Matthew 21 - The Context of the Chapter
John Heading, Aberystwyth
I. THE CONTEXT OF THE CHAPTER
The Gospel by Matthew, the book of the Acts, the Epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews, and the book of the Revelation are particularly rich in direct quotations from, and indirect allusions to, the Old Testament. Such quotations cannot be ignored in the careful study of any New Testament passage, since they may supply the spiritual key to unlock the treasures hidden in the passage, which a superficial reading would fail to notice. Our intention is to illustrate this principle from Matthew 21, as well as showing how an orderly arrangement of subject matter occurs in a passage that may seem to consist of isolated incidents.
Structure of the Gospel by Matthew.
Chapters 1-4 relate the unrecognised first advent of the King, together with the mutual testimony both by John the Baptist and by the Lord Himself that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, 3. 2; 4. 17. Repentance leads to the sermon on the mount in chapters 5-7, laying the basis of conduct in the kingdom on the ground of righteousness, which is distinct from the ground of grace for believers associated with a risen and ascended Lord.
The more specific object of this Gospel commences with chapter 8. In chapters 8-12, the testimony of the kingdom is proclaimed to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, 10. 6-7. The antagonism of the religious and political leaders in Israel grows, as the elders, priests and Pharisees become aware of a superior authority in their midst. Their antagonism ends in blasphemy, accusing the Lord of casting out devils “by Beelzebub the prince of the devils”, 12. 24. Such a generation of vipers is condemned by their own words, vv. 34, 37, and the Lord withdraws from the sinful scene into a ship apart.
In chapters 13 to 20. 28 the New Order is introduced by the rejected Christ. The kingdom is seen in mystery in chapter 13, the truth being known by revelation and hidden from the wise and prudent, 13. 10-17. New concepts are introduced, such as Christ being the Son of the living God, 16. 16; the reception of truth by revelation from the Father, 16. 17; the introduction of the church as the building of Christ, 16. 18; the first direct announcement of His death and resurrection, 16. 21; Christ as glorified in His future kingdom of vindication and display, 17. 2. These new concepts were only for His own. Chapters 18-20 introduce principles of conduct suitable for disciples who confess the Son. The church as the Lord’s holy property, 16. 18, is here seen as the church on earth, and so chapter 18 deals rather fully with mutual relations between brethren in local assembly fellowship.
But the Lord is yet to occupy a position of glory by decreasing that He might increase. Verses 26-28 of chapter 20, at the end of the section dealing with the New Order, show the graduation of increase by the words, “great”, “chief”, “Son of man”. But this is to be attained by the Lord taking the decreasing position denoted by the words, “minister”, “servant” (i.e., bond servant), “give his life”.
Chapter 20. 29 returns to the Jewish state again; if the parenthesis of the New Order were removed, this verse would join on to the end of chapter 12. Hence, up to the end of chapter 25, the Lord is seen again in relation to the Jews; the King, in fact, comes into Jerusalem, the city of the great King, 5. 35. If the Lord was rejected by the Jews then (as He is now), this section takes us to the day of restoration and gathering to Himself of His elect, 24. 31, and to His triumphant throne of glory and judgment over the nations, 25. 31.
Two Blind Men.
The fact that Jewish relationships are taken up again at the end of chapter 20 is shown by the cry of the blind men, who own Him as “son of David”, 20. 30. Essentially, the title
- Son of God relates the Lord to Christians,
- Son of man relates the Lord to the nations,
- Son of David relates the Lord to the Jews.
This title is taken up by these blind men at the end of the Lord’s ministry on earth. It recalls a similar but distinct incident near the beginning of the Lord’s ministry in chapter 9 verses 27-31, where again we find two blind men who confess Him as “son of David”. These appellations occur in those sections where the Lord is seen more particularly in His relation to the Jews; see also 22. 41-45. Critics may say that the two incidents were identical, being recorded twice, but believers will reverently recall that other incidents occurred twice; for example, see John 2. 15; Matt. 21. 12.
This Gospel makes a difference between the Lord’s dealings with the Gentiles and with the Jews, both then and in the future. But now, while grace reigns prior to His coming again, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile; both are under sin, Rom. 3. 9; in the local assembly, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, ... ye are all one in Christ Jesus”, Gal. 3. 28; in the matter of salvation, “there is no difference . . . the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him”, Rom. 10 .12. But later, prophecy relating to the Jews in God’s kingdom on earth is taken up again, so we are not surprised that this order occurs in the Gospel by Matthew.
The miracle of healing accomplished by the Lord in these blind men speaks of this future day. The vail is taken away, 2 Cor. 3. 16, enabling the elect of the nation to see Him, Rev. 1. 7. Blindness in part is happened to Israel till the fulness of the Gentiles is come in; but then they shall see and be saved; Rom. 11. 25-26. In that great day when the desert shall blossom like a rose, “then the eyes of the blind shall be opened”, Isa. 35. 5; the Lord’s Servant will “open the blind eyes”, 42. 7.
Hence this miracle in Matthew 20. 29-34 is recorded as a picture of the nation when their faith recognises the Lord to be their King. It suitably introduces this closing section of the Gospel, prior to chapters 26-28 that deal with His sufferings, death and resurrection as the basis for all blessing.
The King enters Jerusalem, and in spite of circumstances suggesting His acclamation, He knows that it will lead almost immediately to His rejection and death. The Lord uses the remaining days for exhortation, condemnation (ch. 23) and instruction (chs. 24-25).
Summary of Chapter 21.
His entry and the second cleansing of the temple revolve around four Old Testament quotations, found in verses 1-17 of chapter 21:
- Verses 1-7: The King; verse 5 is taken from Zechariah 9. 9. See also Isaiah 62. 11, the great chapter in Isaiah dealing with the ultimate restoration and blessing upon Jerusalem.
- Verses 8-11: The Multitude; verse 9 is taken from Psalm 118. 25. This Psalm is a holy conversation between the Lord and His people, rehearsing His sufferings and His triumph in resurrection.
- Verses 12-13: The Merchants; verse 13 is taken from Isaiah 56. 7, showing God’s ideal for His house in the in-gathering of Israel. The “den of thieves” (or “den of robbers”) is found in Jeremiah 7. 11.
- Verses 14-17: The Children; verse 16 is taken from Psalm 8. 2, showing the divine origin of all that gives Him pleasure, whether in creation or in praise.
A similarity of thought now pervades the remaining paragraphs in the chapter.
In verses 18-22, we find no fruit in Jerusalem, only in Bethany, v. 17, a word meaning house of dates or figs, contrasting with the barren fig tree in the way. We have here the Lord’s authority in cursing.
In verse 23-32, we find no fruit from the disobedient, only from the repentant. We have here the Lord’s authority in cleansing, enabling the publicans and harlots to enter the kingdom.
In verses 33-46, we find that there is no fruit from the Jews (the husbandmen, the “you” in verse 43), only from a “nation bringing forth the fruits thereof”. We have here the Lord’s authority in choosing.
Chapter 22 verses 1-14 form a continuation of the theme, showing the Lord’s authority in clothing.
We may look at these three parables from a different point of view. The parable in verses 28-32 is one of repentance; some Jews are not allowed in, while others are brought in. The parable in verses 33-46 is one of foreknowledge. The Lord knew the treatment that the Jews would mete out to Him, and the fact that the Gentiles would bring forth fruit. This rejection enabled the Gentiles to be brought in. Finally, in chapter 22 verse 1-14, we find that it is grace that has brought in the Gentiles, although these constitute but few amongst many.
We shall consider the details of these events and parables in the following issues.