New Testament Lesson 21 (Matthew 21–23; Mark 11; Luke 19-20; John 12)
This lesson covers the first three days of the final week of our Lord’s mortal ministry. This week began with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ended with His atonement and crucifixion by the end of the week.
Jerusalem in an Uproar
● It was the season of the Passover and everywhere in the city travelers arrived.
● Jerusalem was a natural fortress. It was surrounded on three sides by unusually deep ravines and was reinforced by massive walls and strong defensive towers. To travelers or armies approaching from the east or west, Jerusalem must have presented a formidable sight.
● Jerusalem reverberated with rumors about the “Prophet of Galilee” (John 11:5–6).
● The Passover’s excitement was heightened this year by speculation as to whether or not the Master would come (John 11:55–57; 12:12–15; Luke 19:37–40).
● Jesus’ three-year ministry was about to end, and He undertook two bold actions:
— First, a clear, bold pronouncement and demonstration of his Messiahship.
— Second, accelerated leadership training for his Apostles, who would soon lead the Church.
● Jesus knew that in Jerusalem were “those who [were] the more wicked part of the world; and they [would] crucify him . . . and there [was] none other nation on earth that would crucify their God” (2 Nephi 10:3).
● The raising of Lazarus enraged the religious leaders (John 11:53–54).
— They feared the loss of their positions of prestige and power
— They plotted how they could legally kill Christ.
— Faced with such animosity, the Savior retired for a short while.
— During this time he instructed his disciples.
A Brief Stay in Bethany
● Jesus visited Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and spent an evening with him and his sisters Mary and Martha (John 12:1, 9–11).
● Mary anointed the Savior’s feet with spikenard, a costly ointment (John 12:1–3).
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “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. Mary’s act was an expression of adoration; it was the fragrant outwelling of a heart overflowing with worship and affection.”1
● Mary’s actions were criticized by Judas Iscariot (John 12:4–5).
● In saying this, Judas showed himself to be a hypocrite (John 12:6).
● Jesus then began the last week of His mortal ministry.
THE FIRST DAY (SUNDAY)
Jesus Journeys to Jerusalem
● The Lord stopped at Bethphage (Matthew 21:1–7).
— He sent two disciples to the village with specific instructions.
— They were to obtain a foal of an ass, which they did.
— They put their coats on the animal and the Savior mounted it.
● This was in direct fulfillment of a prophecy by Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9).
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “It was no meaningless pageantry; but the actual advent of the King into His royal city, and His entry into the temple, the house of the King of kings. He came riding on am 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. . . . 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.”2
Jesus Enters Jerusalem
● The multitude shouted “Hosanna” as Jesus entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:8–11; Luke 19:38). It was a very great multitude that greeted and praised him (v. 8). All the city was moved, saying “Who is this?” (v. 10).
● His enemies noted, “Behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:15–19).
● The Hosanna Shout: This is an English version of the Greek translation of the Aramaic—it is actually a prayer, an appeal of exclamation meaning “help” or “save, I pray.” Its use by the multitude showed they recognized that He was the Savior.
● Other instances of the Hosanna Shout being used include (but are not limited to) the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in our own day. It has been used at the dedication of every latter-day temple since that time
Jesus Blesses His Disciples
● Jesus went directly to the temple, and according to Mark, took note of what he saw and retired to Bethany for the night (Mark 11:11).
● According to the JST version of Mark, Jesus “blessed the disciples” before he departed the temple (JST Mark 11:13). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Though Jerusalem, as a whole, was to be desolated and scourged as few cities have ever been yet the faithful within her walls were to be saved, preserved, and blessed.”3
THE SECOND DAY (MONDAY)
Cursing the Fig Tree
● The following morning, on the way back to Jerusalem, being hungry, the Lord and His disciples came upon a fig tree that was full of leaves—normally a signal that it would also be full of fruit. But the tree was barren, and Jesus cursed it (Matthew 21:18–22; Mark 11:12–14, 20–24).
— The cursing of the fig tree is the only recorded instance in which the Lord used his divine power to destroy.
● The symbolism of the barren fig tree: Among the rabbis, the fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish religion. This tree was covered with foliage, but it was deceptively barren. Judaism was like the fruitless tree—claiming to be the true religion, but bearing no fruit.
● Why Jesus cursed the barren fig tree:
— To demonstrate His power to destroy.
— To teach faith to His disciples.
— To bear witness of His control over all things.
— To show the fate of the nation that rejected Him.
The Second Cleansing of the Temple
● The Lord visited and cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17).
● He had done this before—three years earlier, almost to the day (John 2:13–16). In those days he called the temple “my Father’s house” (John 2:16). Now he refers to it as “my house” (Matt. 21:13).
● When the chief priests and Scribes saw the wonderful things that he did and heard the shouts of “hosanna” they were offended and said to Jesus, “Hearest thou what these say?” (Matthew 21:14–16). Jesus acknowledged that perfect praise comes from the mouths of “babes” (Psalms 8:2; Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:27).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “[These were] not children in the sense of infants as the King James Version has it, but disciples, members of the Church, those who had testimonies of Jesus’ divinity. “From these adult ‘children of the kingdom,’ these members of the Church who through repentance and baptism had become ‘newborn babes’ in Christ (1 Pet. 2:2), came ‘perfected praise.’ How could such come from any except those who had knowledge and who were subject to the dictates of the Holy Spirit?”4
The Necessity of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
● Jesus taught the Greeks that it was necessary for Him to die (John 12:20–26).
● Jesus also testified of the manner of His death—He will be “lifted up” (on the cross) (John 12:31–36).
The Still, Small Voice of God Speaks
● God the Father spoke to Jesus out of heaven, and only a few nearby Him heard it (John 12:27–30).
● See the additional information found in the Doctrinal Insights section below.
THE THIRD DAY (TUESDAY)
Religious Leaders Challenge Him
● The next morning angry religious rulers challenged the Lord’s authority (Matthew 21:23–27).
● Jesus responded by asking them where John the Baptist’s authority came from. Being afraid to challenge John’s authority, they said: “We cannot tell” (Mark 11:27–33; Luke 20:1–8).
● Jesus therefore refused to answer their question about his authority, since it came from the same source—heaven.
● Jesus then proceeded to tell them four parables which illustrate their wickedness as leaders.
The Parable of the Two Sons
● One son said he would go, but did not (Matthew 21:28–30). One said he would not, but then went.
● Jesus applied this parable to his listeners (Matthew 21:31–32; JST Matt. 21:32; footnote 32d). The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were represented by the second son who said he would go, but did not. The people they despised—the publicans and scribes—were represented by the first son who said he would not labor but later repented and went.
The Parable of the Wicked Husbandman
● The wicked husbandman slays the master’s son (Matthew 21:33–41; Mark 12:1–9). The Pharisees judged and condemned themselves when they interpreted the parable by saying that the wicked husbandman should himself be slain.
— The householder, or lord of the vineyard, is our Father in Heaven.
— The husbandmen are the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
— The servants are the prophets.
— And the son killed by the husbandmen is the Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Parable of the Rejected Stone
● “The stone which the builders rejected” is Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:42–44; Acts 4:10–12). The builders who reject this stone (the Pharisees and scribes) will lose their inheritance to others who will accept the Lord.
● The Pharisees were angry when they realized he was talking about them in these parables, but they did not seize him for fear of the multitude (Matthew 21:45–46).
Parable of the Royal Marriage Feast
● This parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son and is very similar to the parable of the Great Supper.
● It was given in public as a rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 22:1–14).
— The king is God the Father; Jesus is his offspring and Son.
— The first ones invited to the marriage feast were covenant Israel.
— The remnant who rejected the later invitation and committed murder were the descendants (Jews) of ancient Israel.
— The ones gathered from the streets and byways were gentile nations.
● See more information about this parable in the Doctrinal Insights section below.
Challenges from Various Factions
● The Pharisees (who despised the Romans) were so anxious to trap Jesus in His words that they collaborated with the Herodians (who supported Roman rule).
● The Herodians, in an effort to tempt Jesus into a subversive statement or act, tested Jesus’ loyalty to Rome (Matthew 22:15–17). Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy and used a coin to illustrate what our attitude toward government should be (Matthew 22:18–22; Article of Faith 12).
● The Sadducees pretended to be concerned about marriage in the resurrection, but they did not even believe in resurrection (Matthew 22:23–28). Jesus answered that they neither understood the scriptures nor the power of the priesthood (which they held and used in the temple) (Matthew 22:29–33). Also, in defense of the resurrection he said: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (v. 32).
— Jesus’ teaching is clarified in D&C 132:15–16, 19. Those who do not make and keep the covenants of temple marriage will be single in heaven. For those who do make and keep these covenants, marriage will last for eternity.
● The Pharisees questioned him about “greatest commandments” in the law (Matthew 22:34–36). Jesus answered that the greatest commandments were to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–40).
— Jesus then asked them a question that they could not answer: How can the Christ be the son of David if David refers to him as his Lord? (Matthew 22:41–46).
Jesus Condemns Their Hypocrisy
● Jesus taught respect for Rabbinical priesthood, but not to follow their behavior (Matthew 23:1–12). “They make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments.”
● Jesus then pronounced eight woes upon these hypocritical leaders (Matthew 23:13–33).
— Hypocrite is translated from Greek, and means an actor or pretender.
— Woe means suffering, affliction, grief, calamity, or misfortune.
● He condemned them for:
— Keeping people out of the kingdom of heaven (v. 13).
— Pretended piety while selfishly oppressing the poor (v. 14).
— Seeking converts, only to make them “children of hell” (v. 15).
— Valuing the temple’s gold more than the temple’s purpose (vv. 16–17).
— Emphasizing details and ignoring judgment, mercy, and faith (vv. 23–24).
— Shows of outward cleanliness while being unclean within (vv. 25–28). He called them “whited sepulchers” (graves).
— Building monuments to prophets that they ignore, and who were killed by their fathers (vv. 29–32).
— He calls them “serpents” and “vipers” destined for damnation (v. 33).
● That particular generation will be held accountable for murder (Matthew 23:34–36).
What are some doctrinal insights we receive from this week’s lesson material? You should consider discussing one or more of these with your class.
● The still, small voice of God. There is no instance in all of scripture of our Father in Heaven yelling at His children. His voice is always described as a still, small voice, discernable only to those in tune with His Spirit.
— The Lord comforted Elijah on Mount Horeb, speaking to him through a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11–13).
— God’s voice is similarly described in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 17:45; 3 Nephi 11:3).
— President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Do you take time to listen to the promptings of the Spirit? Answers to prayer come most often by a still voice and are discerned by our deepest, innermost feelings. I tell you that you can know the will of God concerning yourselves if you will take the time to pray and to listen.”5
— Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ (Ps. 46:10). And the promise, ‘You shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom.’ (D&C 36:2). Elijah felt a great wind, an earthquake, a fire. The Lord was not in any of them; then came ‘a still small voice.’ (1 Kings 19:12)”6
● Reasons Why the People Rejected the Savior. Given such dramatic witnesses of the Savior’s divinity, how is it that most of the people rejected him?
— They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42–43; D&C 82:19; 88:67).
— They didn’t believe the words of the prophets (John 5:45–47).
— Some were spiritually unperceptive—they were walking in darkness at noonday (Matthew 13:13–15).
— Many were looking beyond the mark (Jacob 4:14; John 9:22–41).
— Some were engaged in priestcrafts and other wickedness (2 Nephi 10:5).
— Some were immoral and could not receive the Spirit (Matthew 12:39).
— Some were just so involved with the cares of this world that they had no time for the Savior (Luke 14:15–20).
● The Royal Marriage Feast at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:1–14).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “This glorious event, still future, has reference to the ushering in of Messiah’s millennial reign, the day when he shall reign in triumph and glory over all the earth. By their preaching in this present dispensation, the “servants” of the King are inviting guests to come to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”7
— The Doctrine and Covenants states that all of the nations shall ‘be invited.
— Those who put material things before the gospel cannot have the blessings of the feast.
— Those who commit murder and persecute will be destroyed.
— The guest the king saw without a wedding garment on was one who had come into the Church but had not kept the commandments.
— The righteous Saints are the Lord’s “wife” who is arrayed in glorious white at this great feast (Revelation 19:7–9).
1. Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 512.
2. Jesus the Christ, 616–617.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 1:579.
4. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:585.
5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 46; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 32.
6. “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 21.
7. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:597.