Today’s chapter in Matthew forms a chiastic structure:
1A: Mat 21:1-17, Messiah Yeshua received as King + chief priests angered;
1B: Mat 21:18-22, the fig tree withered that did not bear fruit;
1C: Mat 21:23; the chief priests confront Yeshua’s authority as He was teaching in the Temple;
1D: Mat 21:24-26, Where was the baptism of John from? + the chief priests did not believe John;
1E: Mat 21:27, the chief priests do not answer Jesus’ question;
CENTRAL AXIS: Mat 21:28-30, the parable of the father and his two sons;
2E: Mat 21:31a, the chief priests do answer Jesus’ question;
2D: Mat 21:31b-32a, John in the way of righteousness + the tax collectors and harlots believed John;
2C: Mat 21:32b, when the chief priests saw it, they did not repent and believe him;
2B: Mat 21:33-41, the landowner who does not receive his fruit in its season;
2A: Mat 21:42-46, the cornerstone made chief + that the builders rejected.
The issue of this chapter is, once again, authority! This structure reveals, that the chief priests did not believe that John was from God (or authorized by God), even though he bore evidence that he was from God that they could see! Now John did not perform miraculous signs. He preached returning to the way of righteousness, and immersion in baptism (or mikvah in Hebrew) as the sign of the desire to be purified from sin (which is unrighteousness or Law- lessness).
So what does Jesus say is the evidence that John’s authority was from heaven, that he was sent from God? The tax collectors and harlots believed him and repented at his preaching. This, Jesus told the chief priests, was evidence that his authority was from God, and when the chief priests saw this evidence, they should have relented, and believed John also.
Now, the chief priests have the same problem with Jesus that they had with John. All the people held Him to be a prophet — however, they themselves did not — and they wanted to lay hands on him and lock Him up or worse, but refrained because they feared what the people would do to them if they did so.
The structure reveals, through the C pairs, that just as the chief priests did not believe John’s authority was from heaven, they did not believe Jesus’ authority — to receive the adoration of the people as Messiah, to cleanse the Temple or to heal the blind and lame in it, or to teach in it — was from heaven. Therefore, they confronted Him as He was teaching. They saw the evidence that His authority was from heaven, at which they should have relented and believed, but they refused to believe.
You know, just because someone is a big name, or has made himself an authority in the church, or has a great church job, does not mean that they are doing the will of the Father, or returning to Him His fruit in its season. It does not even mean that they believe Jesus!
May we as sheep ever be on our guard against following hirelings instead of the Good Shepherd of the sheep! The Good Shepherd, and those whom He has sent, will preach righteousness from the Word of God without dilution, and repentance, as John did! The Good Shepherd, and those whom He has sent, will be humble and lowly in heart, will be moved with compassion, will welcome the little children, will heal the blind and lame by the power of the Holy Spirit, and will teach the Word of God accurately, not regarding man’s additions and deletions!
It is up to us, the sheep, to know what God has said in His Word, so that we will recognize His Word when we hear it! Therefore may we be blessed in all our Bible reading!