Jesus’ Authority Challenged
The Withered Fig Tree (Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:20-26)
Mark’s account tells us that the following morning, which would be Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples walked by the same fig tree that Jesus cursed the day before. The tree had not just lost some leaves, it was dried up down to the roots. Peter pointed out to Jesus that the tree he had cursed was now dead. The word “cursed” means “doomed” or “devoted to destruction.”
Jesus points out that if they had faith in God they could do things that would appear to be impossible, such as telling a mountain to cast itself into the sea. They would have to believe it would be done, without doubt, and it would be accomplished. The point is not that the disciples would be called upon to change the landscape. Jesus is using hyperbole to emphasize that their faith can overcome seemingly impossible odds. Soon they would be called upon to preach to the world of the faithless and idolaters. It is a dramatic expression of what was promised in the Old Testament. “I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16). In talking about the hardships God’s people will face, the writer of Hebrews expressed a similar idea (Hebrews 12:12-13).
Anything that we ask of God, God will grant to us. This is not to say that there are no conditions on what we ask. We must ask in accordance to God’s Will (I John 5:14-15), and we cannot ask for selfish pleasures (James 4:3). There will be times we won’t get what we think we need because God knows more than us (II Corinthians 12:7-9). But Jesus emphasis at this time is our need for complete faith that God hears our prayers (James 1:5-6).
If we are going to approach God, we have our own blemishes removed first. If someone has done us wrong, we must forgive them so that God will forgive us of our sins. The disciples just saw Jesus demonstrated God’s power of judgement. Implied in the warning to forgive before going to God is that we must not pray for personal vengeance. God handles judgement against the evil (Romans 12:17-19). This doesn’t mean we can pray for justice, but we must be careful it is not motivated from personal hatred (Psalm 3:7; 6:10; 54:5; 138:7; Revelation 6:10).
Jesus’ Authority Questioned (Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)
Jesus once again returns to the temple and continues his teaching. This time the leading Jews, the chief priests, scribes, and elders, come to him demanding to know who gave him the right to teach. They demanded him to prove he had authority to teach. The day before he threw the merchants out of the temple and I’m sure this was on their mind as well. Obviously they hadn’t given him permission and they are the head of the Jewish religion.
Rather than answering immediately, Jesus offered a challenge. If they could answer his question he would answer theirs. He then asked them were the authority for John’s baptism came from, heaven or men? The question is of interest today because many people wish to claim that baptism existed under the Old Law. If it had, then the answer to Jesus’ question would have been easy. The fact that they had difficulty answering shows that it was a new, but not objectionable practice.
The Jewish leaders realize they were trapped by the dilemma they hoped to place on Jesus. They could not ignore the question because both Jesus and John were recognized as prophets by the people, and they had never denounced John. If they say John’s authority came from men, then they would be denouncing him, which would upset the people. Luke mentions that the people held John in high enough honor that they would have stoned their leaders for denouncing him. If they say it was from heaven, then they realized that Jesus would point out that they had not listened to John’s message. It was John who testified of Jesus’ authority by declaring him to be the Messiah (John 1:15). Either answer would undermine their authority over the people. Finally they chose a safe answer, “We don’t know.” To which Jesus replied that he would then not answer their question.
In truth, this question had been answered. The miracles he had done demonstrates that Jesus had authority from God, the Father. In addition, this question had been addressed in detail a number of times, such as in John 5. The fact that they did not like the evidence did not make the answer any less true. However, it is in the nature of man to ignore things they don’t wish to accept and then assume that they have not received an answer.
Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)
Jesus asks the leaders to consider a situation and give their opinion. He tells of two sons who were asked to do some work in a vineyard. One son said he would do it, but did not. The other said he won’t do it, but later changed his mind and did it. Jesus’ question was, which of the two sons obeyed his father. The leaders answered that the son who actually did the father’s will was the obedient son.
He then points out that this is no different than life. People who have sinned, those who have told God the Father, “no” have changed their minds and will enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet they as religious leaders have given verbal assurance that they would obey the Father, but they continue to refuse to actually do what God has asked of them. John came and told them of the way of righteousness, but they refused to believe John. Yet lowly sinners did believe (Matthew 3:5-6) and even after seeing this they had no change of heart (John 7:48-49).
By this teaching Jesus demonstrates that the religious rulers did refuse the authority of John, so it is no marvel that they had already made up their mind to refuse the authority of Jesus.
Parable of the Vine-Growers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18)
Jesus then invites the leaders to listen to another parable. This one told of a landowner who planted a vineyard. The story is very similar to that told in Isaiah 5:1-7, though the story takes a different turn. The vineyard was well protected and prepared for collecting and processing grapes. He then leased it to some men to operate it while he was in a far country. When it came time to collect the rent in the form of a portion of the produce, he sent servants. The men mistreated the servants, scourging one, killing another, and stoning another. When the landowner sent a large delegation of servants, they were treated in a similar fashion (II Chronicles 36:16; Jeremiah 44:4-6; Acts 7:52-53; I Thessalonians 2:15; Hebrews 11:36-37). Finally the landowner sent his only son thinking they would at least respect him (John 5:23). Instead, they killed the son in hopes of taking the son’s inheritance for themselves. Jesus is alluding to the fact that he knows their plot (John 11:53). Even the casting out of the vineyard is a part of the prophecy (John 19:17; Hebrews 13:12-13). Jesus then asks what will happen when the landowner comes. The leaders pointed out that the wicked men would be destroyed and the vineyard will be give to others who would respect the landowner.
Jesus then reminds them of a passage from Psalm 118:22-23 where the stone rejected becomes the chief cornerstone. The leaders are just like the wicked men in the parable. The kingdom of God would be taken from them because they disobeyed God, mistreated His servants the prophets, and would kill God’s Son. It would be given to others who would use the kingdom productively (Acts 28:28). Jesus then alludes to Isaiah 8:14-15, continuing to put himself in the position of the stone. Those who stumbled over him would be broken, but if he must fall on them, they would be utterly destroyed.
The rulers did not miss the point that Jesus was talking about them in these parables. They longed to arrest Jesus but they didn’t dare do anything in front of the people assembled. The people saw Jesus as a prophet and would rise up to protect him. As Jesus pointed out, it was their hope to retain power, thinking that by killing Jesus they would be able to hold on to the kingdom.
Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14)
Jesus continues with another parable. It is a modified form of the one he gave in Luke 14:16-24. Changes are made because the situation has changed. The invited feast is one that normally would not be ignored. The king has issued invitations to come to his son’s wedding feast. Though servants are sent out to tell the invited that the feast was ready, those invited made light of it and ignored the request to attend. In this parable the king is God, the Father; the wedding feast is for Jesus, His Son; and those invited were the Jews, but they ignored the apostles, prophets, and preachers (God’s servants) sent to bring them. The Jews were too busy in worldly affairs to give heed to God’s invitation. But some went out of their way to abuse the servants sent to invite them. These represent the Jews who persecuted the early church (Acts 4:3; 5:18; 7:58; 8:3; 12:3; 14:5; 17:5; 21:30; I Thessalonians 2:15).
When the king heard, he sent armies to destroy both the people and their city. This is a reference to the future destruction of Israel and Jerusalem by the Roman army.
The king found those invited unworthy, so others were sought (Acts 13:46). All would be invited without regard to class. This would be the common people among the Jews whom they often overlooked as being too sinful and the Gentiles. The feast was filled with both good and bad people. This too has been a common element in Jesus’ parables about the kingdom. The church, God’s kingdom, would pull in both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 13:47-50; 25:1-2). Not all brought in would remain bad (I Corinthians 6:11), but still the church is not exclusively composed of only good people.
In amongst the guest was a man not dressed in wedding finery (Zephaniah 1:7-8). Most speculate that it was the custom in this part of the world for the wealthy who are throwing a wedding party to supply garments to those who attend (Isaiah 61:10; II Corinthians 5:3; Revelation 16:15; 19:8-9). One would assume that being invited by the king to attend his son’s wedding would call for bringing out the finest that one had anyway. Which ever way we take it, when the man was asked, he was speechless – he had no excuse for what he had done. The fact that one came wearing ordinary clothing made a statement that the king found insulting. Ordinary clothes says the event was an ordinary event; thus, the man was treating the king and his son with contempt. Though it might seem to be a minor offense, remember that the king had already destroy a city for their contempt of him. This man was bound and cast out into the outer darkness, a reference to Hell.
Tolerance of sin is not what God’s kingdom is about. Though the invitation went out to many, only a few are actually selected (Matthew 7:13-14; 20:16; Luke 13:23-24). The invitation did not guarantee acceptance. People have to change (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).