This passage highlights Jesus’ judgment against what had become of his people’s religion. It also shows the absolute necessity of trusting that Jesus has come as God’s son to fix it.
First, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a young donkey and receives a king’s welcome. Crowds cheer for him, and for a moment it seems like people recognize Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 21:9).
Soon after, Jesus enters the temple and drives out the merchants working inside. The temple had become corrupted and Jesus was there to pass judgment on it (Matthew 21:13).
The next day when Jesus curses a fruitless fig tree (Matthew 21:19). This is a living picture of what happened at the temple. The temple, like the tree, wasn’t productive. So Jesus curses it.
Jesus then tells three parables, painting the religious leaders as disobedient children, murderous tenants, and dismissive invitees to a wedding banquet.
Different religious groups take turns trying to trick Jesus into saying something incriminating by asking him loaded theological questions. But Jesus constantly outwits their schemes with God’s truth.
Finally, Jesus responds with his own question about a passage in Psalms about the Christ (Matthew 22:42). The religious leaders are silenced, for they can’t give an answer.
Then Jesus issues seven woes directly to the Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 23:13). They might preach some version of the truth, but they don’t live it.
He finishes by addressing all of Jerusalem. Jesus laments that God’s people in the city haven’t been willing to come to him (Matthew 23:37). Like the withered fig tree and the soon-to-be-destroyed Temple, Jesus says that they, too, are desolate (Matthew 23:38).
Why is this good news?
At least two prophecies were fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. One talked about Israel’s long-awaited king coming to her on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). The other is what the people were chanting upon Jesus’ arrival. “Hosanna” means “save us” and comes from Psalm 118:25.
Jesus would answer this cry for salvation by fulfilling the temple’s purpose. In clearing the temple of its merchants, Jesus halted the operations of sacrificial system as a prophetic demonstration of how his sacrificial death would end the need for the temple system once and for all.
A question you might think as you read this text is, “How can I make sure I’m not like the Pharisees Jesus rebukes?” While there are many answers, including practice what you preach, one stands out above the rest - do not reject Jesus.
The Pharisees are the second son in Jesus’ first parable, that say they follow God but their rejection of Jesus proves they do not (Matthew 21:30). The Pharisees are the tenants of the vineyard in Jesus’ second parable who kill the master’s son (Matthew 21:38). The Pharisees are the ones who refused an invitation to Jesus’ wedding feast in his third parable (Matthew 22:5).
How can we not be like the Pharisees? Accept Jesus!
See for Yourself
May the Holy Spirit open your eyes to see the God who answers our prayer for rescue. And Jesus as the Savior who accomplishes this rescue by replacing the temple with his own flesh and blood.