Back to and in Jerusalem for the Third Time (Matthew 21:20-24:2; Mark 11:20-13:2; Luke 20:1-21:6)

On the way to Jerusalem the next morning, the fig tree that Jesus had cursed the day before was dried up from the roots. As they passed by on the road, the apostles were surprised to see this and wondered how this could have happened so soon. Peter appears to have been the first one to speak up, “Lord, look, the fig tree you cursed has dried up.” (Matthew 21:20; Mark 11:20, 21)

In his reply, Jesus stressed the need for faith in God. Prefacing his comments with a solemn “amen” (truly), he directed attention to the power of faith. If they had faith and did not doubt, the apostles would be able to do what Jesus had done to the fig tree and, in fact, even more. He continued, “If you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and tossed into the sea,’ it will occur.” (Matthew 21:21) In Mark 11:23, Jesus is represented as using a more detailed qualifying statement, “If [the person] does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be [so] for him.” In their hearts or their inmost selves, the apostles should have the firm conviction that God would answer their prayers. They would come to have whatever they prayed for in faith. Their appeal should be with the kind of certainty reflective of their already having received whatever they requested. (Matthew 21:22; Mark 12:24) Prayers, expressed in faith, would of necessity have to be in harmony with God’s will, as nothing that is opposed to his will is compatible with faith in him.

Besides having faith in God as the hearer of prayer, all who appeal to him should also maintain a forgiving spirit. Jesus told the apostles that when they stood to pray, they should forgive what they might have against anyone. The heavenly Father would then also forgive them their trespasses. (Mark 11:25) Numerous later manuscripts add, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who [is] in the heavens forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26; these words [which parallel Matthew 6:15] are missing in numerous modern translations because they are not found in the oldest extant manuscripts as well as many others.)

It may be noted that letting go of resentment and anger when being transgressed against may appear as difficult as moving a mountain out of one’s way. With faith in God, however, it can be done. For the apostles, the drying up of the fig tree provided an object lesson regarding the power of faith.

By implication, the withering of the fig tree also revealed that there are serious consequences for not believing. In the case of the nation of Israel, faith in God should have led to accepting his Son. When the “time of visitation” arrived for Jerusalem and so also for the people for whom the city with its temple was the place of worship, Jesus did not find the fruit of faith among the prominent ones and those who followed their lead. Like the barren fig tree, the people had showy leaves, observing the traditions and the ritualistic aspects of worship at the temple. But the fruit that counted—the faith that would have moved them to accept Jesus as the Son of God and to become his loyal disciples—was lacking. Accordingly, just as the fig tree had dried up, they would face serious adverse judgment. (Compare Luke 19:41-44.)

If not then, the apostles later must have recalled Jesus’ earlier parable about the barren fig tree and the effort to save it from being cut down as useless. (Luke 13:6-9) That parable had specific application to the nation of Israel and the opportunities extended to it to be found divinely approved and to escape adverse judgment for failing to bear fruit to God’s praise.

Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus and the apostles went to the temple, where he began to teach and proclaim the good news (which likely included the message about how to become part of the realm where his Father is Sovereign). The chief priests, scribes, and elders of the nation approached him, demanding to know by what authority he acted (likely referring to his driving out those who conducted commercial activities in the Court of the Gentiles) and who had granted him this authority. (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:27, 28; Luke 20:1, 2; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 21:23.)

Jesus told them that, if they answered one question for him, he would let them know about his authority. “The baptism from John—from where was [it], from heaven or from men?” They realized that, if they said, “From heaven,” he would ask them why they did not believe John. If, however, they said, “From men,” they feared this would lead to trouble from the multitude. The unbelieving leaders knew that the people considered John to have been a prophet. So, if their answer discredited him, the people could have become so enraged as to resort to stoning them. Realizing that they could not give either answer without creating a problem for themselves, the prominent ones said, “We do not know.” Therefore, the Son of God said that he would not tell them by what authority he acted. (Matthew 21:24-27; Mark 11:29-33; Luke 20:3-8)

The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

By means of a parable, Jesus then had those who did not believe in him condemn themselves. He started with a question, “What do you think?” A man asked one of his two sons to go to work in the vineyard that day. The son refused to do so, but later regretted his decision and actually did labor in the vineyard. When approached with the same request, the other son agreed to labor in the vineyard but then did not do so. “Which of the two,” Jesus asked, “did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

Applying the point of the parable, Jesus told the unbelieving leaders of the nation that the tax collectors and the prostitutes were going ahead of them into God’s kingdom. John the Baptist had come to them in the “way of righteousness” or had called to their attention the divinely approved way of life. But, as Jesus said to the prominent ones, “You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe him.” Even though the leaders witnessed this development, they did not have a change of mind and believe John. (Matthew 21:32)

Tax collectors and prostitutes were among those who responded to John’s proclamation, repenting of their sins and submitting to water baptism. By abandoning their wrong course, they demonstrated themselves to be like the son who initially refused to work in the vineyard but afterward had a change of heart and complied with his father’s request. They did what was required to be part of the realm where God is Sovereign.

The ones whom Jesus addressed represented themselves as agreeing to do God’s will but then failed to do so. They disregarded John as God’s prophet and rejected Jesus, the one who had come from God and imparted his teaching. Thus they kept themselves out of the kingdom of God, the realm where his loyal subjects acknowledge his Son as the king whom he has appointed.

The Parable of the Evil Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)

The Son of God then asked the people to listen to another parable. A man planted a vineyard, encircled it with a fence (a stone wall or a thorny hedge), dug out a wine press, built a tower (where a watchman would be stationed to guard against loss from thieves or wild animals), contracted it out to vinedressers, and left the country for some time. At harvesttime, he sent his slaves to obtain his share of the grapes. The vinedressers beat up one of the slaves, another one they killed, and still another slave they stoned. The vineyard owner sent a larger group of slaves, and the vinedressers likewise mistreated and killed them. Finally, the man sent his own son, believing that they would respect him. When the vinedressers saw him, they determined to kill him and thereby come into possession of the vineyard. They seized the son, cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Jesus then asked what the owner, upon his arrival, would do to these vinedressers. They replied that the evil men would be destroyed and the vineyard would be contracted out to others who would give him his due share of the grapes at harvesttime. (Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

In the parable, the owner of the vineyard represents the Most High; the vineyard, the nation of Israel; the tenant vinedressers, the leaders of the people; the slaves, the prophets who were mistreated and killed; and the son, Jesus. The people, including the chief priests, scribes, and elders, doubtless were familiar with the words of Isaiah (5:1-7), which identified the “house of Israel” and the “people of Judah” as YHWH’s vineyard and revealed the severe punishment for failing to produce fruit in the form of justice and uprightness. According to Luke 20:16, the listeners appear to have discerned the implication of ruin for the nation, prompting them to say, “May it not occur” (basically meaning “God forbid!”).

Applying the parable, Jesus asked the hearers whether they had never read in the Scriptures, “The stone that the builders rejected has come to be the head of the corner; this has come to be from the Lord, and it is amazing in our eyes.” The leaders of the nation, like the builders of the parable, had rejected Jesus like a stone unfit for their purposes. His Father, however, decreed for him to be highly exalted like the most important stone, the “head of the corner.” In the eyes of God’s servants, the reversal from being rejected to being granted unparalleled honor is something truly marvelous. (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10, 11; Luke 20:17)

Continuing, Jesus told those listening to him that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a nation producing its fruit. The one who fell on the rejected stone would be shattered and the one upon whom this stone fell would be crushed. For those who persisted in unbelief, Jesus would prove to be like a large stone in their way, over which they would stumble, leading to their ruin. He would also be like a large boulder that could come crashing down upon them, crushing them completely. As a nation, the Israelites would lose their divinely favored status, and the non-Jewish peoples would be granted the opportunity to become part of the kingdom. Thus another nation or people, by responding in faith, would be given the kingdom that the unbelieving Israelites and their leaders chose to reject. (Matthew 21:43, 44 [the words of verse 44 not being included in all ancient manuscripts]; Luke 20:18)

The chief priests and Pharisees (“scribes,” Luke 20:19) discerned that Jesus had spoken the parable with them in mind. They wanted to seize him, but they feared the multitude who considered him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:45, 46; Mark 12:12)

Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14)

Jesus related yet another parable, likening the kingdom of the heavens to a wedding banquet that a king arranged for his son. (Matthew 22:1, 2) This parable revealed that there are conditions for being part of the realm where God is Sovereign and where his Son is his appointed king. It also highlights the serious consequences for failing to respond properly or not acting in harmony with divine requirements.

The king sent out his servants to call the invitees, but they did not want to come. He then sent out other servants to tell the invitees that the preparations for the wedding banquet had been completed. Those who had been invited, however, had no interest in being present for the event. They continued pursuing personal affairs, going to their own field or handling business transactions. Others seized the servants, treated them contemptuously, and killed them. (Matthew 22:3-6)

Infuriated, the king sent out his forces to execute vengeance. The armies slaughtered the murderers and burned their city. (Matthew 22:7)

After telling them that the wedding banquet was ready but that the invitees were undeserving, the king instructed his servants to go into the main roads and to invite anyone whom they might find. His servants did so, inviting all whom they found, “both bad and good.” The banquet hall came to be filled with those who reclined on couches to partake of the food. (Matthew 22:8-10)

When entering the banquet hall to see the guests, the king noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding garment. Asked how he had gained entrance without the appropriate attire, the man was speechless, unable to offer any valid reason for his unsuitable clothing. The king ordered him to be bound hand and foot, and thrown out of the illuminated banquet hall into the darkness outside. There in the darkness, he would become aware of his loss and shed bitter tears and gnash his teeth as he vainly tried to control his sobbing. As Jesus said, “There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” He concluded the parable with the words, “For many are the called, but few [are] the chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)

In this parable, the original invited ones represent the people of Israel. To them, the promise had been made that, if obedient, they would come to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) With the arrival of the Son of God, they had the opportunity to be part of the realm where he is king by his Father’s appointment. In the parable, this is represented by acting on the invitation to attend the wedding banquet. Through the servants or Christ’s disciples, the invitation continued to be extended, but it was largely ignored, and the disciples were mistreated and even killed. Punitive judgment came through the withdrawal of divine favor and protection. In 70 CE, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem.

The disciples of God’s Son continued to extend the invitation, going into the roads or telling the non-Jewish peoples how they could become part of the realm where God is Sovereign. The invitation was extended to “both bad and good,” the “good” being like the godly centurion Cornelius who responded compassionately to persons in need and the “bad” being those whose way of life was by no means commendable. (Acts 10:1-4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 3:3)

At inspection time, all those who are properly identified as being in the realm where God rules by means of his Son will come to enjoy the blessings associated therewith, comparable to being partakers of the wedding banquet. Mere claimants, however, who prefer their own attire rather than complying with the divine requirements for entering the kingdom will lose out. For royal wedding banquets, the invited guests were provided with a garment to wear. Therefore, the man in the parable could be represented as being without excuse for his failure. To be approved, it is not a matter of merely professing Jesus as Lord but it requires a life that harmonizes with that acknowledgment. As Jesus said on another occasion, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

In the case of the Israelites, all of them were invited, but few responded. Therefore, in their case, few were chosen. Similarly, when the invitation went out to the non-Jewish peoples, many did not act on it and so did not come to be among the chosen. Still others, like the man without the wedding garment, have not submitted to God’s requirements but have chosen to follow ways that seemed appropriate to them. As indicated by the parable, this would result in severe judgment.

The leading individuals in or the “founders” of a multitude of movements have been responsible for creating their own “garments” of unique doctrines and practices that distinguish them from other denominational and nondenominational bodies professing to be Christian. Within the various religious communities, these doctrines and practices are perpetuated, and the leadership and the loyal membership are pleased with the distinctive “garments,” which in numerous ways do not represent or seriously misrepresent the teaching and example of God’s Son. Thus, many reject the garment offered them, which requires unqualified acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior and living accordingly, and prefer their own attire, with its distinctive sectarian label.


Matthew 21:23 makes no mention of the scribes, as do Mark 11:27 and Luke 20:1. In Matthew 21:45, however, the Pharisees are included, and Luke 20:19 refers to the scribes. This suggests that these scribes were Pharisees.

For Matthew 21:28-31, the readings of ancient Greek manuscripts vary, and this accounts for different renderings in translations. One commonly followed Greek text has been translated as follows: “‘A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’” (NRSV)

A different Greek text of Matthew 21:28-31 reverses the responses of the two sons and provides a corresponding answer to Jesus’ question. This is the basis for the rendering of The Revised English Bible: “‘There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first, and said, “My son, go and work today in the vineyard.” “I will, sir,” the boy replied; but he did not go. The father came to the second and said the same. “I will not,” he replied; but afterwards he changed his mind and went. Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ ‘The second,’ they replied.’”

A comparison of Matthew 21:33-41, Mark 12:1-9, and Luke 20:9-16 reveals variations in the parable about the evil vinedressers. Matthew 21 mentions two groups of slaves and how they were treated, whereas both Mark 12 and Luke 20 are more specific when focusing on the treatment of individual slaves. The vinedressers beat up the first slave and sent him away without anything. (Mark 12:3; Luke 20:10) They beat the second slave over the head, insulted him, and gave him nothing. (Mark 12:4; Luke 20:11) Another slave they killed (Mark 12:5) or, according to Luke 20:12, they wounded the third slave and then threw him out of the vineyard. Mark 12:5 adds that the owner sent out many more slaves, some of whom were either beaten up or killed.

Mark 12:9 and Luke 20:16 do not mention that Jesus requested an answer to his question about what would happen to the evil vinedressers. The answer was obvious from what he had said. Therefore, in Mark 12:9 and Luke 20:16, the substance of this answer is rightly presented as part of the parable.

The Tax Question (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)

Questioned About the Resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40)

The Foremost Commandments (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34)

Whose Son Is the Christ? (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)

Scribes and Pharisees Denounced and Destruction of Temple Foretold (Matthew 23:1-24:2; Mark 12:38-13:2; Luke 20:45-21:6)

When Will It Take Place? (Matthew 24:3-25:46; Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:7-38)

Three Parables (Matthew 25:1-46; 26:1, 2)