Chapter 21 signifies the beginning of the end of Jesus’ public ministry and earthly life. The chapter begins with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ends with the Pharisees plot to arrest him. As I read it, two main themes stand out — Authority and Fruitfulness.
Jesus’ authority is a theme for Matthew throughout his gospel. In chapter 7, he records that the crowds were astonished at this teaching “for he was teaching them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.” He also gives multiple examples of Jesus’ authority over nature, illness, and demons. And here, in chapter 21, he shows Jesus’ authority over Jerusalem and the religious establishment in his triumphal entry (21:1-11), his actions in cleansing the Temple (21:12-17), his cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22), and his debates with the religious leaders (21:23-46).
But, it is important to remember that Matthew presents Jesus not as a Gentile king who lords his authority over his people. Rather, Jesus is a servant king who uses his authority to advance his kingdom which, in turn, is good for his people. This is perhaps no more clearly seen, up to this point in the Gospel, than in his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, not a noble steed.
Bearing fruit in keeping with repentance and life in Christ is central to Matthew’s message and even to the New Testament as whole. It is not enough to simply be a “hearer of the word.” We must also be “doers.” Jesus cursed the fig tree because it should have had fruit to go along with its leaves. The time was right. It looked healthy and useful, but it wasn’t. It didn’t produce fruit. Jesus used this tree as a symbol to the disciples. We must bear fruit in keeping with repentance or we have no part in Jesus and his kingdom.
Pulling It Together
Jesus is authoritative over our lives. We are called to submit to his authority. We are enabled to do that because he was a sacrificial servant. Through faith in him and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered live submissive and fruit-bearing lives. Are you bearing fruit in keeping with repentance? Does Jesus have authority over your life?