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Friday, September 22nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Matthew 21

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Matthew 21:1-16. See also Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44.

Verse 1

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem - They were going up now from Jericho.

Matthew 20:29. The distance was about 19 miles. The most of the way was a desert, or filled with caves, and rocks, and woods - a suitable place for robbers. See Luke 10:30. The Mount of Olives, or “Olivet,” is on the east of Jerusalem. Between this and Jerusalem there runs a small stream called the brook Kidron, or Cedron. It is dry in the hot seasons of the year, but swells to a considerable size in time of heavy rains. See the notes at John 18:1. The Mount of Olives was so called from its producing in abundance the olive. It was from Jerusalem about a Sabbath-day’s journey. See the notes at Acts 1:12. On the west side of the mountain was the garden of Gethsemane, Luke 22:39; Mark 14:32. On the eastern declivity of the mountain were the villages of Bethphage and Bethany. Mark and Luke say that he came near to both those places.

He appears to have come first to Bethany, where he passed the night John 12:1, John 12:9-11, and in the morning sent over to the adjacent village Bethphage. Bethany was the place where Lazarus lived, whom he raised from the dead John 11:0; where Martha and Mary lived; and where Mary anointed him with ointment against the day of his burying, John 12:1-7. The Mount of Olives is about a mile in length and about 700 feet in height, and overlooks Jerusalem, so that from its summit almost every part of the city can be seen. The mountain is composed of three peaks or summits. The “olive” is a fruit well known among us as an article of commerce. The tree blooms in June, and bears white flowers. The fruit is small. It is first green, then whitish, and, when fully ripe, black. It encloses a hard stone in which are the seeds. The “wild olive” was common, and differed from the other only in being of a smaller size. There are two roads from Jerusalem to Bethany; one around the southern end of the Mount of Olives, and the other across the summit. The latter is considerably shorter, but more difficult, and it was probably along this road that the Saviour went.

Verse 2

Go into the village over against you - That is, to Bethphage See the notes at Matthew 21:1.

Ye shall find an ass tied ... - In Judea there were few horses, and those were chiefly used in war. People seldom employed them in common life and in ordinary journeys. The ass, the mule, and the camel are still most used in Eastern countries. To ride on a horse was sometimes an emblem of war; on a mule and an ass, the emblem of peace. Kings and princes commonly rode on them in times of peace, and it is mentioned as a mark of rank and dignity to ride in that manner, Judges 10:4; Jdg 12:14; 1 Samuel 25:20. So Solomon, when he was inaugurated as king, rode on a “mule,” 1 Kings 1:33. Riding in this manner, then, denoted neither poverty nor degradation, but was the appropriate way in which a king should ride, and in which, therefore, the King of Zion should enter into his capital, the city of Jerusalem.

Mark and Luke say that he told them they should find “a colt tied.” This they were directed to bring. They mention only the colt, because it was this on which he rode.

Verse 3

The Lord hath need of them - This means no more than the “master” has need of them. The word “Lord” often means no more than “master” as opposed to servant, Matthew 10:24; Eph 6:5; 1 Peter 3:5-6. The word is sometimes used in the Bible as applied to God, or as a translation of the name Yahweh. Its common use is a mere title of respect given by an inferior to a superior, by a servant to a master, by a disciple to a teacher. As a title of “high respect” it was given to Christ, or the Messiah. The persons to whom these disciples were sent were probably acquainted with the miracles of Jesus and favorably disposed toward him He had attracted great notice in that region, particularly by raising Lazarus from the dead, and most of the people regarded him as the Messiah.

Verses 4-5

All this was done ... - The prophecy here quoted is found in Zechariah 9:9. It was always, by the Jews, applied to the Messiah.

Daughter of Zion - That is, “Jerusalem.” “Zion” was one of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built. On this stood the city of David and some strong fortresses. The names “daughter and virgin” were given to it often, in accordance with the Oriental figurative manner of expression. See the notes at Isaiah 1:8. Compare Amos 5:2; Psalms 45:13; Psalms 137:8; Isaiah 47:1. It was given to them as an expression of their beauty or comeliness.

Meek - See the notes at Matthew 5:5. The expression here rather denotes “peaceful, not warlike;” not with pomp, and state, and the ensigns of ambition. He came in the manner in which kings were accustomed to ride, but with none of their pride and ambitious feeling.

Sitting upon an ass ... - He rode on the colt (Mark and Luke). This expression in Matthew is one which is common with all writers. See Genesis 19:29; Judges 12:7.

Verse 7

And put on them their clothes - This was done as a token of respect, 2 Kings 9:13.

Verse 8

And a very great multitude ... - Others showed the same respect by throwing their garments before him; others by cutting down branches of trees and casting them in the way. This was the way in which conquerors and princes were often honored. To cast flowers, or garlands, or evergreens before a warrior returning from victory, or a king entering into his kingdom, was a common way of testifying joyful and triumphant feeling. Thus Josephus says that Alexander and Agrippa were received at Jerusalem. So in our own land some of the most acceptable tokens of rejoicing ever bestowed upon Washington were garlands of roses scattered in his path by children. So the path of Lafayette was often strewed with flowers, as a mark of respect and of a nation’s gratitude. John says John 12:13 that these branches were branches of the “palm-tree.” The palm was an emblem of “joy and victory.” It was used by the Roman soldiers, as well as the Jews, as a symbol of peace. See 1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:6, 7; Revelation 7:9.

The “palm-tree” is common in warm climates, and was abundant in Palestine. The finest grew about Jericho and Engedi. Hence, Jericho was called the city of “palm-trees.” The palm has a long and straight body, a spreading top, and an appearance of very great beauty. It produces an agreeable fruit, a pleasant shade, a kind of “honey” little inferior to the honey of bees, and from it was drawn a pleasant “wine” much used in the East. On ancient coins the palm-tree is often a symbol of Judea. On coins made after Jerusalem was taken, Judea is represented by a female sitting and weeping under a palm-tree. A reference to the palm-tree occurs often in the Bible, and its general form and uses are familiar to most readers.

Strictly speaking, the palm has no branches, but at the summit from forty to eighty twigs or leaf-stalks spring forth. These are referred to in Nehemiah 8:15. The leaves are set around the trunk in circles of about six. The lower row is of great length, and the vast leaves bend themselves in a curve toward the earth: as the circles ascend, the leaves are shorter. In the month of February, there sprout from between the junctures of the lower stalks and the trunk little scales, which develop a kind of bud, the germ of the coming fruit. These germs are contained in a thick and tough skin, not unlike leather. According to the account of a modern traveler, a single tree in Barbary and Egypt bears from fifteen to twenty large clusters of dates, weighing from 15 to 20 lbs. each. The palm-tree lives more than 200 years, and is most productive from the 30th until the 80th year. The Arabs speak of 260 uses to which the different parts of the palm-tree are applied.

The inhabitants of Egypt, Arabia, and Persia depend much on the fruit of the palm-tree for their subsistence. Camels feed on the seed, and the leaves, branches, fibres, and sap are all very valuable.

The “branches” referred to by John John 12:13 are the long “leaves” which shoot out from the top of the tree, and which were often carried about as the symbol of victory. Compare the notes at Isaiah 3:26.

Verse 9

Hosanna to the son of David ... - The word “hosanna” means “save now,” or “save, I beseech thee.” It is a Syriac word, and was a form of acclamation used among the Jews. It was probably used in the celebration of their great festivals. During those festivals they sang Psalms 115:0; Psalms 116:0; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:0. In the chanting or singing of those psalms, the Jewish writers inform us that the people responded frequently “hallelujah, or hosanna.” Their use of it on this occasion was a joyful acclamation, and an invocation of a divine blessing by the “Messiah.”

Son of David - The Messiah.

Blessed be he ... - That is, blessed be the “Messiah This passage is taken from Psalms 118:25-26. To come “in the name of the Lord” here means to come “by the authority” of the Lord, or to come “commissioned” by him to reveal his will. The Jews had commonly applied this to the Messiah.

Hosanna in the highest - This may mean either “Hosanna in the highest, loftiest strains,” or it may be for a prayer to God “Save now, O thou that dwellest in the highest heaven, or among the highest angels.” Perhaps the whole song of hosanna may be a prayer to the Supreme God, as well as a note of triumphant acclamation: “Save now, O thou supremely great and glorious God; save by the Messiah that comes in thy name.”

Mark adds that they shouted, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord.” That is, the kingdom “promised” to David, 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:25. “Coming in the name” of the Lord here evidently means coming according to the “promise” of the Lord. The sense may be thus expressed: “Prosperity to the reign of our father David, advancing now according to the promise made to him, and about to be established by the long predicted Messiah, his descendant.”

Luke adds Luke 19:38 that they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” The word “peace” is used here as significant of joy, triumph, exultation at this event. There will be increased peace and rejoicing in heaven from the accession of the redeemed: there will be augmented glory - new songs of praise “among the highest angels.”

There is no contradiction here among the evangelists. Among such a multitude, the shouts of exultation and triumph would by no means be confined to the same words. Some would say one thing and some another; and one evangelist recorded what was said by a part of the multitude, and another what was said by another part.

Verse 10

And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved - There was great excitement. The sight of such a multitude, the shouts of the people, and the triumphant procession through the city, excited much attention and inquiry.

Verses 12-22

And said It is written ... - This is written in Isaiah 56:7. The first part of this verse only is quoted from Isaiah. The rest - “but ye have made it a den of thieves” - was added by Jesus, denoting their abuse of the temple. Thieves and robbers live in dens and caves. Judea was then much infested with them. In their dens thieves devise and practice iniquity. These buyers and sellers imitated them. They made the temple a place of gain; they cheated and defrauded; they took advantage of the poor, and, by their being under a necessity of purchasing these articles for sacrifice, they “robbed” them by selling what they had at an enormous price.

The following reasons may be given why this company of buyers and sellers obeyed Christ:

  1. They were overawed by his authority, and struck with the consciousness that he had a right to command,
  2. Their own consciences reproved them; they knew they were guilty, and they dared make no resistance.
  3. The people generally were then on the side of Jesus, believing him to be the Messiah.
  4. It had always been the belief of the Jews that a “prophet” had a right to change, regulate, and order the various affairs relating to external worship. They supposed Jesus to be such, and they did not dare to resist him.

And all things ... - He adds an encouragement for them to pray, assuring them that they should have all things which they asked.

This promise was evidently a special one, given to them in regard to working miracles. To them it was true, but it is manifest that we have no right to apply this promise to ourselves. It was desired especially for the apostles; nor have we a right to turn it from its original meaning. There are other promises in, abundance on which we “may” rely in prayer, with confident assurance that our prayers will be heard. Compare the notes at Matthew 7:7-11.

Verses 23-27

We cannot tell - This was a direct falsehood. They could have told; and the answer should have been, “We will not tell.” There was no reason but that why they did not tell. The reason, probably, why they would not acknowledge that John was a prophet, was that, if they did, they saw he could easily show them by “what authority” he did those things; that is, by his authority as Messiah. John came as his forerunner, pointed him out to the people, baptized him, and bore his public and solemn testimony to the fact that he was the Messiah, Matthew 3:13-15; John 1:29-34. If they acknowledged one, they must the other. In this way our Saviour was about to lead these crafty men to answer their own question, to their own confusion, about his authority. They saw this; and, having given them a “sufficient” answer, there was no need of stating anything further.

Verses 28-32

But what think ye? - A way of speaking designed to direct them particularly to what he was saying, that they might be self-convicted.

Two sons - By those two sons our Lord intends to represent the conduct of the Jews, and that of the publicans and sinners.

In my vineyard - See the notes at Matthew 21:33. To work in the vineyard here represents the work which God requires man to do.

I will not - This had been the language of the publicans and wicked men. They refused at first, and did not “profess” to be willing to go.

Repented - Changed his mind. Afterward, at the preaching of John and Christ, the publicans - the wicked - repented and obeyed.

The second ...said, I go sir; and went not - This represented the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees - “professing” to obey God, observing the external rites of religion, but opposed really to the kingdom of God, and about to put his Son to death.

Whether of them twain ... - Which of the two. “They say unto him, The first.” This answer was correct; but it is strange that they did not perceive that it condemned themselves.

Go into the kingdom of God - Become Christians, or more readily follow the Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 3:2.

Before you - Rather than you. They are more likely to do it than you. You are self-righteous, self-willed, and obstinate.

John came in the way of righteousness - Many of them have believed, but you have not. That is, in the right way, or teaching the way to be righteous; to wit, by repentance. Publicans and harlots heard him and became righteous, but they did not. They saw it, but, as in one thousand other cases, it did not produce the proper effect on them, and they would not repent.

Verses 33-46

1. Jesus is omniscient, and sees and knows all things, Matthew 21:2.

2. It is our duty to obey the Lord Jesus, and to do it at once, Matthew 21:3. When He commands there should be no delay. What he orders is right, and we should not hesitate or deliberate about it.

3. Especially is this the case where He is to be honored, as he was on this occasion, Matthew 21:3, Matthew 21:8. If it was for “our” interest or honor only that we obeyed him, it would be of less consequence; but our obedience will honor Him, and we should seek that honor by any sacrifice or self-denial.

4. We should be willing to give up our property to honor the Lord Jesus, Matthew 21:3. He has a right to it. If given to spread the gospel, it goes, as this did, to increase “the triumphs of our King.” We should be willing to give our wealth that he might “gird on his sword,” and “ride prosperously among the heathen.” Everyone who is saved among the pagan by sending the gospel to them will be for the honor of Jesus. They will go to swell his train when he shall enter triumphantly into his kingdom at the day of judgment.

5. It is our duty to honor him, Matthew 21:7-9. He is King of Zion. He is Lord of all. He reigns, and shall always reign.

“Sinners! Whose love can ne’er forget

The wormwood and the gall,

Go spread your trophies at his feet,

And crown him Lord of all.

“Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race;

Ye ransomed from the fall;

Hail him who saves you by his grace,

And crown him Lord of all.

“Let every kindred, every tribe,

On this terrestrial ball,

To him all majesty ascribe,

And crown him Lord of all.”

6. “Children” should also honor him and shout “hosanna” to him, Matthew 21:15. The chief priests and scribes, in the time of our Saviour, were displeased that they did it; and many of the great, and many formal professors since, have been displeased that “children” should profess to love and honor Jesus. They have opposed Sunday schools, and opposed the praying of children, and opposed their singing to his praise, and opposed their giving their money to spread his gospel; but Jesus loves such praise and such service. The mouths of babes and sucklings should be taught to speak his name; and whatever the world may say, whatever the proud, the rich, or the formal may say, children should seek him early and give their first years to him. He loves their praises. Perhaps few of all the songs of thanksgiving are so pleasant to his ears as the “hosannas” of a Sunday school.

7. We have here a view of the glory of Jesus, Matthew 21:9-11. Though humble yet he was King. Though most of his life unhonored, yet once he had the honors of his station rendered to him, and entered the city of his father David as a triumphant King of Zion. He will be yet “more” honored. He will come with all his saints, with the glory of his Father, and with the holy angels. There we shall be; and we should be prepared to join with the vast host in shouting hosanna to the returning King of Zion.

8. Yet, amid all these honors, he was meek and lowly, Matthew 21:5. Others would have been proud and lifted up, but he was always meek; his heart was not proud. He is the only one of kings that could bear triumph and honors without being lifted up by it and made proud.

9. Yet amid all his triumphs he wept over Jerusalem (Luke). No king, no conqueror, ever before showed compassion like this. People weep when “they” are afflicted, or are poor and needy; but what prince has ever, in the moment of his triumph, wept over the miseries and dangers of his subjects? Not an instance can be found in all history where an earthly conqueror ever showed compassion like this. So Jesus has still compassion over blind, ruined, wretched man. Amid all the triumphs of the gospel, he does not forget those I who are yet in their sins, but stretches out his arms to welcome them to his embrace.

10. Prophecy will be certainly and exactly fulfilled (Luke). That respecting Jerusalem was literally accomplished; and in like manner will all that is predicted of “all” sinners assuredly come to pass. If Jerusalem had repented it would have been saved; so if sinners repent they will be saved. If not, like Jerusalem, in due time they will perish.

11. Jesus purified the temple, Matthew 21:12. It was the house of God. So our hearts should be the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit; so, also, they should be pure. All worldly cares, and traffic, and business, that would interfere with the dwelling of the Spirit there, and all wickedness, oppression, extortion, cheating, and pollution should be banished. God dwells not in such polluted temples; and unless we are “pure in heart,” he will not be with us, and we shall not see his face in peace. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.

12. Jesus only can purify our hearts. He does it by his blood and Spirit. Over all our sins he holds the same power as he did over the traffickers in the temple. At his command they will flee, and we shall be pure. If our hearts are ever purified, therefore, it will be by the power of Jesus. Nor should we wait in sin for him to do it. We should come to him, and beseech him to have mercy, and to save us from our pollutions.

13. Envy and hatred will take hold of very small matters, to show itself against the good and even the prudent, Matthew 21:15. When the enemies of Jesus could find nothing else to blame, they chose to find fault with the shouting of children. So always in a revival of religion, or any great work of the Lord, it is some small matter that is seized upon something not exactly to the view of wicked objectors - that is made the occasion of reproach and opposition.

14. We must produce fruit in our lives as well as flowers, Matthew 21:19. A profession of religion is like the flowers of spring. A revival is like fragrant blossoms. They are beautiful, and promise much fruit; but how many wither, and droop, and fall useless to the ground! How few of all the blossoms of the spring produce ripe and mellow fruit in autumn! So, alas! it is often with those who appear well in revivals of religion.

15. If we make a profession and do not produce fruit, Jesus will curse us, and we shall soon wither away, Matthew 21:19-20. He will suffer none to enter into his kingdom on the ground of profession only. If we bear fruit and live lives of piety, we are Christians; if not, all our professions are like the blossoms of spring or the leaves of the tree. They will not save us from the withering frown of Jesus.

16. People will do almost anything right or wrong, and as often wrong as right - to court popularity, Matthew 21:24. It is generally not asked by such people what is “right” or what is “true,” but what will secure popularity. If they have that, they are satisfied.

17. People often tell a direct falsehood rather than acknowledge the truth, Matthew 21:27. Especially is this the case when the truth makes against them.

18. Double-dealing and an attempt to evade the truth commonly lead into difficulty. If these people had been honest, they would have had far less trouble, Matthew 21:27.

19. A state of gross and open sin is often more hopeful than one of hypocrisy, pride, and self-conceit, together with external conformity to religion, Matthew 21:28. Multitudes of profane and licentious people may be saved, while the proud and self-righteous will be cut off. The reasons are,

  1. That the wicked, the gross, have no righteousness on which they can pretend to rely.

(2)Nothing so effectually prevents religion as pride and self-confidence.

  1. There is often really more ingenuousness and candor, and less of malignity against the gospel, among the openly wicked, than among those who are outwardly righteous, but who are inwardly like whited sepulchres, full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

20. Multitudes of people profess to go, and go not, Matthew 21:30. They profess to love God, and love themselves better. They profess to obey him, and yet obey their lusts. They are hypocrites, and destruction must come upon them.

21. Sinners, when they see the effect of truth on others, should repent, Matthew 21:32. It is proof of the truth of religion, and they, as much as others, need it.

22. We see the goodness of God in sending his messengers to a lost world, Matthew 21:33-38. His prophets he sent one after another, and they were put to death. His well-beloved Son he sent, and He also was put to death. Nor is his mercy yet stayed. He still sends his message to sinners. Thousands have died, as his Son did, in attempting to spread the gospel, but still he sends it. We have often, often rejected it, yet still he sends it. What earthly monarch would be treated in this manner? What earthly parent would be so patient and so kind?

23. If we improve not our privileges they will be taken away from us, Matthew 21:43. The gospel will be sent to many of the pagan, and they will be saved, but woe to those who have had it all their lives and are not saved.

24. All who reject the Saviour must perish, Matthew 21:44.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 21". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/matthew-21.html. 1870.
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