Saturday, May 14, 2011

Matthew 21-23; John 12

Matthew 21-23; John 12:1-8

"Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.  There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.  (John 12:1-2)

When Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded their gospels, Lazarus was probably still living, and was in threat of being killed to remove the proof of Christ's miracle in his behalf.  This is likely why John, whose gospel was written much later, was the only one to record the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  (Farrar, p. 511, quoted in McConkie, p. 334).

"Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment."  (John 12:3)
According to Harper-Collins, the Roman pound was about 12 ounces or 340 grams.  The perfumed ointment mentioned was imported from the Himalayas.

"To anoint the head of a guest with ordinary oil was to do him honor; to anoint his feet also was to show unusual and signal regard; but the anointing of head and feet with spikenard, and in such abundance, was an act of reverential homage rarely rendered even to kings" (Talmadge, p. 512).

"The sense may be that this anointing of Jesus foreshadows his impending death.  Jewish burial customs included anointing the body with perfumed oil (Harper-Collins, p. 2037).
Judas Iscariot complained about this "wastefulness."  I couldn't get any kind of consensus from all the sources I looked at as to how much money the oil really would cost today, or how it compared with the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas sold Jesus, but it is obvious that it was fairly expensive.  It was evidence that Mary recognized the great worth of Jesus and honored him, and he appreciated it as such.  Judas was the perfect example of a hypocrite, he who sold Jesus for the price of an injured slave (Harper-Collins).


Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  This was appropriate for a Hebrew king coming in peace.  A Hebrew king coming for battle would have ridden a horse.  In the Roman culture, a king would only have come riding a horse.  Since Jesus rode on a donkey, he presented himself as the King of the Jews, yet posed no threat to the Romans. 

"He came riding on an ass, in token of peace, acclaimed by the Hosanna shouts of multitudes; not on a caparisoned steed with the panoply of combat and the accompaniment of bugle blasts and fanfare of trumpets.  That the joyous occasion was in no sense suggestive of physical hostility or of seditious disturbance is sufficiently demonstrated by the indulgent unconcern with which it was viewed by the Roman officials, who were usually prompt to send their legionaries swooping down from the fortress of Antonia at the first evidence of an outbreak; and they were particularly vigilant in suppressing all Messianic pretenders, for false Messiahs had arisen already, and much blood had been shed in the forcible dispelling of their delusive claims...The ass has been designated in literature as 'the ancient symbol of Jewish royalty,' and one riding upon an ass as the type of peaceful progress" (Talmadge, p. 516-517).

"And the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest...and the children of the kingdom [cried] in the temple...saying, Hosanna to the Son of David..." (Matt. 21:9, 15).

"'Hosannah' is a Greek form of the Hebrew expression for 'Save us now,' or 'Save, we pray,' which occurs in the original of Psalm 118:25.  It occurs nowhere in the English Bible except in [the verses noted above]" (Talmadge, p. 523).  In the Jewish tradition, it was a cry meant only for Jehovah, the great God of the Old Testament.


"Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing theron, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away"  (Matt. 21:18-19).

Why did the God of Creation destroy a helpless little fig tree?

To teach through an unforgettable live-action parable.

The fig tree is deciduous, or in other words, has leaves that fall off in the winter.  In the spring, the fruit appears before the leaves.  Also, there is generally a little fruit left from the previous season that is still edible.  It was not time yet for either fruit or leaves, but this tree had leaves--an advertisement that it was bearing fruit.  Although the other trees had no figs, they had no leaves either.  This fig tree was cursed, not simply for being fruitless, but for being a hypocrite.

"The leafy, fruitless tree was a symbol of Judaism, which loudly proclaimed itself as the only true religion of the age, and condescendingly invited all the world to come and partake of its rich ripe fruit; when in truth it was but an unnatural growth of leaves, with no fruit of the season, not even an edible bulb held over from earlier years, for such as it had of former fruitage was dried to worthlessness and made repulsive in its worm-eaten decay...The fig tree was a favorite [symbol among the rabbis for] the Jewish race" (Talmadge, p. 527).

In addition, the cursing of the fig tree showed that Christ had power to destroy, as well as power to heal and save.  In a few days, as Christ suffered and died, those who saw the cursing of the fig tree would know that Christ could have destroyed the entire Roman legion and the Jewish leaders had he desired.  He went to his death, not helplessly, but willingly, exercising self-control as he suffered without retaliating.

He also used this miracle to demonstrate the power of faith to his disciples (verses 21-22).  Rather than simply show off his great power, he made it available to all who would develop their faith.


As you go over the various trick questions that were asked of Christ, fill in the first four columns of the table below.  Save the last column ("Ask Yourself") for the end of the discussion.  Or you can cut and paste the chart into a Word document, and then stretch the borders of the chart to make it fit the page better, and give it as a handout.  You could leave the last column blank, and have class members fill in the questions to ask themselves.

One by one, delegations from four powerful groups asked Jesus a premeditated question, hoping to convict him by trickery.

The Chief Priests (Matt. 21:23-27)

"By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?"

Who were the chief priests?  The leaders of the church, those who, of all, should be hailing Christ as king, if they hadn't been leading the church for their own aggrandizement instead.  (Imagine Boyd K. Packer not recognizing Christ!)

Three years of miracles and teachings could answer their question and tell them Christ's authority.  It was obvious they were not seeking the real answer.  So Christ returned their answer with a question that absolutely stymied their attempts to trick him.  By asking what John the Baptist's authority was, they were completely flummoxed.  Everyone knew that John the Baptist had the appropriate authority from God.  He was fully "in the system" with the scribes and Pharisees.  His father had been a priest.  He held the priesthood.  To say that John the Baptist had no authority from God would be to say that they also had no authority from God.  Yet, to say that John the Baptist did have authority from God would be to admit that they had not believed one of known authority.  Therefore, they could not answer without convicting themselves one way or the other.

The church leadership was not schooled to ever say, "I don't know."  Obviously, they were completely desperate or they would not have given such a humiliating answer.

Jesus was a genius.

Herodians (Matt. 22:15-22)

"Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not?"

Who were the Herodians?  They were the upper class, the well-to-do, those concerned with upholding the power of the Herod family in order to maintain their own privileged positions.  The Herods got their power from the Romans, so supporting the Herods meant supporting the Romans.  To the lower class and the practicing Jews, however, the paying of tribute to the Romans was the most offensive of the requirements placed upon them.

If Christ said it was lawful to pay taxes, he would be speaking in opposition to Jewish tradition and law.  If he said it was not lawful to pay taxes, he would be speaking in terms of sedition against the Romans.

His answer again showed his genius:  Money has Caesar's image on it--give it to him.  Give to God that which has God's image on it.  What has God's image and superscription?  The body and soul of man.

The Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-28)

Who were they?  The Sadducees were influenced by Greek philosophy.  They were the liberal Jewish scholars, in comparison to the conservative Pharisees.  They believed only in the here and now, and not in any afterlife, yet they did believe in God.

They tried to produce a complication that would be hard to sort out in the next life, to illustrate their belief that there was no next life, and to present Christ with a situation which would not work there.  This same problem was often debated by the rabbis, who said that the first husband got the wife.  The six younger brothers had only married her in keeping with Jewish tradition to take care of her, and to carry on the family name and line of the oldest brother.  Christ said, "The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage" but in the next life, they are ministering angels (Luke 20:32).  (See D&C 132:15 where it says, "If a man marry a wife in this world...they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.")

Christ knew the question had nothing to do with marriage, eternal or otherwise, but with whether there was life after death, and he answered, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:31-32).  All through their history, God had been known as the God of these great patriarchs now dead.  They must still be alive somewhere for him to be their God.

The Pharisees (Matt 22:34-40)

Who were the Pharisees?  They were the extremely conservative Jewish leaders, the "Diet Coke Police" of the day.  In order to preserve their religion when they were taken into exile, the Pharisees sprang up, itemizing details of the law that had not previously existed.  They eventually created a situation where there were rules and details for every act of man, and no one need rely upon the Spirit for guidance in what to do.  They had created 613 divisions and subdivisions of the law.  Which of all these could be the most important, they asked Jesus.

The answer had been given to them by Moses, long before the addition of all these rules.  "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul"  (Deut. 10:12).  Jesus merely restated the commandment he had already given them as Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Chief Priests
(Matt. 21:23-27)
Who has the authority—you or us?
You already know; you just don’t like the answer.
Who is in charge of my life—Christ or my own will?
(Matt. 22:15-22)
How does money relate to religion?
Give Caesar what is his; give God what is God’s.
Whose image is in my heart—God’s or [whoever is on your country’s money]?
(Luke 20:27-39)
How can there be a life after this one?
How could God have power if everything he made ended at death?  He is the God of the living.
Am I living my life with the next life in mind?
(Matt. 22:34-40)
The Law
Which commandment is most important?
How well do I love God and every person I meet?


Matt. 22:1-14.  The marriage feast was a favorite theme in both synagogue and school.  Only the children of Abraham were ever the guests.  Jesus took their very familiar parable and used it so that there was no mistaking his intent.  This parable, as well as the Parable of the Two Sons (Matt 21:28-32), and the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matt. 21:33-46), were not cloaked from understanding, but were specifically made to be very clear.

The bidden guests (bidden = had the invitation well in advance, just as the Jews had their invitation well in advanced through the Old Testament) turned away to their own material pursuits and personal affairs, valuing them above reverence or obedience to the king, showing a complete disdain of the son, the heir to the throne, their next king.  The king's job was to protect his subjects, but they didn't care for his protection.

When the "bidden" guests did not come, the king invited the outcasts and underdogs.  Because the king knew these guests were all poor and unprepared for a wedding, the doorman would have given them the proper attire to make them worthy of entrance.  The man without the wedding garment, therefore, had obviously come in through the back.  The Lord's kingdom is available to everyone, but there is only one entrance.  The Lord scrutinizes every countenance--the guests are not just a sea of faces to him.  There is no hiding in the crowd at the supper of the Lord.


"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:37-38).

The chicks huddled under the hen's wing are protected from the view of the hawk.  But Jerusalem would not receive that blessing.  She insisted on foolishly endangering herself, and despite the shelter available to her through Christ, there was no doubt that she would shortly meet her demise.


All of these various factions--the priests, the Herodians, the Saduccees, the Pharisees--were Jews.  We could say they were "members of the Church."  Church membership alone did not save them; in fact, not behaving in accord with their membership cursed them as hypocrites, just like the fig tree.  We must be careful we do not make the same mistakes.  We also have been invited to the wedding, promised shelter under Christ's wing.  Let's not disregard the invitation.

Return to the chart, and discuss what may be found in the fourth column, "Questions to ask yourself."

Rather than being POWER HUNGRY like the chief priests, let's GIVE OUR WILL OVER TO GOD.

Rather than worrying about WEALTH like the Herodians, let's focus on INTERNALIZING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRIST.

Rather than LIVING ONLY FOR TODAY like the Saduccees, let's KEEP AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE.

Rather than JUDGING OTHERS ON THE DETAILS OF WHAT THEY DO OR DON'T DO like the Pharisees, let's just concern ourselves with ALWAYS ACTING IN LOVE.

Rather than having Christ look on us from a distance, lamenting that we will not allow him to help and protect us, let's be nestled safely like a child in his lap, saying, as did the "children of the kingdom," "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."


F.W. Farrar, The Life of Christ
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 3
The Harper-Collins Study Bible
James E. Talmadge, Jesus The Christ


Lex-a-roo said...

I am so grateful for your blog! It helps me so much to prepare for Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to research as you do. Your blog is a wonderful resource; I must say it's my favorite of it's kind. Thank you.

4kidsandcrazy said...

THANK YOU!!! I love your blog, and all of your insights on lesson 18 made it one of my best lessons ever!!!

MegiJones said...
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Anonymous said...

I wondered which path Christ took on Palm Sunday. Christ left mount of olives, but which gate did He enter the temple? Per the Jerusalem map, there are two entrances. Sheep’s gate or Susa gate. As the lamb of God, He would seemed to have entered the sheep gate. If He entered the temple via Sheep’s gate, he would have been where the animals were kept. At that point, He cleansed the temple. Any thoughts?

Marge said...

I just recently found your blog while doing some research for a course I'm taking on the New Testament through BYU Idaho online. The course is a study of the beginning of the New Testament including the four gospels over a seven-week period. As a result of the shortened timeline we do a lot of reading per week. This week we read the following: Matthew 21-24; Mark 11-13; Luke 19-21; John 12; and JST-Matthew.

I was particularly intrigued by the above analysis of the Matthew 21-23; John 12. I love that we have the four different versions of these stories from the life of Christ. In some accounts we have basically the same information but depending on the story we have added information and it makes me so grateful to the authors that they took the time to record these stories. I really enjoyed that you took the study of the 'tests' or 'tricks' provided by the various delegations and turned them into a chart. It makes it easy to discern who is asking what, what answer Christ gave, and then an opportunity for personal reflection. This is like a therefore, what? moment or a takeaway. We have learned these things from the scriptures, now what? How do we apply it in our daily lives? What can we do to become better as a result of our study?

One particular takeaway for me from these chapters is that Christ was often in the temple. He's going in and out of the city for safety reasons and he is thronged by multitudes gathered around him quite often. But most of his teaching that is recorded takes place in the temple. I learned that Christ teaches the temple is a house of prayer and a place for teaching. I love that we are able to see Christ in the temple. Especially at this time, with Covid restrictions still in place, I yearn for the opportunity to be able to return to the House of the Lord and to be with Him, to pray and worship with others, and to be be taught by Him through the Holy Spirit. I know the temple is truly a holy place, a place where we can find the Lord today.

Thank you for sharing your insights and for keeping the information available even after we completed our Come, Follow Me studying of the New Testament. I look forward to reading your other posts as I study into the future and when we come back around to the New Testament again in a few years. I have some younger children right now but I for sure would recommend this to my children as they get older as an additional resource for study and learning.

I know that Christ lived here upon the earth and I know that because he lived, died, and was resurrected we have all been given the opportunity to study and learn and know or remember for ourselves what we were taught before we came here. And as a result of His resurrection if we repent and strive to become perfect, even as He is, then we can live with Him again. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.