The King's House
In the last section studied, we read about Jesus' final trip from His home in the northern part of Israel. As He journeys towards Jerusalem we see Him continue His ministry of teaching and healing as He prepares to enter the city where He will suffer a series of challenges and rejections culminating in His crucifixion
Jesus and the First Visit to the Temple
For the Jews, the temple was the seat of God's power—God dwelled among them in the form of the temple. It was the center of religious, political, social and commercial life. Your standing at the temple determined your standing within Jewish society. In this hierarchy, Jesus stood at the top of the list as the divine Messiah.
The temple was built to exercise the Jewish religion that, in turn, was created to prepare the people and the world for the Savior. The Savior was now here and ready to be recognized by His people; however we see that instead of welcoming Him to the place that was rightfully His, the Jews unwittingly rejected, tortured and executed Him. This terrible chain of events begins as Jesus, arriving from the northern country, prepares to enter into Jerusalem and the temple which are His.
1When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. 3"If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5"SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION,
'BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU,
GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY,
EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'"
6The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, 7and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. 8Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
9The 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!"
10When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?" 11And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee."
- Matthew 21:1-11
Some are confused with the idea of two animals, a donkey and her foal/colt. Jesus was to enter Jerusalem as the prophet Zechariah spoke long before. The prophet said that unlike human kings and saviors who rode in a victory parade on a horse, God's King and Savior would enter the city in a more humble fashion. He would come in on a colt that had never been ridden, thus demonstrating humility and purity. The second animal (the foal's mother) was brought along to steady and reassure the younger animal.
As in many cases, the people, especially the poor, are thrilled to see Jesus arriving, according to scriptures, to the seat of power. They may have thought that with Jesus in Jerusalem things would change. He would be a new and compassionate leader. Once into the city itself the procession causes a stir among the people and Matthew gives us a short clip of a conversation between the group accompanying the Lord in the procession, and the people in the city itself. Remember that most of Jesus' ministry has been done in the north around Galilee. The people accompanying Him point proudly to the fact that the great prophet is from their part of the country.
This will be the high point in Jesus' ministry to these people. Once He goes into the temple area, His opposition will grow.
12And 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. 13And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN."
14And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15But 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 16and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?" 17And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
- Matthew 21:12-17
It helps to understand what's happening here if we realize the reason Jesus was indignant with there people. Selling animals was permitted because the Law required animal sacrifice. It was also lawful to exchange money because Jewish pilgrims came from all over the world to worship at Jerusalem and so needed their foreign currency exchanged so they could purchase animals for sacrifice and pay the temple tax. The problem was that there was plenty of space outside and near the temple walls to do this trading necessary for the proper functioning of the temple. What the Jewish leaders had permitted, however, was to allow these merchants to eventually set up their animal stalls and money tables within the walls of the temple itself. The temple was surrounded by various courtyards that were allotted to different groups of people. At the time this included priests and Levites, men, women as well as Gentile coverts.
With time the leaders had allowed trade and money changing to go on in the courtyard of the Gentiles. This defiled their only area of worship since they couldn't mix with the Jewish worshipers. This was a form of bigotry and disrespect to them and to God. Jesus chases them out and quotes a passage from Isaiah the prophet where Isaiah spoke of the day when even Gentiles would worship the true God and God's temple would universally become a "house of prayer" for both Jews and Gentiles.
By desecrating their courtyard, the Jews were denying these people their chance to worship properly and frustrating the plans of God for His temple and all of the people who desired to worship Him there. After chasing them out, Jesus heals those who come to Him in faith and He receives the praise offered to Him by children.
Matthew demonstrates that it was not that the King was not received in the temple; He was acknowledged, but by those who were furthest down on the scale of importance: those who were infirmed and children. The leaders, however, did not welcome Him. Those entrusted with the leadership, teaching, and preparation of the people and the temple for His coming refused to accept His credentials even after they witness His miracles within the very walls of the temple itself! They rebuke Him for receiving the praise and honor from the children suggesting that it was improper for a mere "man" to receive such praise reserved for God. Jesus directly quotes Psalm 8:2, where David declares that God's majesty is so evident, even children recognize and proclaim it.
18Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19Seeing 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.20Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?"
21And 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. 22"And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.
- Matthew 21:18-22
The Lord spends the night in Bethany (probably with Mary, Martha and Lazarus) before returning to the city the next day. The scene with the fig tree is a living parable that mirrors what is taking place between Jesus and the nation that will reject Him. Fig trees produce their fruit and then the leaves follow gradually (fruit first, then leaves). Seeing the leaves appear, Jesus fully expects to have fruit from the tree, as there should be. It was the time for fruit but the tree only produced leaves; a promise unfulfilled. Jesus curses the tree (not out of anger or vindictiveness); He simply sends it to its demise with a word (it is not good for anything anyways). The parallel, of course, is that Jesus has come at the right time to save His people, and there are signs that they are ready:
- There is temple worship
- There are teachers teaching the word
- These are all the exterior signs of a religious people
But the fruit that Jesus is looking for from them is the fruit of faith and righteousness and brotherly love—this fruit is not present among the trappings of their external religion. The lesson is that what happens to the fig tree will happen to the nation: it will be destroyed to the point where it will not be able to produce fruit any more. The Apostles are amazed wanting to know how Jesus had done this thing to the tree. His answer is a reassurance that the same power at work to wither the tree will be at work in them for the purpose of the gospel. Their preaching and teaching after He is gone will be met with equally great opposition (a mountain of opposition), and their faith will overcome it.
Jesus and the Second Visit to the Temple – Matthew 21:23-25:46
On the second day, Jesus comes to the temple, but this time He makes a less spectacular entrance. On this second visit the various Jewish leaders are ready for Him, and each take turns disputing His authority or directing His claims. Matthew describes what happens as Jesus alternates between confrontations with the leaders and responses to them in the form of parables spoken to the people. Note how the action flows:
- The various leaders attack Him in some way or another.
- Jesus responds to their attacks directly.
- He then teaches the crowds concerning the attacks, in front of His attackers, in parables to the people so that only the believers understand His comments.
- This drives His antagonists to plot His destruction.
We don't have time to read or to go into detail concerning each encounter and subsequent teaching so I will give you an overview of the different scenes as they happened.
Challenge from priests and elders Matthew 21:23-27
As He enters the temple area on this second visit and begins to teach the crowds, He is immediately challenged by some priests and elders (probably members of the Sanhedrin—ruling council made up of religious leaders). They challenge His legitimacy and His credentials to teach in the temple, an area they controlled. If He claimed His deity, they would stone Him. If He denied His deity, they would dismiss Him. Jesus replies with a question about John the Baptist and what authority he taught by. This put them in a bind because if they acknowledged John's heavenly calling, Jesus would ask them why they didn't obey John. If they dismissed John's authority they would offend and alienate the people and lose their influence. So they refused to answer and Jesus did the same, checkmating their attack.
Parables and teaching for the people
- Matthew 21:28-22:14
While the leaders look on:
A. Parable of the two sons – vs. 28-32
After the confrontation, Jesus tells several parables, the first one being a simple story of two sons asked to work by their father. One son says yes but doesn't do it. The other refuses at first, but changes his mind and obeys later on.
Jesus explains that those who disobey and repent will be received by God, and those who give mainly lip service (like these leaders), will be rejected.
B. Parable of the landowner – vs. 33-46
He follows this with the parable of the landowner. In this parable, a landowner leases his land and equipment to others to work. When he sends his people to collect his share at harvest, the workers beat and kill them. Finally, he sends his own son to collect, and they murder him, and because of this the landowner will come to destroy these workers and rent the property out to others who will pay their dues. Jesus goes on to explain that this parable is about the Jews and what will happen to them if they reject God's Son.
In the end Matthew writes that the chief priests and Pharisees were enraged that He spoke against them, and they began a plot to kill Him.
C. Parable of the marriage feast – 22:1-14
Jesus is aware of their intentions and responds with yet another parable, this time one about a marriage feast. In this parable, a king prepares a great feast, but none of the invited guests come, each giving some lame excuse. The king responds by inviting strangers, the poor and the disenfranchised to his meal. The point here is that the Jews were first invited to share the kingdom with Christ, but through their lack of faith, refused. So God had called the non–Jews to share in His kingdom.
Once again, a thinly disguised rebuke of the leaders for their lack of faith and the consequences of this.
Challenge of the Pharisees
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17"Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" 18But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19"Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. 20And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21They said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." 22And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
- Matthew 22:15-22
The dilemma here was that if Jesus said "Yes, it's ok to pay," they would have denounced Him as a pagan sympathizer. If he said "No," they would accuse Him of stirring up rebellion.
Jesus answers with the essential truth of the matter: do your duty in the human realm, do your duty in the spiritual realm. And with this answer, He silences His attackers.
Challenge of the Sadducees
The Sadducees were priests, but priest who came from the upper-class wealthy and noble families. They only held the first five books of the Law to be authoritative and did not believe in the prophets, angels or resurrection. They challenge Him with a riddle about a woman with seven husbands and ask Him whose wife will she be of the seven when she dies and goes to heaven. This was meant to ridicule the idea of an afterlife and heaven. Jesus answers by using a passage from Exodus (one of the books they considered authoritative), and not only solves the riddle but also demonstrates that both the afterlife and heaven are spoken of even in the Pentateuch (the first five books).
This silences and ridicules the Sadducees to the delight of the people.
Challenge of the Pharisees
One final time, the leaders come to Jesus with a tricky question. There will be other challenges, but these will come later when He is arrested. The Pharisees, seeing that the Sadducees have been silenced, come to Jesus asking which commandment is greatest in the Law. Now there was a lot of issues hidden in this question:
- Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on what was important in the scriptures.
- Sadducees only referred to the first five books.
- Pharisees accepted both Law and prophets.
- In addition to this, they created 613 commands (248 positive/365 negative) as a protective shield around the scriptures.
- Another unusual thing they did was to assign numerical value to the Hebrew letters in these commands.
- When one rule came into conflict with another rule, they would weight the value of the rule by the numerical value it contained.
So their question had two proposes: they wanted to further embarrass their religious rivals, the Sadducees, by getting Jesus to side with them; and they wanted Jesus' opinion on a matter (which Law had the highest value) that they debated over endlessly. Jesus answered by going to the heart of the matter: citing the love of God and love of one's fellow man as self as the greatest commands. This was not based on rivalry or formula but on a true summary of all the teaching in the Old Testament.
It was so undeniably true that the Pharisees did not answer or respond negatively. Jesus continues however by posing them a question from a part of scripture they claimed to believe: the Psalms.
The question is one they cannot answer because it can only be discerned through faith in Him, something they didn't have.
The Final Rebuke – Matthew 23:1-39
In this chapter, Jesus will deliver a stinging rebuke directly to the leaders and teachers of the Jews for their failure to prepare the people for His coming.
The next chapter contains seven "woes" or accusations, and finishes with Jesus' lament over the coming destruction of the city and temple, which He will describe in the following chapter.
So we see in our lesson today that the King came to His city, His temple, His people, and they were not ready. They were worse than not ready; they actually confronted and challenged His royal position.
In the end, He refutes their challenges and mourns the loss of their opportunity to become the true temples of God, in Christ.
- What role or importance was the Temple to the Jews?
- Summarize the events and their impact from Matthew 21:1-11.
- Summarize Matthew 21:12-17 and discuss its symbolism.
- Summarize the events from Matthew 21:18-22 and discuss their symbolism.
- What was the challenge to Jesus in Matthew 21:23-27.
- Explain the meaning behind the following parables and teachings from Matthew 21:28-22:14.
- The parable of the two sons (21:28-32)
- The parable of the landowner (21:33-46)
- The parable of the marriage feast (22:1-14)
- Read the following interactions with Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders and discuss what the issue was and how it applies to us.
- What was the rebuke from Jesus in Matthew 23:1-39 and how does it apply to us?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?