Matthew Chapter 21 Jesus Enters Jerusalem; Fig Tree; Landowner

Introduction to Chapter 21

This chapter will emphasize Jesus’ deity, God the Father’s plan for him, Jesus’ and the OT predictions, the expectations of the Jews in Jerusalem, Jesus authority over the temple, Jesus’ authority over plant life and his teaching provision for the disciples, his wisdom in countering the religious leaders, the danger of spiritual rebellion, the just rejection of Israel’ spiritual leaders and of those who follow them.


  1. Matthew 21:1-3. Jesus is on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. This begins the last week. I am following Harold Hoehner’s chronology. The week is from Saturday, March 28, AD 33, when he arrives at Bethany until his resurrection on Sunday, April 5, AD 33. The week includes his entry into Jerusalem, cursing the fig tree, cleansing the temple, the Olivet discourse, Passover, betrayal, arrest, trials, crucifixion, buried in the tomb, and resurrection on Sunday, April 5, AD 33.
    • Bethphage, (Matthew 21:1) was a town on the Mt of Olives. The name means house of unripe figs. It was on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem and very close to Bethany (Mary, Martha, Lazarus).
    • Jesus told two disciples to go find a colt for him to ride. Why would someone allow another to take a colt? The Lord needs the colt.  Note that God had cleared the obstacles out of the way. The parallels are in Mark 11:5-6 and Luke 19:33-34.
  2. Matthew 21:4-7. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9 (Rejoice Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation Humble, and mounted on a donkey), Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.. This is a quote of literal fulfillment of the Old Testament prophet’s intended meaning. Recall that there are two basic uses by the New Testament of the Old Testament: 1. Literal fulfillment of the author’s one intended meaning, 2. ISPA or inspired full sense application that is not a fulfillment of the original author’s meaning.
    1. Kings rode on donkeys to show humility. Warriors rode on horses. Jesus rode the unbroken colt.
  3. Matthew 21:8-11 describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The date was Monday, March 30, AD 33. Spreading coats and palm branches was to honor the ruler. We have the illustration in 2 Kings 19:13 with Jehu. He was a mostly bad king king of Israel 841-814 BC during the time of Elisha. All four gospels record this (Matthew 21:9, 15; Mark 11:9–10; Luke 19:37-38; John 12:13).
    • Hosanna goes back to the hiphil impv mas sing of euyasha’ plus nah, a word of plea. The Greek is `wsanna. The words mean  “save now.”
    • Son of David identifies him with the messianic king.
    • The Jews recognize him as the messianic figure, but want a political deliverer instead of a spiritual deliverer. This is a quote of Psalm 118:25-26 and applied to the messianic king by the people.
    • The great commutation caused people to ask, “Who is this?” The answer was, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
  4. In Matthew 21:12-17, Jesus goes into the temple in Jerusalem. There a place for exchanging money had been set up. A rule had been made that only temple money could be used in the temple area. In order to make a sacrifice, a person often needed to buy an animal. The temple merchants just happened to have the right animal for anyone’s needs. All, of course, for a price. And the price must be in temple money. The religious merchants got people going and coming. Jesus said no to all of this.
    • Jesus took a line from Isaiah 56:7 about the millennial temple. It will be a house of prayer and correct sacrifices. This is not a fulfillment of the Isaiah passage. Jesus uses it to state the ideal for the temple, which at his time was completely changed. The phrase “robbers’ den” comes from Jeremiah 7:11, a message by Jeremiah against the people for their sin, including misuse of the temple.
    • In 14-16 Jesus again healed those who came to him. The miracles and  the response of “Hosanna to the Son of David” by those in the temple area caused the religious leadership (chief priests and scribes) to be mad.  Indignant is the translation of the Greek aganaktew  aganakteo, aroused, angry, indignant. Why? Because people were being healed and Jesus was honored and called the Son of David. “Save us now, son of David.”  The religious people were very self righteous when they objected. Jesus simple recalled a a portion of Psalm 8:2 which says that Yahweh has established himself as strong through the very weak and humble infants and nursing babies.
      • Jesus accepted praise that was only proper to give God. He knew he was God.
      • Again Jesus notes that children can recognize him and believe in him (Matthew 18:3-4; 19:13-15).
    • Matthew 21:17, Jesus left for Bethany. He had friends there.
  5. Matthew 21:18-21. Tuesday March 31, AD 33. Jesus returned to Jerusalem. On the way he saw a fig tree with no figs. He cursed it and it immediately withered. The disciples were amazed—one wonders why they were amazed. They had seen him do many things. Jesus was showing his power, his authority.
    • Fig trees have leaves and fruit about the same time, in April. Some take this incident to be illustrating that God was rejecting that generation of Jews from receiving the kingdom because of their rejection of Messiah.
    • The main point seems to be that he was preparing the disciples for the future. He was God. He was Messiah. They could depend upon him and they could trust him. He wanted them to realize the person to whom they soon would pray.
  6. Matthew 21:23-27 narrates the religious leadership continuing to question Jesus for the purpose of discrediting him. You would think that they had learned better, but they had not.
    • By whose authority did he teach?
    • He answered by asking them about John the Baptist. No matter how they answered, the would lose.
  7. Matthew 21:28-32, the two sons. The difference between the two sons is that one upon reflection changed his mind and did the right thing. The other said he would obey, but did not obey.
    1. The first son was at first disobedient, but once he thought about what he was right, changed his attitude and obeyed his father.  The tax collectors and prostitutes were public sinners. When they heard John, the believed his message. Public sinners who hear the truth about the messiah and believe him. These are the tax collectors and prostitutes.
    2. The Pharisees were like the second son. They make a public display of following God’s will, but actually reject the OT message and the messiah. Public proclamations of faith but really do not believe the messiah. These are the Pharisees.
  8. Matthew 21:33-46. Jesus tells a story about a landowner, a vineyard, vine-growers, and the landowner’s slaves and son. The parallels are in Mark 12 and Luke 20.
    • The text background is Isaiah 5. Isaiah tells of a vineyard that was prepared and protected so that good fruit would result.  The fruit was bad (Isaiah 5:1-2). God identifies the vineyard as Israel (Isaiah 5:7).  Israel failed; she was unrighteous (Isaiah 5:7) and she rejected the law and the word of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 5:24). Yahweh will judge her by bringing foreign nations to defeat and disperse her (Isaiah 5:24-30).
    • The theological background is that Israel under her religious leadership (Pharisees, scribes, priests) has rejected the messiah. This has become quite clear in the preceding discussions that Jesus has had with the religious leadership. Jesus now will answer two questions. The questions and answers come out of this parable.
      • What will happen to the people (nation) now that they have rejected messiah?
      • What will be the course of the kingdom now that Israel has rejected messiah?
    • In the parable the father (God the father) sent his slaves (the Old Testament prophets) to get the produce (Matthew 21:34-36). The vine growers (religious leaders) killed them all. He then sent his son (Jesus, Messiah). The vine growers killed him (Matthew 21:37-39).
    • So, the question, what will he do to the vine growers (Matthew 21:40-41)? The landowner will punish those vine growers and find another group of people to properly farm the vineyard. This other group will be the gifted men of the church age.
    • Matthew 21:42. Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 which is about the chief corner stone that he builders rejected. In the context the stone is the king of Israel, likely David. Others thought that they could destroy the king, but Yahweh has preserved him (Psalm 118:22-23). Jesus takes this quote and under inspiration he does not interpret the Psalm 118 passage, but he does apply it to himself. The chief stone could refer to either the corner stone of a building or the capstone or final stone which locks the other stones in place. It probably is the first.
      • Jesus became the chief corner stone which the builders rejected. This figure is used many times in the New Testament. Jesus applied it to himself in Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10–11, and Luke 20:17. Paul and Peter also applied it to Jesus in Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:7).
  9. In Matthew 21:43-46 Jesus applies the parable to Israel and her leadership.
    • The kingdom of God will be taken from Israel and God will judge her (AD 70 and beyond). Israel will not be permanently rejected. Numerous passages, including Romans 11:25-25, make this clear. At the end of the times of the Gentiles Israel will be gathered and restored.
    • The kingdom of God will be given to another people, the church, while Israel is under discipline.
    • Verse 44, he who falls… indicates that those who stumble over the corner stone will be broken—they will not succeed in their rejection of him. On whomever it falls… those will be completely judged, referring to his coming in judgment on those at his second coming to earth.
    • The chief priest and Pharisees understood what he said: it was a pronouncement of judgment on them. Their course of action was to try to seize him in order to kill him. The people thought Jesus was a prophet and therefore one to be listened to.
  10. Summary
    • We are now in the last week before Jesus’ crucifixion. He enters Jerusalem amidst shouts of “save us now” by some and questions by others. He is the messianic king.
    • Jesus showed his authority over the temple when he chases the money changers and those who sold sacrificial birds out of the temple.
    • Jesus reminded the disciples of the power of believing prayer in their ministry.
    • Jesus caught the chief priests and elders in their own trap by turning the tables on them when they questioned his authority for removing the businesses from the temple.
    • The story of the 2 sons teaches that those who have openly sinned are more likely to believe in him than those who publicly display religious activity.
    • The vineyard parable teaches that Jesus will, due to the Israeli national rejection of him, take their privileged position away from the religious leadership and the nation and bring in a new and spiritual nation, which likely is the church.
    • The religious leadership hardened their rejection of Jesus and tried to seize him.
  11. So what’s.
    • We do not want to be like the religious leadership of Israel—self righteous, self-centered, and unbelieving.
    • We can learn to be wise in the way we talk with others so that our conversation can ask and answer the right questions at the right time.
    • Though God is working through us, the church, at this time, he will restore Israel to her place of leadership and special blessing among the nations of the world. Pray for Israel’s belief in Messiah.