Matt. 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
The Saviour now proceeds on His last journey to Jerusalem, His final presentation of Himself, as far as testimony went, is the Messiah. His prophetic task had been accomplished and refused; the great work of atonement lay yet before Him. Between the two comes His royal progress, we may call it, to the city of the Great King. Nevertheless, as He was the predicted Prophet like unto Moses, and yet never man spake like this man; as He was the antitype of all the sacrifices, and yet they were but the shadow, not the very image, of the coming good, so there was a character wholly diverse from the manner of kings in the King of kings and Lord of lords, as He came to His own possession here below, His raising and settling the question whether His own people would receive Him.
“And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to113 Bethphage, and Bethany, at113 the Mount of Olives, He sends two of His disciples, and says to them, Go into the village that is over against you; and immediately on entering into it ye will find a colt tied, upon which none of men hath ever sat: loose and bring it. And if anyone say to you, Why do ye this? say, The Lord hath need of it; and immediately. he sends it here.”114
It is pre-eminently a scene under the governing hand of God. He would and did control the feelings of such as witnessed the colt taken, even as He afterwards directed the deeds and acclamations of the multitude by the way. “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” Indeed, this is so much the case that I suspect “the Lord” is here, as in Mark 5:19, left purposely vague. The Lord had need of the ass’s colt, whether they referred the title to Jehovah or to the king who thus came in His name. If their faith really recognised the Messiah in Jehovah it was most true, and so much the better for those who did; but I am not sure that it could be asserted as the intention of the Spirit to imply that so much was meant in either of these cases. It is only in the two closing verses of this Gospel that we can certainly gather that He is designated “the Lord.” The suitableness of this reserve till the statement of His final triumph by our Evangelist, who devotes himself to His service here below, is strikingly beautiful, and equally so in its absence before and in its presence then.
“And they went away and found a Colt114 tied to the door without at the crossway; and they loose it. And some of those standing there said to them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said to them even as Jesus said: and they suffered them. And they bring the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on it;”‘, and He sat upon it. And many, strewed their garments on the way, and others beds of twigs, having cut them from the fields.115 And those that went before and those that followed cried out, Hosanna! blessed [be] He that cometh in the name of [the] Lord. Blessed [be] the coming kingdom of our father David.116 Hosanna in the highest.”
It was a singularly bright testimony to the ways of God, and this not alone in the ever-adorable One who thus deigned to offer Himself to the acceptance of His people, but in the suited cries of the multitude, little as they realised the truth of their own words or the gravity of the situation for their nation and city from that day to this. God, I repeat, was moving in the midst. He would have a testimony, true but despised, to the King, humble Himself as He might. Matthew points out the fulfilment of the prophetic oracle in the strange sight of that day. Luke adds “peace in heaven and glory in the highest” in the praise to God which filled the mouths and hearts of the disciples, as well as the blessed Saviour’s lament and tears over Jerusalem. It fell more within the domain of Mark to say that He “entered into Jerusalem117 into the temple; and having looked round on all things, the hour being already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”
Matthew, as often, does not distinguish the stages of the transaction. From his account you could not gather that the Lord merely looked round on all the first day of His visit, and that not till the following day did He cast out those who desecrated the Temple with their buying and selling, as he alone describes the approach to Him there of the blind and lame (Matt. 21:14) to be healed. I am aware that some have. tried to solve the difficulty by the assumption that Matthew gives us a purging of the Temple on the first day, Mark on the second. But this appears to me definitely set aside by the precision of our Evangelist’s language about this second day, who tells us (verse 15) that then, not on the first day, He began to cast out those who sold and bought in the Temple.
John, on the other hand, entirely omits this cleansing of the Temple, but records (John 2) what no one else has done, an early act of similar character before our Lord entered on His public or Galilean ministry. But this is exquisitely in keeping with the whole scope of his Gospel, which starts, as it were, with the point to which the other Evangelists gradually conduct us — the utter rejection of the Lord by His people, who abhorred Him, as He could not but loathe them.
There is a similar merging of a twofold account in one view, if we compare Matthew’s description of the cursed fig-tree with Mark’s. “And on the morrow, when they came out from Bethany, He was hungry; and seeing a fig-tree from afar having leaves, He came, if perhaps He might find something on it; and having come up to it, he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the time of figs. And, answering, He said to it, Let none eat fruit of thee any more for ever. And His disciples heard.” Had it been fig season the fruit might have been already gathered, but as it was not, fruit ought to have been found there, unless the tree were barren. Thus it was the emblem of the Jew, fruitless to God, however abounding in the semblance of life before men. Leaves the tree had, but no fruit. Hence the doom was pronounced — not more surely verified in the fig-tree then than ever since in the empty profession of the Jews.116
Matt. 21:12-19; Luke 19:41-48.
After hearing the doom of the barren fig-tree, they come to Jerusalem, and enter the Temple, whence the Lord began to cast out those who sold and bought therein, overthrowing the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dove-sellers, and suffering none to carry a vessel through the Temple.117 This He followed up by teaching openly what is written in Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:11-God’s purpose in the Temple, and meanwhile man’s selfish misuse of it. “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.” The prophetic reproof was not powerless, but it fell into a soil fruitful only in thorns and briers, worthless, and nigh to that curse, if not under it, which had just lit upon the type of their estate. “And the chief priests and the scribes heard [it], and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the crowd were astonished at His doctrine.” Truly their end was to be burned: God was not in their thoughts, but man; and self, not conscience, governed them. But what a picture! The righteous, elect Servant, the Son of God, hated to death — not of the crowd, who, if thoughtless and fickle, at least hung on unwonted words of holy vindication of God, of goodness toward man, of stern rebuke for the proud perverters of sacred things. Alas! it was these, the chiefs of religion, the theologians of that day, who quailed before the light of God, and sought only to extinguish it, that they might still preserve their influence among the men they loved not, but despised. And is the world or its religion better now?
What could detain Jesus in such a scene, the more revolting because it was in title and responsibility “the holy, city”? Nothing but the errand of holy love on which He came. Hence, at the approach of night, His work for that day done, He retires once more, without the city. Who but the enemy could have insinuated the blasphemous thought that it was because that city was too hallowed ground for Him to rest on as yet?
As they passed next morning, the sight of the fig-tree dried up from the roots118 recalled the curse of yesterday to Peter. The Master’s answer was, “Have faith in God” — a more pointed form of speech”“ than that in the Gospel of Matthew, and of the gravest moment for the servants of God in presence of the guilt and ruin of that which seems fairest, or, at least, is most esteemed among men. As the fig-tree symbolized the people in their religious pretensions, now manifestly vain, and so judged of Him whose right it was and is, “this mountain” appears to denote rather their “place and nation,” which in their unbelief they strove hard to keep under Roman patronage. (“We have no king but Caesar.”) Strong as it stood in Jewish eyes, before the faith of the disciples it was doomed, and soon about to be violently rooted up and lost in the sea of Gentiles.118 Such is the declared efficacy of faith; but another requisite is (which faith indeed would effect) the spirit of gracious forgiveness toward any who might have wronged or otherwise offended us. In Matthew this has its place in the Sermon on the Mount, and especially in the prayer,120 as the retributive converse appears in the parable of the merciless servant. In Luke the principle comes out in another shape.
Matt. 21:23-27; Luke 20:1-8.
The next visit to Jerusalem confronts the Lord, as He walks about in the Temple, with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, who demand by what authority He was doing these things, and who gave it Him. Jesus pledges Himself to speak as to His authority, if they answer His question as to John’s baptism — was it of heaven or men? It was an appeal to conscience; but conscience they had none, save a bad one, which at once shrank into reserve, fearful to commit itself, not afraid to trifle with God and man. For they reasoned with themselves that, allowing John’s baptism to be of heaven, they must receive his testimony to Jesus; asserting it to be of men, they must forfeit the people’s favour, John being universally held to be in very deed a prophet. They preferred, therefore, to shelter themselves under a seemingly prudent ignorance. Who were they, then, to question the authority of Jesus? If they could only say “We know not,” their incompetency was confessed. Those who could not solve, the question of the servant were surely not qualified to judge of the Master. In truth, their incapacity was, if possible, less than their hypocritical wickedness: the will was at fault yet more than the understanding. The Lord might well be excused answering such a question to such men. What a position for those who examined His authority to find themselves in! Left under the shadow and shame of their own avowed ignorance in the presence of the gravest religious problem then before them, they are obliged to bow to Him who closes the inquiry with unspeakable dignity, and with the most befitting wisdom — “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Lord, Thou knewest all things; Thou knewest that these men hated Thee!
114 If Lachmann meant by his punctuation or non-punctuation of the two last clauses (for he reads
Ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει καὶ εὐθὺς αὐτὸν ἀποστέλλει ὧδε) that it is the Lord who was also straightway to send the colt, it seems strange that he did not adopt the addition of
πάλιν, which occurs in the Sinai, Cambridge (Beza’s), Vatican and Paris (L) Manuscripts, and more than tell cursives (B.T.). The text followed above is the critical. See, further, note 114. “Sends”: so Edd., after ABCD, etc., Goth. “Will send” is in GU
ΠΦΨ, I, and some versions. “Again” is without the support of vv.
115 It appears to me that the best readings here are as I have given above [so Edd. below]. The common text is owing to the usual habit of assimilating the Gospel to the corresponding passages in Matthew and Luke. The frequency of the present tense in Mark is a feature of his style which gives vividness to what he depicts. The chief departure from the common text is in the last clause, where we have the shorter phrase,
κόψαντες ἐκ τῶν ἀγρῶν in the Sinai, Vatican, Rescript of Ephrem S. and L. of Paris, Graeco-Lat. of St. Gall (
Δ), besides versions (B.T.). The Sinaitic Syriac goes so far as to omit the words “others . . . fields.” “Strewed them on the way” is supported by AD, etc., Old Latin, Syrpesch hcl Goth. Arm.
116 “The coming kingdom,” etc.: so Edd., after BCL, I, etc. whilst A, etc., have “in the name of the Lord.”
117 “And” (T.R.) before “into” is in AD, etc., Syrsin hcl Goth., but is omitted in the “neutral text” followed by Edd.
118 The Received Text is far from correct. The Sinai and other manuscripts [D, 33corr, with 69, etc., Syrsin Arm.] give “If ye have faith in God, verily,” etc. But apart from this, the close of verse 23, I think, should be, “but believe that what he speaks comes to pass, he shall have it” [as B, etc.]. “For” at the beginning of the verse appears in ACL and later uncials, most cursives, syrpesch hcl Memph. Goth.]. So in verse 24 [BCL Memph.], “For this reason I say unto you, All things, whatsoever ye shall pray and beg, believe that ye have received, and ye shall have them” (B.T.).