark 11:18, Luke 19:47).

Matthew 21:13

And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”

Robbers. The original word (lestes) means armed brigands of the kind who robbed and beat the traveler on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:30), and who also menaced Paul in his travels (2 Cor. 11:26). Two such brigands were crucified beside Christ (Matt. 27:38), and Barabbas was also a brigand (John. 18:40).

Matthew 21:15

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant

(a) The chief priests; see entry for Matt. 2:4.

(b) Scribes; see entry for Matt. 5:20.

(c) Hosanna; see entry for Matt. 21:9.

(d) The son of David was another name for the Messiah. See entry for Matt. 1:1.

(e) Indignant. The religious leaders did not recognize Jesus as Savior so they were offended by the shouting of the children.

Matthew 21:19

Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

(a) Found nothing. The cursing of the fruitless fig tree was a prophetic act symbolizing Israel’s self-inflicted rejection.

John, the last of the old covenant prophets, urged the religious Jews to “Bear the fruit of repentance,” meaning put your faith in Jesus (see entry for Matt. 3:8). They didn’t listen. Then for three years Jesus searched Israel in vain for the fruit of faith. When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the start of his final week, the people waved branches without fruit and the next morning, Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree (Mark 11:14).

(b) The fig tree withered. The Israelites cut themselves off through unbelief. “God did not reject his people … they were broken off because of unbelief” (Rom. 11:2, 20).

The religious Jews trusted in themselves. Their source was self and their root was their downfall. Just as the fig tree withered from the roots up, the religious Jews rotted from the inside-out. What should they have done? They should have listened to Jesus. They should have abandoned their quest for self-improvement, put their faith in God, and allowed themselves to be grafted into the living Vine.

Matthew 21:21

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly 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 even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.

Do not doubt. Like fear, doubt is a faith-killer. The one who doubts has the mind like a storm-tossed sea (Jas. 1:6). The remedy for doubt is not to whip yourself into a frenzy of DIY faith, but to remind yourself of the awesome goodness of God.

Matthew 21:23

When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”

(a) The chief priests; see entry for Matt. 2:4.

(b) Elders; see entry for Matt. 16:21.

(c) Teaching. Jesus often taught and preached the gospel in the temple (Matt. 26:55, Luke 20:1). He did this because that’s where people congregated (Luke 21:38) and to fulfill the words of the prophet Malachi: “the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1).

Matthew 21:31

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.

The tax collectors and prostitutes entered the kingdom of heaven because they believed Jesus. In contrast, the religious leaders rejected him. Although they saw themselves as God’s servants, they were hypocrites. They were the son who talked a good line but never showed up (see next verse).

(b) Before you. Unacquainted with the old wine of rule-keeping and proper behavior, the tax collectors and prostitutes were more than ready to imbibe the new wine of unconditional love and acceptance. See entry for Luke 5:39.

Matthew 21:32

“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

(a) John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord (Matt. 3:1-3). He told people to believe in Jesus (Acts 19:4).

(b) The way of righteousness is synonymous with the gospel of grace for both reveal the righteousness that comes from God (see entry for Php. 3:9). This righteousness is received by believing in Jesus (Rom. 3:22). John encouraged people to believe in Jesus the Righteous One.

(c) You did not believe him. The chief priests and the elders were so invested in their own righteousness that they did not submit to the righteousness that comes from God through Jesus Christ.

Further reading: “The parable of the two sons

The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got a suggestion? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this page, please use the comment form below.

Leave a Reply