THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
JESUS' LAST WEEK IN JERUSALEM
Lesson 21, Chapter 21:1-22:14
The Prophet-King Comes to Jerusalem
We thank you, Lord, for Your fatherly care of Your children. We know that You are always with us, guiding us lovingly in our struggles, rejoicing with us in our victories against the temptation to sin, and ministering to us in the holy Sacraments that strengthen us on our journey to salvation. We know that our gratitude to You for Your many mercies on our behalf is best displayed in the mercy and forgiveness that we extend to our brothers and sisters in the human family and by living the Christian model of child-like humility and obedience to which Jesus called His disciples. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in this week's study of Jesus' triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem when the people welcomed Him as the promised Davidic Messiah. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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These are the appointed seasons of Yahweh, holy gatherings which you shall proclaim in their appointed seasons: In the first month, on the 14th of the month, between the twilight of the day [at noon, between the twilight of dawn and dusk] the Passover to Yahweh. And on the 15th of the month, the feast of Unleavened Bread to Yahweh; you shall eat unleavened things seven days.
Leviticus 23:4-6 (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. 1, page 321)
Three times a
year, then, every male among you shall appear before the LORD, your God, in the
place which he chooses: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of
Weeks, and at the feast of Booths.
Deuteronomy 16:16 (NAB)
In the third year of His ministry, Jesus and the disciples knew that the opposition of the chief priests and Pharisees had reached a dangerous intensity.1) The hostility of the religious authority became action on the last day of the pilgrim feast of Tabernacles/Booths in the early fall when the crowds of Jews at the festival began to believe in Him, asking When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man has done?" (Jn 7:31). The chief priests and Pharisees of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus, but even the Levitical Temple guards were impressed with Jesus and refused to arrest Him (Jn 7:32, 45-46). Jesus' next visit to Jerusalem was three months later for the national Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah; 1 Mac 4:36-59; 2 Mac 1:18-2:19; 10:1-8) in December (Jn 10:22). While He was teaching at the Temple in the Portico of Solomon, He told the Jews that He and the Father are One. The Jews attempted to stone Him for blasphemy, accusing Him by declaring: "You, a man, are making yourself God" (Jn 10:33-34).
After this, Jesus withdrew from Judea and did not return until His disciples Martha and Mary send word to Him that their brother, Lazarus, was deathly ill (Jn 11:1-3). When Jesus announced to His disciples that Lazarus had "fallen asleep" and He must go to him in Bethany in Judea, the disciples knew it could mean a death sentence for all of them and they were afraid. But the Apostle Thomas bravely urged his brother Apostles, saying "Let us also go to die with him" (Jn 11:16).
The High Priest Joseph Caiaphas told the judicial court that Jesus should die in order for the nation to be saved. Ironically, he did not realize that he was speaking prophetically in saying that Jesus was going to die for the nation. It was God's plan that Jesus should die for the Jews of Judea and also for all the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Jn 11:49-53).
Caiaphas in effect chose Jesus as the victim of sacrifice for the sake of the people just as he daily selected the communal sacrifice of the two Tamid lambs offered as a single sacrifice for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people in the daily Temple liturgical services in the morning and afternoon (Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:3-8)2
In His last journey from the Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled down the east side of the Jordan River (Mt 19:1); it was the early spring. "Across/beyond the Jordan" always refers to the east bank of the river (Mt 20:29; Mk 10:46; Lk 18:35; 19:1; Jn 1:28). His disciples were afraid, but they bravely followed Him ((Mk 10:32). Jesus crossed the Jordan River near Jericho, a symbolic act that called to mind the invasion of the Promised Land by the Israelites led by Moses' successor, their divinely appointed leader who shared the same name as Jesus in Hebrew, Joshua [Yehoshua] (Dt 31:23; Josh 4:14, 16).
As the pilgrims were streaming into Jerusalem days before the Passover sacrifice that was to take place on Nisan the 14th, many were looking for Jesus and asking if He would risk His life by keeping His holy day obligation: Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, "What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?" For the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should inform them, so that they might arrest him (Jn 11:55-57).
In the festival of Passover, the Israelites of the Galilee and the Jews of Judea relived the first Passover experience of their ancestors in Egypt. In the tenth plague judgment that took place in the early spring of the year, God commanded the children of Israel to select an unblemished lamb or goat kid from the flock on the 10th of the month. They were told to sacrifice the victim and to spread its blood from the threshold to the lintel to the door posts of their dwellings. When the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites in Goshen, the houses that were protected under the "sign of the blood" that formed a cross over their doors were spared (Ex 12:1-13, 22-23). Please note that the Passover victim could be an unblemished goat kid or a lamb "an animal from the flock not younger than eight days and not older than a year (Ex 12:5, Lev 22:27).3)
The Gospel of St. John sets the countdown to Christ's Passion: Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil ... On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him ... (Jn 12:1-3, 12-13a).
The ancients did not count days or years as we do using the concept of zero-place value. Instead they counted days and years like we count objects with the first day or year counting as #1 in the sequence. This is why Scripture tells us Jesus was in the tomb three days from Friday to Sunday instead as we could count the days today with Friday-Saturday as day #1 and Saturday to Sunday as day #2. St. John's Gospel tells us it was six days before the Passover sacrifice (Jn 12:1) when Jesus had dinner with His friends in Bethany at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It was the day before He rode into Jerusalem "the day Christians celebrate as Palm/Passion Sunday (Jn 12:12).
The village of Bethany (in Hebrew = "place/house of grace") was located on the south slope of the Mt. of Olives. The next day Jesus and the Apostles walked from Bethany to the nearby village of Bethpage on the road that led to Jerusalem.
The Gospel of St. Matthew ~ Chapter 21
(Narrative 5 of Matthew's Gospel: The Last Days of Jesus' Ministry in Judea and Jerusalem)
Matthew 21:1-5 ~ Preparation for the Entry into Jerusalem (Sunday)
1 When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. 3 And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, The master has need of them.' Then he will send them at once." 4 This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: 5 "Say to daughter Zion, Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden [literal translation = mounted on a colt, the son of an ass, IBHE, vol. III, page 2170].'"
Jesus sent two disciples to bring Him an ass and her colt from the village of Bethpage (in Hebrew = "house of figs"). In verse 5 Matthew reveals that this was to fulfill the prophecies of the restoration of Israel by the Messiah spoken by the prophets Isaiah (8th century BC) and Zechariah (6th century BC). This is the 9th of the "fulfillment statements" in Matthew's Gospel4):
The words "daughter Zion" refer to the holy city of Jerusalem.
Question: According to the prophecies quoted by Jesus, in what manner will the Messiah come?
Answer: The Messiah will come not like a conquering king or military leader; He will come humbly as a Savior to His people.
There may also be a link to a much earlier Biblical passage and dates prior to the Exodus out of Egypt. That passage is Jacob/Israel's death-bed testimony concerning the tribe of Judah in Genesis 49:8-12. Jacob, the "father" of the children of Israel, speaks of the tribe of his son Judah: The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, until sent [shiloh] comes, he receives the people's homage. He tethers his donkey to the vine, his purebred ass to the choices stem. In wine he washes his garments, his robe in the blood of grapes (Gen 49:10-11; IBHE, vol. I, page 133).
The passage poetically describes kings from the tribe of Judah who will rule over Israel (a prophecy of David and the Davidic kings of Judah) until the One who will be "sent" comes; "sent" is the meaning of the Hebrew word shiloh in the Hebrew text, which is the word Siloam in the Greek text. St. John gave us the translation of Shiloh/siloam: [Jesus] said to him, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam (which means Sent)" (Jn 9:7).5)
Question: What parts of the Genesis passage are
fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth? What symbolism do you recognize from the
images of the prophets? See the chart "Symbolic Images of the O. T. Prophets
and Mt 1:1-6;
Answer: Jesus is a descendant of Judah and King David. He is a legitimate heir of King David, and as the Son of God he is the King of Kings. Jesus is destined to rule over Israel as David's heir and all nations as the Son of God. The passage concerning the donkey and the ass are fulfilled in Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus will refer to Himself as the "Vine" and His disciples as the "branches" in His Last Supper discourse (Jn 15:1-10). His garments will be "washed in blood" in His Passion and the "blood of grapes" will become the blood of His Passion in the Eucharist in which communion is restore with God.
It was the day after His dinner with Lazarus' family that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. According to tradition, and in agreement with the Gospels, the day He rode into Jerusalem is celebrated as Palm (Passion) Sunday.
Question: What day did Jesus have dinner with His
friends in Bethany? Counting as the ancients counted, without a zero-place
value, what day of the week was the Passover sacrifice that, according to the
Law, had to be celebrated on the 14th of Nisan?
Answer: Jesus had a Sabbath Saturday dinner with friends in Bethany. Six days from Saturday, with Saturday counting as day #1, makes the day of the Passover sacrifice Thursday of Jesus' last week, Nisan the 14th.
This agrees with the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels which all record that the Passover sacrifice was the day before Jesus was arrested and crucified on Friday, the Jewish Day of Preparation for the Saturday Sabbath (Jn 19:31).
Matthew 21:6-11 ~ The Prophet-King's Triumphal Entry into
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. 7 They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. 8 The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. 9 The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest." 10 And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?" And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."
The disciples followed Jesus' instructions and brought a donkey and its colt. They laid garments on both animals and Jesus sat on the garments on the colt "that it was with its mother was a sign that the colt had never been ridden. In the Holy Land today one still sees a mother donkey and a foal trotting beside her with both animals having garments put across their backs (also see Bishop, Jesus of Palestine, page 212).
Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass was a planned and highly symbolic act. Old Testament prophets taught in parables and performed symbolic acts as part of their ministry. For example, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel taught in parables (short stories with a double meaning). Isaiah's parable of the vineyard as a symbol for Israel (Is 5:1-2) is an example. An example of a prophet called to perform a prophetic act, called an ot in Hebrew, is Jeremiah. Jeremiah's entire life was a series of prophetic acts that were warnings from God to call the covenant people of Judah to repentance before God's judgment resulted in the lifting of God's protection and the destruction of the nation by the Babylonians (Jer 7:1-15). Some examples of prophetic acts by prophets were Jeremiah's breaking a pottery flask in the sight of the elders, a symbol of the future "smashing" of Judah in judgment for terrible sins (Jer 19:1-13) and Ezekiel's series of prophetic acts that were signs of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judea (Ez 4:1-6:14). Jesus, God's supreme prophet, will perform a number of prophetic acts His last week in Jerusalem.
Question: If Thursday was Nisan the 14th,
what date was Jesus triumphal ride into the holy city of Jerusalem on Sunday?
What is historically significant about that date to the covenant people and how
is that date important to Jesus' mission? See Ex 12:3; Josh 4:19 and
Answer: Sunday was Nisan the 10th. The 10th was the day the Passover victims were chosen in the first Passover and it was the day Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan River in the conquest of the Promised Land. Jesus is the true Passover victim that all other Passover lambs and kids only prefigured, and in His entry into Jerusalem He is beginning His conquest that will result in opening the true Promised Land of heaven to the faithful through His death and Resurrection.
Coming from the Mt. of Olives, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the walled city of Jerusalem through the arched gate that faced the Mt. of Olives. It was the gate that was closest to the Temple Mount that was located on the east side of Jerusalem on the height of Mt. Moriah. The crowd shouted acclamations from the Messianic Psalms 118:25-26 (NJB) ~ We beg you Yahweh, save us [hosanna], we beg you Yahweh, give us victory! Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! "Hosanna" is a word of Hebrew origin (hosi-a-na) that is composed of two words literally meaning "save now" or "save (we) pray" (i.e., 2 Sam 14:4; Ps 106:47; Is 25:9; 37:20; Jer 2:27; etc.). In Aramaic, the common language of the people in Jesus' time, the people were shouting hosa-na (International Christian Commentary: Matthew, page 124).(5)
"Hosanna" had come to be used in the same way the English might shout out "God save the king," and this was the way the crowd shouted "Hosanna" as an acclamation of praise to the one greeted as the Messiah. Psalms 113-118 is known as the great Hallel (praise God) psalms. It was also called the Egyptian Psalms since 113-117 retold the story of the Exodus while 118 promised another liberator "a "messiah" who was coming to save the people.6)
The four Gospels describe Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as the triumphal arrival of a king or military ruler. Such a visit to the people by a ruler was a parousia, a Greek word meaning "coming," "arrival," or "being present among the people." In the New Testament, the word gives expression to the Christian belief and expectation that Jesus will return to His people in the future (Second Advent of Christ). It is the same term Christians used for the "presence" of Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet.7) In the Old Testament the parousia of a king is described in:
Jesus' symbolic entrance and the connection to Solomon's ride into the city was certainly not missed on the crowds.
Question: What does Jesus riding into Jerusalem to these acclamations recall from the history of Israel, and how do we know this
historical link was not lost on the crowd? See 1 Kng 2:38-40; Ps 118:25-27, Jn 12:13.
Answer: Jesus' rode into Jerusalem like King David's son Solomon on his coronation day. Jesus received the same acclamation, with the people even referring to Him as "the son of David," quoting from Psalm 118 the passages referring to the promised Messianic king. St. John also tells us the crowd not only quoted from the Messianic Psalms 118:26 Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord but also hailed Jesus as the king of Israel (Jn 12:13).
Matthew 21:10 ~ And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?" And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."
The Greek word for "shaken" is a word commonly used to describe earthquakes. The strength of this word conveys the tremendous excitement with which Jesus was greeted by the pilgrims to the festival and the citizens of Jerusalem. The crowd that followed Jesus to Jerusalem recognized Him as "the prophet." He is the fulfillment of God's promise to Moses and the Israelites in Deuteronomy 18:18 ~ I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. For the significance of Jesus' prophetic ministry see CCC 436, 783, 873, 904.
Matthew 21:12-17 ~ Jesus Cleanses the Temple a Second
Time and Heals the Afflicted
12 Jesus entered the temple area [hieron] and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And he said to them, "It is written: My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you are making it a den of thieves." 14 The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them. 15 When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wondrous things he was doing, and the children crying out in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant 16 and said to him, "Do you hear what they are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; and have you never read the text, Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise'?" 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany, and there he spent the night.
The merchants in the Temple area were selling doves that were the sacrifices of the poor, for women and lepers ( Lev 12:6-8; 14:22; 15:14, 29). They were also exchanging coins that bore pagan images or the images of the Roman emperor that were not accepted to purchase sacrifices or for Temple donations in exchange for Jewish coinage or Tyrian coins that bore no forbidden images (Ex 30:11-16). Jesus going to the Temple fulfills the prophecy of the 6th century BC prophet Malachi: And suddenly there will come to the Temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts, but who will endure the day of his coming (Mal 3:1b-2a)? His actions in driving out the merchants also fulfill the prophecy of the 6th century BC prophet Zechariah that in the era of the Messiah ...there shall no longer be any merchant in the house of the LORD of hosts (Zec 14:21).
St. Matthew uses the Greek word hieron for the area of the Temple complex where the merchants had their tables. This word does not refer to the Sanctuary that housed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies but refers to the outer courtyard called the Court of the Gentiles, as is made clear in a Scripture passage Jesus alludes to in His exchange of word with the chief priests. It was the only area of the Temple complex were Gentiles were allowed to come to pray, to give sacrifices that priests would take to the altar for them and to be instructed about the One True God. Non-covenant members were forbidden to enter the other areas of the Temple complex or to approach the altar and could be executed for such an offense (see Lev 3:10 and read about the commotion when the Jews accused St. Paul of bringing Gentile-Christians into the Temple in Acts 21:27-29).
Question: Why would Jesus consider buying and selling
in the Court of the Gentiles a sacrilege that profaned the Temple? See Ex 19:6; Is 60:3.
Answer: The Court of the Gentiles was the only place in the Temple set aside for Gentiles to learn about Yahweh. The Jews had an obligation as God's holy people to be a "kingdom of priests" and a "light" to the Gentile nations of the earth.
Matthew 21:12 ~ 13 And he said to them, "It is written: My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you are making it a den of thieves."
In cleansing the Temple Jesus alludes to two passages from Sacred Scripture. The first speaks of Gentiles coming to the House of God, and the second condemns the priesthood and the people prior to the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC for turning God's house into a "den of thieves" (Jesus' words are underlined). Whenever an Old Testament passage is alluded to or quoted in the New Testament, the entire passage must be read in context to understand the significance of the quote or allusion:
Question: Why does Jesus choose to allude to these
two passages from the books of the prophets?
Answer: The first is a reminder of Israel's mission to the other nations of the earth to bring the Gentiles to salvation and the second is a warning of judgment for profaning God's house, the Jerusalem Temple.
"Shiloh" in Jeremiah 7:14 was the location of the desert Tabernacle in the Promised Land and the center of worship from the time of Joshua to the time of the prophet Samuel (Josh 18:1; Judg 18:31; 1 Sam 1:3-9: 3:19-21).
Question: In the Jeremiah 7:1-15, what is the
significance of what happened at Shiloh and how does Jesus use the Jeremiah
passage as a warning for the present generation of religious authorities? See 1
Sam 4:3-4, 10-11;
Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9.
Answer: The priests and the people's offenses against God and His Sanctuary caused God to withdraw His protection of the Sanctuary at Shiloh. The Philistines destroyed the Sanctuary and captured the Ark of the Covenant. The warning is that what happened at Shiloh and what happened to Solomon's Temple in the time of Jeremiah can happen to the 1st century AD Temple for the same offenses.
Jesus conducted three Temple cleansings during His ministry. The first occurred the first year of His ministry (Jn 2:13-25) during the Passover/Unleavened Bread festivals and the second and third cleansings were on Sunday and Monday of His last week in Jerusalem (Mt 21:12; Mk 11:11-12, 15-17). According to the Law of the covenant, sacrifice and worship to Yahweh could only be offered at one location on earth "at the sanctified alter of Yahweh, which since the 10th century BC was at the Jerusalem Temple (Dt 12:11-12
Question: What is the significance of three Temple cleansings? What prophetic ot (the symbolic action of a prophet) was Jesus
performing in cleansing the Temple? See the document "The Significance of Numbers
Answer: For the Israelites, three was one of the so-called "perfect numbers" signifying something of importance and fulfillment, especially as a prelude to a significant event in God's plan of salvation. The first Temple cleansing was to purify His Father's house and the covenant people's worship in preparation for Jesus' ministry. The last two were a final cleansing pointing to the culmination of Jesus' mission and the coming "hour" of His Passion.
Jesus' action in the Temple must have both shocked and enraged the Temple hierarchy who claimed authority over the Temple and over the right practice of religion and worship for the covenant people.
Question: In the Temple cleansings in what three ways
is Jesus claiming His authority?
Answer: In each Temple cleansing Jesus is claiming His authority over the Temple, over the exercise of religious practices there, and over the priestly authority.
Notice the repetition of threes connected to Jesus' ministry; for example:
Many of the "three sequences" are fulfilled the last week of His ministry.
Mathew 21:14 ~ The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them. Jesus gives another sign of how He fulfills the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah that refer to the Messiah healing the lame and curing the blind (Is 35:5-6 and Jer 31:8).
Matthew 21:15-16 ~ When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wondrous things he was doing, and the children crying out in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant 16 and said to him, "Do you hear what they are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; and have you never read the text, Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise'?"
The chief priests and the scribes can see Jesus' miraculous acts and yet they are blinded by their jealousy. In contrast to their obstinate blindness, the innocent children proclaim Jesus the Davidic Messiah, to the consternation of the religious hierarchy who demand that Jesus stop them. Instead, Jesus challenges them on their knowledge of Scripture and quotes to them from Psalms 8:2(3) in the Septuagint (Greek LXX) translation: O LORD, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth! For thy magnificence is exalted above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected praise, because of thine enemies; that thou mightest put down the enemy and avenger (Ps 8:2-3).
Matthew 21:17 ~ And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany, and there he spent the night. It will be Jesus' practice to leave Jerusalem at the end of the day and to spend His nights in the village of Bethany on the Mt. of Olives (Mk 11:11; Lk 21:37). In Mark 11:11 we are told the Twelve Apostles accompanied Him.
Matthew 21:18-22 ~ Jesus Curses the Fig Tree (Monday)
18 When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again." And immediately the fig tree withered. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed and said, "How was it that the fig tree withered immediately?" 21 Jesus said to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, Be lifted up and thrown into the sea.' It will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
It is Monday morning, Nisan the 11th. In this passage Jesus performs another symbolic act in cursing the fruitless fig tree. St. Mark tells us that it was not even the season for figs (Mk 11:13) "the fig harvest begins in the late summer and continues into the early fall; it was the early spring.
Question: In the symbolic images of the Old Testament
prophets (see the chart in the handout), what does a fruitful fig tree
represent? What does an unfruitful fig tree represent?
Answer: A fruitful fig tree represents Israel in covenant unity and fidelity with God, but an unfruitful fig tree represents Israel's covenant failure in her mission to serve God and to produce the "good fruit" of her service.
The fig tree is the only fruit bearing tree named in Eden (Gen 3:7). The fruitful fig tree was a sign of the good things promised the covenant people in the Promised Land (Dt 8:8). Proverbs 27:18 advises that the person who produces good "fruit" in his life will be blessed by God: He who tends a fig tree eats its fruit, and he who is attentive to his Master will be enriched. And the prophet Jeremiah compared an Israel under the curse of divine judgment to a fruitless fig tree: I shall put an end to them, Yahweh declares, no more grapes on the vine, no more figs on the fig tree only withered leaves ... (Jer 8:13 NJB)
In St. Luke's Gospel Jesus told His disciples a parable about a fig tree planted in a vineyard that failed to produce fruit. The owner of the vineyard complained to his vinedresser that for three years the tree had failed to produce fruit and told the vinedresser to cut it down. The vinedresser urged the owner to leave it for just a little while longer so he could fertilize it. If it still failed to bear fruit, then he could cut it down (Lk 13:6-9).
Question: If God is the owner of the vineyard in the
parable, and if the fig tree is Israel/the covenant people, and if Jesus is the
vinedresser who asked for a little longer to bring the tree to bear "fruit,"
what is the significance of the incident of the cursed fig tree in Matthew 21:18-22? Why is it significant that it wasn't the season for figs?
Answer: Jesus has spent at least three years calling the covenant people to bear the good fruit of repentance and to recognize Him as the promised Messiah. They have failed to bear "good fruit" and there is no more time. That it isn't the "season" is no excuse. Cursing the fig tree is a prophetic sign of judgment against an unfaithful generation led by failed shepherds.
The disciples were amazed at how quickly the tree withered, but Jesus promised them in Matthew 21:21-22: "Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, Be lifted up and thrown into the sea.' It will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
Question: What is "this mountain" that Jesus is using
as an example of the power the disciples will have if they pray in faith? Chron
3:1; Mt 24:1-2.
Answer: It is likely that He is referring to Mt. Moriah where the Temple stood, just across from them to the west. Jesus will predict the destruction of the Temple to His disciples in Matthew 24:1-2. The New Covenant Church will replace the old Temple as the dwelling place of God, but the disciples will need to have faith to endure the struggle.
St. Mark tells us that after cursing the fig tree (Mk 11:12-14) Jesus came to the Temple and found the same money lenders in the Court of the Gentiles that He chased out on Sunday. For a third time Jesus cleansed the Temple in a prophetic act reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, but this time He quoted more fully from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (Mk 11:15-19). If the chief priests were angry the day before, this time they must have been beyond enraged, which accounts for their determination of have Jesus put to death. He was challenging their authority over the Temple and over the people.
Matthew 21:23-27 ~ The Chief Priests and Elders Challenge
23 When he had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?" 24 Jesus said to them in reply, "I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Where was John's baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?" They discussed this among themselves and said, "If we say Of heavenly origin,' he will say to us, Then why did you not believe him?' 26 But if we say, Of human origin,' we fear the crowd, for they all regard Jon as a prophet." 27 So they said to Jesus in reply, "We do not know." He himself said to them, "Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Jesus left the outer courtyard and came into the Temple area. He probably went to the colonnade situated along the east side of the Temple enclosure above the Kidron Valley that faced the Mt. of Olives. It was called Solomon's Portico, and it was where men of the covenant met to study Scripture and discuss the Law (Jn 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:12).
It has not been lost on the chief priests and elders that Jesus' prophetic acts challenged their authority. They have decided to arrest Him (21:46) and so they confront Him and demand to know the source of His authority to act as He has. If He says His authority comes from God they will arrest Him on the charge of blasphemy. In the past the Pharisees and scribes have attempted to "test" Jesus by posing questions to Him in the hopes of trapping Him with His answer (Mt 12:10, 38-39; 16:1; 19:3). Each time He avoided their trap. This time Jesus turns the tables on them. The "elders" are members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court.
Question: What question does He pose for them and
what is their dilemma?
Answer: Jesus avoids answering their question because they will not answer His question concerning the authority of John the Baptist. If they say John did not have divine authority, they fear the crowds will turn against them, but if they say John's authority did come from heaven then they condemn themselves for not believing in John's baptism of repentance or intervening in his imprisonment that led to his execution.
Next, in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets of God, Jesus tells the religious authorities three parables. The subject of all three parables is the judgment of Israel/Judea (Mt 21:28-22:14). In the first parable, He asks the chief priests and elders their opinion; the topic of conversation is still centered on the mission of St. John the Baptist. In the Old Testament, as in this case, God's prophets resorted to teaching in parables when the religious and civil authorities failed in their duty to properly shepherd God's people.
Matthew 21:28-32 ~ The Parable of the Two Sons (parable
28 What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' 29 He said in reply, I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. 30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, Yes, sir,' but did not go. 31 Which of the two did his father's will? They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
Jesus tells the religious authorities they have failed in their ability to recognize John as a righteous prophet of God by his works.
Question: In the parable, what is the vineyard, who
is the father and who are the two sons? See the Symbolic Images of the
Prophets for the "vineyard" imagery. Jesus used the "vineyard" imagery
previously in the parable in 20:1-16
In their answer to Jesus' question in verse 31: Which of the two did his father's will? They answered, "The first," the religious leaders condemned themselves.
Matthew 21:33-41 ~ The Parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants
33 Hear another parable. There was a landowner [master of the house/head of the family] who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. 34 When the vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. 35 But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and third they stoned. 36 Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, They will respect my son.' 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.' 39 They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?" 41 They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times."
The "landlord" of the vineyard is the same word used for the "landlord" of the vineyard in the parable Matthew 20:1-16. The literal translation of the Greek word oikodespotes [oy-kod-es-pot'-ace], is "the head of the family", "master of the house." Notice the repetition of threes in the parable: three times the servants are assaulted, three times the master sends out messengers "the first two times they are servants and the third time the Son. It is the Master's son. Also notice it is the season of the harvest. Jesus has used parables set in the season of the harvest in the Kingdom Parables in Matthew chapter 13. The "harvest" in Scripture represents the gathering of souls in judgment.
The situation in the parable would have been a familiar to first century AD Jews. Landholders often rented out their property to tenant farmers who had to share a percentage of the profits from the harvest with the owner of the land. Jesus uses the parable as an allegory predicting His death at the hands of the Jewish religious authority and their eventual destruction and loss of authority as God's representatives to His people.
In the symbolic images of the prophets, the vineyard is a symbol of Israel in covenant with Yahweh. Since the chief priests and elders did not recognize Jesus as a legitimate prophet of God, they missed the comparison between Jesus' parable of the vineyard and the well-known parable of the vineyard told by the prophet Isaiah (Is 5:1-7). Some of the details of the parables are the same, each describing a well-tended vineyard with a hedge or wall to protect the vineyard from grazing animals, a watchtower (see Is 21:6-8) to look for marauding vandals, and a wine-press for crushing the grapes to produce wine (see the chart below).
Jesus' Parable of the Vineyard
Isaiah's Parable of
|There was a landowner[master of the house] who planted a vineyard||My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside ( Is 5:1 )|
|put a hedge around it||take away its hedge (Is 5:5b)|
|dug a wine press in it||and hewed out a wine press (Is 5:2c)|
|and built a tower||Within it he built a watchtower (Is 5:2b)|
Read Isaiah's parable 5:1-7. Isaiah's parable speaks of God's judgment on an unrepentant people in verse 5: Now, I will let you know what I mean to do to my vineyard: Take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! And verse 7 identifies the vineyard: The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his cherished plant.
In Scripture the winepress often represent the yielding of the best wine as a symbol of covenant obedience as in Numbers 18:27 ~ and your contribution will be credited to you as if it were the grain from the threshing floor or new wine from the press. But the winepress could also symbolize the crushing of the wicked in divine judgment:
The same judgment imagery is found in the Book of Revelation:
Question: Who owned the land of Israel? See Lev 25:23.
Answer: The Promised Land of Israel belonged to God; the children of Israel were His tenants. The land could never be sold; it could only be leased.
Question: What is the symbolism of the parable: Who
is the master-of-the-house who owns the vineyard? What does the vineyard
represent? What do the hedge and the watchtower represent and what does the
winepress represent? Who are the tenants in charge of the harvest, who are the
master's two groups of servants who were beaten and killed and who is the son
the tenants killed?
Jesus asked the religious leaders: 40 What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?" 41 They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times."
Question: How is their answer in verse 41 ironic?
Answer: They have pronounced their own judgment and the giving of the authority over the "vineyard/the Church of God's covenant people" to "other tenants."
Question: Who are the "other tenants" who will have
authority over the Master's vineyard in place of the tenants who killed the
Master's son? See Mt 16:18-19 and 18:18.
Answer: The reference is probably to the Jewish-Christians of the new Israel who will establish the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ.
The men who oppose Jesus will lose their place as the authoritative hierarchy of God's house "His Church and that authority will be given to Peter and the Apostles who will become the leaders of the New Covenant Church8)
Question: How is the end of Isaiah's parable similar
to Jesus' parable: The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his cherished plant; He looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
For justice, but hark, the outcry! (Is 5:7). How is Jesus' parable different?
See verse 38.
Answer: Both parables end in the judgment of Israel, but Jesus also turns this vineyard parable into a prophecy of His Passion and death in verse 39.
Matthew 21:42-45 ~ Jesus Teaches the Meaning of the
42 Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'? 43 Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were attempting to arrest him, the feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.
Jesus challenges the chief priests and Pharisees again on their knowledge of the Scriptures, saying Did you never read in the Scriptures... He has challenged His opponents this way previously ( Mt 12:3, 5; 21:16) and will do so again (Mt 22:31), which must have made them furious since they saw themselves as the sole proprietors of the deposit of sacred knowledge. The Old Testament passage Jesus quotes in verse 42 is from Psalm 118:22 in the Greek Septuagint translation.
While the religious authorities do not at first understand Jesus' parable, when Jesus adds an additional teaching the meaning is suddenly and disturbingly clear to them.
Question: How does Jesus' quote from Psalms 118:22-23
reveal His true identity? Psalms 118:22 is the verse of the Messianic Psalms
just before the verse quoted by the crowds as He rode into Jerusalem. The
"builders" refers to the religious leaders of the Sinai Covenant. How does His
reference to this psalm relate to Ezekiel 34:1-10 and His vineyard parable, identifying
the chief priests and elders in three ways?
Answer: Jesus tells them that He is the cornerstone that the builders (the religious authorities) reject in Psalms 118:22-23, a reference to His Passion. He has also identified them as the false builders of Psalms 118:22, the failed shepherds the prophet Ezekiel spoke of in Ezekiel 34:1-10, and the wicked tenants of His parable.
Mathew 22:1-14 ~ The Parable of the Wedding Feast (parable #3)
1 Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. 4 A second time he sent other servants, saying, Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."' 5 Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. 9 Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.' 10 The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 12 He said to him, My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?' But he was reduced to silence. 13 Then the king said to his attendants, Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' 14 Many are invited, but few are chosen."
Jesus' tells a third parable in His confrontation with the chief priests and the Pharisees/elders (Mt 21:45). The subject of the parable is the Kingdom of Heaven and the parable ends in a teaching on divine judgment. It is the eighth time He has begun a parable with the words "the Kingdom of Heaven is like ..." (see Mt 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47 and 52).
In the parable, the occasion for the feast is the royal wedding of a king's son. The Greek word for "feast" is ariston, which refers to the noon meal, normally the largest meal of the day. In ancient times, the feasting for a wedding was expected to last for seven days ( Gen 29:27; Judg 14:12).
Elements of the Wedding Feast parable recall earlier parables; for example the Parable of the Tenants (Mt 22:33-41) in the tenants' mistreated the Master's servants; also the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43) where the weeds are left to grow with the wheat until the "harvest" which is the Last Judgment, and the parable of the Dragnet where the good and bad fish are all collected into one net that is the Church (Mt 13:47-50). Like Jesus' other parables, this story has symbolic significance. See the chart of the Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets "marriage imagery.
Question: Who is the king, who is the king's son, and
what is the "wedding feast"? See Mt 9:15; Mk 2:19 and Jn 3:29.
Answer: God is the king and Jesus is the king's son who is the bridegroom. The invitation to the "wedding feast" is the invitation to be in covenant/in communion with God the great King "a relationship that is often symbolically represented as a marriage.
Question: Why are there three sets of invitations and
why do some of those invited guests reject the invitation?
Answer: From the beginning of God's relationship with man, He has invited mankind "the "wedding guests," to have a covenant relationship with Him. Some that are invited are too obsessed with temporal concerns to take the time to enter into a relationship with God and "come to the feast," while others are hostile and reject the invitation to salvation. The people of Jesus' time have also had a mixed reaction to Jesus' invitation to the Kingdom through His Gospel message of salvation.
Question: Who are the servants of the king?
Answer: As in the other parables, the first servants are God's Old Testament prophets who called the people to repentance and salvation and the newer servants are Jesus' disciples and Apostles who preach Jesus' good news (Gospel) of salvation.
Question: Why in verse 7 does God destroy the city of
the reluctant guests? What are the Biblical and historical events that fit
with the parable?
Answer: The people of the Sinai Covenant "the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah "forgot their obligations, worshipped false gods and committed crimes against the poor. God withdrew His hand of protection and both kingdoms suffered the ravages of war and the destruction of their kingdoms. A remnant of both kingdoms returned to the land and returned to God, but the generation of Jesus' time and their spiritual leaders have again grown cold-hearted toward God.
The verse may also be a warning to the spiritual leaders that history will repeat itself in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, a repeat of the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC. Jesus' parable provides the answer to the withdrawal of God's protection "the rejection of the invitation to enter God's Kingdom through Jesus' Gospel of salvation.
Matthew 22:8-10 ~ Then he said to his servants, The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. 9 Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.' 10 The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.
Question: Why is it time for the "wedding feast"? Who
are those who were invited but no longer worthy, and who are the outsiders who
are now invited to come?
Answer: The bridegroom, Jesus, is present and it is time for the "wedding feast" to begin. Therefore, God the kingly Father extends the invitation to everyone "not to just the people of the Sinai Covenant but all peoples of all nations are invited "Jews and Gentiles "to be in covenant with the Bridegroom as members of His Church.
Matthew 22:11-14 ~ But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 12 He said to him, My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?' But he was reduced to silence. 13 Then the king said to his attendants, Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' 14 Many are invited, but few are chosen."
Question: Why was the one wedding guest not dressed
suitably in a wedding garment? Why did the king ask him about his failure? Who
is the Bride of the wedding feast? Why was the one invited guest cast out? See
1 Cor 6:15-17; 2 Cor 11:2;
Rev 19:8; Jam 2:13-14, 24-26 and
Answer: The wedding guest questioned by the King-God was not dressed in the garment of grace woven from a life of good works. God, the kingly Father called upon him to confess, but he had no answer. The invited guests are the Bride of Christ; they are the members of the Church, the Body of Christ joined to the Bridegroom.
The wedding guest who failed wanted to come but he did not care about the Bridegroom enough to take the time to present a soul purified through repentance and works of faith. The king/God called upon him to confess, but he failed to ask for forgiveness "at the hour of judgment it will be too late for those who failed to cleanse their souls in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At judgment, those who are the Bride of Christ must be dressed in a garment of grace, the texture of which is good deeds. Words are not enough nor are actions that lack substance. Faith and works are the way to salvation (CCC 162, 2016). Those who think they can come to the feast on their own terms without a life of faith and works will be cast out.
The place of "wailing and grinding of teeth" in verse 13 is the same place of eternal judgment as in the other parables (CCC 1033-37). Matthew 13:49 ~ Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wiling and grinding of teeth.
It is not God's desire that any should perish; He has made the invitation for us to come to salvation. He has sent His Son as our Bridegroom, and He has given us all we need through the Sacraments to be dressed in the wedding garment of divine grace to enter into an intimate relationship with Christ the Bridegroom. God invites everyone, but He also asks us to make a radical choice "we must be willing to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom. The choice to come is ours: This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3).
For St. John's vision of the Wedding Feast, see Revelation 19:6-10 (also on handout 1).
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Jesus' Scriptural reference to Himself as the "cornerstone" in Psalms 118:22 recalls the cornerstone of Zion (Jerusalem) passage in Isaiah 28:16: Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he who puts his faith in it shall not be shaken. Jesus is the true and sure foundation stone of salvation that God promised to the Messianic heir of David (Is 7:13-16; 9:1-6; 2 Sam 7:14). How will Sts. Peter and Paul interpret these verses in their teaching (see Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33 and 1 Pt 2:7)? How do you apply this teaching to your life?
Question: Jesus ends His parable of the Wedding Feast with the words: Many are invited, but few are chosen. What is the connection to the theme of God's open invitation to salvation in the Parable of the Wedding Feast and the last verses of that parable that end in divine judgment?
2. Ironically, their reason for executing Jesus to prevent a revolt against Rome was not successful. In 66 AD the Jews revolted against the Roman occupation. Rome responded by invading Judea with four Roman Legions. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish priest who wrote an account of the war with Rome, recorded that eleven hundred thousand died in the siege and capture of Jerusalem and ninety-seven thousand were sold into slavery (Josephus, The Jewish Wars, 6.9.3/420). The nation was completely destroyed just as Caiaphas feared and just as God told Moses would happen if His covenant people rejected Him and His covenant (Dt 28:49-68). For more information see the Exodus study, lesson 6.
4. The Greek transliteration "Hosanna" is also found in the writings of the Church Fathers (i.e. Eusebius, Church History, 2.23.13-14; Jerome, Epistles, 20), in the Church's first Catechism, the Didache, in the Eucharistic Prayer (Didache, 10.6), and in the celebration of the Mass, suggesting that from the earliest years of the Church it had a fixed liturgical usage.
5. While the sacrifices of the Passover lambs and kids were taking place at the altar of sacrifice at the Temple on Nisan the 14th, the Levitical choir sang the Hallel Psalms 113-118, and families and friends meeting in groups that night in Jerusalem to celebrate the sacred meal of the Passover victims also sang the Hallel Psalms during the meal.
7. Flavius Josephus, an eyewitness to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, records that thousands of priests had taken refuge in the Temple, which caught fire in the assault. It burned to the ground and there were no survivors. From that time, the Temple ceased to exist and was never rebuilt. The Old Covenant Temple rites, rituals and sacrifices ceased at the same time. Biblical Judaism no longer exists because the daily communal sacrifice of the Tamid lambs and the other rituals including the offering of sacred incense, the animal sacrifices for forgiveness of sins and the sacred communion meals of restoration of fellowship with God cannot be offered without the Jerusalem Temple, its altar of sacrifice, and a validly ordained priesthood. All those elements "the ordained priest, the holy incense, the forgiveness of sins, the altar, the sacrifice and the sacred meal that restores communion with God are all found in the liturgical celebration of the Mass.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either paraphrased or quoted in the citation):
546, 796*, 1033-37
559, 587*, 756*