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Matthew 21:15

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The chief priests - were sore displeased - Or, were incensed. Incensed at what! At the purification of the profaned temple! This was a work they should have done themselves, but for which they had neither grace nor influence; and their pride and jealousy will not suffer them to permit others to do it. Strange as it may appear, the priesthood itself, in all corrupt times, has been ever the most forward to prevent a reform in the Church. Was it because they were conscious that a reformer would find them no better than money-changers in, and profaners of, the house of God, and that they and their system must be overturned, if the true worship of God were restored! Let him who is concerned answer this to his conscience.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 12-22

This paragraph contains the account of the barren fig-tree, and of the cleansing of the temple. See also Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48.

Matthew 21:12

And Jesus went into the temple of God … - From Mark 11:11-15, it is probable that this cleansing of the temple did not take place on the day that he entered Jerusalem in triumph, but on the day following.

He came and looked round upon all things, Mark says, and went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the day following, returning from Bethany, he saw the fig-tree. Entering into the temple, he purified it “on that day;” or perhaps he “finished” the work of purifying it on that day, which he commenced the day before. Matthew has mentioned the purifying of the temple, which was performed, probably, on two successive days, or has stated the “fact,” without being particular as to the order of events. Mark has stated the order more particularly, and has “divided” what Matthew mentions together.

The “temple of God,” that is, the temple dedicated and devoted to the service of God, was built on Mount Moriah. The first temple was built by Solomon, about 1005 years before Christ, 1 Kings 6:38. David, his father, had contemplated the design of building it, and had prepared many materials for it, but was prevented because he had been a man of war, 1 Chronicles 22:1-9; 1 Kings 5:5. This temple, erected with great magnificence, remained until it was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, 584 years before Christ, 2 Chronicles 36:6-7, 2 Chronicles 36:19.

After the Babylonian captivity the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, but with vastly inferior and diminished splendor. The aged people wept when they compared it with the glory of the former temple, Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:12. This was called the “second” temple. This temple was often defiled in the wars before the time of Christ. It had become much decayed and impaired Herod the Great, being exceedingly unpopular among the Jews on account of his cruelties (see the notes at Haggai 2:9. On this building Herod employed 18,000 men, and completed it so as to be suitable for use in 9 years, or about 8 years before Christ. But additions continued to be made to it, and it continued increasing in splendor and magnificence until 64 a.d. John says John 2:20, “forty and six years was this temple in building.” Christ was then 30 years of age, which, added to the 16 years occupied in repairing it before his birth, makes 46 years.

The word “temple” was given not merely to the sacred edifice or house itself, but to all the numerous chambers, courts, and rooms connected with it on the top of Mount Moriah. The temple itself was a small edifice, and was surrounded by courts and chambers half a mile in circumference. Into the sacred edifice itself our Saviour never went. The high priest only went into the holy of holies, and that but once a year, and none but priests were permitted to enter the holy place. Our Saviour was neither. He was of the tribe of “Judah,” and he consequently was allowed to enter no further than the other Israelites into the temple. The works that he is said to have performed in the temple, therefore, are to be understood as having been performed in the courts surrounding the sacred edifice. These courts will now be described. The temple was erected on Mount Moriah. The space on the summit of the mount was not, however, large enough for the buildings necessary to be erected. It was therefore enlarged by building high walls from the valley below and filling up the space within. One of these walls was 600 feet in height. The ascent to the temple was by high flights of steps. The entrance to the temple, or to the courts on the top of the mount, was by nine gates, all of them extremely splendid. On every side they were thickly coated with gold and silver. But there was one gate of special magnificence: this was called the Beautiful Gate, Acts 3:2. It was on the east side, and was made of Corinthian brass, one of the most precious metals in ancient times. See the Introduction to 1Corinthians, section 1. This gate was 50 cubits, or 75 feet, in height.

The whole temple, with all its courts, was surrounded by a wall about 25 feet in height. This was built on the wall raised from the base to the top of the mountain, so that from the top of it to the bottom, in a perpendicular descent, was in some places not far from 600 feet. This was particularly the case on the southeast corner; and it was here, probably, that Satan wished our Saviour to cast himself down. See the notes at Matthew 4:6.

On the inside of this wall, between the gates, were piazzas or covered porches. On the eastern, northern, and western sides there were two rows of these porches; on the south, three. These porches were covered walks, about 20 feet in width, paved with marble of different colors, with a flat roof of costly cedar, which was supported by pillars of solid marble, so large that three men could scarcely stretch their arms so as to meet around them. These walks or porches afforded a grateful shade and protection to the people in hot or stormy weather. The one on the east side was distinguished for its beauty, and was called Solomon‘s porch, John 10:23; Acts 3:11. It stood over the vast terrace or wall which he had raised from the valley beneath, and which was the only thing of his work that remained in the second temple.

When a person entered any of the gates into this space within the wall he saw the temple rising before him with great magnificence; but the space was not clear all the way up to it. Going forward, he came to another wall, enclosing considerable ground, considered more holy than the rest of the hill. The space between this first and second wall was called “the court of the Gentiles.” It was so called because Gentiles might come into it, but they could proceed no further. On the second wall and on the gates were inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, forbidding any Gentile or unclean person from proceeding further on pain of death. This “court” was not of equal dimensions all the way round the temple. On the east, north, and west it was quite narrow. On the south it was wide, occupying nearly half of the whole surface of the hill. In this court the Gentiles might come. Here was the place where much secular business was transacted. This was the place occupied by the buyers and sellers, and by the money-changers, and which Jesus purified by casting them out.

The enclosure within the second wall was nearly twice as long from east to west as from north to south. This enclosure was also divided. The eastern part of it was called “the court of the women;” so called because women might advance thus far, but no farther. This court was square. It was entered by three gates; one on the north, one on the east directly opposite to the Beautiful gate, and one on the south. In passing from the court of the Gentiles to that of the women, it was necessary to ascend about 9 feet by steps. This court of the women was enclosed with a double wall, with a space between the walls about 15 feet in width, paved with marble. The inner of these two walls was much higher than the one outside. The court of the women was paved with marble. In the corners of that court were different structures for the various uses of the temple. It was in this court that the Jews commonly worshipped. Here, probably, Peter and John, with others, went up to pray, Acts 3:1. Here, too, the Pharisee and publican prayed - the Pharisee near the gate that led forward to the temple; the publican standing far off, on the other side of the court, Luke 18:9-14. Paul also was seized here, and charged with defiling the temple by bringing the Gentiles into that holy place, Acts 21:26-30.

A high wall on the west side of the court of the women divided it from the court of the Israelites, so called because all the males of the Jews might advance there. To this court there was an ascent of fifteen steps. These steps were in the form of a half circle. The great gate to which these steps led was called the gate “Nicanor.” Besides this, there were three gates on each side, leading from the court of the women to the court of the Israelites.

Within the court of the “Israelites” was the court of the “priests,” separated by a wall about 1 1/2 foot in height. Within that court was the altar of burnt-offering and the laver standing in front of it. Here the priests performed the daily service of the temple. In this place, also, were accommodations for the “priests” when not engaged in conducting the service of the temple, and for the Levites who conducted the music of the sanctuary.

The temple, properly so called, stood within this court. It surpassed in splendor all the other buildings of the holy city; perhaps in magnificence it was unequalled in the world. It fronted the east, looking down through the gates Nicanor and the Beautiful Gate, and onward to the Mount of Olives. From the Mount of Olives on the east there was a beautiful and commanding view of the whole sacred edifice. It was there that our Saviour sat when the disciples directed his attention to the goodly stones with which the temple was built, Mark 13:1. The entrance into the temple itself was from the court “of the priests,” by an ascent of twelve steps. The “porch” in front of the temple was 150 feet high and as many broad. The open space in this perch through which the temple was entered was 115 feet high and 37 broad, without doors of any sort, The appearance of this, built, as it was, with white marble, and decorated with plates of silver, from the Mount of Olives was exceedingly dazzling and splendid. Josephus says that in the rising of the sun it reflected so strong and dazzling an effulgence that the eye of the spectator was obliged to turn away. To strangers at a distance, it appeared like a mountain covered with snow, for where it was not decorated with plates of gold it was extremely white and glistening.

The temple itself was divided into two parts. The first, called the “sanctuary” or holy place; was 60 feet in length 60 feet in height, and 30 feet in width. In this was the golden candlestick, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense. The “holy of holies” or the “most holy place,” was 30 feet each way. In the first temple this contained the ark of the covenant, the tables of the law, and over the ark was the mercy-seat and the cherubim. Into this place no person entered but the high priest, and he but once in the year. These two apartments were separated only by a vail, very costly and curiously performed. It was this vail which was rent from the top to the bottom when the Saviour died, Matthew 27:51. Around the walls of the “temple,” properly so called, was a structure three stories high, containing chambers for the use of the officers of the temple. The temple was wholly leveled to the ground by the Romans under Titus and Vespasian, and was effectually destroyed, according to the predictions of the Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 24:2. The site of it was made like a plowed field. Julian the apostate attempted to rebuild it, but the workmen, according to his own historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, were prevented by balls of fire breaking out from the ground. See Warburton‘s “Divine Legation of Moses.” Its site is now occupied by the Mosque of Omar, one of the most splendid specimens of Saracenic architecture in the world.

And cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple - The place where this was done was not the temple itself, but the outer court “or the court of the Gentiles.” This was esteemed the least sacred part of the temple; and the Jews, it seems, did not consider it profanation to appropriate this to any business in any way connected with the temple service. The things which they bought and sold were at first those pertaining. to the sacrifices. It is not improbable, however, that the traffic afterward extended to all kinds of merchandise. It gave rise to much confusion, noise, contention, and fraud, and was exceedingly improper in the temple of the Lord.

The tables of the money-changers - Judea was subject to the Romans. The money in current use was Roman coin; yet the Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of “half a shekel,” Exodus 30:11-16. This was a Jewish coin, and the tribute was required to be paid in that coin. It became, therefore, a matter of convenience to have a place where the Roman coin might be exchanged for the Jewish half shekel. This was the “professed” business of these men. Of course, they would demand a small sum for the exchange; and, among so many thousands as came up to the great feasts, it would be a very profitable employment, and one easily giving rise to much fraud and oppression.

The seats of them that sold doves - Doves were required to be offered in sacrifice - Leviticus 14:22; Luke 2:24 - yet it was difficult to bring them from the distant parts of Judea. It was found much easier to purchase them in Jerusalem. Hence, it became a business to keep them to sell to those who were required to offer them.

Mark adds Mark 11:16 that he “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.” That is, probably, any of the vessels or implements connected with the traffic in oil, incense, wine, etc., that were kept for sale in the temple.

Matthew 21:13

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.

Mark and Luke add, that in consequence of this, the scribes and chief priests attempted to put him to death, Mark 11:18-19; Luke 19:47-48. This they did from “envy,” Matthew 27:18. He drew off the people from them, and they envied and hated him. They were “restrained,” then, for the fear of the people; and this was the reason why they plotted “secretly” to put him to death, and why they afterward so gladly heard the proposals of the traitor, Matthew 26:14-15.

Matthew 21:15, Matthew 21:16

When the chief priests … - The chief men of the nation were envious of his popularity.

They could not prevent it; but, being determined to find fault, they took occasion to do so from the shouts of the children. People often are offended that “children” have anything to do with religion, and deem it very improper that “they” should rejoice that the Saviour has come. Our Lord Jesus viewed this subject differently. He saw that it was proper that they should rejoice. they are interested in the concerns of religion, and before evil principles get fast hold of their minds is a proper time for them to love and obey him. The Lord Jesus silenced those who made the objection by appealing to a text of their own Scriptures. This text is found in Psalm 8:2. The quotation is not made directly from the Hebrew. but from the Greek translation. This, however, should create no difficulty. The point of the quotation was to prove that “children” might offer praise to God. This is expressed in both the Hebrew and the Greek.

Matthew 21:17

Bethany - See the notes at Matthew 21:1.

Matthew 21:19

And when he saw a fig-tree in the way … - This tree was standing in the public road.

It was therefore common property and anyone might lawfully use its fruit. Mark says Mark 11:13, “Seeing a fig-tree afar off, having leaves, he came,” etc. Not far off “from the road,” but at a considerable distance from the place where he was. Having loaves, and appearing healthy and luxuriant, they presumed that there would be fruit on it. Mark says Mark 11:13, “he came, if haply he might find anything thereon.” That is, judging from the “appearance” of the tree, it was “probable” that there would be fruit on it. We are not to suppose that our Lord was ignorant of the true condition of the tree, but he acted according to the appearance of things; being a man as well as divine, he acted, of course, as people do act in such circumstances.

And found nothing thereon but leaves only - Mark Mark 11:13 gives as a reason for this that “the time of figs was not yet.” That is, the time “of gathering” the figs was not yet, or had not passed. It was a time when figs were ripe or suitable to eat, or he would not have gone to it, expecting to find them; but the time of gathering them had not passed, and it was to be presumed that they were still on the tree. This took place on the week of the Passover, or in the beginning of April. Figs, in Palestine, are commonly ripe at the Passover. The summer in Palestine begins in March, and it is no uncommon thing that figs should be eatable in April. It is said that they sometimes produce fruit the year round.

Mark Mark 11:12-13 says that this took place on the morning of the day on which he purified the temple. Matthew would lead us to suppose that it was on the day following. Matthew records briefly what Mark records more “fully.” Matthew states the fact that the fig-tree was barren and withered away, without regarding minutely the order or the circumstances in which the event took place. There is no contradiction, because Matthew does not affirm that this took place on the morning after the temple was cleansed, though he places it in that order; nor does he say that a day did not elapse after the fig-tree was cursed before the disciples discovered that it was withered, though he does not affirm that it was so. Such circumstantial variations, where there is no positive contradiction, go greatly to confirm the truth of a narrative. They show that the writers were honest men, and did not “conspire” to deceive the world.

And said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee … - Mark calls this “cursing” the tree Mark 11:21. The word “curse,” as used by him, does not imply “anger,” or disappointment, or malice. It means only “devoting it to destruction,” or causing it to wither away. All the “curse” that was pronounced was in the words “that no fruit should grow on it.” The Jews used the word “curse” not as always implying “wrath or anger,” but to devote to “death,” or to any kind of destruction, Hebrews 6:8. It has been commonly thought that the Saviour performed this miracle to denote the sudden “withering away” or destruction of the Jewish people. They, like the fig-tree, promised fair. That was full of leaves, and they full of professions. Yet both were equally barren; and as that was destroyed, so they were soon to be. It was certain that this would be a good “illustration” of the destruction of the Jewish people, but there is no evidence that Jesus intended it as such, and without such evidence we have no right to say that was its meaning. “And presently the fig-tree withered away.” That is, before another day. See Mark. It is probable that they were passing directly onward, and did not stop then to consider it. Matthew does not affirm that it withered “away in their presence,” and Mark affirms that they made the discovery on the morning after it was “cursed.”

Matthew 21:20

And when the disciples saw it - That is, on the morning following that on which it was cursed, Mark 11:20.

They marveled, saying … - Peter said this, Mark 11:21 Matthew means only to say that this was said to him; Mark tells us which one of them said it.

Matthew 21:21

Jesus answered and said … - Jesus took occasion from this to establish their faith in God, Mark 11:22

He told them that any difficulty could be overcome by faith. To remove a mountain denotes the power of surmounting or removing any difficulty. The phrase was so used by the Jews. There is no doubt that this was “literally” true - that if “they had the faith of miracles,” they could remove the mountain before them - the Mount of Olives - for this was as easy for God to do by them as to heal the sick or raise the dead. But the Saviour rather referred, probably, to the difficulties and trials which they would be called to endure in preaching the gospel.

Matthew 21:22

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.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Christ found some of the courts of the temple turned into a market for cattle and things used in the sacrifices, and partly occupied by the money-changers. Our Lord drove them from the place, as he had done at his entering upon his ministry, Joh 2:13-17. His works testified of him more than the hosannas; and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former. If Christ came now into many parts of his visible church, how many secret evils he would discover and cleanse! And how many things daily practised under the cloak of religion, would he show to be more suitable to a den of thieves than to a house of prayer!
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 589-93

At the beginning of His ministry, Christ had driven from the temple those who defiled it by their unholy traffic; and His stern and godlike demeanor had struck terror to the hearts of the scheming traders. At the close of His mission He came again to the temple, and found it still desecrated as before. The condition of things was even worse than before. The outer court of the temple was like a vast cattle yard. With the cries of the animals and the sharp chinking of coin was mingled the sound of angry altercation between traffickers, and among them were heard the voices of men in sacred office. The dignitaries of the temple were themselves engaged in buying and selling and the exchange of money. So completely were they controlled by their greed of gain that in the sight of God they were no better than thieves. DA 589.1

Little did the priests and rulers realize the solemnity of the work which it was theirs to perform. At every Passover and Feast of Tabernacles, thousands of animals were slain, and their blood was caught by the priests and poured upon the altar. The Jews had become familiar with the offering of blood, and had almost lost sight of the fact that it was sin which made necessary all this shedding of the blood of beasts. They did not discern that it prefigured the blood of God's dear Son, which was to be shed for the life of the world, and that by the offering of sacrifices men were to be directed to a crucified Redeemer. DA 589.2

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 3, 406

As God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, that they might keep His Sabbath, so He calls His people out of Babylon that they may not worship the beast nor his image. The man of sin, who thought to change times and laws, has exalted himself above God by presenting this spurious sabbath to the world; the Christian world has accepted this child of the Papacy, and cradled and nourished it, thus defying God by removing His memorial and setting up a rival sabbath. 3SM 406.1

A More Decided Effort to Exalt Sunday—After the truth has been proclaimed as a witness to all nations, at a time when every conceivable power of evil is set in operation, when minds are confused by the many voices crying, “Lo, here is Christ,” “Lo, He is there,” “This is truth,” “I have a message from God,” “He has sent me with great light,” and there is a removing of the landmarks, and an attempt to tear down the pillars of our faith—then a more decided effort is made to exalt the false sabbath, and to cast contempt upon God Himself by supplanting the day He has blessed and sanctified. 3SM 406.2

While Satan Works the Angel of Revelation 18 Proclaims His Message—This false sabbath is to be enforced by an oppressive law. Satan and his angels are wide awake and intensely active, working with energy and perseverance through human instrumentalities to bring about his purpose of obliterating the knowledge of God. While Satan is working with his lying wonders, the time has come [that was] foretold in the Revelation, when the mighty angel that shall lighten the earth with his glory will proclaim the fall of Babylon and call upon God's people to forsake her.... 3SM 406.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, 75

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 9T 75.1

“And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple; and He healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, and said unto Him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?” Matthew 21:12-16. 9T 75.2

One point that should never be forgotten by our workers is that the Lord Jesus Christ is our chief director. He has outlined a plan by which the schools may be relieved of their indebtedness, and He will not vindicate the course of those who lay this plan aside for lack of confidence in its success. When His people will come up unitedly to the help of His cause in the earth, no good thing that God has promised will be withheld from them. 9T 75.3

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 609

In reply to the statement that Christ was the Son of David, Jesus said, “How then doth David in Spirit [the Spirit of Inspiration from God] call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool? If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son? And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions.” DA 609.1

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