Matthew 21
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
Matthew Chapter 21

Jesus comes to the Mount of Olives. The Jews well knew what was prophesied concerning this mountain; they ought to have entered into the spirit of what the Lord was doing.

The sending for the colt shows the Lord as Jehovah, who has a perfect right to all. "The Lord (Jehovah) hath need of them."* What more thorough than His knowledge of circumstances in the womb of the future? How evident His control over the owner's mind and feeling! Meek as He waMatthew 20

The last chapter closed with the important doctrine that in the kingdom the Lord will remember all suffering and service here for His name's sake. But it is evident that though this be an undoubted truth of Scripture, referred to in Paul's epistles, and elsewhere in the New Testament, it is one which the heart would be ready to abuse to self -righteousness; and that a person forgetting that all is of grace might be disposed to make a claim upon God by reason of anything which He had enabled one to do. Hence a parable is added with a totally different principle, in which the prominent thought is the sovereignty of God, for the express purpose, I think, of guarding against such effects. For God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labour of love which we may have shown toward His name: but there is a danger for us in it. It does not follow, because God will not forget what His people do for Him, that His people are to treasure it up themselves. We have but one thing to set our souls upon: it is Christ Himself; as the apostle said, "This one thing I do: forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before" - not forgetting what we have done wrong: the very reverse of this will be even in glory. When there is not a vestige of humiliation left, we shall have a more lively sense than ever of our manifold failures; but not as producing one feeling of doubt, or fear, or unhappiness. Such thoughts would be contrary to the presence of God. It is a good thing for the believer, while holding fast his full blessing, to think of what he is - to humble himself day by day in the sight of God; always remembering that true humiliation is on the ground of our being children of God. A person who had some office about the Queen, and had proper respect for her, would be thinking of her, not of himself. How much more when we are in the presence of God! This ought to fill our souls with joy in the worship of the Lord. What is comely for the saint, what is most acceptable to God, is not the constant bringing in of ourselves in one way or another, right as this may be, in a certain sense, in our closet. But the praise of God for what He is - above all, in the knowledge of His Son and of His work - is the great end of all the dealings of God with His children. The consciousness of our nothingness really shows the deepest and most real humility. Where there is habitual carelessness and lack of dependence, with their sad results, there will not be a preparedness of heart for worship. The proper thought connected with the Lord's table is that I am going to meet with Christ, to praise Him together with His saints; and this - the sense of being in His presence - keeps a check upon our spirits.

In order to keep us in this sense of grace, the Spirit of God recurs in this chapter to the sovereignty of God, the counteractive to the self-righteousness that is to be found even in the heart of a disciple. Peter said,', We have left all, and followed Thee," and the Lord assures him that it would not be forgotten; but He immediately adds the parable of the householder. Here we find, not the principle of rewards. or righteous recognition of the service done by His people, but God's own rights, His own sovereignty. Hence there are no differences here - no one specially remembered because he had won souls to Christ, or left all for Christ. The principle is, that while God will infallibly own every service and loss for the sake of Christ, yet He maintains His own title to do as He will. Some poor soul may be brought to the knowledge of Christ at the day of his death. God claims His own title to give what He pleases, to give to those who have not wrought anything at all - as we may think - just what is good in His own eyes. This is a very different principle from what we had in the last chapter, and exceedingly counter to the mind of man. "The kingdom of heaven is like to a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (vers. 1, 2).

The common application of this parable to the salvation of the soul is a mistake. For this is that which Christ wrought for, suffered for, and lives for, independently of man. The poor sinner has just to give himself up to be saved by Christ. When brought to an end of himself, acknowledging that he deserves nothing but hell, how sweet that God brings before such a soul that Jesus Christ (and this is a faithful saying) came into the world to save sinners! When content to be saved as nothing but a sinner, and by nothing but Christ, there and then only is true rest given of Him. Wherever one thinks to contribute his part, it will be - only uncertainty, and doubts, and difficulties. Christ alone is our salvation. The man that is saved contributes nothing but his sins. But in this parable the question is not this; it is the work of each servant, as the Lord is pleased to call to labour in His vineyard. If He please, He' will put all upon an equal footing. He will reward the work that is done, but He will give as He will.

"When he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market-place; and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way" (vers. 2-4). It is not grace in the sense of salvation here. Whatsoever is right I will give you." It is God that judges what is becoming. "Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise." And, singular to say, "about the eleventh hour he went out." What a heart this tells! What infinite goodness! that God, who recognizes every service and suffering done for Himself, yet keeps intact the prerogative of going out at the last moment to bring in souls, and occupy them with what might seem to be a little service! But He can give grace to do that little well. "About the eleventh hour he went out . . . and saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first" (vers. 6-8). "Beginning from the last." The last are always spoken of first in this parable. So the steward is told to begin from the last unto the first. And again, when the master of the vineyard has to speak himself, it is the same thing: "The last shall be first, and the first last." It is the sovereignty of grace in giving as He pleases; not alone in saving, but in rewarding in the time of glory; for this is what is spoken of.

Of course the last received their wages thankfully. But when the first heard about it, they began to think themselves entitled to more - they who had borne the burden and heat of the day. But the master reminds them that all was a settled thing before they entered on their work. In their selfishness, they forgot both the terms and the righteousness of him with whom they had to do. If, out of the liberality of his heart, he was pleased to give to the last even as to the first, what was that to them? God maintains His own rights. It is of greatest importance for our souls that we hold to the rights of God in everything. Persons will argue as to whether it is righteous for God to elect this person or that. But on the ground of righteousness all are lost, and for ever. Now, if God is pleased to use His mercy according to His wisdom, and for His glory, toward these poor lost ones, who is to dispute with Him? "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?" God is entitled to act according to what is in His heart: and "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" Is He entitled to act from Himself? He cannot act from man on the grounds of righteousness.There is no foundation on which he can thus deal; it is entirely a question of His own good pleasure. And we must remember there is not a man that is lost but rejects the mercy of God, despises it, or uses it for his own selfish purposes in this world. The man that is saved is the only one that has a true sense of sin, that gives himself up as lost, and falls back upon God's mercy in Christ to save a lost sinner.

To the complainant, the goodman of the house answered, "Friend, I do thee no wrong. Didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" (vers. 13-15). There comes out the whole secret. Man, yea, a professing disciple, a labourer in His vineyard, may be disputing because he thinks himself entitled to more than another who, in his opinion, has done little as compared with himself. The question of being a child of God does not enter in this parable; and, as to service, one may be a true servant or a mere hireling.

I would just ask, Why in the last chapter it was, "Many that are first shall be last, and the last first," and here, "The last shall be first, and the first last?" In speaking about rewards, according to the work done, the failure of man is intimated; for indeed weakness soon shows itself - "The first shall be last." But in this new parable it is the sovereignty of God that never fails; consequently here, "The last shall be first and the first last." "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present evil world." There was a first, we may say, who became last - a labourer for the Lord, who had not given up Christianity, but grown tired of the path of unremitting service for Christ. If, instead of honour now, the thousands of those who are engaged in the service of Christ were to receive scorn and persecution, there would be no slight thinning of their ranks. But shame and suffering must be looked for by him who intelligently seeks to serve faithfully the Lord in this world. Demas may have been a believer; but the trial and reproach, the love of ease and other things all came strongly over his spirit, and he abandoned the service of the Lord. "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's" is a similar principle.

And now the Lord is going up to Jerusalem, and prepares His disciples for still greater trouble. I 'Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again" (vers. 18, 19). Even after this, so selfish is the heart of man, the mother of Zebedee's children comes to Him with her sons, who were among the apostles themselves; and, paying her worship to Him, she desires a certain thing of Him. "And He said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom" (ver. 21). So perfect is the humiliation of Christ, such His self-abandonment (He, the only One who had perfect knowledge of, and right to everything by His personal glory), that He says, I have no place to give in My kingdom - it is not mine to give, save as My Father may desire. But I have something to give you now: it is suffering. Yes, suffering for and with Him is what Christ gives His servants now - a high privilege. When the apostle Paul was converted, he asked, "What wilt Thou have me to do?" The Lord tells him what great things he should suffer for His name's sake. The highest honour we can have here is suffering with and for Christ. This our Lord lets the mother of Zebedee's children know. "Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able" (ver. 22). He took in two different kinds of suffering: the cup, which is inward suffering; and the baptism, which expresses what we are immersed into outwardly. The two include every kind of trial, inward and outward. He is not here speaking about the cross in atonement, for there can be no fellowship in this. But there might be the cross in rejection, though not as atonement. There may be the sharing of what Christ suffered from man, but not of what He suffered from God. When He was suffering for sin on the cross, relationship is dropped, as He bows in infinite grace to the place of judgment. He is made sin. He realizes what it is to be forsaken of God, making Himself responsible for the sins of men. He says, therefore, in that terrible moment on the cross, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? In this we can have no part. God forsook Jesus that He might not forsake us. God never forsakes a Christian nor hides Himself from him.

When the Lord says, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able." They did not know what they said, any more than what they asked. For, when our Lord was only in danger of death, we find that they all forsook Him and fled. As for one of them, if he did venture into the hall of judgment, it was merely, as it were, under the high priest's robe; that is, on the plea of being known to him. When Peter followed on his own ground, it was only to show his utter weakness. In presence of such a cup as this, and such a baptism, the Lord says, "Ye shall indeed drink of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (not, ye are able): "but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father" (ver. 23). I would just remark that the words which are put in italics (and inserted without warrant) mar the sense very much. Without them the sense is better. It was His to give to those only to whom the Father destined it. Christ is the administrator of the rewards of the kingdom. As He was the Servant in suffering, He also shall dispense the rewards and glories of the kingdom.

"And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren" (ver. 24). No doubt it seemed a very right thing to put down these two brethren who were so full of themselves. But why were they thus indignant? Their pride was wounded; they too were full of themselves. Christ was not filled with indignation - it was a sorrow to Him: but they were moved with hot feeling against the two brethren. We have to take care. Often where we seek to pull down those that seek to exalt themselves, there is self or! our part too. Suppose one of us has fallen into sin. There is often a good deal of strong feeling about it: but is this the best way of showing our sense of sin? Those who feel most for God, feel also the deepest for those who have slipped away from Him. "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. "

"But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them; and they that are great exercise authority upon them" (ver. 25). He put His finger upon that very love of greatness in themselves. They were loud in condemning it in James and John; but their feeling betrayed the same thing in their own hearts. "It shall not be so among you," says the Lord, "but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." There is a difference between the two words. The word translated "minister "means a servant. But in verse 27 it is a bondman or slave. Do you want to be really great according to the principles of My kingdom? Go down as low as you can. Do you want to be the greatest? Go down the lowest of all. Whoever has least of self is greatest in the Lord's eyes. For "the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (ver. 28). He took the lowest place of all, and gave His life a ransom for many. Blessed for ever be His name!

The last verses properly belong to the next chapter, which is the approach of our Lord to Jerusalem from the way of Jericho. And it is necessary to take the two chapters together, to have the proper connection of all that is given us here. But I cannot close this part of the subject without recalling attention to the principles of the kingdom of God as shown us by Christ Himself. What a call for self-renouncing service! What a joy to think that everything that now is a trial will be found as a joy in that kingdom! There are some who think they are favoured with few opportunities for serving the Lord - who are shut out from what their hearts would desire. Let us remember that He who knows everything has a right to give as He will to His own and of His own. He will do the very best according to His heart. Our one business now is to think of Him who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. That is our prime call and need - to be Christ's servants in serving each other.

In the transfiguration we had a picture of the coming kingdom; Christ, the Head and Centre, with representatives of its heavenly and earthly aspects; on the one side, Moses and Elias glorified; and on the other, the three disciples in their natural bodies. This was a turning point in the history of our Lord's course, which John passes by, but it is given fully in the other three Gospels. The Cross, because of sin, is the foundation of all glory. There could be nothing stable or holy without it. It is the sole channel through which flows all our blessings; and Christ's decease, we know from Luke, was the theme on the holy mount. But John gives us nothing of that scene; because he is occupied with Christ as the Son. In John we have, not the human side, but the deity of the Lord Jesus: His rejection by Israel, and Israel's consequent rejection by God, are assumed from the beginning of that Gospel: as we read, "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." Now the transfiguration does not bring out the deity of Christ, but His glory as exalted Son of Man, owned withal as Son of God. This was a sample of the glory of the Lord in His future kingdom; with the types of some risen and heavenly, and of others in their natural or earthly state. But John does not show us the kingdom, but the Father's house. The world may in some measure, see the glory, as fore shown on the mount, but this is not our best portion. While we look for "that blessed hope" and the appearing of the glory, our hope is to be with Christ in the many-mansioned house of the Father - a hope which is far beyond any blessing of the kingdom. Neither will it be displayed. The secrets of love and communion of Christ with the Church are not for display before the world. Doubtless the glory and the place of power which the Church will possess in the coming kingdom will be displayed; for these form some of the chief features in the millennial reign. Thus the mount of transfiguration holds an important place in the three synoptic Gospels, as showing Christ in the capacity of Messiah, Servant, and Son of Man. As such, He will be displayed after the pattern in the mount, and accordingly, the three Evangelists, who present Christ in these three aspects, give us the transfiguration. The thought of present reception by the Jews, as we have seen, had been entirely given up, and the new thing coming in begins to be announced. Christ must suffer and die.

The end of our chapter, from Matthew 20:30, is a preface to Matthew 21, where we have the last formal presentation of the King - not with the thought of being received; but for the filling up of man's iniquity and the accomplishment of the counsels of God, He presents Himself as such. The Lord is on His way to Jerusalem, and two blind men cry unto Him, Have mercy on us, O Lord, Thou Son of David! If they knew nothing of the impending crisis, they notwithstanding were completely in the spirit of the scene. The Holy Ghost was acting upon them that they might bear testimony to Jesus, who was now for the last time to be publicly presented as Heir to the throne. What a picture! The seeing ones, in their blind hardness of heart, rejecting their own Messiah, though owned of Gentiles as the born King of the Jews; and the poor blind ones, through faith, loudly confessing Him the true King. Perhaps their principal, their one desire, may have been to be healed of their blindness. Be it so; but God, at any rate, gave to their faith the proper object and the just confession for that moment, for He was guiding the scene. Whatever was the thought of the blind men in crying after the Lord, God's design was that there should be a suited testimony rendered to His King, the "Son of David." A Jew would well understand all that was implied in the title. What a condemnation of Pharisees and scribes who had rejected Christ! The highest point of view is not always the most proper. The circumstances vary. Thus the confession of Christ as "Son of David" was more in keeping here than if they had said, "Thou Son of God." We have only to weigh the various titles to see that in hailing Him according to His Jewish glory, they uttered that which was in unison with what God was then doing.

Let me ask, reverently, Why should the resurrection of Lazarus be omitted in the first three Gospels? Man, if these accounts had been his work, would not have omitted it, surely. It would have been thought far too important to be left out under any consideration. The omission of so stupendous a miracle, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, points out clearly that it is the Spirit of God who wrought sovereignty and writes by each with a special purpose. If so, that which men call inconsistencies and imperfections, are really perfections in God's word. It was a part of the purpose of God to omit the miracle in some, for He only presents those facts which suit His design in each Gospel. This miracle of raising Lazarus does not show us Christ as the Messiah, or the Servant, or the Son of Man, but as the Son of God, who gives life and raises the dead - a grand point of doctrine in John 5 - therefore it is given in John's Gospel alone. There were other miracles of raising the dead in the other Gospels; but the truth of the Sonship and present glory of Jesus in communion with the Father is not in these others the prominent one. It is not, therefore, as Son of God that He appears in them. Take, for instance, the raising the widow's son at Nain. What are the circumstances brought into emphasis there? He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Luke, or rather the Spirit, is careful to note this; for it is what gives point to the touching story. "He restored him to his mother." It is the Lord's human sympathy, the Lord as Son of Man, which is the object here. True, He must have been Son of God, or He could not have thus raised the dead. If the Godhead and relation to the Father, of Him who was made flesh, had been the only truth to show, the attendant circumstances need not have been narrated; the Gospel of John might have sufficed, as it does, to display eminently the Lord Jesus as the Son.

All this manifests the perfectness of the word of God. When the mind is subject to Him this is seen, and He teaches those who submit themselves and confide in Him. A blind man is healed in John 9, (not these near Jericho, who appeal to Jesus) but, as Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from his birth. Rejected of men, Jesus was going about seeking for objects on whom to bestow His blessing; the Son who, unsought, saw the deep need, and dealt accordingly. It was an opportunity of working the works of God. He waits for nothing, goes to the man, and the work is done, though it was the sabbath-day. How could the Son of God rest in the presence of sin and wretchedness, whatever religious pride might feel? The Lord leaves him not until he can own Him "Son of God," and worship. Moreover, we may say, John never mentions a miracle simply for the display of power, but to attest the divine glory of Christ. In Matthew it is the rejected Messiah. Here (in chap. 20), being despised by the nation, God makes two blind men bear testimony to Him as Son of David; which, when thus owned by the nation, will bring in Israel's restoration with triumphant power.

The place (near Jericho) was accursed. But if Jesus has come as Messiah, although the Jews reject Him, He shows Himself to be Jehovah - not only Messiah under the law, but Jehovah above it; and so He blesses them even at Jericho, and they followed Him. This was the place that Israel should have taken: they ought to have known their King. The two blind men were a witness for Him, and against them. There was a competent testimony - "In the mouth of two witnesses," etc. Mark and Luke, whose object was not to bring out testimony valid according to the law, mention only one.s, sitting upon an ass, the King of Zion according to the prophet, He was indeed as surely Jehovah as Messiah coming in His name - the "need of them" as amazing as the glory of His person.

* Matthew alone mentions "an ass tied, and a colt with her," according to Zechariah 9:9. "They brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments upon them, and He sat upon them" (vers. 2, 7). The three other Gospels mention the colt only. Here, in Matthew, the old Israel and the renewed nation are thus connected. The Lord's entry in Jerusalem is upon the "colt, the foal of an ass" - the new Israel will bring Him in with Hosannas! The dispensational view in Matthew is thus again set before us. The ass was, according to the law, "unclean"; but its foal might be redeemed. See Job 11:12; Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20, etc. Ed.

The Lord goes onward to Jerusalem. And the multitude cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" They apply Psalm 118 to Messiah, and they were right. They might be very unintelligent, and some perhaps may have joined later in the fearful cry, "His blood be upon us;" but here the Lord guides the scene. He comes to the city; but He is unknown: His own know Him not. They ask, "Who is this?" So little understanding had the multitude, that they answer, "This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." But though they only see Jesus of Galilee, yet He shows Himself as King, and takes a place of authority and power. He enters into the temple, and overthrows the tables of the money-changers, etc. This may certainly be looked at as a miraculous incident; for it was astonishing that He whom they knew only as the prophet of Nazareth should so boldly enter their temple, and drive out all who were desecrating it. But they turn not upon Him. The power of the God of the temple was there, and they flee; their consciences doubtless echoing the Lord's words, that they had made His house a den of thieves. But here we see, not only the testimony of the crowd to the kingship of Jesus, but the response to it, as it were, in the act of Jesus. As if He had said, "You hail Me as King, and I will demonstrate that I am." Accordingly, He reigns, as it were, in righteousness, and cleanses the defiled temple. Into what a state had the Jews not fallen! 'My house . . . the house of prayer . . . but ye have made it a den of thieves! "

There were two cleansings - one before our Lord's public ministry, and the other at its close. John records the first; Matthew the last.

In our Gospel it is an act of Messianic power, where He cleanses His own house, or, at least, acts for God, as His King. In John it is rather zeal for the injured honour of His Father's house - "Make not My Father's house a house of merchandise." A collateral reason, why John tells us of the first cleansing in the beginning of his Gospel, is that he assumes the rejection of Israel at once. Hence their rejection by Christ, set forth in this act, was the inevitable consequence of their rejection of Him: and this is the point from which John sets out when he begins with the ways of the Lord before His ministry.

But now the blind and the lame come to Him to be healed. "He healed their diseases and forgave their iniquities." Both these classes were the hated of David's soul - the effect of the taunt upon David (2 Samuel 5:6-8). How blessed the contrast in the Son of David! He turns out the selfish religionists from the temple, and receives there the poor, blind, and lame, and heals them - perfect righteousness and perfect grace.

On the one hand, there are the voices of the children crying, "Hosanna," etc. - the ascription of praise to Him as King, the Son of David; on the other, there is the Lord acting as King, and doing that which the Jews well knew had been prophesied of their King. He was there the confessed King; yet not by the chief priests and scribes, who took umbrage, wilfully and knowingly rejecting Him - "We will not have this man to reign over us." Naturally, therefore, they seek to stop the mouths of the children, and ask Jesus to rebuke them: "Hearest Thou what these say?" But the Lord sanctions their praises: "Have ye never heard, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise" (ver. 16). The power of Jehovah was there, and there was a mouth to own it, though only in babes and sucklings. So "He left them" - a significant and solemn act. They rejected Him, and He abandons them, turning His back upon the beloved city.

Returning to Jerusalem on the next day, the Lord is hungered, and seeks fruit from the fig-tree, but finds none. He then pronounces a curse upon it, and presently it withered away. The sentence on the fig-tree was an emblematic curse upon the people - Israel was the fig-tree. The Lord found nothing but leaves, and the word is that henceforth no fruit shall grow upon it for ever. The nation had failed in fruit to God, when they had every means and opportunity for glorifying and serving Him; and now all their advantages are taken away, and the old stock is given up - a dead tree.

Mark says that the time of figs was not yet. Many have been perplexed at this, as if the Lord sought figs at a time when there could be none. The meaning is, that the time for the gathering of figs was not come - the time of figs was not yet. There ought to have been a show of fruit, but there were only leaves - only outward profession. It was thoroughly barren. The disciples wondered; but the Lord says to them further, "If ye shall say to this mountain (symbolizing Israel's place among the nations, as exalted among them), Be thou cast into the sea," etc. This has been done. Not only is there no fruit borne for God, but Israel, as a nation, has been cast into the sea - as lost in the mass of people - trodden down and oppressed under the feet of the Gentiles.

The chief priests and the elders of Israel now come to attack the Lord: they demand of Him, "By what authority doest Thou these things?" - the driving out the traders from the temple precincts - "and who gave Thee this authority?" It was not given by them, indeed; and their eyes were closed as to His glory. Our Lord answers by asking what were their thoughts of John's baptism. He appeals neither to miracles nor prophecy, but to conscience. How evident had been the accomplishment of the ancient oracles in His person, in His life and in His ministry! How full the testimony of signs and wonders wrought by Him! Yet their question proved how vain all had been, as His question proved either their dishonesty or their blindness. In either case, who were they to judge? Little did they think that as they sought to canvass the Lord of glory, they were in truth but discovering their own distance and alienation from God. So, indeed, it ever is. Our judgment, or refusal to judge, of what concerns Christ is an unfailing gauge of our own condition. In this instance (vers. 23-27) the want of conscience was manifest - nowhere so fatal as in religious guides. "They reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people: for all hold John as a prophet." God was not in their thoughts; and thus all was false and wrong. And if God be not the object, self is the idol. These chief priests were at bottom but slaves of the people over whose faith, or superstition, they had dominion. "We fear the people." This at least was true. "And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell." To what a miserable subterfuge they are driven - blind guides by their own acknowledgment! To such the Lord declines to give any account of His authority. Again and again they had seen the works of His gracious power, and their question furnished the proof that an answer was useless. They would not see if they could.

But our Lord does more. In the parable of the two sons He convicts these religious leaders of being farther away from God than the most despised classes in the land. "Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not," etc. (ver. 32.) Decent lip-homage forms - "I go, sir; and went not" - such was the religion of those who stood highest in the world's estimate of that day. Hypocrisy was there, to cover self-will and pride with the cloak of religiousness, which made them more obdurate than people who disgraced the decencies of society in riotous or otherwise disreputable ways. They were more accessible to the stirring appeals of John than these Pharisees. Deaf to the call of righteousness, they were hardened as well against the operations of God's grace, even where it was most conspicuous. "And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." Repentance awakens the sense of relationship to God as the one sinned against. The resolutions of nature begin and end in "I go, sir." The Spirit of God produces the deep conviction of sin against Him, with neither room for nor desire of excuse. But it is lost for worldly religion, which, resisting alike God's testimony and the evidence of conversion in others, sinks into increasing darkness and hostility to God. The judge of all therefore pronounces these proud, self-complacent men worse than those they scorned. They were no judges now - they were judged.

Again, the Lord bids them hear another parable, setting forth not merely their conduct toward God, but God's dealing with them, in a twofold form: first, in view of human responsibility as under law; and, secondly, in view of God's grace under the kingdom of heaven. The former is developed in the parable of the householder (vers. 33-41); the latter, in the king's marriage-feast for his son (Matthew 22:1-14). Let us look at the first.

"Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: and when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it" (vers. 33, 34). It is a picture founded on and filling up the sketch of Isa. 5 - a picture of God's peculiar favours to Israel. "What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it?" He had brought them out of Egypt, and settled them in a goodly land, with every advantage afforded by His goodness and power. There was definite arrangement, abundant blessing, ample protection. Then He looked for fruit, reminding them of His rights by the prophets. "And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another" (ver. 35). There was full patience too. "Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise." Was there a single possibility that remained? a hope, however forlorn? "Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son." Alas, it was but the crowning of their iniquity, and the occasion of bringing out their guilt and hopeless ruin! For "when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him" (vers. 37-39). They recognized the Messiah then, but only so as to provoke their malice and worldly lusts. "Let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance." It was not only lack of fruit, persistent refusal of all the just claims of God and robbing Him of every due return, but the fullest outbreak of rebellious hatred, when tested by the presence of the Son of God in their midst. Probation is over; the question of man's state and of God's efforts to get fruit from His vineyard is at an end. The death of the rejected Messiah has closed this book. Man - the Jew - ought to have made a becoming answer to God for the benefits so lavishly showered on him; but his answer was - the cross. It is too late to talk of what men should be. Tried by God under the most favourable circumstances, they betrayed and shed the innocent blood; they killed the Heir to seize on His inheritance. Hence judgment is now the only portion man under law has to expect. "When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" Seared as the poor Jews were, they could not but confess the sad truth, "He, will miserably destroy those wicked men," etc. (ver. 41). The wickedness of the husbandmen failed to achieve its own selfish end, as surely as it had never rendered fruits meet for Him whose provident care left men without excuse. But the rights of the householder were intact; and if there was still "the lord of the vineyard," was He indifferent to the accumulated guilt of wronged servants and of His outraged Son? It could not be. He must, themselves being the witnesses, avenge the more summarily, because of His long patience and incomparable love so shamefully spurned and defied. Others would have the vineyard let, to them, who should render Him the fruits in their seasons.

Thus the death of Christ is viewed in this parable, not as in the counsels of God, but as the climax of man's sin and the closing scene of his responsibility. Whether law or prophets or Christ sought fruit for God, all was vain, not because God's claim was not righteous, but because man - aye, favoured man, with every conceivable help - was hopelessly evil. In this aspect the rejection of the Messiah had the most solemn meaning; for it demonstrated, beyond appeal, that man, the Jew, had no love for God, by whom he had been blessed. it was not only that he was evil and unrighteous, but he could not endure perfect love and goodness in the person of Christ. Had there been a single particle of divine light or love in men's heart, they would have reverenced the Son; but now the full proof stood out, that the natural man is hopelessly bad; and that the presence of a divine Person, who came in love and goodness, a Man among men, gave only the final opportunity to strike the most malicious and insulting blow at God Himself. In a word, man was now shown and pronounced to be LOST. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin. but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father." Christ's death was the grand turning-point in the ways of God; the moral history of man, in the most important sense, terminates there.

"Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?" (ver. 42). It was the conduct of those who took the lead in Israel, revealed in their own Scriptures. Marvellous doing On the Lord's part! - in manifest reversal of such as set themselves up, and were accepted, as acting in His name: yet to be marvellous in Israel's eyes, when the now hidden but exalted Saviour comes forth, the joy of a converted people, who shall then welcome and for ever bless their once-rejected King; for truly His mercy endures for ever. Meanwhile His lips utter the sentence of sure rejection from their high estate: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom .of God [not of heaven, for this they had not] shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (ver. 43). Nor was this all: for "whosoever shall fall on this stone" (Himself in humiliation) 'I shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall" (i.e., consequent on His exaltation), "it will grind him to powder" (ver. 44). Thus, He sets forth the ensuing stumbles of unbelief; and further, the positive execution of destructive judgment, whether individual or national, Jewish or Gentile, at His appearing in glory. (Compare Daniel 2.)

It is in all respects a notable scene, and the Lord, now drawing to the conclusion of His testimony, speaks with piercing decision. So that, spiritually impotent and dull as the chief priests and Pharisees might be, and couched as His words were in parables, the drift and aim were distinctly felt. And yet, whatever their murderous will, they could do nothing till His hour was come; for the people in a measure bowed to His word, and took Him fora prophet. He brought God in presence of their conscience, and their awe feebly answered to His words of coming woe.

Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!
Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.
The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?
But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.
And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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